Although the church is prominent on earth in Revelation 1-3 and in heaven in 4-5, it is not mentioned in Revelation 6-19, which details the Tribulation on Earth. This is God’s final effort to bring people to a saving faith in Christ before He returns.
The Tribulation is about God’s wrath being poured out on mankind and 1 Thessalonians 1:10 describes Jesus Christ as the One “who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The first of God’s judgments are the seal judgments in Revelation 6.
- The First Seal: Antichrist (Revelation 6:1-2)
When the Lamb broke the first seal and the angel cried out “Come,” the command was for the horseman to take his place on the stage of human history. In fact, this happens four times. Here with the horseman on his white horse, then with the horsemen on the red horse (6:3–4), followed by the horseman on the black horse (6:5–6), and by the horseman on the ashen horse (6:7–8).
It’s best to view the rider of the white horse as the Antichrist, the world leader who emerges on the scene after the Rapture of the church. He carries a bow—the symbol of war, or at least the threat of war, in the Old Testament (Numbers 24:8; Psalm 45:5; 46:9; Jeremiah 51:56; Hosea 1:5; Zechariah 9:13–14).
The Antichrist is given a stephanos, a victor’s crown, like the ones given to athletes at the ancient games or worn by conquerors in their triumphal processions. God is the one who awards the crown to the Antichrist, indicating his authority to rule the world—for a time (Revelation 9:1, 3, 5; 13:5, 7, 14–15). This shouldn’t disturb us since Romans 13:1 makes it clear that as sovereign over the universe, God gives all human rulers the authority to rule. And all human rulers are answerable to the Ruler of the universe, including the Antichrist.
- The Second Seal: Warfare (Revelation 6:3-4)
When the Lamb broke the second seal, the second living creature summoned the red horse, who represents civil unrest, warfare, and bloodshed. The mission of the rider—probably the Antichrist who changes horses throughout the seal judgments—is to remove peace from the earth and turn people’s destructive instincts on one another.
Whether as a result of murder, civil war, or wars between nations, the second seal is a time of bloodshed. It corresponds with Matthew 24:6–7: “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. . . . For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
- The Third Seal: Famine (Revelation 6:5-6)
Famine always follows social unrest and war. That is what the black horse and its rider depict in these verses. With famine comes price controls and inflation, indicated by the balancing scales the horseman carries.
God tells the black rider, “do not damage the oil and the wine” (Revelation 6:6). Literally this means, “do not tamper with” olives and grapes. Like the tamper proof seal on gas pumps, the Lord protects the supply of oil and wine.
We see this in socialist countries, where government bureaucrats establish price controls and free market competition is denied. The poor suffer while the rich thrive. This is the economy of Satan.
- The Fourth Seal: Death (Revelation 6:7-8)
When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, the fourth living creature summoned the fourth horseman on the pale horse. With authority to bring mass death, the Antichrist will oversee the killing of “one fourth of the earth” (Revelation 6:8).
When that day comes during the Tribulation, it will be—up until that time—the greatest destruction of human life ever recorded. You can understand why Jesus said, “there will be a Great Tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21–22).
- The Fifth Seal: Martyrdom (Revelation 6:9-11)
The first four seals show what will take place on earth. The fifth seal shows what will take place in heaven.
In chapter 6, John sees the temple of God. The altar represents the altar of sacrifice, not the altar of incense (8:3, 5; 14:18), since the souls of the martyrs are underneath it. The martyrs—“those who had been slain”—are those who were killed during the Tribulation, not before.
Though every believer at the time of the Rapture will be suddenly removed from the earth, many will come to faith in Christ after the Rapture (Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12). Because of this, they are given long, flowing, white robes, which is symbolic of their salvation, immortality, and righteous acts performed for Christ on earth.
The martyrs want to know when, not if, the Lord will avenge their blood from “those who dwell on the earth” (6:10), which is a reference to unbelievers who are hostile to God and to His people (3:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12; 17:2, 8). Their prayer constitutes the fifth judgment. God tells them to trust Him and wait a little longer—more will be added to their number—because He will answer their prayers and exact just vengeance at the second coming of Christ.
- The Sixth Seal: Cosmological Disturbances (Revelation 6:12-17)
With the breaking of the sixth seal the scene shifts back to earth. Here we see the “Day of the Lord,” which includes judgment (Tribulation) and blessing (millennial kingdom).
The opening of the sixth seal causes a worldwide earthquake (Luke 21:11), shifting mountains and islands from their foundations (Nahum 1:6). The sun will grow dark, as if covered in sackcloth (Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7–8; Joel 2:10, 31; Amos 8:9; Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24–25; Luke 21:25). The moon will turn blood red (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20), and the stars will put on a worldwide showcase of meteors. And then the sky will appear to split open and roll back in opposite directions (Isaiah 34:4), revealing to those on earth the throne room of God.
It will seem like the universe is coming apart—that the end of the world is at hand.
I often hear: “Well, I think I’ll just wait until this Rapture thing happens and if it does, then I’ll trust in Christ during the Tribulation.” There will be some unbelievers who are saved during the Tribulation. But here’s a simple question: if you are unwilling to trust in Christ today when it is relatively easy to do so, what makes you think you would make that decision during the Tribulation when believers will be persecuted and martyred for their faith?
The Bible says “Today is the day of salvation.” Listen to His voice and “don’t harden your hearts” in disbelief (2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:8 NLT). If you refuse to listen to Jesus’ gracious offer of salvation today, you will have to listen to Jesus’s judgment of wrath someday.