The End Time in the Book of Revelation
In the biblical book of Revelation, Jesus Christ foretold many more signs of the time of the end. What do these mysterious signs mean?
In the Gospel accounts Jesus gave a brief summary of the events and conditions leading up to His return. But later He filled in many details. Sixty years passed before He revealed more of the specifics about the end time to the apostle John. This long and detailed prophecy is in the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
Here we find again the outline of the prophecy Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives, but represented in extensive symbolism. We also find additional details.
In the first chapter John writes that, in vision, he was taken to the time he called “the Lord’s day”—the same period called “the day of the Lord” by earlier prophets and other apostles (Isaiah 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:14; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).
Vision of the end time
Revelation is a book written to reveal the future, and Jesus Christ is the One who does the revealing: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place … Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” (Revelation 1:1,7).
Here is the theme of Revelation—the time of the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.
John explains where he was when he received this vision of the end time: “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet” (Revelation 1:9-10).
The Lord’s day (also known as “the day of the Lord” or “the day of Christ” throughout Scripture) is the time of God’s intervention in human affairs when He establishes His Kingdom. (Plainly in this context it does not refer to a particular day of the week for worshipping God. To better understand which day God has set aside for rest and worship, please download or request our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest. )
The apostle Paul, referring to this same time, says: “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
In another epistle Paul calls it “the day of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The reason is that Jesus Christ, the Lord, intervenes in a powerful way at this time to take over the world. This is why this end-time period is called the Lord’s day.
John’s vision of the Lord’s day begins in Revelation 4: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (verse 2). After describing the scene in heaven, John focuses on a scroll God holds that lists end-time events. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1).
Only Jesus Christ, called the Lamb, is worthy to open the seals and unleash these end-time events. When God the Father determines the time is ready, He authorizes Jesus to initiate the events written on the scroll. They include the terrifying end-time occurrences prophesied throughout the Scriptures to take place during the 3 1⁄2 year period.
The seven seals describe the events before and during Christ’s return to rule the earth. “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels …saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!'” (Revelation 5:11-12). Here Jesus Christ is being authorized to unleash the final events and then establish His Kingdom on earth.
Christ opens the seven seals
John then describes events and trends to take place during the period before the 3 1⁄2 years. Jesus opens, in Revelation 6, the seven seals on the scroll of prophecy. The first four of the seven represent events beginning in the days of the apostles and leading up to the time of the end. Jesus gave the meaning of the seals in the Olivet Prophecy about the end time (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21).
The first seal (Revelation 6:1-2) represents widespread deception by a false Christianity that began in the days of the apostles (Matthew 24:4 – 5). The second seal (Revelation 6:3-4) refers to the increasing devastation caused by war as the end approaches (Matthew 24:6-7). The third seal (Revelation 6:5-6) represents increasing hunger and famines (Matthew 24:7). Other consequences of war and famine are represented by the fourth seal (Revelation 6:7-8)—such things as disease, plagues and civil unrest that kill many people (Matthew 24:7).
All of the events in the first four seals have been occurring, with varying frequency and intensity, from Christ’s time to our day. But they have greatly intensified over the last century and will grow even worse in the suffering mankind will have to endure nearer the end.
The fifth seal (Revelation 6:9-11) brings us directly to the time of the end. It acknowledges the past persecution and martyrdom of God’s servants and announces they will have to wait “a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed,” before God avenges their deaths.
In Matthew 24:9
Jesus tells His followers this will be a time when “they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” He also describes it as a time of “great tribulation” unlike anything the world has ever experienced (verse 21).
The sixth seal
The next seal describes how “powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29) after the end-time tribulation and martyrdom of the saints has begun but before God’s wrath is unleashed in “the day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31). These heavenly signs announce the beginning of the Day of the Lord.
Terrifying heavenly signs announce Jesus Christ’s direct intervention in world events to save mankind from itself. This shows that, while God has permitted the previous end-time disasters, Satan has been their driving force. Now God begins to demolish Satan’s kingdom, pouring out His wrath on a rebellious and insolent world.
“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.
“And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'” (Revelation 6:12-17).
Jesus described this sixth sign in His Olivet Prophecy: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption [rescue] draws near” (Luke 21:25-28).
Consequently, in the latter part of the 3 1⁄2 years of Satan’s wrath, God will intervene, first with signs and wonders in the heavens, then by orchestrating His final punishments before Jesus Christ’s return.
The seventh and final seal
Finally the seventh seal is opened (Revelation 8). It describes seven other aspects of end-time events, each announced with a trumpet blast. In the first four of these plagues God strikes the earth and mankind’s environmental support systems. The fifth trumpet’s plague inflicts great pain on those refusing to serve God. In the sixth trumpet plague, God permits an unimaginably destructive and all-out worldwide war to begin (Revelation 8-9).
With the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the Bible reveals that “the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7).
This mystery of the end time was briefly alluded to in the Garden of Eden and its meaning glimpsed by the patriarchs and prophets. John writes: “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'” (Revelation 11:15).
God is in control. Every prophetic detail will be carried out according to His time frame.
As Christ concluded His Olivet Prophecy in Luke 21:34-36, He warned His disciples who would live during the end time: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass [the terrible end-time events], and to stand before the Son of Man.”