by Rev. Mark Robinson
In Jewish writings there are many references to a time of suffering before the advent of the Messiah. A couple of references will illustrate this concept.
Raphael Patai, in his book The Messiah Texts, said about the Messianic texts, “The idea became entrenched that the coming of the Messiah will be preceded by greatly increased suffering…This will last seven years. And then, unexpectedly, the Messiah will come.”1
The Talmud states, “Why call these future troubles ‘the birth pangs of the Messiah’? Because travail precedes birth, and this travail ‘precedes the birth of a new era.”
It should be no surprise that this concept of “birth pains” originates in the Bible. A recurring theme in the Word of God is the concept of “birth pains” prior to the coming of Messiah.
“Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness?” Jeremiah 30:6. This verse refers to the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, what is also referred to as the Tribulation period. Notice the concept of “travail with child,” or “birth pains.”
In Isaiah 66:7, we are told, “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.” Again, we see the theme of “travail,” or “birth (labor) pains.” Interestingly, the labor pains take place after the birth. The man child speaks of Jesus’ birth. After His birth comes the “birth pains.” Presently, we are about 2,000 years removed from His birth, and still waiting for the start of the “birth pains,” the Tribulation period.
In the New Testament the same concept of “birth pains” is taught. “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape,” 1 Thessalonians 5:3. “Travail” is a pang or throe, especially of childbirth.
And in Matthew 24:8, after a list of events that will take place such as wars and earthquakes, we are told, “All these are the beginning of sorrows.” “Sorrows” is the same Greek word translated “travail” in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. All these events are the beginning of “birth pains,” and place them at the beginning of the Tribulation period.
With this as background we are introduced to the first judgments of the seven year Tribulation period, the seal judgments of Revelation 6. As with the beginning of “labor pains,” these judgments are painful but only the beginning of the process, with judgments of greater severity and occurrence during the subsequent Trumpet and Bowl judgments.
SEVEN SEAL JUDGMENTS
There are six Seal judgments in Revelation 6. These are the beginning of God’s judgment, or wrath, on a world that has continually rejected His Son, the Messiah. Jesus is the only one found capable of opening these Seal judgments. “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof,” Revelation 5:5. It is clear from Rev. 6:17 that the Seal judgments begin the time of God’s wrath, “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
The first Seal judgment is found in verse 1 and 2. It depicts a rider on a white horse. Riding a white horse he is depicted, at this time, as the protagonist. Shortly, though, he is conquering through military might and becomes the antagonist. This rider is none other than the anti-Christ. The seven year Tribulation period starts with the anti-Christ establishing a covenant with Israel and her enemies, Daniel 9:27. The hope for world peace is a mirage as this “son of perdition” starts his campaign, through the use of military force, to rule the world. By the middle of the Tribulation he will have consolidated his power, Revelation 12, in four power bases – military, political, religious, and economic. His rule will end in his destruction with the return of Jesus.
Verse 3 and 4 tell of the second Seal judgment with a rider on a red horse taking peace from the world by the use of a sword. At the beginning of the Tribulation period there is the deception of peace offered by this “man of sin.” When the Second seal is opened all pretense disappears. The anti-Christ begins in earnest his use of military power to put down all who would question his rule and authority.
The Third seal, verses 5-6, has a rider on a black horse introducing the reality of world famine. “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny,” is enough food to keep one person healthy for a day. A penny, denarius in Greek, is a day’s wage (see Matthew 20:2). Who does the provider in the home allocate this sustenance to? To the mother, one of the children, himself? This judgment won’t affect the wealthy as we are told, “and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” The overwhelming majority of the earth’s inhabitants are poor. How many people die from disease and malnutrition as a result of this judgment of famine?
The fourth Seal judgment is found in verses 7-8 and depicts a rider on a pale horse with the name “Death” and “Hell following him.” This one judgment alone sees 1/4 of the earth’s population die. “And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” The use of beasts, sword, famine, and death (pestilence) is used in Scripture to speak of God’s judgments, Ezekiel 14:21 (see also Leviticus26:22-26; Deuteronomy 28:21-26; Jeremiah 15:2-3; 16:4-5; Ezekiel 5:12-17). Don’t be misled! This judgment, and all the Seal judgments, is the wrath of a Holy God poured upon mankind. It’s a period unparalleled in history – it is the “Day of the Lord!” But, it is just the “beginning of sorrows.”
The fifth Seal judgment is described in verses 9-11, with martyred saints asking the Lord how long it will be before they are avenged for their death. The answer is wait, many more will first be martyred. The anti-Christ is allowed by God to slay many of the saints of the Lord. Many people will be saved in the Tribulation period, Revelation 7:9-10, but will experience the anger of the anti-Christ and martyrdom at his hands.
Verses 12-17 tell of earthquakes that shake the foundations of the earth. These earthquakes are so destructive the earth’s inhabitants call on the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of God. How foolish they are to make this plea instead of turning to Him who is the Judge, yes, but also the Savior to those who call upon Him.
Beginning of Sorrows
The Seal judgments are destructive, painful, and come suddenly upon an unexpecting world. In one of the judgments 1/4 of the earth’s people die. In another judgment there are great earthquakes.
As with “birth’ or “labor pains”, things will get worse before it is over. In one of the Trumpet judgments 1/3 of the earth’s population die. In one of the Bowl judgments, an earthquake so devastating occurs it flattens the cities of the world and mountains disappear.
It is the seventh Seal judgment, Revelation 8:1, which unleashes the more painful and devastating Trumpet judgments.
One can only imagine the pain that comes with the series of judgments God unleashes upon this world. How thankful I am that born again believers are promised to be spared from this seven year time of “sorrows.” I won’t be here for the “birth pains.” You won’t be here either if you have believed on the Messiah, Jesus, to forgive your sins! If you haven’t, do it now!
1. Patai, Raphael, The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years, Wayne State University Press, 1979, pg. 95-96
2. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b