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).

Lamb of God

John’s visit to the throne room of heaven took place at a time when an important event was commencing. As he viewed the worship of one who sat on a throne by twenty four elders who proclaimed, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created,” ( Revelation 4:11, NKJV) John “saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1). The mysterious book is believed by some to be a copy of the New Covenant that God enacted when Israel was about to be expelled from the the promised land in actualization of the most severe covenant curse (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). John said about this book, “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” (Revelation 5:2-3).

The fact that no one was able to open the book or to look at its contents suggests that it was a legal document of some sort that might have contained private information, perhaps a will that could only be read by the heir to the estate. John said, “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'” (Revelation 5:4-5, NKJV). The Greek word translated prevailed, nikao means to conquer or get the victory (G3528). This is the same word that was used in each of the messages John was given for the seven churches regarding their reward for overcoming (Revelation 2-3). Jesus said in his message to Laodicea, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21, italics mine).

The specific victory that Jesus won took place when he died on the cross at Calvary. John said, “And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne” (Revelation 5:6-7). The transfer of the book from the right hand of him that sat on the throne to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29) likely signified the completion of God’s plan of salvation. At that point in time, it’s possible that the Lamb’s work will be finished in that everyone that wants to accept his substitutionary death on the cross as payment for their sins have already done so. John said, “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).

The scene that took place as John looked on could have been a type of coronation in which the Lamb of God was ascending to the throne. The elders worship of the Lamb signified their acceptance of his authority over them. What seems to be clear about what was happening was that a transfer of power was taking place and the Lamb was claiming his inheritance which was documented in the book with seven seals. One of the roles that Jesus fulfilled was the kinsman redeemer of Israel. The kinsman redeemer was a blood relative that qualified to buy back property that had been sold for debt. “The book of Ruth is a beautiful account of the kinsman-redeemer. His responsibility is summed up in Ruth 4:5: ‘What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.’ Thus the kinsman-redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative or for executing justice upon his murderer” (H1350). It says in Ruth 4:13 that after Boaz claimed Elimelech’s property, Ruth became his wife.

One aspect of what was taking place in the throne room in heaven was the settlement of Israel’s debt of sin against God. After the elders fell down before the Lamb, John said, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). The Greek word translated redeemed, agorazo (ag-or-ad’-zo) is properly translated as “to go to market, i.e. (by implication) to purchase” (G59). Jesus purchased or bought back the souls of believers from Satan with his own blood which was shed on the cross. The prophet Hosea portrayed this transaction when God instructed him to purchase his wife out slavery. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love your wife, even when she is loved by another and is not faithful. Love her as the Lord loves the people of Israel, even when they turn to other gods and love cakes of dried grapes.’ So I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver money and ten baskets of barley. Then I said to her, ‘You must stay with me for many days, and be faithful to me. Do not have another man, and I will also be faithful to you’” (Hosea 3:1-3, NLV).

One of the parables Jesus told the religious leaders that wanted to kill him was about a marriage dinner. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come….But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’” (Matthew 22:2-9, NKJV). The marriage supper of the Lamb that is recorded in Revelation 19 indicates that the great whore must be judged and the blood of God’s servants avenged before the wedding can take place, chapters 16 – 18 record that process. Revelation 5:13 appears to take place at the end of that process. It says, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (NKJV).