UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The First Six Seals
By Gary Ray Branscome
The vision of the seven seals begins with the words, “After this I looked, and saw a door opened in heaven: and the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet; said, Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this,” (Rev. 4:1). As you read these words I want to call your attention to two things; 1) The voice that John hears is the same voice that he heard in chapter one, verse ten, and 2) These words were spoken to him alone. This is important because there is absolutely no justification for the claim that this voice is calling believers from the grave, or that the rapture will take place at this time. Do not take my word for it, read the verse. These words are words that John heard in a dream/vision almost two thousand years ago, not some voice in the future. Like the false prophets of old, those who teach otherwise ignore the words of God while teaching for doctrine the imagination of their own heart (Jeremiah ).
After going through that door (in his dream/vision), the things that John describes tell us that he is seeing a symbolic vision of heaven, not the actual place. For example: The seven lamps symbolize the “seven Spirits of God” (Rev. 4:5). Christ is portrayed as a lamb “having seven horns and seven eyes” (Rev. 5:6). And, the golden vials full of incense symbolize the “prayers of saints” (Rev. 5:8).
Now, I believe that everything John sees, from the beginning of chapter four to the end of chapter eleven, should be grouped together. And, this is why. It is in John’s vision of heaven that he sees the seven seals being opened. What is described in chapter seven is seen as the seals are being opened, and the seven trumpets of chapters eight through eleven come out of the seventh seal. Those facts tie chapters four through eleven together.
So let us look at some of the things John actually sees:
There is an ancient tradition that interprets the four “living creatures” that John saw around the throne, – which resemble, in turn, a “lion”, a “calf”, a “man”, and an “eagle” – as the writers of the four Gospels. For that reason, it is not uncommon in more traditional churches to see icons portraying these creatures. However, I see no support for that interpretation in the text. The only possible connection between those beasts and the Gospel writers is the number four, and that is really stretching it. Besides, how could John have been the creature that looked like an eagle (which tradition claims) when he was looking at all four of them.
The crowns that the twenty-four elders cast before the throne are not something they have earned by their works (Rev. 4:10). On the contrary, all of our own righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). The crowns which they cast down are the crowns that are given to every believer by grace alone, by virtue of the fact that all who trust in Christ have been made “kings and priests” (Rev. 1:6 and ).
Chapter five begins with a scroll that is sealed with
seven seals. And, here John is sorrowful because no one was worthy to open it –
that is until Christ (who is described as the lion of
When the first seal was opened, John “saw a white horse: and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Rev. 6:2). As the next three seals are opened, he sees, in turn, a red horse and rider, a black horse and rider, and a pale horse and rider. Tradition interprets these horses as; 1) Christ, 2) war, 3) famine, 4) pestilence. There are others who point out that the rider of the first horse could not be Christ, because Christ is the one who is opening the seals. However, they then go to the opposite extreme by assuming that the rider of the first horse is the antichrist. I believe that both of those views are wrong. It would be inconsistent for the rider of the first horse to be a man, if the riders of the last three horses only represent abstract things such as war, famine, and pestilence. For that reason, I would like to suggest an alternative view.
In order to understand where I am coming from, I want
to point out a parallel between the red horse and white horse of chapter six,
and the red dragon and woman clothed in the sun (the light being white) of
chapter twelve (Rev. 6:2-4 and 12:1-5). Now, I explained previously how the
Bible identifies this woman, but let me go over it again. Revelation tells us that this woman is the mother of those who
trust in Christ. Galatians
tells us that the heavenly
Now, I mentioned previously that the seven seals
represent something that would never have happened if Christ had not triumphed
through His death on the cross, and been found worthy (Rev. 5:9). Therefore, we
need to ask: What things would never have happened if Christ had not defeated
death and been found worthy? And, one obvious answer is that the Spirit would
never have been poured out on the day of Pentecost. So what happened as a
result of Pentecost? Christ’s church went forth “conquering, and to conquer”
(Rev. 6:2). Before going further, let me point out that even though we should
never use force of arms to advance the Gospel, the New Testament often uses the
language of war. In 2Corinthians 10:4 we read, “The weapons of our warfare are
not carnal, but mighty through God”. In Ephesians Paul talks about putting on
the armor of God. And, when we look at actual history the church did conquer
After the day of Pentecost the church immediately encountered persecution. So identifying the red horse with persecution also fits the facts. And, if we identify the red horse with persecution, we can identify the great sword that is given to its rider (Rev. 6:4) as the sword of political power mentioned in Romans 13:4.
That brings us to the other two horses. Traditionally the black horse has been associated with famine. However, Amos speaks of a famine that is “not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD,” and that suggests apostasy (Amos ). In fact, the color itself implies that the light of the gospel has been darkened. Then, the fact that the fourth horse is “pale” but not “white” implies that it represents an imitation of the white horse, a counterfeit gospel, false religion. And, that all fits what we see in the world.
When the fifth seal was opened John saw the “souls” of those who “were slain for the word of God, and for their testimony” (Rev. 6:9). That supports our identification of the red horse with persecution. Then, as the sixth seal is opened, John sees the stars fall from heaven (Rev. 6:13), the sky itself depart like a scroll (Rev. 6:14), and we are told that the great day of God’s wrath has come (Rev. 6:17).
Now, the fact that the events described in connection with the sixth seal are the events of the end and we are specifically told that the great day of God’s wrath has come, tell us that the seven seals do not represent different periods of history. The things described in connection with the first five seals are things that have been going on since the day of Pentecost, and are going on today. And, the fact that chapter and chapter both say that the day of God’s wrath has come, tells us that the events described in connection with the sixth seal cannot take place before the events described in connection with the seventh seal. Both have to do with the same time period, the time of the end.
Three important things to remember are: 1) John heard the voice mentioned in chapter four, verse one, almost two thousand years ago, in a vision. 2) There is nothing in the text to justify the claim that John heard that voice in the future, or that the “rapture” takes place when he hears it, and 3) John went through the door into heaven in his dream/vision, while he physically remained on the isle of Patmos.
In the next section we will look at chapter seven, the seventh seal, and the seven trumpets.