Now that we have the contextual indicators of meaning before us (from Part 13), let us attempt to discover the meaning of the first seal. Is it a presentation of Christ, the Antichrist, or something else? The fact that the first four seals are all horses/horsemen who have an extremely significant impact upon the inhabitants of the earth indicates that we should take them to represent what horses in Scripture typically represent: forces for warfare. The motif of warfare is strong in all but one of these four seals. The first rider "conquers"; the second rider "takes peace from the earth" with a great sword; and the fourth rider kills a fourth of the population of the earth with, among other things, a sword. The third rider apparently represents famine, which is not directly a warfare motif word, but, significantly, within the context of warfare, famine is not hard to assimilate into that motif. This is especially true to history in that we currently have massive famines in Africa that have nothing to do with the absence of rain, but have everything to do with civil war within the countries where the people are starving to death.
This would mean, then, that the four seals represent the outbreak of an on-going and rather enormous warfare on the level of a "world" war. This is an important observation in that it tells us that the "seals" rather than being individual "events", are characterizations of the entire period. In other words, the "conqueror" of the first seal does not simply "conquer", he engages in an ongoing process of conquering that fills up the time frame. The "peace-taker" does not simply create a momentary conflict, he fills the time with conflict. The "famine-announcer" does not simply announce a single, short-lived, famine; he describes the condition of the period in terms of the preciousness of food. And, "Death and Hell" do not kill one fourth of the earth in one fell swoop, but, rather, systematically kill one fourth of the earth over the period of time covered by the seals. By the same token, the fifth seal (about which we have said little) does not present a one-time martyrdom of myriad saints, but, rather, presents an on-going persecution of believers unto death. Even the sixth seal is not a single event because the terms of the text argue for both the sun and moon being affected in terms that Joel put prior to the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord as well as the departure of the heavens as a scroll which is timed by Isaiah at the end of the day of the Lord. So, it is an inclusio that looks at the entire picture from beginning to end.
That raises a key question in reference to the warfare motif: who are the combatants?
That question is answered by looking at the textual clues of the first and second horsemen. There is no question that all of the characteristics of the first horseman fit an interpretation that he represents the Christ, or, if not a personal being, at least the interests of Christ. Even those who say this is Antichrist have to admit that every one of the characteristics are those of the Christ. Not one descriptive issue of the first horse and horseman fails to be applicable to the Christ. Not one. For example, the leonine living creature represents the enforcement of righteousness. The necessity for "conquering" by the rider on the white horse exists because there is such a dearth of righteousness upon the earth. It has always been true that one of Christ's foremost characteristics is to defeat unrighteousness and to establish righteousness upon the earth. In the next example, the "white" color is never used in the Revelation (a symbol-based "unveiling" of the seventieth week of Daniel) in a "deceptive" way. White is always used in every other place in this book to represent the holiness that either marks God or marks those acceptable to Him. The third example is the bow. The bow, as an instrument of war, is directly associated with the Messiah in the clearly Messianic Psalm 45 in verses 5 and 6. Psalm 64:7 continues this "bow" motif in respect to God's activity against His enemies. The fourth example is the crown. There are different kinds of crowns in Scripture. There is the diadem of the King, and there is the victor's crown which is given to the winner of a contest. The crown in this text is the second: the victor's crown. Van Kampen himself has said that the reason Christ was "worthy" to loose the seals is that He overcame Satan in the temptation (pages 137-138). Thus, the "giving of a victor's crown" indicates another clearly Messianic characterization.
So, there is nothing in the description of the first horse/rider that is not Messianic. So, why is this not a representation of Christ? Van Kampen says that it is Antichrist. Why? Because it "fits" Matthew 24 in a very general and superficial way because there the Christ said many antichrists would come. However, there is NOTHING in the text of Revelation to agree with that interpretation. In fact, to make that interpretation stick, one must be able to demonstrate that the "unveiling" of the Revelation is deceptive at this point. The "white" in this case does not have the significance that it has in every other text of Revelation and is not really white. Demonstrate that the Revelation uses colors deceptively, and there is a case of sorts for identifying the rider of the first horse as the Antichrist. Fail to demonstrate that and all you have left is some kind of importation of another context into the text to make your case.
So, what about the second seal?
The horse and rider of the second seal are descriptive of the Antichrist. In the first place, the calf-like living creature reveals him. The Antichrist faces the same problem, in a sense, that Messiah faces: man's almost universal and complete unwillingness to use power in order to genuinely serve. But, the Antichrist's method of dealing with that problem is the use of force and the pitting of men against men. Then, the prophecies of Daniel identify the Antichrist as the "war-maker" who destroys the peace of earth with his global conflicts and ambitions. In fact, Daniel 9:26-27 are cast in terms that include the phrase "unto the end of the war". The color of the horse is the same color as the Dragon of Revelation 12:3. It is used of no other person or thing in the Revelation. The impact is that of turning men against each other to kill one another. He is given a great sword to carry out his warfare. Though the color is the most clearly identificational characteristic that links this rider with the Dragon, there is nothing here that does not apply to the Antichrist.
Van Kampen, who has already identified the first horseman as the Antichrist has no identification for this rider. He simply says that Christ said that there would be wars and rumors of wars and this is the restatement of that saying. His point is that the seals follow Matthew 24. But, the "following" is not real as he has already admitted in moving from "many false christs" in Matthew 24 to someone "going far beyond being just another false Christ" (page 140). So, by superficial parallelism, he overlooks the context almost altogether. The question we raised about the seals presenting the time period as one of great warfare and attempting to understand the identity of the combatants is now answerable. If Christ, or at least the Messianic plan of conquest for planet earth to bring it back under the dominion of heaven, is represented by the first horse/rider, and if Antichrist, or at least the Satanic plan of conquest through warfare, is represented by the second horse/rider, we have the answer to our question. The scroll is a document which details the conflict between Christ and Satan over the future of the world. That conflict will erupt into famine like the world has never seen (Seal # 3), and the conflict will destroy a fourth of the population of the earth (Seal # 4).
In his quest to establish a parallelism between Matthew 24 and the seals of the Revelation, Van Kampen argues that because Jesus mentioned "famines" in Matthew 24, there is a clear parallel with the third seal. There is no question that famine is in both texts. But the so-called parallelism has already been seen to be superficial at best and it does not stand as a strong enough argument to ignore the text and context of the seals.
From this point, Van Kampen's interpretation goes further afield. He insists that the fourth horse/rider is to be interpreted by Jesus' statements about Antichrist's persecution of the elect of God (page 143). But his explanation regarding this fourth seal is really confused.
First, by splitting the first three seals from the fourth one by reason of the supposed parallelism with Matthew 24, Van Kampen makes a significant breach in the unity of the four horsemen of Revelation 6. He has to do this because in Matthew 24, Jesus said that false christs, warfare, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes were the "beginning" of the birth pains. This arbitrary breach of the unity of the text in favor of a "parallelism" ought to be a signal to the careful student that something is going awry.
Then, on the face of it (plain and simple), Death is given power over the fourth part of the earth. On the face of it, that means a fourth of the earth will die. The methods of this death are fourfold: sword (warfare); hunger (famine); death (Death); and the beasts of the earth. But, Van Kampen, bound by his determination to "see" a parallel with Matthew 24, makes this a re-statement of Matthew 24:9-10 where Jesus spoke of the persecution of His disciples during the seventieth week of Daniel. Van Kampen's "interpretation" is that since Judaism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, along with all the other "so-called Christians" add up to a fourth of the population of the world, these are who are meant by "the fourth part of the earth" (page 145). But earlier, on page 143, he had said, "...the Lamb of God gives Death and Hell the authority to slay a fourth of the earth."
Now the obvious conclusion of such an interpretation is that all of "Christendom" (plus Judaism) will be slain by Death and Hell. But, this cannot be, so at this point Van Kampen begins to hedge. On page 147, he says "Death and Hell must first be given authority ... to test and kill, if necessary, those who claim the name of Christ." (How does Death have authority over someone without killing them?) But, if Van Kampen's scenario is correct, the saints are all "given to the authority of Death and Hell" to be tested to see if they will be faithful to Christ. Those that remain faithful escape the "authority" of Death and Hell, and those who fail the test are killed and sent to Hell. But, this only happens later, under the wrath of God (page 144). In the meantime, those who proved faithful under the test of Death and Hell are then turned over to the persecution of the Antichrist so he can kill them! Thus, only those who are faithful will be put to death by the Antichrist and his rule under the fourth seal, and Hell has nothing to do with them! This is probably the most convoluted "interpretation" of the words of Revelation 6:7-8 that you will ever read anywhere. And why is it so convoluted? Because Van Kampen must prove that there is a parallelism between Matthew 24 and Revelation 6.
Rather than seeing the rather obvious meaning of the fourth seal as death to a fourth of the inhabitants of the earth as a consequence of sword (warfare), hunger (famine), death (Death and Hell), and the beasts of the earth, Van Kampen limits the meaning to only the professing Church (plus Judaism) and makes this the "wrath of Satan against the elect of God". He does this for two reasons. First, he does it to make his "parallelism" between Matthew 24 and the seals more "apparent", and, second, he does it because his construct will not allow the world in general to be subject to divine wrath at this point in the scenario. But, Death and Hell are NOT parallel to Jesus' words about the persecution of His seventieth week saints. Only by arbitrarily forcing Jesus' words in Matthew 24 to be "parallel" to Jesus' revelation in Revelation 6 is there any kind of similarity AT ALL! And even then it is a hard task to see any similarity whatsoever.
And from there we go to the fifth seal. Van Kampen's interpretation of the fifth seal is that those souls that are under the altar are the martyrs of the reign of the Antichrist (page 150). Because he has nowhere in Matthew 24 to go to for a parallel to this that he has not already used, he has to double back to Matthew 24:9, which was the supposed parallel for the fourth seal, and bring it back for the parallel to the fifth seal. So much for parallelism.
Let's consider a completely different scenario for the seals. Suppose the seals are designed to give us an overview of the seventieth week of Daniel, hitting the major high points. Suppose that the four horsemen characterize the period as a time of unprecedented warfare and conflict. Suppose that the following three seals answer some of the most basic questions about the seventieth week. What would we have with these suppositions?
First, we would have four horsemen whose activities characterize the seventieth week. The first two horsemen represent the program of the antagonists. Christ is presented as going forth to bring the world under submission to the divine agenda, and Antichrist is represented with a great sword as one who seeks to bring the world to chaos and conflict in opposition to Christ. Thus, the first two horsemen tell us that the time is a time of final conflict between the Christ and His main adversary. Then the next two horsemen represent the major consequences of this war for the world: worldwide famine and death, with hell as the attendant, for a fourth of the population of the world (that would be, in today's terms, death for 1.5 billion people in a span of seven short years!).
The most obvious question this raises is, "Why?" The fifth seal gives a partial answer: because mankind has, over its entire history, been so hateful to Christ that it has consistently murdered/martyred those who were faithful to Him. The sixth seal gives the other part of the answer: God's wrath toward this kind of hatefulness, combined with the Lamb's wrath occasioned by the death of His faithful ones, has brought the world to its time of judgment so that His grace can provide a Kingdom of Righteousness in the place of multiple kingdoms of murderous antagonism toward the truth. Then comes the seventh seal which, when opened, allows the remainder of the scroll to be unrolled so that the contents on the front side of the scroll can be read and then the scroll can be turned over and the entire back side can be read.
Thus, the first six seals give an overview in terms of "What?" and "Why?" and the seventh permits the details to follow.
This scenario is far less "forced" because it doesn't have to conform to a parallelism with Matthew 24 that doesn't exist. Van Kampen seems to think that since Jesus was the Author of both passages, He had to have the same content in the same order with the same purpose. But, Jesus knew the content of Matthew 24 was widely known, and the details of the Revelation were not. So, He set about to give added information regarding the seventieth week of Daniel, and He did so with a fair amount of clarity of expression.
Van Kampen has become a classic example of how to not study the Bible. He got an "idea" in his head by a few hours of concordance study. Then he set about to prove that the idea was "right". The difficulty with that in respect to truth is that once a person has embraced an idea, it is difficult to see the data that would prove it to be wrong.
Because Van Kampen's construct regarding the development of the seventieth week as possessing three distinguishable time periods (the beginning of sorrows, the persecution of the elect by Antichrist, and the outpouring of the wrath of God) is fundamentally based upon his understanding of the sixth seal in particular, we are going to look at the text regarding that seal with a bit more care.
First, in one paragraph (contained on pages 151 and 152), Van Kampen writes, "If we continue to use the Olivet Discourse as the yardstick by which we measure the book of Revelation ...if the book of Revelation indeed parallels the Olivet Discourse..." By this double statement, Van Kampen again reveals that his entire scenario depends hugely upon "seeing the parallel". But, "seeing the parallel" forces him to not see the text. He thinks that because Jesus taught that ...
"the sun [shall] be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (KJV)
in Matthew 24:29-31, and the sixth seal unveils
"...a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth .... and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens 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 that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
that he has proved his "parallelism" beyond clarity. But has he?
Actually, no. The difference between Jesus' words in Matthew 24 and Jesus' revelation of the sixth seal is that the event described in Matthew 24 is a presentation of the coming of Jesus from heaven to earth to gather the nation of Israel to her promised land (Deuteronomy 30:4) from one end of heaven to the other, while the revelation of the sixth seal is a large overview of the entire scenario of Daniel's seventieth week by use of the concept of "inclusio". This concept is one in which a writer takes a "front-end issue" and links it to a "back-end issue" so that it represents the entire unit.
Note Jesus' words in Matthew 24:29 regarding the moon. There, as a prelude to the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man, we are told that the moon "shall not give her light". The point? The skies are dark as pitch; the sun has been darkened, the moon disappears from sight (a rather natural occurrence if the light of the sun is blocked), and the stars collapse from heaven. Van Kampen doesn't want to admit it, but this is the prelude to the event of Revelation 19. Now note Jesus' revelation in the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12 regarding the moon. In this text, the moon "becomes as blood". What does this mean? It means that the moon is highly visible, but its color has become the deep red color of blood. What is the point? Joel 2:10 and 31. What do these texts say? Joel 2:10, in describing the coming of the Lord in His great wrath (see verses 1 and 11) says "the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining..." (KJV). This is a pretty fair correspondence with Matthew 24:29. On the other hand, Joel 2:31 says, "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come" (KJV). This is a pretty fair correspondence with Revelation 6:12. Thus, before the Day, the moon glows red (2:31); and when the day actually arrives, the moon "shall be dark" (2:10). The thing that tripped Van Kampen up is the fact that some of these phenomena occur on more than one occasion and he didn't look at the text carefully because he was already convinced that he "saw" correctly. So, the sixth seal contains a reference to the heavenly display that Joel announced as a prelude to the coming Day of the Lord. This is the "front-end issue".
What's the "back-end"? The sixth seal also contains the revelation of the departure of the heavens as a scroll when it is rolled up and the result is that the people of the earth can see into the third heaven where God sits upon His throne and they can see His anger and are terrified. This is the "great" day of His wrath, not the only day. What is significant about that? Isaiah 34. What does it say? It is dealing with the day when the carcasses of the nations shall be lying upon the mountains and the mountains shall be covered with blood. This is the picture which Revelation 19 depicts. The text of Isaiah 34:4 says "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down..." (KJV). This is the final destruction of the Day of the Lord. In other words, it is the "back-end". Interestingly, in Van Kampen's "parallelism" in Matthew 24, he conveniently ignores Jesus' statement, "wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together" (24:28; KJV). That may actually be a clue that Isaiah 34 is in His mind; a further indication that 24:30-31 is the final event of the Day of the Lord, and not the beginnings of that time period.
In summary, then, what we have in Matthew 24 is a presentation of the final event of the Day of the Lord when Jesus descends to summon the nation to her land according to the promise of Deuteronomy 30:4. In this day, the moon does not give her light. But, the "Day of the Lord" is an extended period of time, not just one day. So, in Revelation 6, the sixth seal, being like the rest of the seals in giving an overview of the period, gives both the prelude event to which Joel refers as "before the Day" at which time the moon appears as deep red, as well as the final event which includes the rolling up of the heavens as a scroll so that the inhabitants of the earth can visibly see the anger of the One on the throne in Heaven as well as that of the Lamb as He descends to the earth. The sixth seal is an inclusio that takes in the beginning as well as the ending. Its function as a seal is to characterize the scroll's contents as a revelation of the entire period of Daniel's seventieth week, just like the other seals do in their own way. The conclusion is that the seventieth week is the period of the warfare of the wrath of the Day of the Lord as well as the period of Satan's final conflict with God before the establishment of His kingdom on the earth (the first two seals) and the overall results of this massive conflict over this earth are famine and death to a fourth of the population of the earth (this does not include the deaths that are the result of specific judgments that are distinct from the general impact of war, famine, death, and wild beasts). These results are seals 3 and 4. Then seal 5 gives the justification from the earth side of the issue where the hatefulness is so severe against the truth that those who promote it are martyred over all of human history. Then seal 6 gives the justification from the heavenly side of the issue, which has its roots in the wrath of the Father and the Son. The seventh seal is opened to allow the remaining part of the front of the scroll to be read as well as the entire back side.
That brings us to Van Kampen's view of the timing of the Rapture, which we shall consider in the next section of our study.