Understanding Revelation Part 4: The Seals

Revelation 4

Chapters 6-7: The Seals

Missed any previous posts? Get caught up:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

So far we have addressed the churches this book is written to and we have seen how powerful Jesus is and how worthy he is of worship. Now we started getting into the judgments. This is where the book starts to get dark, so let’s jump in. As always, it would be helpful to read chapters 6-7 along with this post.

The Four Horsemen

This is one of the most well known parts of the book. We saw earlier that Jesus alone was worthy to remove the seals from the scroll and the one who opens the scroll will carry out what is written inside. Christ is about to bring judgment.

Background: This vision is modeled straight out of the Old Testament, like most things in this book are. Read Zechariah 1:8-17 and Zechariah 6:1-8. The riders in Zechariah’s vision came to bring judgment to Babylon and Egypt. The riders we read about in Revelation do the same thing but for Rome.

The White Horse: This rider has a bow in his hand. In the Old Testament that represents Military Power. (See Jeremiah 51:56, Hosea 1:5, Psalm 46:9). Many people say this rider is Jesus, but I don’t think so. I think this image would have immediately struck fear in any Roman. Here’s why. At this time, the enemy Rome feared most was Parthia. In A.D. 62 something happened that had never happened before. A Roman army actually surrendered to the king of the Parthians. This freaked the Romans out and they feared an invasion from the east where Parthia was located. Oh by the way…The Parthians were known for riding white horses and were the most famous bowmen in the world.

The Red Rider: This rider is said to take peace from the world. Rome was known for bringing a time of peace to the world. Maybe you have heard of the Pax Romana. In the Old Testament, God’s judgment is often symbolized as a loss of peace. What’s more interesting is that a major reason for the fall of Rome was due to many civil wars that took place.

The Black Horse: This horse represents famine and tough times economically. The balance in his hand is for weighing food. We see a judgment of famine and bad economy coming to Rome.

The Pale Horse: The Greek world here that is translated as pale is “chloros” which means yellow-green or livid. This horse represents disease and epidemic. Here is a question: why do only a quarter perish? This judgment is not final or complete. There are still many more to come.

Important Note: So far these seals mimic the Old Testament. Ezekiel 14 describes God’s judgment against Jerusalem as sword, famine, and disease. Leviticus 26 shows the penalties for disobedience as sword, disease, and famine. John is using traditional images to describe God’s judgment. We should not get lost in trying to tie real historical events to every judgment we will see in this book. Most, if not all, are symbolic. The point is that God is going to judge Rome.

The “BIG” Question

Now that we have seen the four horsemen, the focus moves back to the people of God. We see an altar with people who have been killed for witnessing for Christ. Then the BIG question is raised. I would call this question our key to understanding this book. We read

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?”

The book of Revelation is an answer to this question. And what is the answer for right now? Wait…a bit…but not long.

The Sixth Seal

When this seal is opened we see more language of judgment. These are phrases that were used in the Old Testament to describe judgment against Assyria, Egypt, Edom, and other enemies of God. Wait! So all of this wording has been seen before? Yep!

  • Burning fire – Isaiah 34:9
  • Sun and Moon going dark – Joel 2:31, Amos 8:9, Isaiah 13 and 50, Matthew 24:29…(if this were literal we would have lost the sun and moon many times already)
  • Stars falling – Isaiah 34:4, Psalm 102: 25-26
  • God used the same language of judgment against the Babylonians. They came and went; yet the stars still remain in the sky. This language was not meant to be taken literal then and we should not take it literally here either. God is judging Rome here just as he judged Babylon, Edom, Egypt, Assyria, Judah, and Israel in the Old Testament.

Let’s Take a Break

Chapter 7 takes a little break between seal six and seven. This chapter is used to bring comfort to the church and reinforce that they would have victory in Jesus. Chapter 6 ends by asking the question “who can survive the wrath of God?” This chapter answers that question.

We start by seeing God holding back his judgments for a second so he can seal his faithful. Some of those suffering persecution may have wondered if God had forgotten about them. Revelation was written to remind them he had not. This chapter does just that. God marks his people to remind them he knows who they are. However, as in Ezekiel 9, we are not talking about physical protection, we are talking about spiritual deliverance. The kind that truly matters.

The 144,000

Stick with me; we are going to have a math lesson. But first, some symbol explanations from scripture

  • 12 – God’s people (12 patriarchs, 12 tribes, 12 apostles)
  • 10 – number of completeness (10 fingers, 10 toes)
  • 3 – number of divinity (think the trinity)

Ok so how do we get 144,000? Take 12×12 (the completeness of God’s people) and get 144. Take 10x10x10 (complete divinity) and get 1000. Now multiply the two numbers together. Can you see how much symbolism is wrapped up in this number? This is a beautiful symbol of all of God’s people protected by the power of His divinity. This number is the Church.

Why are they called Israelites? Israel is the original name for God’s people. It means “He who prevailed with God”. What a perfect name for this situation.

Wrap it Up Please

Ok fine, just a few final things. Revelation 7:9-12 is written to model the Feast of the tabernacles. This feast looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. In Revelation we are doing the same thing.

We see this group of people dressed in white and the question is asked, “Who are these?” We see they are those who have come out of the great tribulation. People who died from Roman persecution. Are they depressed? Are they in despair? No! They rejoice! They stand before God’s throne and he wipes every tear from their eye.

Next Week – Part 5: Judgments