In the last post we went into some depth into the period of time the Bible calls the Great Tribulation. We saw that the man called the antichrist, or the man of lawlessness, will come to power and will be given authority to persecute the saints. He will be a charismatic man, a world leader, a conqueror, and he will be empowered by Satan.
With him will be another person, called the false prophet. This man seems to be a religious figure who will enforce worship of the antichrist. And he will make it so that in order to buy or sell, each person must get a mark on his right hand or his forehead.
These three—Satan, the antichrist, and the false prophet—make up an evil trinity. But what is their purpose? What are they trying to achieve?
Scripture tells us that Satan in the beginning was a beautiful, powerful angel. But pride filled his heart, and he sought to become like God. He rebelled and was cast out of heaven and took a third of the angels with him. And ever since, his purpose has been to exalt himself by opposing God and man.
We learn much about Satan from the names given to him in Scripture: the adversary, the father of lies, the accuser, the tempter, the enemy, the evil one, a schemer, a deceiver, a murderer.
Satan has used world leaders throughout the ages to try to derail God’s plans and destroy the people of God. Certainly, the pharaoh who enslaved and oppressed the Israelites was influenced by Satan, but God miraculously delivered them. Herod was no doubt influenced by Satan when he killed all male children under 2 years old around Bethlehem. But Joseph was warned in a dream and they escaped. The emperor Nero, a great persecutor of the church, was considered the antichrist by many. And Hitler and Stalin were no doubt influenced by Satan during their murderous reigns that killed millions.
And a day is coming when Satan will powerfully influence—perhaps even possess—another charismatic, political dictator—the final one who will oppose God and his people. This is the person we call the antichrist.
Jesus said that this time of persecution, the Great Tribulation, would be the worst the world has ever known. Many passages tell us about this time of persecution of God’s people, beginning in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.
Daniel 7:25 He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High.
Revelation 12:17 He went off to make war on . . . those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Revelation 13:5, 7 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.
All of these passages speak of this time of Great Tribulation, when the antichrist will be allowed to persecute, wear down, conquer, and kill the people of God. Twice in the book of Revelation, the saints are exhorted to endurance:
Revelation 13:10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword he must be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Revelation 14:12–13 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
Some believers are destined to go to captivity; some are destined to be killed. In other words, God is in control; his promises will still be true. He has his good and holy purposes in allowing this time.
I believe this will be a glorious time for the church, as Jesus’ disciples witness to the truth of the gospel, as they show their love for their Savior, and as they seal their faith with their blood, the way countless other believers have done down through the centuries.
Review of the First Five Seals
If you were here last week, we began to read about a seven-sealed scroll. Revelation chapter 5 tells us about this scroll that only Jesus is worthy to take and to break the seals of and to open. I said that this scroll is the title deed to Planet Earth. It represents our forfeited inheritance which the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lamb of God, will begin to take back. He became a man, and then by virtue of his sinless life, his sacrificial death, and his glorious resurrection, he conquered and therefore is worthy to redeem God’s creation.
So, in chapter 6 Jesus begins to break the seals on the scroll. And as he does, each one unlooses events on earth. Remember, the seals are all on the outside of the scroll, so these events are precursors leading up to the opening of the scroll not the contents of the scroll itself.
- Seal 1 brought a rider on a white horse—a conqueror.
- Seal 2 brought a rider on a red horse—war.
- Seal 3 brought a rider on a black horse—famine and economic hardship.
- Seal 4 brought a rider on a pale horse—death and hades.
These first four horses represent the events that will take place during this time of Great Tribulation. Most commentators see the white horse as the arrival of the antichrist on the scene. Seal 2 is him consolidating his power and putting down rebellion. Seal 3 represents the economic controls that he and the false prophet implement. And Seal 4 represents his killing spree as he kills those who refuse him as God and who continue to hold to their testimony of Jesus.
After Seal 5 was opened, John saw souls under the altar in heaven—martyrs of the Great Tribulation. These souls were of men and women who did not love their lives even to death. If you remember, they cry out to God for something.
Revelation 6:10–11 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
They cry out for judgment; they cry out for vengeance; they cry out for justice to be done. They ask God how long he will continue to delay and to allow the Great Tribulation to continue? And they are given white robes and told to rest a little while longer until the full number of martyrs is complete. God is control of all of these events.
Sixth Seal—The Sign of the Day of the Lord
Now we come to the opening of the sixth seal. Let’s see what John saw after Jesus opened the sixth seal on the scroll:
Revelation 6:12–14 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”
Up till now, we’ve had pretty normal events—war, famine, death, things like that. But now, we begin to see God intervene in the affairs of man. These are now supernatural events. Let’s look at the events that will occur on that great day when the sixth seal is opened.
THE EVENTS THAT MARK THAT DAY (vv. 12–14).
- A great earthquake—how great is this earthquake? Well, it says that . . .
- Every mountain and island is moved from its place—This is a massive earthquake felt around the world.
- The sun becomes black—those living where it is daylight will see the sun turn black. This isn’t just a normal eclipse.
- The moon becomes like blood—those living where it is nighttime will see the moon turn to a blood red. This isn’t just a normal blood moon as they call them.
- The stars fall to earth—not literal stars; John is probably seeing a massive meteor shower with meteors striking the earth.
- The sky is rolled up like a scroll—I have no idea what that means, but it must be horrifying to behold.
What is fascinating, is that all of these signs are listed in the Old Testament as portents or omens or harbingers of the day of the Lord—the time of God’s wrath.
Isaiah 13:9–11 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity.
Isaiah 13:13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.
Isaiah 34:2, 4 For the Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter. . . All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.
Joel 1:10–11 The earth quakes; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?
Joel 3:14–16 For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake.
Do you see all the parallels? The celestial signs in the sun, moon, and stars. Darkness and gloom. The earth and the heavens shaking. There can be no doubt that this is the announcement of the day of the Lord.
There are two more passages about the day of the Lord. And I want to highlight these because these are the only ones that give us clear time markers as to when these signs will happen in relation to other events. The first one was spoken by Jesus during the Olivet Discourse:
Matthew 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Jesus speaks of these same celestial signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And the shaking of the heavens. And when does he state that these things will happen? “AFTER the tribulation of those days.” So, Jesus confirms our understanding of Revelation chapter 6. The first seals represent the Great Tribulation when Jesus says that his followers will be hated and killed. And then he says that AFTER this tribulation, the sign of the day of the Lord will come.
The next verse is in the Old Testament book of Joel, chapter 2, verse 31:
Joel 2:31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.
Joel mentions the same celestial signs using the same language as Revelation—the sun going dark and the moon turning to blood. When does he say these signs will occur? “BEFORE the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”
So, we can put these in chronological order:
- Great Tribulation (Satan’s wrath) – Seals 1–5
- Celestial signs (sign of the day of the Lord) – Seal 6
- Day of the Lord (God’s wrath) – Seal 7
Right? The signs come AFTER the tribulation, according to Jesus, and BEFORE the day of the Lord, according to Joel.
THE RESPONSE OF THE WICKED TO THAT DAY (vv. 15–17)
So, how do people on earth respond to these terrible signs and events on earth?
Revelation 6:15–17 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
As these awesome events transpire, mankind will realize that God will soon bring punishment upon earth’s inhabitants because of disobedience to his laws. One would think that these dreadful events would move men to repentance. But it will not be so.
Note that men of every possible class—kings, great men, the rich and powerful, every free man and every slave—all respond to these signs by hiding in the caves and rocks of the mountains. The day of the Lord will be the great equalizer. All will equally try to hide from the presence of God, the almighty!
Surprisingly, these people will all pray. But tragically, they send their prayers in the wrong direction. Instead of crying out to God, they will cry out to the rocks and caves of the mountains to cover them and hide them from the face of God. But as it turns out, the rocks and caves will not help them. Isaiah prophesied of this terrible day.
Isaiah 2:19–21 And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth. In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, to the moles and to the bats, to enter the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth.
All of these people know exactly what is happening; and they know exactly why it’s happening. They don’t offer up scientific explanations for the events that are occurring. They know that they are hiding from the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. Even the wicked on earth recognize that “the great day of their wrath has come.” All pretenses are put away, all excuses are gone—and man reveals that, all along, he knew that he was in rebellion against his Maker!
As these people see the signs and seek to hide, they will testify that they are unable to stand in the coming Day of Judgment. They are without excuse. This time of judgment is described in detail in Revelation chapters 8–11 and 15–19 as the trumpets and bowls of God’s wrath are unleashed on the earth.
These are sobering passages from God’s Word. These events will come upon the world, and they should cause some self-examination. Will that be me hiding among the rocks? Do I have a real relationship with Christ? Am I trusting in Christ alone for salvation? Do I know that I have eternal life?
It’s not enough to just go to church. It’s not enough to try and live a moral life. You could have attended CFC for years, you sign the songs on the screen, you put some money in the offering, you don’t drink or cuss. But you could still be under the wrath of God, and you could run for cover on that dreadful day. Jesus said that on that day many will say to him, “Lord, Lord—did we not do all this ministry in your name?” And he will say to them, “Depart from me; I never knew you.”
Do you know Christ? Does he know you? Have you repented of your sin and embraced him? Have you forsaken all to follow him. Is he your Lord? Do you desire to please him, to read his word, to pray? If not, then I urge you to come to him in simple faith. If you are not sure that you are a Christ-follower this morning, I urge you to settle the matter today. Talk with your parents, talk with me, talk with Jesus. He is always ready to receive a repentant sinner who asks him for eternal life.
But if you are here this morning, and you know that you are one of Jesus’ followers, and you are trusting in him alone for salvation, you’ve counted the cost and found him to be worth it—then you can take great comfort. You need not fear the day of the Lord. You are not subject to the wrath of God.
Romans 5:9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 . . . and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We will be delivered before the day of the Lord falls on the earth. Well, Gary, you may ask. If that’s true, then where in the book of Revelation is the rapture? Where’s the rescue? Let me show you.
THE RESCUE OF THE RIGHTEOUS FROM THAT DAY (7:1–14)
There is still one seal to be opened on the scroll—the seventh. But before Jesus breaks it so as to open the scroll, there’s an interlude in chapter 7. And we see that before God’s wrath starts, there are two groups who come into focus—one group on earth and one in heaven.
First John sees 144,000 Jewish men, 12,000 from each of the 12 Tribes of Israel. They are sealed on their forehead by an angel. Their sealing represents salvation and protection. These are God’s representatives on earth who will remain. They are mentioned again in chapter 14 as those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They “have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb,” we are told. This appears to be 144,000 Jews who become believers at this point, and God seals them for protection and service for the coming months and years.
Revelation 7:9–12 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
But who is this multi-ethnic, innumerable multitude clothed in white robes that suddenly appears in heaven, praising God for his salvation? If you’re not sure, don’t feel bad. Apparently, John didn’t know either.
Revelation 7:13–14 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The heavenly elder identifies this vast multitude as those who were on earth during the Great Tribulation, but they have now come out of the Great Tribulation. They are believers since they have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. And they are from every nation, tribe, people, and language—the exact description of the ones for whom Christ died that John was given back in chapter 5. This great multitude in heaven is none other than the raptured church. They appear exactly when we expect them to—after the tribulation and before God’s wrath. And this is precisely when Jesus said he would come to gather together his elect:
Matthew 24:29–31 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Right after the celestial signs announcing the day of the Lord, God rescues his people who are in the Great Tribulation. He removes them from the earth, and then in Revelation chapter 8, Jesus breaks the seventh seal, unleashing the wrath of God during the day of the Lord judgments.
And let me give you one more confirmation: Luke 21. Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his return:
Luke 21:25–27 And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
We saw this at the sixth seal—signs in the heavens, distress on earth, the heavens being shaken, people fearing the wrath of God coming upon the earth. Men looking up and seeing the Lamb. This is the sixth seal—the sign that comes just before the day of the Lord. And then what does Jesus say to his disciples—his followers—to you and me?
Luke 21:28 . . . Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
When the rest of the world is hiding in holes and under rocks from the wrath of the Lamb, we’ll be looking up waiting for our rapture and the resurrection. What a glorious day that will be!
When I began to study these things and to see the harmony in the Old Testament, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, the book of Revelation, I got very excited. It suddenly all made sense, and it all fit together. And more than anything, it confirmed to me that this is a divine book. Written by 40 authors over a 1,500-year period, and yet it is totally consistent, historically accurate, and it gives us the message of eternal life. What other book can claim that?
You can trust it. You can trust it when it tells us of historical events. You can trust it when it tells us of future events. And you can trust it when it tells us the way of salvation.