SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE
In the Book of Revelation, there are several series of seven, of which the most important are the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowl plagues. The first four of each of these series of seven are general and non-specific and should not be individually interpreted. But the last three in each series represent very specific historical events and are individually interpreted. This approach is justified as follows:
THE NUMBER FOUR
In Revelation, the number four symbolizes the entire earth, for example, “the four corners of the earth” (Rev 7:1). For this reason, Revelation uses four words to describe the population of the world, where one word would have suffice, for example, “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9; cf. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15).
CREATION HAS FOUR ELEMENTS
Revelation describes the creation as composed of four elements; the earth, the sea and the waters and the heavens (Rev 14:7). Both the first four trumpets and the first four plagues target those four components of man’s environment and in the same sequence (Rev 8:7-8, 10, 12; 16:2-4, 8). These trumpets and plagues, therefore, are understood as various plagues that will fall on man’s total environment.
THE FIRST FOUR ARE SHORT.
The seven seals, seven trumpets and seven plagues cover, in total, 182 verses of which the first four seals, first four trumpets and first four plagues, in total, cover 12%. One, therefore, should not put too much focus on the first four of a series.
THE FOURTH SEAL IS A COMPOSITE.
The second seal is a great sword that men would slay one another (Rev 6:4). The third horse brings famine (Rev 6:5-6). The fourth seal includes both.
The first four seals, trumpets and plagues are, therefore, understood as worldwide and as ‘highly figurative’, by which is meant that not each object or event should be separately interpreted. But the fifth, sixth, and seventh in each series represent very specific historical events and should be individually interpreted.
– END OF SUMMARY –
REVELATION HAS SEVERAL SERIES OF SEVENS.
In Revelation 5, Jesus receives a scroll sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:1, 7). In Revelation 6 to 8, He breaks the seals one by one. Each seal results in dramatic events on earth.
In Revelation 8 to 11, seven angels blow seven trumpets, each with dramatic consequences on earth.
And then in Revelation 16, seven angels pour seven bowls with the seven last plagues out on earth, with catastrophic consequences.
There are several other sevens in Revelation.
PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE
This article proposes that the first four of each of these series of seven are general and non-specific. In other words, they are highly figurative, and should NOT BE INDIVIDUALLY INTERPRETED. But the last three in each series are specific and interpreted individually.
This approach is justified as follows:
(1) THE NUMBER FOUR SYMBOLIZES THE ENTIRE EARTH.
“I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth” (Rev 7:1).
This is also seen in the fact that FOUR WORDS are often used to describe the population of the world, where one word would have been sufficient:
- Tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9);
- Nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues (Rev 7:9);
- Peoples and nations and tongues and kings (Rev 10:11);
- Peoples and tribes and tongues and nations (Rev 11:9);
- Tribe and people and tongue and nation (Rev 13:7);
- Nation and tribe and tongue and people (Rev 14:6);
- Peoples and nations and tongues and kings (Rev 17:15);
(2) CREATION CONSISTS OF FOUR ELEMENTS.
Revelation describes the creation as composed of four elements:
“Worship him who made the heavens,
the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev 14:7).
The first four trumpets respectively attack exactly those elements (Rev 8:7-8, 10, 12). The first four plagues target the same four components of man’s environment and in the same sequence (Rev 16:2-4, 8). These trumpets and plagues, therefore, are understood as an attack on man’s total environment. They are merely various plagues that will fall on the entire earth.
(3) THE FIRST FOUR ARE VERY SHORT.
Thirdly, the average length of the description of the last three of a series is ten times longer than the first four:
- The first four seals cover 8 of the 35 verses of the seals (Rev 6:1-8:1).
- The first four trumpets cover 6 of the 63 verses of the trumpets (Rev 8:2-11:18).
- The first four plagues cover 8 of the 84 verses of the plagues Rev (16:1-19:21).
Some interpreters spend more time on the first four of a series than on the last three. For the reasons above, this seems to be the wrong approach.
(4) THE FOURTH SEAL IS A COMPOSITE OF THE PREVIOUS SEALS.
Lastly, the fourth seal seems like a composite of the previous two:
- The rider of the second horse has a great sword. It was given to him to takes peace from the earth; that men would slay one another (Rev 6:4).
- The third horse brings famine (Rev 6:5-6).
- The name of the fourth horse is Death, killing and it with the sword and with famine.
The first four seals, trumpets and plagues are, therefore, understood as worldwide and general. They are regarded as ‘highly figurative’, by which is meant that not each object or event should be separately interpreted:
- The first four seals describe the experience of God’s people on earth.
- The first four trumpets are plagues on the unrepentant world, to bring them to repentance.
- Similarly, the first four plagues are various plagues that fall on the people with the mark of the beast.
But the fifth, sixth, and seventh in each series represent very specific historical events. They are also symbolic, but here most elements of the symbols should be individually interpreted.
THE INTERLUDES EXPLAIN THE SERIES.
In each of the three sevens under discussion, we find an interlude between the sixth and the seventh elements. These interludes provide background information that explains the series in a less abstract manner:
- The interlude in the seals reveals God’s people (Rev 7), indicating that the seals describe the experience of God’s people.
- The interlude in the trumpets (Rev 10-11:13) describes the proclamation of the gospel to a fallen world.
- The interlude in the plagues (16:15) is more difficult to find but discussed below.
- There are several series of seven in Revelation.
- The first four of each of these series of seven are general and not individually interpreted.
- The number four symbolizes the entire earth.
- In each of the sevens, we find an interlude between the sixth and the seventh.
- These interludes explain the entire series of sevens in a less abstract (symbolic) manner.
ARTICLES ON THE PLAGUES
Introduction to the Plagues of Revelation
First four plagues:
The First Four are non-specific. – Current article
The Throne of the Beast
The Mighty Angel of Revelation 18
The Great River, the Euphrates, dries up.
Kings from the East
Revelation 16:15 and the Rapture
Why the Euphrates dries up (Current article)
Purpose of the Plagues:
I To show that God judges perfectly
II Satan presents his principles as good.