"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass," Revelation 1:1.
"And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done . . . . I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches," Revelation 22:6, 16.
(Read Rev 5.)
Pinpointing just where we are in the unfolding of God's plan, is not merely difficult but in a sense, is dangerous in that it is all too easy to come to a wrong conclusion and from that entering upon a path that would lead one astray.
In the order of things, we may, however, discover where in the revealed purpose of God we are.
1. As we begin our study, I wish to read some verses to you which I feel are very relevant to our subject.
"But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these," Daniel 2:28.
"Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets," Amos 3:7.
"Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you," John 15:15.
2. It requires us consulting the Word of God ALONE for it is there God has revealed His purpose amongst the nations.
As Daniel did, so may we. "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem," Daniel 9:1-2.
3. As with Simeon, Anna and a remnant in Judea, we may be aware of the approaching fulfilment of prophecy.
"And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ," Luke 2:25-26.
"And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem," Luke 2:36-38. The word 'looked' carried the meaning of 'to expect the fulfilment of a promise'. These were a remnant, known to Anna, who were moved by the Spirit of God to recognise that the time of the coming of the Messiah was drawing very near.
4. Being commanded by Christ to 'watch' then it surely follows that there are recognisable signs which will tell us of the approach of the end.
"Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh," Matthew 25:13, (Mark 13:28-37).
We have not been given the day and the hour when the Saviour will return. But we are told to watch for those signs which will herald His return. "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory," Luke 21:25-27.
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory," Matthew 24:29-30.
As the time draws near, we will be able to see by the signs that the return of Christ is fast approaching! Being commanded to 'watch' we must therefore be able to see and to observe the signs which tell of Christ's near return. This, of course, requires a knowledge of God's Word where the 'signs' are recorded.
The Book of The Revelation opens with these words and I repeat them for emphasis: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand," Revelation 1:1-3.
The phrase, 'which must shortly come to pass' would be better translated, 'which will come to pass in a short space of time.' It is not that they were soon to take place back some 2000 years ago but that when they started to unfold the time taken for these events to take place would be short. Indeed, these events centre chiefly upon the seven years of the prominence of the 'Man of Sin', 'the Antichrist', and more particularly upon the final three and a half years of his reign.
We are told in Revelation 13, which gives us much information about the 'Antichrist', that "there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months," verse 5. Now from the day of his 'revealing', there begins a countdown period of three and a half years, or a thousand two hundred and threescore days or times, time and half a time or forty and two months. These measurements all refer to the same period. Many will miss this sign, being utterly deceived by the allurements of the devil and the Antichrist and unheeding of the Word of God. But for the believer at that time there is given a very precise indication of just where they are in God's calendar.
I believe that there is in the Seals, Trumpets and Plagues of the book of the Revelation a repeating and reiterating as the Lord tells His people of the events that mark the end of this age. This is the method of any good teacher. There is a strong emphasis on the events in and around Israel as we move through these Seals, Trumpets and Plagues.
If you can grasp it, the Seals Trumpets and Plagues cover the period from the beginning of the closing sequence of events to the return of Christ. In other words from the events revealed in 5:1-5 until the return of Christ in chapter 19.
I. THE BOOK OF GOD'S PURPOSE FOR ISRAEL IS THE 'SEALED' BOOK HERE SPOKEN OF AND ITS UNSEALING MARKS THE BEGINNING OF GOD PUTTING INTO MOTION THE FINAL DEVELOPMENT OF HIS PLAN FOR ISRAEL.
The last question of the apostles before the Saviour ascended to Heaven was: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6. The pious Jew was most eagerly looking for a fulfilment of such prophecies as Jeremiah 23:5-6. "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." There was little understanding of the coming of the Saviour to suffer and die before His coming glory and power. The prophets of old had sought to understand this truth. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow," 1 Peter 1:10-11.
I believe that it was the book of the promises to Israel regarding its restoration that John saw in chapter 5. It was 'sealed' and when John thought that there was none could open it, bringing about the fulfilment of its promises, he wept. The word indicates a deep mourning and painful wailing. He is representative of the believing Jew throughout the ages, looking for the glorious promises of God in the prophecies of Israel's recovery and exaltation to come to pass. That none could be found worthy to open the book broke John's heart. However, he was comforted and cheered by the words of the elder in Heaven."And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof," verse 5.
The opening of the seals are, I believe the first events that are preparatory to the return of Christ.
The opening of each seal is marked by specific evidences on the earth of God's revealing of His wrath toward and judgment of the Gentile nations. This opening of the seals is a 'precursor' to the Lord coming to claim the earth as His. I believe that these scenes are not successive but merely different aspects of God's judgment taking place at the same time.
II. THE 'SEALS' ARE FOLLOWED BY 'TRUMPETS'.
They are the ancient instrument that signalled battle! Christ is come to 'war' against rebellious mankind. "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war," 19:11.
The final Trumpet brings us right up the very doorstep of the new age as it were. "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever," Revelation 11:15.
There is a stirring in Heaven as Christ readies Himself to take His place as the King of the whole earth, verse 15. "And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth," verses 16-18. Note, 'thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead.'
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE WAR IS SEEN IN THE SEVEN PLAGUES
WHICH THE LORD POURS OUT UPON THE TEN KINGDOMS AND ANTICHRIST'S EMPIRE.
"And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image," 16:2. Please note where the first plague falls. "Upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image."
This tells us the time of the first plague. It was after the revealing of the Antichrist and his coming to dominating power and a tightening of his grip upon his subjects and the enforcing of the receiving of his mark and entering upon a worship of him. We are well into the last three and a half years when the first plague is poured out. "Power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations," 13:7-8. This enforcing of submission to the Antichrist was carried out by the 'false Prophet'. "And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," 13:16-17. We may therefore believe that this is a very short period. You will notice the rapid sequence of the pouring out of the plagues, 16:1-21. Following the pouring out of the 7th Plague we are told a cry is heard: "It is done."
I think that we should notice that the seventh seal (8:1), the seventh trumpet (11:15), and the seventh plague (16:17) all take place at the closing of this age, on the very cusp of the return of Christ and the beginning of His Millennial reign.
Thus these three things, the seals, the trumpets and the plagues, reveal to us different aspects of the final fearful events that will happen at the ned of this age. I should say that the events should not produce 'fear' amongst the people of God but rather, as the Saviour instructs them, they are to "look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh," Luke 21:28. The phrase 'look up, and lift up your heads' signifies 'to be elated, to shake off despondency and despair'!
What will signal utter distress for ungodly men is the cause of joy for the redeemed. This put so memorably in 6:12-17. "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; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 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; 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: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," Hebrews 10:31.
If we visualise a train in motion on a downward slope with its speed ever increasing so that the distance markers at the side of the track pass ever more rapidly. So there is an increasing rapidity of events toward the end of this age. I believe that it is to this the Saviour refers in Matthew 24:22. "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened."