Chapter 6 right through to chapter 8 verse 5 of Revelation, now we're not going to read this whole portion as an introductory reading. We'll just be looking at certain verses as we pass through it this evening, so let's look at 'The Seven Seal Judgements'.
Now in Matthew 24 we have what is called 'the Olivet discourse', and our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the events that would take place at the end times. In verse 21 of Matthew 24, He said these words: 'For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be'. Now the people who take the Bible literally, and that's us - not with a wooden literalism, but taking it as it says it, in a literal, grammatical, historical sense - believe that this subject of the tribulation is given more space in the Bible than any other comparable event. Let me give you some examples: there is more space given to the tribulation than the millennial reign of Christ, His reign on the earth for a thousand years, in scriptural terms. There's more said about the tribulation than heaven or hell. Indeed, the only other subjects that seem to say more in Scripture are related to salvation and the general promise of the second coming of our Lord Jesus. So in both the Old and New Testaments, there's a great deal of Scripture given to this subject of the tribulation period.
Now perhaps the most significant Old Testament passage related to the tribulation is found in Daniel chapter 9, now you can turn to it if you wish. It's found in verses 24 through to verse 27. Now there's a chart on the screen here that looks rather complicated, but I don't want you to get bogged down with much of the detail there, save to say that in Daniel 9 verses 24 to 27 Daniel was given a prophecy from God concerning 70 weeks, or 490 years. Now Daniel tells us that the tribulation would last for one week, that is Daniel 9:24. Now, of course, it's not speaking of a seven-day week in our ordinary terms, but the Hebrew that is used in Daniel 9:27 indicates a week of years, a prophetic week - most scholars agree with that. So a prophetic week equals seven years, just as an ordinary week is seven days, a prophetic week is seven years.
The first 69 weeks of years in Daniel's prophecy span from the decree that King Artaxerxes made to restore the walls of Jerusalem, and those 69 first weeks ended with the rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ when Messiah was cut off. So you see it there, the decree to begin the building of the walls again, and then 69 of these prophetic weeks later Messiah is cut off, and there is His crucifixion at the cross. So this is what Daniel tells us. Now that whole period, from the first week to the 69th week, 483 literal years, is the time period that takes us from that event where it was decreed that the walls should be built in Jerusalem, to the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus - exactly 483 years. Now Daniel tells us that the last week of the 70 week prophecy would be the tribulation period as we know it, it would therefore last one prophetic week - which is not seven days, but seven years.
Now in the book of Revelation, we see this seven years again spanning the whole of this tribulation - but it's divided into two periods, two periods of 1260 days, or 42 months, or as it is put in Revelation 'three and one half years', 'a time, and times, and half a time'. That's how it is spoken of in Revelation 11, Revelation 12, Revelation 13, and you add up all those sums and you get seven years spanning this tribulation period. The first half of the seven years, or the first 42 months, is often designated just 'the tribulation', while the last half is called by our Lord Himself 'the great tribulation'. Now that might all be double-dutch to many of you, and I can understand that. You say: 'Well, what's the point in going into so much detail?'. Well, when I'm talking about the tribulation period tonight, and talking about it as seven years, I have a fear that people think: 'Well, where did he pluck that number out of the air from? What is the basis for this literal time period that you're saying will be the time when these seven seals are opened, the seven trumpet judgements will come, the seven bowl judgements will be poured out?' - there is a biblical basis for the chronology of this time period, seven years. If you want to know more you need to do an in depth study of Daniel 9 verses 24 to 27.
Now, the details, biblically, that are provided for us, and the various references in Scripture to the tribulation make it obvious that this is a future event. The reason being, simply, that no such period has yet occurred in the whole of human history. The Lord said there has never been a time like it, nor will be a time after it, and it's obvious that this has never ever happened in the history of humanity. We certainly would have to say that it's not what Christians are going through now, however difficult their circumstances may be in the 21st century. Add to that that the Lord Himself said that the great tribulation would take place just before His glorious appearing and coming to this earth, in Matthew 24 we read those words again. If you care to turn with me to them, Matthew 24:29 and 30 read like this: 'Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory'.
So all these things have got to happen before our Lord comes, in His second coming, to judge the world and eventually usher in His millennial kingdom for a thousand year reign. Now the reason why the tribulation must be such a holocaust of unique proportions is because it combines three things: first of all, the wrath of God is being poured out on humanity; secondly, the fury of Satan is being let loose; and thirdly, the evil nature of man is running wild. One author has put it like this: 'Take the horror of every war since time began, throw in every natural disaster in recorded history, and cast off all restraints so that the unspeakable cruelty, and hatred and injustice of man toward his fellow men can fully mature; and compress that all into a period of seven years - even if you could imagine such a horror, it wouldn't approach the mind-boggling terror and turmoil of the tribulation'.
Now you might be asking: 'Why does such an awful experience have to come upon this earth?'. Well, let me sum it up in at least four reasons why there must be a tribulation. First of all, it must happen to bring history to the right conclusion. Daniel was told in his vision in Daniel 9:24 that this great tribulation period would happen to bring in everlasting righteousness. You see, the tribulation happens to bring a fitting consummation to all of history, which has been the grand experiment of the ages. From the first man Adam, to the second coming of Christ, individuals have been given the opportunity to fall and surrender themselves voluntarily in worship of our God. This tribulation period will bring that great experiment to a conclusion when everlasting righteousness will reign.
The second reason why it must happen is to fulfil Israel's prophecies. In Daniel 9:24, Daniel was told that this is specifically related to his people, and 'the holy city'. His people were the Jews, and the holy city was Jerusalem. Now we know of course, last century, historical fact, that the Jews returned to their land and they were recognized as a nation in 1948 - but that's only one respect of some of the prophecies related to the Jewish people that we find in Ezekiel 36 through to 37. There are many other prophecies that relate to Israel and the Jewish people that still have to be fulfilled, such as the rebuilding of the temple, the renewal of temple sacrifices, and some of those things are in preparation as we speak - but many of those aspects will be fulfilled completely during the tribulation period.
Incidentally, that shows, does it not, that God is not finished with the Jew. Irrespective of what some reformed theologians will tell us, God still has a plan for His ancient elect people. He's going to do something with Israel in the future, just as the prophetic scriptures teach. So first of all this tribulation must happen to bring history to the right conclusion, secondly to fulfil Israel's prophecies, thirdly: it must happen to shake mankind from his false sense of security. What am I talking about? Well, when the earth is stable and life generally is comfortable, man tends to function independently of God. But what we see during this period are earthquakes, plagues, and other physical phenomena that will cause many men on the earth at that tribulation time to, perhaps for the first time in their existence, consider the Almighty. From that, we will see tonight that there is a number that no man can number that will be saved during this tribulation period.
The fourth reason for the necessity of the tribulation is derived from the last, and that is to force man to choose between Christ or antichrist. Billions will not be able to live out the normal lifespan of their existence and, amidst the traumatic events that will befall this planet, people, the Earth dwellers, will have to make an eternal decision. If they choose Christ we are told that they will become the servants of our God, and they will receive the mark of the Father on their foreheads. The likelihood is that they will be martyred, we're going to see that tonight, but they will ultimately be eternally saved. But if they accept the antichrist as their Lord, people on the earth will receive the mark of the beast placed on their foreheads and their hands, and that seems from Scripture to be an irrevocable and irreversible decision.
Now we are concentrating tonight on the seven seal judgements, and so if you have your chart with you that you should have, spanning the whole of the book of Revelation, you will see that the tribulation period is broken into about five sections, five or six sections. We are dealing with the first here tonight, which deals with the seven seals, and there it is in close-up. It comprises chronologically with the first quarter, if you like, of these seven years of tribulation - about 21 months of the beginning. Now during that period we read that the antichrist will come to conquer, and that's - as we will see - what the significance of this first seal is. He will conquer through world diplomacy. At the end of these seven seals, the breaking of the seventh seal - we see from chapter 8 and verse 1 - all the breaking of the seventh seal does is introduce us to a further seven judgements that are called 'seven trumpet judgements' that are even more catastrophic than the seven seal judgements. You can see that in that diagram that, after the six seals, the seventh just ushers in seven more trumpet judgements. The seventh trumpet judgement, incidentally, opens up the seven bowl judgements which are in the second half of the tribulation, and they are the severest judgements of this whole period.
Now, as we have seen chronologically in this book, the seven seal judgements appear first. Now please remember our last study, we saw that in the hand of the one who sat on the throne was a book, a scroll with seven seals. We learned during that week's study that in the ancient world wax seals were used to close up the scrolls. The sender of the scroll would press his signet ring into the melted wax, and by doing that he would be the sole one with the right to open that book when it was sent to him eventually. In chapter 5 we saw that the scroll was the title deed of the earth, and only the Lamb was worthy to open the seals thereof. In other words, only the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus, is worthy to come and judge this world in this manner that we are seeing unfolding before us in these chapters.
So we read how this first seal unfolds in chapter 6 verse 1: 'And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see'. The four horsemen of the apocalypse is what John is confronted with initially. Now let's look at each of these seals individually, all seven of them. First of all, we find in verse 2 of chapter 6 the first seal: 'And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer'. This is a white horse - who is the rider of this horse? Now some people would launch in prematurely, and say: 'Well, it must be the Lord Jesus', because in chapter 19 when the Saviour comes to the earth, He is riding a white horse. Well, that is the only similarity that this horseman has to the Lord Jesus Christ in chapter 19. We believe he is the antichrist who rides this white horse, he comes to conquer at the very beginning of the tribulation, he is wearing a crown - which incidentally is not a 'diadem', that is the Greek expression for the crown that the Lord Jesus is wearing in chapter 19, but it is 'stephanos' which speaks of a conqueror's crown. He is carrying a bow, the verse tells us. Christ is carrying, in chapter 19, a sword, not a bow - and this bow, verse 2 of chapter 6 tells us, has no arrows. Now that indicates that the one riding this white horse is going to conquer the governments of the world by peaceful diplomacy rather than military might and force. So you could designate it as 'cold war'.
That is the first seal, and of course it corresponds to exactly what we find in prophetic scripture as to how the antichrist will approach the world. He will be their beloved and long looked for peace-giver and universal messiah. He'll even take Israel in, and they'll make a covenant with him that he'll break halfway through the seven-year period. The second seal we find in verses 3 and 4, and it is the red horse - verse 3: 'And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword'. Now red indicates, as a colour, blood or death. This rider carries a sword which speaks now not of cold war and international diplomacy, but of actual hand-to-hand combat. The combat is very great, that people should kill one another right across the globe.
First Thessalonians chapter 5 and verse 3 tells us, I believe related to these first two seals, that 'when they shall say, Peace and safety', that's the first seal, 'then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape'. This is the false peace, the first seal, of a false prophet, the antichrist - but it will usher in such war as this world has not known. Then the third seal is found in verses 5 and 6, the third beast said: 'Come and see. And I beheld', John said, 'lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand', a pair of scales if you like, that's what the rider of this black horse held. He said in these words, another translation: 'A quart of wheat for a denarius', which was a day's wage, 'and three quarts of barley for a denarius', a day's wage, 'and do not damage the oil and the wine'.
Now what this rider is indicating is that there is a severe famine. That is often the case, that severe famines follow great wars - we've seen that in our own experience even in our present world. But from his declaration concerning a quart of wheat, what it costs, and three quarts of barley, we see that purchasing power will be reduced at this time of famine - and effectively it will be reduced to 1/8 of its former level. So staples of diet like wheat and barley will be sold at prohibitive prices, wheat and barley sold for a day's wages - imagine it. What does this mean when it says: 'Touch not the oil and the wine'? Well, it probably refers to the fact that this is luxurious food for the rich, and often during famine time the rich are not touched.
Then the fourth seal, we find in verses 7 to 8: 'I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale', or an ashen, 'horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him'. This is the most severe of the riders of the apocalypse. Who is the pale rider? Well, it is death and Hades, and we see that authority was given to death and Hades - the second half of the verse - over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. One fourth of the earth's population will be killed with sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts - can you imagine it? Think of the pestilence alone, William MacDonald says: 'We might think that plagues are no longer a threat because of modern antibiotics and wonder drugs. However the great killer diseases are not conquered, but merely dormant. They can spread throughout the world as fast as jet aircraft can carry them'. Very true, and it will be witnessed during this fourth seal as it is opened.
Then there's the fifth seal, same chapter verses 9 to 11: 'And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held'. These are the martyrs of the tribulation. Now, remember the last seal, death and Hades, a fourth of the population of the earth - 25% - will die, but now when this fifth seal is broken there will be martyrs during the tribulation, believers who will die for their testimony. They will cry out from under the altar in heaven for justice upon the unbelievers, the earth-dwellers who took their lives from them. Now in the book of Leviticus whenever the Old Testament sacrifices were made, the blood was poured out underneath the altar - that's what it's speaking of here. These Christians during this period laying down their lives for their faith, and their blood, and indeed their souls, under the altar are crying out to God for vengeance.
Our Lord Jesus spoke of the same thing in Matthew 24, again the Olivet discourse, and verse 9 - He said to those Jews: 'Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake'. These, we believe, are Jewish believers who will go out into all the earth to preach the gospel of the kingdom, and they are slain because of their testimony. We are told in chapter 6 verse 10: 'They cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?'. The Lord tells them that the time for vengeance has not yet come, but it will come - but there are more martyrs yet to be to make up that great number under the altar. The Lord assures them that their prayer finally will be answered, and we'll see that in a subsequent week in chapter 16, when the third bowl judgement is poured out vengeance will come for their name's sake.
But we're told in verse 11 that 'white robes were given unto every one of them; that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled'. They are given white robes, which is a symbol of their righteousness, and they're told to wait. It's hard to wait, isn't it, when you're in the right and everybody is in the wrong? I just wonder what the believers who were receiving this letter - remember Revelation is a letter - what they were thinking in the midst of their persecution. John's telling them, is he not, to wait: 'One day vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay' - that's not our job, it's His, that's why we leave it to Him.
Then we come to the sixth seal in verses 12 to 17, and we see in these verses six tremendous convulsions on the environment of nature. Now let me highlight them for you: the first is a great earthquake that the Bible says shook the sea and the very heavens itself; the second tells us that the sun was blackened out; the third, the moon becomes like blood; the fourth, the stars fall to the earth like ripe figs fall to the ground when a fig tree is shaken; the fifth is the sky tears apart like a scroll; and the sixth, every mountain and island is moved out of its place. Imagine it! Chapter 6:14: 'The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places'. It was Vance Havner who said: 'The day will come when the most expensive piece of real estate will be a hole in the ground'.
We read in these verses, verses 15 and 16, that every class of society will be seized with panic because of the wrath of God being poured out on the earth in the opening of these seven seals. People on earth will recognize that God is pouring out His anger. Verse 15 says that 'the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb'. In other words, they were prepared for the rocks of the mountains to crush them, rather than endure the wrath of the Lamb that was coming upon them. Staggering, isn't it? Earth dwellers on that occasion, people who love earth more than they love God, will rather die than face His judgement - and yet at that moment they are still rebellious.
Now I don't know if there could, at a Bible reading like this tonight, be someone who is rebellious against God - but I want you to know tonight that you can be rebellious right to the pit of hell, and it will make no difference to God! These people were rebellious to the very end, and they will have their portion with the devil and his angels in the lake of fire. The very wrath of God - they recognized it, but it didn't make them turn, it made them rebel all the more. Hardness of man's heart.
Then we must go to the seventh seal, and we read of it in chapter 8 - we need to skip a chapter, we'll come back to chapter 7 in a moment - verse 1: 'And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour'. Heaven is aghast at what is going on now on the earth - silence in heaven for 30 minutes! 'And I saw', verse 2, 'the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets', and the seventh seal opened introduces us to the seven trumpet judgements as we have said, and we will look at that in our next study. But if you look down at verse 5, we see that 'the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar', and the censer was filled with the prayers of the saints, and he poured it into the earth: and there was violence, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. Now please grasp this: these are the prayers of the saints and the martyred for Jesus, and they're returning to the earth in wrath and vengeance.
H.B. Sweet, in his commentary, says this: 'The prayers of the saints return to the earth in wrath, and that ought to make us very sober when we pray these words, 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven'' - that prayer is now being answered. Now there's an encouragement with that, that the prayers of God's people will be answered, and the prayers of God's people play a vital and intrinsic part in the governing of this world. Don't listen to these hyper-calvinists who say: 'Well, everything's going to be ordered the way God said, and so what's the point in praying for anything, or doing anything for that matter?'. Yes, this is God's plan given to us in advance, but He's saying to us that He is working in this world in answer to the prayers of His people. Robert Murray M'Cheyne said: 'If the veil of the world's machinery were lifted off, how much we would find is done in answer to the prayers of God's children' - it's amazing, isn't it, how God's sovereignty is mingled with our responsibility and even our prayers?
So there's the seventh seal. It started with a rider on a white horse, and the tribulation period therefore is opening with a rider on a white horse, but we're going to find when we get to chapter 19 eventually that the tribulation period ends with a rider on a white horse - but it's not the antichrist this time, it's Jesus Christ! Now you know, I hope, that 'anti' doesn't just mean 'against', it is a Greek prefix that also means 'in place of'. You see, this first white horse rider is a counterfeit christ, and he is inspired and energised by the master counterfeit of all time, Satan, who is an angel of light and deceives mankind. Now John, in Revelation, though he uses 'antichrist' in his epistles, calls the antichrist 'the beast' - but it's sobering, is it not, to consider that the world, this world, our world, would not receive and accept the true Christ of God but it will receive the false christ.
The Lord Himself said these words in John 5:43: 'I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive'. Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:11: 'For this cause', at this period of time in tribulation, 'God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie'. This man who sets himself up as the messiah of the Jews, as the saviour of the world, as the Christ of God Himself - people who would never believe in Christ will believe this! In fact, before 2 Thessalonians 2:11, in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 Paul indicates that even before the tribulation period, even before the rapture of the church, that mystery of antichrist iniquity does already work. There's only one thing holding it back, Paul says, and he's inferring that it's the witness of the church, and the power of God in the church - but it's already working its wickedness now!
Now let me, before we go on to look from the seal judgements to the saved of the tribulation, point out to you the many similarities between these seven seal judgements and the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24. Some people think that when we preach on Revelation, it's the opposite nearly to what you find in Matthew 24 - not a bit of it! You look at it, and the Olivet discourse recorded also in Mark 13 and Luke 21 is the same. In Revelation 6 we have a false messiah, the antichrist; false prophecies, 'Peace, peace' when there is no peace - we find the same in the Olivet discourse. There's wars in both passages, international discord in both passages, famine in both, pestilence, persecution, martyrdom, earthquakes, cosmic phenomenon in both - it's speaking of the same thing. The seven seal judgements can be found in Matthew 24, but we must move on to the saved of the tribulation.
This really is found in chapter 7. Chapter 7 is a bit like a parenthesis between the sixth and the seventh seal. Really it's answering a question that's posed at the end of chapter 6, look at verse 17 of chapter 6: 'For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?'. Who's going to be able to stand all this? The answer is being given, and John is given courage because he realises that some will be able to stand, and God's grace will still be at work even in the tribulation. So we read of two groups of people who are believers who will be spared, either through or from the tribulation, to enter into the millennial reign of Christ for a thousand years on the earth.
The first is the 144,000 that we find here in verses 1 to 8 of chapter 7, and we read there in verses 2 to 4: 'And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads'. The implication is that the worldwide judgement is being paused for a moment or two, so that these 144,000 believers should be sealed as a witness to God: 'And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel'.
Now the second group of believers who will be able to stand this awful day are the converts of these 144,000 evangelists, and we read of them in verses 9 through to verse 17. Now who are these 144,000? Well, John tells us that there are 12,000 from each tribe - twelve 12,000s making 144,000. Now many scholars say: 'Well, that number is metaphorical, and its symbolic. It symbolises and signifies perfection and completion, because it is 12 times 12, and that's what those numbers signify in the Bible'. That's quite true, but some have derived from that that it speaks of the completeness of the whole people of God, both Old and New Testament combined. Now that might be somewhat of an application OK, but it certainly is not the correct interpretation of this portion, because it clearly says that these 144,000 are Jews - and it distinguishes them from the later group of people from verses 9 to 17 who are described as Gentile people from all nations upon the earth, and all tongues. Now please note the difference between the two of them: the 144,000 are Jews, these other people in verses 9 to 17 are Gentiles from the nations. The 144,000 were numbered, the other group are a group that no man could number. The 144,000 are sealed on the earth, and the other group are standing before God in heaven - so it's obvious that this is not the church. These are Jews from every tribe of the nation of Israel.
Incidentally, they are not Jehovah's Witnesses either - and they claim that these 144,000 are Jehovah's Witnesses who will inherit heaven. Now they'll not claim it for themselves, personally, when you're talking to them at the door, because none of them feels worthy enough to do it - that's the sad thing, they feel that they'll not get into heaven, but they'll have to be related to those 144,000 to perhaps get through. The problem is: you have to belong to one of the tribes of Israel, and they surely do not. Even a Jew living today in the flesh cannot tell you for sure, and prove to you, what tribe they belong to - do you know why? Because all the genealogical records were destroyed when the temple was burned in AD 70. So it's very unlikely that the Jehovah's Witnesses will be able to prove it either. The Lord alone knows who these folk are from each tribe of the Jews - and we don't have all the answers, because there are some oddities in this portion. Joseph is mentioned, but Ephriam and Dan, those two tribes, aren't mentioned here. Levi is mentioned who was said in the Old Testament not to have an inheritance with the rest of the tribes. So there is mystery, and we've got to leave that with God - the things that are revealed are for us and our children, the things that aren't, well, we don't need to know. God knows, there is a reason for it, and maybe we'll find out one day.
What we do know is that this is like a missionary corps of redeemed Jews who are instrumental in the salvation of many Jews and Gentiles during this tribulation period. They are, if you like, the first fruits of Israel which, as a nation - Romans 11 verse 26 tells us - will ultimately be redeemed when our Lord Jesus sets His feet upon the Mount of Olives again. Now what does that mean? Finally, through the ministry of these 144,000 Jews in the seven-year tribulation period, and at the second coming of our Lord Jesus and the issuing in of the millennial reign of Christ, finally Israel will be the witness nation that they refused to be throughout their whole Old Testament history. Now it'll take a lot for it to happen, seven years of hell on earth, but praise God it will happen.
Now in verses 9 to 17 we come to this other crowd, and they are the Gentiles from all the nations. In verse 13 the question goes out: who are they, and where have they come from? The answer is given in verse 14: 'Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'. Now whilst this tribulation period will be a time of unprecedented judgement, praise Almighty God: it will also be a time of unparalleled salvation. Our Lord Jesus said Himself, in Matthew 24 verses 12 and 14, that this would happen - if you care to turn with me to it for a moment - Matthew 24, maybe you already have your finger in it. Verse 12, the Lord Jesus says: 'And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come'.
Isn't it wonderful that in the midst of the darkest hour that this world has ever seen, in wrath our God remembers mercy? He's a wonderful God, isn't He? That would have been an encouragement, surely, to the suffering saints who John was writing to. It would have been an encouragement in their trials not to get all self-weak and sorry for themselves, but to get out even in the midst of their persecution and death, and witness to the lost and seek to win them for Christ - because even in the darkest days that are yet to come, in the great tribulation, the Lord will be saving men and women. It's mighty, isn't it, that even at one of Satan's greatest hours of supremacy, God will have the upper hand? Where sin abounds, grace - that's always the rule - grace much more doth abound.
So John says: 'I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands'. These people didn't go up with the raptured church, because they weren't saved when the church was raptured - but what lengths the Lord goes to during the tribulation period to save them! He opens these seals, judgements, to shake them out of complacency. He sends 144,000 apostle Pauls to witness to them! There's two supernatural witnesses that we will see later on in this book, that are sent to preach. There's even an angel that declares the gospel of the kingdom across the world. The Holy Spirit, Joel tells us, will be poured out at this time in a mighty way. During the seven years these people will be saved, probably martyred, and then enter into heaven - by the grace of God and by the blood of Jesus, the same way you were saved, the same way anybody was ever saved.
Now, see what's theirs in heaven - this is mighty! William MacDonald points this out, look at verse 15 of chapter 7 please, at the end of verse: they will 'serve God day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them' - they will have perfect nearness, perfect nearness. They might have been martyred, but they're going to have perfect nearness with the Lord - and we'll have that one day, but there's more. Verse 16, it says: 'They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more' - they'll have perfect satisfaction, and we'll have that in the presence of God too. The second half of verse 16: 'neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat' - they'll have perfect security, nothing will touch them. Verse 17: 'The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters' - they'll have perfect guidance. And in verse 17 we see: 'and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes', they'll have perfect joy, and that's a New Testament version of the 23rd Psalm - and here it is the Lamb who is the Shepherd! On that day the martyrs will be able to sing, and I believe we'll be in heaven with them:
'It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ'.
Is that not strength for today from bright hope for tomorrow? Now keep in mind that John is writing these chapters to encourage saints in every age of time, we ourselves here and now, that Christ will ultimately bring the victory to all His people! You're suffering tonight, believers in China and Vietnam and Laos, and all sorts of God-forsaken places, suffering for the name's sake - yet one day they'll have the victory. Now, in the meantime, John is telling us that the saints should be waiting, and the saints should be watching - but surely the saints should be winning? This is the most terrible hour that's going to come on the earth, and if you don't have the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, I say to you: 'Flee from the wrath to come'. You don't have to go through it.
During the early days of the Second World War, there was a little group of passengers on a ship who got wrecked on a desert island right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After several weary months a ship saw them and sent a boat ashore, but the boat didn't land at once - one of the sailors threw a bundle of newspapers on the beach and shouted to them: 'The captain sent you this message, after you've read those papers he wants to know whether or not you want to be rescued'! Well, now that you know what is coming up on this earth, surely you want to be rescued? Our Lord Jesus Christ can do that, and He does it if we bow in repentance and faith now, rather than in judgement and fear then; when we're forced to do it, and we're judged, and we're sent to hell. This is going to happen, we have God's word for it - where will you be on that day? With the saints in glory, or Earth dwellers crying for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them to shelter them from the Lamb? Believers: the time is short, the day is far spent, let's redeem the time while we have it.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirteenth recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "The Seven Seals" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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