The start of reoccupation
The British Parliament opened this week following the recent general election (it’s mid May 2015 as I write this). There is a new influx of Scottish National Party (SNP) Members of Parliament (MP) and they are in a mood to make their presence felt in the debating chamber. There is a convention in the House of Commons that informs where people sit. For the SNP MPs convention certainly does not entitle them to sit directly behind the leader of the opposition but that’s where they sat this week! There is one particular spot where the honorable member for Bolsover usually sits: Dennis Skinner – the beast of Bolsover! Guess where the most senior SNP member wanted to sit! The national news papers reported that some unparliamentary scuffling broke out when it was time for the honorable members to take their places for the first proceedings of the new parliament. I hear that in the end Dennis Skinner occupied his usual seat.
This world has been occupied by Satan and there will come a time when he will be removed from his place of occupation. He will neither do this willingly nor without a fight. The next chapters of Revelation describe a battle for occupancy. There will only be one winner.
Since there is much material in the rest of the bible concerning these events we need to take some time to understand at least some of the data that comes from outside of Revelation. Both the Old Testament prophets as well as Jesus himself had a lot to say about the ‘end times’ and how God’s plan for this world would unfold.
The year was about 535 BC. Israel had been in exile for almost 70 years. Daniel understood from his reading of the prophet Jeremiah that the time was coming for the exile to end. He confessed the sin of the nation and prayed that God would help the people as they faced the daunting prospect of return to a ruined city and a destroyed temple. As the prayer came to a close Daniel was given information from none other than the angel Gabriel. The angel specifically came to give insight and understanding. Here’s what he said (Daniel 9:24) “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.” What great news for Daniel – there would be a time when his people would sort themselves out once and for all, a time of everlasting righteousness and fulfillment of prophecy. It would all come about when the anointed one would come. But the anointed one has already come you will say and none of these benefits have been realised – quite right! But Gabriel had not finished. “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ ….After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.” Daniel has been given a timetable for God’s big plan. But the plan will bring pain before benefit: the anointed one will be cut off and will have nothing! Jesus was indeed ‘cut off’ and everlasting righteousness and his reign on earth did not begin. The time to this event was comprised of 69 ‘sevens’. Each seven was a period of 7 years of 360 days each. From the start to the time the anointed one would come would be 69 x 7 (463) years. Did you know that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on that very day: exactly 463 years, to the day, after king Cyrus issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem! But rather than receiving a kingdom he was crucified. He was cut off and had nothing, just as Gabriel said.
To Daniel’s great dismay his home city was to be destroyed yet again: “The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” That’s just what happened in 70 AD. The city of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by the Romans. So far so good (well so far so bad to be precise).
There remains one final ‘seven’. Gabriel again: “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” This last ‘seven’ sounds distinctly unpleasant – this ruler will be utterly opposed to God. But we know that by the end of this seven, everlasting righteousness will come and this evil one will be dealt with. Since this final ‘seven’ will bring about everlasting righteousness, put and end to sin and involve the anointing of the holy one, we must take this final ‘seven’ as yet future. Since we know that the next event to take place before God’s judgement comes will be when Jesus will come for those who love him, the final seven – the Day of the Lord – will come when we believers are with the Lord: as Paul says we are not appointed to suffer wrath.
From this important passage in Daniel we have some sort of framework that gives us knowledge of God’s plans for this world. Jesus spoke of these times too: the disciples were keen to understand how events would unfold and Jesus provided additional information. There would be a period of ‘birth pangs’ followed by great difficulty for the people of Israel which would include the ‘abomination that causes desolation’. The birth pangs would involve false Christs, wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes. Jesus places these events before the middle point of the final ‘seven’ the time of the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ – see Matthew 24 for Jesus’ discussion on this.
So the events do have some logical sequence: first the church will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and inhabit the mansions Jesus spoke about. At some stage following that, this last ‘seven’ will commence in which the Day of the Lord judgements will take place, in the middle of this period will be the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ and this mid point will be preceded by ‘birth pang’ events. At the end of this final ‘seven’ Jesus will claim this world back and set up his eternal kingdom.
As we return to Revelation you will recall that Jesus is about to open the seven seals on the scroll that we believe to be the title deeds to the world. The opening of the scroll seems to correlate with the final seven years described by Gabriel to Daniel. And the purpose of this period is to remove Satan from his position as squatter on the earth and replace him with the second Adam. The events associated with the first few seals seem to correlate with the ‘birth pang’ period (the first half of the seven years) spoken of by Jesus, and the final seal seems to correlate with the full-on Day of the Lord judgements. On the opening of the seventh and final seal there follows a series of seven trumpets and on the sound of the seventh trumpet there follows a series of seven bowls – more of that later. (See the diagram below). Chapter 6 deals with the first six seals.
- The first four seals: the horsemen
As each of the first four seals are opened John records what he sees: four horses, a white horse, a red horse, a black horse and finally a pale horse.
The rider of the first horse was armed with a bow, had a crown that was given to him and “rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest”. There have been a surprisingly large number of suggestions as to who or what this horse and its rider represent. As Jesus had described the period of birth pangs and as these early seals seem to correlate with that period it makes sense to refer to Jesus’ comments in the gospels. He describes false Christs and rumours of war. It seems that this first rider represents that very thing. His bow represents the threat of war. The Greek word used for crown is the ‘stephanos’ the crown of a conqueror. The rider most likely is representative of false Christs and the final ‘man of sin’.
Next John sees a red horse. The rider of this horse was given a large sword and the “rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other.” There is no doubt that this horse speaks to John of wars – the wars that Jesus spoke of as part of the birth pangs – “wars and rumours of wars.”
A third horse is called up. It is a black horse and the rider holds a pair of weighing scales, a voice is heard: “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” As sure as night follows day, food shortages follow war. This horse appears to represent the economic consequences of the wars associated with the red horse. The prices stated would have been many times higher than the prices in John’s day. Price controls would be put in place and strict control over supply. This will doubtless remind those who lived through the second world war of food rationing which lasted several years after the war.
Finally on the opening of the fourth seal a fourth pale horse appears. This horse is the colour of a corpse and its rider was named death. The horse was followed close behind by Hades. John notes that “They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” This is a remarkable and concerning comment: a quarter of the inhabitants of the world will die in the hands of this rider, that’s more than a billion people.
- The fifth seal
In Matthew 24: 9 as Jesus was describing some of these events to his disciples he said the following “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” And now on the opening of the fifth seal John sees “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” Since all believers will be resurrected at the coming of the Lord prior to this Day of the Lord period, these martyred believers seem to be believers who had come to faith after the church has departed. They ask how long it will be before God’s judgement falls on the inhabitants of the earth. In those days there will be no restraint against those who hate God and anyone who aligns himself with the true God, many who put their faith in Christ will lose their lives because of their faith. These martyrs will have to wait a little longer, but God’s wrath would eventually come. You may recall that both Jesus and Stephen the martyr called for mercy for their murderers but by the time of the Day of the Lord, the day of mercy will be fast coming to a close – God’s judgement will fall. Are you ready for that day? Today is the day for making our peace with God, tomorrow may be too late.
- The sixth seal
The opening of the sixth seal will be accompanied by cataclysmic events on the earth. “The sun turned black … the whole moon turned blood red … the stars in the sky fell to earth … the sky receded like a scroll … and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” There will be no doubt as to whom is responsible for these disturbing events. Men and women will recognise that these come from “him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.”