The Seven Seals
Part 1 in Judgments series
part 2 | part 3
Revelation is filled with extraordinary images of God's glory and wrath, from the countless chorus of believers and angels who praise him in heaven to the horrors of the tribulation played out on earth. In the Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins help us visualize how the judgments of God could conceivably happen. Over three articles, we're going to take a look at the three sets of seven judgments described in Revelation: the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls.
Purpose of the Judgments
Before we look at the Seven Seals, let's take a look at the bigger picture of what's happening. As Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins point out in Are We Living in the End Times? (p. 155):
The Tribulation is a terrifying period of seven years in which God pours out his wrath on a rebellious and unbelieving mankind. It is also the "time of Jacob's trouble," in which the Lord will once again deal specifically with the nation of Israel, bringing the Jewish people to faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah they rejected almost two thousand years ago.
Yet while this period is primarily a time of wrath and judgment, it also features a very strong note of mercy and grace—a note that too often gets overlooked. Sometimes we think God gets a "bad rap" when people focus exclusively on the judgments and terrors to come. They see the Lord as some kind of angry monster, heaping up catastrophe and pouring them on the heads of defenseless, innocent men and women, like an obnoxious child might pour gasoline down a teeming anthill with one hand while getting ready to drop a lit match with the other.
But this is all wrong! First, those who suffer the judgments of God in the Tribulation are not "innocent men and women." … the rebels alive at that time will not only reject God and his offer of salvation but will run greedily toward every vile sin known to man, including blasphemy of a kind beyond description. And second, despite their gross sin, God intends that these Tribulation judgments might lead even these wicked sinners to faith in his Son, Jesus Christ!
… We believe with all our hearts that the Tribulation judgments of God serve a dual purpose: to punish hardened sinners and to move others to repentance and faith. The Tribulation will be God's ultimate illustration of the truth found in Romans 11:22: "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God." It is true that the Tribulation will demonstrate God's severity, but it is equally true that it showcase his goodness.
Mark Hitchcock, who serves as a contributing editor to the Left Behind Prophecy Club Newsletter, talks about the purpose of the Tribulation:
1. To Purge Israel. "God will use the Tribulation to bring the Jewish people to their knees. … God will refine the rebellious nation in the fire of the Tribulation period (see Zechariah 13:8-9) … Many of the Jewish people will cry out to God for salvation from their sins. They will implore God to split the heavens and come down to save them (Isaiah 61:1, 5-6, 8-9). … God will mercifully answer this prayer of confession and will save a remnant in Israel.
2. To Punish Gentile Nations. "God will use the Tribulation period to punish the Gentile nations and all unbelievers for rejecting his Son (Isaiah 24:1-6)."
3. To Prove God's Power. Comparing Antichrist to the story of the plagues brought on Egypt because of Pharaoh's defiance, Hitchcock says, "In a similar show of foolish bravado, the Antichrist will totally deny the true God and will declare himself to be God. God will once again pour out his plagues to prove his power and vindicate his reputation—only this time it will be a worldwide scale. …"
4. To Portray Satan's True Character. "God will use the Tribulation to fully unmask Satan for what he is—a liar, a thief, and a murderer. … Realizing that his time is short, the Devil will pour out his venom with force and violence. …"
5. To Purchase a Group of Believers. "The Tribulation will be the greatest evangelistic tool in the history of mankind. The Lord will graciously use this terrible time of trouble to draw people to himself in repentance and trust. He will harvest more souls during this time than anyone can count" (Revelation 7:9-10, 13-14).
The Judgments in the Left Behind Series
You'll find the Tribulation judgments, described in Revelation 6 through 16, spread throughout the Left Behind books:
• The seven Seal Judgments appear in Left Behind, Tribulation Force and Nicolae. We'll describe these in a minute.
• The seven Trumpet Judgments appear in Soul Harvest, Apollyon, and Assassins.
• The Indwelling and The Mark describe the midpoint of the Tribulation when Nicolae Carpathia is assassinated then resurrected and indwelt by Satan himself. This sets the stage for the final set of judgments.
• The first six Bowl Judgments appear in Desecration and Armageddon. The last will be seen in the final book, Glorious Appearing, when it is released next spring.
The Seven Seal Judgments
1. A white horse. (Revelation 6:1-2)
The first seal introduces the initial member of the famous "four horsemen of the Apocalypse." The rider is said to have a bow but no arrows, indicating that although he is militarily strong, in the beginning he does his conquering by diplomacy. Since he wears a crown, we know he is successful in his efforts. And who is this rider on a white horse? There can be no doubt that it is the Antichrist, who through deceit and clever maneuvering will bring a false peace to the world. But that peace will not last (Are We Living in … p. 178).
Left Behind begins to unveil Nicolae Carpathia, a minor player on the world stage until the disappearances propel him to world-wide recognition and power. On pages 413-415 we get a glimpse of the way in which the Antichrist will emerge as a charismatic, believable character at a time of crisis. A CNN reporter describes the activity at the United Nation, where Carpathia proposes moving the UN headquarters to New Babylon, changing the Security Council to ten permanent members, a seven-year pact with Israel, including rights to distribute the fertilizer developed by Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig that turns the desert into fertile soil. Asked by a reporter if his plans included one world religion and government, Carpathia responds: "I can think of little more encouraging than the religions of the world finally cooperating. … The day of hatred is past. Lovers of humankind are uniting."
2. A red horse (Revelation 6:3-4)
John writes of the second horseman, "It was granted to the one who sat on [the red horse] to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword." We believe this seal represents a great conflagration we might call World War III. When Daniel's "three kings" oppose the Antichrist, he will respond in deadly fashion, swiftly crushing his enemies and bringing death to earth on a massive scale never before known.
It is easy for modern readers to imagine the reality behind this second seal. The ability of modern armies to inflict staggering casualties on their enemies is well-known but almost beyond comprehension. Only since the advent of the atomic age has it been possible to bring this kind of unimaginable, swift destruction to bear on widely scattered portions of the globe.
… Of course, nuclear weapons are not the only technological threat to mankind today. The late Dr. George Wald, Nobel prize-winning scientist and biology department head at Harvard University, was quoted as saying, "I think human life is threatened as never before in the history of this planet. Not by one peril, but by many. …" (Are We Living in … p. 179-181)
By the end of Tribulation Force, Carpathia is head of the Global Community, but his concept of a global government is met with resistance. World War III breaks out as the new tiny band of new believers hurry back to the Chicago area.
Rayford, Amanda, Buck, and Chloe frantically try to get to the ailing Bruce Barnes at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Illinois, when they hear a live broadcast from the Global Community Potentate:
"Loyal citizens of the Global Community, I come to you today with a broken heart, unable to tell you even where I speak. For more than a year we have worked to draw this Global Community together under a banner of peace and harmony. Today, unfortunately, we have been reminded again that there are still those among us who would pull us apart."
… without looking at Rayford, she took her hand away, replaced the sheet over Bruce Barnes's head, and went back about her business. Rayford's knees buckled, and he knelt on the muddy pavement. Sirens blared in the distance, emergency lights flashed all around him, and his family waited less than half a mile away. It was just him and them now. No teacher. No mentor. Just them.
As he rose and trudged back down the rise with his awful news, Rayford heard the Emergency Broadcast System station from every vehicle he passed. Washington had been obliterated. Heathrow was gone. There had been death in the Egyptian desert and in the skies over London. New York was on alert.
The Red Horse of the Apocalypse was on the rampage.
As the insurgency is put down, Carpathia prepares his leadership for a long time of recovery and continued struggle. Immense resources will be needed to recover from the tremendous loss of life and destruction of property.
Opportunists always come to the fore at a time such as this. Those who would oppose us will take advantage of the impossibility of our peacekeeping forces to be everywhere at once, and this will result in famine, poverty, and disease. In one way, there is a positive side to this. Due to the incredible cost of rebuilding, the fewer people we must feed and whose standard of living we must raise, the more quickly and economically we can do this. As the population level decreases and then stabilizes, it will be important for us to be sure that it does not then explode again too quickly. With proper legislation regarding abortion, assisted suicide, and the reduction of expensive care for the defective and handicapped, we should be able to get a handle on worldwide population control (Nicolae, pp 131-132).
Delivering remarks at Bruce Barnes memorial service, Rayford uses notes Bruce had prepared explaining the events described in Revelation.
"'[World War III] will be instigated by the Antichrist, and yet he will rise as the great solver of it, the great peacemaker, as he is the great deceiving liar.
"'This will immediately usher in the next two horses of the apolcalypse, the black horse of plague and famine, and the pale horse of death. These will be nearly simultaneous—it should not surprise any of us to know that global war would result in famine, plague, and death.'
… Rayford looked up from Bruce's notes. "My wife and I watched the news yesterday at the airport," he said, "as I'm sure many of you watched wherever you were, and we saw the very things reported from all around the world …" (Nicolae pp. 321-322).
3. A black horse (Revelation 6:5-6)
Rampant inflation—a common aftermath of war—is suggested by John's words, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine." Since in biblical days a denarius was a common wage for a day's work, and a quart of wheat or three quarts of barley are basically subsistence diets, John is indicating that a man will have to work all day just to get enough food to eat, with nothing left over for his family or the elderly. On the other hand, the call to not "harm the oil and the wine"—symbols of wealth—indicates that the rich will do just fine.
The third horseman of the Apocalypse, who rides out early in the Tribulation, will take a heavy toll in deaths and sickness. The black horse he rides is an obvious symbol of famine and disease, which often follow war (Are We Living in … p. 182-184).
4. A pale horse (Revelation 6:7-8)
Why is the fourth horse pale? Because its colorless appearance symbolizes death. John says the rider who sat on this horse "was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth." One quarter of the earth's population—well over a billion people—will die as a result of World War III. That Hades follows Death shows that those slain are unbelievers, for upon death believers do not go to Hades but straight to the Savior's side. (Are We Living in … p 184-185)
5. The martyrs (Revelation 6:9-11)
When the fifth seal is opened, John sees "under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held." Shortly after the beginning of the Tribulation there will be a great "soul harvest" in which millions will come to faith in Christ, many as a result of the preaching of the 144,000 witnesses described in Revelation 7. Most of these Tribulation saints will be killed by the forces of Antichrist. These martyred souls will cry out for God to avenge their deaths, but they will be told to "rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed." Imagine! Despite the desperate evil of the Antichrist, despite the horrors of war and famine and pestilence and death, God is still so much in control of earthly events that even the number of believing martyrs has been fixed by divine decree. Astonishing! (Are We Living in… p 185)
Continuing at the memorial service for Bruce Barnes, Rayford refers to another passage from Bruce's notes:
"Bruce's commentary indicates that more and more martyrs will be added now. Antichrist will come against tribulation saints and the 144,000 witnesses springing up all over the world from the tribes of Israel.
He also addresses the next great judgment:
"Hear me, from a very practical standpoint. … I am preparing to endure what this passage calls 'the wrath of the Lamb.' An earthquake is coming, and it is not symbolic. This passage indicates that everyone, great or small, would rather be crushed to death than to face the one who sits on the throne" (Nicolae p. 327).
Later, we find Carpathia talking to Peter Mathews, in a scene that sets up the great martyrdom of God's saints, which inspires the "the wrath of the Lamb."
"Peter, my friend, this should not be strange doctrine to you as a former Catholic."
"I didn't say it was strange to me. I just never realized the depth of the intolerance that we Catholics had and that those tribulation saint-types have now."
"You have noticed the intolerance too?"
"Who hasn't? These people take the Bible literally. You've seen their propsganda and heard their preachers at the big rallies. There are Jews buying into this stuff by the tens of thousands. Their intolerance hurts us."
"You know. The secret to our success, the enigma that is One World Faith, is simply that we have broken down the barriers that used to divide us. Any religion that believes there's only one way to God is, by definition, intolerant. They become enemies of One World Faith and thus the global community as a whole. Our enemies are your enemies. We have to do something about them."
"What do you propose?"
… "Those who want to cause trouble will be gone. It is as simple as that."
"So, what are you saying, Nicolae? You're going to wage war on the fundamentalists?"
"In a sense I am. … I would like you to cooperate in forming and heading an organization of elite enforcers, if you will, of pure thought."
Such talk of intolerance is not hard to image. It can be found in the headlines today!
6. The great earthquake (Revelation 6:12-17)
The first four seals described judgments largely inflicted by man; the sixth seal describes a judgment clearly supernatural in origin. John tells of an earthquake so massive that "every mountain and island was moved out of its place." Probably he also has in mind enormous volcanic activity, for he says "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood." Particulate matter scattered in the atmosphere after a volcanic eruption has often turned the sky black and made the moon seem to turn red; recall the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State or the gigantic explosion of Krakatau on August 27, 1883. John also foresaw meteorites crashing into the earth (verse 13) and what may be huge mushroom clouds of undetermined origin (verse 14). The people of earth will recognize these phenomena as coming from the hand of God, for they are said to cry out to the mountains where they take cover, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of his wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (verses 16-17)(Are We Living in … p. 185-186).
"Sir," the secretary said. "An emergency call for you from the International Seismograph Insititute." With that announcement, on page 401 of Nicolae, the Sixth Seal judgment begins to unfold. Fleeing by helicopter with Carpathia, Rayford is sickened by the sight of the destruction everywhere, including the 18-story building from which they narrowly escaped. As they approached Baghdad, "everywhere the three of them looked was destruction. Craters from meteors. Fires burning. Buildings flattened. Roads wasted." When he sees the destruction at Baghdad Airport, Rayford knows "the only prayer for Amanda or for Hattie was that their planes were still in the air when this occurred." Upon landing, Carpathia is as self-absorbed as usual, asking if either Mac or Rayford have a working phone. Rayford is disgusted, grabs Carpathia by the lapels and pushes him against the helicopter. "Nicolae, you can explain this away any way you want, but let me the first to tell you: You have just seen the wrath of the Lamb!"
7. The trumpet judgments (Revelation 8:1-2)
The seventh seal is different from all its predecessors in that it introduces the next series of divine judgments, the seven trumpet judgments. While five of the seal judgments feature devastations wrought by man, all of the trumpet judgments come directly from heaven. They are so severe that verse 1 says, "When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." In the rest of Revelation heaven is seen to be a joyous and worshipful place, with choruses singing, trumpets blaring, celestial beings crying out—but suddenly there comes this ominous silence. As horrible as the seal judgments were, the trumpet judgments will be worse (Are We Living in … p 186).
The seventh seal is revealed in the Epilogue of Nicolae, which quotes Revelation 8:1-6:
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. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.
So, the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
Next time, we'll look at the depiction of those seven trumpet judgments in the Left Behind series.
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