Setting the stage

At the onset of the Great Tribulation, certain things will happen that will make it clear that this last period of time has started. After the Lamb of God takes possession of the book with the seven seals and the heavenly host worship him, “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12); then, the Lamb of God will begin to open the seals and set the stage for his defeat of Satan and his demonic forces. Jesus described this event in his Olivet discourse shortly before he was crucified. It says in Matthew 24:3, “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'” (NKJV). In response to their questions, Jesus identified several things that will apparently happen before the rapture of his church (Matthew 24:4-14).

According to Jesus, a key feature of the end of the church age is the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations” (Matthew 24:14). In other words, the Great Commission will have already been completed (Matthew 28:18-19). Then, judgment of the world will begin. In what seems to be quick succession, the first four seals of the book written within and on the backside (Revelation 5:1) are removed and four horsemen enter the scene. The imagery of the four horsemen comes from Zechariah 1:8-17 and 6:1-8 where divine judgment brings peace to the earth. Zechariah was told that the four horsemen were “the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth” (Zechariah 6:5). The sequence of the four horsemen’s entrance indicate there will first be a military conquest, then bloodshed, followed by a famine, and finally the death of one fourth of the world’s population (Revelation 6:2-8).

The opening of the first six seals of the book that was given to the Lamb of God seem to precede the sealing of the 144,000 servants of God from the tribes of the children of Israel, but it could be that all these things happen very quickly, perhaps in rapid succession within a single day after the sealing of the servants because the four horsemen are told, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3). Immediately following the sealing of the servants, John says in Revelation 7:9, “After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”

The appearance of the great multitude before the throne might be a result of the rapture of the church taking place even though it isn’t mentioned specifically. Jesus’ explanation of the signs of the end of the age included an event that appears to be the rapture. He said, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. ‘Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!'” (Matthew 24:30-33, NKJV). Since Jesus included this event in the signs of the end of the age, it seems reasonable to assume that it takes place before the four horsemen are sent out.

Jesus indicated life would seem normal just before the rapture takes place. He said, “Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:41-42, NKJV). Once the four horsemen are sent out, things will change dramatically on Earth. The opening of the sixth seal of the Lamb’s book indicates cosmic disturbances will take place that leave no doubt God’s judgment of the world is taking place. John said, “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves 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 who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:12-17, NKJV).