Interpretation of the Seal Judgments

Revelation 6:1-17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2012

We come to one of the most important chapters in the Book of Revelation. There are basic doctrines that are very simply and there are more advanced truths in Scripture that are deep. Today, we will be looking at the more advanced truths. We will be studying meat, not milk. This chapter is important for all students of biblical prophecy. It begins the first prophecy section of the book.

Revelation 6 continues exactly where Revelation 5 left off. If you remember, in Revelation 4, John is taken to heaven to see the throne room of God. He then sees a mysterious seven-sealed book in the right hand of the one who sits on the throne.

The only one found worthy to open the book was Jesus. Jesus takes the book from the Father and in chapter 6 he begins to open six of the seals of that book. As he opens the seals, terrible things happen on earth as God’s wrath is unleashed on earth.

Revelation 6 describes the first of three series of judgments in Revelation. Each one of these judgment has seven parts to it and each one of the three gets progressively worse. There are the seven seal judgments, seven trumpet judgments and seven bowl judgments in the Book of Revelation.

The seal judgments are found in chapter 6. The trumpet judgments are found in chapters 8-9. The bowl judgments are found in chapter 16. At the end of the first six of each judgment, there is a break.

After six terrible things happen on earth, people feel a little relief and think it is finally over but then six more judgments come more terrible than the first and before you can catch your breath, six more come that are worse than the second group of judgments.

Revelation 6 describes the first series of judgments called the seal judgments. It mentions six of them. The seventh seal does not come until Revelation 8:1-2.

Division of the Seals

The seal judgments of Revelation 6 are divided into two completely different categories.

The First Four Seals

The Last Three Seals

The first four are delivered by men on horses. The men are angels who serve as instruments of divine wrath and judgment.

Each one of the men sat on a different colored horse (red, white, black and green one). Each color is symbolic of the kind of judgment that each seal represents.

No mention of any horses or horsemen
The first four are associated with one of the four living creatures from Revelation 4 & 5. The last three do not mention any of the living creatures
The setting of the first four judgments is on earth. Terrible things take place on earth after the opening of the first four seals. The setting of the last three judgments is in heaven. The martyrs in heaven pray during the fifth seal. The sixth seal mentions all kinds of cosmic disturbances in the heavens (sun, moon, stars, sky) and when we get to the seventh seal, there is silence in heaven for a half an hour.
The first four judgments are more providential. In the first four judgments God is not so much pouring out his judgment in people as allowing sinners to destroy themselves.

Military conquest leads to war. When one country wants to take over and conquer another country, the result is war. War leads to poverty and poverty leads to death.

Although not all of the first four seals are man-made disasters. You also have famine and pestilence in the first four seals.

The last three are more supernatural (especially the sixth seal)

Revelation 6 is very similar to Matthew 24. All scholars agree on is the fact that. This chapter is very similar to the Olivet Discourse. They describe similar events (cf. Matthew 24:1-15, 25-30). They are not exactly the same.

The Olivet Discourse does not mention the Four Horsemen. Jesus does not mean a pale, red, green or a black horse. Revelation 6 does not mention the Abomination of Desolation but there are so many similarities that they clearly refer to the same event.

Matthew 24

Revelation 6

The Olivet Discourse predicts war and rumors of war. Jesus predicted this to be the second sign of the end of the age in Matthew 24 with “nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:4-6). The second seal of Revelation is war (6:2).
The Olivet Discourse mentions famine (Matthew 24:7). The third seal is famine (6:5-6).
The Olivet Discourse mentions pestilence. “There will be . . . pestilences and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:7-8). The fourth seal is death which comes from the sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts of the earth (6:8). The fourth seal is death which comes from the sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts of the earth (6:8).
The Olivet Discourse mentions martyrdom. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9-10). The fifth seal is martyrdom (6:9-11).
The Olivet Discourse was divided into two parts – the beginning of sorrows or birth pangs (24:8) and the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21). The six seals are divided into two parts – the first four (four horsemen) and the last three.
The signs get progressively worse, staring off with simple birth pangs and progress to the greatest period of suffering on the planet “since the beginning of the world until now.”

The suffering of the Tribulation Period will be worse the suffering of the Holocaust. The holocaust killed one out of every three Jews. The Great Tribulation will kill two out of every three Jews (Zechariah 13:8). Jesus said, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive” (Matthew 24:22)

The seals get progressively worse. They start off with a man riding a white horse and culminate in a suffering that is so bad that people are crawling under mountains and caves and are seeking death. They prefer death to life under the judgment of God.

The Olivet Discourse mentions cosmic signs – “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29).

The sixth seal mentions cosmic signs. “The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth” (6:12-14).

Jesus called this period “the Great Tribulation” (Matthew 24:21). That term comes from Daniel. Daniel was the first to mention “the Great Tribulation” (Daniel 12:1). This period is also called “The Great Tribulation”.

The martyrs of chapter 6 who died in this period are said in Revelation 7:14 to have come out of the “Great Tribulation”. That means that at least by the time of the fifth seal, we are dealing with the Great Tribulation.  There are two ways to interpret the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

View One: The Four Horsemen are Past or Present

Some believe that Revelation 6 describes something that has already taken place yet. They believe that the four horsemen already come.

Many of the signs of the end of the age have already taken place. They have already been fulfilled. They are not future. James MacDonald believes this, as do many others. They would argue that these events are taking place right now or were even fulfilled in the past. What do they base this on?

1) We have wars today.

They are not limited to the Tribulation Period. The second seal removes peace from the earth and there is little peace in the world today, even with the United Nations. We have had many wars all over the planet. We have even had world wars.

2) We have had all kinds of great earthquakes in our day.

We have had famines. You can go on the Internet and find a long list of famines throughout history and that list is not even complete.

3) We have had all kinds of pestilences in our history (Bubonic Plague, small pox, influenza, measles, mumps, AIDS, etc.).

4) We have had all kinds of martyrs in the last 2000 years.

We have had 45 million Christians martyred in the 20th century alone. Two-thirds of all Christian martyrs were martyred in the twentieth century alone.

5) We have had all kinds of natural disasters in our day.

Hurricane Katrina killed 1838 in four states in 2005. A tsunami in 2004, which estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs (according to the U.S. Geological Survey), killed 230,000 people in fourteen countries. None of these disasters are limited to the Tribulation Period.

View Two: The Four Horsemen Are Future

Others would argue that John is talking primarily about the future. They believe that the four horsemen have NOT come yet. They would divide the Tribulation Period into two parts – the Tribulation and the Great Tribulation.

The Four Horsemen and the Beginning of Birth Pangs would be the first half of the Tribulation Period. The Great Tribulation is the second half of the Tribulation.

They would say that events like poverty, hunger, war and pestilence have taken place in the past and are taking place right now but will take place on a much greater scale in the Tribulation Period.

There may have been a partial fulfillment but there will be a complete fulfillment in the future. It is the idea of double fulfillment or near/far fulfillment.

God promised King Ahaz a sign in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

The Virgin Birth of Christ eight hundred years later could not have been a sign to King Ahaz. There must have been a partial fulfillment of these words in Isaiah’s day but a compete fulfillment in the Virgin Birth. Why do some believe that these seals have yet to be fulfilled?

1) John is writing about future events.

We see this in Revelation 4:1.  He is not writing about historical events or things which happened in the first century.

2) John is not just describing natural events

John is not describing the destructive forces of nature.  He is not describing ordinary natural disasters that are a part of human history and have been going on for thousands of years.

Instead, he is describing disasters that are a manifestation of divine judgment.   The first time the word “wrath” occurs in the Book of Revelation is in Revelation 6. It is a period of God’s wrath (6:16-17). These judgments are severe and worldwide (cf. 3:10).

3) Many of the events he describes have not taken place yet

One-fourth of the earth’s population has NOT been killed (6:7-8).  This has never taken place. World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed in that battle. That sounds like a huge number. It was a lot more than World War I which only killed 10 million but 60 million was only a little over 2.5% of the world population, nowhere close to 25%.

The Bubonic Plague in Europe during the 1300s killed twenty million people at once. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe’s population but that is only about 11% of the world population.

The Sun has NOT become black and the Moon has NOT become red like blood (6:12). The Sun does become black during a solar eclipse. The Moon does turn a little red during a typical lunar eclipse but no one is afraid of a lunar or solar eclipse. This is more of an end-time apocalyptic event, than a common scientific occurrence.

The heavens have NOT receded like a scroll (6:14). Every mountain and island has NOT moved out of its place (6:14).

The kings of the earth, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else have NOT hid in caves and mountains out of sheer fright and have NOT called on the mountains and the rocks to fall on them to hide them from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (6:12-17).

Next week, we will look in more detail at the six seals in the chapter and how they apply to us today. We will find out who the rider of the white horse is and what practical lessons we can learn from Revelation 6.

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