With so much fear and uncertainty these days, I’ve decided to study the book of Revelation. I’d like to get a feel for what’s going on in the world right now, and I think this is a good place to start. Could you please explain the opening of the seven seals in Revelation chapters five and six? It is somewhat difficult to understand. Thank you.
Revelation is not designed to be confusing or hard to understand, even though it certainly feels that way at first.
The apostle John in describing a vision that God gave him during his exile on the isle of Patmos. The images are clearly described, but their meanings require an understanding of cultural context, history, and other biblical teachings. So, let’s start with a quick summary.
Chapter 1 is a vision of the resurrected Christ. Chapters 2-3 are letters to seven churches which need encouragement and rebuke. Chapter 4 looks right into the throne room of God.
Chapter 5 is the “hinge” of the book.
The book of Revelation is also organized around three groups of seven.
– Seven Seals = Man’s destruction of mankind
– Seven Trumpets = Satan’s destruction of mankind
– Seven Bowls = God’s destruction of mankind
The Seven Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls encompass all seven years of the “tribulation,” or the time of suffering that will precede the Second Coming of Christ. When the last bowl is poured on the earth, Christ will return.
I think that the best way to answer your specific question about the Seven Seals is simply to exegete the passage. This means explaining it verse-by-verse.
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)
The “Scroll” is the Title Deed to earth and its people! Adam and Eve lost the earth to sin and to Satan. It is Satan’s earth right now. The book of Revelation is the story of how God takes back the earth and its people.
And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll . . . I wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll.
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! 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.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne. (Revelation 5:2-6)
Christ is revealed as the only one who is qualified to redeem the earth by opening the scroll! He is the Lion who has the power. The Lamb is the rightful heir. Jesus purchased the world and its inhabitants with His shed blood on the cross.
Next, the first four seals are often referred to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The “Apocalypse” describes utter destruction and desolation.
THE FIRST SEAL Is the Rider on The White Horse, Who Represents Peace.
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 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 6:1-2)
“White” represents peace. The rider on the white horse is Satan’s counterfeit of Christ! He is the “Antichrist,” who rises to power by promising peace. Notice that he has a bow with no arrows.
The first seal is opened at the beginning of the final seven-year tribulation. The first 3 ½ years are peaceful. But then the Antichrist brings desolation and destruction during the final 3 ½ years.
The Antichrist is also the first of God’s judgments on a Christ-rejecting world. He who claims to be a savior is really a “Trojan Horse.”
THE SECOND SEAL Is the Rider on the Red Horse, Who Represents War.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword. (Revelation 6:3-4)
Notice that this rider takes peace from the earth. Thus begins the final 3 ½ years of Great Tribulation.
Let’s remember that war is always military conquest. War is always tragedy.
When Euripides, the Greek playwright, wished to depict warfare on the stage, he did not bring on an army with banners. He brought on a bent and bewildered old woman leading by the hand a weeping child who had lost her parents. That is war.
THE THIRD SEAL Is the Rider on the Black Horse, Who Represents Famine.
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. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” (Revelation 6:5-6)
The black horse represents famine.
Famine means that it takes an entire day’s wages just to buy a quart of wheat. Famine means that the “balances” to measure out food are scarce. We don’t worry about weighing food in times of plenty—Why? The garbage cans of America contain more than enough food to feed multitudes of starving people.
But worldwide famine is not hard to imagine now. Millions die of starvation every day. In the event of serious crop failure, no part of the world is more than one year away from critical starvation, and the rich U.S. is only two years away.
THE FOURTH SEAL Is the Rider on the Pale Green Horse, Who Represents Death.
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And 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 6:7-8)
What is result of war and famine? Death. Also, the Greek word for “pale” describes the ashen look of a dead body without blood.
One-fourth of the earth’s people dies. That’s about 1.8 billion (1,800,000,000,000) at today’s earthly population. By comparisons, only 100 million (100,000,000) have died in all wars on earth to date!
It seems as if it is impossible to kill so many in such a short time. Think of the American Revolution. You couldn’t load your musket fast enough! But that all changed on August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, Japan.
You say, “This is awful.” But it’s just a preview of coming attractions. As the 1,000 year millennial reign of King Jesus on earth is a preview of Heaven (see Revelation 20), so the Tribulation is a preview of Hell.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh seals are different!
The Fifth Seal describes the martyred believers who died for Jesus during the Great Tribulation.
They are under the altar in heaven, crying out for God to take vengeance upon these mass murderers.
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 number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Revelation 6:9-11
Who are these people? These are folks who have been martyred—sacrificed—for their great loyalty to Jesus Christ. Many suggest that they are the great cloud of martyrs who have sacrificed their lives from all times.
The altar is place of sacrifice and death. These saints are right where the blood was poured and sprinkled.
They cry out with a loud voice: “How long until you get vengeance on these murderers?”
Notice that these martyrs are not reprimanded for being so angry. We must remember what these men and women went through. We must remember the agony of the flames, the bloodshed in the arenas, the wild beasts, the beheadings, those skinned alive and the sadistic torture which they suffered. So many lives and dreams are cut short. They are angry.
Then, they are given long, flowing robes and told to “Rest a little while longer.” They are rewarded and honored for dying the ultimate death.
But the Lord says, “Wait until the full number of martyrs is completed.” This is chilling, isn’t it? What He is saying is that there are more yet to be martyred. Then, and only then He will take His vengeance.
Even today, people are paying a price to follow Christ.
The Sixth Seal is a Nuclear Holocaust.
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 late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (Revelation 6:12-14)
This is John’s description of nuclear holocaust.
“The earth rolls up like a scroll,” is obviously a reference, from a first-century perspective, of what nuclear explosions will look like. In a nuclear explosion, the atmosphere literally rolls back on itself. A tremendous rush of air flows outward from the initial explosion creating a tremendous vacuum. It is the air flowing back into the vacuum which creates such destruction.
He writes, “Stars fell to earth.” The Greek word “stars” here describes a meteor. Meteors strike the atmosphere and glow fiery red. When they hit the earth, they pulverize dirt and other materials that remain in the atmosphere, shutting out the sun, for two or more years.
Nuclear winter results. No sunshine equals no crops. People starve.
His description may also apply to today’s “fractional orbital bombs.” Nuclear-tipped missiles are fired simultaneously from orbiting satellites. These can strike several cities simultaneously. When these missiles streak through the air, they’ll look like meteors entering the atmosphere.
Look at the human reaction.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)
Every strata of society is affected.
The greatest prayer meeting the world has ever seen takes place. You’d think that those who endured these things would finally call upon the name of the Lord. Instead, they begin praying to the rocks.
What’s the result of all this shaking? Do people turn to God? No! For some reason their hearts are harder! There is a lesson here.
I recall the family which called me and said that their 78-year-old father would not receive Christ as his Savior. They had shared the gospel with him on many occasions with no success.
He was now in the hospital waiting to die. They asked me if I would go to the hospital and share the gospel with him one more time. I carefully led him through the gospel and invited him one more time to come to Christ.
His response was chilling. He said to me, “I have said ‘No’ to Jesus so many times that I don’t think I could become a Christian even if I wanted to.”
The Seventh Seal Represents Silence.
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)
I believe that when those in heaven saw the horror which was about to be unleashed on the earth, their jaws fell open. They couldn’t believe it! They stood in rapt silence. Then, the first trumpet blows.
What do you think is going on in God’s heart?
God is having to destroy the very creation He made. It is breaking His heart.
There is an old rabbinic story about the Israelites departing Egypt as the Red Sea split so they could cross on dry land. The Israelites make it across just as the Egyptian army began charging toward the Israelites with the Red Sea waters stacked up on each side of them.
The angels in heaven are singing and happy and rejoicing as they watched the waters of the Red Sea close back over the Egyptian armies.
Then, the angels look over to see how God is responding. God is weeping.
I hope this gives you a good understanding about the nature of God and what happens when the seals are opened.
This Ask Roger article was also featured at crosswalk.com