The book of Revelation can be scary and difficult for most to interpret. Even Bible scholars debate the meaning of many details. So, understanding as a layperson can bring confusion. One thing is sure, the events described by the apostle John, are a picture of the return of Christ and God’s judgment on the world.
Symbolism and numbers are a large part of Revelation. The number seven is woven throughout the book and symbolizes completion or perfection. God will pour out his judgment on the world in groups of seven. The outpouring begins with the Seven Seals.
In chapter five of Revelation, John sees God on His throne, holding a scroll. “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals (Revelation 5:1). Who will open the seals? All heaven declares only One is worthy to open the seals. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals (Revelation 5:9).
Jesus takes the scroll and, in chapter 6, begins to open them one by one.
The First Seal
I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. (Revelation 6:2)
The first seal reveals a white horse ridden by one holding a bow and given a crown. Scholars disagree on the identity of the rider. All do agree, however, that a white horse is not ridden in battle. The rider becomes a clear target for the enemy. With Jesus as the rider of this white horse, victory is sure, and He would not fear an enemy. Instead, the enemy would fear Jesus.
The rider wields a bow. Many believe the bow represents the gospel, straight, sharp, true, with a long reach and directed by God. Jesus, as the rider, is given a crown representing his authority, sovereignty, and power. Everyone who accepts the gospel calls Him King and Lord.
The Revelation of the first seal represents Jesus as a conqueror bent on continuing to conquer. He conquered sin through his death and resurrection. Through sanctification, he continues to defeat the enemy.
The next three seals are judgment for those who refuse or abuse the gospel.
The Second Seal
Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword. (Revelation 6:4)
The red horse represents the judgment of war. The rider removes peace from the world. With peace removed, men proceed to do all the damage and wage war against each other. Thus is the nature of men. In over 3000 years of recorded history, less than ten percent have been peaceful. The rider of the fiery red horse holds a sword but does not have to kill. Men will kill one another.
The Third Seal
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. (Revelation 6:5)
John then witnesses the judgment from the third seal. The rider sits atop a black horse that represents famine. In the rider’s hands are scales that signify that men will eat their bread by measure. Gone are the days of plenty. This judgment will be most harsh upon the poor. For those who can, the cost of a small amount of bread will be exorbitant. When people turn from the spiritual food from God, the judgment is deprivation of physical food.
The Fourth Seal
“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:8)
The fourth seal reveals a pale horse, and its rider is Death with hell following closely behind. Scholars describe this as a natural progression of judgments: with war comes scarcity and famine, leading men to be desperate and evil.
God has control over endless forces that bring judgment. He warns in Ezekiel 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? He warns of judgments to come, and if people of the world do not heed the warning, they will receive the judgments.
Once the three seals of judgment are open, God gives them power over the earth because He has all power. People will die by the sword in war, starvation, and pestilence, but it will be the depravity of man that will turn them into the wild beasts of the earth. Hell accompanies Death because those who remain slaves to their sin will be unprepared to die and face eternity separated from God.
The Fifth Seal
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)
As the fifth seal is opened, John sees the souls of martyrs slain during the tribulation because they would not deny Christ. The persecutors may be able to kill the body but not their souls that belong to God. They are kept near Christ and the throne.
Although the souls are protected in heaven, they beg God for justice against those who killed them because they believed. They cry out for justice, not for vengeance, but for the sake of God’s name. They want swift justice so the world would see that God repays the evil for which His saints endured.
As a reward for their faithfulness, the martyrs receive white robes of victory and honor, and God consoles them with the promise that justice will be poured out when the time is right.
The Sixth Seal
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (Revelation 6:12-14)
Jesus warned about the things to come. In Matthew 24, He tells the disciples after the tribulation, the sun and moon will be dark, and the stars will fall, and the heavens be shaken. Then, the Son of Man will come.
The descriptions of the sixth seal upheaval are construed as either physical manifestations or political overturns. For instance, the great earthquake may refer to the shaking of the foundations of the earth and the foundations of the church and world powers. The black sun is both a total eclipse or the fall of rulers. The stars of heaven falling to the earth like figs falling symbolizes both changes in the universe and the fall of less essential rulers.
The heavens rolled away could refer to the removal of religious rituals. There is no need for their practice at this point. Judgment has arrived, and the new Jerusalem is near. Finally, when mountains and islands disappear, the world, rich and poor, strong and weak, whatever level of power, will see the power of God and be awed and afraid.
The Seventh Seal
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)
The seventh seal introduces the next series of judgments, the seven trumpets. Before that happens, the earth holds its breath in silence. Either there are no cries, or it is quiet in anticipation. Either way, the silence of the half-hour, as Scripture describes, will be deafening. What will God do next? Scripture tells how an angel, possibly Jesus, fills an incense burner with the saints’ prayers and hurls it to the earth. The resulting thunder, lightning, and earthquakes precede the first trumpet.
The seven seals precede the next devastating judgment of the seven trumpets and the seven plagues. But, take heart, as God’s people, we are promised deliverance from these afflictions. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7, that God’s judgment is right, God’s people are worthy of heaven, and He will give relief. For those who deny God, judgment will fall hard. For those who trust in Jesus, relief is your promise.
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