Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 12 - The First Four Seals: The Last Days

It should now be possible to reconsider the same portion of Revelation 6 as a prophecy yet to be fulfilled the third time, the “continuous-historic” fulfilment here being regarded as the second. Since, however, the problem is now one of interpreting prophecy in advance it will not be possible to do so with anything like the same degree of exactness. What follow must be regarded as suggestions only, suggestions supported by Biblical evidence.

Looking for a further fulfilment of these Seal visions is not unreasonable. The very close parallel between this part of Revelation and the Lord’s Olivet prophecy is sufficient in itself. Here, of course, is the reason why John’s gospel has no record of that discourse of the Last Days which occupies such a prominent place in the synoptic gospels - the Book of Revelation is John’s equivalent (and much more!) of that important prophecy.

Again, the breaking of the Seals of the scroll now in the hands of the Lamb (5:7) can only mean that the revealing of the contents of the Book of Life is not far behind. It is details such as this which show that any A.D. 70 or continuous-historic application of the Seals is at best only a primary and subordinate fulfillment - just as a hundred prophecies in the Old Testament had their basis in imminent developments in the prophet’s own times but a much more dramatic reference to more distant and more important events concerning Messiah. When detailed consideration comes to be given to the Sixth Seal the truth of this principle will be more evident than ever.


Each of the Seals is introduced by a voice saying: “Come.” But only in the ease of the first is the voice described as “a voice of thunder.” This means that it is the voice of God (John 12:29; Psalm 29, especially verse 3). It is the roar of the Lion of the tribe of Judah (5: 5).

Quite apart from the dubious manuscript evidence, the reading: “Come and see” is hardly admissible, for John did not “come and see.” The next verse begins: “And I saw.” The door was already opened in heaven. His task was to observe and record that which took place there. Nor can “Come and see” be an exhortation to “hasten unto the coming of the day of God” (as the A.V. of 2 Peter 3:12 mistakenly has it). It is possible to “hasten the coming” of that day (see Appendix on this) by one’s “holy way of life and godliness.” But otherwise it is a matter of “patient waiting.”

It is even doubtful whether the solitary imperative: “Come,” was addressed to the apostle, for the three main sections of the prophecy are each introduced with a heavenly voice which is pointedly described as speaking directly to John (1:10; 4:1; 10:8); but not so here.

Then what is the meaning? It could express the longing of the New Creation (as in Romans 8:18-22) for the coming of the heavenly kingdom. Or perhaps it represents a four-fold appeal in the last days to Israel that they turn to God and through His Messiah find the rest for their souls, which they so desperately need (Joel 2:12-18; see chapter 2 in “The Time of the End” for fuller treatment of this topic). Or this “Come...Come...Come ... Come ... “could represent the urgent longing of saints in Christ to see these dire events take place because they are seen as the necessary prelude to “the manifestation of the sons of God.”


Once again it is necessary to insist that the main application of the Seals is to events in the Land (see comment on verse 4 in chapter 11). For most readers it will require no proving that the Last Days immediately preceding the coming of the Lord will be characterized by War, Famine and Pestilence in Palestine. God will gather “all nations against Jerusalem to battle” (Zechariah 14:1). Palestine, so often the cock-pit of warring nations, will be devastated from end to end, and all the evils that go with war will find their foulest and almost their last expression there.

Here is the seven-fold chastisement of Israel for their stubborn rejection of God and His Christ. So few Jews see the return to the Land as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and as preparing the way for the true realization of the Hope of Israel. Instead, the building of the State of Israel is seen as the work of dedicated enthusiasts devoted to a political ideal. As such it must not only prove a failure, but also merit the retribution of heaven:

“And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread (for the entire nation) in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat and not be satisfied. And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me: then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:23-28).

Once again the words of the prophet will become a desperate reality: “I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment” (Ezekiel 4:16). “We get our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness. Our skin is black like an oven because of the terrible famine” (Lamentations 5: 9, 10). Such is the fell work of the rider of the Black Horse, when “all faces gather blackness” (Joel 2:6). Nevertheless the immediate mention in the third Seal of oil and wine not being “hurt” may be intended to echo the reassurance in Joel that when Israel repents “the Lord will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations” (2:19).


However, since the prophets also make it plain that “the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth to the other” (Jeremiah 25: 33), and since the cup of God’s wrath is to be given to “all the kingdoms of the world which are upon the face of the earth” (25: 26), there is reason to believe that this third fulfilment of the Seals will not be restricted to Palestine only. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the Lord shall be among them,” as it was “in the day of Midian” (Judges 7:22; Isaiah 9:4).

The phrase: “to him it was given ... that they should kill one another,” will find fulfilment not only in world-wide conflict but also in civil war everywhere. In nearly every nation in the world there exist stresses, racial conflicts, class hatreds and antagonisms, such as now make this expectation a fearful possibility. With a big proportion of the world’s population living near starvation level and with underprivileged nations desperately eager to assert themselves, it needs no vigorous use of the imagination to picture some of the chaotic and ghastly by-products of a Third World War. With the collapse of civilization there will come such a resurgence of the depressed and exploited masses in all parts of the world as will more than amply fulfil the passages of Scripture quoted.


Again, the restrictions put by another World War on the normal transportation of food supplies, together with the critical conditions already created by the rapid increase in the world’s millions, will mean famine on a vast scale and the rocketing of food prices - “a measure of wheat for a penny.”

Neither is anything more certain than that Pestilence also will take terrific toll of human life. Disease has always been a concomitant of war. In the war that is to come the breakdown of the complex machinery designed to cope with the health problems of this complicated modern civilization will mean an anarchy in which diseases will travel fast and unhindered. To this foul prospect must be added the grim spectre of bacterial warfare - a probability in any future world war, which the more spectacular bomb and rocket have tended to push into the background of the popular imagination.

Yet not only have strange new diseases been discovered but also it is reported that the biggest obstacle in the way of successful germ warfare - the problem of how to produce very rapid multiplication of bacteria without loss of virulence - has now been surmounted. “And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth” (Zechariah 14:12). With very considerable plausibility it has been suggested that the horrific picture described here is the result of modern germ warfare - bubonic plague or some ghastly fruit of modern scientific devilry.[21]


“Power was given unto them to kill with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, and with wild beasts of the earth.” It is unlikely that the last phrase in the words just quoted should be taken literally. Almost identical words are used in Ezekiel 34:25 - “I will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land” - this in a context which makes it only too plain that the reference must be to Israel’s enemies in the day of their re-colonisation of Palestine, i.e. the Arabs. Ever since 1948 Arab nations have been eager, like so many savage hungry wolves, for an opportunity to mangle the corpse of the State of Israel.

The same idea may well be generalized to apply to conditions that will prevail as soon as the threatened collapse of civilization comes all over the world. There will be a recrudescence of barbarism - “the wild beasts of the earth” - which will be quelled by no power on earth save by the Lord Himself returned in power and great glory. He who sent a great herd of swine headlong into the abyss will readily repeat the miracle and restore sanity to a naked, pitiable Israel now willing to sit at I-lis feet.


“See thou hurt not the oil and the wine. ‘ If these words are intended to carry a figurative meaning, then just as there was a means of escape and safety provided for those who were Christ’s at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, so will it be also in the days to come. There is no lack of indication of a special provision for the well-being of God’s people in the day of wrath. “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain” (Isaiah 26:20; cp. Matthew 6:6). “For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall” (Isaiah 25:4). “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21: 36).

Precisely how such protection will be provided is not clear, but the experience of the faithful remnant in the time of Noah and of Lot and of Rahab and of Hezekiah reinforces the Scriptures already quoted as to the fact of it.

The vision of the destroying angels, Death and Hell, in the Fourth Seal is introduced by the fourth of the Cherubim, the Eagle. “Thither will the eagles be gathered together,” Jesus had foretold, with reference to the time of his return (Luke 17:37). The eagle mounts up at God’s command (Job 39:27): “Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she” (v. 30).

The Old Testament allusion is important here: “Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem ... Your covenant with Death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with Hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it” (Isaiah 28:14, 18). After three of the shortest and most successful wars in all human history, and with “safe” boundaries facing Syria, Jordan and Egypt, there is a swagger and a confidence about the modern Israel, which must before long find its proper level.


There is a fairly plain hint, also, in this Fourth Seal that these visions are not to be taken chronologically but as different aspects of one mighty expression of judgement: “And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth (Land) to kill with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, and with the beasts of the earth (Land)” (6:8). To whom is this authority committed? - to “Death and Hell?” or to the four Cherubim? The mention of “fourth part” is decisive in favour of the latter suggestion. Four cherubim bring four expressions of heaven’s wrath on the four quarters of the Land These judgements all operate together.

Is it possible that this emphasis on four is intended also to recall the repeated enigmatic prophecy of Amos 1, 2?: “For three transgressions and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof.” The idiom means “three plus one, equals four,” and not “three plus four, equals seven.” And the eight-times repeated recompense comes on Israel and Judah as well as on all the Arab countries round about, “two years before the earthquake” (1:2) which is described in the Sixth Seal.


Once again, the rider on the white horse is considered last of the four. The resemblance between this rider and the one described in Revelation 19:11 ff. can hardly be accident, yet there are significant differences.

The white horse is not the symbol of peace. This is hardly possible, since the rider in chapter 19 goes forth with his army to make war and to “tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” The invariable symbolic meaning of the horse in Scripture is that of war.

On the head of the “Faithful and True” rider in chapter 19 there are already “many crowns;” he is already King of kings, and he goes forth not to conquer but to punish. By contrast with these details, in the First Seal “a crown was given unto him,[22] and he went forth conquering and to conquer,” having a bow in his hand. Is there here a suggestion of Jesus becoming King of the Jews, conquering them by means of his “bow,” the word of instruction concerning him (see previous chapter on this)? Here is God’s final, and at last successful, appeal to Israel through His Word and by the eloquence of much adversity and through the work of an Elijah-like prophet who will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:5, 6). See “Last Days,” chapter 7, and “End of the Age,” chapter 2.

There can be no doubt that the last days are to see a repentance of Israel, at least in part (“conquering and to conquer”) immediately before the coming of the Lord. Most probably, the complete crash of all Jewish hopes, when the brilliant new State of Israel is overwhelmed, will drive to reliance upon God those who through all their generations, and especially in this century, have been remarkable for their reliance upon their own cleverness and industry.

At such a time there will come Christ’s peaceful conquest of the hearts of all the nation which hitherto has utterly rejected him. “They shall look unto me whom they pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for the Only Son” (Zechariah 12:10). In this sense his arrows will be sharp in the heart of those who were once the enemies of the King (Psalm 45:5).

[21] On the other hand it may be that what is depicted here is the effect of radiation following the use of nuclear devices.
[22] John sees the crown given. The rider is not wearing it when he appears.
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