We turn now to the first of these. [Note: Revelation 6-7.] It begins with a crowned One seated on a white horse going forth conquering and to conquer. This description agrees with the much fuller description of the Lord Jesus near the end of the book, as he goes to the earth for the decisive close of the tribulation. [Note: Revelation 19.]
This gives fresh emphasis to the fact that what follows is the direct result of His advance step. At once there follows on earth a time of war, famine, death, and of persecution to the death of God's people. There is no hint as to how long this goes on. It is brought to a close with an earthquake and an equally terrific disturbance of the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars, something unknown before.
The utmost consternation is created on earth. All conditions of men, crowned kings, merchant princes, men of autocratic power financially and politically and socially, join with the humblest in hiding themselves in the great holes made by the earthquake. They feel that the time of judgment has come, and they are not ready for it.
The description of their terror tallies remarkably with the prophetic language used by Isaiah, [Note: Isa_2:10-22.] even as the whole description fits into our Lord's Olivet talk. This is seen to be a general, rapid vision of the whole tribulation period.
Then there follows what clearly seems to be a parenthesis fitting in just before the great earthquake. The earth and sea have been terribly torn up by the earthquake. This parenthesis begins with a command that the earth and sea be not hurt until certain things have taken place.
This fits the two events of the parenthesis in just before the ruinous earthquake takes place. The two events are of a radically different sort from what has just been told. They are thus put by themselves, and the run of evil and of judgment upon it, put by itself, so keeping these two quite clear, following the general plan of the book.
There are two events in this parenthesis. There is what is called the "sealing" of a certain number of the Hebrew tribes on the earth. Twelve thousand of each tribe are sealed, making a total of one hundred and forty-four thousand. The word "seal" is used in two senses in the Bible, as a means of fastening up a writing or roll, and, in the New Testament, commonly for the presence of the Holy Spirit in a human life.
The seal in this second sense was a mark of ownership. Paul tells us that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, [Note: 2Co_1:22; Eph_1:13; Eph_4:30.] so indicating that we belong to the Lord Jesus, who gives us this evidence of His ownership. If this simple, natural meaning be taken here, it would mean that at this time the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon the Jew. The spiritual regeneration spoken of so frequently in the prophetic pages takes place at this time.
The significance of the numbers should be noticed. Twelve is the number commonly used in the Bible, for corporate completeness, to indicate that a group is complete. Twelve times twelve would simply represent a fully completed corporate number. That is to say, upon the entire body of Jews then living on the earth the Holy Spirit is poured out, thus marking them once again as God's peculiar people, restored fully to favour after the long national rejection.
The second event is of equally intense interest, indeed to us of non-Jewish birth it has yet greater interest. John is up in heaven. It is from that point of view that he sees. Now he is suddenly startled. All at once there appears before his eyes a group he had not seen before. He describes it as a great multitude, actually countless, out of all the peoples of the whole earth, a great polyglot polyracial world company.
They are clothed in white, holding the conqueror's palm in their hands, and singing, making wondrous music. John is getting another taste of the music of heaven. And their singing is a signal for a fresh outburst of praise by the angels, the elders, and the living creatures. All this seems to occur suddenly, this appearance of this new company before the throne.
John gazes spellbound, wondering who these are, and where they come from, and what this means. And he is told that these are they that come out of the tribulation, the great one, down on the earth. Then in a few exquisitely tender, heart-touching words their happiness is described.
These two events occur just before the terrible earthquake and the shake-up of the earth's heavenly bodies. Just before the judgment that closes the tribulation this double event takes place, the conversion of the Jews, and the catching away out of the tribulation distress on earth, up into the presence of the throne, of the followers of our Lord Jesus.
We remember that that great Jew, Paul, was converted by the appearance of Jesus in the heavens above him. We remember that in the Olivet talk Jesus says that His followers will so be gathered up to Himself at the time of His second coming. These two events, taking place here, tell us what has happened down on the earth. In his vision John, being in heaven, sees these things as they appear from above.
This is the first view of the tribulation. It begins with the moment when our Lord Jesus up in heaven begins action, describes the characteristics of the tribulation on earth, and closes with the national regeneration of Israel, and the catching up from earth of Christ's true followers.