Revelation 6: Overview of the Tribulation

"What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" Matthew 24:3
Opening Prayer: Father, we know that frightening things will soon take place on this earth. Help us to prepare our hearts in advance, and to know how to warn our family and friends, we pray.

By now, you should have read the first five lessons in this series:

We've all heard the saying that "Bad Things Happen to Good People." Very soon, bad things will start happening to ALL people remaining on this planet. The question is not IF they will happen, but TO WHOM they will happen and WHEN they will start.

Why will these "bad things" happen?

Since the days of Adam and Eve, God has promised to redeem the earth from the curse of sin and to establish His personal reign upon the earth. Jesus paid the price of our redemption nearly 2000 years ago, and will soon return to set up His kingdom. His first step will be to separate His sheep from the rebellious goats (as discussed in Raptures and Resurrections). Then He will shake up the goats for a few years, to give them one last chance to repent and become His sheep. This seven years of shaking will be the 70th Week of Daniel. Finally, He will return as the Chief Shepherd, at the Day of the Lord (next lesson) to punish the rebellious goats and reward all His sheep, even those just converted.

Today we look at the seven years of shaking in between. This lesson will be very general. Later lessons will examine specific aspects of the Great Tribulation period.

As you remember from your study of Revelation chapters 4-5, Jesus is pictured as the Lamb Who has paid the price of redemption and Who is worthy to open the seals of the Title Deed of the earth. In chapter 6, we see Him open the seals and set in motion the events of the seven years of shaking.

Let's jump right in with Revelation 6, verses 1-2:

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 living creatures saying, Come and see. 2 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.

I don't get it. What is the deal with the guy on the white horse?

Guys like me who grew up watching TV westerns observed that the good guys ride white horses. And some commentators (apparently similar backgrounds) think the first rider is Jesus. However, in view of all the rest of Scripture, this certainly is NOT Jesus.

How do you know?

Whenever possible, we should always use Scripture to interpret Scripture. God always makes sure that important subjects are covered more than once. In this case, God must consider this a VERY important subject indeed, since all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) have a parallel account. We can go to the three Gospel accounts of Jesus' teaching on the Mount of Olives. These accounts exactly parallel the account in Revelation 6, and give us further insight.

Matthew 24:1-8 gives the background and sheds light on the various horses and riders described in Revelation chapter 6. I've highlighted certain words for emphasis:

And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to [him] for to shew him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 3 And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world? 4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

In the Gospel account, Jesus made it clear that imposters would arise and deceive many. The rider on the white horse represents ALL the deceivers, especially a certain last-days dictator sometimes called the antichrist or subsititute messiah.

Another key point is that Jesus is answering some very Jewish questions, and that His answer is primarily for the benefit of Jewish people (and Gentiles) who come to know their Messiah AFTER the first Rapture. As we have seen in our study of the book of Daniel, these events will occur in the 70th week (7-year period) of God's dealings with the nation Israel in matters of the Messiah.

Verses 6-8 above exactly parallel the next three horsemen, described in Revelation 6, verses 3-8:

3 And when He had opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, Come and see. 4 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. 5 And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say, A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius, and [see] thou hurt not the oil and the wine. 7 And when He had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, Come and see. 8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

Please note that Jesus is describing tribulation in general terms -- false messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, disease, earthquakes. The next couple of seals get more specific and describe two distinct groups of people. The first group are the smart ones, and the second group are the stubborn ones.

Let's see the first group in Revelation 6:9-11:

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: 10 And 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? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto 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.

Yikes! Who are these people?

These are believers in Jesus, the Messiah, who will be martyred during the Tribulation period. Some will be Gentile believers who will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus too late to participate in the the first Rapture. Others will be Jewish believers who will suddenly realize that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah of Israel.

Why doesn't God listen to them and stop all the killing?

Believe it or not, God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to eternal life. If He shortened the Tribulation period to just a few months, it would greatly limit the number of people who repent and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus before His return. Strange as it sounds, it would also limit the opportunity for those who do repent to earn eternal rewards. The longer God waits, the more His saints can share the Gospel and bring others into God's Kingdom.

So why is this scene here, if God isn't taking action yet?

God wants us to know that every one of these people is precious to Him, and He hears every prayer. Yes, many will be killed during the Tribulation period, but they will be rewarded wonderfully for their faith, as we will see in a future chapter.

Matthew 24:9-16 has special insight and instruction for Jewish believers during that period:

9 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. 10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. 14 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. 15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) 16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

The 21st chapter of Luke's gospel gives further insight in the parallel account:

20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. 21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. 22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that are nursing in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

We are now living in the times of the Gentiles. This is a special period for that portion of the world which does NOT trace its ancestry back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is a period when Gentiles can participate in God's promises by exercising faith in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. The times of the Gentiles will conclude at the Day of the Lord, when the Lord returns to establish His kingdom.

Now let's look at the second group we mentioned earlier -- the stubborn ones, in Revelation 6:12-17:

12 And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her green figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And 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; 16 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: 17 For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

This is it. The goats' last stand. All the "alternative lifestyles" and "progressive religious thought" will come to a sudden end. No matter how they try to hide themselves in caves and visualize world peace, their world order will be destroyed. Their toxic, sinful lives will be exposed. Their hateful, rebellious hearts will finally receive their just rewards. The blood of the martyrs will be avenged. God will keep all His promises. God will wipe every tear from the eyes of His saints. You and I will finally be free of the spiteful bullies that have haunted our steps since our childhood. The religious imposters on TV will finally be exposed and punished as criminals. The meek will inherit the earth. You and I will rule and reign with Jesus forever.

In Summary...

Here is a very condensed summary of what we can learn from Revelation chapter 6 and the parallel accounts in the gospels:

But how do these elements relate to all the nasty events we read in later chapters of the Book of Revelation?

The judgments unveiled with the seals are intended to be a special warning to the people of Israel. God had warned them in Deuteronomy 28:47-51:

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you. The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar...they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks..."

In other words, God's first warning will be an intensifying of problems we are already familiar with: political and religious oppression, famine, disease and wars. These problems will be in operation throughout the seven-year period. The smart ones will wake up and repent. The stubborn ones will just continue to be stubborn.

Jesus gave a similar warning in Matthew 24:32-33:

Now learn the parable from the fig tree. When its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so you, too, when you see all these things, recognize that it is near, right at the door.

Our newspapers are already filled with news of extraordinary episodes of major earthquakes, floods, drought, famine and disease. The leaves are becoming green. The harvest season is approaching.

Life on this earth will soon become very different from the world we knew growing up. My hope is that you have already discovered the joy of walking with Jesus, and will be part of the very first group of saints to be caught up to heaven before the tribulation period begins.

If you're reading this AFTER that first rapture, by now you realize the seriousness of your situation. Just remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:13: "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Stand tall for Jesus, and bring as many people with you as you can. Jesus will reward you very soon.

If you are not sure where you stand, please click the "mail-to" link below to send us an e-mail. Express your concerns and you'll receive a personal answer soon.

Closing Prayer: Lord, I really do want to go up to You in the first rapture and avoid the terrible days to come. Open my heart and mind to see what I must do to bring as many people with me as possible. Amen.

To return to the Bible Writer Home Page, click here.
Copyright 1999-2004 Clarity Publishing Co.
Comments? Prayer requests? Send e-mail to: