"The Beginning of Sorrows" by Tricia Tillin

Part One: Introduction


Have we entered the time of the opening of the seals?

Jesus was asked by his disciples for signs that would point to his returning. In response, he listed a number of events, in summary, that he called "the beginning of sorrows". This word, "sorrows" [Greek ODIN] means "birthpangs" or the onset of the labour of childbirth. It is used exclusively in the New Testament to describe the events leading up to the return of the Lord Jesus.

The word is apt, for many reasons. Firstly, it describes the way that events in the world and Church take place, beginning slowly and almost without notice, then coming faster and more dramatically, until the climax.

But secondly, the process of childbirth (naturally) leads to a baby being born, and this event is not only prophesied throughout the Old Testament, but in the book of Revelation. Therefore the beginning of sorrows is the start of the inevitable process that will lead to the birth of the child.


Jesus listed a number of events that would indicate that the birthpangs had started. These were: Mark 13:5-13/ Matt 24:3-8

  1. Deception (Take heed lest any man deceive you - false christs and false teachers will arise and deceive many.)
  2. Wars and rumours of wars, nations and peoples warring one against the other
  3. Famines and 'troubles' in place after place
  4. Pestilences, and ecological disasters such as earthquakes

When we look at the book of Revelation, which is a book recording the revelation that God the Father gave to the Lord Jesus Christ after his ascension, which he then transmitted to John on Patmos, (Rev 1:1) Jesus again shows us the birthpangs in the form of seals of a "book" or more accurately a scroll being opened.

  • Seal One: dominion; a false kingdom; a counterfeit Christ.
  • Seal Two: wars and violence, and peace removed from the earth
  • Seal Three: hardship, want, economic breakdown and poverty
  • Seal Four: death from various causes, including pestilence.

Seven seals were to be opened before this scroll could be unrolled and come into effect. The seals would normally have been those of the witnesses and guarantors to the legal document, in this case a property inheritance. (See Jer 32:6-14 and Psalm 2:7-9)

"The roll, `the title deed of man's inheritance' (DeBurgh), redeemed by Christ (cf. Jer. 32: 6-14), contains the successive steps by which He shall recover from its usurper possession of the kingdom already 'purchased' for Himself and His elect. However, no portion of the roll is unfolded and read; simply the seals are successively opened; giving final access to its contents as a perfect whole, when the events symbolized by the seals shall have been past…" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary)

Jesus Christ himself was the only person found worthy to open this scroll. That is for two reasons - Jesus Christ is the Heir, the only one who has faithfully and completely fulfilled the Law and thus been found worthy of taking the inheritance promised in the Old Testament:

"I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession". (Psalm 2:7-8)

And secondly, because all judgement has been committed to Jesus Christ exclusively because he is the one who came to the earth and was rejected and despised of men.

For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honours not the Son honours not the Father who has sent him. (John 5:22-23)

The scroll is the deed of ownership of property, in this case the earth and its peoples, over which Jesus has asked for (and been given) the right to rule as King. However, until the events of the latter days take place, and until the seals are fully opened on the inheritance scroll, Jesus is "held in the heavenlies" and will not return to earth. He will not take the Throne of David and become King until that time. (Matt 25:31/Dan 7:13-14)

Where are we now?

Jesus places the "beginning of sorrows" in the first stage of the process leading to his return. He says that "this is not the END" and warns his followers not to be alarmed, nor to jump to the conclusion that "the end of the world has come" when these things start to happen. He warns us not to be troubled or afraid, but to rejoice because our redemption is drawing very near.

I would like to look at the seals in more depth, and try to establish whether we have entered into the time of the beginning of sorrows.

It's important to remember that NO TIMESCALE is given by Jesus for this period before his return. The beginning of sorrows period is (like that of natural birth) unpredictable and could take a number of years, or pass very quickly; nor does it belong to the timed portions of prophecy like the three and a half years of the reign of Antichrist. Therefore, there are no time markers to the beginning or end of the beginning of sorrows. (The end of this period of labour is actually the "birth of the baby" but that is another subject for another time.)

Many would instantly reply that we CANNOT be in that time, for they believe that the Church will be Raptured first. They see John in Revelation being called up to the heavenly places in order to receive his vision (Rev 4:1) as symbolic of "The Rapture" of the Church in the last days. Only after that time are the seals opened according to this theory. Therefore, they say, we will not experience ANY of these events on earth.

I beg to differ. Jesus is VERY specific about the order of events. Furthermore, the passage describing John being taken up (in spirit) through the open door in heaven to receive God's revelation has NO relevance to the bodily rapture of the Church and the Resurrection of all the dead saints. It is a completely different event.

If John represents the entire Church in the last days, who represents the resurrected believers who were to precede him into Heaven?

No, we cannot avoid or explain away the relevance of what Jesus told his followers about the last days. We cannot and must not conclude that none of it applies to the Church.

In the Olivet Discourse Jesus was not addressing Israel or the world, but HIS FOLLOWERS, the first Christians of the Church and to those who shortly afterwards were the founding APOSTLES OF THE CHURCH. Note the context:

Matt 24:3-4 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them….

These are questions that all Christians ask: "Lord, when are you coming back, and how will we know…" Jesus replies plainly with the signs we should watch for. Then God arranged for those words describing the beginning of sorrows to be recorded in the bible that all Christians would read. When he did so, he gave no hint that they were not relevant for the Church, nor did he explain that Christians would be removed from the earth before that time.


So, then, do we see world events forming up into the beginning of sorrows? In order to understand the seals more exactly, let's look at their significance biblically and prophetically.

During the time of judgement on Egypt, when Moses and Aaron confronted Pharoah and demanded that God's people be allowed to leave, certain plagues came upon the land and people of Egypt.

It has been noted that these plagues were specific judgements relating to the gods that the Egyptians worshipped, almost as if God were telling them - "you put your trust in these myths and gods; therefore I shall hand you over to them".

For example, the river turned to blood (Exod 7:17-18). The Egyptians worshipped the river Nile and it was their most potent symbol of fertility and represented life and the blessing of their gods.

In addition, one of the most powerful myths from the time of Babylonia, throughout Egypt and Chaldea even to modern times was that of the "mighty warrior" - the Egyptians called him Osiris - who was slain by his enemies, his body cut into pieces and thrown into the river. (The myths vary but the basic structure stays the same.) This god was worshipped as the dying and resurrected "son" of the "father-god" and the redness of the river in the fertile spring season was symbolic of his blood. No doubt many bloody reenactments of this god's death were made in his worship. Now the Lord God was turning the river Nile into blood for real, as a judgement against their pagan worship.

There was also a plague of FROGS (Ex. 8:1-15) and the frog was the symbol and form of the Egyptian goddess, Heqt, who was supposed to help women in childbirth. This plague was another demonstration of the superior power of God over the gods of Egypt.

And so on. Every time the Egyptian ruler and his people turned away from the true God, and put their trust in another god, they suffered the consequences, in a particular and unique way. In the words of the Gilbert and Sullivan song "the punishment fits the crime".

In Revelation, therefore, we see the same thing happening. Man turns from God and worships idols; and he is given over to his idols as a punishment. He chooses his own fate! As each successive seal is opened, revealing more of God's ownership and rulership of the earth, successive powers are loosed from heaven and sent out as God's judgement on mankind's foolishness, rebellion and wickedness.

We should note that these judgements are spirits, and they are sent forth by the four cheubim. They are not like the "bowls of wrath" in being impersonal events that befall the earth. These four riders are heavenly spirits, loosed with authority from God!

The same powers were loosed into specific regions of the earth during an earlier judgement. See Zechariah 1:8-11 and chapter 6.

There they are called the four winds or spirits of heaven. You might also like to consider the considerable comparisons between Zech 5-6 and Revelation, since it begins with a scroll that is "the curse going forth over the face of the earth", then we see the woman Babylon positioned (seal one) followed by red horses, black horses and white and grizzled (pale) horses. These events are followed by the crowning of "Joshua" as Jesus who "shall sit and rule on His throne". But this takes us into another direction that must be followed at a later date.

[Thus, the first rider is neither Jesus (as some say) nor Antichrist in person, since Antichrist does not come from heaven and is not one of the four winds, or spirits, of heaven used by God in judgement.]

Riders in the sky

Four horses are loosed and given authority by God over a quarter of the earth's population. These horses and riders have been witnessed before; and they carry the four fundamental judgements that always befall a rebellious nation. God calls them his "four sore (or, severe) judgements":

Ezek 14:21 For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?

Jer 15:2-3 And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the LORD; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.

Most often in scripture, God speaks of "the sword, the famine and the pestilence" as being his judgements. To this we add the spiritual delusion (or bondage, or captivity) of the latter days.

In the Jeremiah passage above the four judgements include "captivity" whereas in the Ezekiel passage the fourth relates to "noisome beasts" but this could refer to false teachers and false prophets! The word noisome (RA'A) simply means evil, wicked, good for nothing, i.e. bad (physically, socially or morally).

The KJV translates the root of this word [noisome] variously as "afflict, break (down, in pieces), displease, be evil, evildoer, do harm, hurt, do mischief, punish, vex, (do) wickedly…"

In New Testament terms, the "beasts" are indeed false teachers, for we read in 2 Pet 2:12-13:

"But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you.."

And in Jude 1:10-11
"But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core."

(It is interesting that in many of the revival churches, men and women under the influence of the deceiving spirit went on all fours, and howled like beasts, barking like dogs, roaring like lions, or laughing like hyenas.)

Also see Titus 1:12-14


Interestingly, the four first seals relate to the four basic blessings given to mankind when he was created; and show that the Fall of mankind is complete in the removal of the last shred of these blessings.

  1. Fellowship with God, liberty in the Spirit, with discernment, wisdom and faith - replaced by fellowship with demons, delusion and dominion of another Christ.
  2. Peace and brotherhood in the heart and between men - replaced by hatred, murder, violence, terrorism and enmity; the love of many grows cold.
  3. Provision, fertility and plenty - replace by poverty, want, loss, hunger and hard labour.
  4. Life, and health of the body, and eternal life in God - replaced by death of the body, and the spirit in hell.

So like Adam, mankind makes his choices, preferring his own way to that of God. He forfeits blessing and reaps the "fruit of his doings". The gods that mankind worships today are more subtle and invisible than those of Egypt, but they are still forces that control his mind and heart. They can also be summarised in the four fundamental gods/goddesses that man has always worshipped from ancient Babylon to today:

  1. False "light" of wisdom from Lucifer the bringer of "light", typified by the sun gods and occultic types of the dying and resurrected "son" or "sun". The delusion of spiritual unity with the god which replaces true fellowship with the Almighty. The godhood of man.
  2. Enmity of man, and bloodshed as typified by the gods of war such as Mars.
  3. Prosperity, fertility, and the gods that offer to satisfy man's greed and his desire for increase.
  4. Counterfeit salvation and healing, the search for immortality and for the holy grail of resurrection and eternal life, connected to the gods of the Underworld and the forces of darkness and black magic.

The Redemptive Names of God revoked by the Seals

Another parallel study we could do that gives more meaning to the seals, is to look at the seven redemptive names of God as given in scripture. Each one shows an aspect of the loving, giving, gracious and merciful nature of our God.

But as each aspect of our Lord is denied and rejected by mankind, so the seals revoke those blessings and bring in their opposite evil - so that man receives exactly what he deserves.

Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)
Chapter 2: LORD (Heb. Jehovah)

The primary meaning of the name LORD (Jehovah) is the "self-existent One." Literally (as in Exodus 3:14), "He that is who He is, therefore the eternal I AM:"

In his redemptive relation to man, Jehovah has seven compound names which reveal Him as meeting every need of man from his lost state to the end. These compound names are:

(a) Jehovah-jireh, "the Lord will provide" Literally, God will see (to it) ; Genesis 22:13,14 i.e., will provide a sacrifice;

(b) Jehovah-rapha, "the Lord that healeth" Exodus 15:26. That this refers to physical healing the context shows, but the deeper healing of soul malady is implied.

(c) Jehovah-nissi, "the Lord our banner" Exodus 17:8-15. The name is interpreted by the context. The enemy was Amalek, a type of the flesh, and the conflict that day stands for the conflict of Galatians 5:17 the war of the Spirit against the flesh. Victory was wholly due to divine help.

(d) Jehovah-Shalom, "the Lord our peace," or "the Lord send peace" Judges 6:24.

(e) Jehovah-ra-ah, "the Lord my shepherd" (Psa 23.)

(f) Jehovah-tsidkenu, "the Lord our righteousness" Jeremiah 23:6. This name of Jehovah occurs in a prophecy concerning the future restoration and conversion of Israel. Then Israel will hail him as Jehovah-tsidkenu--"the Lord our righteousness."

(g) Jehovah-shammah, "the Lord is present" Ezekiel 48:35. This name signifies Jehovah's abiding presence with His people ; Exodus 33:14,15; 1 Chronicles 16:27,33; Psalms 16:11; 97:5; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5

OK, so let's now line these seven names up with the seven seals of Revelation; also looking at the original context in which the name of God is given in scripture.

NISSI Lifted up, banner Victory over enemies 1. Conquered, dominion
SHALOM Peace Fear not, thou shalt not die 2. War and Violence
JIREH Provision God provided the ram 3. Lack and Want
RAPHA Health and Wholeness None of the diseases of the Egyptians shall take hold 4. Sickness & Death
RA'AH Keeper, Watching Leads me safely, keeps me 5. Martyrs
SHAMMA Here, Present New Jerusalem 6. Climax; His Coming
TSIDKENU Righteousness

Restoration of Israel; David the King

7. Awe. Judgement begins

When you get a chance, look up each original instance where the Name of God is given, and the verse and the context will bless you! Each one tells you more about the promises of God for his people in the latter days.

So, when we consider the four seal judgements, the horses and their riders, we can learn much more about the pending judgement to befall mankind in the last days by seeing what they relate to - the blessings of Eden, the Names of God and now (as I will show) the gods to which they relate.

(Needless to say, the fact that the horses and riders relate to ancient gods does not in any way replace their true spiritual reality or significance as judgements sent from God. I am not saying, as some liberal scholars perhaps would, that these horsemen were merely portrayals of the gods that John had seen in his own culture and therefore personified as judgements.)

TO CONTINUE: Click on the next in the series:

© 2013 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website:  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information.   One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.