The 7 Seals (Rev. 4:1 - 8:1)
Bible Passage:Read the prophecy in Revelation 4:1 to 8:1.
Theme:The message of present truth and the conditions surrounding its proclamation.
Overview:In Revelation 1 to 3, John saw Christ in priest's clothing among the candlesticks in the Holy Place of the Sanctuary, symbolizing His care for the churches. Now, John sees Jesus enthroned in heaven, opening a book one seal at a time, revealing events surrounding the activities of God's church in spreading the gospel. The 7 Seals parallel the 7 Churches and are sequential time periods as shown by the manner in which they are given. Each Seal reveals more understanding as events unfold and the gospel is given with warnings for that time. It is clear that this book can only be opened because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross (He is pictured as a lamb).
Revelation 4:1-3 " 1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. 2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. 3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald".
He who sits on the throne = God the Father. In Rev. 5:13, both the Lamb (Jesus) and the one on the throne are praised, indicating they are different beings. His appearance is like gems. Jasper is polished and clear, like crystal (Rev. 21:11).
Rainbow The throne was surrounded by an emerald (greenish) encirclement.
Revelation 4:4 "And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold."
The sons of Aaron were divided into 24 divisions for the work in the earthly sanctuary (1 Chron. 24:1-19). The Levites were priests, but only Aaron's descendents could be high priests. The 24 elders are mentioned again during the 7th trumpet as they worship God (Rev. 11:16).
Revelation 4:5 "And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God."
Seven Spirits = The work of the Holy Spirit in the church during the 7 time periods. The seven spirits are said be the "seven lamps", which are the seven candlesticks that represent the 7 Churches (see Rev. 1:20). The 7 Churches represent the condition of God's one church through 7 different time periods. Likewise, there are not 7 different spirits, but rather 7 different time periods in which the one Holy Spirit works. Notice that at the end of each message to the 7 churches, the admonition is given: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. 2:7,11,17,29, 3:6,13,22). The one Holy Spirit speaks to the church through 7 different time periods.
Jesus pours the Holy Spirit (oil) upon His church ("lamps of fire" and "candlesticks" - 1:20, 4:5) to keep the flame burning, so His people may effectively share His Word. Without the Holy Spirit there is no fire (sharing/witness) in the lamp (church). The seven spirits are also described as seven eyes on the Lamb (Jesus) in Revelation 5:6. Through the Holy Spirit, is how Jesus (the lamb) works, with power and understanding, in His church (Rev. 5:6, 1:4, 3:1).
Revelation 4:6-10 "6 And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. 7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. 9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, 10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. "
Four Beasts = Coordinated ministry of angels. The Greek word here translated to "beast" is used only here in Revelation to describe these four beasts around the throne and means a live thing or an animal. The other beasts in Revelation, such as the beast from the sea (Rev. 13), the beast from the earth (Rev. 13) and the beast from the bottomless pit (Rev. 11, 17), are translated from a different Greek word meaning a dangerous animal and consistenly symbolize a realm. These 4 beasts or live things are described as 4 living creatures by Ezekiel. We can find clues to their identity by comparing Bible passages.
|Revelation 4-5||Ezekiel 1,2,10||Isaiah 6:1-8|
|Vision of God's throne room (Rev. 4:2)||Vision of God's throne room (Ez. 1:26-28)||Vision of God's throne room (Is. 6:1)|
|4 Beasts||4 Living Creatures / Cherubim||Seraphim|
|Have 6 wings (Rev. 4:8)||Have 4 wings (Ez. 1:11) - 2 joined to one another, 2 cover bodies||Have 6 wings (Is. 6:2) - 2 cover face, 2 cover feet, 2 for flying|
|Full of eyes (Rev. 4:6,8).||Their likeness is like wheels full of eyes (Ez. 1:15-18, 10:12)|
|Look like a lion, calf, man, eagle (Rev. 4:7).||Have 4 faces, like a man, lion, ox, eagle (Ez. 1:10) and like a cherub, man, lion, eagle (Ez. 10:14).|
|They come and go like lightning (Ez. 1:14)|
|Say "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8).||Cry "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory"|
|John sees a scroll written within and without (Rev. 5:1) and it tastes like honey when he eats it (10:9).||Ezekiel sees a scroll written within and without (Ez. 2:9-10) and it tastes like honey when he eats it (3:2-3).|
Ezekiel comes to understand that the 4 living creatures are cherubims (Ez. 10:15,22, 1:1) and says so clearly: "This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims" (Ez. 10:20). A cherub is an angel. Lucifer was a cherub, more specifically, a covering cherub (Ez. 28:14, Is. 14:12). The covering cherubim are the ones closest to the throne, as illustrated in the earthly sanctuary by the two angels covering the mercy seat from each side of the ark (Ex. 25:18-22). In addition there are innumerable numbers of angels surrounding the throne illustrated by the many cherubim carved into the walls and curtains of the tabernacle (2 Chron. 3:7,14). Note the vast number of angels pictured around the throne in Revelation: "...The number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" (Rev. 5:11). These are all created beings; they worship the Lamb (Rev. 5:8-14) and God (Rev. 19:4).
The world is under the control of God as the Holy Spirit works through angels to bring about good. The covering cherubim command the angelic hosts as they minister to humanity in the plan of salvation. The 4 beasts (living creatures) represent the work of the cherubim, or the perfectly coordinated ministry of angels.
The ministry of the angels is worldwide as they work with God's people to spread the gospel, going in every direction, as illustrated by their four faces that match the symbols used by the four tribes positioned closest to the earthly sanctuary in each direction.
Tribe of Dan = Eagle (north side)
Tribe of Judah = Lion (east side)
Tribe of Reuben = Man (south side)
Tribe of Ephraim = Calf (west side)
The angels go out in every direction (north, east, south and west) from the sanctuary. They are perfectly coordinated by the Holy Spirit and ordered in their work. This is a message of great comfort to all of God's people.
Eyes = Perception/discernment - The Holy Spirit coordinates and directs these creatures.
They rest not = The angels are constantly at work to assist God in the plan of salvation. They are ministering to each one of us and doing God's bidding out of love. The four beasts repeat the words "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." They seem to receive new revelations of God's wisdom and character regularly. They feel deeply thankful to their creator.
Rev. 5:1-4 " 1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. 4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. 5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. "
The same throne scene is also described in Ezekiel. The complex and effective workings of God and his government are portrayed in Ezekiel 1. Then, in Ezekiel 2, the prophet Ezekiel is told to eat a book that is written within and without, full of woe, and he is sent out to preach messages to God's rebelling people. "And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe... Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel" (Ezekiel 2:10-3:1).
The similarities in Ezekiel to this prophecy in Revelation are many, including the throne scene, descriptions of God, colors, the four creatures/beasts with eyes, wings and faces (like a lion, man, calf/ox, eagle), and the book written within and without. The purpose of the book he ate (understood and accepted the message) was to warn God's people and convince them to repent. It contained prophecies for the nations.
In like manner, the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to write a book containing prophecies against nations. The book described what would occur if the people continued to rebel, in hopes that they would repent. "2 Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day. 3 It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin" (Jeremiah 36:2-3).
Later in Revelation, John is told to eat a book. The book tastes sweet and then is bitter in his stomach, but the angel tells John that he must prophecy again. "And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings" (Revelation 10:10-11). (See more about the Little Book.)
These passages provide insight into the book with seven seals in Revelation. The book is a prophetic book, containing the history/future of nations and the church, along with warnings and instructions to inspire repentance and faith. This book, that only the Lamb can open, is a book of prophecy that contains the information and instructions that need to be preached to God's people.
This exact type a book is described in Daniel, a book of prophecy he was told to seal (Dan. 12:4,9). "And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And He said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand. But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days." The Lion of the tribe of Judah would now unseal the book, one seal at a time, as He gave John the revelation of what would occur in the last days.
Opening the seals = Understanding what was written. A sealed book means it is not understood (Is. 29:11-12). As each seal is opened, a portion of the meaning is revealed. The entire book wouldn't be opened until the 7th time period. Accordingly, even though portions were understood much sooner, major parts of the book of Daniel were not understood until the time of the end (1798) and after the 7th time period began (1840). "9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Daniel 12:9).
Daniel's prophecies, which foretell of events from His day until the establishment of Jesus' kingdom, contain the history and future events related to kingdoms/realms and God's people. As a seal was removed, understanding increased, the present truth warnings were preached, decisions made to accept or reject it, and the events of history for that time period unfolded.
Rev. 5:6-14 " 6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. 8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. 9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. 11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; 12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. 14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever."
Time Period #1 (34 AD to 217 AD): 1st Seal
Rev. 6:1-2 "1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer."
Horse = God's Church. The first four seals use horses as symbols. Similarly, in Zechariah 1:8-11 and 6:1-7, the prophet sees horses of varying colors go out from the Lord to various parts of the earth. They are eager to go throughout the whole earth. Unfortunately, they report back that the earth was still and idle, and the heathen were at ease (Zech 1:15), not responding to the message. The four horses, going out from God, represent God's church with its agencies, angels, systems and people that God puts in place throughout the earth to spread His Word and work out His will. The church is God's appointed agency to spread the gospel. The horses work to spread the gospel and report back.
White The color white is used to symbolize purity. The righteous wear white (Rev. 3:4-5, 7:14, 19:8), the 24 Elders wear white (Rev. 4:4), the armies of heaven wear white (Rev. 19:14), and the angels wear white (Rev. 15:6, Acts 1:10). The church during this time period was preaching a pure, unadulterated gospel message.
Conquering: The first time period of spreading God's message, is very successful. Thus, the church is seen as conquering. The apostolic church did indeed spread the gospel everywhere, with great success. "And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen" (Mark 16:20). "...which was preached to every creature which is under heaven" (Col. 1:23).
Bow: God shoots with a bow sending His word deep into the heart and thoughts of people (Psalm 64:7, Hab. 3:8-9).
Time Period #2 (217 to 486 AD): 2nd Seal
Rev. 6:3-4 "3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword."
Time Period #3 (486 to 752 AD): 3rd Seal
Rev. 6:5-6 "5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine."
Grain, oil and wine = God's Word, Holy Spirit and truth. Grain, oil and wine are a sign of abundance and prosperity. In God's kingdom, these symbolize the abundance of gifts God gives to us, such as His word, truthful doctrines, the Holy Spirit and the work of the Spirit. During this time period, the grain becomes difficult to obtain. One measure of wheat equals one cup. One day's wage equals one penny. The wheat and barley (used to make bread), which symbolize the word of God, becomes scarce (see also Amos 5). God's messages were preached, but it wasn't easy to find. However, the Holy Spirit (oil) and God's truths (wine) (Luke 5:37-39) were readily available.
It was during this time period that the Roman church and the Franks allied (508 AD), causing a compromised doctrine to be spread throughout the realm. As seen in other prophecies, the Roman church system gained power to suppress the word of God (Rev. 11), elevate its own authority (Rev. 13) and oppress God's people (Rev. 12, Daniel 7). These years saw the truth become more and more scarce, as an earthly system was put in place to control access to the Bible and to put forth its own version of church. This was also portrayed in the letter to the third church, Pergamos, as some of them heeded the corrupted doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.
Black Corruption. The color black is the opposite of white. Instead of a pure message, error and compromise got mixed in.
Time Period #4 (752 to 1299 AD): 4th Seal
Rev. 6:7-8 " 7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."
Pale A pale color indicates sickness and death. This was the time period in the heart of the dark ages, when the Roman Church was at the height of its power politically. As the church now became, not only spiritually dominant, but politically dominant, the church became ruled by a system that placed its own laws above God's. The teachings proceeding from the church, became almost wholly corrupt. The gospel almost "died". The true message was preached in the face of persecution and death. Millions were killed as heretics by the state at the direction of the church. The letter to the 4th Church also portrayed this time period as being at the height of rebellion and corruption, through the symbol of Jezebel and knowing the depths of Satan.
Time Period #5 (1299 to 1449 AD): 5th Seal
Rev. 6:9-11 "9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
Time Period #6 (1449 to 1840 AD): 6th Seal
Rev. 6:12-17 "12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? "
The last verse (Rev. 6:17) presents the question: "Who shall be able to stand?" The answer is given in chapter 7 as it describes those who receive the seal of God during the next time period. More detail is provided as part of a future study on the Seal of God (Revelation 14).
Note: Because of the glimpse ahead to the Second Coming in verses 14-17, it may seem appropriate to include the Second Coming in the time span of the 6th Seal, or to end the time span at the close of probation or just before Jesus returns. This goes along with the idea that the silence in heaven for "half an hour" in the 7th seal indicates that heaven is empty for about 7.5 days (a prophetic day = 1 literal year, so 1/2 prophetic hour = 7.5 literal days) as God and the angels come to earth. However, in verse 16, the wicked cry to be hid from the face of God. They are already seeing Jesus in that verse, which would put the end of the 6th Seal (Jesus arrives at earth) after the start of the 7th (when Jesus left heaven). This presents a problem caused by attempting to show chapter 6 to 8 as a strict chronological list of events. Yes, Revelation is painting a picture that progresses through time, but as it paints there are many glimpses ahead and back into the past that help us better understand the events and specific time period being described. So, instead of chapter 6 to 8 being a chronological list of events, it is simply giving a glimpse ahead to the Second Coming during the 6th Seal in order to help us understand the 6th Seal better. This is similar to the glimpses of the end of time (rewards, judgment, heaven) we get at the end of each of the 7 Churches, or the harvest of the earth (Second Coming) in chapter 14 being followed by the 7 Last Plagues in chapter 15.
Time Period #7 (1840 to Second Coming): 7th Seal
Rev. 8:1 "1 And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour."
Silence = Listening intently. The word that is translated to "silence", is used in only one other place in the Bible. It is in Acts 21:40, when Paul beckoned to the mob and a great hush was made as they became silent for his speech. When they heard that he spake in Hebrew, they became even more silent, however a different Greek word is there used for the word "silence". The first silence is indicating a hushing of a multitude as each individual realizes that something is about to occur and voluntarily becomes silent. This would indicate that the silence in heaven was due to all beings being hushed to listen or watch something important.
In Zechariah chapter 2, silence (Zech 2:13) is linked to judgment (Zech 2:1-2). The judgment of God's people is in preparation of the day of the Lord. When the seventh seal is broken on the scroll, there is something different or significant about it. This act releases the entire scroll to be understood and preached. It ushers in the final events as God judges and deliveres his people. There is a time of silence as the heavenly beings watch intently and listen in awe and reverence.
Half an hour = 7.5 days. An "hour" can designate a specific moment in time or an actual 60 minute hour. Because of the specific mention of "half" an hour, there is reason to interpret it as an actual 60 minutes within a 24 hour day. If an actual 60 minute hour, then a prophecy with symbols would interpret it as 1 prophetic hour or 15 days. Half an hour would be 7.5 days (24 hours = 1 day = 1 prophetic year) (.5 hours X 360 days in a year / 24 hours in a day = 7.5 days). Since the passage reads "about" half an hour, it could be approximately 7.5 days, or perhaps 7 or 8 days.
When he had opened = The start date of the 7th time period.
- A) A seal doesn't need to be opened after probation closes. It is a redemptive message. It contains present truth. The 7th Seal begins much sooner (1840) than the time of trouble or the second coming.
- B) In Revelation 10, an open book is shown to John (10:2). He eats it and then is told to prophecy again. Since the book is open, the seals have all been removed, and the prophetic warnings can be preached. This places the timing of the opening of the 7th seal (1840) prior to the eating of the book (1840-1844).
- C) The parallelism used in Daniel and Revelation means that parallel prophecies provide meanings and dates for each other. Both the 7th Church and the 7th Trumpet provide evidence for a start date of 1840 for this 7th period.
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Continue to the 7 Trumpets (Rev. 8:2 - 11)