The events described in Revelation 6 to 19 all occur within a period of only seven years. From the viewpoint of Israel, this period is referred to as the seventieth year-week, as described in Daniel 9:24-27. A year-week is a period of seven years (Lev. 25:3-4). In the New Testament the coming year-week in which the Antichrist will reign, is called the tribulation and the great tribulation (Mt. 24:21, 29; Rev. 7:14). This seven year period is clearly divided into two periods of 3½ years each. To avoid the possibility of spiritualising this, the two halves of the week of years are in Revelation 11 to 13 described literally as 3½ years, 42 months, and 1260 days each. These are different expressions of the same period.
The first half of the tribulation will be characterised by a false peace, as well as by political, social, economic, and religious initiatives to unite humanity under the leadership of the Antichrist. When his peace and unification efforts fail, he will resort to an unprecedented reign of terror during the last 3½ years and introduce the bloodiest dictatorship the world has ever seen. The hundreds of millions of victims that this reign of terror will claim, will render it the biggest human tragedy of all time. The two halves of the tribulation period should be distinguished from each other by referring to the first half as the time of false peace and to the second half as the great tribulation. The whole seven years should just be called the tribulation period as only the last part of the tribulation is called the great tribulation. In the first 3½ years the people on earth will be morally, spiritually and politically enslaved and brainwashed, but in the last 3½ years they will be physically tortured and oppressed.
People often ask why there has to be a great tribulation. The Bible gives five reasons for it:
· The Lord will remove the withholder against unbridled sin – that is His church, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which is the light and salt of the world (2 Thess. 2:6-7). After this, total spiritual darkness will prevail on earth. Fallen mankind will then have the opportunity, without any restraint, to fill up the cup of their wickedness and to destroy themselves in the process.
· The Lord will judge sinners who refuse to repent. Isaiah 13:9-11 says that the Lord will lay the world desolate and destroy its sinners from it because of all their evils.
· The kingdoms of the world will be destroyed, together with all the evil systems on which they are founded, so that Christ can reign in their place (Dan. 2:44; Rev. 11:15).
· The people of Israel will be tested in the crucible of tribulation in order to purify and save a remnant of them (Ezek. 22:18-22; Zech. 13:8-9).
· From the spiritually hardened nations there will, according to Revelation 6:9-11 and 7:9-17, be gathered a big harvest of souls during the tribulation period. Most of them will continue to harden themselves in the midst of all the plagues (Rev. 9:20-21), but others will repent and be saved.
During the first half of the tribulation period, sin and immorality will proliferate under the leadership of the man of sin and be regarded as human liberties. Sinful conduct in terms of biblical standards will not be regarded as shameful as no Christian norms of decency will then be observed.
According to Revelation 6:1‑8, the Antichrist will be revealed in a highly deceptive way as an angel of light in an effort to first mislead people, and later to extend his merciless dictatorship over them. In the first stage of his reign, he will appear to the world as a global peacemaker who brings hope to a conflict-ridden and poverty-stricken world (the white horse). In a show of clever diplomacy he will deceive the people into accepting a world government, as well as a universal religion, in order to accomplish international unity.
When his peace initiatives and reform policy collapse after 3½ years, the Antichrist will turn to violence in order to maintain his power. He will then become a military dictator (the red horse). The next logical action will be stringent economic control and the rationing of food during the severe wars and famine in the world (the black horse). After these calamities, the only activity left to the Antichrist is his ride as the angel of death to reap as many souls as possible to join him in perdition (the pale horse).
In His prophetic discourse, Jesus Christ described a similar sequence of events that will occur during the coming tribulation period (Mt. 24:4-9):
· "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many" (the white horse);
· "And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars:.... For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (the red horse);
· "And there will be famines (and) pestilences" (the black horse);
· "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you" (the pale horse).
When the apocalyptic horses of Revelation 6 are unleashed, cataclysmic events will follow in their wake. They will usher in the final revelation of the mystery of iniquity. Let us consider these horses and their riders in more detail:
At the very beginning of the tribulation period, the Lord Jesus opens the first seal in heaven and a prince of peace on a white horse suddenly appears on earth. He only has a bow in his hand, and purposely hides the arrows since his march is under the banner of peace and reconciliation. He was not able to make his entry sooner, as the presence of the true church of Christ resisted his appearance and his planned usurpation of power. Now that the Lord has taken them away, the hour of darkness has struck, inaugurating the brief period of Antichrist's reign, before the appearance of the Lord as King of kings and Lord of lords to condemn him to the lake of fire (Rev. 19:16-20).
The identity of the rider on the white horse has for many years remained a controversial subject. However, from the context it is evident that he can be no one else than the Antichrist. It is wrong to assert that the rider of the white horse in Revelation 6 is Christ, merely because He is represented as a rider on a white horse in Revelation 19. There simply is no proof for this assertion. Symbols often do not have fixed applications, and must therefore be interpreted in the context in which they are used. So it is that a lion in one instance symbolises Christ as the Lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5), while in another instance the devil is said to be a roaring lion seeking whom he can destroy (1 Pet. 5:8). The white horse of the Antichrist symbolises a false peace. It should also be borne in mind that the Antichrist imitates the true Christ who comes on a white horse in Revelation 19. The Antichrist aims at being accepted and worshipped in His place.
In the vision of Revelation 6, Jesus is seated upon the throne and He opens the book that has been sealed with seven seals. In it the judgements of God upon a sinful world are described. Its purpose is to expose the sinister works of Satan, after which he and his henchmen will be judged and their influence over the earth and its inhabitants will be broken. When the first four seals are opened, four horses follow one another as they are commissioned to mislead and kill people. How intensely terrible and utterly destructive their actions will be, is clearly shown in Revelation 6:
However, the entry of the Antichrist upon the world scene as the rider of the white horse will be in terms of an ideology of reconciliation, unity and global brotherhood. He will be the final unifying factor in a major multi-religious ecumenical organisation. The false religions have already been deceived into thinking that we all worship the same God under different names, but something more tangible is needed to finally bind them together. This missing link is the universal Messiah who is also called the cosmic Christ. When he comes he will be the Christ for the deceived nominal Christians and the Messiah for the unconverted Jews, the Imam Mahdi for the Muslims, the Maitreya Buddha for the Buddhists, Krishna for the Hindus, and the great magician for the shamans and the African religions. All the deceived people on earth will be “brothers and sisters” who merge into a mystical brotherhood. Religious boundaries will become very vague and completely vanish after 3½ years.
The Antichrist will also obliterate social and political boundaries. He will establish a neo-Babylonian society of planetary citizens under the control of a United Nations based world government. For these major breakthroughs he will be internationally honoured and followed. All people will think that the long-awaited Utopia has dawned, and the New Age Movement’s promised dispensation of Aquarius – the time of true unity and brotherly love among all men – has finally become a reality. A threatening third world war will seemingly be averted by the intervention of the new world leader, and cosmic peace will prevail everywhere!
This false peace will be maintained with difficulty for 3½ years. Disloyalty and rebellion against the world empire of the Antichrist will start festering after a time, and bring a sudden end to the peace pretensions of this arch deceiver.
Leaders who become unstable and no longer enjoy popular support, often turn to autocratic rule and military force to secure their positions. The Antichrist will be no exception. When, in the middle of the seven year tribulation period, he will discard his mask of pretended peace-maker, gird on his sword and make his appearance as the rider on the red war-horse. With an iron fist, he will rule the world as the most cruel and violent dictator of all times.
The Antichrist will make a drastic about turn from his initial rule in co-operation with other leaders, to autocratic rule. His government of international unity will suddenly be transformed into a one-man dictatorship. In the religious sphere, the alliance of world religions will be abrogated (Rev. 17: 16), and the Antichrist will promote himself from the status of being world Messiah to that of being God. In the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, he will actually declare himself to be God! The Holy of holies will be desecrated by the placing there of an image of the Antichrist by the false prophet (Rev. 13:14; Dan. 11:31; Mt. 24:15). Paul says this rebel will “exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thes. 2:4). He will grossly blaspheme the true God of heaven. Any refusal to worship the beast as God will, according to Revelation 13:15, be punishable by death – just as was the case under the Roman Caesars and Babylonian kings who demanded to be worshipped as God.
When he claims to be God the Jews will openly reject the Antichrist as Messiah. He will be so furious that he will use his power to commit genocide against the Jews by obliterating them from the face of the earth. This future action was foreshadowed by the holocaust perpetrated by the cruel anti-Christian tyrant, Hitler.
As a military leader the Antichrist will achieve phenomenal success, and his supporters will, in admiration, acclaim him, declaring: "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" (Rev. 13:4). Daniel 11:44 says, “he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many.” The apostle John says: “And it was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue and nation” (Rev. 13:7). This verse alone is proof that the church dispensation will then be past because the Lord gave the assurance that the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church (Mt. 16:18).
During his reign, the Antichrist will have all Christians killed, as well as those Jews who did not escape to a place of refuge in the wilderness. He will gain victories on all continents until his rule extends over every tribe, tongue and nation. His military campaigns, as well as the famines and pestilences emanating from it, will claim a death toll of a quarter of the world’s population. In terms of a world population of 6 billion, that amounts to 1,5 billion people – a truly appalling prospect.
The inevitable result of wars and the mobilisation of economically active manpower is the rapid depletion of a country's finances, the destruction of infrastructure, serious losses in production, especially of food, and hence famine. In an effort to counteract these problems, the Antichrist will institute stringent economic measures. By means of internationally linked computer networks he will exercise control over the world economy. Individual freedom on how to manage financial resources will be completely eliminated and replaced by a global system of electronic funds transfer and financial control. Within the future cashless economy no person will be able to buy or sell without the consent of the Antichrist and his world government.
Because of food scarcity caused by wars, pollution, natural disasters and the over-exploitation of resources, strict rationing and control will in any event be unavoidable. The Antichrist will take advantage of this situation to further enforce his authority. Only those who acknowledge his political and religious leadership by accepting his mark and the number of his name, i.e. 666, will be granted certain privileges. These will include the right to buy and sell, as well as eligibility for employment (Rev. 13:16-18).
Since the Antichrist comes from the devil he will, like his father, be a murderer. He will delight himself in the death of millions of people and continue to wreak havoc in God's creation. About the Antichrist, Daniel says: “And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate” (Dan. 9:27). That literally means: “Under the banner of pernicious idolatry there will be one who ruins.” That is exactly what this cruel dictator will do. Through his continued wars he will destroy human lives and gradually reduce the earth to an uninhabitable, desolate ruin.
Over this grisly scene of desolation, the ominous profile of the death angel on the pale horse will linger. It is frightening that he and his wicked armies assembled from many nations, will be responsible for the death of a quarter of the world’s population. In terms of the present (2002) world population it means that this tyrant’s victims will be almost 30 times as many as the death toll of 52 million in World War II.
True Christians (those who are converted during the tribulation period) will from the outset know that the Antichrist is a false leader. They will reject him, as well as the false alliance of religions. For them there will be, in the relatively brief kingdom of the beast, only one consequence and that is persecution, martyrdom and death. Although they will lose the physical struggle against the Antichrist (according to Revelation 13:7 he will wage war against the saints and overcome them), they will nevertheless win the spiritual battle against him by not bowing the knee before him to worship him or his image:
They will die as overcomers! The faithful witnesses of Jesus will not accept the number of the Antichrist for their temporary needs such as their employment or the right to buy and sell. They will realise that to do so would lead to sure defeat and condemnation in hell. When they arrive in heaven after being martyred, they will ask the Lord to avenge their death on the Antichrist and his barbaric powers:
It is here stated as a fact that the surviving fellow brothers of the martyrs on earth will during the course of the tribulation period all be killed. Only then will their number in heaven be complete.
The great disasters and plagues that will come over the world during the tribulation will be clearly recognised as judgements of God. The situation on earth will become so desperate that the wicked will be overcome by a great fear. Panic-stricken, they will flee to the mountains as they will realise that the wrath of God is poured out over the earth and its inhabitants:
Apart from earthquakes, there will also be cosmic signs and disasters that will strike the world from outer space. Among these will be meteor showers and asteroids that will cause devastation on earth. Serious air pollution will also widely occur. People will not be able to survive in the big cities, where high buildings will collapse. They will flee to the mountains and realise that the awesome day of the Lord has come. Despite this appalling situation most of them – as in the days of the ten plagues in Egypt – will not repent but will harden their hearts.
In Revelation 8:1-2, the seventh seal is broken. It will lead to further judgements that will be announced by the seven angels with the trumpets. That will constitute a second wave of judgements that will flood the world. Still later, a third and more devastating wave will be unleashed by way of the bowl judgements. It is fearful thing to fall in the hands of the living God!
Do you have an ear to hear what the Spirit wants to say to the churches and to you personally? The Holy Spirit not only convicts us of sin and righteousness, but also of the impending judgements of the wicked. If we repent and turn to God through the Lord Jesus Christ we will not come into judgement but pass from death into life” (Jn. 5:24), "for God did not appoint us to wrath" (1 Thess 5:9).