The Tribulation will be a time unique in all of human history. It consists of a seven-year reign of terror that will be inflicted upon all of mankind. God's unmitigated wrath, consisting of twenty-one consecutive judgments, will be unleashed upon the world in ever-increasing intensity. The prophet Daniel describes this coming holocaust as "a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time" (Dan. 12:1). Another well-known seer by the name of Jeremiah presents it thusly: "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7).
The reasons for the Tribulation are twofold: first, to bring God's judgment upon a Christ-rejecting world; and secondly, to prepare a remnant of the Jewish people to meet their long-awaited Messiah. Revelation chapters 6-19, sometimes called Daniel's "seventieth week," concludes with the Battle of Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.
The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (6:1-17)
As Jesus opens the first seal, John hears one of the four living creatures give the order for the rider on the white horse to go forth. This first horseman is not Christ, but one who comes in His name. This evil personage is known by many names, but primarily as the Antichrist or Beast. He has a bow but no arrows, indicating that he shall "come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries" (Dan. 11:21, 24). He will rise to power through the voluntary alliance of ten western European nations uniting under a one-world government.
As the "prince that shall come" (Dan. 9:26), he will lead Israel into signing an international peace pact which Isaiah describes as a "covenant with death, and with hell" (Isa. 28:15, 18). This treaty will guarantee the Jewish nation not only a time of peace and security, but also an occasion to rebuild their temple.
Next John sees the second seal opened and the red horse rider summoned forth. Red is the color of bloodshed and war. Peace will be short-lived, as somewhere near the midst of the Tribulation week Russia and her Muslim allies will sweep down upon the mountains of the small and unsuspecting nation of Israel. Through a series of God's judgments, the northern army is destroyed leaving only a sixth part. The destruction will be so great that it will take seven years to burn the weapons and seven months to bury the dead. This deadly war begins a series of conflicts that escalate until all the nations of the world are drawn into the blood-soaked Battle of Armageddon.
With the defeat of the Russian armies, the Antichrist uses this opportunity to seize world control. He then breaks his agreement with Israel and establishes himself in the newly rebuilt temple proclaiming himself God.
The third seal beckons the black horse rider. After war comes famine and economic disaster. The majority of the world's population will face starvation during this period on an unprecedented scale. Gold, silver, and paper currency will become useless as they're soon replaced by a monetary system controlled by the Beast. Food will be rationed and a person will find himself working all day just to feed himself. Yet the rich will get richer having access to luxuries that are denied to the common man.
After this the fourth seal is opened and John sees a pale horse whose rider is named Death. He is followed closely by Hell (hades). Death claims the body while Hades devours the soul and spirit. This lethal judgment will claim only unbelievers who are killed through God's "four sore judgments" of war, famine, plague, and wild beasts. Twenty-five percent of the world's population will perish from this one calamity alone!
The fifth seal reveals the martyred saints of the first three and one-half years. They are now under the heavenly altar after being murdered for their faith in Jesus Christ. They are given white robes symbolizing the righeousness of God. Their souls cry out for vengeance, but they're told they must be patient and wait for others who will be killed during the remainder of the Great Tribulation.
A catastrophic earthquake that will usher in the wrath of God and the last half of the Tribulation period announces the sixth seal. The sun, moon, and stars are effected (notice the word "as") and every mountain and island on earth shaken. I believe these will be literal judgments poured out on a Christ-rejecting world. Men will realize during this time that the end is near, but they would rather escape through death than call on God in repentance.
The 144,000 and Blood-Washed Multitude (7:1-17)
Between the sixth and seventh seal is an interval concerning two groups of people who will be on earth during this time. The first company is the 144,000 Jewish "evangelists" who will preach the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 24:14) to the whole world. Many believe that the church must preach the gospel to every nation on earth before the Lord can return, but when Jesus spoke of "the end" in the Gospel of Matthew, He was speaking of the end of the age or Second Coming, not the Rapture that could occur at any moment.
God will seal twelve thousand of these saved Israelites from each of the twelve tribes. Just as Noah and his family were preserved safely through the flood; these 144,000 Jewish believers will also be protected through the Tribulation hour.
John then sees a second group that is standing before the heavenly throne. They are the great blood-washed multitude of Gentile believers who've been martyred for their faith. They have come out of the Great Tribulation and have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. Their white robes symbolize righteousness and the palms are significant of the victory they've won over the Beast and the false prophet.
They attribute their salvation to God and the Lamb and are a direct result of the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish missionaries who've risked their lives to proclaim Christ to all the nations of the world. Their sufferings and trials being over, these believers now serve God forever in continual bliss.
The seventh seal is now opened for all the inhabitants of heaven to see! The seventh seal contains both the seven trumpets as well as the seven vial or bowl judgments. This half hour of silence is the "lull before the storm." The judgments ahead will continue to increase in intensity as the Tribulation nears the end. The seven trumpet judgments will cover the next twenty-one months of the first half of Daniel's "seventieth week", whereas the vial or bowl judgments take place during the last half of the Tribulation period.