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The Beginning of the End. Revelation 6:1-8.
May 6, 2018

In what many never expected to see in their lifetime, there seems to be real movement towards ending the Korean war between North and South Korea. Many are hoping that this will not only transform the Korean peninsula, but encourage other nations in conflict, like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and others, to consider the possibility of peace.

 

As hopeful as we might be about these recent peace overtures, the Bible teaches that the world is headed inexorably not toward peace and unity, but toward a final, cataclysmic war, the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:14–16). Until that climactic holocaust, overall things will continue to deteriorate as the world falls deeper and deeper into chaos, confusion, and sin. As the end approaches, wars will increase, crime will escalate, there will be economic upheavals, and unprecedented natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, famines, and diseases (cf. Matt. 24:6–8). All those calamities will mark the outpouring of God’s wrath on the fallen, rebellious world. Some Christians may have wondered if Christ really was sovereign over disastrous circumstances, such as Nero’s cruel mass persecution after the fire of Rome in a.d. 64. They may have asked the same question about broader disasters such as the destructive earthquakes in 60, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79, and the calamitous grain famine of 92. (Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 370). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.)

 

In Revelation 5:1–7, Christ received from God the Father a scroll sealed with seven seals until opened by the One with authority to do so. The scroll contained the title deed to the earth. Unlike normal title deeds, it did not contain a description of Christ’s inheritance, but rather details how He will execute His reclaiming of what is rightfully His. Beginning in chapter 6, that scroll is unrolled and its seals broken. The unrolling of the scroll marks the beginning of God’s wrath and judgment on sinful humanity as the Lord takes back creation from the usurper, Satan. Each of the scroll’s seven seals (cf. 5:1) represents a specific divine judgment that will be poured out sequentially on the earth. The seals encompass the entire period of the Tribulation (Rev. 3:10), culminating with the return of Christ. It seems best to understand the first four seals as taking place during the first half of the Tribulation, the fifth stretching from the first into the second half, (called the “great tribulation” in Rev. 7:14 and lasting three and one-half years; 11:2; 12:6; 13:5) and the sixth and seventh taking place during that “great tribulation.” Apparently the seventh seal contains the seven trumpet judgments (Rev. 8:1–11:19) and the seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:15) contains the seven bowl judgments (Rev. 16:1–21). The seven seals thus contain all the judgments to the end when Jesus Christ returns.

 

Just as a mother’s birth pains increase in frequency and intensity as the time to give birth approaches, so the judgments depicted by the seals will intensify throughout the Tribulation until they culminate in the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ in blazing judgment glory. The first four seals: include: 1) False Peace (Revelation 6:1–2), 2) War (Revelation 6:3–4), 3) Famine (Revelation 6:5–6) and 4) Death (Revelation 6:7–8). These first four seals cover the period Jesus described as “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt. 24:8). As terrible as those four judgments are, they are but the preliminary outpouring of God’s final wrath in the last three seals.

 

We must anticipate The Beginning of the End, through:

1)   The First Seal: False Peace (Revelation 6:1–2)

Revelation 6:1–2 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. (ESV)

 

As we have seen, Revelation chapters 4 and 5 described the praise offered in heaven to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Chapter 4 extols God as creator (cf. 4:11) while chapter 5 extols Jesus Christ as redeemer (cf. 5:9–10). Suddenly, as the seals begin to be opened in chapter 6, the praise ceases in anticipation of the coming judgment. The scene now shifts from heaven to earth, which will be the focus of events through the return of Christ in chapter 19 and His earthly kingdom in chapter 20. One question that must be asked is: What is the relationship of the seals to the Rapture of the church? Beginning in chapter 6 there is no reference whatever to the churches or to the Rapture that is described in familiar passages (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:51–58; 1 Thes. 4:13–18). Since neither the Rapture nor the church are the subject of Revelation 6–18, many (futurists) conclude that the Rapture of the church takes place before the events beginning in chapter 4 and thus precedes the Tribulation (Walvoord, J. F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 946–947). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.).

 

Having received from His Father the title deed to the earth (Rev. 5:7), the Lamb (the Lord Jesus Christ) opened/broke the first of the seven seals. As each seal is broken in the vision, what is written on the scroll is not read, but acted out. Christ alone is worthy to set into motion those events that will bring about the culmination of human history.( Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (pp. 140–141). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

 

Immediately, John heard one of the four living creatures (cherubim; an exalted order of angels as we have seen in Rev. 4:6–8 cf. Ezek. 10:15) to say with a powerful, shattering voice like thunder, “Come.”

 

In response to the angelic summons, in verse 2 we see a white horse which came forth bearing its rider. The first four seals involve horses and riders (the so-called four horsemen of the Apocalypse). Horses in Scripture are associated with triumph, majesty, power, and conquest (e.g., 19:11, 14; Job 39:19–25; Prov. 21:31; Isa. 43:17; Jer. 6:23; Zech. 9:10; 10:3). That the rider had a bow but no arrows in and that he was honored with a crown that was freely given to him, reveals that his conquering will involve bloodless victories. His crown (stephanos) is a winner’s crown. He is no real king and has no real monarch’s crown (diadēma), but has won a crown from the world for his triumphant achievements leading to what seems like world peace. He will not conquer by military force, but by cunning and deceit (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9–11). His conquest will be a “cold war” victory, a peace won by agreement, not conflict (Dan. 9:24–27). Even as the final doom of the world approaches, Antichrist will promise a golden age of peace and prosperity. In gratitude, the world will honor him and elevate him to the position of supreme leadership. But both the accolades and the false peace will be short-lived. But for a time, Antichrist will seem to solve the world’s problems and be received as the Great Liberator. ( Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 587). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)

 

Please turn to Daniel 9 (p.747)

 

Before the terrors of the Tribulation break loose and lead to the battle of Armageddon there will come a period of world peace. But it will be a deceptive peace, as the world is lulled into a false sense of security followed by war, famine, and death. The world’s desperate desire for international peace will serve as the bait for the satanic trap. That longing for security and safety will play into the hands of Antichrist, Satan’s ruler, who will convince the world that he can provide them. He will particularly deceive Israel, whose people have for so long desired peace. Daniel 9 picks up on this longing:

Daniel 9:22-27 24 Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”  (We will return to Daniel again)

  • For futurists, the false peace that Antichrist brings will come to an abrupt halt at the midpoint of the Tribulation when he desecrates the temple in Jerusalem, betrays the Jewish people, and launches deadly attacks on them (cf. Matt. 24:4–10). There can and will be no peace until the Prince of Peace sets up His earthly kingdom (Rev. 20:1–6).
  • When the Tribulation Period is spoken of, reference is to all the Seven Years of Daniel 9:27. The Great Tribulation covers only the last three and a half years of the period. Expositors are far from agreement on when the latter part of the trials on earth will begin. (Futurists) holds that the final part of the Tribulation Period coincides with the events of Matthew 24:15ff. Thus, the first six seals occur during the first half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week. They are the beginning of sorrows (cf. Mt 24:8).( Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2671). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)

 

Illustration:It may seem incredible that the world, hovering on the brink of final disaster, could be so totally deceived. Yet that is precisely what happened on a smaller scale before the outbreak of the most devastating war to date, World War II. Adolf Hitler spelled out in detail his plans for conquest in his book Mein Kampf, published more than a decade before World War II began. Yet, incredibly, the Western allies (particularly Britain and France) persisted in believing Hitler’s false claim to be a man of peace. They stood idly by as he reoccupied the Rhineland (demilitarized after World War I), thus abrogating the Versailles Treaty, then annexed Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia. Desperate to appease Hitler and avoid war, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with the Nazi dictator at Munich in 1938. Upon his return to England, Chamberlain triumphantly waved a piece of paper (containing a worthless pledge of peace from Hitler) which he claimed guaranteed “peace with honor peace for our time.” When Winston Churchill (one of the few never taken in by Hitler) rose in the House of Commons to declare that England had suffered a total, unmitigated defeat he was shouted down by angry members of Parliament. The deception was nearly universal; almost everyone misread Hitler’s intentions. Only after he invaded Poland in September 1939 did the allies finally acknowledge the truth. By then it was too late to avoid the catastrophe of the Second World War.

 

We must anticipate The Beginning of the End, through:

2)         The Second Seal: War (Revelation 6:3–4)

Revelation 6:3–4 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. (ESV)

The world’s euphoric mood of peace and harmony will be rudely shattered as the second horse and rider appear on the scene. Just as World War II followed the deceptive peace promoted by Hitler, so devastating wars will spread throughout the world following the collapse of Antichrist’s false peace. Here the story turns ugly and remains that way until the true King returns to re-establish His kingdom.

 

As the Lamb opened/broke the second seal John heard the second living creature summoning the second horseman, saying, “Come.” Immediately, in verse 4, a red horse came. Each horse represents an aspect of depravity, and each one leads into the other. With the second horse the lust for conquest turns to civil war, as human depravity turns upon itself and becomes self-destructive. (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 278). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)

 

Red, the color of fire and blood, depicts this war. God’s judgment descends and the short-lived, false peace led by Antichrist dissolves in a bloody holocaust. Those of a manly historical interpretation of Revelation as well as First-century audiences may have detected in such language echoes of (their) political events. The civil war which broke out after the death of Nero in 68 AD (heralding the ‘year of the four emperors’ in 69) meant an effective end to the Pax Romana, the ‘golden age’ of peace established by (Emperior) Augustus. Indeed, on the earlier dating of the Apocalypse, its first recipients would still be in the throes of this political turmoil. (Boxall, I. (2006). The Revelation of Saint John (p. 110). London: Continuum) It is reported that in the thirty-year period prior to the reign of Herod the Great (67–37 b.c.), more than one hundred thousand insurgents died in revolutions and rebellions in Palestine alone. Anarchy and bloodshed are harbingers of the end. (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 143). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

 

John first notes, concerning the rider was permitted/granted to take peace from the earth. All that happens will be under God’s sovereign control. He allows the false peace, and He ends it and brings war on the earth. The judgments of the Tribulation do not ultimately reflect the wrath of humanity or the wrath of Satan; they can only express God’s wrath poured out on the world. It is He who holds the seven-sealed scroll and the Lamb who unrolls it. Sometime early in the first half of the Tribulation, during the beginning of the birth pains (cf. Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:7–8; Luke 21:9), world peace turns to worldwide conflict as peace vanishes from the earth. Describing this time Jesus said, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars.… Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:6–7). People will slay one another on an unprecedented scale. Violent slaughter will become commonplace. While Scripture does not give the details, the advances in modern weaponry suggest a terrible, unimaginable holocaust. Complete peace will only come when Christ returns. The picture in Revelation of the coming persecutions and natural disasters is gloomy, but ultimately it is cause for great joy. When believers see these events happening, they will know that their Messiah’s return is coming soon, and they can look forward to his reign of justice and peace. Rather than being terrified by what is happening in our world, we should confidently await Christ’s return to bring justice and restoration to his people.( Barton, B. B. (2000). Revelation. (G. R. Osborne, Ed.) (p. 72). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)

 

Please turn to Daniel 11 (p.749)

 

John also noted that the rider will be given a great sword. Machaira (sword) refers to the short, stabbing sword a Roman soldier carried into battle. It was also a weapon used by assassins. The vision depicts a great sword to describe the extent of the war. Antichrist’s false peace, then, will dissolve in a maelstrom of battle, assassination, rebellion, revolt, and massacre.  (cf. Dan. 6:9; 8:24; Matt. 24:9). While this rider was given a great/large sword he is not said to kill anyone. People kill one another. God takes peace away (such as the restraining effect of the Holy Spirit) and people proceed to do all the damage. (Morris, L. (1987). Revelation: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 20, p. 106). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).

 

Antichrist’s setting up of the abomination of desolation (Dan. 11:31; 12:11; Matt. 24:15) will touch off a massive conflict, described in detail in Daniel 11:36–45:

Daniel 11:36–45: 36 “And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. 37 He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. 38 He shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these. A god whom his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. 39 He shall deal with the strongest fortresses with the help of a foreign god. Those who acknowledge him he shall load with honor. He shall make them rulers over many and shall divide the land for a price. 40 At the time of the end, the king of the south shall attack him, but the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships. And he shall come into countries and shall overflow and pass through. 41 He shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites. 42 He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. 43 He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the precious things of Egypt, and the Libyans and the Cushites shall follow in his train. 44 But news from the east and the north shall alarm him, and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and devote many to destruction. 45 And he shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him. (ESV)

  • As the head of a Western confederacy, Antichrist, will initially portray himself as a champion of peace. He will even appear to do what no one has been able to do, bring peace to the troubled Middle East. He will make a treaty with Israel, posing as their protector and defender. But all too soon his true colors will show, and his desire for dominance will provoke rebellion. Antichrist’s attempts to crush his enemies and rule them with an iron hand will touch off wars that will last throughout the remainder of the Tribulation. Finally, when earth’s true King, the Lord Jesus Christ, returns, Antichrist will be cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:10). The wars that begin with the opening of the second seal will last for the brief remaining time before the coming of the millennial kingdom.

 

Illustration: People of the time called the First World War the “war to end all wars.” Their hubris was exposed by the bloodiest century on record, the scourge of which continues today. We could make similar comments about the red horse and its rider unleashing violence within society. When bullets shatter schoolrooms, we complain about guns and neglect the problem of sin in our hearts, refusing to call for repentance before God. When the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s led to the devastation of the AIDS virus in the ’80s and ’90s, few would speak of repenting from sin. As economic debt soars, lawmakers refuse the truth about our mad pursuit of short-term pleasure at the expense of generations to follow. In each kind of woe represented by Revelation’s horsemen, judgment is the logical result of sin and also the sovereign decree of the reigning Christ. This wrath calls the world to repent from sin and seek salvation through Jesus Christ. (Phillips, R. D. (2017). Revelation. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (p. 216). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.)

 

We must anticipate The Beginning of the End, through:

3)   The Third Seal: Famine (Revelation 6:5–6)

Revelation 6:5–6 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”  (ESV)

As the Lamb open/broke the third seal, the mighty voice of the third living creature heralded the coming of the third horse and rider. John’s use of the word behold reveals how startled and shocked he was by the rider’s ominous appearance. The color black is associated with famine in Lamentations 5:10 (kjv). Famine is a logical consequence of worldwide war as food supplies are destroyed and those involved in food production are killed. Jesus also predicted this future famine in Matthew 24:7: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.” God has used famine as a means of judgment in the past (e.g., Lev. 26:26; Deut. 32:24; 2 Kings 8:1; Ps. 105:16; Isa. 3:1; Jer. 16:4; Ezek. 4:16–17; 5:16; 14:13; Hag. 1:11), The third seal brings poverty and partial, though not severe, famine. (This is in context) with the increasing intensity of the three cycles of judgment. The fourth seal affects ‘the fourth part of the earth’ (Rev. 6:8), the trumpets destroy a third (Rev. 8:7, 8, 10, 12), and the destruction by the bowls is complete and final (Rev. 16:1ff.)” (Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 474). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.).

 

The pair of scales the rider carried in his hand pictures the rationing that will result from the famine. As in North America during the Depression, in Europe in the aftermath of World War II, and today in many war-torn third-world nations, there will be starving people standing in food lines. But they will not find enough food to live on, as the fourth seal in John’s vision reveals.

 

Following the appearance of the black horse and its rider, in verse 6, John heard what seemed to be/something like a voice in the midst/center of the four living creatures. Since the four living creatures were stationed around the throne (Rev. 4:6), this is likely the voice of God, the One sitting on the throne (Rev. 4:2–3). God also speaks in connection with the fifth seal (Rev. 6:11). He speaks here as a reminder that the famine is a direct judgment from Him.

 

God’s pronouncements reveal how devastating the famine conditions will be. A quart of wheat is barely enough to sustain one person for one day, while a denarius represents one day’s wages for an average worker. People’s labor will barely provide enough food for themselves and not enough to feed their families. Those with families will be able to purchase three quarts of barley for a denarius. This means that under these famine conditions food prices were so inflated—about 1000 to 1500 percent—that someone must work all day to make enough to subsist. If that person had a family, he would barely be able to feed the family on the coarsest food available (for barley was low in nutritional value and commonly fed to livestock.). (Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 107). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.) This may also point to the role greed can play in intensifying the effects of a famine. (Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 6:6). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

 

In light of those extreme conditions, God cautions people not to harm/damage/waste the oil and the wine. Basic food staples will become priceless luxuries. Olive oil and wine, used in the preparation and cooking of food, as well as the purification of water, will need to be carefully protected. In ad 92, shortly before the writing of Revelation, an acute shortage of cereals, together with an abundance of wine in the empire, caused Domitian to order the restriction of wine cultivation and an increase of corn growing; the order created such a furore it had to be abandoned. (Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1435). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.)

 

A deceptive peace followed by worldwide wars and a resultant devastating global famine will combine to escalate the universal chaos. All this will take place during the first half of the Tribulation, while the worst will be yet to come.

 

Illustration: If famine and disease are less horrifying for many (people of the west) than they might be, it is only for lack of exposure to suffering that is a standard part of history and the present experience of tens of millions. …one child in three of those who survive birth in (many) poor countries are unhealthy because of inadequate nutrition.. In so many places, like Sudan,  where our Christian brothers and sisters in the south, they have already suffered so much. In the light of Revelation, we recognize that famine is a corporate judgment (on societies, not individuals), one of God’s methods for waking up an unrepentant world. But believers in wealthier countries dare not stop with this observation: The text provides no exemption for any nations, and all peoples are in principle susceptible to this judgment, especially those so arrogant as to suppose that it cannot happen to them (18:7–8). Even God’s people were subject to such judgments (e.g., 2 Sam. 21:1; 24:13); how much more a nation whose official public religion has become secularism. Those who denied that such sufferings would come on God’s people regularly appear in the Bible as false prophets (Jer. 5:12; 14:13–16). God often warned of famine in advance so people could prepare for it (Gen. 41:28–36; Acts 11:28–30) (Keener, C. S. (1999). Revelation (pp. 211–215). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.).

 

Finally, we must anticipate The Beginning of the End, through:

4)   The Fourth Seal: Death (Revelation 6:7–8)

Revelation 6:7–8 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (ESV)

 

The fourth seal in the vision follows the pattern of the first three. The Lamb opened/broke the seal and the fourth living creature summoned the fourth horse and its rider. In verse 8, John described the final horse as a pale/ashen horse. Chlōros (Pale/ashen), from which the English words “chlorophyll” and “chlorinederive, which refers to a sickly, pale, yellow-green color. It describes green vegetation in its only other New Testament uses (8:7; 9:4; Mark 6:39). The horse’s color vividly portrays the pale-green pallor of death characteristic of the decomposition of a corpse. Fittingly, the rider who sat on it had the ominous name: Death. Death on a massive scale is the inevitable consequence of widespread war and famine. In this macabre and terrifying scene, John saw Hades … following Death. Hades (here representing the grave) becomes, as it were, the grave digger, burying the remains of Death’s victims. Death and Hades are also paired in Rev. 1:18 and Rev. 20:13, 14. That Hades was following close behind is a reminder that death does not end life’s story; judgment awaits sinners (cf. Heb. 9:27–28). (Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1994). Revelation. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1435). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.)

 

Please turn to Ezekiel 14 (p.701)

 

The extent of the death and destruction wrought by war and famine is now quantified; They Death and Hades were given authority to destroy a fourth of the population of the earth. At the world’s current population of nearly 6 billion, that would amount to the staggering total of almost 1.5 billion deaths. In an age of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, such a total is terrifyingly plausible. That one-fourth of the people (and not all of the people) will die indicates that God is still limiting his judgment—it is not yet complete. This means that there is still time for unbelievers to turn to Christ and away from their sin. In this case, the limited punishment not only demonstrates God’s wrath on sin but also his merciful love in giving people yet another opportunity to turn to him before he brings final judgment. We must not presume upon God’s patience. Our repentance must be visible and authentic.( Barton, B. B. (2000). Revelation. (G. R. Osborne, Ed.) (p. 74). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)

 

In this instance of judgement here, death will use four tools in his grim task. The first three elements, the sword, famine, and pestilence, are often linked together in Scripture (e.g., 1 Chron. 21:12; 2 Chron. 20:9; Jer. 14:12; 24:10; 44:13; Ezek. 6:11), and all four elements appear in Ezekiel 14:12–21.

Ezekiel 14:12–21 12 And the word of the Lord came to me: 13 Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God. 15 If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they ravage it, and it be made desolate, so that no one may pass through because of the beasts, 16 even if these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters. They alone would be delivered, but the land would be desolate. 17 “Or if I bring a sword upon that land and say, Let a sword pass through the land, and I cut off from it man and beast, 18 though these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they alone would be delivered. 19 “Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out my wrath upon it with blood, to cut off from it man and beast, 20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness. 21 “For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast! (ESV)

  • Ezek. 14:21 is explicitly quoted in Rev. 6:8b, where it functions as a general summary of the preceding trials of conquest, sword, and faminethey clearly sum up the four preceding statements about trials as “four evil judgments.” These punishments come on nations in general when they are unfaithful to GodThe purpose of the trials is to punish the majority of the nation because of its sin and simultaneously to purify the righteous remnant by testing their faith (Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 372). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.).

 

The sword (war) and famine have already been discussed in connection with the second and third seals; the fourth seal intensifies these conditions. Pestilence translates thanatos, the same word translated “Death” earlier in verse 8. Here it may primarily refer to disease as the cause of death (cf. 2:23; 18:8) but is broad enough to encompass natural disasters such as the earthquakes predicted by Jesus (Matt. 24:7), floods, and volcanic eruptions. It could also refer to the effects of biological and chemical weapons.

 

At first glance, the inclusion of wild beasts with war, famine, and disease seems puzzling, since most creatures dangerous to humanity at this time are either extinct or isolated in unpopulated regions. But one explanation may be that the most deadly creature of all, the rat, thrives in all populated areas. Rats have been responsible for uncounted millions of deaths through out history, both by eating food supplies, and especially by spreading disease. The most infamous and devastating occurrence of rat-borne disease was the Black Death, a fourteenth-century outbreak of bubonic plague that wiped out one-fourth to one-third of Europe’s population. In a world ravaged by war, famine, and disease, the rat population may run wild. Being eaten by wild beasts was one of the curses of the Mosaic covenant (for unfaithfulness) (Deut. 28:26). (Hughes, R. B., & Laney, J. C. (2001). Tyndale concise Bible commentary (p. 741). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)

 

Conquering tyrants who bring the world war, famine, and pestilence are certainly nothing new. Suffering people from the days of the Roman Empire to the most recent war can easily recognize anticipations of these four dreaded horsemen. This is why the Book of Revelation has been a source of encouragement to suffering believers throughout history. As they see the Lamb opening the seals, they realize that God is in control and that His purposes will be accomplished. (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 588). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)

 

Yet at that time the world of sinners will realize that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). There will be no escape for impenitent unbelievers from the terrors of the Tribulation, or from the infinitely worse terrors of hell. In the words of the writer of Hebrews, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).

 

(Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (pp. 176–185). Chicago: Moody Press.)

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