Why a Good God Lets Bad Things Happen
Studies in the Book of Revelation
Dr. Jim Denison
An outline of Revelation (placing our study in context)
I. Prologue (1.1-18)
A. Preface (1.1-3)
B. Author and recipients (1.4-5)
C. Doxology (1.6-8)
II. The first vision (1.9-3.22): the glory of Christ and letters to his churches
A. The vision of the risen Christ and commission of the book (1.9-20)
B. The letters to the seven churches (chs. 2-3)
III. The second vision (4.1-16.21): judgments on the evil powers of the world
A. The vision of God in heaven (ch. 4)
B. The seven seals (5.1-8.1)
1. The vision of the Lamb (ch. 5)
2. The first six seals opened (ch. 6)
3. The “sealing” of 144,000 (ch. 7)
4. The seventh seal opened (8.1)
C. The seven trumpets (8.2-11.19)
1. The trumpets introduced (8.2-5)
2. The first six trumpets sounded (8.6-9.21)
3. Interlude: the mighty angel and the little scroll (ch. 10)
4. The two witnesses (11.1-14)
5. The seventh trumpet (11.15-19)
D. The seven signs (12.1-14.20)
1. The woman (12.1-2)
2. The dragon (12.3-13.1)
3. The beast out of the sea (13.1-10)
4. The beast out of the earth (13.11-18)
5. The Lamb and the 144,000 (14.1-5)
6. The three angels (14.6-13)
7. The harvest of the earth (14.14-20)
E. The seven plagues (15.1-16.21)
1. Preparations (ch. 15)
2. The seven bowls of God’s wrath (ch. 16)
IV. The third vision (17.1-21.8): victory over the evil powers of the world
A. The mystery of Babylon (ch. 17)
B. The fall of Babylon (ch. 18)
C. The praise of heaven (19.1-10)
D. The victory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (19.11-21)
E. The millennium (20.1-6)
F. Satan’s final doom (20.7-10)
G. The judgment of the dead (20.11-15)
V. The fourth vision (21.1-22.21): the future blessing of the faithful
A. The new creation (21.1-8)
B. The new Jerusalem (21.9-27)
C. The river of life (22.1-6)
D. The promise of Jesus’ imminent return (22.7-21)
God rules the elements (Revelation 6)
Note that all seven seals must be broken before the scroll itself can be opened; thus these are preliminary signs before the final stages of the kingdom can be revealed. These seals parallel closely Matthew 24.1-35 and Mark 13.1-37, and correspond to the “beginning of birth pains” Jesus describes in the Olivet discourse.
These events could begin in John’s time, and extend to the end of history (cf. 1 John 2.18: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour”).
The first seal: the white horse (1-2)—conquest
Hal Lindsey: the white horse represents an European Antichrist who is going to head up the Common Market in Europe from the city of Rome. Many interpreters believe this rider is Christ or his cause on earth. White is commonly a symbol in Revelation for Christ or spiritual victory (cf. Revelation 1.14, 2.17, 3.4-5, 4.4, 7.9, 20.11). No “woe” is mentioned as with the other riders.
My interpretation is this rider represents the conquest of the Roman Empire. The Parthians were the Romans’ most dreaded enemies, and their rulers rode white horses.
Their warriors used a bow; the Romans did not. Their rulers wore crowns; the Romans did not. And so Jesus is promising these persecuted Christians that their persecutors will one day be destroyed, and their faith will be vindicated.
The second seal: the red horse (3-4)—war
Hal Lindsey contends that this is Russia, making alliance with the Arabs to invade Israel; he bases this assumption primarily upon the color of Russia’s flag and nationality. However, red is the typical apocalyptic color for judgment and wrath. The rider’s power to “take peace from the earth” makes clear that war will follow conquest in the future of the Empire.
The third seal: the black horse (5-6)—famine
War creates famine. The costs reflected in the text are twelve times the normal prices for food.
The fourth seal: the pale horse (7-8)—death
“Pale” denotes a yellowish green, the paleness of a dying person. His name and work show that death follows the conquest, war, and famine which will come to the Empire.
Hal Lindsey and others interpret these “riders” as doing their work only at the end of history (Lindsey interprets vs. 7-8 as the results of a nuclear war). But most commentators through Christian history have seen these as warnings of coming catastrophe for the persecuting Roman Empire, and assurance to the Christians that their future is secure in an insecure world.
The fifth seal: the martyrs (9-11)
Some interpret these verses to speak of those martyred for their faith during the Great Tribulation. Others point out the fact that if the Spirit is “raptured” during this Tribulation, how could people become believers and then be martyred?
The verb tenses seem to indicate that these are those who have already been martyred by the time John writes Revelation. Thus this passage refers to first-century Christians who have died for their faith. They seek vengeance from God, in keeping with Scripture: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12.19). They are given the white robes of victory and promised that judgment will one day come to their enemies.
The sixth seal: the earthquake (12-17)
Some see these as signs of the end of history; others as symbols of ongoing tribulation until Christ finally returns. Note the non-rational nature of these symbols: “the stars in the sky fell to earth” (v. 13), but our planet is smaller than any one of these stars; “the sky receded like a scroll” (v. 14) and “every mountain and island was removed from its place” (v. 14), yet people hide among the “rocks of the mountains” (v. 15). And later “a third of the stars” turn dark (8.12), though all of them have already fallen to earth (6.13).