The Seven Seals
Revelation 6 - 8:1
I. Christ has taken the scroll to be opened.
A. Only Jesus is worthy to open this book.
B. Last week, we showed that the scroll represents some part of God’s message that has been kept secret until this point.
1. We have also shown that the other writers of the New Testament talk about the mystery revealed by Christ that salvation has come to the Gentiles.
C. Before the contents of the scroll can be revealed, the seals which protect the contents of the scroll must be broken. Each seal represents something.
D. The seven letters teach. The seven seals reveal.
E. At the opening of the first four seals, John is commanded to come and he sees
1. Alternatively, the four horsemen are commanded to come forth.
2. The four horsemen are somewhat like Zechariah’s vison in Zech 6:1-8
II. The first seal
A. A rider on a white horse wearing a crown and having a bow in his hand.
1. This figure conquers
2. The horse is related to war and battles - Job 39:19-25, Prov 21:31, Zech 10:3
3. The bow too is used for hunting and in battle.
4. The white horse indicates triumph or success
5. The crown is a victory garland - I Cor 9:25 (same word).
B. Some believe this to be Christ based on Revelation 19:11-15
1. Problem, the weapon is different, the crown is different.
2. There is a problem in matching to the other three horses. There should be a consistent view.
C. A period of prosperity and success
1. Interestingly, after Domitian’s death in A.D. 96, the Roman empire enjoy a period of prosperity and military triumphs from A.D. 96 to 180.
2. During this period, five good emperors reigned and extended the borders of Rome.
III. The second seal
A. A rider on a red horse with a great sword
1. This figure removes peace and promotes warfare.
2. Here warfare continues, but it takes on a different aspect.
3. Red indicates excessive carnage
4. Slaying one another indicates internal strife and conflict.
B. From Roman history, the sixth emperor was Commodus “With Commodus commenced the third and most calamitous period. It lasted ninety-two years, from 192 to 284. During that period thirty-two emperors and twenty-seven pretenders alternately hurled each other from the throne by incessant civil warfare. Ninety-two years of almost incessant civil warfare . . .” Fall of the Roman Empire, Sismondi, Vol. , p. 36.
IV. The third seal
A. A rider on a black horse carrying scales
1. Black is the color of deep distress and mourning
a. Jer. 4:28 - The wearing of black during mourning.
b. Ezek 32:7-9 - Darkness at the time of trouble
2. A voice from among the four living creatures calls out “a quart of wheat or three quarts of barley for a denarius.”
a. A denarius was a typical day’s wage.
b. This is a heavy price for grain, but some items, such as wine and oil where not affected.
c. It represents famine in the land or lopsided distribution of goods which chiefly affect the poor.
3. The scales are those of the merchant. Here is economic disaster.
a. Lev 26:24-26 - Weighing bread for rationing in the wake of disaster.
b. Ezek 4:16 - Eating bread by weight.
B. In the later part of the civil wars (A.D. 211-217), taxes were increased. “The most wealthy families were ruined by partial fines and confiscations, and the great body of his subjects oppressed by ingenious and aggravated taxes.” Decline and Fall, Gibbon, Vol. I, p. 160.
1. “In the course of this history, we shall be too often summoned to explain the land tax, the capitation, and the heavy contributions of corn, wine, oil, and meat, which were exacted from the provinces for the use of the court, the army, and the capital.” Decline and Fall, Gibbon, Vol. I, p. 195.
V. The fourth seal
A. A rider on an ashen or pale horse, named Death, with the grave following behind him.
1. A quarter of the earth’s population was killed from war, famine, disease, and natural causes.
a. Similar to Ezek 5:16-17, 14:21
2. Not a literal amount, but to indicate a great number, but not all affected.
B. Seems to harmonize with A.D. 260-268, during the reign of Galienus. “The whole period was one uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity. . . But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression which extirpated the produce of the present, and the hope of the future harvests. . . Other causes must, however, have contributed to the furious plague, which, from the year two hundred and fifty to the year two hundred and sixty-five, raged without interruption to every province, every city, and almost every family, of the Roman Empire. During some time five thousand persons died daily in Rome; and many towns, that had escaped the hands of the barbarians, were entirely depopulated.” Decline and Fall, Gibbons, Vol. I, p. 299, 329.
VI. The fifth seal
A. The souls of the slain for the word of God (i.e. martyrs) under the altar of God cry out.
1. They had sacrificed their lives for the sake of God’s word.
a. Note: soul and life are similar words in Greek and Hebrew
b. The life is in the blood - Lev 17:11
2. Under Old Law, the blood of the sacrifice was poured out at the base of the altar - Lev 4:7
B. They want to know how long it will be until their deaths will be avenged.
1. They died believing God’s Word was true.
2. They wanted to know when their deaths would not be in vain. They wanted their lives to be vindicated
3. Not private revenge, but a desire for public justice.
C. They were each given white robes
1. They were victorious and righteous - Revelation 7:13-14
2. Mentioned later in Revelation 14:13
D. They were told to rest and wait
1. For a little while longer
2. Until the number of others killed as they is complete.
a. Many have died under the hands of the Roman government. Others will die
b. Justice will come later.
E. History: Under Diocletain in A.D. 303 persecutions against Christians was increased. It wasn’t until A.D. 325 under Constantine that Christianity was accepted by the Roman government.
VII. The sixth seal
A. A great earthquake
1. Overthrow of political order - Isa 29:6
B. The sun is darkened, the moon turns red, the stars fall.
1. Heavenly bodies refer to rulers - Gen. 37:9
2. Divine judgement on a nation - Isa 13:9-10, Joel 2:10
3. Similar to Jesus’ description of the destruction of Jerusalem - Matthew 24:29
C. The sky is split and the mountains and islands are moved out of place
1. Mountains refer to governments - Isa 2:2 (God’s new kingdom)
2. The shaking up of government and political power - Ezek 26:15-18
3. Jer. 4:22-27 - God’s destruction of Israel.
D. The rulers, the common folk, and the slaves hide and plead to be shielded from God and Christ’s wrath.
1. This is not the final day of judgment. There is no hiding from God then.
2. Similar to the fall of Israel by the Assyrians - Hosea 10:7-8
3. Similar to Judah’s fall to Babylon - Isa 2:19-21
4. Similar to the destruction of Jerusalem - Luke 23:29-31
5. All, from the greatest to the least, will be terrified by God’s wrath.
E. Some see this fulfilled when Constantine conquered the Empire, removed paganism, and move the capital from Rome to Constantinople.
VIII. An interlude
A. Four angels hold back the wind
1. A destructive wind, as sent on Elam - Jer. 49:36
2. In Daniel 7:2ff, four winds stir up the sea to bring forth four empires (social upheaval).
B. A fifth angel rises from the east to tell the other four to continue to hold until the servants of God are sealed.
1. Marked as belonging to God.
a. Similar to Ezek 9:1-8
i. Side note where judgment begins - I Peter 4:17
b. We have this seal - II Tim 2:19
2. A 144,000 are sealed. 12,000 from each tribe of Israel.
a. This list of tribes is not the usual list.
b. Physical sons - Genesis 35:22-26.
c. Tribes of Israel - Numbers 13:4-15.
d. It leaves out Ephraim and Dan, but includes Joseph and Levi.
i. Dan established idol worship - Judges 17-18
i. Jereboam established idol worship in Ephriam and Dan - I Kings 12:29
3. This is spiritual Israel - Rom 2:28-29
4. Notice that these are on the earth.
C. We then turn to heaven and see an innumerable host from every nation arrayed in white and standing before the Lord. They have joined the others in the worship of God.
1. God had promised Abraham innumerable descendants - Gen. 15:5
2. Today, Christians are Abraham’s children - Gal. 3:7, 29
3. Who are they? The saints who have died for God. - Acts 14:22
4. They now serve God and dwell with him.
5. The palm branches indicate a festive occasion - John 12:13
6. They are enjoying their reward.
IX. The seventh seal
A. Silence for half an hour.
1. A large contrast to the great noise of joy just prior.
2. In a sense, it is a Sabbath rest on the seventh seal.
3. A half-hour is a short period of time, but it seems long to the one waiting.
B. The calm before the storm.
1. Like Hab 2:20, which then follows the Lord taking vengeance in Hab. 3.