Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Revelation 6, Israel's "Seventieth Week" Begins

In this chapter, as Jesus begins to unseal the scroll given to Him by the Father, John is introduced to the most important (yet-unfulfilled) period of time ever promised by God to the nation Israel—their “seventieth week.” A seven-year period appointed by God in which He will fulfill all His prophecies and promises concerning the restoration of their nation (Dan.9:24).

v.1 "Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, 'Come and see.' "

As Jesus peels back the first seal, John hears the loud and thunderous voice of one of the four cherubim say, "Come". And though many Bible versions include the words, "…and see" (giving the impression that the call is made to John), many commentators feel the correct rendering is simply, "Come" or "Go", concluding that the call is not made to John, but to Satan; a call he has waited to receive from God for the past six thousand years.

Satan has always had one objective: to rule over the earth with absolute and unrestrained power, having all men be made to worship him as God. He has not succeeded because God, through the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, has prevented it. But he does seem to know a day is coming when the restraint will be lifted and he will be free to unleash his terror upon men, and he plans for it.

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed…" (2 Thess.2:7,8)

Whether or not the commentators are correct that Satan is outwardly told he can come, or the event is less-noticeably triggered at the rapture of the Church, one thing is clear. That Satan is given the "green light" to proceed with his plan, the earth is about to encounter "a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation" (Dan.12:1), the Jews are about to endure a severe persecution known as "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer.30:7), and John is about to record it.

Okay, but first we must understand the purpose of the tribulation. Some believe that it's for the purification of the Church, and therefore argue that the Church will not be raptured and thus made to endure it. I don't accept that view. I believe that the tribulation is, as some commentators note, the fulfillment of Israel’s “seventieth week”. In other words, that the tribulation has nothing to do with the Church and instead, has everything to do with the Nation of Israel.

Let's begin with the prophecy given to Daniel during Israel's captivity in Babylon.

Seventy years earlier Daniel and his people had been carried away captive by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, and Jerusalem was destroyed (2Chron.36:17-21). However, from his understanding of the book of Jeremiah Daniel knew that these “desolations” were to last only for a period of seventy years (Jer.25:11; Dan.9:2), and thus, believing that the divine judgment must be nearing its close, Daniel was praying for an understanding as to the future of his “city” and his “people” (Dan.9:3-19). While in prayer, the angel Gabriel delivered this response to Daniel.

"Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself…" (Dan.9:24-26).

Therein Daniel is instructed that God has allotted unto Israel a time-period consisting of seventy weeks in which God has vowed He would complete a miraculous work in the Nation. Okay, now let’s take a closer look.

First, let’s consider the measure of time. The Hebrew word for "weeks" is shabua, meaning literally a “seven”. Hebrew traditions include a week of seven days, a week of weeks, a week of months, and a week of years. This is explained in detail by several commentators, but it's beyond the scope of our study, so we'll defer the explanation and for our purposes agree with those scholars that the word shabua used here refers to "years of sevens" or “seven-year periods", and therefore the allotment of time in this prophecy is a period of four hundred and ninety years (70 X 7 = 490).

Secondly, we must recognize that the 70 "weeks" are not contiguous. Rather than one period of 490 consecutive years, verse 26 includes an explicit interval between the 69th and 70th weeks. There are 483 consecutive years (69 weeks) to the time when “Messiah shall be cut off” and a remaining 7 years (the 70th week) reassigned to the future. (This final yet-future event will be fulfilled during, and thus is the explanation for, the tribulation).

Thirdly, let’s consider the historical date scheduled to begin the countdown of this allotment of years. Gabriel identifies the event as “the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem” which did occur years later (445 BC) when King Artaxerxes of Persia gave the decree to Nehemiah to return to and rebuild Jerusalem (see--Neh.2:1-8). (Scholars calculate the 69 years starting March 14, 445 BC and ending April 6, 32 AD when Jesus was presented as "Messiah the King" to Israel; Luke 19:28-44).

Fourthly, note the six items that have yet to be completed, and the fact that they are still pending after 2,000 years to demonstrate that the time periods are not contiguous:
  1. To finish the transgressions
  2. To make an end of sins
  3. To make reconciliation for iniquity
  4. To bring in everlasting righteousness
  5. To seal up the vision
  6. To anoint the Holy of Holies
[To read about this subject in more detail refer to "Daniel’s Prophecy of The 70 Weeks" by Alva J. McClain]

v.2 "And I looked, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given him, and he went out conquering and to conquer."

All the chaos, debasement, and ruin that characterize the tribulation period are signified to John in the form of four malignant horsemen. The first is a man.

Taken to be the Antichrist, he is shown to John upon a white horse (to symbolize him as a counterfeit of the true Messiah of Israel), holding a bow (because he will be aggressively militant), and wearing a crown (to show him as a world leader with a kingdom).

"And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their fullness, a king shall arise, having fierce features, who understands sinister schemes. His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; he shall destroy fearfully, and shall prosper and thrive; he shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people. Through his cunning he shall cause deceit to prosper under his rule; and he shall exalt himself in his heart. He shall destroy many in their prosperity…" (Dan.8:23-25).

This anti-Messiah will make his appearance to the world and to Israel as a brilliant and charismatic political leader who, by political wrangling and strong military alliances, will be able to negotiate peace for Israel; including the ratification of a seven-year agreement that will allow them to rebuild their temple. Thereby causing Israel to consider him to be their Messiah, and therein explains why Jesus said, "I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive" (John 5:43). According to Daniel, however, after three and a half years Antichrist will break the treaty with Israel and invade Jerusalem, and desecrate the temple.

"Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate" (Dan.9:27).

The Apostle Paul also foretold of the nation's unholy alliance with Antichrist with ominous clarity: "For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' “, Paul says, “then sudden destruction comes upon them" (1Thess.5:3).

v.3-4 "When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, 'Come and see.' And another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword."

This second horse has no humanized rider. But is itself a grim apparition (as are the next two horses) meant to symbolize the destructive and devastating forces brought upon the earth in the wake of Antichrist's ravaging path. The horse is fiery red, and by it peace on earth is vanquished as Antichrist sets out to conquer the world with war against every government that opposes him.

"Then the king shall do according to his own will…He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall exalt himself above them all. But in their place he shall honor a god of fortresses…Thus he shall act against the strongest fortresses with a foreign god, which he shall acknowledge, and advance its glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and divide the land for gain" (Dan.11:36-39).

v.5-6 "When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, 'Come and see.' And I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and wine."

This black horse symbolizes economic chaos and famine; undoubtedly caused by the wars and natural disasters. The phrase, "A quart of wheat for a denarius and three quarts of barley for a denarius" carries with it the thought that a whole day's wages will be required to purchase a one-day supply of food. Yet, in as much as neither the oil nor wine (non-essential luxury items) will be hurt, the implication is that while the poor become victims to horrific inflation, and become poorer, the rich retain their luxuries.

v.7-8 "When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, 'Come and see.' And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth."

This pale horse is the grimmest apparition of all, mounted by a figure called, Death, and followed closely behind by Hades. And by him "a fourth of the earth" will die from war, famine, death, and the beasts of the earth, the result of this first wave of judgment. Moreover, as people die Hades follows closely behind to seize the soul of each non-believer the moment they perish. This gruesome image could be what the prophet had in mind when he wrote, "Therefore Sheol has enlarged itself and opened its mouth beyond measure" (Isa.5:14).

v.9-11 "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed."

John's attention gets redirected from earth to heaven, from the grim to the glorious. He is shown the souls of those martyred during the Tribulation for their testimony of Jesus Christ—the first suggestion in Revelation regarding the great revival that occurs during the Tribulation period.

The image of these souls "under the altar" (the altar of sacrifice) signifies that they are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ and justified because of His death on the Cross (Heb.10:8-12). And though they are crying for vengeance (unlike the Church which has always been instructed to love and pray for its enemies), they are instructed to remain patient until they are joined by all the other tribulation believers yet to be martyred.

v. 12-14 "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place."

With his eye again upon the earth, John witnesses a tremendous cataclysm. First, an earthquake of such magnitude that it's able to thicken the atmosphere with enough dust and ash to blacken the sun and make the moon appear red like blood. Secondly, what seems to be a meteor shower, John sees stars falling to earth like over-ripened fruit from a tree. And thirdly, a mysterious receding of the sky, followed by a violent trembling of every mountain and island on earth.

v.15-17 "And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves 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 who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?' "

Because of these things every man, woman, and child on earth will run for cover inside every crack and crevice they can find. And they will acknowledge the work of God, but it becomes evident later they aren't repenting (at least not all of them).

[This concludes the first wave of judgments know as the seal-judgments; so-called because they are evoked in concert with our Lord’s removal of the seals from the scroll. Two more waves of judgment will follow and each is intensively worse than the one before it]

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