Summary: 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 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!” 2 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.).