7. The First Three and a Half
The rapture is over.The peace treaty between the Antichrist and Israel has taken place. The 70th week of Daniel has been set into motion.The believers are in heaven with their Lord. Meanwhile, on earth, significant changes are taking place. The judgment of God that was held in abeyance for so long, will now start.
A. Seal Judgments
1. Seals 1-6
2. Interlude #1
3. Seventh Seal
B. Trumpet Judgments
1. First four trumpets
2. Fifth trumpet of demonic oppression
3. Sixth trumpet of Eastern invasion
In the book of Revelation, there are four categories of these judgments: The Seven Seals, The Seven Trumpets, The Seven Thunders, The Seven Bowls. It starts with the first seal and ends with the seventh bowl. These judgments move in sequence with worsening effects. It also moves in a progressively increasing direct involvement of God with the seal judgments having the least and the bowl judgments the most associated with the wrath of God.
The series is so interconnected that the 7th seal starts the Trumpet judgments, the 7th trumpet starts the Bowl judgments. Each series reaches the same end, but progressively closer to the end. Each subsequent series is worse than the previous one. So the Seal judgments affect a quarter of the earth, (Rev 6:8), the Trumpet judgments affect a third of the earth (Rev 8:7–12; 9:18), and the Bowl judgments have unlimited effects. All three series culminate with the same finale – thunder, lightning, earthquake, and hail (Rev 4:5, 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18–21), similar to the effect on Mount Sinai when the people came trembling to face God.
The tribulation period is a time of God’s judgment on earth. 2 Thess 2:7 suggests that the one who restrains will no longer restrain. This person is thought to be the Holy Spirit. Is it possible for the Holy Spirit to be removed from the earth? Probably unlikely, for two reasons. The Holy Spirit, being God, is omnipresent and cannot not be present on earth. Secondly, redemption is taking place throughout the tribulation period. Without the quickening of the Holy Spirit, unregenerate humans can never become saved.
More likely, it is talking about the rarely-talked-about function of the Holy Spirit whereby he restrains evil and the consequences of it. During the tribulation period, this restraint is removed, and evil is allowed to roam free and the earth and its inhabitants freely face its consequences.
A. The Seal Judgments Rev 6-7
1. Seals 1-6. Rev 6
1st Seal – White Horse. Rev 6:1-2
The rider on the white horse carries a bow and has a victor’s crown (stephanos). This person is thought to be similar to the Lord Jesus when He comes at the end. At that time, Jesus will come with kingly crowns (diadema) and fights with a sword. The rider of the first white horse is not Jesus. Rather, this conqueror is a masquerader of Christ and is the evil ruler identified as the Antichrist who comes to Jerusalem and sets in motion the entire sequence of judgments.
2nd Seal – – Red Horse. Rev 6:3-4
The second horse is red and the rider is given the power to take peace from the earth and to cause dissensions and killings. Symbolically, he is given a large sword.
3rd Seal – Black Horse. Rev 6:5-6
This horse brings famine. Barley is considered to be the bread of the poor and wheat the bread of the better off. Regardless, it would take an entire day’s wage to purchase either the barley or the wheat in such relatively small amounts.
While the rider of the black horse was permitted to destroys the grain crops, for the time being, he is told to refrain from hurting the oil and the vineyards.
4th Seal – Pale Horse. Rev 6:7-8
A fourth of the population will be affected by this judgment. That is a significant number of people. Death is passing from a world that is visible, earthly, biological and known to Hades, a world that is unseen, unknowable and partially unknown.
5th (Martyr) Seal – Saints Under the Altar. Rev 6:9-11
Souls of believers are seen under the altar in heaven. The reason why they died is specifically mentioned to be the word of God and the testimony that they had maintained. The believers that are present during this tribulation period will not escape the consequences of the Seal Judgments. They were martyrs for the gospel. Their killers are still alive on earth and the martyrs are crying for justice.
It is possible that they are disembodied souls until all the tribulation martyrs have crossed over from earthly life.
They are given a white robe (stolē) to be comforted and as a guarantee of justice and asked to wait until the full number of them have transitioned.
6th Seal – Earthquake. Rev 6:12-17
There is an upheaval of widespread proportions. Natural disasters that the world has seen on much smaller scales scattered throughout history will now be compounded at one time. Human reaction to natural disasters is one of awe and helplessness. That reaction will continue during the 6th seal as they witness and encounter these disasters. They will recognize the underlying hand of God and surprising to current knowledge, the wrath of Jesus.
This judgment is an amalgamation of numerous mentions in scripture about the upcoming cosmic upheaval. The points to note are the shaking of the earth or mountains; the darkening or shaking of the moon, stars, sun, and/or heaven; and the pouring of blood. (Isa. 13:10–13; 24:1–6, 19–23; 34:4; Ezek. 32:6–8; Joel 2:10, 30–31; 3:15–16; and Hab. 3:6–11)
A great earthquake followed by possible widespread fires causing darkening of the sun, possible intense weather patterns including volcanoes causing movement of mountains, tornadoes, and hurricanes of increased magnitude causing a scrolled-up effect of the sky.
No one is exempt from this judgment. People will see a loving God and a gracious Jesus in wrath against sin and evil.
And John asks the rhetorical question – and who can withstand it?
The Seal Judgments all belong to the first half of the tribulation period.
2. Interlude – Rev 7
144,000 Sealed Rev 7:1-8
7:1-3 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
Four angels seem to be restraining the judgments. Since it is not possible to restrain the sovereign activity of God, it could be that the judgments so far are those that are natural consequences of human sin.
The consequences of sin were being held back for the purpose of sealing the 144000. Judgment takes a break.
Babylonians first used the cylinder seal. 10-20cm in height, cylindrical, carved 360 deg around in soft clay. The scarabs were started by Egypt.
Seals assigned ownership and things were marked for destruction or protection. Here, it is for protection.
The seal could be the Hebrew letter tau – which looked like an x or a cross. The angel had a physical seal, so it was a physical mark. And the seal was placed on the forehead, not uncommon in ancient times. Eze 9:4-6 – old Hebrew T looked like a cross.
The sealing protects them from the judgment of God in the 7th seal and the 7 trumpets. (rev 8). Probably similar to the Israelites in Egypt who escaped some of the plaques among the Egyptians who were the objects of God’s wrath.
The question regarding this sealing is whether it is an actual number and if it involves only Jews. There are several reasons why this is likely a figurative narrative.
First, the tribe of Dan is missing, whereas the tribe of Levi, which is often omitted because the priesthood belonged to it, is included. Second, Joseph is also included, but one of his sons Manasseh is included, whereas the other son Ephraim is omitted. Finally, the order is interesting in that Judah rather than Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob, is listed first.
There is a clear distinction between these 144000 and the multitude in the next passage which are talking about all groups of people. The distinction shows clearly that the 144000 are talking about the Jews.
The Jews are the clear subject of Rev 9-11. Paul said that Jews were having a temporary hardening of the heart and they would change later. (Rom 11:25–26).
If it is talking about Jews and if it is figurative, then it means that the planned number of Jews during the tribulation period will be sealed to show their salvation and for protection from the spiritual plagues that will arrive shortly (in Rev 8). However, they will not be protected from physical harm and death.
The Great Multitude in White Robes
9-10 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
After the sealing of the Jews, the focus turns to gentiles. The ethnic and linguistic diversity of the gentiles are clearly highlighted.
They are given white robes to signify their imputed righteousness and their palm branches indicate festivity.
Salvation belongs to our God – salvation is the sole prerogative of God. It started and finishes with him, we are the grateful recipients.
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!”
Here the angels, 4 creatures and the elders are all differentiated.
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God. and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
The second group of people to escape the tribulation and enter eternal life are a large number of gentiles. The verse does not say exactly how they have made their exit from the great tribulation. Many of these people are likely martyrs, though not necessarily all of them. The horrific judgments during this time will destroy many people, including believers causing their death.
They have come out of(lit), “the tribulation, the great one.” Every other trouble and tragedy on earth prior to this would pale in comparison to the great tribulation. Jesus prophesied it. Matt 24:21–22.
3. The 7th Seal
Rev 8:1-5 – Christ’s Reign & Golden Censer
2. Trumpet Judgments 8:2–11:19
The sounding of the trumpets is the second of four series of judgments belonging to the period of the great tribulation. Chapters 8 and 9 compose a single unit and probably should not have been divided.
1. The First Four Trumpets (8:2–13)
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
Seven angels are summoned before God and are issued trumpets.
“another angel” (allos aggelos) – another of the same kind. [heteros – another of a different kind] This activity seems to be in response to the prayers of the saints in Rev 6:10 – coals of fire are hurled to the earth with effects and sets the stage for what will come next.
8:6–7 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
1/3 of the earth is burnt including trees and grass. Similar to the seventh plague in Egypt which was lesser in intensity. Exod 9:23–27. Fire and blood make it worse.
8:8–9 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
A large burning mountain is thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turns to blood, a third of the creatures in the sea die, and a third of ships are destroyed. It could be an oceanic volcano or a meteor.
10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.
A burning star falls to the earth poisoning a third of the waters causing subsequent fatal water poisoning. The star is Apsinthos, translated as “wormwood.” The reference is to a plant especially bitter to the taste. “Although the whole plant is strongly aromatic and rather bitter, it is eaten by desert goats and the dried leaves are used to prepare a tea drunk by the Bedouin of the Sinai and the Negev. Wormwood is also widely used as a healing beverage against intestinal worms, a fact reflected in its name.” The word found in the Old Testament and is used in relation to God’s judgment. Jer 9:15, 23:15; Lam 3:15, 19
All this devastation on earth will be completely restored to Edenic characteristics soon after the tribulation. Ezek 47:8
8:12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.
Darkness and temperature changes.
2. The Fifth Trumpet of Demonic Oppression (9:1–12)
1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. 3 And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.
7 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. 8 Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9 They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.
12 The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.
9:1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss.
With the fifth angel, another star falls to the earth. The star in Rev 8:10 (with the third angel) seems to be a physical object. Eg. Meteor. The star in Rev 9:1 seems to be a person.
Logically, this person would be an angel that did not keep his position of authority. (Jude 9). Since it is an angel with significant authority, this star could also be Satan. (Luke 10:18).
This fall of Satan could be a pre-earth confrontation (Jude 6 and 2 Pet 2:4). This fall could also be the focus in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. and the consequent judgments on the kings of Babylon and Tyre.
“Had fallen” – perfect active participle, indicating past action with continuing results. The fall of satan is a past event with continuing action. There is essentially no hope of reversing that action.
Gildersleeve has put the thing finely: ‘The perfect looks at both ends of an action.’ It ‘unites in itself as it were present and aorist since it expresses the continuance of completed action.’ That is to say, the perfect is both punctiliar and durative. The aorist (punctiliar) represents an action as finished, the linear present as durative, but the perfect presents a completed state or condition. When the action was completed the perfect tense does not say. It is still complete at the time of the use of the tense by speaker or writer”
The key to the Abyss is presented to Satan by probably the fifth angel. Satan operates only under the sovereignty of God.
The details of the abyss is not mentioned in scripture. The word used is of the word depth with an alpha privative -ie without depth.
There is a horde that is waiting in the Abyss. Who is this horde?
The angels who fell in the pre-cosmic period were confined until judgment day. (Jude 6). This confinement is likely in the Abyss. The abyss is differentiated from Gehenna (the lake of fire or hell).
The abyss is that darkness in which are the fallen angels. Luke 8:31. The demons knew of the imprisonment of the other demons and did not want to go there. They did not want to be tortured before their final judgment.
Abyss is mentioned 7 times in revelation. Satan will be bound in this place for a thousand years. Rev 20:3. This is not the eternal home of evil.
2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.
3 And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.
4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
5 They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes.
6 During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.
The abyss is opened by the fallen angel and what looks like black smoke comes out as if from a furnace. There is a difference between the cloud that represented the presence of God and the black smoke that darkened the sun.
What looked like locusts came out of the smoke and were given the power of scorpions.
Specific directions are given to the locust-scorpions to torture (but not kill) only those who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. It is possible that this torture is not physical torture but a mental-spiritual one and has been scheduled for 5 months.
Five can be from the ancients’ fear of locust invasions, which occurred during the last five months of the Jewish year or it can be associated with humanity
The probable mental/spiritual torture will be so intense that people will seek death as a relief, but they cannot get it.
Rev 9:7–10 Description of the locusts. They are wearing a stephanos or victor’s crown.
11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).
This person is likely the star that had fallen, Satan. He is not bound at this time and has free access outside of the Abyss. The name of the king shows his character. The Hebrew name “Abaddon” and the Greek name “Apollyon” both mean “destroyer.”
Even though he masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), his true colors are seen here.
3. The Sixth Trumpet of Eastern Invasion (9:13–21)
13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God. 14 It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.
17 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. 18 A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur that came out of their mouths. 19 The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.
20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. 21 Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.
The sixth angel initiates a voice from the four horns of the altar that is in the presence of God. The altar seems to be in the throne room (Rev 4) and mentioned in the 5th seal. (Rev 6:9-11)
The voice orders the release of 4 demons bound at the Euphrates. Once these demons are released, they will unleash a horde of demons to attack the Roman Empire from the eastern side. Two hundred million!
These demons even though they are rebelling against God in their thinking and action, are still under the sovereign plan and purpose of God. God can use the godless to accomplish his ultimate purposes, esp that of judgment.
The Euphrates is a long winding river that originates in Armenia travels through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq joins with the Tigris and reaches the Persian Gulf. This river has been around and mentioned from the Garden of Eden and has been the demarcation between the Near East on the Western side and the Far East on the Eastern Side. The river marked the eastern boundary of the Roman empire. On the eastern side of the river was the Parthian empire which had inflicted humiliating defeats on the Roman legions in 53 B.C. and A.D. 62. So the Romans were skeptical and fearful of the Parthians from the eastern side. (Rev 6:2). 1 Enoch 56 mentions the Parthians and Medes being stirred up by evil angels and invading Palestine like hungry wolves.
9:17–19 A description of the demonic armies and their power.
One-third of the remaining people will be killed by the 3 plaques – fire, smoke, and sulphur – some from the initial fire, some from the smoke contamination on the battlefield and others from the continuing fires.
The tribulation will leave behind a significant loss of life (Matt 24:22).
Rev 9:20–21 The force of pride that fuels evil is stunning. We think that the threat of punishment is enough to cause a change in behavior. This is not true for everyone. There are some who are so depraved that neither the threat nor the meting of actual punishment will deter their evil nature and activity. (1 Tim 4:2).
The lack of humility in spite of the judgment of God gives the justification for the great tribulation. This also shows us that God is justified in being a God of judgment even though we would like to want him to be loving and nothing else.
God is taking extreme measures to give people as many chances as possible to avoid eternal death. If anyone goes to their eternal death it was not because of the lack of chances, but because they chose to do so.
AT Robertson (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research [Nashville: Broadman, 1934], 893).
R. Bauckham, New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993
R. L. Thomas, Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1992
Weinrich, William C. Revelation. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
Patterson, Paige, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012)
M. Zohary, Plants of the Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 184.