5: Revelation 6:1 – 8:1: The Seven Seals on the Scroll
John’s letters to the churches end with promises of heaven – the Tree of Life, not being harmed by “second death,” hidden manna, a white stone, a new name, having authority to rule, the morning star, white robes, our name written in the book of life, Jesus standing up for us, our presence like a pillar in the Temple, permanence, the New Jerusalem, Jesus will eat with us, and we share his throne.
Implied question: You can image John replying to the angel “Okay, but I still don’t understand what heaven’s all about.” We can imagine ourselves making the same reply.
Angel's answer: John is invited by the angel “Come up here,” as if he’s being asked to climb the steps to the Holy of Holies. And then…
Heavenly worship begins: with harps, a scroll to be read, a High Priest (the Lamb) to read it, etc…
Purpose of a Seal:
Normally a seal is removed from a letter or a scroll so we can read the message inside.
Sometimes the seals would contain information about the message, rather like a contents list, or the author credits in a modern book.
List of Seals:
There are seven seals on the scroll, a symbolic number well-known to contemporary readers: 7 (as in seven days of the week) means God’s plan, and the writing splits into four sections as we read it.
I. Four Horses
The first four seals removed from the scroll describe the four horses of the Apocalypse
Matthew 24:6-8 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.
The number killed is a quarter, an “earthly” fraction (Revelation 6:8), so this is a description of something earthly.
1. White Horse (Revelation 6:2): Conquest, subjugation. Empires come and go
2. Red Horse (Revelation 6:4): War
3. Black Horse (Revelation 6:5): Famine – luxuries are available but at a price. Injustice rules.
4. Pale Horse (Revelation 6:8): Death
II. What happens to us?
The next two seals reads like answers to the questions we might expect to follow:
Don’t we get let off? No, because God’s people will suffer persecution…
5. Persecution (Revelation 6:11):
Matthew 24:29 9“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.
under the altar = burned / sacrificed on God’s altar (Revelation 6:9)
Between death and resurrection, before the second death?
How long = cry of the Old Testament (Psalms 4, 6, 13, 35, 62, 74, etc)
Why not? Why don’t we get it easy in our short lifetimes?
6. Because it’s all going to end (Revelation 6:12-17): There’s a longer time-span that should be interesting us.
Matthew 24:29 29“Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
The events described would have been familiar from Old Testament prophesies:
Earthquake: Isaiah 29:6, Ezekiel 38:19
Black Sun: Joel 2:10, Zephaniah 1:15
Sun like sackcloth: Isaiah 50:3
Red moon: Joel 2:31
Stars fall: Joel 2:10, Isaiah 13:10
Sky rolled up: Isaiah 34:4
Land moved: Ezekiel 38:20, Nahum 1:5
III. Fate of God’s People
A short section is inserted in Revelation 7:1-7 describing the fate of God’s people, given the persecution and the end of the world that’s just been described:
The verses After this I saw… 19 After this I looked… might just mean “here’s what I saw next” rather than “here’s what happens next.” This section could then be read as “Here’s what I saw when I asked ‘What about us?’” The first vision describes “us” on earth and the second, “us” in heaven.
We are protected, but still suffer:
7:1 four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth: four symbolizes earth
7:3 we have marked the servants of our God with a seal comes up again in Revelation 9:4, and might be compared with the mark of the Beast in Revelation 13:16.
7:4 one hundred forty-four thousand: More numerical symbols: 12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10 = God’s chosen ones (12), Old and New Testament; mankind (10) made complete (3 times) = a great multitude that no one could count (7:9)
7:9 robed in white (as in the Letter to Sardis)
7:14 come out of the great ordeal…16 hunger no more, and thirst no more…17 God will wipe away every tear from their eyes
IV. Fate of the natural world
7. The seventh seal is Silence (Revelation 8:1): The old order has completely passed away.