As discussed earlier, we will learn about each stage by considering the visions shown when the seal is opened, the trumpet is sounded and the cup of judgment is poured. And we trust God to explain them to us.
The opening of the first seal-Revelation 6:1-2
“1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” [KJV]
This rider on the white horse is our Lord Jesus. He is shown in the same way in Revelation 19:11-13 and Psalm 45:3-5. Revelation 19:11-13 says: “11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. 13 And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God.” And Psalm 45:3-5 says: “3 Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Most Mighty, with Thy glory and Thy majesty. 4 And in Thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and Thy right hand shall teach Thee terrible things. 5 Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; whereby the people fall under Thee. 6 Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Thy Kingdom is a right sceptre.”
So we see that this rider on the white horse is our Lord Jesus. His riding is obviously not a physical one, but is symbolic. He rides and conquers the enemy as His people on earth launch out to preach His Word. It is His Word that is symbolized as His arrows. When they are sent, through the preaching of His people, His words are sharp in the heart of all who hear it. For example, in Acts 2:37, when the apostles began to preach, the arrows of our Lord Jesus went sharp into the heart of the hearers. It says: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
We can therefore understand that this vision shown in Revelation 6:1-2, after the first seal was opened, is referring to the period of the ministry of the apostles-a period where the gospel spread and our Lord Jesus was conquering through their preaching.
The sounding of the first trumpet-Revelation 8:7
“The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.” [KJV]
From the previous chapter we learnt that the angel sounding a trumpet in each stage represents the body of people in that stage that serve as God’s messengers to declare His word to the world. In this stage 1, the first angel is made up of the apostles and many of the early disciples that served as God’s messengers to sound His gospel. The vision shown here, in Revelation 8:7, after the first trumpet is sounded, is a prophecy of the effect of their ministry.
We are told that hail and fire mixed with blood came down and burnt up some of the trees and all the green grass. The trees and green grass represent the people of God: those who are green-the people who are spiritually alive. Psalm 61:3 helps our understanding as it says: “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Thus, we see that the trees and the green grass refer to believers: though of different maturity levels, but all are believers-those whom God has planted. It’s a symbol similar to what as our Lord Jesus used in His parable of the tares in Matthew 13:36-43 where He said: “38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;”
Knowing this, we can understand that hail and fire mixed with blood coming down to burn the trees and all the green grass means that the believers in Stage 1 had a “fiery” experience of persecution. Looking into history, we would be able to verify that truly the apostles and early Christians endured great persecution under the Roman Empire.
The pouring of the first cup of judgment-Revelation 16:2
“And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.” [KJV]
To appreciate what this vision is saying, we need to understand what the mark of the beast is. Simply put, the mark of the beast is the means of identifying all who belong to the beast. From Daniel 7:23, we know that a beast represents a kingdom. It says: “Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth…” As such, the mark of the beast is actually a means of identifying all who belong to a kingdom. In Stage 1, the kingdom is the Roman Empire. So the mark of the beast represents a system implemented within the Roman Empire to identify all whose allegiance was with the emperor and the Roman state. Looking into history, we will see that in the days of the early Christians the Roman Emperors were deified as gods and it was mandated that before a person entered the market square they were to offer incense and swear by the emperor, or before they have access to the water fountains, they were to acknowledge the emperor as the giver of life, and so on. These were laws particularly aimed at Christians, because the Roman Empire did not like that they preached about another King whose Kingdom will be established on earth, Jesus Christ the Lord. Many Christians refused to comply with this new rule because it was blasphemy, so they were persecuted, just as we learnt from the previous vision. But the rest of the people in the empire went ahead and accepted this mark as part of their daily life, since they were already used to idol worship. These people experienced a great plague as punishment for their ungodliness. Looking into history, the Antonine small pox plague of the Roman Empire fits as the fulfillment of this vision shown when the first cup of judgment was poured. It was a plague that is said to have killed up to 2000 people daily and resulted in a final death toll of about 5 million people.
This is the summary of the things prophesied for stage 1, and looking into history they have been fulfilled. It was the era of the apostles and the early church, their persecution and God’s judgment on the people of the Roman Empire for their ungodliness.
We will now move on to Stage 2 by God’s grace.