Tagged: end times

A great white throne – Revelation 20:11

Previously: The lake of fire – Revelation 20:10

The scripture

Rev. 20:11 – Then I saw a great white throne and One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them.  (HCSB)

A great white throne

In contrast to the heavenly “thrones” upon which people sit and from which they are given authority to rule (verse 4), John now describes “a great white throne” upon which God sits to judge the wicked standing before Him. Specifically, the One seated on the throne is Jesus, to whom the Father has given all judgment (John 5:22). John describes the throne as great and white to indicate the purity of Christ and the awesome weight His judgments carry.

John sees a similar throne in heaven in Revelation 4, but the circumstances are vastly different.

The One seated on the throne in Revelation 4 is surrounded by a rainbow, indicative of God’s covenant promises; but the throne in Revelation 20 is stark and singular, for there are no further hopes to fulfill.

The throne in Revelation 4 is surrounded by 24 elders that cast their crowns before Him and declare His worthiness; but the throne in Revelation 20 stands alone, for there is no reward to share with the wicked standing there, and no praise from their lips.

The throne in Revelation 4 features lightning and thunder as warnings of God’s power and as invitations to repent; but the throne in Revelation 20 is silent and eerily calm, for the end of grace has come.

The throne in Revelation 4 witnesses the seven-fold Spirit of God, which bears testimony of Christ and woos people to turn to Him for salvation; but the throne in Revelation 20 has no flaming torches and no still, small voices.

The throne in Revelation 4 has before it a glassy sea to indicate heavenly peace and security; but the throne in Revelation 20 is barren of such harbors because the wicked have rejected the Person who offers them peace.

The throne in Revelation 4 receives thunderous praise and joyful exultation from heavenly creatures and redeemed people; but the throne in Revelation 20 receives only silence because the ones standing before it have no praise to give and no defense to offer.

There is something stark and terrifying about the throne in Revelation 20, as we are about to discover.
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A violent earthquake took place — Revelation 11:13

Previously: The breath of life from God entered them – Rev. 11:11-12

The scripture

Rev. 11:13 — At that moment a violent earthquake took place, a tenth of the city fell, and 7,000 people were killed in the earthquake. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (HCSB)

A violent earthquake took place

“At that moment,” John records, “a violent earthquake took place, a tenth of the city fell, and 7,000 people were killed in the earthquake” (v. 13).

Some commentators urge us to take this passage literally, as a geological event that claims 7,000 lives and causes destruction to one-tenth of Jerusalem. Other interpreters ask us to see this earthquake symbolically. For example, we may see it as the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, where the Lord is taking His “tithe” of the great city and warning His people of further judgment to come in the last days. Or, we may see it as a reference to the political upheaval that shakes Europe after the Reformation; the one-tenth of the city means a fraction of Rome’s power has been lost, and the phrase “7,000 people” refers to seven provinces that break away from Rome. Or, we may view this as God’s righteous destruction of the impenitent (seven being the number of God and 1,000 implying a great number), or of the persecution of the saints. Or, we may understand it as a symbolic representation of alarming events that will occur on the eve of final judgment.

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Authority was given to them (Rev. 6:7-8)

Previously: And Hades was following after him (Rev. 6:7-8)

The scripture

Rev. 6:7 – When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (HCSB).

John records that authority is given to “them” – Death and Hades, although some manuscripts read “him,” probably meaning Death – over a fourth of the earth “to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (v. 8b). Matthew Henry notes, “He gave them power, that is, those instruments of his anger, or those judgments themselves; he who holds the winds in his hand has all public calamities at his command, and they can only go when he sends them and no further than he permits” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 6:3-8). But why a fourth of the earth? “God’s providence restrains both his own wrath and humanity’s violence,” according to the ESV Study Bible. Other commentators argue that the pale horse, being one of the four, simply has his equal share in the judgments to come.

Sword, famine and plague (literally thanatos, or death, but in this context meaning epidemic diseases like bubonic plague) summarize the work of the riders on the red, black and pale horses. Add to this the predatory nature of wild animals in a depopulated environment, and these four elements echo the covenant curses on Jerusalem during the Babylonian exile (Ezek. 14:21), lending support to the preterist view that the Book of Revelation is largely fulfilled in the first century A.D. at the fall of Jerusalem. However, the death of a fourth of the world’s population would be a “great tribulation” such as the world has not yet seen (Matt. 24:21), bolstering the futurist view that the events of Rev. 6-19 have yet to take place. If the futurists are correct, more than 1.6 billion people will perish, according to current population figures.

Matthew Henry makes a number of poignant observations about these four horsemen:

“(1) There is a natural as well as judicial connection between one judgment and another: war is a wasting calamity, and draws scarcity and famine after it; and famine, not allowing men proper sustenance, and forcing them to take that which is unwholesome, often draws the pestilence after it. (2) God’s quiver is full of arrows; he is never at a loss for ways and means to punish a wicked people. (3) In the book of God’s counsels he has prepared judgments for scorners as well as mercy for returning sinners. (4) In the book of the scriptures God has published threatenings against the wicked as well as promises to the righteous; and it is our duty to observe and believe the threatenings as well as the promises” (Rev. 6:3-8).

While the calamities wrought by the four horsemen appear to be either natural or man-made, we will see in the verses to come that God is orchestrating these judgments. The redeemed in heaven know it, and the wicked on earth realize it. But rather than repent, those who oppose God cry out to the rocks and mountains for death rather than to the Rock for salvation.

Four views of the fourth horseman

So what does this fourth seal mean to John’s audience in the first century – and to us today?

The preterist – who sees the events of Revelation primarily fulfilled in the first century – points to the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The reference to the means of death – sword, hunger, death (pestilence) and beasts of the earth – are echoes of Ezek. 14:21, where God sends His “four devastating judgments against Jerusalem – sword, famine, dangerous animals, and plague – in order to wipe out [both] man and animal from it! Even so, there will be survivors …” In Ezekiel, God uses these judgments on Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. But now His instrument of judgment is the Roman army, which kills more than 1 million, destroys the temple, ransacks Jerusalem and scatters the survivors. Josephus describes the events of 70 A.D. in this way: “So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged” (Wars, 5:12:3-4).

Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the church age – tend to see the pale horse as representing the years 248 – 268 A.D., covering the reigns of Decius, Gallus, Aemilianus, Valerian, and Gallienus. Edward Gibbon, who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, writes that from 248 – 296 A.D. “five thousand persons died daily in Rome; and many towns that escaped the hands of the barbarians were entirely depopulated” (quoted in Revelation: Four Views, p. 114). Some commentators prefer to translate the phrase “a fourth of the earth” in verse 8 as the Latin Vulgate does: “over the four parts of the earth,” referring to the four sections into which the Roman Empire is divided at the time.

Futurists – who interpret nearly all of Revelation as yet unfulfilled – contend that the events described here are global in scope and occur during the seven-year Tribulation. If fulfilled in our generation, the prophecy of one-fourth of the world’s population being killed would amount to more than 1.6 billion people – a great tribulation indeed, greater than the day of Noah, and matching the unprecedented magnitude described by Jesus in Matt. 24:21.

Finally, spiritualists, or idealists – who see Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – understand the pale horse to represent death by various causes throughout the church age. Since one-quarter of the world’s population perishes, it is reasonable to see this played out over centuries rather than as a single catastrophic event. The four severe judgments – the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts – symbolize all universal woes that believers suffer along with unbelievers during the present evil age.

We come now to the end of the four horsemen – conquest, war, famine and death – and hear their thundering hoof beats as they leave the vanquished behind. What’s next? What could there be in the wake of these breathtaking events?  Bodies have been destroyed, but the fifth seal uncovers the souls of martyrs crying out for God’s vengeance.

Next: The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11)

So that people would slaughter one another (Rev. 6:3-4)

Previously: Empowered to take peace from the earth (Rev. 6:3-4)

The scripture

Rev. 6:3 – When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its horseman was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him (HCSB).

It’s interesting to note John’s use of the phrase “so that.” This rider is given authority to take peace from the earth “so that people would slaughter one another.” Whatever restraint has been on mankind’s natural tendency to hate and murder is now taken away. This could be the Roman peace that crumbles beneath its own weight and gives way to warfare. Or it could be the uneasy peace that has existed between the Jews and their Roman occupiers, giving way to Jewish rebellion and Rome’s crushing response in 70 A.D. as Jerusalem is sacked, the temple is destroyed, more than 1 million Jews are killed and the rest are scattered in the Diaspora. Or it could be a more timeless statement about the sinful tendencies of the human race throughout the church age, despite the spread of Christianity and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It could even refer to the martyrdom of so many Christians at the hands of the Jews and Romans in the early centuries of the church.

No doubt the early Christians often bristled at the opposition to their faith and freedoms. The Apostle Paul addresses this in Romans 13, urging Christians to live according to high ethical standards, even when human government is far from perfect: “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong” (vv. 1-4).

The apostle Peter also touches on this subject in 1 Peter 2:13-17: “Submit to every human institution because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people. As God’s slaves, [live] as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.”

One other thought, from a futurist perspective, is that the false peace of the Antichrist during the first half of the tribulation now gives way to widespread warfare. No doubt the days of bloodshed begin not only because the Antichrist wills it to be so, but because the Supreme restrainer of evil – the Holy Spirit – has removed Himself from the earth. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, addressing the false teaching that the Day of the Lord has already come. He comments: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For [that day] will not come unless the apostasy (or rebellion) comes first and the man of lawlessness (or man of sin / Antichrist) is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s sanctuary, publicizing that he himself is God” (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

Paul adds in verses 5-7, “Don’t you remember that when I was still with you I told you about this? And you know what currently restrains [him], so that he will be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way …” Futurists contend that this restraining power is the Holy Spirit, Who withdraws to heaven with the saints at the Rapture, enabling the Antichrist to establish a false peace on the earth, only to take it away.

Next: A large sword was given to him (Rev. 6:3-4)

Empowered to take peace from the earth (Rev. 6:3-4)

Previously: A fiery red horse (Rev. 6:3-4)

The scripture

Rev. 6:3 – When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its horseman was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him (HCSB).

The rider on this fiery red horse is empowered, or granted, or literally “given” the authority to take peace from the earth. This, of course, implies that there is some level of peace to be taken. If you take a preterist view and confine the events of Revelation to the Mediterranean world of the first centuries of the Christian era, this peace would be the Pax Romana, or Roman peace that ran roughly from the third decade B.C. until 180 A.D. and resulted in the Romanization of the Western world. Some preterists, who confine the events of Revelation to a pre-70 A.D. time frame, say the peace that is lost is among the Jews, who rebel against the Romans and engage in petty infighting.

Historicists generally refer to this loss of peace as referring to the period from the accession of Commodus (A.D. 180) to Diocletian (A.D. 284), a time of civil wars and bloodshed in the Roman Empire. Futurists, however, see this peace as the first 3 ½ years of the tribulation, during which the Antichrist (the rider on the white horse) lulls the world into a false sense of security. And spiritualists argue that the fiery red horse represents war in general. In all cases, there is agreement that peace – whether regional or global, and whether stable or shaky – exists and is about to be removed.

Determining whether the peace is regional or global depends largely on one’s interpretation of the word translated “earth” in verse 4. The Hebrew use of the word in the Old Testament “is ambiguous in so far as it sometimes expresses this wider meaning of ‘earth’ (i.e. so far as the Hebrews knew it) and sometimes only ‘land’, a more restricted area. In the accounts of the Flood (Gn. 6–9) and of the division of speech (Gn. 11:1) each meaning has its advocates” (D.R.W. Wood and I.H. Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., p. 285). The use of the Greek word in Revelation is taken by some to mean the entire inhabited earth, and by others to be restricted to the Roman world or even Israel and its surroundings. In some cases, one’s view may be driven more by a particular view of Revelation – preterist, futurist, etc. – than by anything else.

Next: So that people should slay one another (Rev. 6:3-4)