The labor pains of the messiah
Pic 1 Lord I’m drowning; Pic 2: S, 2020 every second—but wait, there’s more; Pic
3: If 2020 was a person (Mayhem)…. One more… “See we’re living in the end times!”
I can actually relate to that last one a little bit. Christians are notorious for false end times
predictions that never came true. False predictions of rapture, false predictions of the Great
Tribulation, false predictions of the Antichrist, the list goes on.
When you see Christians jumping on every headline, it makes you want to give up on biblical prophecy altogether. But that would be a terrible mistake. 30% of the Bible is prophecy, and a majority of it relates to “the end times.” The Book of Revelation opens by pronouncing a blessing upon those who read it aloud. The message is to be understood, not by scholars, but by everyday people who simply hear it read. Remembering this will prevent us from falling off the cliff of end-times insanity, while also motivating us to properly understand the hour in which we live.
We’re starting a new series called, “The Eye of the Storm,” which is our second series in
Revelation. Just before the scene we’re about to read, the Apostle John has a vision of heaven,
where he sees the Father sitting on a throne and holding a scroll. This scroll reminds us of
Daniel chapter 12, where the prophet is told to “seal up scroll until the time of the end.” Daniel
is told to seal the scroll; Jesus gets to unseal the scroll. The unsealing begins in chapter 6, with
each seal representing a new revelation that would soon take place. Let’s read Revelation 6:
1 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four
living creatures say with a voice like thunder, 2 And I looked, and behold, a white
horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and
to conquer. 3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say,
4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth,
so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. 5 When he opened the
third seal, I heard the third living creature say And I looked, and behold, a black horse!
And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the
midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of
barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine; 7 When he opened the fourth seal, I
heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, &”!&”; 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale
horse! And its rider 39 name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority
over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild
beasts of the earth. 9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those
who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out
with a loud voice, “ Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge
our blood on those who dwell on the earth” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and
told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be
complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. 12 When he opened the sixth
seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as
sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig
tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being
rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the
earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave
and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the
mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne,
and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can
There are two questions I want us to answer today: First, why do these “seals” occur? Second,
when do they occur? Understanding the answers to these questions will help us know how we
are to respond in these crazy times. So now, let’s start with first—why do these seals occur?
In the previous chapter, we saw God reveal Himself as a Savior who would rather die violently
for His enemies than punish them; we saw a God who prefers mercy over judgment. And then
suddenly, we see terrible human suffering issuing forth—not from the throne of Satan, but the
throne of God! So again, I ask, why is this happening?!
Number one: God is judging “earth-dwellers.” God is judging “earth-dwellers.”
This phrase requires some unpacking. In the Book of Revelation, “unbelievers” are referred to
as “earth-dwellers,” or in the ESV translation, “those who dwell on the earth.” Our first example
comes in verse 10, when the martyrs cry out, “how long before You will judge and avenge our
blood on those who dwell on the earth.” This phrase is used nine times in Revelation of those
who reject God, and thereby experience His righteous judgment.
In contrast, God’s people are referred to—for instance, in Revelation 13:6—as “those who
dwell in heaven.” I know that sounds strange because we physically dwell on earth. But
according to the Bible, you spiritually dwell in heaven. The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2
that “our citizenship is in heaven.” He’s not saying that we physically dwell there right now, but
that our true place of belonging is not on earth, but with our Father, who is in heaven. The
point is that no matter how scary these judgments become, they’re not aimed at heaven-
dwellers, but at earth-dwellers who reject their Heavenly Father. God will shelter you in the eye
of the storm. Next week, we’ll extensively explore what His protection will look like.
So the first reason for the seals is: Judgment on earth-dwellers. The second reason for the seals
is: mercy for earth-dwellers. Mercy for earth-dwellers.
The final judgment doesn’t come until the sixth seal, and everything before the sixth seal is
intended as a warning. The numbering of the seals represents an intensification, sort of like
when I try to move by kids to action by counting, “1-2-2.5… 3!” I used to make fun of my mom
for doing this when I was a kid, but now I do it because it actually works! It creates a sense of
immanence, that “Soon, Dad will reach the last number, and I’m doomed if I don’t act!”
That’s actually God’s intention in numbering the seals—it’s to help “earth-dwellers” feel the
intensification of His warnings, so that they turn to Him for mercy. I personally don’t believe we
should understand these seals to be literally sequential—as if the white horse comes, then the
red horse, then the black, then the pale one. The reality is that the last horse actually re-lists all
the plagues of the first three horses, suggesting they won’t be sequential, but simultaneous.
The reason they are numbered is that God is getting the world’s attention. He’s saying, “Stuff’s
gonna hit the fan, and I’m trying to wake you up before you run out of time.”
This is actually happening right now: the coronavirus is claiming thousands of lives; the global
economy is sputtering; wildfires in Australia have killed over a billion animals; giant Saharan
dust clouds are traveling across oceans; trillions of locusts have invaded Africa TWICE this year
alone—what in the world is happening?! Is God up to something?
The non-Christian world is asking the exact same questions. According to a poll quoted by Dr.
Michael Brown, over one-in-five non-Christians are beginning to research Bible prophecy about
the end times. If God just allowed the earth to grow in peace and prosperity forever, we’d
forget Him more and more, just like we’ve been doing for decades. The purpose of the seals is
not just judgment; it’s mercy. As uncomfortable as we are right now, nothing compares to the
eternal regret of not responding while we still had time. There’s coming a day when the sixth
seal is opened, and the universe, as we know it, melts like wax. Nothing is secure except God in
heaven, and those whose citizenship is with Him there. Don’t put your hope in a world that’s
soon to be shaken. God alone has the power to keep us—in the eye of the storm.
Now, I’ll offer one more reason for the seals, and it’s this: to eradicate evil forever.
Have you ever noticed how, if you want to deep-clean a room, it gets messier before it gets
cleaner? If you only want a surface-cleaning, all you have to do is start putting junk away. But
eventually that junk piles up, and you need to bring it to the surface to properly deal with it.
That’s what’s happening here. All of the judgments we read about in the Book of Revelation are
leading toward an ultimate renewal. When evil is this pervasive, you can’t just wave your hand
and be done with it, even if you’re God. Evil must be allowed to come to the surface, to do its
worst, so that God can do His best. We saw a preliminary example of this in the Cross, where
evil did its worst to Jesus, and God used it for good. We’ll see another manifestation of this, the
closer we get to Jesus’ return. God is doing a deep-clean of the universe. He’s allowing evil to
do its worst so He can do His best by eradicating evil forever.
The next question is: when do these seals occur?
A huge portion of the church in America believes that all of these seals are future, but that has
not been the belief of the historical church, since the first century. I want to give two reasons
why I believe it’s far more natural to understand them as already occurring.
Number one, because they directly issue from Jesus’ enthronement. Here’s what I mean by
that. In Revelation 5, we learn that Jesus—after His resurrection—has ascended to the right
hand of the Father, where He presently reigns over the Universe. Chapter six flows immediately
out of this, as though His enthronement leads directly to the opening of the seals. In fact, there
is strong historical support for the fact that the first five seals played out within one generation
of Jesus’ resurrection. In cycles, they have been playing out throughout the church age, and
they will continue until the sixth seal is opened, and until Jesus returns.
Second, when Jesus teaches about “the end times,” He describes the first five seals as “the
beginning of labor pains.” His point is, “This is not yet the end; it’s preparation for the end.” The
labor pain metaphor is extremely helpful in understanding the seals. Between the first and
second coming of Christ, we can expect “contractions” to come upon us suddenly. These
contractions look like all five of the seals happening simultaneously—“all at once!”, as we see is
happening now—but with gradually increasing intensity, until Jesus returns.
I still remember well Alicia’s “birthing experience” with our first daughter, Anna. The nurses
made the terrible mistake of designating me, “Coach.” Unfortunately, I knew nothing about
birthing, so every time I saw Anna’s head, barely beginning to show, I kept saying, “She’ll be
here any minute!!” This went on for sixty minutes. Finally, with a look of exasperation like I
have never seen before or since, Alicia squeezed my fingers nearly off, and then said to the
nurse, “Is she here any minute?” The nurse said, “No honey, it’s going to be a little while.”
That’s a picture of what’s been happening for two thousand years. People have been making
false predictions based on looney theories and biblical misinterpretations. When we do this
dogmatically, we lose credibility as the people of God. It would be better for us to view each
“wave” of human suffering as another labor pain, leading up to the climactic one. All of the
seals were present in the first century. They were present again, throughout the centuries. In
the 20 th century, the period of 1914-1945 was the largest “contraction” in human history. We
had two world wars, killing 60 million people. We had the Spanish Flu, taking out another 50
million. We had the Great Depression. And within all that was the rise of Adolf Hitler, who
probably foreshadowed the future Antichrist.
After that wave, things calmed down, and the world has experienced seventy years of
unprecedented prosperity. But now, we’re entering another wave. This very well could be the
last “contraction” before the Great Tribulation, which we discuss next week. But the reality is
that just like pregnancy, you can’t predict which one is the last wave before the water breaks.
There’s a chance this is it. I think we should expect things to intensify on every level for a little
while—economically, socially, politically, geopolitically. I am not saying this as a prophet, but as
a student of Scripture. We’re in another wave, and it won’t just disappear like a bad dream.
I am not saying this to scare you. Humankind has experienced these waves throughout history,
and we’ve always come through. What we have to remember is that the pain is leading us
somewhere. The reason that millions of people every year choose to get pregnant, even though
they know it will be nine months of hell, is that the reward of new life is worth the pain that
precedes it. The Universe is pregnant right now. Let’s not focus on the pain of the pregnancy,
but rather on what it means: Somebody’s Coming.