What book is this?

The book sealed with seven seals

In Revelation 5 Jesus receives from God a book sealed with seven seals. What is this book, when did He receive it, why is only Jesus able to open the book, and why did He not open the book immediately?

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the book of Revelation.

Italics are used for quotes; not for emphasis.

Summary

The seven seals in Revelation 4 to 7 is one of the seven main divisions of the book of Revelation.

In Revelation 4 John is called up to heaven, where he saw God’s throne; symbol of God’s authority over the universe.  God is described rather vaguely becauseno man has seen or can seeGod (1Ti 6:16).

Around God’s throne were 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones.  They are interpreted in this article as human beings.  Their task is to judge.

Seven lamps—“which are the seven Spirits of God”—burn before the throne (4:5).  The number seven is a symbol, meaning from beginning to end.  Through His Spirit, God is always with us.

This chapter shows the joyous worship of the four living beings and the 24 elders.

While Revelation 4 presents a continuous state, Revelation 5 presents a special event in which “every created thing” (5:13) is gathered around God’s throne to see the Lamb taking the sealed book.  This sealed book is a symbol of concealed information, causing much sorrow in heaven.  But then Jesus arrives at the Father’s throne and it is announced that He “overcome so as to open the book” (5:5), causing much joy around the throne.

This event, when Jesus received the sealed book, was when He was exalted or glorified at His father’s right hand at His ascension, about 40 days after the Cross.  This is indicated by the following:

  • The New Testament often indicates that Jesus, at His ascension, was exalted at the Father’s right hand, and in Revelation 5 He took the sealed book from God’s right hand.
  • Jesus appears as a slain Lamb.
  • Jesus appeared “in the midst of the throne” (5:6 KJV).
  • He became worthy to open the book because He overcame.  “Overcame” is what He did during His life on earth.  According to 3:21 He sat down with His Father on His Father’s throne after He overcame.
  • In Revelation 4 the Holy Spirit is before the throne. But when Jesus appears in Revelation 5, His Holy Spirit has been “sent out into all the earth” (5:6) , apparently a reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

In the dispensational approach Revelation 4:1 is the rapture, and Revelation 5 therefore refers to an event after the rapture.  According to the arguments above, the dispensational view is incorrect.

The Cross gave Christ the authority to open the book, and He received the book immediately after His ascension, but He did not open the book immediately. The Cross did not open the book.  Revelation 6 describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the seals.

The sealed book is the book of life, which indicates who will live and who will die.  This is indicated by the following:

  • Jesus purchased for God with His blood men from every nation and consequently became worthy to open the sealed book (5:9). The sealed book is therefore about redemption.
  • The book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8) and “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27), linking it directly to Revelation 5, where a slain Lamb receives a book (5:6, 9).
  • The sixth seal will be opened at “the great day of their wrath” (6:17; 8:1), which is the return of Christ, which means that one seal remains to be opened after the return of Christ. The book of life will also only be opened in the final great judgment (20:12)—one thousand years after the return of Christ (20:7).  Both books are therefore opened after the return of Christ.

Series of articles

This is the first article in a series on the seven seals.  These articles, which will also explain the relationship of the seals to other parts of Revelation, are:

  1. Introduction (this article), which identifies the book and defines the historical starting point of the seals;
  2. The sixth seal, identified with the seventh plague and as the great day of God’s wrath at the return of Christ;
  3. The fifth seal, identifying the plagues as the revenge requested by the souls under the altar;
  4. The sealing of the 144000; who are they, when are they sealed and for what purpose?
  5. The first four seals, identified as the experience of God’s people;
  6. Why questions; asking why was the book sealed?  Why was Jesus not “worthy” before the cross to open the book?  Why is the book only opened 1000 years after Christ’s return?
  7. Summary

Main Divisions of Revelation

The main divisions of Revelation are:

  1. The seven letters in chapters 1 to 3;
  2. The seven seals in chapters 4 to 7 including 8:1;
  3. The seven trumpets in chapters 8 to 11
  4. The seven wars in chapters 12 to 14
  5. The seven plagues in chapters 15 to 19 (*)
  6. The millennium in chapter 20
  7. The new heaven and new earth in the last two chapters

(*) Babylon receives God’s fierce wrath in the seventh trumpet at the end of Revelation 16 (16:17-19).  Revelation 17, 18 and 19:1-10 are an interlude that explains the origin, nature and end of Babylon.  The return of Christ is described in the latter half of Revelation 19 (19:11-20:3), and therefore chronologically follows immediately after the plagues of Revelation 16.  Stated differently, the plagues conclude with the return of Christ.  For more information on the relationship of the plagues to the return of Christ, see Return of Christ in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 4

The first three chapters of Revelation focus on the church on earth, but in 4:1 John saw “a door standing open in heaven”, and hears the invitation:

Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.

God’s throne – This shifts the focus away from earth to heaven and away from John’s time to a different time.  In heaven John saw God’s throne.  A throne is a symbol of authority.  God’s throne symbolizes His authority over the universe. God’s throne is mentioned many times in Revelation—in 16 of the 22 chapters.  In Revelation 4 everything is described relative to the throne:

  • 24 elders sit on 24 thrones around the throne (4:4)
  • Out from the throne come lightning, sounds and thunder (4:5)
  • Before the throne there was something like a sea of glass (4:6).
  • In the center and around the throne are four living creatures (4:6).

In Revelation the throne often signifies God.  For instance, “a loud voice … from the throne” (16:17) means that God speaks, and to stand “before the throne” (7:9) means to stand before God.

God Jesus is described in detail in Revelation (1:13-18), but God is described rather vaguely in Revelation 4 (4:3).  God created everything that can be seen and cannot be described in terms of things that can be seen.  God does not exist somewhere in the universe.  The universe exists somewhere within God:

“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Ti 6:16).

24 elders – John also saw 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones around the throne, clothed in white and with golden crowns on their heads (4:4).  Some believe these elders are a special class of angels, but for the following reasons it is proposed here that they are humans:

  • The title “elder” is never used in the Bible for angels—only for humans.
  • The Bible never says that angels will sit on God’s throne, but humans will (3:21).
  • The elders have stephanos-crowns on their heads, which is used in Revelation as the crown of the overcomer—or the crown of life (9:7; 2:10; 3:11; 12:1; 4:4; 6:2; 12:1; 14:14).
  • The number 24 is derived from the number 12, which is the number of God’s people. The New Jerusalem has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (21:12).  It also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (21:14).  The number of the sealed is 144000 (7:4), which is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000.

For these reasons the 24 elders probably are human beings.  They might be the beings to whom the responsibility for judgment is given in Daniel 7:9, 10, 26 and in Revelation 20:4.

The number seven Seven lamps—“which are the seven Spirits of God”—burn before the throne (4:5).  God does not literally have seven Spirits.  The number seven must be interpreted symbolically.  It originates from the seven days of the week, is mentioned 56 times in Revelation, and is interpreted as a symbol for ‘the full period’.  Many of the sevens in Revelation are different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stands in chronological sequence to each other—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh as the last or end.  The same cannot be said of the other important numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10 and 12.  The number seven therefore has to do with time, and should be understood as completion or perfection of time—the full period.  The seven Spirits of God therefore perhaps symbolize that He is present from the beginning to the end.

Worship Before the throne is a sea of glass (4:6).  In the center and around the throne are four living creatures; full of eyes in front and behind (4:6-7).  They ceaselessly say (4:8):

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come.

One may think that continual worship is boring, but to be in the presence of God is an extremely emotional experience, because God is the most emotional Being in the universe.  To be in His presence is the highest joy possible.

When the living creatures give glory to Him who lives forever and ever (4:9), the 24 elders fall down and worship Him, saying (4:10-11):

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.

Revelation 5

Specific EventWhile Revelation 4 presents a continuous state, Revelation 5 presents a special event in which “every created thing” (5:13) is gathered around God’s throne to see the Lamb taking the sealed book.

Sealed book –  John saw, in the right hand of God, a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals (5:1).  This is not a real literal book.  A book is a symbol of knowledge and a sealed book is a symbol of concealed information—something that is not understood.  Daniel was similarly told “seal up the book until the end of time” (Daniel 12:4) and “these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time” (v9).

Sorrow in heaven At first nobody is “worthy” to open the book (5:2-3), and John began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book (5:4).  John’s tears represent the sorrow of the entire universe.  We see the universal nature of the sorrow when Jesus arrives at God’s throne and, by taking the book, converts the sorrow to joy throughout the universe (5:8-14).  The sorrow therefore represents the time before the Cross, when no one was able to open the book.

Worthy – John saw a “Lamb …  as if slain” (5:6), and heard “one of the elders” say that Jesus “overcome so as to open the book” (5:5).  Then John saw, around the throne, millions and millions of angels (5:11), saying with a loud voice (5:12):

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.

Then John heard every created being say:

To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (5:13).

At His Ascension

Revelation 5 depicts a special and critically important heavenly meeting, as indicated by the millions and millions of angels looking on (5:11) and by the interest of “every created thing” (5:12).  They are gathered to see Jesus receive the sealed book from God.  For the reasons provided below, this was when Jesus was exalted at His Father’s right hand at His ascension (12:5), about 40 days after the Cross:

FIRST: He appears as a slain Lamb, which implies that the event described by Revelation 5 followed immediately after He was slain.

Jesus is described as a “Lamb, as if slain” (5:6) and the beings in heaven said to Him, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain” (5:8-9). 

SECOND: He earned the right to open the book because He overcame, and therefore logically received the book immediately after He overcame.

In Revelation 5 Jesus is declared worthy to receive and open the book because He overcame:

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5).

The “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” is Jesus.  He overcame on earth, as a human being (3:21).  Since He overcame during His earthly life, He logically received the book immediately after the end if His earthly life.

THIRD: He appears on God’s throne; on God’s right hand, which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

The New Testament frequently mentions that Jesus was glorified at the Father’s right hand at His ascension to heaven, for instance:

when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority“ (Eph. 1:20-22; cf. Acts 2:32-36; Rom. 8:34; Hebr.  8:1; Acts 5:30-31; Phil 2:6-11; Col 3:1; Hebr. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:21-22; Rev. 3:21). 

In Revelation 5 we see Jesus at the Father’s “right hand”:

The NASB reads that the book is in the Father’s right hand (5:1), but this can also be translated as “on” (epi Strong G1909) God’s right hand.  The point is that, to receive the book, Jesus had to take up His position at the right hand of God. 

In Revelation 5 we also see Him sitting on the Father’s throne:

Jesus appears “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts” (5:6 KJV).  The four living beings are “in the center and around the throne” (4:6).  Jesus therefore appears at the center of the throne. 

In Revelation 5 Jesus is furthermore glorified.  He is—along with God—praised by “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them” (5:13).

Revelation 5 is therefore very similar to the statements elsewhere in the New Testament, that Jesus was glorified and seated at the Father’s right hand when He ascended to heaven.

FOURTH: His appearance on God’s throne sent out the Spirit of God into all the earth as His eyes (5:6), which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

The New Testament links Jesus’s glorification at the Father’s right hand to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, about ten days after His ascension:

for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

In Revelation 4 “the seven Spirits of God” are “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” (4:5).  But in Revelation 5, when the Lamb appears on the throne, “the seven Spirits of God” are said to have been “sent out into all the earth” (5:6), apparently a reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  This links the outpouring of the Spirit to the event described by Revelation 5.

In summary, for the following reasons the event described in Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement at His ascension to heaven:

  • He appears as a slain Lamb, which implies that the event described by Revelation 5 followed immediately after He was slain.
  • He earned the right to open the book because He overcame, and therefore logically received the book immediately after He overcame.
  • He appears on God’s throne; on God’s right hand, which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.
  • His appearance on God’s throne sent out the Spirit of God into all the earth as His eyes (5:6), which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

Rapture – In the dispensational approach 4:1 is the rapture, and Revelation 5 therefore refers to an event after the rapture.  This seems to do an injustice to the text, and cannot be supported by Revelation 5.  The following are some further reasons for not agreeing with the view that 4:1 is the rapture:

  • The interpretation of 4:1, where John is called “Come up here”, as the rapture of the Church, rests on very slender evidence. It is much more likely that 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called “Come up here“, represents the rapture of the church. 
  • The purpose of John’s ascension to heaven in 4:1 is not to rescue the church from tribulation, but, as explicitly stated, to show John “what must take place after these things” (4:1).
  • In 10:1 John sees an angel coming down from heaven. He therefore is again or still on earth.  John represents the church when he receives the little book (Revelation 10).  The church is therefore still on earth in Revelation 10.

Judgment at Christ’s return – Many understand Revelation 5 as the judgment prior to Christ’s return to the earth, as in Daniel 7, but:

  • No books are opened in Revelation 5, as in Daniel 7:16. Jesus is praised for taking the book, but He does not open it in Revelation 5.  The books are only opened in 20:12.
  • We find no typical judgment language (judge, avenge) in Revelation 5. Such language we only find in the second half of Revelation (except for the fifth seal—but this is only a request for judgment).
  • If Revelation 5 was the judgment before Christ’s return, then Revelation 6 would have been His return, but, as discussed below, the first five seals represent the history of the Church.

Still sealed – The Cross gave Christ the authority to open the book, and He received the book immediately after His ascension, but He did not open the book immediately. The Cross did not open the book.  Revelation 6 describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the seals.

The Book of Life

Many books will be opened in the last judgment, one thousand years after the return of Christ (19:11-20:12).  The book of life is one of these books (20:12).  It contains the names of the saved (Ps. 69:28; Ph. 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27).  It indicates who will live and who will die (21:2, 27; 20:14-15):

and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it (the holy city, new Jerusalem), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.   This is the second death, the lake of fire.

A fundamental concept, which will greatly influence the interpretation of the seals, is that the sealed book, which Jesus receives in Revelation 5, is the book of life.  This statement is justified as follows:

Both the sealed book and the book of life are about redemption. God’s Lamb was slain, with two consequences.  The first is that He purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).  The second and subsequent consequence is that He is considered worthy to open the sealed book (5:9).  This context indicates that the sealed book is about redemption, and therefore could easily be the book of life, which contains the names of God’s redeemed people (20:15).

The book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8) and “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27), linking it directly to Revelation 5, where a slain Lamb receives a book (5:6, 9).

The book’s sixth seal will only be opened at “the great day of their wrath” (6:17), which is the return of Christ, which means that even then one seal remains to be opened. The book of life will also only be opened in the final great judgment (20:12)—one thousand years after the return of Christ, which is described in Revelation 19:11 and following.  Both books are therefore opened after the return of Christ.

Conclusion

In Revelation 5 we read about sadness in heaven due to a sealed book, which nobody is able to open.  A sealed book symbolizes concealed information.  It was concluded above that the sealed book is the book of life.  The concealed information is therefore the names of the people that will receive eternal life (20:14-15).  The questions remain, why was this information concealed, and why did the fact that it was sealed cause so much sorrow?

After the sorrow was mentioned, Christ appears on the Father’s throne in the form of a slain Lamb (5:6), and we are told that He “has overcome” (5:5).  It was concluded above that the heavenly meeting in Revelation 5 describes what happened when He ascended to heaven, 40 days after the Cross.  As Jesus said “I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).  He was slain when He died on the Cross.  The sorrow therefore refers to the time prior to the Cross.  He overcame Satan’s temptation by being faithful to God, even to death.  In this way he purchased men from all nations for God (5:9).  These things are not new to us, but we would like to ask: How did His faithfulness purchase men for God?  Why was it necessary for Him to die?

What Revelation 5 further adds is that, because Jesus overcame, and because He was slain and purchased men for God with His blood, He became worthy to open the sealed book (5:5, 9).  We might have expected Him to open the book immediately, but He does not open the book in Revelation 5.  The seven seals are things that prevent the book from being read, and they are only broken in Revelation 6.  This is a bit strange, for it means that, although He bought people for God with His blood, something else must still happen before it will be known who those people are.  We may also ask what things prevent the book from being read, and why was He not worthy to open the book before He was slain?  The seven seals are broken by the happenings described in Revelation 6.  Only after those things happened will we know the names of the saved.  We will next investigate Revelation 6 with these questions in mind.

TO: General Table of Contents

Overview of the Seven Seals

1.  OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT

MAIN DIVISION OF REVELATION

The main divisions of Revelation are:

  1. The seven letters in chapters 1 to 3;
  2. The seven seals in chapters 4 to 7 including 8:1;
  3. The seven trumpets in chapters 8 to 11
  4. The seven wars in chapters 12 to 14
  5. The seven plagues in chapters 15 to 19 (*)
  6. The millennium in chapter 20
  7. The new heaven and new earth in the last two chapters

(*) Babylon receives God’s fierce wrath in the seventh trumpet at the end of Revelation 16 (16:17-19).  Revelation 17, 18 and the first part of Revelation 19 is an interlude that explains the origin, nature and end of Babylon.  The return of Christ described in the latter half Revelation 19 (19:11-20:3) therefore chronologically follows immediately after the plagues of Revelation 16.  Or, stated differently, the plagues conclude with the return of Christ.

REVELATION 4

The first three chapters of Revelation focus on the church on earth, but in 4:1 John is invited:

“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”

God’s throne – This shifts the focus away from earth to heaven and away from John’s time to a different time.  In heaven John is shown God’s throne room.  A throne is a symbol of kingly authority.  God’s throne symbolizes His authority over the universe.  It is mentioned many times in Revelation—in 16 of the 22 chapters.  In Revelation 4 everything is described relative to the throne:

    • 24 elders sit on 24 thrones around the throne (4:4)
    • Out from the throne come lightning, sounds and thunder (4:5)
    • Before the throne there was something like a sea of glass (4:6).
    • In the center and around the throne are four living creatures (4:6).

In Revelation the throne often signifies God.  For instance, “a loud voice … from the throne” (16:17) means that God speaks and to stand “before the throne” (7:9) means to stand before God.

24 elders – Revelation 4 also describes 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones around the throne, clothed in white and with golden crowns on their heads (4:4).  Some believe these elders are a special class of angels, but for the following reasons it is proposed here that they are humans:

    • The title “elder” is never used in the Bible for angels—only for humans.
    • The Bible never says that angels will sit on God’s throne, but humans will (3:21).
    • The elders have stephanos-crowns on their heads, which is used in Revelation as the crown of the overcomer—or the crown of life (9:7; 2:10; 3:11; 12:1; 4:4; 6:2; 12:1; 14:14).
    • The number 24 is derived from the number 12, which is the number of God’s people.  The New Jerusalem has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (21:12).  It also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (21:14).  The number of the sealed is 144000 (7:4), which is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000.

For these reasons the 24 elders are probably a symbol for the saints from all dispensations.

The number seven Seven lamps—which are the seven Spirits of God—burn before the throne (4:5).  God does not literally have seven Spirits.  The number seven must be interpreted symbolically.  The number seven originates from the seven days of the week.  It is often used (mentioned 56 times) in Revelation as a symbol for “the full period”.  Many of the sevens in Revelation are different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stands in chronological sequence to each other—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh as the last or end.  The same cannot be said of the other important numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10 and 12.  The number seven therefore has to do with time, and should be understood as completion or perfection of time—the full period.  The seven Spirits of God therefore symbolize that He will always be with us.

Before the throne is a sea of glass (4:6).  In the center and around the throne are four living creatures; full of eyes in front and behind (4:6-7).  They ceaselessly say:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come (4:8).

God Jesus is described in detail in Revelation (1:13-18), but God is described rather vaguely in Revelation 4 (4:3).  God created everything and cannot be described in terms of things that can be seen.  God does not exist somewhere in the universe.  The universe exists somewhere within God.  He cannot be seen:

who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (1Ti 6:16)

Worship – One may think that continual worship is boring, but to be in the presence of God is an extremely emotional experience, because God is the most emotional Being in the universe.  To be in His presence is the highest joy possible.

When the living creatures give glory to Him who lives forever and ever (4:9), the 24 elders will fall down and will worship Him, saying (4:10):

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created (4:11).

REVELATION 5

Specific Event – While Revelation 4 presents a continuous state, Revelation 5 presents a special event in which the whole universe is gathered in God’s throne room to see the Lamb take the sealed book.

Sealed book – The first verse says that John saw, in the right hand of God, a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals (5:1).  It is not a real literal book.  A book is a symbol of knowledge and a sealed book is a symbol of hidden knowledge—something that is not understood (Dan 12:4, 9).

Sorrow in heaven At first nobody is “worthy” to open the book (5:2-3), and John began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book (5:4).  John’s tears represent the sorrow of the whole universe.  We see the universal nature of the sorrow when Jesus, by taking the book, converts the sorrow to joy throughout the universe (5:8-14).  The sorrow represents the time before the Cross, when no one could open the book, but then it is announced:

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals (5:5).

Christ’s authority – John then saw a Lamb, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth standing “in the midst of the throne” (KJV).  The Lamb then took the book (5:7).  Then the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (5:8), and sang a new song:

Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth. (5:9-10)

This makes it clear that Revelation 5 describes what happened in heaven after Christ’s ascension, namely that He received the sealed scroll.

Then John saw—around the throne—millions and millions of angels (5:11), saying with a loud voice:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. (5:12)

Then John heard every created being say:

To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever. (5:13)

At this point in time the book is still sealed.  This meeting occurs after the Cross, but the Cross did not open the book. In Revelation 6 the Lamb breaks open the seals one by one.  Each time that He opens a seal in heaven, something happens on earth.

REVELATION 6

The first four seals are brief:

When the Lamb broke the first seal (6:1) John saw a white horse.  He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer (6:2).

When He broke the second seal a red horse went out.  To him who sat on it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. (6:3-4)

When He broke the third seal John saw a black horse.  He who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.  Then John heard voice in the center of the four living creatures announcing high prices for wheat and barley and scarcity of oil and wine, indicating famine. (6:5-6)

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, John saw an ashen horse.  The name of the rider was Death; and Hades was following with him.  Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, pestilence and by wild beasts.  The fourth seal therefore seems to overlap in meaning with the bloodshed of the second seal and the famine of the third seals. (6:7-8)

The next two seals are much longer and therefore more important.  When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, John saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained (6:9).  They cried out with a loud voice:

How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (6:10)

Souls underneath the altar – In the ancient Jewish temple there were two altars.  The very large altar of burnt offering was outside the temple and the altar of incense was inside.  In the ancient ceremonies the blood of the animals were poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering (Lev. 4:7; 8:15; 9:9). This here becomes a symbol of God’s slain people, represented as the souls underneath the altar.  This symbol is also used in 16:6 where it is said that the people of the world “poured out” the blood of God’s people.

The souls under the altar cry out for revenge.  Because they are dead, this should not be understood as the request of God’s people.  They will only come to life when Jesus returns (20:4, 5).  This cry of the martyrs should rather be understood as similar to the blood of Abel, calling to God for revenge (Gen 4:10).

But the souls under the altar were told to wait.  To each of them was given a white robe and they were told:

rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also (6:11)

White Robes – The “white robes”—a sign of redemption—given to these dead saints, implies a judgment.  The passive sentence structure (given) indicates that God gives them these white robes.  In Zechariah’s visions “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel” (Zech. 3:3).  This is “the angel of the LORD” (Zech. 3:1) which is a name for Jesus in the Old Testament.  (See the article Son of God for more detail.)  Then the angel said:

Remove the filthy garments from him. … See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes. (Zech. 3:3)

Final persecution – 6:11 also implies a period of persecution, because they have to wait for the completion of their brethren who were to be killed.  It will be a “time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Daniel 12:1).

The sixth seal is catastrophic.  When He broke the sixth seal there was a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth; the whole moon became like blood; the stars of the sky fell to the earth; the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places (6:12-14).  But the people of the world were not scared of these natural disasters, for they hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains and said to the mountains and to the rocks:

Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (6:15-17)

This is the “great day”—the Judgment Day—the return of Christ.  The sixth seal shows the people hiding.  But they will be killed at the return of Christ (14:20 and 19:21).

THE SEALING OF THE 144000

Interlude explains The sixth seal ends with chapter 6.  The seventh and last seal is only broken in 8:1.  Chapter 7 is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals to answer the question in the sixth seal:

“for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (6:17)

We see this structure, namely that something is mentioned briefly, and then the text goes back in time to explain it, often in Revelation.  For instance, the woman’s wilderness period is mentioned briefly in 12:6.  Then the text goes back in time to the War in Heaven (12:7-12) to explain why the woman had to flee to the wilderness.  Another example is mentioned above, namely that Babylon receives God’s fierce wrath in the seventh trumpet at the end of Revelation 16 (16:17-19).  Revelation 17, 18 and the first part of Revelation 19 is then an interlude that explains the origin, nature and end of Babylon.

Sealing of the 144,000 – The first part of the interlude in Revelation 7 is the sealing of the 144,000.  It starts with four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree (7:1).

Daniel saw “the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea and four great beasts were coming up from the sea” (Dan 7:2-3).  The beasts are kingdoms (Dan 7:17).  The sea is explained as “the earth” (Dan 7:17).  The sea and the earth in 7:1 represent therefore the peoples of the world (compare Rev. 12:12).  The winds therefore are things that cause upheaval and conflict among the peoples of the world:

I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four ends of heaven, and will scatter them to all these winds; and there will be no nation to which the outcasts of Elam will not go. (Jer 49:36)

The four angels holding back the four winds symbolize God holding back worldwide destruction.  God created all and is continually upholding all things.  Should He withdraw His protection and care, total destruction and chaos will be the consequence.

Then another angel ascended from the rising of the sun (the east), having the seal of the living God.  The rising of the sun frequently in the Bible refers to God.  For example, “the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east” (Ezek. 43:2).  The wise men saw the star in the east (Mat 2:2,9) and the sign of the Son of man will appear in the east (Mat 24:27-30).  The angel therefore brings the seal from God. God is called the “living God” because He has life in Himself (John 5:26).  We do not.  The life we have we received from Him.  Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

The angel from the east cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea (7:2):

Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we (the angels) have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads. (7:3)

144000 were sealed from the tribes of Israel (7:3)—12000 from each of the 12 tribes (7:5-8).

INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE

The second part of the interlude is the innumerable multitude.  While the 144000 are on earth, only from Israel, and precisely numbered, this multitude is in heaven, from every nation, and innumerable (7:9).  They stand before the throne and before the Lamb (7:9), apparently the answer to the question of the hiding multitude—“the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  They are clothed in white robes—similar to the white robes that slain saints received in the fifth seal.  As in Revelation 5, all the angels were standing around the throne, worshipping God.  One of the elders explained to John that those clothed in the white robes come out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.   For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple.  They will no longer hunger or thirst or suffer heat; for the Lamb will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. (7:14-17)

SEVENTH SEAL

Then the seals end with the last seal, which simply reads:

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (8:1)

2.          THE BOOK OF LIFE

Many books will be opened in the last judgment, one thousand years after the return of Christ (19:11-20:12).  The book of life is one of these books (20:12).  It contains the names of the saved (Ps. 69:28; Ph. 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27).  It indicates who will live and who will die:

and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it (the holy city, new Jerusalem), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (21:2, 27)

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (20:15)   This is the second death, the lake of fire (20:14).

A fundamental concept, which will greatly influence the interpretation of the seals, is that the sealed book which Jesus receives in Revelation 5 is the book of life.  This statement is justified as follows:

    • Both the sealed book and the book of life are about redemption.  God’s Lamb was slain, with two consequences.  The first is that He purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).  The second and subsequent consequence is that He is considered worthy to open the sealed book (5:9).  The context indicates that the sealed book is about redemption, and therefore easily could be the book of life, which contains the names of God’s redeemed people (20:15).
    • The book of life is called the book of the Lamb who has been slain (13:8; 21:27), which ties it to Revelation 5, where a slain Lamb receives a book (5:6, 9).
    • Both books are opened after the return of Christ.  The sealed book will only be opened after “the great day of their wrath” (6:17; 8:1), which is the return of Christ.  The book of life will also only be opened in the final great judgment (20:12)—one thousand years after the return of Christ, which is described in Revelation 19:11 and following.

3. THE SEALS DESCRIBE THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S PEOPLE

Another fundamental principle is that the primary concern of the seals is the people of God and their fate in a world that opposes the gospel.  Consider all the references to God’s people:

    • Introduction – The key concept in the introduction to the seals in Revelation 4 and 5 is the Lamb (5:8) receiving a sealed book of life (13:8) because He was slain, “and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9).  This places the focus on God’s people.
    • First seal – The first seal is the word of God going out conquering and to conquer.  There are too many indications in the text that indicate that this seal is the gospel to ignore, such as the color white and the concept “overcome”.  (The word translated “conquer” is elsewhere translated “overcome”.)  Some interpret this as the antichrist appearing as an angel of light.  But that approach cannot be supported.  White in Revelation is consistently associated with God and His people (1:14; 2:17; 3:4, 5, 18; 4:4; 6:2, 11; 7:9, 13, 14; 14:14; 19:11, 14; 20:11).  The same applies to stephanos-crowns.  There are two types of crowns in Revelation.  The diadem is the crown of earthly rulers (12:3; 13:1), while stephanos is the crown of the overcomer—or the crown of life (9:7; 2:10; 3:11; 12:1; 4:4; 6:2; 12:1; 14:14).  If we cannot interpret something by comparing the symbols to each other in Revelation and the rest of the Bible, then we have no basis for interpretation at all.  Then we are all free to simply guess what the text may mean.
    • In the fifth sealthe souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” cry out for justice (6:9).
    • Seals two to four are described in general terms—sword, famine, pestilence, death—which could refer to both believers and non-believers.  But if the first seal is the gospel and the fifth shows God’s servants slain, then these seals must represent the experience of God’s people in the world.
    • The interlude starts the sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8) and shows the innumerable multitude eventually standing before the throne (7:9)—being the people that washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb (7:14).

In the sixth seal the non-believers try to hide from Him, but that is “the great day of their wrath” (6:17), which is the end of current world history.  Apart from that day, we do not specifically see non-believers anywhere in the seals.  The seals, in general, therefore describe the experience of God’s people.

4.  SEAL 7 IS THE LAST JUDGMENT

The seventh trumpet is devoid of action.  In a single verse it simply says there will be silence for half an hour in heaven (8:1).

Since nothing happens in the seventh seal, and since the seven trumpets follow immediately after the seventh seal, many believe that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets (8:1‑6).  This would mean that that the seven trumpets follow chronologically after the first six seals.  This view is not supported here.  Please read the article Please read the article Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?

The sixth seal is “the great day of their wrath” (6:17)—the return of Christ.  Further, just prior to the seventh seal the joy of the eternal state is described (7:15-17; compare 21:4; 21:1).  The seventh seal must therefore be after the Return of Christ.

With all seven seals broken, the book can be fully opened.  Since this is the book of life, which will only be opened in the final judgment, one thousand years after the return of Christ (20:12), the seventh seal is the judgment before the great white throne (20:12).

This is supported by the fact that the Old Testament associates silence with judgment:

Be silent … before the LORD; for He is aroused from His holy habitation (Zec 2:13).

The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him (Hab 2:20).

(He) caused judgment to be heard from heaven; The earth feared and was still when God arose to judgment, To save all the humble of the earth. Selah” (Psa 76:8-9).  See also Zep 1:7.

When Heaven falls silent; when all the singing, glorifying, and praising ceases, there will be a deep sense of foreboding.  The judgments, every righteous soul knows, must be formidable in the extreme, yet they will shudder in awe at the prospect of having to witness their administration.

5. SEAL 6 IS THE RETURN OF CHRIST.

In the 6th seal (6:12-17) a massive great earthquake moves every mountain and island out of its place.  The sun becomes black, the moon like blood and the stars fall to the earth.  The sky is split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up.  But the people of the world are not scared of this violent destruction, for something worse appears.  They hide in the caves and among the rocks and say to the mountains and to the rocks:

Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (6:16, 17)

The 6th seal is the Day of the Lord.

These signs in the sun, moon and stars, coupled with the phrase “the great day”, unmistakably identify the sixth seal as the well-known “day of the Lord”, also called “great day of the Lord” (Zeph. 1:14), “the day of the LORD’S wrath” (Zeph. 1:18), “the great and terrible day of the LORD” (Mal. 4:5) or simply the “great day” (Jude 1:6; Rev 16:14).

Joel describes the signs in the heavenly bodies on this day

“The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood.  (Joel 2:31; Act 2:20; compare Is. 13:10)

Peter adds destruction on earth:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)

Other references explain this day as “great and very awesome” (Joel 2:11); “a day of darkness and not light” (Amos 5:18, 20); a day of “destruction from the Almighty” (Joel 1:15; Isa 13:6).  Like in Revelation, ”the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts In the day of His burning anger” (Isa 13:13); “Men will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the LORD” (Isa 2:19) and Joel asks “who can endure” the day of the LORD? (Joel 2:11).

It is also a day of judgment (Jude 1:6).  On that day “Your dealings will return on your own head”, and there will be “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14).  As you have done, it will be done to you (Oba 1:15).  In it the warrior cries out bitterly (Zeph. 1:14).  It is a day of “fury and burning anger”, when God will exterminate sinners (Isa 13:9; Zeph. 1:18; 2:2).  It will come like a thief in the night (1Th 5:2; 2Pe 3:10).

The 6th seal is the return of Christ.

The sixth seal directly states that it is “the great day“ of the wrath “of Him who sits on the throne, and … of the Lamb” has come.  This implies that this is the return of Christ, which the New Testament also refers to as “the day of the Lord Jesus” (1Co 5:5).

A second indication that the sixth seal is the return of Christ is the signs in the sun, moon and stars.  In His explanations of the end of the age, Jesus linked the signs in the sun, moon and stars to His return:

But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.  And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.  (Mat 24:29-31)

A third argument that the sixth seal is the return of Christ is a bit more complex, because it uses the last two plagues to link the sixth seal to the description of the return of Christ in 19:11-21:

In the sixth plague the “spirits of demons” gather the kings of the whole world “together for the war of the great day of God” (16:14).  They gather them together at Armageddon (16:16).  In response, in the seventh plague, God gives Babylonthe cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).  The sixth plague is the preparation for the war and the seventh plague is the “war of the great day of God”; the seventh plague is Armageddon.

Now note the link between the sixth seal and these two plagues.  Firstly, apart from the sixth seal, the only other place in Revelation where the term “great day” appears, is in the sixth plague, where the kings of the world are gathered together at Armageddon for “the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14).  Secondly, in both the sixth seal and the seventh plague we see “a great earthquake”, causing islands and mountains to disappear.  It is therefore concluded that the sixth seal is the seventh plague.

Next, note that the last two plagues are linked to the return of Christ in 19:11-21: While the sixth plague is the gathering together of the kings of the whole world for the war of the great day of God, in the description of the return of Christ (19:11-21) the kings of the earth and their armies are gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.  As explained above, the verses between the plagues (Revelation 16) and the return of Christ (19:11-20) form an interlude to explain who the great city Babylon is.  It is therefore concluded that the sixth seal, the seventh plague and the return of Christ in 19:11-20 refer to the same event, namely the return of Christ.  This would mean that the sixth seal is Armageddon.  Armageddon is where the kings and armies of the world gather together to war against the Son of Man at His return.

On that day all “kings, … commanders, … mighty men and … and … all men” will be killed (19:18, 21; compare 14:19, 20), while “those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus” will “came to life” (20:4).

THE SIXTH SEAL IS THE SEPARATION

The multitude that hides from the presence of “Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” asks “who is able to stand?”  The answer is given in Revelation 7, where John “behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9).

Revelation 6 ends with the sixth seal and the seventh seal is only in Revelation 8.  It might therefore seem as if Revelation 7 is an interlude, but the description of the innumerable multitude before the throne actually is a continuation of and part of the 6th seal.  It is only 7:1-8, describing the sealing of the 144,000, which is an interlude.  (As interludes in Revelation always do, 7:1-8 jumps back in time to before the sixth seal, to explain what preceded it.  More is said about this below.)

The sixth seal is therefore the return of Christ, with the separation of the lost—hiding from the presence of God—and the saved—standing in joy before God.  After Jesus described His return in Mat 24:29-31, He continued to explain the consequences, and said:

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; (Mat 25:31-32)

6.  SEAL 5 IS THE SEALING

In the fifth seal (6:9-11) John saw God’s slain souls underneath the altar, crying out:

How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?

But they are told to wait.  Each of them is given a white robe and they are told that to “rest for a little while longer”.  They are told to wait until the number of their fellow servants who were to be killed would be completed (6:11).  The words “number of” do not appear in the original text, but is added by the NASB.

Compare this to the sealing—described after the sixth seal (7:1-8)—where John first saw four angels at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth, sea or trees.  Then another angel ascends from the east (the rising of the sun), having the seal of the living God and cry out to the four angels:

Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads. (7:3)

This is followed by the sealing of the 144000 (7:4).  It is proposed here that the sealing of the 144000 (7:1-4) is the same as the fifth seal, justified as follows:

A:  Both must precede the sixth seal.  The sealing must precede the sixth seal because the sixth seal is the return of Christ (6:16-17), and a sealing after the return of Christ does not make sense.  A separate article is devoted to show the many and clear indications that the events in Revelation are not chronological, but that the scenes jump forwards and backwards in time.

B:  Both refer to a mysterious point in human history by referring to the past, present and particularly to the future:

        • Seal 5 refers to the past when some of God’s people have been martyred.  In the present time white robes are given to the souls under the altar after.  In the future their brethren must be completed.
        • The sealing refers the past when four angels have been restraining the winds.  In the present time the seal of God is brought from the east.  In the future they will continue to restrain the winds until all of God’s servants are sealed.

C:  Both involve a delay until something happens to God’s people.  The slain souls are asked to wait a “little while longer”, while the release of the winds is delayed until the sealing is completed (7:1-3).

D:  Both complete the number of the saints (6:11; 7:3-4).  The word “number” is not found in the fifth seal, rather the verb plêrôthôsin which means “filled, completed, made full”.  The NASB adds “the number”.  The sealing also complete the number of the saints.

E:  In both a token of salvation is given to the saints—the white robe (6:11) and the seal (7:3).

F:  Both are followed by massive destruction.  The fifth seal is followed by the 6th seal, when a great earthquake displaces all mountains and islands.  The sealing is followed by the winds that “harm” the earth and sea and trees.

G:  Both are followed by the plaguesof Revelation 16.  This requires a slightly more involved logic, and therefore discussed in the next two sections.

7.  PLAGUES DELAYED UNTIL THE FIFTH SEAL IS COMPLETE

In the fifth seal the slain souls ask for judging and avenging:

“How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10)

But they are told to wait;

they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also (6:11)

What is delayed is the “judging and avenging”, but this does not refer to the last judgment before the white throne.  Rev 19:2 reads:

for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER

Note that all the key words from the fifth seal are mentioned in this verse—judge, avenge and His slain bond-servants.  But this verse describes the events before the return of Christ, because the return of Christ is only described as from 19:11.  The “her” in 19:2 refers to Babylon (18:21).  She is the one that killed God’s people—also in the fifth seal:

In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth (18:24).

Rev. 19:2 therefore refers the judgment on Babylon.  She is destroyed by the seventh plague (16:19).  The judging and avenging requested by God’s saints in the fifth seal is therefore granted in the plagues.  This is confirmed by the following statement in the plagues:

for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” (Rev 16:6)

The revenge that is delayed in the fifth seal is therefore the plagues, which implies that the plagues follow after the fifth plagues, which implies that the sixth seal includes the plagues.

The plagues are prior to the return of Christ, and therefore a long time before the last judgment one thousand years after the return of Christ (20:7. 11).

8. PLAGUES DELAYED UNTIL THE SEALING IS COMPLETE

For what purpose are the saints sealed, and when does the sealing end?  Revelation 13 describes the persecution of the people that do not have the mark of the beast while Revelation 16 describes the plagues on the people with the mark of the beast.  Logically the plagues follow after the persecution.  The question is therefore—does the sealing ends before or after the persecution?  Are God’s people sealed to prepare them for the persecution or are they sealed to prepare them for the plagues?

In Revelation 15—the introduction to the plagues—John first sees the seven angels with the seven plagues (15:1), then he sees the “those who had been victorious over the beast“ (15:2-4), then he sees the seven plague angels receiving the seven plagues in the temple (15:5-7), then access to the temple is blocked (15:8) and then the plagues are poured out (16:1) on the people with the mark of the beast (16:2).  Two groups of people are mentioned and contrasted here—the victorious” ones and the people with the mark of the beast (16:2).  These are the two camps into which the world will be divided at the start of the plagues.  There is no third “undecided” group.

The fact that the “victorious” are mentioned before the plagues are poured out implies that their number is complete at the start of the plagues.   This is confirmed by the absence of repentance in the plagues.  The absence of repentance is explicitly stated (16:9, 11, 21) and also implied by the closing of the temple prior to the plagues (15:8), because the temple is the place where people go to receive forgiveness (Hebr. 10:10, 19).  The closing of the temple implies the end of salvation.

The victorious ones of 15:2 are the same as the 144,000 because both groups are contrasted with the people with the mark of the beast.  Revelation 13/14 contrasts the 144000 with the people carrying the mark of the beast by mentioning the two groups in consecutive sections of text and also by saying that both the mark of the beast and the seal of God are names applied to foreheads (13:16; 14:1).  Another indication that the victorious ones are the same as the 144000 is the fact that the “victorious” ones are “victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name” (15:2).  This means they are involved in the war of the mark of the beast described in Revelation 13 and 14, but in Revelation 13 and 14 the overcomers are symbolized by the 144000 sealed with the seal of God (14:1).

If the “victorious” ones are complete before the plagues, and if the “victorious” ones are the 144000, then the number of the 144000—and therefore the sealing—is therefore complete before the plagues.  But the question remains whether the sealing is completed before or after the persecution.

The persecution actually results in three distinct classes of people:

    • People with the mark of the beat on the forehead (13:16)
    • People with the mark of the beat on the right hand (notice the “or” in 13:16)
    • People with the seal of God on the forehead (7:3; 14:1)

The forehead implies the mind.  To have the mark of the beast on the forehead is to have the likeness of the beast—to think like the beast.  To have the seal of God on the forehead is to have the likeness of God, or to think like God.  To have the mark of the beast on the right hand—but not on the forehead—means that such people do what the law requires of them even though they know it is wrong.  This includes the nominal Christian that will become intimidated and that will be shaken out of the camp of God’s people by this period of intense persecution.  No group is mentioned with the seal of God only on the hand because nobody will be forced through intimidation to do God’s will.

Through the crisis of persecution God allows the world to be divided into clearly marked groups.  People that profess to be Christian, but whose lives to not conform to their confession, will be tested by the fire of persecution and fail.  They will be shaken out of the camp of God’s people, leaving the 144000 alone as standing for God on earth.  By submitting to the laws of society, in contravention to the laws of God, and they receive the mark of the beast on their hands.

The fact that the persecution divides Christians into two camps implies that the seal of God is given to people during the persecution period, and not before the persecution period.  This is confirmed by the fact that the 144000 are described as completed (14:1-5) immediately after the statement that all people will be given the mark of the beast (13:16).  [Note that the 144000 are described in 14:1 after the activities of the beast but in 15:2 before the plagues fall.]

If the seal of God is given to people during the persecution, but not during the plagues, then it means the plagues are delayed until the sealing is complete.  This means God’s people are sealed to prepare them for the plagues.

This further means that the winds that will be released when the sealing is completed (7:3) are the same as the plagues—both are released when the sealing is completed.  The sixth seal, the winds and the plagues are therefore all the same.

9.  PLAGUES DELAYED UNTIL THE FOLLOWERS OF THE BEAST ARE MARKED

Under the previous heading it was argued that the plagues are delayed until the sealing is complete.  Perhaps it would be more appropriate to propose that the plagues are delayed until the world is divided into two clearly visible groups.  This is explained as follows:

It has also been argued above that God’s people receive the seal of God during the persecution period described in Revelation 13.  But it is also directly stated that the mark of the beast is given to people during this same period (13:16).  Since the plagues fall on the people with the mark of the beast (16:2) and none of them repent, it is implied that the marking of the beast’s followers is completed before the plagues start to fall.  Both the sealing of God’s people and the marking of the beast’s followers therefore conclude before the plagues start to fall.  The Revelation 13 persecution crisis polarizes the people of the world into two groups—the 144000 servants of God and the people with the mark of the beast.

During this period of intense conflict people will be forced by laws of government and the threat of the death penalty (13:15) and economic sanctions (13:17) to conform to a false religion (20:4) that is contrary to the laws of God.  At the same time God’s message will be preached with unusual clarity and power (10:11; 14:6)—to provide all intelligent human beings with sufficient evidence on which to base their decisions.  In this way every person will be forced to make a decision, and their decisions will show what really are in their hearts.  Each person will believe what the person wants to believe.  The miracles of the land beast (13:13) will provide sufficient evidence for those that want to believe in the false god.  The powerful proclamation of the gospel (10:11; 14:6) will provide sufficient evidence for those that wants to believe in the Creator God.

These marks are applied by angels (7:3), and will therefore not be visible to people, but to be able to persecute God’s people there must also be a visible sign that distinguishes the people with the seal of God from the people with the mark of the beast.

Revelation 14:1 therefore presents the point in human history when all people in the world either have the mark of the beast or the seal of God.  This is a critical point in human history.  The four angels were told to hold back the winds until all of God’s servants are sealed on their foreheads (7:1-3); now they can release the winds—which are the plagues (see above).  The souls under the altar were told to wait for their revenge until their brethren are completed (6:11).  Now they can have their revenge—which are also the plagues (see above).

Note that this point in history is the beginning of the plagues, which may be years—even many years—before the return of Christ.

Beyond this point—during the plagues—there is no changing of sides, which means that both the mark and the seal indicate that the eternal destination of the person is sealed.  We note that the eternal destination of the people with the mark of the beast is fixed because the plagues in Revelation 16 target them (16:2), but none repent (16:9, 11 and 21).  The mark and the seal are therefore the same in the sense that both indicate that the eternal destination of the person is fixed, but they are opposites in that they indicate opposite eternal destinations.

The plagues will follow immediately after the crisis in Revelation 13.  Things will remain as before, except for the addition of increasing horrible catastrophes that threaten life and property.  The persecution of God’s people will therefore continue during the plagues.  We therefore see two phases to these end time events.  First God’s people are persecuted until all people that say they are Christian, but not really are Christian, discard their Christian facades.  The second phase is when the devastating plagues fall on the whole world.

10. 144000 LITERAL JEWS

Many people understand the 144000 as a literal group of 144000 Jews.  This view is not supported here.  The following are some of the objections to this view:

It simply does not make any Biblical sense to say that God will select exactly 12000 from each of 12 physical tribes.  It is inconsistent with the way God works to argue that precisely 1000 people would be selected from each tribe.

The 12 tribes disappeared a long time ago.  The ten northern tribes disappeared when Assyria conquered and carried them away into the Assyrian Empire eight centuries before Christ (2 Kings 17:5-23).

This is also not the right list.  It differs from every other list of the tribes in the Bible.  The list of the tribes in Revelation 7 lists Judah first because Christ is the “Lion … from the tribe of Judah” (5:5).  Dan and Ephraim are excluded from this list because of their sin (Gen 49:17; Judges 18:27-31; Hosea 4:17; 8:11).

If the 144000 Israelites are interpreted literally, then their description in Revelation 14 must also be literal.  There is says they have not been defiled with woman, which would imply that all of them are men.  It also says they have never “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (14:5), but all men are sinners.

The following argue that the Israel mentioned in Prophecy is a symbol for all believers:

A: Revelation 1:20 uses a Jewish symbol, the lampstands—as a symbol for the Church.

B: The pure woman in Revelation 12 represents both Israel and the Church.  See the discussion of the seven wars of Revelation 12 to 14 for more information.

C: This same pure woman is later presented as the New Jerusalem:

the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9)—with 12 foundations on which the names of the 12 apostles are written (21:14) and with 12 gates, on which the names of the 12 tribes are written (21:12).  This, by itself, is sufficient proof that Revelation does not distinguish between Israel and the Church.

D: Many texts from the New Testament can be quoted:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.  (Rom 2:28-29)

… For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; … it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.  (Rom 9:6-8)

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.  (Gal 3:29)

For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.  And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  (Gal 6:15-16)

Jesus’s twelve disciples, that became the twelve apostles—the first church fathers—were all Jews.  To one of them Jesus said “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church (Mat 16:18).  To the 12 Jewish disciples Jesus said that they will sit on 12 thrones to judge the 12 tribes of Israel(Mat 19:28).  The first leaders of the Church were all Jews and the Church leaders will judge Israel.  It is therefore not feasible to distinguish between Israel and the Church.

This is a critical subject for the study of Revelation.  There is no point in reading this article further if one disagrees with the view expressed here.  Rather read the article on the identity of “Israel in Prophecy”, based on Romans 9 – 11.

11.  THE SEAL OF GOD IS SOMETHING SPECIAL THAT END TIME BELIEVERS WILL RECEIVE

The seal of God in Revelation is only mentioned in the context of the end time events:

In Revelation 7 it is mentioned between the description of the great day of God’s wrath (6:17) and the description of all the innumerable multitudes inheriting the new heaven and new earth (7:9, 14-17).

In Revelation 14 the 144000 sealed servants of God are described after the description of the end time persecution to put the mark of the beast on all people, which implies that people receive the seal of God as they withstand the test of the mark of the beast.

Given this context the seal of God in Revelation must be limited to the end time.  The seal is not available in all ages because an angel brings it from God at a specific point in history (7:2).  One of the consequences of the conclusion that the fifth seal is the sealing, is that that point in time is the beginning of the fifth seal, which means that the seal is not available during the previous four seals.  Six seals are described between the heavenly meeting in Revelation 5 and the angel bringing the seal from God.  This implies a significant period of time between the heavenly meeting Jesus and the arrival of the seal.  Some believe the heavenly meeting represents Jesus’s enthronement at His ascension.  Others see is as some later events, but—irrespective of the interpretation—much time elapse between Jesus’s ascension and the arrival of the seal.

For these reasons it is concluded that the seal of Revelation is not the same as the seal mentioned earlier in the New Testament (Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30; 2 Tim 2:19) and is not available throughout the church age. But that the seal in Revelation is limited to the end time.

If the seal of God is limited to the end time, it must be something special.  It must be something more than saints in earlier times received.  The special nature is firstly indicated by the seal itself:

Another consequences of the conclusion that the fifth seal is the sealing, is that the seal of God is equivalent to the white robe of the fifth seal.  Both are symbols of acceptance into God’s eternal kingdom.  The cardinal difference, however, is that the white robes are received by God’s sleeping (dead) saints while the seal of God is received by living saints.  This is significant.

The seal is put on their foreheads (7:3).  That says something about how they think—their minds.  The seal is God’s Name (14:1), and names in Revelation represent character (17:3, 5).  They think like God.

The special nature of the end time seal is secondly indicated by the number of people that will receive it—namely 144000.  Still a further implication of the conclusion that the fifth seal is the sealing, is that the 144000 is the same as God’s servants that must be “completed” in the fifth seal:

… and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also (6:11)

The NASB adds the words “the number of”, implying that a certain number must be completed.  That would be consistent with the statement that exactly 144000 will receive the seal of God.  But numbers in Revelation are always interpreted symbolically:

      • Two is the number of the gospel
      • Four indicates “the whole earth”
      • Seven indicates “the full period”
      • Twelve is the number of God’s people

For instance, Revelation says God has seven Spirits (4:5; 5:6), but that should be understood symbolically as that the His Spirit will always be with us.  It is therefore proposed that the completion—which is the same as the number 144000—should be understood qualitatively—rather than quantitatively.  12 is the number of God’s people.  There were 12 tribes and 12 apostles.  144000 is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000—the completed number of God’s people.  It is a symbolic way of saying that these people will be mature Christians.  They will not sway under persecution.

The third indication of the special nature of the seal of God is the way in which the 144000 are described—free from religious deceptions (symbolically “from women”)—following the Lamb where-ever He may lead them—first fruits to God and to the Lamb—always speaking the truth and never sin (14:4, 5).

To be “completed” (fifth seal) and to be sealed therefore has the same meaning, namely spiritual maturity—to love God with you whole heart, your neighbor like yourself and to even love you enemies.  The extraordinary description of the sealed saints set them apart from their brethren in earlier ages

The fourth indication of the special nature of the end time seal is the other indications in Revelation that the end time saints will be special:

The woman prepares herself for the marriage feast by clothing herself with the righteous deeds of the saints (19:7:8)

The harvest will only be reaped when ripe (14:15).

This is consistent with the message in the book “The Call” by Rick Joyner, quoting Jesus:

The last-day church will not be greater than Paul’s generation, even if she does greater works.  All that is done is done by My grace.  However, I will make more of My grace and power available to the last-day church, because she must accomplish more than the church in any age has yet accomplished.

Last-day believers will walk in all the power that I demonstrated, and more, because they will be the final representatives of all who have gone before them.  The church will demonstrate My nature and My ways as they have never been demonstrated before by men.  It is because I am giving you more grace, and to whom much is given much will be required.

12.  FIRST FOUR SEALS

The first seal (6:2) contains the words “white”, “overcoming” and “stephanos”.  It is argued above that these words in Revelation are always associated with the gospel.  The first seal is therefore the gospel going out to the world.

To measure out food with a scale, as in the third seal, implies famine.  For instance Ezekiel prophesied that, during the siege of Jerusalem, the people “will eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and drink water by measure and in horror” (Ezek. 4:16; also Lev. 26:26).

Seals two to four are very cryptic—sword, famine, pestilence, death—which could refer to either believers or non-believers.  They should not be interpreted separately, but as a unit, and the context must interpret these seals.  If the first seal is the gospel and the fifth shows God’s servants slain, then these seals must represent the experience of God’s people in the world.  These seals therefore summarize church history—war, famine, pestilence and persecution, then the end will come (Matt. 14:14).

The primary meaning of Greek word translated “slay” in the second seal means to butcher.  This is not the normal Greek word for “kill”.  This word is also used for the death of Jesus (5:6, 9, 12; 13:8) and in the fifth seal for the killing of God’s people (6:9; 18:24), supporting the argument that the second seal refer to the slaying of God’s people.

The striking parallels between the language of the first four seals of Rev 6:1-8 and the covenant curses, together with Zech. 1:12-15, strongly suggest that these seals are based on the Hebrew Bible covenantal curses.  These curses are the penalties sent by God on His people because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant.  They are referred to as “war, famine, pestilence and wild beasts” (Lev 26:21-26; Deut. 32:23-25).  These “four severe judgments” (Ezek. 14:21) or “four kinds of doom” (Jer. 15:3) were intended to wake God’s people from their apostate condition and bring them back to God. The first four seals symbolize God’s judgments on the church unfaithful to the gospel (6:1-8).

They represent the period during which the angels restrained the winds before the arrival of the seal of God.  It is also the period of during which the saints—which John sees at the beginning of the fifth seal—are killed..

13.  START AT THE CROSS

While Revelation 4 describes a continuous state, Revelation 5 describes a specific event, namely the meeting of all of God’s intelligent creatures to see Jesus ascending God’s throne to receive the sealed book from God.  It is a special and critically important heavenly meeting.  The millions and millions of angels looking on (5:11) and the interest of “every created thing” (5:12) emphasizes the intense importance of this meeting.

The New Testament mentions frequently that Jesus was glorified at the Father’s right hand at His ascension to heaven:

… when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,  (Eph. 1:20-22; see also Acts 2:32-36; Rom. 8:34; Hebr.  8:1; Acts 5:30-31; Phil 2:6-11; Col 3:1; Hebr. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:21-22).

Jesus’s glorification is further linked to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a few days after His ascension:

for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:39)

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear (Acts 2:33).

It is proposed that this event–when Jesus was exalted or glorified at His father’s right hand at His ascension after the Cross—is the event described by Revelation 5.  This is justified as follows:

The New Testament says that Jesus was glorifies at the Father’s right hand when He ascended to heaven.  That is exactly what happens to Jesus in Revelation 5.  The NASB reads that the scroll is in the Father’s right hand (5:1), but the first meaning of the word translated “in” (epi) is “over”, upon” or “on” (Strong G1909).  The book is therefore on God’s right hand—the place at which Jesus is to be glorified.  When He occupies that position He also takes the book.  Further, Jesus is glorified in Revelation 5.  He is—along with God—praised by “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them” (5:13).

In Revelation 5 Jesus sits down on the throne.  He appears “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts” (5:6 KJV).  The four living beings are “in the center and around the throne” (4:6).  Jesus therefore appears at the center of the throne.  Also in 7:17 which is a later scene of God’s throne room, Jesus is “in the center of the throne”.

The conclusion of one section of Revelation often contains a key to understand the next.  In the conclusion of the last of the seven letters Jesus said “I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).

Jesus receives the sealed book because He overcame (5:5) and He is described as a slain lamb (5:6).  It is therefore logical that He received the book immediately after He overcame by being slain.  This is perhaps the strongest evidence.

In 4:5 “the seven Spirits of God” are represented as “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne”.  But when the Lamb appears on the throne “the seven Spirits of God” are said to have been “sent out into all the earth” (5:6).  This links the outpouring of the Spirit to the event in Revelation 5, and should also be accepted as conclusive evidence.

To summarize, the New Testament indicates that after Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, He was glorified at His Father’s right hand at His ascension, and that this was followed by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  In Revelation 5 Jesus appears on God throne—at His Father’s right hand—as a slain lamb, receives a book because He overcame, is glorified by the whole universe, and with the Holy Spirit sent into the entire world.  This fits exactly with what the New Testament says happened at His ascension.  To take Revelation 5 and apply it to the end time—as many people do—seems to be an injustice.

We cannot possibly agree with the interpretation that 4:1 is the rapture.  The following are some further reasons:

The interpretation of 4:1, where John is called “Come up here” as the rapture of the Church, rests on very slender evidence.  It is much more likely that 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called “Come up here” represents the rapture of the church.  The purpose of John ascension to heaven in 4:1 is not to rescue the church from tribulation.  It is explicitly stated that the purpose is to show John “what must take place after these things” (4:1)

In 10:1 John sees an angel coming down from heaven.  He therefore is again on earth.  If he represents the church—which he does when he receives the little book and the further instructions—the church necessarily remains on earth with him.

Many understand Revelation 5 as the judgment prior to Christ’s return to the earth, as in Daniel 7, but

    • No books are opened, as in Daniel 7:16.  Jesus is praised for taking the book, but He does not open it in Revelation 5.  The books are only opened in 20:12.
    • We find no typical judgment language (judge, avenge) in Revelation 5.  Such language we only find in the second half of Revelation (except for the fifth seal—but this is only a request for judgment).
    • If Revelation 5 was the judgment before Christ’s return, then Revelation 6 must have been His return.  In contrast the first five seals represent the history of the Church.

14.  THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE

The innumerable multitude is clothed in the white robes (7:9) which the slain saints received (6:11).  Since these saints dies during the second, third and fourth seals—in other words ever since the Cross—the innumerable multitude includes the resurrected saints of all ages.

While the 144000 are on earth, only from Israel, and precisely numbered, the multitude before God’s throne is in heaven, from every nation, and innumerable (7:9).  But this does not mean that they are two completely different groups.  Revelation also in other instances presented the same thing with very contrasting symbols in hear-sea combinations:

In 5:5 John hears of a Lion that overcame.  But when he looks, he sees a Lamb as if slain (5:6).  Both the lion and the lamb are symbols for Jesus—representing two different phases of His work.  He was a lamb when He was slaughtered, but as the “Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5) “shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen 49:10)

In 17:1 John hears about a woman sitting on many waters, but when he looks, he sees her sitting on a seven headed beast (17:3).  The water is the peoples of the world (17:15) while the beast represents those same people organized into the kingdoms of the world (see the article on the seven headed beasts of Revelation).

Later an angel says to John that He will show him the other woman in Revelation—the bride of the Lamb (21:9), but then John sees a city—the New Jerusalem—descending from heaven (21:10).  Some people believe that the bride is God’s people while the city is literal.  Others believe both represent God’s people, just like the harlot (17:1) is also represented as a city (17:18).  Even if the bride and the New Jerusalem represent different things, they still are highly related.

In Revelation 7 John does not see the 144000—he only hears about them.  But he sees the innumerable multitude.  This implies that the 144000 and the multitude are related, but not necessarily the same, just like the lamb and the lion, the water and the beast, and the woman and the city are related, but not necessarily exactly the same.  The 144,000 represents God’s people on earth at the end of the persecution period, at the start of the plagues.  The innumerable multitude seems to be the saved of all ages.  But they all form part of the single body of Christ.

The palm branches in their hands imply that this event was symbolized by the feast of the 15th day of the seventh month.

On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month … you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days … ‘Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.  … ‘You shall live in booths for seven days (Lev 23:39-42)

This feast followed immediately after Yom Kippur—the great judgment day—on the tenth day of the same month.  The event portrayed by Revelation 7 is therefore the real event—the wonderful new world—after the great judgment day to which this feast pointed forward.

One of the elders said that the innumerable multitude came out of the “great tribulation” (7:14).   When Jesus explained the last events He said:

there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.  Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Mat 24:21-22).

The angel in Daniel also referred to the last events when he said:

“there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Dan 12:1).

The “great tribulation” is not the persecution of God’s people.  It refers to the catastrophic last events, symbolized in Revelation by the plagues and the sixth seal.  It is proposed that not the entire innumerable multitude experienced the great tribulation personally, but that they, as a collective, experienced many trails over the ages, and were also significantly represented in the great tribulation.

15.  WHY?

Up to now the emphasis has been on the question “what”.  The seals and their sequence were explained.  But perhaps the more important question is “why”.  Why was there much sorrow in heaven before the Cross?  Why is there a sealed book—representing hidden information—in heaven?  Who does not understand what?  If the Cross made Him “worthy” to open the sealed book, why will the book only be opened after the “great day of their wrath” (6:17)?  Why did He not open the book immediately?  Jesus is said to be worthy to open the book because he was slain and purchased people for God (5:9).  Why was Jesus not “worthy” before the cross?  How did the Cross make Him worthy?  These questions will now be addressed.

16.  WHAT WILL OPEN THE BOOK?

At Christ’s return all non-believers will be put to death (19:11-21) while Satan will be locked up in a prison (20:1, 2, 7).  One thousand years later non-believers will be raised to life (20:5) and Satan will be released from his prison (20:7).  Under his leadership they will attempt to capture the New Jerusalem, but “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9-10).   Then follows the final judgment before the great white throne (20:11-13), through which God will recreate eternal peace and joy in His universe, as represented by the last two chapters of Revelation.

In this last judgment a number of books are opened (20:12), similar to the judgment scene in Daniel 7:10.  These books contain the deeds of people (20:12)—the history of the world from God’s perspective.  One special book that will be opened in the last judgment is the book of life (20:12), which has been identified above as the seven-sealed book.  The sealed book cannot be opened today and will not be open at the Return of Christ—because the events surrounding His return only breaks the sixth seal (6:17)—one seal remains.  The book will only be opened in this last great judgment (20:12).  God wants to make an end to sin as soon as possible.  The fact that He has not done so yet shows that He is waiting for something.  He already has had to allow sin to continue for 2000 years after the Cross.  Revelation reveals that He is waiting for the book of life to be opened—until then the last judgment is delayed.

The seals are not the contents of the book, but prevent the book from being opened.  The breaking of the seals allows the book to be read.  Each time a seal is broken, something happens.  What is the relationship between the breaking of the seal and the events that follows?  It is proposed that the breaking of the seals is the events that follow.  In other words–the book of life is opened by the seal-events.  Consequently, the seal-events must happen before God can conclude His last judgment.

So, what are the seal-events?  Breaking the first seal is the gospel going forth.  Breaking the next three seals is the sacrifice of God’s people as they live and preach the cross.  Breaking the fifth seal is the giving of white robes to the saints that have already been slain at that point in history, but the fifth seal continues until their brethren are completed—which is the same as to be sealed—which means to become spiritually mature (see above).  As discussed above, during this sealing period God shakes nominal Christians out from amongst His people through a terrible period of persecution.  The plagues are delayed until this is done—until God’s people are completed and sealed.

But two seals remain.

The sixth seal—the plagues

Judgment Day breaks the sixth seal.  As presented by the sixth seal, Judgment Day is not a single event, but a period of time—because it includes the plagues.  During the plagues there is worldwide devastation, with massive loss of life (see discussion of the sixth trumpet), but with no repentance (16:9, 11, 21).  This divides the world between those that hide from Him (6:17) and those that stand before Him (7:9).  At the end of the plagues—at the Return of Christ—all people of the world are put to death (6:17; 19:21), but God’s people receive their eternal reward (7:9-17; compare with 20:4).

The plagues are delayed until God’s people are completed and sealed.  It is therefore concluded above that they are sealed in preparation for the plagues.  What happens during the plagues is therefore really important to the opening of the book.

The plagues (the sixth seal) are discussed in rather abstract terms in the seals.  To really understand the plagues, Revelation 15 and 16 must be studied.

As argued in the discussion of the plagues, the plagues is a test.  It is not arbitrary torment.  The plagues have a very important purpose, namely to verify God’s judgments.  The frequent mention of God’s righteousness in the plagues—and nowhere else in Revelation—is one indication there-of (15:3, 4; 16:5, 7; 19:2).  The frequent mention that they repent not (16:9, 11, 21)—as if the purpose of the plagues is to see if they would, indicates that the plagues is a test for non-believers.  The fact that God’s people are sealed in preparation for the plagues indicates that the plagues are also a test for God’s people.  It has been argued above that God will have a group of believers on earth in the end time that will receive something special from God.  Why would this be required unless they must somehow be tested?

On the one hand God’s judgment of the lost is proven right because the followers of the beast refuse to repent, even when confronted with clear evidence that they are wrong—they can see that the plagues do not fall on that hated minority (16:2, 10) that tormented them so much (11:10) by proclaiming the unwanted gospel (14:6).  They can see that the plagues only fall on the followers of the beast and realize without doubt that this minority is God’s real people, but they will not repent (16:9, 11, 21).  To the contrary, they prepare to war against God (16:14-16), and the way they war against God is by warring against His people, similar to what God said to Saul—later Paul—when he persecuted God’s people:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Act 9:4)

The plagues are intended to confirm that the people with the mark of the beast have become haters of God, and they will never change.  The plagues are designed to confirm the rightness of God’s judgment—that He has no other option that to allow them to die a second and final time (20:14; 21:8).  These events will show that they are solidly confirmed in their ways—unable to change.  In the last judgment everybody will be judged according to their deeds as recorded in the books (20:12), and the plagues will provide this information for these books.

The plagues also confirm the rightness of God’s judgment of His peopleOnly people with the mark of the beast suffer the plagues (malignant sores, all waters became blood, etc. Revelation 16).  The people with the seal of God are protected from the plagues, but not from persecution.  In the period prior to the plagues they are killed and prevented from buying and selling (13:15, 17).  This logically continues during the plagues, and also intensifies when supernatural forces (spirits of demons—16:14) perform miracles to convince the kings of the world to combine forces.

Notice the warning to God’s people—put in brackets by the NASB—given during the sixth plague:

 (16:13) And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; (16:14) for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (16:15) (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”)  (16:16)  And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.

Verse 14 announces the arrival of the spirits of demons to gather the kings.  Verse 15 is the message to God’s people during the gathering of the kings.  Verse 16 describes the kings gathered.  This confirms that God’s people are on earth at this time and pressurized by the most intense persecution to renounce God.  In this context God warns His people to keep their clothes—their “righteous acts” (19:8).  This will be their test.

The conclusion is this—the behavior of God’s people under temptation and persecution will justify God’s decision to save them.  Their behavior will not save them—Revelation 5 makes it clear they are saved by the Cross (5:9):

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8, 9)

However, they remain firm when subjected to intense persecution of the sixth plague.  They are scared and fully aware of their sins.  But they really want to believe in the God of the Bible and are willing to suffer all possible loss for Him.  This will justify God’s decision to save them.  This will also be written in the books of judgment.  This is the information that will be required for the book of life to be opened in the final judgment.

The sealing and completion of God’s people is not the final purpose of the seals.  The sealing is only a means to an end.  The real purpose of the seals is to test God’s people during the plagues.  This is what is recorded in the books (20:12).  This is why the last judgment is delayed—this is why God did not make an end to sin immediately after He redeemed His people through the Cross—God’s people must be proven as evidence for all intelligent beings in the universe—for all eternity.

Before the test nominal Christians are removed from the camps of the saints by the persecution of the land beast—in order that the distinction between God’s people and the world will clear to all observers.  Once God’s people have been marked by the angels (7:3), the on-looking universe can witness their behavior under intense persecution, when the world threatens to take everything away from them—also their lives.

To use the words of Rick Joyner in “The Call”;

By choosing death rather than to go against God’s laws they will reveal the glory of God in such a way that it would be a witness to every power and authority, created or yet to be created, for all of eternity.  During this battle the glory of the cross would be revealed, and the wisdom of God would be known in a special way.  Jesus could have judged the world after His resurrection, but the course of the world was allowed to continue so that His righteous ones could be proven and the power of what He did on the cross would be seen in mankind.

The book of life therefore cannot be read until God’s judgments are verified.  On the basis of our deeds we are all lost.   Even the best of us serve God faithfully only for a fraction of time, and with a fraction of our energy.  Our best deeds are like filthy rags.  God’s people do not deserve to live.  There are many non-believers that are better people than some of God’s people.  The big question is therefore why God saves some people.  The answer to this question will be recorded in the books of judgment, and will allow the book of life to be opened.

But one seal remains.

The seventh seal—The Millennium

No event is recorded at the breaking of the seventh seal—simply silence in heaven for half an hour.  The seventh seal is beyond the Return of Christ because the sixth seal includes His Return.  But the seventh seal must precede the Last Judgment at the end of the Millennium because the book is opened in the Last Judgment.  The seventh seal must therefore be during the Millennium, which follows after the Return of Christ (20:4).

At the return of Christ all non-believers are put to death (19:21).  But Satan will not be killed.  He is bound in the abyss (20:1-2).  At the end of the Millennium something strange happens—all the lost dead are raised to life (20:5) and Satan is released from His prison (20:7).  With the wicked resurrected, Satan immediately stirs the vast multitude with rebellion. He deceives the numberless crowd (20:3) and convinces them that God intends to do them harm.  Together they surround the holy city (20:9)—apparently in an effort to conquer or defeat the holy city.  But fire from heaven devours them (20:9)

Because this is immediately followed by the Last Judgment, it is proposed that these events at the end of the Millennium break the seventh seal that finally opens the book.  But why is this war required?  It is proposed that it has the same purpose as the plagues—to verify God’s judgments.  Before this conflict His people had 1000 years to investigate the causes and consequences of everything that happened (20:4), but then God allows a last demonstration of the nature of evil.  After this evidence has recorded in the books, the book of life—containing the names of the saved—can also be opened (20:12).  The opening of the book is a symbolic way of saying there is no longer the slightest doubt about the rightness of God’s judgment as to who should be saved.

At this one and only time in earth’s existence, all members of the human race are alive, immediately followed by the judgment seat of God (20:11).  Paul also refers to a time when every person will be alive and stand before the judgment seat of God:

… we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”  (Rom 14:11)

Every tongue shall only give praise to God if every person understands.  Every person’s life is presented from the open books. The wicked see their deeds just as God saw their deeds. Each person beholds the spiritual influences of good and evil upon his or her life. They see the choices they made.  He who sees the hearts and reads the motives reveals sin to them with unvarnished clarity. The wicked know why they are condemned. All justification for sin is expelled in the light of God’s love.  With every motive fully exposed, sin is seen as nothing more than love for self. The wicked now know what the love of Jesus is, why he died on Calvary and why they cannot be saved. Every knee bows before Jesus with deepest emotion. The wicked admit Jesus is fair and just.  The background text, quoted by Paul in Rom 14:11, continues:

“They will say of Me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’ … all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. (Isa 45:24)

The books unquestionably prove that God granted the power of choice to each person. Each member of the human family will know that his eternal reward was his choice. Those inside the New Jerusalem know they are there because they chose Jesus as their Savior. Those outside the city know they are there because they chose to reject the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  God knows everything about everything, but He does not manipulate the will of his creatures. The power of choice was freely bestowed upon all His children!

Even though the wicked admit the justice and love of God, they cannot change.  God has done everything He could to save them.  Nothing remains that God can do for them:

but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy. (2Ch 36:16)

It’s a grand and terrible moment. This will be extremely painful for the believers, for after a thousand years they will again see people they dearly love, and they would see how these people they love continue in their rejection of God.  But this revelation is necessary to provide information to safeguard the future universe from the risk of evil developing a second time.

17.   THE PRINCIPLE—LOVE REQUIRED UNDERSTANDING

Satan accuses God of bad judgment.

Revelation 12 helps to explain why God’s judgments must be verified.  Revelation 12 describes a war between the angels of heaven (12:7), but Satan and his angels “were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven” (12:8).  This war is particularly relevant to Revelation 5 because the meeting in Revelation 5 is the consequence of the victory in the war in heaven.  This statement is justified as follows:

The events in Revelation 12 are not given in chronological sequence.  That is clear from the repeat of the wilderness period in verses 6 and 14.  The war in heaven (12:7-12) is concluded after the Cross (see 12:13) but prior to the wilderness period of verses 14 and 6 (see 12:13-14).  The war in heaven is therefore concluded between the Cross in verse 5 and the wilderness in verse 6, which implies that the Cross caused the victory in the heavenly war.  Both the heavenly meeting in Revelation 5 and Satan’s expulsion from heaven therefore was the consequence of the Cross (5:5, 9).  This is also implies by the reference to the blood of the Lamb in both sections (5:6, 9; 12:11).

The seals and Revelation 12 should therefore be read together.  Revelation 12 helps us to understand why God’s judgments need to be verified because, in the context of the war in heaven Satan—the leader of the rebellion amongst the angels (12:7)—is called the “accuser of our brethren” (12:10).  We also see him elsewhere in this role (Job 1:8-10; Zech. 3:1-2).  He accuses God’s people.  Perhaps he attempts to justify his own sin by pointing to the sins of God’s people.  He argues that God’s people should also suffer the punishment of the second death (20:14; 21:8).  Perhaps he argues that no sinner can be saved.

But irrespective of the line of his arguments, Satan is not really concerned with us.  His war is against Jesus, against God and against His kingdom.  He uses us as a weapon against Jesus.  By accusing God’s people he effectively accuses God of poor judgment.

If we remember that many of the mighty angels have been swayed by Satan’s arguments, we realize that his arguments must be very convincing, and even loyal angels would be uncertain about the veracity of God’s judgments.  The book of life indicates who will live (21:27) and who will die (20:15).  It therefore contains God’s judgments.  The time when no one was able to open the book (5:3) refers to when Satan still was in heaven.  In less symbolic language—Satan’s accusations against God’s people (12:10) made it impossible to understand why the saved are saved, which means that Satan’s accusations are the book’s seals.  It is his accusations that are broken when the seals are broken.  Revelation 12 also tells us how they are broken:

… they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (12:11)

This is a summary of the seals.  This is how Satan’s accusations are broken, and God’s judgment proven as unfailing.

Doubt may bring separation.

Unless God’s intelligent creatures have complete trust in His judgment, there will always be a nagging doubt—should God not have saved my son?  Why did God save my mother but not my father?  My father was a good man.  Why is he not here?  Unless such questions are completely answered beyond all doubt they may become the seedbed from which evil can again arise, because evil results from separation from God.  We are created to exist in a very close relationship with God.  He continually gives us everything we need, and we continually honor Him because we love Him.  If there is even the slightest nagging doubt in His judgments, that doubt may bring separation between God and creature, again resulting in the decay and sin we see around us today.  Praise God for the hope that we have to one day live is a perfect world, where nobody wants to be wealthier or stronger or more influential or more important than anybody else and where we work together in complete harmony to create things we cannot imagine today.  It was physically possible for God to make an end to sin a long time ago, but He wants to end the current evil in such a way that evil (rebellion) will never again arise.

God wants to be loved.

God delays the Last Judgment until His judgments are understood because He wants His creatures to understand.  This stems from the fact that God wants to be loved.  We cannot love God unless we understand Him.  Therefore God reveals Himself to His creation.  In particular, in the current context, God reveals His judgments.

That is also why God has not made an end to sin immediately when it first started in heaven.  He did not take Satan away when he first sinned because the universe would not have understood.  Satan was Lucifer—which means light bearer.  His work was to explain God to the universe, but he became self-centered.  He started to look at his own beauty and wisdom, and desired the praise of God’s creatures (Ezek. 28:13-17).  This sin developed over a long, long time, and Satan was careful to conceal his real motives under a cloak of concern for God’s kingdom.  The universe did not understand what he was doing.  If God at that stage ended his existence, the universe would not have understood why God did it, and understanding is dear to God.  He is the most emotional being in the universe.  He wants to be loved—and therefore to be understood.  He wants us to see things His way.  He therefore had to allow Satan to continue so that the universe could perceive Satan’s real motives, and the consequences of rebellion.  God had to allow sin to develop.

2.  THE JUDGMENT IS MADE BY PEOPLE.

The fact that the book of life is sealed does not mean that God lacks information—it is His created beings that lack information.  God knows and understands all things.  The contents of the book are not hidden from Him.  Revelation 5:3 makes it clear that it is His creatures that do not understand.

In the judgment scene in Daniel 7 a number of thrones are set up (Daniel 7:9), indicating that it is not only God that judges.  Also in 20:4 John saw a number of thrones and “they that sat on them”.  He does not specify who sit on the thrones, but only say “judgment was given to them”.  Because “they” sit on thrones, they are not being judged, but they are the judges.  The point again is that it is not only God that judges.  Jesus once said to His disciples:

Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Mat 19:28)

And Paul wrote:

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?  Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? (1Co 6:2-3)

Here it is clear that people do the judging and the books are consequently opened for their benefit.  Since the 24 elders—representatives of saved mankind (see above)—are presented as sitting on thrones (4:4), they are probably the judges.  God is the presiding Officer, and He makes the final announcement of the judgment (20:12), but the judgment is made by people.

3.WHAT MADE JESUS WORTHY?

Revelation 5 first mentions the sealed book at (epi—see above) God’s right hand (5:1), and then asks the question:

Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals? (5:2)

And the answer was given:

And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; (5:3)

John’s tears represent the sorrow of the whole universe.  We see the universal nature of the sorrow when Jesus, by taking the book, converts the sorrow to joy throughout the universe (5:8-14).  The sorrow represents the time before the Cross, when no one could open the book—when God’s grace to sinners could not be explained due to Satan’s constant and convincing accusations.  Most angels trusted God, even they could not fully justify God’s grace to sinners.  Many angels believed Satan, and there was sorrow in heaven due to the inability to prove the reliability of God’s judgmentsparticularly why the saved are saved if all are guilty and deserve death.

But then the announcement is made:

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals. (5:5)

Jesus then appears as slain Lamb on the throne of God (5:6) and takes the book (5:7).  Then they sang a new song in heaven, saying:

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”  (Rev 5:9-10)

Many would explain the opening the book by saying it is simply a symbolic way of saying they are saved, but “they” in 5:9 have been saved in the past while the book will only be opened in the future.  Opening the book must be related to redemption, but it is not the same as redemption.  The redemption of the past made Jesus worthy to open the book in the present.

But the question remains, why could Christ not open the book before the cross?  What happened at the Cross that made Him worthy?

Many explain His death as pacifying the wrath of an angry God.  This is a horribly incorrect view.  This is how the heathen view their gods.  His blood did not soften the wrath of God.  The opposite is true—Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:36).  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  God is not angry so that He must be pacified.  It is not God that must be changed—it is the people that must be changed.  The purpose of everything that God does with respect to the current sin crisis is to reconcile the universe (whether on earth or in heaven) back to Him:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Col 1:19-20)

Jesus purchased people “for God” by His blood (5:9).  God dearly loves His creation and wants to save it.  He does not desire for any to perish.

Others think that His physical blood has some magical power.  God’s universe is not mysterious and inexplicable.  God’s kingdom is a kingdom of evidence based trust.  His dealings with men and angels are the library of His wisdom that will be studied for all eternity.

While 5:9 says that Jesus may open the book because he was slain, 5:5 indicates that He may open the book because He overcame.  He therefore overcame by being slain, and He became worthy by overcoming.  The word “overcome” is used in each of the seven letters to the seven churches.  In that context it means to resist the temptation to sin—to overcome evil.  Jesus was tested, and He resisted temptation even unto death.  The tempter was allowed to tempt Him thoroughly, but Jesus never sinned.  The most severe temptation possible was inflicted on Jesus when God withdrew from Him in the hours before His death.  Jesus could evaporate the universe by a single thought, but He overcame by reflecting God’s love by subjecting Himself to a cruel death on the Cross for beings that do not deserve to live.  His redemption is the demonstration of God’s love—of what God is like.  The cross is the greatest love that the creation will ever know.  As the pinnacle of His revelation of God His death became a symbol of how He overcame throughout His life.  Thus the symbol “Lamb” (5:6) is used to show how Jesus overcame.

But why was Jesus not counted worthy to open the book before He overcame.  Why was He only worthy after He overcame?  What made the difference?  It would not be fair to propose that Jesus was somehow improved by becoming a man and a dying a sacrificial death.  He did not become more loving or gracious or better informed through the cross—no, the Cross is a demonstration of what God always was like.  Neither would it be fair to propose that God simply declared Jesus worthy as a result of the cross.   God does not speak at all in Revelation 5.  It is not God that declares Jesus worthy, but the elders and the four living beings (5:5, 8, 9).

There are many texts in the Bible that explains the consequences of the Cross, but very little is said about how the Cross achieve it.  It seems as if this topic is reserved for study one day in the perfect new world.  There is a general principle that disobedience brings death, and obedience brings life, and the cross is the greatest sacrifice that ever was made.  It is also the greatest love that the creation will ever know.  But we need to be patient.  Very little about how the cross made Jesus worthy seem to be revealed.

20.   The Call

The following quotes from “The Call” by Rick Joyner seem to agree with the above interpretation of the seals:

Satan has boasted since the cross that Jesus could redeem men but could not change them.  During the times of the greatest darkness and evil that are about to come, His people will stand as a testimony for all time that He not only redeemed His people from sin, but He also removed sin from themThrough them, He will remove sin from the whole earth.  He will now display to the whole creation the power of His new creation.  He did not come just to forgive sin, but to save mankind from sin, and He is returning for a people who are without stain from the world.  This will come to pass in the most difficult of times.  Page 78 The time when I stand up and bring My judgments to the earth has only been delayed so that My brethren could prove their love for Me by standing for truth at any cost. Page 171

Note a number of important concepts in this quote:

    • Satan has boasted.  This indicates his role as accuser.  Satan use arguments to convince others to join him.
    • Jesus could redeem men.  This implies that, before the Cross, Satan boasted that Jesus could not redeem men.  This is consistent with the sealed book of life.  Nobody can be redeemed as long as the book of life remains sealed.
    • “The times of the greatest darkness and evil” refers to the great tribulation—the crisis in the latter part of Revelation 13, but perhaps more specifically to the plagues.
    • His people will stand as a testimony for all time”.  Two principles are contained in this statement:
      • Firstly, at least one purpose of the end time crisis is to test His people.  This will stand as a “testimony”.  Later in the paragraph it is called a “display to the whole creation”.
      • Secondly, God’s kingdom is based on evidence.  God is not a Dictator.  He wants His creatures to understand.
    • “He also removed sin from them”—“a people who are without stain from the world” The quote says that God will “change” His people.  This is implied in the seals by the “completion” and sealing of God’s people.  As argued above, God’s end time people will receive something special.  Note that we do not have to remove our sins—Jesus will remove sin from His people.  It is not something we can do for ourselves.
    • Through them, He will remove sin from the whole earth”.  The end time testing of God’s people has a purpose—a very great purpose, namely to make a complete end to sin on earth.  God will remove sin from the earth through the last judgment.
    • The time when I stand up” refers to Daniel 12:1, which refers to the great tribulation, which are the plagues.
    • The plagues are “delayed so that My brethren could prove their love for Me by standing for truth at any cost”.  Delay is found in the fifth seal and the sealing.  In both the seals and in Joyner the delay is to give time to God’s people to be prepared for the plagues.

This consistency between Revelation and “The Call” supports Rick Joyner’s claim that the visions in this book are divinely inspired.  The books The Quest and The Call are recommended.

The statements quoted from The Call seem to be a good summary of the seals.  Directly and indirectly they refer to;

    • Satan’s role as accuser—boasting that Jesus could change men.
    • The time before the Cross, when nobody was able to open the book;
    • The delay;
    • The sealing and completion of God’s people;
    • The times of the greatest darkness and evil—the great tribulation—the plagues;
    • The testing of God’s people;
    • The books of judgment—testimony—God’s kingdom is based on evidence;
    • The final judgment—removal of sin from the earth;

This is a frightening concept—that our victory over sin is critical for God to recreate peace on earth.  But this is what we must strive for.  We must allow God to work in us to remove sin from us.  Jesus already bought us with His blood, and we are safe in Him, but before He can make an end to sin there must be a group of saints that will be tested and really overcome—but not for their own benefit.  They will prove that they are willing to sacrifice everything they have for what they believe.  They chose to do God’s will—being all the while thoroughly aware of their sinful nature which they must overcome by His power.  Through their behavior on earth, in the time of the greatest persecution, when all security on earth is taken away from them, even their own lives, they will stand as evidence of what God by His Spirit has done in them.  This is the final evidence for God to make an end to sin.

By choosing death rather than to go against God’s laws they will reveal the glory of God in such a way that it would be a witness to every power and authority, created or yet to be created, for all of eternity.  During this battle the glory of the cross would be revealed, and the wisdom of God would be known in a special way.  Jesus could have judged the world after His resurrection, but the course of the world was allowed to continue so that His righteous ones could be proven and the power of what He did on the cross would be seen in mankind.  The Call

TO: General Table of Contents

Chronological Sequential

Does Revelation describe events strictly in their chronological sequence?  Revelation repeats events, such as the return of Christ, in different parts of the prophecy. It also reverses the sequence of certain events.

Many people believe that Revelation it is a chronological record of events from beginning to end.  This is not correct.  There is an order, but it is not chronological.  The following are examples where Revelation refers to the same events in two or more places:

(1) The consummation of all things—the end of current world history—is described in various places:

The sixth seal is the “day of their great wrath” (6:17).

In the seventh trumpet, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (11:15; cf. 10:7).

The harvest by the Son of man sitting on a cloud is described at the end of chapter 14 (verses 14-20).

The Return of Christ is described at the end of Revelation 19 (19:11-21). 

There are therefore four different accounts of the end time events in the Seals, the Trumpets, the Wars (12-14) and the Final Plagues.

(2) Two of these accounts of the Return of Christ use the winepress of the wrath of God as symbol for the destruction of the peoples of the world (14:20; 19:15).

(3) The sixth seal is the “great day of their wrath” (6:17), but the seven plagues are “the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished” (15:1). The implication is that the “great day of their wrath” includes the seven last plagues.

(4) The people “who had been victorious over the beast” are described in 15:2 but they are the same as the 144,000 in 14:1-5. 

(5) The “great multitude” (7:9), who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14) are again heard in 19:1, where they cry out with a loud voice..

(6) 13:1-10 predicts, after the beast from the sea has recovered from its deadly wound, that the whole world will worship it.  This worship becomes a reality in the next section, when the false prophet “causes them that dwell on the earth” to worship the beast (13:12).

(7) The period of 3½ years, 42 months or 1260 days, being all the same period (3½ x 12 = 42; 42 x 30 = 1260) is mentioned five time in Revelation, twice as part of the seven trumpets (11:2-3), and three times as part of the seven wars (12:6; 12:1, 13:5).

(8) Both 11:7 (in the trumpets) and 17:8 (in the plagues) mention the beast coming out of the bottomless pit

(9) The New Heaven and New Earth is mentioned in both chapters 7 and 21 (compare 7:15-17 to 21:3-4).  If Revelation consisted only of chapters 1 to 7 we would not have noticed anything missing, because Revelation 6 ends with the Return of Christ and Revelation 7 describes the New Heaven and New Earth.

(10) It is said “it is done” both in 21:6, where God makes all things new, and in 16:17, in the seventh plague.

(11) The destruction of Babylon is described in various places in Revelation:

Firstly, in the seventh plague, Babylon is given “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19). 

Secondly, when one of the plague angels (17:1) tells John the story of Babylon, the angel repeats the judgment of Babylon, saying that the ten horns will “hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire” (17:16). 

Thirdly, in 18:21 there is a prophecy that Babylon will be “thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer” (18:21).

(12) Both Revelation 14:8 and 18:2 state that “Babylon is fallen”.  If Babylon fell in chapter 14, and Revelation is chronological, was it rebuilt prior to chapter 18, so it could fall again?  Or were there simply two accounts of this event?

(13) The battle of Armageddon starts with the gathering of the kings “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14).  “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon” (16:16).  Chapters 17 and 18 are devoted to explaining the Great Whore, but chapter 19 picks up the battle of Armageddon when John “saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army” (19:19).

(14) The great earthquake, which move every mountain and island out of their places, is found in both the sixth seal (6:14) and the seventh plague (16:20).

The above are examples where Revelation refers to the same events in two or more places.  The following are instance where events are given in reverse order:

(15) Revelation 11 ends with the seventh trumpet, when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (11:15).  But Revelation 12 then starts with the time prior to the birth of Christ (12:1-5).  (Compare the “rod of iron” of 12:5 to 19:15 to identify the Child as Jesus.)

(16) Revelation 6 ends with “the great day of their wrath” (6:17), when the mountains and islands disappear due to a massive earthquake (6:12-14).  But then Revelation 7 starts with an angel ascending from the east with the seal of God, instructing the winds to be delayed until all of God’s servants are sealed (7:1-3).  The sealing of God’s servants must clearly precede “the great day of their wrath”.

(17) In Revelation 10 an angel comes down from heaven with a new message, contained in a little open book.  John is instructed to eat this book and “prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (10:11).  However, this is described after the sixth trumpet in chapter 9, in which a third of mankind is killed.  Logically John, representing the church, receives the message for the world before a third of them are killed.

In general, the events described in the interludes between the sixth and seventh seals, the sixth and seventh trumpets, the sixth and seventh wars and the sixth and seventh plagues all precede the sixth in the series.

The events in Revelation are therefore not given in chronological sequence.  Revelation frequently goes back to explain things that are described in previous chapters, but add more detail, sometimes using different sets of symbols.  The big challenge with Revelation is not only what these symbols mean, but also their chronological sequence.

TO: Return of Christ in the book of Revelation

TO: Babylon, the mother of harlots

TO: General Table of Contents

Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?

TO: General Table of Contents

Some interpreters understand several parts of the Apocalypse as somewhat repetitious, each leading its readers through the same period, adding new perspectives each time.  In this view—called “recapitulation”—each part of Revelation ends at the final consummation (the return of Christ or beyond).  For instance, some interpreters would understand the seven seals and the seven trumpets to both cover the period from the cross to the return of Christ or beyond.

In contrast, other interpreters understand the visions of Revelation to represent chronologically sequential events, with only one final climax at the end of the book.  One application of this principle is the large number of scholars that suggest that the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets, and that the seventh trumpet includes the seven plagues.  In this way the seven seals comprise the rest of the book.

The purpose of this article is to investigate this specific issue.  This issue may not matter too much to a preterist, even though preterists often defend recapitulation (repetition).  However, it is a decisive question for other interpretations of the Apocalypse.

The major parts of Revelation may be presented as follows:

  • The seven letters in chapters 1 to 3.
  • The seven seals (4:1 to 8:1).  The question to be answered in this article is where the seventh seal ends.
  • The seven trumpets (chapters 8 to 11).
  • The seven wars (chapters 12 to 14).  These wars are not listed numerically as the letters, seals and trumpets are, but “wars” is a good description of this part of Revelation, and an article is available that analyses this part of Revelation into seven wars.
  • The seven plagues (chapters 15 to perhaps 19)
  • The Millennium (chapter 20)
  • The New Heaven and New Earth (chapters 21 to 22).

This article will focus specifically on the seals and the trumpets, but will also refer to some of the other sections from time to time.

The proposal that the trumpets are all included in the seventh seal is based on the assumption that the seventh seal includes the whole of Rev 8:1-6.  Revelation 8:1-6 is therefore key in this analysis:

(1)  When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  (2)  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.  (3)  Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.  (4)  And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.  (5)  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.  (6)  And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. (NASB)

The person who numbered the text of Revelation put the seventh seal in a new chapter with the trumpets.  That person must have had the view that the seventh seal consists of the seven trumpets.  There is really nothing that happens when the seventh seal is broken—only silence.  The same applies to the seventh trumpet—nothing happens in that trumpet, except that God is praised for taking control of the earth.  This is justification for the view that the real action of the seventh seal is the seven trumpets, and that the seventh trumpet really consists of the seven plagues.  However, the numbering of the text is not inspired.  It was added about a thousand years after Christ.

It is proposed here that the seventh seal only comprises 8:1, and that 8:2 is the start of the series of trumpets.  This proposal is based on the following observations:

INTRODUCTIONS

The first point to be made is that every major part of Revelation has an introduction.  This is important for a proper understanding of the structure of Revelation.  Furthermore, it will be shown that the introductions are aligned to the themes of the various major parts.  The point that will be made is that the theme of the seals is very different from the theme of the trumpets.  The theme of the seals is about God’s people, and salvation.  The theme of the trumpets is about the people that do not believe in God, and about what God do to bring them back to Him.  It will then be proposed that if the themes are so different that the trumpets cannot be part of the seals.

Understanding of the introductions is also important for analysing the issue in this article.  The introduction for the major part will not be identified:

The introduction to the seven letters

Revelation 1 provides an introduction to the entire Book of Revelation (1:1-8), followed by a vision of Christ that serves as the introduction to the seven letters (1:9-20).  This vision provides the context for the letters, and most of the letters start with a reference to this vision.

Another important characteristic of the introductory scenes is that they all are heavenly scenes, in particular scenes of the temple in heaven, focussing on some aspect of the temple that is aligned to the theme for that part of Revelation.  In the introduction to the letters Christ is seen between the lampstands (1:13).  The lampstands represent the churches (1:20).  The theme of the letters is then messages from God to correct His church.

You may question why it is said that these lampstands is in heaven:

  • Firstly, Revelation indicates specifically that there is a temple in heaven (Rev 7:15; 11:19; 14:17; 15:5).  This might be a foreign concept to the reader, so please read these verses, and also Hebrews 8 and 9.  Then add to this concept the concept that, in the ancient Jewish temple, the lampstand was in the temple (Hebr. 9:2).  If the temple in Revelation is in heaven, and the lampstands are in the temple, then the lampstands must also be in heaven.
  • Secondly, Rev 1:20 does say that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches”, but according to 2:5 each church has a lampstand.  The lampstand therefore represents the church.  The churches are on earth, but their lampstands are represented as if they are in heaven.
  • Thirdly, notice that these are not lamps, but lampstands.  But if these are lampstands, there must be lamps as well, and in Revelation the Holy Spirit is represented as lamps in heaven:

“And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (4:5).  The churches are the stands on which the Holy Spirit “burns”.

If the lamps are represented as in heaven the lampstands must also be in heaven.

  • Fourthly, Revelation is a symbolic book.  We should not think about a physical temple in heaven.  The temple was the place to which the Israelite in ancient times went to obtain forgiveness from sin.  As stated by Hebrews 8:5, the ancient Jewish temple was a copy.  It was a physical representation of the means by which God solves the sin problem.  Therefore, the temple in heaven is really the processes God applies to rid the universe of the sin problem.  In that sense the temple in heaven includes the earth.  The sacrifice for the temple in heaven was made on earth (Hebr. 9:23).  Therefore, when we refer to the “temple in heaven” it must rather be understood as in contrast with a physical temple on earth, and not as something physically in heaven.  These wonderful works of God is something that we will study for millennia to come.  It is not something that we can now fully understand
  • Lastly, it will be shown that all the other introductions are clearly scenes from the temple in heaven.

In conclusion, the theme of the letters is messages from God to correct His church.  If they overcome the world through His love, He promises them to sit with Him on His Father’s throne (3:21).

The introduction to seven seals

The throne vision of Revelation chapters 4 and 5 functions as an introduction to the seven seals.  In Revelation 5 a slain Lamb (Jesus) receives a book.  The book is sealed with seven seals.  Each of the “seals” then starts with the Lamb opening a seal (6:1 to 8:1).  Similar to the letters, the throne vision provides the context for the seals.

As for the introduction to the letters, this is a scene from the temple in heaven, and the aspect of the temple on which it focuses is aligned to the theme of this part of Revelation. In the introduction to the seals God’s throne (4:2), which is in His temple (7:15) is prominent.  At the end of the seals all God’s people are around His throne (7:9).  But perhaps the key temple symbol in the seals is the slain Lamb:

“And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain” (5:6)

This is perhaps the key temple symbol in the seals because the seals are about salvation, as indicated by the following two quotes—one from the introduction and one from the sixth seal:

And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (5:9-10)

… And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple … (7:14, 15)

The blood of Christ therefore brings people to the throne of God, and the symbol of the slain Lamb introduces that theme.  The theme of the seals is perhaps best illustrated by the question from the lost multitudes:

for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:17)

Jesus receives the sealed book at the throne (5:1), and eventually gathers all His people around the throne of God (7:9).  Non-believers are not specifically mentioned in the seals, except when they hide, like Adam, from the One sitting on the throne on “the great day of their wrath” (6:15-17).  As in the seven letters the focus is on God’s people (5:9; 6:9; 7:3, 9).  They must all come to the judgement throne of Christ, where they will be changed to see things as He does.

The introduction to seven trumpets

The vision of the angel serving at the golden altar, throwing fire on the earth, (8:3-5) is the introduction to the seven trumpets.  In the first place, this scene provides the context for the trumpets as the reader will notice fire everywhere in the trumpets (8:8, 10, 9:2, 17, 10:1; 11:5), and in the trumpets things typically fall on the earth or come down from heaven to the earth:

  • In the first trumpet fire is thrown to the earth; and much of the earth is burned up (8:7).
  • In the second a great burning mountain is thrown into the sea (8:8, 9).
  • In the third a great burning star fell from heaven (8:10, 11)
  • In the fifth a star from heaven fall to the earth, and the sun and the air were darkened by smoke, like the smoke of a great furnace (9:1-3).
  • In the sixth fire and smoke and brimstone proceed from the mouths of horses, killing third of mankind (9:17, 18).
  • In the interruption a strong angel come down out of heaven with feet like pillars of fire, brings a little opened book (10:1, 2), and fire flows out of the mouth of God’s two witnesses to devours their enemies (11:5).

The point is that the fire which the angels throws to earth in 8:5 results in the fire that we see everywhere in the trumpets, which means that 8:2-5 provides to context to the trumpets.

Secondly, as with the introduction to the letters and the seals, the vision in 8:2:5 is of something in the temple in heaven, particularly of the golden altar.  This introduces the theme of the trumpets.  In the ancient Jewish system individual sinners brought their sacrifices to the altar of burnt offering outside the temple, but sacrifices for the collective sins of the people were made at the golden altar inside the temple.  Revelation represents “much incense” (the benefits of the sacrifice on the cross) and the prayers of the saints on this altar because the trumpets represent God’s messages to a lost world.  In contrast to the seals the focus in the trumpets are on non-believers (9:4, 20).  God’s messages to them are symbolised of in the interruption in the form of John having to “prophecy again” (10:11) and the two witnesses (11:3).  But in the end, the focus is again on the non-believers, but now they worship God because they fear His power (11:13), not because they love Him.  This happens at the end of the sixth trumpet, which is equivalent to the non-believers hiding from God at the end of the sixth seal (6:15-17).  The trumpets, as prefigured in the incense and prayers offered on the golden altar, represent everything God does to reconcile non-believers to Him.

A further relationship between the introductory scenes is flashes of lightning, voices and thunders.  These were not seen in the introduction to the letters, but they are seen in the introduction of both the seals and the trumpets (4:5; 8:5)

Something else found in the introductions of both the seals and the trumpets is “incense” in connection with “prayers of the saints”.  In the introduction to the seals the incense is defined as the prayers of the saints (5:8), while, in the introduction to the trumpets, incense is offered on the altar “with” the prayers of the saints.  The term “prayers of the saints” is found only twice in Revelation, namely in the introduction to the seals (5:8) and in the introduction to the trumpets (8:3-4).

The introduction to seven wars

The first trumpet is blown in Rev 8:7.  Each trumpet is clearly identified. The last trumpet begins with Rev 11:15.  This trumpet is beyond the end of current world history, as indicated by the following:

  • “loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ …” (11:15)
  • the twenty-four elders, … saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.  … (11:16, 17)
  • The term “the one that is to come”—occurring elsewhere in Revelation as part of the formula of the divine name “who is and who was and who is to come” (e.g. 1:4)—is omitted in Rev 11:17.  In 11:17 God is designated only as the one “who is and who was”, pointing to the fact that He now has come and that the end of world history has arrived.

There is almost general agreement that something new starts with Rev 12 because:

  • The seventh trumpet ends current world history, while Revelation 12 jumps back to the time Jesus came as a human being (12:2, 5);
  • New characters are introduced.  A woman and a dragon are introduced in Rev 12. In Rev 13, the dragon empowers a beast from the sea. Then a beast from the earth arises and instigates the inhabitants of the earth to establish an image of the beast. The dragon and the beasts belong together and form a counter-trinity.  The major evil powers therefore enter the scene.  The woman opposes that evil trinity.

Revelation 12 is therefore a new part of Revelation.  The question is where 11:19 fits.  Is it the end of the trumpet vision as many scholars suggest, or is it the introduction of the seven wars in chapters 12 to 14, or is it both, as others propose?

In 11:19 the “temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm”.  For the following reasons it is proposed that 11:19 is the introduction of the seven wars in chapters 12 to 14:

ONE:   Rev 11:19, 12:1 and 12:3 present three successive scenes—the ark, the woman and the dragon.  The phrase “it was seen” (translated “appeared” in the NASB) occurs just three times in Revelation: namely in these three verses.  These three verses therefore belong together, which connects 11:19 with the subsequent two scenes.

TWO:  A further link between these three scenes is the phrase “in heaven” in each of these scenes.  There are differences between Rev 11:19 and Rev 12:1 and Rev 12:3, but such differences are not surprising, because introductory verses are always somewhat different from the section it introduces.

THREE:  Just like the introduction to the seals (4:5) and the trumpets (8:5), 11:19 refers to the heavenly temple.  Rev 11:19 uses the word “temple” (naos) twice.  John is allowed to see the innermost part of the heavenly sanctuary containing the Ark of the Covenant.  Both the golden altar (8:3-trumpets) and the ark (11:19) were part of the ancient temple furniture (Hebr. 9:4).  The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, and the wars on Revelation 12 to 14 are wars against God’s commandments.  This is indicated by the following:

    • God’s people are described as commandment-keepers (12:17; 14:12).
    • In the wars the first commandments are disobeyed.  The people of the world worship the dragon and the beast (13:4), they blaspheme God (13:6) and erect and worship an image (13:14, 15).
    • Therefore the plagues come from the “tabernacle of testimony” (15:5), which is Old Testament language from the temple of the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:16).

FOUR:  Still a further link with the other introductions are flashes of lightning, voices, thunders seen and heard also in 11:19.  Actually, each time thunder, voices, and flashes of lightning are enumerated, another element is added.   These three elements are found in Rev 4:5.  The introduction to the trumpets adds earthquakes (8:5).  In Rev. 11:19 a fifth element is added, namely a great hail.   The same five elements are found in 16:18-21.

FIVE:  Rev 11:18 is a fitting end to the trumpets because summarizes the final events that are described more extensively in the following chapters of Revelation.  It says:

  1. “the nations were enraged” summarises the seven wars in Revelation 12 to 14;
  2. “and Your wrath came” summarises the plagues Revelation 15 to 19;
  3. “and the time came for the dead to be judged” is the judgement before the great white throne in Revelation 20;
  4. “to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints” summarises the description of the new heaven and new earth in chapters 21 and 22, and
  5. “and to destroy those who destroy the earth”, explains the lake of fire and the second death (21:8).

The introduction to seven Plagues

The vision of the angels receiving the plagues from one of the four living beings (15:7) is the introduction to the seven plagues.  This is again a temple scene.  The temple here is called the “tabernacle of testimony” (15:5) which emphasizes the “testimony” a name for the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:16).

Introductions provides themes

It is important to note that these introductions always are scenes from the temple in heaven, and that the aspect of the temple that is seen is aligned to the theme of that part of Revelation.  The point here is that the themes of the seals and the plagues are very different.  The seals deals with the redemption of God’s people while the trumpets deal word God’s efforts to bring the lost back to Him.  Because the theme of these two part of revelation are so different, the trumpets cannot be part of the seals.

ENDS WITH THE RETURN OF CHRIST

Perhaps the most convincing argument is that the seals and the trumpets and the wars (Revelation 12-14) all end with “the end—the final consummation—which includes the return of Christ.  If the seals end with “the end”, then the trumpets must jump back in time, and at least to some extent cover the same period as the seals.  The following paragraphs therefore indicate that the seals and the trumpets do end with “the end”.

Since Rev 8:1 is introduced by neither “I saw” nor “I heard”, it seems that this verse has a very close relation to the preceding material.  With the sixth seal, not only the heavenly signs pointing to Jesus’ second coming have been fulfilled (6:12-14)—the day of the Lord itself—the “great day of their wrath”, has come (6:17).  In the extension of the sixth seal God’s people are perceived as already standing before His throne (Rev 7:9, 15).  This answers the question at the very end of the sixth chapter: “Who is able to stand?”  They are led by the Lamb to the water of life (7:17).  The climax has been reached.  Then the seventh seal adds silence in heaven.  So, the seals lead up to the final consummation.  Having reached Christ’s second corning, the Millennium, judgment, and new creation, a return to the old earth as described by the trumpets does not make sense if understood chronologically. If Rev 8:2-6—which draws with it Rev 8-9—would be connected with 8:1, the progression of Rev 6 and 7 up to 8:1 would be reversed and the climax destroyed.

The same is true at the end of the trumpets.  As illustrated above, in the seventh trumpet “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord” (11:15).  Then, in the next chapter, we read about Christ becoming a human being (12:2, 5).  Because the seals, trumpets and wars (Rev 12 to 14) all end with the end of human history as we know it, they must overlap in terms of periods covered.

SILENCE

This conclusion is supported by an understanding of the “silence” in 8:1.  In Revelation 5 describes John sees a Lamb taking a book sealed with seven seals.  When He opens the seals (Revelation 6), dramatic events occur on earth.  However, in 7:9 the scene returns to heaven with the great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  Then, when the last seal is broken, and the book is now completely open, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour, in contrast to the flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder which previously came out from the throne (4:5).  The silence must be because the book is now completely open, and can be completely read.  To understand this we need to understand what this book is.

There are various books in Revelation:

  • One is the book Revelation itself (Rev 1:11; 22:10; 22:18; 22:19).
  • Another book is the little opened book which the angel brings from heaven, which John has to eat so that he can prophecy (Rev 10).  Some believe this is the same book as the book the Lamb receives in Revelation 5, but the seventh seal will only be completely lifted after the end of current world history—after the return of Christ (6:17), while the angel’s book in Revelation 10 is already open when brought down to earth, and it is brought down as something that must be prophesied (10:11), which must happen before the return of Christ.
  • The third is the book of life.  In this book are written the names of the overcomers (3:5).  They will inherit the New Jerusalem (21:7), while all other people will suffer the second death in the lake of fire (20:15).  This is one of the books that will be used in the judgement (20:12).  This book is also called “the book of life of the Lamb” (13:8), or “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).  This implies that the book that is received by the Lamb in Revelation 5 is the book of life.  This is supported by the following observations:
    1. The book received in Revelation 5 is only completely unsealed at the end of current human history while the book of life is opened in the last judgement at the end of the Millennium (20:12).
    2. Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5).  In other words, His sacrifice on the cross gave Him the authority to open the book.  But we also know that through the cross Jesus “purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9).  The book is therefore intimately tied to the redemption of man.  In other words, to open this book is to redeem God’s people.

The fact that the book with the seven seals is the book of life means that the seventh seal (8:1) happens in the final judgement at the end of the Millennium:

(Rev 20:12)  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

This silence then results from the judgement before the great white throne.  After this there is only the new heaven and new earth.  There is no space left for a return to earth for the events described in the trumpets.  This serves to confirm the previous conclusion, namely that the seals, the trumpets and the wars all end at the great consummation.

STARTS WITH THE CROSS

The seals start at the time of John.  As discussed elsewhere, the twofold introductory scene in Rev 4-5 points to Jesus’s enthronement in heaven after His sacrifice, possibly in 31 A.D.  The seals reach even beyond Christ’s second coming.  Thus the seals cover the entire Christian time span.

The vision of the seven wars (chapters 12 to 14), starts with a woman giving birth to a male child, which is a reference to the time God came as a man.  It ends with the harvest at the end of Revelation 14, which is the war Armageddon.  (See the article on Armageddon.)  The vision of the seven wars therefore again covers the Christian period.

Therefore the question is not whether the Apocalypse uses recapitulation—this issue is clear.  The question is rather whether the trumpets recapitulate the seals, which is possible given that the preceding and succeeding parts do cover the same period of time.

The “much incense” given to the angel serving at the altar (8:3) may be viewed as the benefits from the sacrifice at the cross.  In Revelation 5, at the inauguration of Christ’s ministry in heaven, the elders have bowls “full of incense” (5:8), which may be the “much incense” given to the angel at the altar in 8:3.  Notice in the following wonderful and joyous passage how Revelation 5 links the incense to the Lamb taking the book, and how taking the book is linked to His blood sacrifice at the cross, and to redemption:

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  (Rev 5:8-9)

It is therefore proposed that the “much incense” results from the Lamb’s sacrifice, and that the incense is given to the angel immediately after the sacrifice was offered.  This would mean that the trumpets also cover the full Christian period.

TIME, TIMES AND HALF A TIME

One of the seven wars in Revelation 12 to 14 is the “time, time and a half” of Dan 7 and 12 (Rev 12:6, 14).

Both the trumpets and the seven wars (Revelation 12 to 14) refer to the period of “time, times, and half” (11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:6).  Both these parts of Revelation therefore cover this important period.  Everywhere in Daniel (where the period is first mentioned—Dan 7:25 & 12:7) and in Revelation this is the period of persecution of God’s people.  Because the seals revolves God’s people, and their persecution (6:9; 7:14), the seal necessarily also cover this period, which would mean that the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven wars all cover the “time, time and a half”.

The interpretation of the “time, times, and half” is critical to a correct understanding of the prophecies.  A separate article is available on this period.

CHIASTIC STRUCTURE

8:2-6 has a literary structure called a chiasm.  In such a structure the first element corresponds to the last, and the second to the one immediately preceding the last, etc.  The chiastic structure for 8:2-6 is as follows:

A Seven angels with seven trumpets (2)
B Angel, altar, censer (3a)
C Incense, prayers of the saints (3b)
D Altar before the throne (3c)
C’ Incense, prayers of the saints (4)
B’ Angel, censer, altar (5)
A’ Seven angels with seven trumpets (6)

This means that 8:2-6 forms a self-contained unit.  Rev 8:1 does not seem to have a place in this chiastic structure, which would mean 8:1 does not form part of the trumpets.

AND I SAW

Rev 8:2 starts with the words “and I saw”.  In Revelation the words “and I saw” or similar phrases are used to introduce a new section or at least a new aspect of a vision.   The same principle should be applied to 8:2.  it might be better to understand “and I saw” in 8:2 as introducing a new part of the Apocalypse.

In the seventh seal (8:1) the content (silence in heaven for half an hour) is presented immediately without a preceding “and I saw” used in all other seals, probably because silence cannot be seen and it would be awkward to say “and I heard silence”.

TREES AND STARS

There are things in Revelation that do not make sense if Revelation is understood as a single series of literal, physical and chronological events:

  • In the first trumpet (8:7) a third of the earth and a third of the trees and all the green grass are burned up. However, in the fifth trumpet (9:4), the grass and the trees are protected.
  • Under the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) the stars fall to the earth.  However, the fourth trumpet and the fourth bowl (plague) visions presuppose that the heavenly bodies are still in place (8:12; 16:8).

HEAVEN—EARTH—HEAVEN

The seals are initiated in heaven (Rev 4-5: Introduction), executed on earth (Rev 6:1-7:8—6 seals) and consummated in heaven (Rev 7:9-8:1).  The trumpets follow the same pattern.  They start in heaven (8:2-6: Introduction), are executed on earth (Rev 8:7-11:14; 6 trumpets) and ends in heaven (Rev 11:12, 15-18 Part of the 6th trumpet, 7th trumpet).

If the trumpets are a continuation of the seals, why would the scene return to heaven before it continues with the trumpets?  Would the “heaven-earth-heaven” sequences in both the seals and the trumpets not indicate that they are separate from each other?

DIFFERENCES

A further indication that the trumpets are not part of the seals, and of the seventh seal in particular, is the differences:

And I saw” statements are found throughout the entire seal series, including its introductory part.  None of the other groups of seven in Revelation are so intensely characterized by “and I saw” statements as is the vision of the seven seals.  With the trumpets this formula is found only rarely.

The seven trumpets start with a common formula, namely “and the. . .angel sounded the trumpet”.  This formula is prefigured by 8:2 and 8:6. It is quite different from the formula used in the seals: “and when it opened the … seal I heard the … living being saying” which draws on Rev 4-5.

There are no time periods mentioned in the seals.  In trumpets contain several time periods and indications of the passing of time:

  • After the first four trumpets an eagle warns those who dwell on the earth about the last three trumpets (8:13).
  • In the fifth the earth-dwellers are tormented for five months (9:5)
  • The sixth starts at a specific point in time when the four angels are released (9:15)
  • The interlude mentions the 42 months during which the holy city will be tread underfoot and the 1260 days during which the two witnesses will prophesy clothed in sackcloth (11:2, 3)
  • When the two witnesses finish their testimony the beast from the earth will kill them (11:7).  They will be dead for 3.5 days (11:11).
  • 11:13 mention another specific point in time, when the two witnesses are resurrected and ascend to heaven, with catastrophic results on earth.

The role-players in the seals are quite different from the trumpets:

  • In the first seals the Lamb is the centre of attention.  He is mentioned ten times within the seals, but not at all with the trumpets.
  • In the trumpets angels are very important.   In the seals they are only spectators.  Since no angels occur in the first six seals (except in the interruption) one probably should not expect to find them in the seventh seal.
  • In the seals the four living creatures and twenty-four elders are found in the introduction (4:4, 6; 5:5, 11, 14), in each of the first four seals and in the interruption (7::11, 15).  In the seals they are found only in the seventh.

There is a marked difference with respect to the people on which the seals and the trumpets focus, as already discussed above:

  • The trumpets to focus on the earth dwellers (8:13), namely the people without the seal of God (9:4) and the people that rejoice over the death of the two witnesses (11:10).
  • The seals focus on the people of God (6:9; 7:3, 14).

These differences imply that the seals and the trumpets are two distinct parts of Revelation, and that the trumpets are not part of the seventh seal.

THE SEALING AND THE SIXTH TRUMPET

Rev 7:1-8 describes the sealing of God’s people.  They must all be sealed before the winds can be released.  Four angels hold back the four winds “so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree” (7:1).  In Revelation the number four means “world-wide”.  As in Daniel 7:2, the winds must be understood as things that cause conflict.  God’s people are therefore prepared (sealed) for a difficult period.  Until they are sealed, four angels hold back the four winds of heaven.

In Revelation the closest parallel to the sealing is the sixth trumpet.  This trumpet also mentions four angels.  It says that the four angels are bound (9:14) at the “great river Euphrates” (9:14).  The Euphrates must be understood as Babylon’s river, because the ancient city Babylon was built on the Euphrates River, and Babylon is a prominent symbol in Revelation.  The Euphrates is then the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” on which Babylon sits (7:15).  Four synonyms (peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues) again used to indicate that all the people of the world are included.  The sixth trumpet releases the four angels on a specific point in time (9:15) to “kill a third of mankind” (9:15).

Note the similarities between the sealing and the sixth trumpet:

  • In the one devastation is held in check.  In the other devastation is released.
  • In both a crowd which is numbered.  In the sealing it is “one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (7:4).  In the sixth trumpet it is the “two hundred million horsemen”.  The phrase “I heard their number” is found only in 7:4 and in 9:16.
  • Four angels are mentioned in both sections.  In the sealing they are holding back the winds (7:1).  In the sixth plague they are released (9:14).  In the sealing they are said to be granted to harm the earth and the sea (7:2).  In the sixth trumpet they kill a third of mankind (9:15).

On the basis of these similarities it is proposed that the sixth trumpet is the release of the winds warned of in the sealing.  This conclusion is confirmed if the plagues (Rev 15 +16) are compared with the sealing and the sixth trumpet:

  • The plagues are poured out on all people with the mark of the beast (16:2).  The mark of the beast is the opposite of the seal of God (13:16-14:1).  The plagues are therefore poured out as soon as every person on earth has either received the mark of the beast or the seal of God.  The release of the winds, referred to in the sealing (7:1-3), is then the same as the plagues of Revelation 16.
  • The sixth trumpet is the same as the plaguesbecause:
    • The sixth trumpet also refers to “plagues” (9:18, 20).  It is only the sixth trumpet, the two witnesses (11:6) and the section on the plagues (15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8) that refer to “plagues”.  The later occurrences of the word “plagues” refer back to the plagues of Revelation 16 (21:9; 22:18).
    • Only the sixth trumpet (9:20, 21) and the plagues (16:9, 11) refer to people that “repent not”.

If it is accepted that the sixth trumpet is the release of the winds, then the previous (fifth) trumpet, which is the torment of the people without the seal of God for five months (9:4) is the same as or overlaps the sealing-period.  This is confirmed by the reference to the seal of God in this trumpet.  Further, the sealing (7:1-8) must logically precede 6:17, because 6:17 is the “the great day of their wrath”, when “every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (6:14).  The fifth trumpet therefore preceded the sixth seal.  It is then impossible for the trumpets to be included in the seventh seal.

Commentators that believe the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets typically also believe that the seven plagues are included in the seventh trumpet.   The above analysis also proposes that this is not the case.

DANIEL

A strong relation between the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel must be recognized.  For example:

  • The beast from the sea (Rev 13:1-2) is directly linked to the four beasts of Daniel 7.
  • The seven heads of the beast in Revelation are or include the beasts in Daniel.
  • The important period of a “time, times and half”, found in Revelation 11, 12 and 13, originates from Daniel.
  • The interruption of the trumpets in Revelation 10 and 11 are actually a continuation of Daniel 12.  (See the article on this interruption for more detail.)
  • Both books belong to the same type of literature, namely, apocalyptic prophecy. These are the only predominantly apocalyptic books in the whole Bible.

The Book of Daniel undeniably contains recapitulation:  In Daniel one series adds additional elements to the preceding one. Whereas Dan 2 discusses the political dimension—that is, the kingdoms of the world—Dan 7 adds a religious dimension, namely, the saints, and Dan 8 adds another spiritual dimension, namely, the sanctuary.

Since the Book of Revelation depends on the Book of Daniel, we might also expect recapitulation in the Apocalypse.

 

CONCLUSION

The question in the article is whether the trumpets are part of the sixth seal.  A range of evidence has been offered to indicate that this is not the case.

  1. It has been illustrated that each major part of Revelation has an introduction, and that 8:2-6 is the introduction to the trumpets.  This implies that these parts are distinct from each other.
  2. These verses (8:2-6) have a chiastic structure that excludes 8:1.  These five verses (8:2-6), which carried with them all the trumpets, is therefore not part of the seventh seal.  This is supported by the fact that the initiating words “and I saw” is only given in 8:2.
  3. It has been shown that each of the major parts of Revelation have a different theme.  It therefore does not make sense to propose that one such part is included in another.
  4. Each of the major parts of Revelation ends with the return of Christ and beyond, and the seals, trumpets and wars probably all start at the time of Christ.  They must therefore overlap in terms of period covered.
  5. Although this only confirms that the seals end at the final consummation of things, it was shown that the silence coincide with the last judgement before the great white throne, because the book in the seals is the book of life.
  6. The seals, trumpets and wars all cover the important period of the “time, times and half a time”.
  7. A number of differences between the seals and the trumpets have been listed, such as phrases often used, the presence and absence of time references, the important issue of differences in the role-players and the very important issue of the differences in people groups that the seals and the trumpets focus on.  These differences imply that the trumpets are not part of the seals.
  8. If Revelation is read literally and sequentially, then there are certain contradictions.  For instance under the sixth seal the stars fall to the earth but later they are still in place.
  9. It is generally accepted that the visions in Daniel build on each other—each providing additional insights with respect to periods covered by previous visions.  Since Revelation is built on Daniel it is more than likely that the same principle applies in Revelation.
  10. Lastly, and possible most complex, is has been shown that the fifth trumpet precedes the sixth seal.  It is then impossible for the trumpets to be included in the seals.

The argument that the seven trumpets are included in the seventh seal is based on the fact that nothing happens in the seventh seal—only silence.  It is submitted that this is very scant evidence against the evidence submitted above.

It is proposed here that the seventh seal does not include 8:2-6 chronologically, but it does include those verses, and therefore the trumpets, thematically.  What is meant by this statement is that the silence refers to the judgement of the dead at the end of the Millennium, and the trumpets explain what God did to turn them from their disastrous paths.  In other words, in the first six seals the focus is on God’s people, in the seventh and in the trumpets the attention turns to the “the nations” (11:2).

In conclusion, instead of viewing the trumpets as coming out of the last seal, it seems to be more appropriate to view Rev 4-5 and Rev 8:2-6 as introductory scenes providing the vocabulary for the introductory formulas used with each of the seven trumpets.  The seven trumpets apparently start with Rev 8:2 and end with Rev 11:18. Rev 11:19 already belongs to the next part, functioning as an introductory sanctuary scene.

TO: General Table of Contents