As we’ve seen, Antichrist’s rise to power will be accompanied by a number of drastic and world-changing events. Following a deceptive period of false peace accompanying his meteoric rise to the highest chair of world government, a series of wars will break out. In our last paper, we looked at the general nature of these wars, and what they will entail.
John now describes the breaking of the third seal. When the Lamb opens the seal, the apostle hears a voice saying, “Come and see,” and immediately (for there is no delay implied in the vision) a third horse, and this one black, appears with a pair of balances in his hand. What does this black horse rider denote? Will the judgments played out under this third seal be more devastating in nature than those under the previous seal? We fear so. When the Dispensation of Judgment commences, the judgments will continue and augment, becoming fiercer and more worldwide until at last the vials of wrath are poured upon the remnants of an ungodly and unbelieving world. This period which we are looking at may be described as “the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24: 8).
(6: 6) “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.”
There is little doubt among expositors that the black horse rider of the third seal denotes famine. We concur with this interpretation, and are immediately called back to Ezekiel 4: 16-17, where it is written: “Son of Man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment: that they may want bread and water, and be astonied one with another, and consume away for their iniquity.”
There the prophet records the words of Jehovah relative to the famine which would prevail in Jerusalem at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s taking of the city. In the Apocalypse, however, we have set before us the picture of a famine that will likely affect one fourth of the entire globe. Consulting Christ’s Olivet Discourse again, we find that in divers places there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (Matt. 24: 7). These certainly have to do with the judgments of the seals we are now considering.
But what do we make of the words of the mysterious voice in the midst of four beasts? What is meant by the cry, “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny?” Thankfully, we are not in the dark as to a correct interpretation. From Matthew 20: 2, 9 we are apprised that a denarius (here translated penny) was a day’s wage. Classical writers like Herodotus and Xenophon have informed us that a choenix (translated as measure) was the daily ration of a slave. As the usual price of a choenix was the eighth of a denarius, we can see how sorely this famine will affect the poorer classes. Translating these figures into common language, let us assume that a day’s wage equals $40. It will cost the poor that much to procure about a quart of grain. Actually, we can better represent the figures by saying that a loaf of Wonder Bread will be selling for upwards of $25– that is, if packaged products are even available. Grains will be sky-high in price; and it is no coincidence that they are moving upward even now.
Let us think for a moment of the implications of the red horse rider of the second seal. How may these wars bring on a period of intense famine? America now imports a large percentage of its fruits, vegetables, and grains from foreign sources. Supposing that a major world war breaks out, or some other international disaster which throws the nations of the world into turmoil. If the food supplies are cut off, or transportation obstructed for any length of time, the basic commodities which we now take for granted may become as dear to us as life itself. A little sober thought upon the subject will give us to realize that we are not as immune to such an scenario as we sometimes think.
The wars of the second seal will precipitate the conditions pictured under the third and fourth seals. We take it that the first four seals will occur during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week, occupying a three-and-a-half year period. However, in our study of the first seal, we made it clear that as these seals have a basic correlation to the predictions of Christ’s Olivet Discourse, they may actually begin outside the limits of the 70th week; though how much sooner it is hard to tell. However, an interpretation that sees the seals as parallel with Christ’s predictions would begin the sunteleia at the closing-period of the age we are now in. This means that the seal-judgments could begin at any time.
However, in common with the majority of expositors, I believe that the true church will be removed before the Dispensation of Judgment begins. The reason is quite obvious. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says: “For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape” (1 Thess. 5: 2-3).
This term “travail” tells us that the “Day of the Lord” begins with the tribulation, which we believe will last seven years exactly. Because of its imminent nature, Paul tells us that the day will come like a thief. But he goes on to say that true Christians will not be taken unawares, for they are the children of light, and not of darkness (1 Thess. 5: 5). And it is becaue of this that we are exhorted to be watchful. Those taken by surprise are those who will be found “sleeping in the night” (1 Thess. 5: 7). And lest we should miss the pith of his message, we have Christ’s own warning to the church, in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25: 1-13). When the cry sounds forth, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!” it will be at midnight, when slothful and complacent Christians are asleep, but while true Christians have their “loins girded about and their lamps burning.” This midnight call must be some time anterior to the revelation of Christ with all His saints, for the latter event is likened to the morning. The rapture of the church must therefore come during a culminating time of moral and spiritual darkness, and not immediately before Christ returns in glory. But these are observations by the way.
The main point I wished to make, is that the Day of the Lord is synonomous with the Dispensation of the Judgment, and will begin with the breaking of the seals. The rise of Antichrist to the place of power begins the domino-effect of worldwide travail. The red horse rider sets off a series of wars which in turn cause famines to prevail in diverse places. Nevertheless, we hear the voice in the midst of the beasts saying, “And see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” Although there are many interpretations of this enigmatic command (for we take it that the voice is issuing orders to the rider of the black horse), we believe that it indicates that the luxuries of the rich will not be harmed. Remember, the voice in heaven uses the words “choenix” and “denarius” to illustrate a famine as it relates to the poor. As the indigent will be in need of their daily bread, so the wealthy ones will have plenty of their usual epicurean fare.
This situation, marked by food shortages in all the major cities, will doubtless precipitate a wave of panic, and may cause break-outs of crime. The wise ones who prepare for tribulation beforehand may indeed survive this period. However, the every-man-for-himself attitude will cause a coldness to prevail among men. “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24: 12). With amazingly keen foresight, Lactantius described the character of these times in 310 A.D. “When the last end shall begin to approach the world, wickedness will increase; all kinds of vices and frauds will become frequent; justice will perish; faith, peace, mercy, modesty, truth, will have no existence; violence and daring will abound; no one will have anything, unless it is acquired by the hand, and defended by the hand. If there shall be any good men, they will be esteemed as a prey and a laughing stock. No one will exhibit filial affection to parents, no one will pity an infant or an old man; avarice and lust will corrupt all things.” (Epitome of the Divine Institutes, lxxi).
How much better to be removed before these times begin, by keeping our lamps burning with precious oil and watching for the heavenly Bridegroom to return. We know that those who keep Christ’s word faithfully and do not deny His name will be kept from the hour of temptation that is coming upon the world (Revelation 3: 8, 10). Reminding others of this, and urging them to continue in patience, and press forward for the heavenly prize, are needed now more than ever. As our Lord Himself said: “Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21: 36). Brethren, His word holds true today. Therefore, let us watch.