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When Was the First Seal Broken?

We are faced with a substantial mystery when it comes to dating the events described in Revelation 4-6. As you might expect, Christianity is divided on this topic. Advocates of a pre-tribulation rapture believe Revelation 4 will occur in the future because they believe the breaking of the first seal marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Prior to the twentieth century, a majority of Christians believed Jesus was found worthy to receive the book sealed with seven seals at His return to Heaven in A.D. 30. Since the Christian community is “poles apart” on this subject today, let us take a moment to consider the substance of both views.

Will the Church Escape the Great Tribulation?

Advocates of a pre-tribulation rapture believe the seven seals are broken after the rapture. They base some of their reasoning on the idea that John was “ruptured” to Heaven to see the Great Tribulation from the safety of Heaven. They believe that John’s experience parallels the Church’s experience in the last days. However, the question rises, “What does John’s trip to Heaven have to do with the church being ruptured before the Great Tribulation begins?” John did not physically leave the isle of Patmos and go to Heaven. John says that he was taken to Heaven “in the spirit” – in a vision. (Revelation 4:2; 9:17) Similarly, Paul says he visited Heaven in visions that were so real that he thought he was actually there! He saw and heard many wonderful things that he could not express in words. (2 Corinthians 12) Even though Paul experienced this wonderful privilege, Paul did not escape incarceration or martyrdom. Emperor Nero beheaded him because of his faith and commitment to Jesus. Legend has it that the Romans also tried to kill the prophet John by throwing him into a pot of boiling oil. When the Romans saw that John was miraculously saved from death, he was set free. The point is that Paul and John did not go to Heaven, and they did not escape tribulation and death. If Jesus did not spare His closest disciples from tribulation and death (nine of the twelve died as martyrs), and if Jesus “handed over” the saints to the little horn for tribulation and death during the 1,260 years of the Dark Ages (Daniel 7:25), why would He spare “end time Christians” from forty-two months of the Great Tribulation? (Revelation 13:5)

The strongest rebuttal to the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture is this: The rules of apocalyptic prophecy do not permit a pre-tribulation rapture. John’s experience in Revelation 4 cannot represent the experience of the Church during the Great Tribulation because John is sent back to Earth! In Revelation 10, John is told to eat a little book that was given to him and he is told to prophesy again to kings and nations. (Revelation 10:11) If John (representing the Church) is in Heaven during the Great Tribulation, how could John (representing the Church) accomplish this assignment without returning to Earth? There is nothing within the four rules, the five essential doctrines or within Revelation 4-6 that puts believers in Heaven prior to the Great Tribulation. In fact, the Bible actually says, “the saints” will be on Earth during the Great Tribulation. “He [the beast, the crisis government] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people language and nation.” (Revelation 13:7) The followers of Jesus will be persecuted for forty-two months and many will be slain during the fifth seal. (Revelation 6:9-11; 12:11; 13:5; 20:4; Daniel 12:12) The Bible also indicates that a large number of Christians will survive the Great Tribulation to see Jesus appear in the clouds of glory! The doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture will rupture when the Great Tribulation begins. Millions of Christians will discover they were misled. Why do Christians want to run and hide from their prophetic destiny? The final accomplishment of the body of Christ (the Church), though weak and feeble as it is, will be a stunning victory over the beast and its image through the power of Christ. (1 John 5:4; Revelation 20:4)

What Does Church History Offer?

The historical view of this topic has flaws, too. Down through the centuries, Christians have generally believed the scenes in Revelation 4 began a few years after Jesus ascended to Heaven. The idea has been perpetuated ever since the book of Revelation began circulating at the beginning of the second century A.D.. but this view is faulty for several reasons. Here are two:

  1. There is nothing within Revelation 4-6 indicating Jesus was found worthy to receive the book sealed with seven seals shortly after He returned to Heaven. Nothing is said in Revelation 4-6 about timing, except that Jesus had been slain. (Revelation 5:6)  The timing of the convocation in Revelation 4-6 is not stated in Revelation because it was sealed in the book of Daniel, and the book of Daniel was sealed until the time of the end! Early Christians did not have Daniel’s rules or Daniel’s matrix, so they assumed that Jesus had been found worthy to receive the book sealed with seven seals shortly after He returned to Heaven. This assumption, like the assumption that Earth stood still and the Sun orbited around Earth, was harmless, but it introduced more confusion than it resolved. In the sixteenth century, before Copernicus proved that Earth orbited the Sun, the orbits of heavenly bodies were very difficult to calculate. However, once astronomers understood that Earth traveled around a stationary Sun, the orbits of heavenly bodies became much easier to determine. The same holds true on the timing of Revelation 4-6. Once the timing of Revelation 4-6 is properly determined from Daniel 7 and 8, the purpose of the book and the meaning of the seven seals are not hard to understand.
  1. Apocalyptic prophecy is written in such a way that it has to be distorted to make sense if valid rules of interpretation are not used. This means the intended meaning of the seven seals will be distorted if their timing is not correctly determined. Even though we have not examined the meaning of the seven seals, a short presentation on the fourth seal can demonstrate how prophecy has been distorted for many centuries. Here is the fourth seal: “When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the Earth.” (Revelation 6:7,8)

A person does not have to be a serious Bible scholar to see that when the fourth seal is broken, the results will be deadly. In fact, the rider’s name is “Death,” and the grave (Greek: Hades), like a persistent vulture, follows close behind Death to consume the dead. The Bible says they will have the power to kill 25% of Earth’s population. They will kill with God’s four deadly judgments: sword, famine, plague and wild beasts. (Ezekiel 14:21) The question naturally rises, “If the fourth seal occurred in the past, when did God deliberately kill 25% of Earth’s population with His four deadly judgments?”

Before I respond to this question, please examine two statements spoken by God Himself. These passages are profound because God identifies His four deadly judgments and justifies their use. The first passage is a selection of verses taken out of “The Song of Moses.” The Israelites were required to memorize and sing this song. (Incidentally, this song will also be sung in Heaven! See Revelation 15:3) The second statement was spoken to Ezekiel just before King Nebuchadnezzar was sent to plunder and totally destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Take a few moments to absorb these divine declarations because the breaking of the fourth seal means death to a huge number of people.



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