End-time prophecy is a mystery to many, but not to those who understand the book of Revelation. The Apostle John wrote of seven "seals" that will mark milestones in the prophetic "run-up" to Jesus Christ's return. You can understand end-time prophecy!
The Book of Revelation—the last book in your Bible—is a mystery to most people. Some think it is just allegory. Others say it is all about past events. Did you know that this book, in its description of the seven seals, gives the outline of end-time prophecy? You can know how end-time events will unfold—and how you can be ready for them! You need to understand the seven seals of Revelation.
Around 95ad, the Apostle John wrote down in Revelation the inspired words of God. John had been exiled to the island of Patmos off the southwest coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. The island was used as a Roman penal colony in the first century. He wrote: "I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:9).
God chose the Apostle John to record the Apocalypse, or Revelation. As Scripture explains, it was John "who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw" (1:2). Notice this blessing pronounced on those who seriously study the book of Revelation: "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near" (1:3).
Humanity as a whole is ignorant of one of the greatest books ever written! God has deliberately hidden the deep meaning of this mysterious book from those who are spiritually blinded—which means that He has hidden its meaning from most of the world.
Even Adam Clarke, the famous Bible commentator, found difficulty in making any sense of Revelation. Clarke wrote: "I had resolved, for a considerable time, not to meddle with this book, because I foresaw that I could produce nothing satisfactory on it" (Preface to the Revelation of St. John, p. 966)
But you can understand the book of Revelation. Notice that this is the Revelation of Jesus Christ—not that of St. John the Divine, as some Bibles title the book. What, then, is the purpose of Jesus' revelation? It is to "show His servants—things which must shortly take place" (Revelation 1:1). The purpose of the book is not to hide the truth, but to reveal events leading up to the return of Christ! In fact, the word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek apokalupsis, which means "uncovering" or "unveiling." You need to know what those prophesied events are!
The seven seals reveal prophetic events that lie just ahead of us. In Revelation 5, we read about a scroll sealed with seven seals. John begins to weep when no one is worthy to open the scroll. But we read: "But one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'" (5:5). The Lion of the tribe of Judah is Jesus Christ—He begins to open the scroll sealed with seven seals.
In Revelation 6, we read the description of six of those seals. The first four seals are known as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Apostle John describes the Lamb—Jesus Christ—opening the first seal. "Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, 'Come and see.' And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer" (6:1–2).
What do the white horse and its rider represent? Some commentators mistakenly say that these represent Christ, because the imagery appears similar to the description of Christ given in Revelation 19. But when we compare the Revelation 19 description to the first horseman, we find notable differences. Christ comes with many crowns (19:12), not just one crown. And He comes with a sword (v. 15), not a bow as in Revelation 6.
Christ is the Revelator. He reveals the meaning of this white horse in Matthew 24. Jesus describes the signs of His Second Coming, and the sequence of events, that coincide with the seals of Revelation. "And Jesus answered and said to them: 'Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ," and will deceive many'" (Matthew 24:4–5).
This white horse, and its rider, represent false religions—"false christs" (v. 24). In Matthew 24, Jesus continues describing the sequence of events: war, famine, pestilence and tribulation. Jesus is the One who interprets the seals of Revelation. He tells us: "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake" (vv. 6–9).
The second seal reveals a horseman riding a red horse, having the power to take peace from the earth. The third seal presents a rider on a black horse, representing a scarcity of food and resulting famine. The fourth seal shows a rider on a pale horse with the power over one fourth of the earth to kill "with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth" (Revelation 6:8). Jesus also spoke of the pestilence that normally follows a famine.
Thus we see that in Matthew, Jesus confirmed the meaning of these seals when He spoke of:
The four horsemen will intensify their ride as we approach the Day of the Lord. They are revealed in Revelation 6 as Christ opens the first four seals. What happens when the fifth seal is opened? "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held" (Revelation 6:9).
Here is described the martyrdom of the saints, true Christians. In the first century, the Emperor Nero violently persecuted Christians and put them to death. A major end-time persecution of saints is also foretold by this fifth seal. Jesus predicted this future tribulation in Matthew 24:9. Then Jesus opens the sixth seal, revealing the heavenly signs that will shock people all over the earth. What are those heavenly signs? "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place" (vv. 12–14).
Not only will asteroids and meteorites frighten people, but massive earthquakes will also shake the earth. As the Apostle John saw in vision, "every mountain and island was moved out of its place." If you have ever experienced a strong earthquake, as many of us have in California, you know how frightening earthquakes can be. Your knees and legs feel weak as water, even if you have not been seriously injured.
The heavenly signs introduce the Day of the Lord: the time of God's wrath and judgment on an unthankful, rebellious world. Jesus Christ, the Lamb, will be wrathful. He will execute God's righteous judgments. The Day of the Lord is also called "the great day of His wrath" (6:17)!
Revelation 8 describes the seventh seal being opened. We find that this seal—the Day of the Lord—is comprised of seven trumpet judgments or plagues. "When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets" (8:1). The trumpets give us warning, announcing seven plagues, or judgments!
The seven seals reveal end-time trends and events. The seventh seal represents the year-long Day of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 34:8). And the seventh seal consists of seven trumpet judgments during the year-long Day of the Lord. As we will see later, the seventh trumpet itself consists of the "seven last plagues" mentioned in Revelation 15:1.
As you read through Revelation 8, you will notice that, as the first four angels sound their trumpets, there is great ecological devastation all over the earth. There are earthquakes; vast areas of vegetation are burned up; a third of all sea life dies; water sources are poisoned. The heavens are darkened.
The last three trumpet plagues are called woes. The word "woe" is an exclamation of grief! "And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, 'Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!'" (Revelation 8:13).
Revelation 9 describes the first woe or the fifth trumpet plague. The fifth angel sounds a trumpet that begins a military action that lasts for five months. The second woe, or the sixth trumpet plague, is pictured with symbols of horses and horsemen. Here we see an intense military counter-attack. We read: "One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things. Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates'" (9:12–14). An army of 200 million moves westward across the Euphrates River and destroys one-third of the earth's population! "So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed; by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths" (vv. 15–18).
This is describing world war! And this phase of World War III will kill billions of human beings! Jesus said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved—all life on earth would be destroyed (Matthew 24:21–22).
Then the seventh trumpet sounds. For Christians, the sounding of the seventh trumpet is good news because it announces the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, and the return of Jesus Christ. We all need to be preparing for that time! "Then the seventh angel sounded: and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'" (Revelation 11:15).
This will be an awesome event! The history of the world has been waiting for this great event! We need Christ's return to this earth! Mankind has not brought the world lasting peace. Less than 60 years ago, mankind exploded the first nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the first time in history, mankind could annihilate itself in a matter of minutes—complete cosmocide became a very real danger.
Is there any danger today of nuclear war? Certainly many of us remember historic conflicts that were very frightening. In 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union played nuclear brinkmanship over the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1973, President Nixon placed U.S. military forces on nuclear alert when the Soviet Union threatened to intervene in the Middle East war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
As most of us realize, nuclear war still threatens us in the 21st century! We need Christ to return, to bring peace, justice and God's Way to mankind! The good news is that the one-year period of time called the Day of the Lord, culminates in the announcement that Christ is taking over all the kingdoms and governments of this world! That is the good news we all look forward to hearing!
But the seventh trumpet is also called the third woe! Why? Because it will also signal the seven last plagues! This is an intense fulfillment of the day of God's wrath and judgment on rebellious nations. "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete" (15:1).
As we saw earlier, the seven seals reveal end-time trends and events. The seventh seal represents the year-long Day of the Lord. And the seventh seal consists of seven trumpet judgments during the year-long Day of the Lord. Then the seventh trumpet itself consists of the "seven last plagues" mentioned in Revelation 15 and 16.
We can read, in Revelation 16, the description of these seven last plagues. They include plagues of painful sores on those who have worshiped the Beast power and its image. They include even more poisonous rivers and seas to the extent that "every living creature in the sea died" (16:3). The sun becomes hotter, resulting in extreme heat waves that torment those who will not repent of their sins!
The sixth angel then pours out his bowl of plagues: "Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (vv. 12–14).
Finally the Beast—the prophesied European superpower, the revived Roman Empire—will move into the Middle East. And the kings of the East, who would normally be fighting against the Beast power, also move into the Middle East. But instead of fighting one another, they join ranks to fight against an invader from outer space, Jesus Christ! "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (v. 16). The name Armageddon comes from the Hebrew, "Har Magedon," which means "the hill of Megiddo." Megiddo is located in Modern Israel about 55 miles north of Jerusalem. The hill or mount of Megiddo overlooks the largest valley in Israel, the Plain of Esdraelon, or the Valley of Jezreel.
The armies of the world will gather there to make war against Jesus Christ—the Commander of Heaven's armies! The Apostle John writes, "Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of kings and Lord of lords" (19:11–16).
When Christ returns to this earth, He will judge and conquer all His enemies. John continues: "And I saw the beast [the prophesied military dictator], and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him [against Jesus] who sat on the horse and against His army" (v. 19).
These armies are gathered at Megiddo to make war against Christ and His army. The war or battle is called "the battle of the great day of God Almighty." But where will the battle take place? The prophet Joel tells us that this climactic battle will take place near Jerusalem. "For, behold in those days and at that time… I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there" (Joel 3:1–2).
The valley of Jehoshaphat, also called the Kidron Valley, is located between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. The world's armies will move southward from Megiddo to fight Jesus Christ at Jerusalem. In the great climactic battle of all ages, the Creator God will prevail, as puny human beings fail in their futile attempt to conquer God.
Foolish generals will quickly learn how powerless they are against the omnipotent, divine power of God! Listen to the results of that battle: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem.… Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle, and in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives" (Zechariah 14:2–4). Notice the horrible punishment wrought on those rebellious, evil armies. "And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the people who fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, Their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, And their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths" (v. 12).
Jesus will totally conquer the greatest military combine ever assembled. He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords to bring this war-torn planet a thousand years of peace. "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth" (v. 9).
The seven seals of Revelation reveal the prophetic trends and events leading up to the return of Christ. We need to be spiritually prepared! Look forward to the return of Jesus Christ. Be thankful for the good news that you have been hearing. Make sure you are reading your Bible, and the inspiring book of Revelation. And make sure you are preparing for the coming Kingdom of God.