The Seven Seals
At the end of chapter 5 the Lamb takes the scroll with the 7 seals because He is worthy to open the scroll which controls the destiny not just of individuals but of the world. Christ is now ready to save His people and pour out wrath upon the enemies of His people.
Before looking at the opening of the seals, 2 issues need to be addressed. All 3 major instruments of God's wrath--the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls of wrath--basically follow the same format. Between the 6th and 7th judgments in all 3 cases, we have an interlude. One question that needs to be answered is that are all 3 major instruments sequential in time, or are the 3 instruments merely different ways of God saying the same thing for the purpose of emphasis? For example, do the 7 seals come first, followed by the 7 trumpets, which in turn are followed by the 7 bowls, or are the seals, trumpets and bowls describing the same events? This study will take the view that the 3 instruments are sequential in time. The trumpets follow the seals in time, and the bowls follow the trumpets in time.
Moreover, this study takes the view that the 7 seals are the preliminary events which actually occur before God pours out great wrath upon the earth. Jesus had predicted that earthquakes and other natural disasters would fall upon the earth, and yet these did not mean the end was near; these were preliminary to the end (Matt. 24:5-8). The final judgments bring more massive destruction.
Another feature of this study is that it believes that the seals, trumpets and bowls refer to the wrath God poured out upon the Roman empire which was oppressing His people. So much of what is contained in these judgments apply so vividly to what happened 2000 years ago. On the other hand, I think a person would have to be foolish to believe that all these judgments refer only to what happened 2000 years ago. The degree to which God punished His enemies in Revelation simply did not find complete fulfillment in what happened 2000 years ago. As a result, although these judgments refer in a specific way to God's judgment upon the Roman empire, they also apply to the future judgment God will pour out upon the final Antichrist and his followers.
Finally, this study also takes the view that the judgments upon non-Christians are actually signs of God's love and mercy. These are not strictly punitive in nature; rather God pours out wrath in order to show people the true state of their spiritual condition. They are in the process of following Satan and his Anti-Christ. Severe measures are needed in order to bring the people to repentance. The successful mission of the 2 witnesses we shall read about later indicates that the 7 seals, etc. did have their desired effect upon many. Many came to repentance as a result of the instruments of God's wrath and the witness of God's people; on the other hand, the majority did not.
The opening of the seven seals (6:1-17)
the first seal
Christ breaks open the first seal, and one of the living creatures cries out, "Come!" At his summons a warrior with a crown on his head, having bow and arrows, sitting on a white horse emerges. He passes on in order to conquer.
As will be true of most of the symbols found in Revelation, many interpretations swirl around this symbol. The best interpretation seems to be the one which states the rider on the white horse symbolizes conquest. Conquerors rode in processions on white horses after they had gained a great victory over their enemies. Moreover, the warrior resembles almost perfectly the famous Parthian cavalryman. Parthia, which is today's nation of Iran, was Rome's most dreaded enemy. Parthia had gained her freedom from Rome during the first century before the birth of Christ and continued to plague Rome thereafter. In 62 AD she even gained a major victory over the Romans. Rome feared this one enemy above all others. The Parthian cavalryman wore a crown into battle; not the diadem which was the crown by right but the stephanos which was the crown won in battle--the crown worn by the cavalryman in this seal. Next the Parthian cavalryman waged war with bow and arrows, the same weapons in this first symbol. John in effect is saying that God is going to bring about the downfall of the Roman empire by means of conquest. God will also use conquest as a means of destroying His enemies at the end of time before the consummation of His kingdom on earth.
the second seal
After the first horse passes by, a second beast from around the throne, cries out, "Come!" At his summons comes forth a rider on a red horse who has the power to take peace from the world. This rider and horse symbolize war, the means by which conquest (the first seal) achieves his goal. Once again God used war in order to destroy the Roman empire and will use it again against the forces of Satan in order to bring about the destruction of his people.
the third seal
A third beast cries out, "Come," and a rider on a black horse emerges from the darkness. This rider holds a balance in his hand with which to weigh grain. This rider and horse represent scarcity. He weighs out a quart of wheat, the daily food allowance for a man, and charges people a denarius, the equivalent of one day's wages. In other words, it takes a man all he makes just in order to eat. A denarius will also only buy 3 quarts of barley, the grain of the poor; in normal times a denarius would purchase 8 , 12, even 15 times more grain than this. These are not famine conditions yet, but they are the natural conditions after a war has devastated a countryside. To exasperate matters, the beast instructs the rider not to harm oil and wine which were luxuries. Whereas the essentials of life are being threatened, luxuries continue to abound. It's like throwing salt in the wound.
the fourth seal
A fourth beast cries out, "Come" and a fourth horse of a pale color (green or yellow) emerges. On him rides Death, but beside the horse and Death runs Hades (the dwelling place of the dead). Death naturally follows war and famine. He kills by means of war, pestilence (another natural consequence of war and famine) , and wild beasts which roam freely after war has devastated the countryside. The living beast gives him authority to destroy only a fourth of those alive. Hades follows beside Death in order to swallow up Death's victims. Again these 2 forces operated in the destruction of the Roman empire and will operate once more during the last days.
the fifth seal
When Christ opens the fifth seal, no judgment pours out upon rebellious mankind. Instead John sees in heaven an altar under which are the souls of martyred saints, those who have suffered martyrdom during the tribulation. The martyrs are underneath the altar and not near the throne because the altar symbolizes the truth that their death was in fact a sacrifice to God. Their death was an act of worship to God. Martyrdom is the highest form of worship and sacrifice a Christian can render unto God. If the Christian life is one of daily dying to self and living for Christ, then the sacrifice of the body in martyrdom is the logical outcome of the Christian life.
The martyrs though ask God how much longer it will be before He avenges their death. Many Christian scholars chafe at this passage. They consider the martyrs' attitude to be un-Christlike. The truth though is that this attitude is very much in keeping with Christ's attitude. What kind of God would He be if He let sin continue forever un-judged? Since Christ is a righteous judge, one day must come when He will vindicate the righteous and destroy the wicked. Someone informs them to be patient for just a little while longer for the tribulation will continue until the full number of those who are to be martyred is filled, so as to give them the opportunity of being sacrificed for Christ.
the sixth seal
Christ breaks the 6th seal unleashing great calamities upon the world. An earthquake rips apart the earth; the sun turns black; the moon takes on the appearance of blood; and the stars fall down to the earth. The sky splits asunder like a scroll, and the mountains and islands are displaced due to this great catastrophe. This affects the greatest of men down to the lowest of men, from kings to slaves. All realize that these events indicate the coming of God. Rather than repent though, they fear God to such an extent that they pray the mountains and rocks fall upon them so that they will not have to face God and the Lamb in their wrath. They cry out, "The day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" The first part of chapter 7 answers this question. God's people will stand! God's wrath will not affect them!
Between the sixth and seventh seals, and also between the 6th and 7th trumpets and between the 6th and 7th bowls of wrath are interludes. Of the 3 interludes this is the most controversial; your interpretation of this interlude really reveals which view of Revelation you believe.
the sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8)
At the end of chapter 6, those facing the wrath of God and the Lamb cry out, "Who is able to stand?" God replies that the 144,000 whom He seals will withstand the wrath. God's wrath will not affect God's people. Just like God's wrath upon Egypt did not touch the children of Israel, so God's wrath here will not touch His people. (In fact, what happened in Egypt to the Israelites and Egyptians with God saving the Israelites at the Red Sea in many ways foreshadows what will happen before Christ comes to save His people). What will protect them and keep them from being touched by God's wrath? The seal He is about to place upon their foreheads.
The seal in the ancient world in one respect served the same purpose modern branding irons serve today. Today's rancher will brand his cattle with a certain mark in order to show that these cattle belong to him and nobody else. In the 19th century if you had a cow with the mark of another rancher on it, you could have been shot as a cattle-thief. The seal that God has placed upon His people means that He has "branded" them as being His. God's wrath will not affect those who wear His "brand."
Who are the 144,000? The 144,000 whom God seals stands for God's people--Christians. Just exactly who are these Christians in the book of Revelation? Are these Jewish Christians who are converted after the rapture of the Gentile church? Or are they Christians who simply to be alive when the tribulation kicks in, implying that there will be no rapture of the church before the 7 years of tribulation?
On the surface those who hold to the view that these 144,000 refer to Jewish Christians seem to be right. After all John writes that the people come from the 12 tribes of Israel. Doesn't this view seem to be what Daniel is saying? Yet this view must respond to some serious questions.
First, although John uses Jewish terms to describe God's people in this chapter, where does it even imply that John has quit using these terms to refer to the Gentile church? Remember that in Revelation 1-3 John has used Jewish names to refer to the church:
(1) the lampstand (the great symbol of light found in the Jerusalem Temple) represents the church
(2) Jesus, the Lord of the church, is designated by the title "Son of Man" which is so prominent in Daniel 7
(3) Christ designates Christians as being a pillar in the Temple of God--the greatest of Jewish symbols (Revelation 3:12)
(4) Jesus gives the church manna (Revelation 2:17)
(5) John calls the church a kingdom of priests (Revelation 1:6), the great designation of the people of israel in exodus
Moreover, in The Gospel of John which John wrote, John devotes the first half of the Gospel to the view that the church is now the true Judaism, not the Jews. Also, in Revelation 2-3 the Jews are called "the synagogue of Satan" because the Jews are the ones who are leading in the persecution of the church (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). Somebody needs to point out ONE verse between chapters 4 & 7 which states that God is now referring to the Jewish people in Jewish terms. Moreover, somebody needs to show ONE verse between chapters 4 & 7 which says that the Jew of John's day is no longer of the synagogue of Satan but is a part of God's people. There's not a single verse which does this. If John does not change the way he describes Christians and Jews, then neither should we. The 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel should then represent the church.
The main problem is that when most people interpret Revelation, they come to it with a lot of preconceived ideas. For example, most people who interpret Revelation don't interpret Revelation but are superimposing their interpretation of Daniel upon Revelation. Now the 2 books are going to harmonize because God wrote them both; however, Revelation is not Daniel and neither is Daniel Revelation. We need first to understand what Revelation is saying and then seek to understand how it harmonizes with Daniel.
Let me show you how this principle works with regards to some other books in the Bible. When NT scholars study the 4 Gospels, they notice that Matt-Luke mention only one visit of Jesus to Jerusalem during His earthly ministry (the week before His death), whereas John mentions four such visits. In Matt-Luke, Jesus cleanses the Temple during the last week, whereas according to John, Jesus cleanses the Temple during the first year of His ministry on earth. Most NT scholars superimpose Matt-Luke upon John by claiming that Jesus would have cleansed the Temple only once and that He would have done this only during His last week upon earth. What they've done is that they've superimposed Matt-Luke upon John. We need to study both sets of books and then discover how they harmonize. Conservative Christian scholars basically believe that Jesus most likely cleansed the Temple twice. There's nothing to say He could not have done that. We need to let Matt-Luke say what Matt-Luke wants to say and let John say what John wants to say. Let's not be doing Matt-Luke when we're studying John, and let's not do Daniel when we are doing Revelation. Only after we've studied Revelation should we see how it harmonizes with Daniel. Rest assured that it does harmonize with Daniel.
Why does John go into great detail in describing God's people? Where does he come up with the number 144,000? John goes into great detail of saying that 12,000 came from one tribe, another 12,000 from a second tribe, etc. in order to emphasize to the greatest degree that God knows who His people are. He's got them numbered; He's not going to lose a single one of them. When God's people go through times of trouble, they tend to think that God has forgotten all about them. This passage says He does not forget them because He has them all numbered. If God knows when an insignificant sparrow falls to the ground, then surely He knows who make up His people so that He can protect them from His wrath.
Next, the number 144,000 is made up of 12 x 12 x 1,000. Twelve represents organized religion--the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the church. One thousand represents completeness, for example, the 1000-year reign of Christ represents His complete reign upon the earth. The 144,000 represents the belief that God has sealed completely His people--that all His people are completely sealed and protected.
The Praise of the Martyrs (7:9-17)
Whereas the previous section (7:1-8) presents God protecting His people from His wrath by sealing them, this passage shows that God has also ultimately protected them from the forces of evil during the tribulation. God protected His people from His wrath, yet He still allowed them to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Satanic forces. Even though the Satanic forces put many of God's people to death, God still ultimately protected them because they now stand in God's presence forever, safe in God's eternal care. Revelation 7:1-8 shows God protecting His people from His wrath while they are still on earth; this section shows God giving His people ultimate protection when Satan puts them to death for the cause of Christ during the Great Tribulation.