The Seven Seals of Revelation – Verse by verse summary

INTRODUCTION

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

This article explains the second main vision of Revelation, namely the seven seals of Revelation 4:1-8:1.

According to this vision, there was a book in heaven which no one was able to open but, through His death, Jesus became “worthy” to open it. The book was sealed with seven seals. Jesus breaks the seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. 

Many other interpretations focus on the events when the seals are broken and leave the interpretation of the sealed book fairly vague. In the current commentary, the identification of the book is foundational. The catastrophes caused by breaking the seals of the book can only be properly understood if we know what this book is.

Several detailed articles, that analyze this vision, have been posted on this website (See, List of articles). The current article summarizes these articles; mostly verse-by-verse. Since it is only a summary, it does not provide complete explanations but it does provide links to the articles with detailed discussions.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB and from the Book of Revelation.

OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT (4:1-8:1)

REVELATION 4 AND 5

Revelation 4 is a timeless description of worship in God’s throne room. Revelation 5:5 describes a specific event as a specific point in history, namely Christ’s death:

Before that point in time, there was a crisis in heaven, symbolized as a book that nobody is able to read because it is sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1-3). This symbolizes that there were things that the heavenly beings did not understand. John’s tears (Rev 5:4) symbolize the sorrow in heaven because these things are not understood. Apparently, this knowledge is of vital importance for the happiness of the universe.

Verse 5 turns that sorrow into joy, for it announces that Jesus has overcome to break the seals. Then Jesus appears as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6). Rev 5:5-6, therefore, describes the Cross. He takes the book (Rev 5:7) and the beings in God’s throne room declare Him worthy to break the seven seals and to open the book (Rev 5:9-10) but He does not do it immediately.

REVELATION 6

In this chapter, He breaks the first six seals one-by-one. The first four – the famous horsemen of the apocalypse – bring victory but also cause bloodshed, famine, and death (Rev 6:1-8).

The fifth seal shows the souls of God’s people who have been slain for their testimony. They are under the altar, symbolizing that they have been sacrificed on the altar DURING the first four seals. But this is not the end yet, for they are told to wait, for more must die for their faith (Rev 6:9-11).

The sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17) includes the signs in the heavens and on earth that are associated with the return of Christ. A great earthquake shifts mountains out of their places but the people of the world hide in the mountains because they are even more scared of “the wrath of the Lamb.

Given the signs of Christ’s return and the people hiding in the mountains from “the wrath of the Lamb,” the sixth seal must be very close to the return of Christ. But it is not yet His return, for, at His return, the hiding multitude will all be killed (Rev 19:21).

REVELATION 7

This chapter, at first, jumps back in time to describe the sealing of God’s people, which must be complete before the end-time cataclysms of the sixth seal. The four winds of destruction are held back until all God’s people are sealed (Rev 7:1-3). 144000 are sealed; 12000 from each of the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:4-8).

The second part of Revelation 7 describes a multitude “standing before the throne” of God; clothed in the white robes of salvation (Rev 7:9-17). At the end of Revelation 6, the multitude hiding in the mountains asks: “The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Since the multitude in Revelation 7 is “standing before the throne,” they are the answer to that question.

REVELATION 8

When Jesus breaks the final seal and opens the book, there in silence in heaven for half an hour (Rev 8:1).

QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE TEXT

This vision raises many questions, for example:

TIME BEFORE BEFORE CHRIST

      • How could there be things in heaven that nobody understands?
      • What do they not understand and why is this information so important?
      • The seven seals represent things that prevent the heavenly beings from understanding. What are the seals?

CHRIST

    • Why was not even the Son of God not able to open the book before His death (Rev 5:3) and how did His death make Him “worthy” to break the seals (Rev 5:9)?
    • The sixth seal has the signs of the return of Christ. The seals, therefore, are broken in the time between the Cross and His return. Why did Jesus not open the book (explain the contents) immediately after His death made Him worthy to do so (Rev 5:9)?

BREAKING THE SEALS

    • By breaking the seals, Jesus causes bloodshed, famine, and death. In other words, He explains the contents of the book through events on earth. Why are bloodshed, famine, and death required to make the heavenly beings understand?
    • When the seventh seal is broken and the contents of the book is fully understood, there is only silence in heaven (Rev 8:1). Why are the heavenly beings not happy, now that they understand everything?

SEAL OF THE LIVING GOD

    • In a play on words, while the book is unsealed, “the bond-servants of our God” are sealed with the seal of the living God (Rev 7:3). Why are only 144000 and only Jews sealed?
    • The purpose of the seal of the living God is to protect God’s people when the winds of destruction are released (Rev 7:1-3). This means that this seal is only available in the end time. What are these “winds” and how will the seal protect God’s end-time people?

REVELATION 5 IS CHRIST’S ASCENSION.

As discussed in the article on Revelation 4, that chapter does not describe a point in time but provides a timeless description of heavenly worship. Revelation 5, on the other hand, describes a specific meeting of all the billions of angels to see the Son receive the book that is sealed with seven seals. In Revelation 6, He breaks the seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. Therefore, to determine when the Lamb takes the book and to date the catastrophes caused by breaking the seals, we have to date the meeting of Revelation 5. Since this is critical for the interpretation of this entire vision, it is discussed first.

Many put this meeting in the end-time; shortly before Christ’s return. However, for the following reasons, it is proposed here that Revelation 5 describes Jesus’ enthronement immediately after his ascension to heaven. This is justified as follows:

(A) REVELATION 5 FITS THE NEW TESTAMENT’S DESCRIPTION OF HIS ASCENSION.

What we see in Revelation 5 fits exactly with what the New Testament says happened after His ascension. According to the New Testament:

After Jesus was slain, raised to life, and caught up to heaven, He was enthroned at the Father’s right hand (e.g., Eph 1:20-22).

Fifty days after His crucifixion on the feast of the Passover and ten days after His ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33).

This is also what we see in Revelation 5:

In verse 5, one of the elders says that the Son has “overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Then Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). These verses point to His death. In the next verse, Jesus takes the book (Rev 5:7). Since He receives the book because He overcame, it implies that He receives the book immediately after His death.

The book is in or on the right hand of God (Rev 5:1). The New Testament frequently states that Jesus sat down “at the right hand of God” (e.g. Mark 16:19). Presumably, when He took the book, He also sat down at God’s right hand.

In Revelation 4, “the seven Spirits of God” are “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but, after the Son appears as a slain lamb, the Spirit is said to be “sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6). This corresponds with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

(B) REV 3:21 PUTS REV 5 IN THE PROPHET’S PAST.

This verse refers to Revelation 5 as something that happened in the prophet’s past. In other words, the meeting of Revelation 5 occurred before the year AD100. To explain:

Revelation 3:21 is one of the verses in Revelation that are found in the climax of one part of the book that serves as an introduction to the next. Rev 3:21 is the climax of the seven letters. At the same time, it outlines the next main section in Revelation 4 to 7. It reads:

He who overcomes,
I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne,
as I also overcame
and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Based on the verb tense, this verse may be divided into the past, present, and future:

PAST TENSE

The two past tense verbs describe events in John’s past. Both these verbs correspond to Revelation 5:

        • I also overcame” is equivalent to Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book” (Rev 5:5).
        • Sat down with My Father on His throne” aligns to verse 7, where He ascends to His Father’s throne.

Since the past tense verbs align with Revelation 5, and since the past tense indicates that these things happened in John’s past, Revelation 5 describes events in John’s past.

FUTURE TENSE

The future tense “I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne” is fulfilled in Revelation 7, where John saw “a great multitude” (Rev 7:9) enjoying the glories of eternal life (Rev 7:15-17).

PRESENT TENSE

Since the past tense refers to Rev 5 and the future tense to Rev 7, the present tense “He who overcomes” aligns with Rev 6. The breaking of the seals in Rev 6, therefore, describes events in the prophet’s time and in our time; the time between His death and His return.

Since the events of Rev 5 precede the events of Rev 6, this again confirms that Rev 5 describes events right at the beginning of the church age.

(C) THE SYNOPTIC APOCALYPSE ALIGNS THE FOUR HORSEMEN WITH THE CHURCH AGE.

The conclusion above is also supported by the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). In it, Jesus divided history into three great parts. Revelation 6 follows this pattern:

Synoptic Apocalypse Revelation 6
General realities of the Christian age (gospel, wars, famines, pestilence); The first four seals
Great persecution toward the end of that era; Fifth seal
Signs associated with His return; Sixth seal.

These parallels indicate that the first four seals describe the church age. Since chapter five precedes the first four seals, Revelation 5 must be an event right at the beginning of the Christian era.

CONCLUSION

Revelation 5 is the enthronement of the Son after His ascension. For that reason, and because Revelation 6 ends with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-17), the seals in Revelation 6 describe the church age; the present-tense overcoming of God’s people.

It also means that Revelation 5 is not an end-time judgment event, as some suppose. This is confirmed by the absence of books being opened, as one finds in other judgment scenes (Dan 7; Rev 20), and the absence of typical judgment language. 

If Revelation 5 is also not the anti-type of the great Old Testament day of judgment. This is confirmed by the absence of the ark of the covenant, judgment language, the Most Holy Place, and by the mention of a male goat.

Remember, this article is only a summary and does not provide complete explanations. Please follow the links provided in the section headings to the detailed discussions. For the detailed discussion of the current section, see Revelation 5.

REVELATION 4:1-8
– VERSE BY VERSE –

REVELATION 4:1

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven

After the letters from Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 1 to 3.

and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said

Jesus’ voice (Rev 1:10, 13)

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

In Revelation 1, Jesus was standing between “seven golden lampstands,” symbolizing “the seven churches” (Rev 1:12, 20). There, He was on earth. Now, Jesus calls John up into heaven. Chapter 4, therefore, shifts the focus from earth to heaven.

In the view of many people, Rev 4:1 is the rapture of the church. But since Revelation 5 describes Jesus’ enthronement after His ascension, it cannot be the rapture. This is confirmed in Revelation 10, where John personally symbolizes the church, and he is still on earth. It is more likely that Rev 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called to “Come up here,” represents the rapture of the church.

REVELATION 4:2

Immediately I was in the Spirit

John did not literally enter heaven and he does not see a real place; he only sees a symbolic representation of the invisible reality in a vision of his mind.

and behold, a throne

The first thing that John sees, is God’s throne. “Throne” is the main word in chapter 4. Everything in this chapter happens in and around the throne. Revelation 4 is a vision of the governing center of the universe, and the throne symbolizes God’s authority.

was standing in heaven

The throne “was standing” before John saw it. This implies that John is now not viewing one specific event but a timeless description of God’s throne room. Further indications of this are:

        • The four living creatures praise God “day and night” (Rev 4:8).
        • Whenever the four living creatures praise God, the 24 elders join them in worship (Rev 4:9).

and One sitting on the throne

This Person is not named but Rev 5:13 and Rev 6:16 distinguish between “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus Christ. The “One sitting on the throne,” therefore, is God. (Revelation uses the title “God” only for the Father.) Since He sits on the throne, He has the ultimate authority over the universe.

REVELATION 4:3

And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

There is a vagueness in God’s description. Other throne visions describe Him in human terms. For example, in Ezekiel 1:26-27, the one sitting on the throne, from the waist up, looks like glowing metal and from the waist down like fire.

God’s appearance is vague because He cannot be seen (John 1:18). He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16). He has created all things that can be seen. He exists outside space, time, and matter. Therefore, the substance of His Being can never be defined in terms of physical things.

REVELATION 4:4

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones;
and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting,
clothed in white garments,
and golden crowns on their heads.

Based on the following, the 24 elders are human representatives of God’s people; not angels:

    • Elder” is a familiar Biblical title for human beings but not for angels.
    • Angels never sit on thrones and never wear crowns of any kind but humans do (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 3:21; 20:4).
    • The number 24 is a doubling of 12 and Revelation associates the number 12 with the people of God (Rev 12:1; 21:9-10).

The 12+12=24 elders symbolize God’s people from both the time of the Old Testament and from the church because Revelation merges the church into Israel. For example:

    • Revelation uses Israel’s capital (Jerusalem) as a symbol for the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27) and, on it, the names of both the 12 “tribes” and the 12 “apostles” are written (Rev 21:12, 14). 
    • The woman of Revelation 12 first symbolizes the Old Testament people of God but, after Christ ascended to heaven (Rev 12:5), she symbolizes the church (e.g., Rev 12:6).

Jesus, similarly, said to His disciples:

In the new world … you … will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).

In other words, Jesus said that the twelve disciples have become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

REVELATION 4:5

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.

Since these are things that happen in the air in a thunderstorm, and since they here come out of the throne, they represent God’s decisions. The “earthquake” and “great hail,” that are later added to this trio (Rev 8:5; 16:18; 11:19), represent the earthly consequences of God’s decisions.

And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,
which are the seven Spirits of God

God does not literally have seven Spirits. The number seven is a symbol that is derived from the seven days of the week. As such, the number seven is different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stand in a chronological sequence—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so on, with the seventh as the last. The number seven, therefore, should be understood as ‘always’. Consequently, the seven Spirits of God may be interpreted to mean that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS present.

REVELATION 4:6-8

6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;

Not a real sea of glass – John is doing his best to describe his vision.

and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures

They represent the angelic portion of God’s kingdom. They are always in close proximity to the throne (Rev 4:6; 5:6; 7:11; 14:3). They seem to be intermediaries between God and the human race, represented by the 24 elders. They are the primary connection between God and creation.

full of eyes in front and behind.
7 The first creature was like a lion,
and the second creature like a calf,
and the third creature had a face like that of a man,
and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.

The throne vision of Ezekiel 1 also has four living creatures with faces like a lion, ox, man, and eagle/vulture that are full of eyes (Ezek 1:5, 10, 18). Also in that vision, the four living creatures are especially close to God.

8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings

The seraphim of Isaiah 6 each has six wings (Isa 6:2) and, just like the four living creatures of Revelation 4, they constantly say, “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).

are full of eyes around and within

This is not to be taken literally. Their eyes probably represent omniscience, for God knows everything. Since the number four represents ‘the whole earth’, the four living creatures symbolize knowledge of everything on earth.

REVELATION 4:8-11
– VERSE BY VERSE –

REVELATION 4:8 CONTINUED

and day and night they do not cease to say,
“HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD,

The first half of Revelation 4 described God’s throne room visually. From this phrase onwards, it describes the sounds of worship in God’s presence.

God is holy because He is the Uncreated Source of all things. All else exists because He exists.

While the four living creatures praise God “day and night,” Satan accuses God’s people “day and night” before God (Rev 12:9); effectively accusing God of unfair judgment. Christ’s victorious death (Rev 12:5; cf. 5:5) made an end to Satan’s accusations (Rev 12:8) but Revelation 4 describes the time before He died. Consequently, the four living creatures, by praising God “day and night,” oppose Satan’s “day and night” accusations.

THE ALMIGHTY

This phrase appears 9 times in Revelation and only once in the New Testament outside Revelation. The Bible never refers to Jesus as “the Almighty” but distinguishes Him from “the Almighty“ (Rev 21:22; cf. 19:15). For a discussion, see The Almighty. 

WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND IS TO COME

This may be related to the “I AM“-title in Exodus 3:14 and another way of saying that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). In Revelation, only the Father:

        • Is called God (e.g., Rev 1:2);
        • Is the Almighty,
        • Sits on the throne,
        • Lives forever (Rev 5:9),
        • Willed all things to exist (Rev 4:11) and
        • Was and is and is to come (e.g., Rev 1:4-5).

The controversy in the church over the nature of Christ raged at least since the fourth century. Very few people seem to know this, but the decisions to adopt the Trinity doctrine, which means that the Son is equally also the Almighty Uncaused Cause of all things, were not taken by Church Councils, but by the Roman Emperors. Constantine, Theodosius, and Justinian were key role-players. As attested by the series of articles on the historical development of the Trinity doctrine, this was the greatest controversy in the church of all time and will continue to rage until Christ returns and may even play a key role in end-time events.

 

This website proposes that the Son has created all things – even time – and, therefore, always existed. However, God exists outside the time, space, and matter of our universe. In that incomprehensible infinity, God has “begotten” His Son as the beginning of the universe. Only God, therefore, is the Almighty uncaused Cause of all things.  

REVELATION 4:9

And when the living creatures give
glory and honor and thanks

The word “when” implies repetitive action and can also be translated as “whenever.” It confirms that this fourth chapter does not describe one specific event, but the general condition in God’s presence.

to Him who sits on the throne

This is the “One sitting on the throne” in verse 2, namely God.

to Him who lives forever and ever

Jesus is “alive forevermore” (Rev 1:18), but only the Father is “Him who lives forever” (Rev 4:9, 10; 15:7). The Father “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim 6:16). As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus derived His eternal nature from the Father. The Father is the Unbegotten Source of all things. For a discussion see, God is the Head of Christ.

REVELATION 4:10

the twenty-four elders will fall down
before Him who sits on the throne,
and will worship Him who lives forever and ever,

This verse translates the two key words for worship in Revelation as “fall down” and “worship.” Both words mean to prostrate oneself in obeisance toward a god or an exalted person like a king; similar to how Muslims worship. The modern word “worship” has a different meaning and is usually presented as people standing with hands in the air.

and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying

The twenty-four elders acknowledge that they owe their victory completely to Him.

REVELATION 4:11

“Worthy are You, our Lord

Lord (Greek: kurios) means owner, master, or husband. It is an expression of respect, similar to “sir” in English. The New Testament uses it for God (e.g., Matt 5:33), for Jesus Christ (e.g., Matt 20:31), and for the Roman emperor (Acts 25:26).

and our God

The word “God” translates the Greek word theos. This is the word which the Greeks used for the many gods of their pantheon. The New Testament uses theos for:

        • The God of Israel (Gal 4:8),
        • The Father who sent Jesus (John 17:3),
        • Jesus (John 1:1),
        • Satan (2 Cor 4:4) and
        • The gods of the nations (1 Cor 8:5).

The ancients did not distinguish between lower- and upper-case characters. The word “God,” with a capital G, is a more modern invention that functions as a proper name for one specific Being, namely the Almighty. The title theos, therefore, may also be translated as “god.” To retain the original meaning of the current verse, it might have been more appropriate to translate it as “our lord and our god.”

to receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things

For this reason, God is worthy to receive our “glory and honor and power.

and because of Your will they existed,
and were created.”

Behind the act of creation lies His “will.” Were it not for the will of God, the universe would not exist.

WHAT IS THE SEALED BOOK?

John saw a book in God’s right hand which is sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1). A sealed book symbolizes concealed knowledge. In Rev 6:1 to 8:1, Jesus breaks the seven seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. We cannot understand what these events are unless we understand what this book represents.

At first, no one in heaven is found “worthy” to open the book (Rev 5:3). In other words, nobody in heaven is able to explain the things written in the book. John weeps greatly (Rev 5:4). John is now in heaven (Rev 4:1). His great weeping symbolizes the great sorrow among the beings in heaven caused by this inability to understand. Apparently, this knowledge is of vital importance for the happiness of the universe.

But then, Christ’s victory on earth solves this crisis and turns the sorrow into joy: He “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5).

The book of life is mentioned 6 times in Revelation. As its name also indicates, it contains the names of those who will inherit eternal life. “Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” shall enter the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2, 27). “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” (Rev 20:14-15).

THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

This is indicated by the following:

Book of LifeBoth books are written by God: Since God decides who His elect are, He writes the book of life. The sealed book, similarly, is in God’s hand (Rev 5:1), implying that He wrote it.

Both books belong to the slain Lamb: The book of life, for example, is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8; 21:27). The sealed book, similarly, is received by Jesus after He appeared as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6-7).

Both books are required for redemption: The book of life is opened in the last judgment (Rev 20:12, 15). And Jesus is worthy to open the sealed book because He died to “purchase” people for God (Rev 5:9). This implies that opening this book is also required for the redemption of God’s people.

Both books are opened after Christ’s return: As stated, the book of life will be opened in the final great judgment. When Jesus breaks the seals one by one, the sixth seal contains the signs of His return (Rev 16:12-14; cf. Matt 24:29-30) and the seventh seal is His return.

Both books divide the people of the world permanently between those who will die and those who will live eternally: The last two seals divide people between God’s people, standing before His throne (Rev 7:9), and the people hiding in the mountains (Rev 6:17), to be killed when Christ returns (Rev 19:21).

These parallels between the two books indicate that the sealed book is the book of life. Below, this article argues that Revelation 12 confirms that the sealed book is the book of life. To prepare for that argument, the following is a very brief overview of key aspects from Rev 12:

OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 12

Rev 12:5 describes Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension in a single verse. Rev 12:7-12 describes the war between the angels in heaven. Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven (Rev 12:8-9), making an end to that war. Rev 12:13 explains the time sequence. It indicates that Satan was expelled from heaven immediately after Christ’s death. The following confirms this:

      • Satan’s expulsion (Rev 12:8-9) is mentioned after Christ ascension (Rev 12:5).
      • Michael’s angels overcame Satan “because of the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 12:11).

The nature of the “war in heaven” is implied by the identification of Satan in the context as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). He specifically accuses only God’s elect, giving reasons why they should not be saved. Satan effectively accuses God of unfair judgment. Satan shows that the elect are also sinners and, if he deserves to die, then the elect must also die.

Michael and his angels protect God’s people (Dan 12:1) and defend God’s judgments. The “war in heaven,” therefore, is a dispute between the angels of heaven over whether God’s judgments are always perfect.

This war raged in heaven ever since Adam sinned. Since Jesus had to die to make an end to this war, Michael and his angels were unable to show conclusively that God’s judgments are always perfect.

A single error in God’s judgments would reduce the perfect happiness of the whole universe for all eternity. Therefore, until all understand that His judgments are perfect, God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments.

REVELATION 12 CONFIRMS THAT THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

For the following reasons, Revelation 5 and 12 describe the same crisis:

      • The first four verses of both chapters describe the time before Christ and the fifth verse of both chapters refers to Christ’s death. The rest of both chapters describe the time after Christ.
      • Both chapters describe a crisis in heaven that relates to an inability to understand:
        • In Rev 5, a book with seven seals that no one in heaven is able to open causes much sorrow.
        • In Rev 12, a war rages between the angels of heaven because Michael’s angels are unable to conclusively prove that God’s judgments are always perfect.
      • In both chapters, Christ’s death solved the crisis:
        • In Rev 5, Jesus “has overcome” to break the seven seals, turning the sorrow into joy (Rev 5:5).
        • In Rev 12, after Christ’s death, Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven, bringing the war to an end.

The parallels above imply that the sealed book and the “war in heaven” describe the same crisis. Since the war raged in heaven in the time before Christ because nobody was able to refute Satan’s allegations that God judges unfairly, the book was sealed in the time before Christ because of the inability to fully explain God’s judgments. Since the book of life symbolizes God’s judgments, it is the book of life that is sealed.

Consequently:

      1. The seven seals are Satan’s brilliantly presented accusations against the people whom God elected to eternal life.
      2. John’s tears (Rev 5:4) represents the sorrow in heaven for, unless a solution is found, God will never be able to execute His judgments and Satan and evil will exist forever. Therefore, if Jesus did not “overcome” (Rev 5:5), evil would have to exist for all eternity.
      3. To break the seals means to refute Satan’s accusations.
      4. To open the book does not mean to learn WHO is listed in the book, but to understand WHY they and only they are saved.

CHRIST RESOLVES THE CRISIS THROUGH DEMONSTRATIONS.

CHRIST REFUTES SATAN
OVER THE CHURCH AGE
THROUGH THE DEEDS OF PEOPLE.

To break the seals of the book means to remove the things that prevent understanding. This means to refute Satan’s allegations that God judges unfairly.

Christ’s death did not immediately end the dispute. He takes the book after His ascension (Rev 5:7) and He breaks the seals in the time between His death and His return. Sin still reigns on earth today because Satan’s charges of unfair judgments have not yet been completely refuted.

Each time that Jesus breaks a seal, things happen on earth. This symbolizes that He directs events on earth to refute Satan’s criticism of God’s judgments through events on earth, namely through the deeds of people (cf. Rev 20:12; Rom 2:6) “Deeds” include the entire being; his words, deeds, thoughts, desires, and faith.

REDEMPTION HAS TWO PARTS.

Both Rev 5:9-10 and 12:11 explain that the crisis was resolved through a two-part process:

The first part of redemption is through Christ’s death:

      • In Rev 5:9-10, He purchased people with His blood.
      • In Rev 12:11, they overcame the accuser because of the blood of the Lamb.

In the second part of redemption, Jesus will break the seals which means to refute Satan by directing events on earth to reveal the “deeds” of people, which are “their testimony:

      • In Rev 5:9-10, because He purchased people with His blood, He is worthy to break the seals.
      • In Rev 12:11, they overcame the accuser also because of the word of our brethren’s testimony.

Therefore, both the death of Christ and the testimony of His people are required to defeat Satan. Christ has not yet returned because Satan has not yet been fully refuted by revealing the deeds of people. Jesus died to save people but saving people includes refuting Satan’s objections to the names in the book of life.

WHAT MADE HIM WORTHY?
– DEATH OR OVERCOMING –

According to Rev 5:5, Christ is able to break the seals and to open the book because He “has overcome.” In contrast, according to Rev 5:9-10, He is worthy to break the seals because He was “slain” and purchased people with His “blood.” The purpose of this section is to show that these are different ways of saying the same thing because His “blood” refers to how He overcame:

Overcome” means to “be faithful until death” (Rev 2:10) to the will of God.

When the Bible says that people are saved by the blood of the Son, His blood serves as a symbol for His death.

His death was not limited to the moment of His last breath. His death refers to the last hours of His life.

Jesus remained “faithful until death.” His death, understood as His final hours when Satan inflicted the most severe temptations on Him, was His highest and final test but also His greatest victory. That victory reflects how He overcame throughout His entire life, for if He was unfaithful to God at any time during His life, His death would not have been of any value.

In conclusion, when the Bible refers to His blood or to His death, it really refers to the fact that He remained faithful until death. We are not saved by Christ’s literal blood or death, but because He remained “faithful until death.

WHAT CHANGED AT HIS DEATH?

The CrossBefore His death, nobody was able to break the seals (Rev 5:3) but, because of His death, Jesus Christ is declared “worthy” to do it (Rev 5:9). Since His death refers to His final hours in which He overcame Satan’s ultimate temptations, the question is: How did overcoming make Him “worthy” to break the seals (Rev 5:5)?

We should agree that the Son of God was not somehow improved. Neither did God change to become willing to forgive, as church tradition claims. Rather, God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son (John 3:16). Consider what we read in the text. As indicated by the following, His death demonstrated something about Him that was always true but not always known:

    1. He “has overcome” to break the seals (Rev 5:5). This implies that He came to earth to be tested. What changed is that He passed the test, demonstrating His worthiness.
    2. Rev 12:10-11 identifies two weapons by which Satan is defeated, namely “the blood of the Lamb” and the “testimonyof God’s people. Since God’s people demonstrate their faith by “their testimony,” it implies that “the blood of the Lamb” demonstrates the Lamb’s faith.
    3. It was not God who declared the Son “worthy,” but the heavenly beings (Rev 5:9-10), implying that His worthiness was something which they observed.
    4. After Christ’s death, Satan was “thrown down” (Rev 12:8), symbolizing his loss of influence over the angels. In contrast, Jesus “was caught up to God” (Rev 12:5), implying that He was “caught up” also in terms of influence.
    5. The rest of the New Testament supports the concept that Christ’s death was a demonstration (Rom 3:25, 26).

In conclusion, Satan claimed that the Son is unworthy but Christ’s willingness to be tested and the purity of His life demonstrated His eternal character. This confirmed Him to be “worthy” to reveal the contents of the book.

Satan is perhaps the most talented and most beautiful of all of God’s creatures (cf. Ezek 28:12, 17). But he used his talents to glorify himself. Perhaps Satan argued that the Son of God would also use His powers to benefit Himself, given the right circumstances. To be tested, the Son of God became a vulnerable human being. He had enormous powers. He could calm the winds and the waves (Matt 8:26), command “twelve legions of angels” (Matt 26:53), and raise people from death (e.g. John 11:43-44). But when sinful men nailed Him to a wooden pole, He did not use His powers to benefit Himself. In this, He demonstrated God’s character.

WHY WAS THE SON NOT WORTHY BEFORE HIS DEATH?

But the question remains, why was the Son of God not regarded “worthy” to refute Satan’s accusations before His death?

This can only be due to Satan’s accusations. While Satan accused God’s people, the Son of God defended God’s judgments. Just like Satan, with the enormous talents God gave him, was able to create doubt in the minds of the created universe about the veracity of God’s judgments of sinners, he was also able to create doubt about the truthfulness of the Son’s defense of God’s people.

To defend Himself against Satan’s charges, the only begotten Son of God was willing to subject Himself to a test by becoming a vulnerable human being. He was fully tested and won the victory by remaining “faithful until death.

This refuted Satan’s accusations against Him. Now the universe is convinced that Jesus is “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:14). They trust Him to reveal the truth about God’s judgments.

However, even after the Cross, the book remains sealed. Christ’s death did not immediately refute Satan’s objections to God’s elect. Just like Christ’s life was a demonstration of His eternal character, the lives of God’s people, particularly during the end-time crisis, will demonstrate that God’s people are worthy of salvation. When the seventh seal is broken and all Satan’s arguments have been fully refuted, Christ will return and the elect will be resurrected.

HOW GOD RULES THE UNIVERSE

The previous discussion assumes that God allows His creatures to question His judgments. Many Christians think of God as a dictator, deciding unilaterally who will be saved and who will go to hell.

This website takes the opposite view, namely that the Almighty God populated the universe with creatures that are truly free, for true love is only possible in freedom. For love to be genuine, it must be freely given. God’s creatures are free to love, but also free to rebel against their Creator without even the fear of punishment. If we obey because we fear punishment, then we are not really free. (God will eventually destroy evil, but only after the created universe agrees that this is the only way of restoring happiness in the universe.) 

Lucifer (meaning light bearer) at first was without sin (Ezek 28:15) but became the proud devil and Satan: “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty” (Ezek. 28:17). For that reason, “unrighteousness was found in you” (Ezek 28:5; cf, Isaiah 14).

When God condemned his behavior, Lucifer criticized God’s judgment. Because of the freedom His creatures have, God has allowed Satan complete freedom to defend himself.

To combat this rebellion with force, BEFORE the intelligent creatures are able to understand that Satan’s allegations are false, will only serve to confirm to them that Satan’s charges are true. Therefore, God provides evidence of the perfect accuracy of His judgments. This is what the seven seals of Revelation are all about.

Consistent with the principle of complete freedom, the One through whom God created all things (Col 1:16-17), works in the weakness of a slain lamb (Rev 5:6). This is how God rules the universe. He is infinitely powerful but exercises that power through self-sacrificial love. For a further discussion, see, Why Satan thought he could win.

REVELATION 5 VERSE-BY-VERSE

REVELATION 5:1

I saw in the right hand
of Him who sat on the throne

This Greek phrase can mean either “in” the right hand or “at” the right hand (or side – of God). If we assume that Jesus, when He took the book (Rev 5:7), also sat down with His Father on His throne (Rev 3:21; 22:1), it is possible to understand the book to be AT the right side of God because the NT frequently states that Jesus sat down “at the right hand of God” (e.g., Rom 8:34).

a book written inside and on the back,
sealed up with seven seals.

Both Revelation 5 and 12 describe a crisis in heaven that relates to a lack of understanding and that was solved by Christ’s death, namely the sealed book in Revelation 5 and the war between the angels in Revelation 12 (Rev 12:7). For that reason, it was concluded that these two chapters describe the same crisis with different symbols.

On the basis of Revelation 12, the crisis in heaven has been identified as a dispute between the angels of heaven over the perfection of God’s judgments. Consequently, the sealed book has been interpreted as the book of God’s judgments (the book of life) and the seals as Satan’s informed accusations against God’s elect. Through these accusations, Satan effectively accuses God of unfair judgment.

God’s judgments are known. “Sealed up,” in this instance, means that, due to Satan’s accusations, even God’s loyal angels are unable to fully refute Satan’s allegations of unfair judgment.

REVELATION 5:2

And I saw a strong angel
proclaiming with a loud voice,
“Who is worthy to open the book
and to break its seals?”

Since the book contains God’s judgments, to open the book is to explain God’s judgments; to show that His judgments are perfect. The book is opened by breaking the seals, which means to refute Satan’s accusations against God’s elect. How Christ does that is explained in Revelation 6.

REVELATION 5:3

And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth
was able to open the book or to look into it.

The Son of God defended God’s people and God judgments. As part of Satan’s strategy to discredit God’s judgments, Satan was able to create doubt in the minds of the created universe of the truthfulness of the Son’s defense of God’s people and of God’s judgments. In that sense, before His death, not even the Son was not regarded as “worthy” to open the book. 

REVELATION 5:4

Then I began to weep greatly
because no one was found worthy
to open the book or to look into it;

John’s weeping symbolizes the great sorrow in God’s creation caused by the inability to conclusively prove the perfection of God’s judgments. For as long as Satan’s objections to God’s judgments remain unrefuted – until all understand that His judgments are perfect, God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments; both the destruction of evil and the resurrection of God’s elect. For that reason, evil still rules on earth today; 2000 years after Christ died.

REVELATION 5:5

and one of the elders said to me,
“Stop weeping;

Since joy now replaces the weeping of verse 4, verse 5 describes a specific point in time. In verse 6, Jesus will appear as a slain lamb. That explains HOW he overcame, namely at the cross as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Revelation 5:5, therefore, can be dated to Christ’s death. Consequently, the remainder of Revelation 5 describes events in heaven immediately AFTER Christ’s ascension. For the same reason, Revelation 5:1-4 and John’s weeping describe the time BEFORE Christ’s death. 

Jesus walks on water

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.”

The word “overcome” is used many times in Revelation (e.g., Rev 2:26). It means to be “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10); to maintain your testimony “even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11). People are not persecuted for their faith, but for their testimony.

Jesus overcame throughout His life. But His highest test and greatest victory were in the hours of His death, for He overcame by remaining “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). For that reason, His death – understood as the final hours of His life – symbolizes how He overcame throughout His life.

Why did Jesus have to remain “faithful until death” to be able to open the book (explain God’s judgments)? Before His death, the Son of God, due to Satan’s accusations, was not regarded “worthy” by all. But, by remaining faithful to God under the most severe circumstances, He was demonstrated to be “worthy” (Rev 5:9).

REVELATION 5:6

And I saw between the throne
(with the four living creatures)
and the elders

This recalls some detail from chapter four. The throne was at the center of that vision, surrounded by the four living creatures and by the 24 elders.

Lamb of Goda Lamb standing, as if slain,

He “has overcome;” not by using His lion-like power (Rev 5:5) but by restraining His power and, like a lamb, by offering up His life

John hears about a lion (Rev 5:5) but when he looks, He sees a lamb. These animals seem like opposites, but reflect two different roles of the same person; Jesus Christ.

having seven horns and seven eyes,
which are the seven Spirits of God,

It is not a literal lamb and not seven literal eyes or horns. Revelation depicts reality by means of symbols. As discussed under Rev 4:5, the number seven symbolizes completion in terms of time. The seven eyes symbolize that, through the working of God’s Spirit, Christ knows everything that happens on the earth.

Horns symbolize authority (Rev 17:10). The seven horns mean that He will ALWAYS reign (Rev 11:15; cf. Matt 28:18).

sent out into all the earth.

Before Jesus appeared in the throne room, “the seven Spirits of God” are “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but, now they are “sent out into all the earth.” In the context of a slain lamb, this points to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples (cf. Acts 2:33). 

REVELATION 5:7

And He came and took the book
out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Lambs do not have hands and cannot take books. This shows again that these visions are not to be interpreted literally. John did not literally see literal things.

The book is in the “right hand” of God (Rev 5:1). The Scriptures, elsewhere, frequently states that Jesus sat down “at His right hand” (e.g. Eph 1:20; cf. Rev 3:21). This implies that, when Jesus takes the book in the current verse, He also sits down on God’s throne. 

Christ’s victory did not immediately open the book. The book remains sealed because He, by overcoming, did not refute Satan’s objections against God’s elect.

In the current verse, Jesus receives the book but He does not open it immediately. He breaks the seals one by one in Revelation 6, causing catastrophes on earth. The sixth seal has the signs of His return (Rev 6:12-15). This means that Jesus refutes Satan’s accusations in the time between His death and His return by directing events on earth. Particularly during the end-time crisis, the lives (deeds) of God’s elect will demonstrate that they are worthy of salvation.

REVELATION 5:8

When He had taken the book,
the four living creatures
and the twenty-four elders
fell down before the Lamb,

The word translated “fell down” is one of the two main Greek words for worship (the other is proskuneó – see also Rev 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). This is the ancient form of obeisance—falling down on one’s face (1 Cor 14:25), much as Muslims do still today.

each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.

The Old Testament also associates prayer with incense (Psa 141:2; cf. Lev 16:12-13). In the temple context, while the priest was offering incense inside the temple, the people outside were in prayer before God (see Luke 1:9-10). Likewise, here, the elders, representatives of humanity, offer incense to God while the church on earth is praying.

REVELATION 5:9-10

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

The Cross of ChristChrist’s blood symbolizes His death. His death does not only refer to when He breathed His last but to His final hours when tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him.

men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Similar four-fold listings of the people are found throughout Revelation (e.g., Rev 10:11; 14:7; 17:15). The number four represents worldwide extension, for example, in the four corners of the earth (Rev 7:1). These four elements, therefore, sum up all the people in the world.

Is it not wonderful that people from every tribe and tongue will be saved? According to Rev 7:9, an innumerable multitude will be saved. Praise the Lord!

REVELATION 5:10

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God;

A priest is someone who stands between God and the people. God called Israel a kingdom of priests (Exo 19:6). Israel was not called for its own sake, but to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1-3).

The New Testament writers understood the church to be a new Israel, with the twelve disciples becoming the leaders of the twelve tribes (Matt 19:28-30). Israel, therefore, is no longer constituted on the basis of physical descent from Jacob but in relation to the Jewish Messiah Jesus. See the discussion under Rev 4:4 or the article on the 24 elders.

and they will reign upon the earth.”

Note the cause-consequence sequence in this song:

        • PAST: The three verbs “slain … purchased …. made” indicate what has already been accomplished.
        • PRESENT: For that reason, Jesus Christ is now “worthy.”
        • FUTURE: Once He has broken all the seals, “they will reign upon the earth.”

REVELATION 5:11

11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders;

The throne is in the center, surrounded by a rainbow, the four living creatures, the elders in the next circle, and the larger multitude of angels in the outer ring (Rev 4:3-4).

and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands,

The number of angels seems too large to be exactly counted (cf. Heb 12:22; Dan 7:10). In Rev 7:11, the number of the redeemed is also too large to count. This, therefore, is not literally true. It symbolizes that there is a vast multitude of angels around the throne.

REVELATION 5:12

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.”

REVELATION 5:13-14

13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,

“To Him who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb,
be blessing and honor and glory and
dominion forever and ever.” 

14 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

There are five songs of praise in Revelation 4 and 5:

        • The first two are sung to the One sitting on the throne, “for You created all things” (Rev 4:11).
        • The third and fourth hymns are sung in praise to the Lamb, “for You … purchased for God with Your blood men” (Rev 5:9-10).
        • But the final hymn in Rev 5:13, as the climax of the series, is sung to both and by every created being.

WORSHIP BOTH THE FATHER AND THE SON.

In Rev 5:13, all creation bows down to praise both “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus. For some, this is evidence that Jesus Christ is equal to His Father. However:

    • The Father is “Him who sits on the throne” and, therefore, the ultimate Ruler.
    • As discussed above under Rev 4:8, according to Revelation, only the Father is Almighty, has essential immortality, and has willed all things to exist (Rev 4:11).
    • Philippians 2:6-11 also explains the worship in heaven after Jesus’ ascension to heaven and, therefore, explains this scene in Revelation 5. That passage indicates that Jesus is worshiped:
      • Because “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil 2:9) and
      • To the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).
        For a discussion, see the article on Philippians 2.

God is the Creator, but He created all things through His Son, gave all authority to His Son, and wish that “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). However, when God’s end-time people are called to “Fear God, and … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev 14:7), it is a call to worship the Father. 

THE FIRST FOUR SEALS

THE FIRST SEAL IS THE GOSPEL.

Rev 6:1 Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals,
and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.”
2 I looked, and behold, a white horse,
and he who sat on it had a bow;
and a crown was given to him,
and he went out conquering and to conquer.

PARTHIANS

In the preterist view, the first seal describes the Parthians, a first-century enemy of the Roman Empire, who rode on white horses. However, the seals symbolize spiritual realities; not literal things such as literal horses. The seals must be interpreted symbolically, as shown below. Furthermore, this horse “went out conquering and to conquer,” which implies it will never stop conquering and portrays events leading all the way up to the second coming. It cannot be limited to the beginning of the church age, as the Parthian interpretation does.

GOSPEL

For the following reasons, this article proposes that the white horse represents the gospel:

    • in Revelation, the color white always refers to the things of Christ.
    • A diadma crown symbolizes a ruler’s authority but this rider receives a stephanos crown, which is always used for Christ and His people.
    • The rider on the white horse “went out conquering and to conquer.” In the seals, the words for conquering (also translated as “overcome,”) refer to Christ and his people (Rev 3:21 and 5:5).
    • In the Synoptic Apocalypse, (Matt 24), Jesus predicted that the church age will be a period of gospel preaching, war, famine, pestilence, and persecution of His people. We see the same things in the seals, but if the rider on the white horse is not the gospel, then the gospel would be absent in the seals.
    • The other rider on a white horse in the book of Revelation is explicitly Jesus Christ (Rev 19:12).

ANTICHRIST

In the view of probably most interpreters, the rider on the white horse is a counterfeit of Christ. The primary motivation for this interpretation is that all the other horses bring plagues. However, for the following reasons, this view is not supported:

    • When something is a counterfeit, Revelation does not leave us in doubt (cf. Rev 13:11). And there is no direct indication in the text that the rider of the white horse is evil or causes affliction.
    • The white horse will continue conquering until everything is conquered but the Antichrist will be destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev 19:20).

CONCLUSION

The white horse represents the proclamation of the gospel, beginning with the enthronement of Christ in heaven (Rev 5) and until He returns. That implies that the next three horsemen portray the consequences of gospel preaching.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN FORM A UNIT THAT STAND IN A CAUSE-CONSEQUENCE RELATIONSHIP.

The following indicates that the four horsemen form a unit:

    • All four are represented as horsemen.
    • Seals 2, 3, and 4 symbolize sword, famine, and pestilence. The Old Testament uses these curses as a single expression of judgment. For example, the “four dreadful judgments—sword and famine and wild beasts and plague” (Ezekiel 14).
    • The Synoptic Apocalypse (Matt 24) predicts the nature of the church age. It mentions the same things that we find in the four horsemen—including the gospel—but describes them as different characteristics of the entire church age; rather than as consecutive events.
    • The grammar of the white horse is extremely continuous and ongoing (Rev 6:2), implying that it covers the entire church age.
    • The fourth seal includes the bloodshed and famine of seals 2 and 3.
    • Revelation has seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowl plagues. As discussed elsewhere, the first four of each of these sevens are general and should not be individually interpreted.

CONCLUSION

Since the four horsemen form a unit, these seals stand in a cause-consequence relationship and must be combined into a single message.

SECOND SEAL: THE RED HORSE SYMBOLIZES PERSECUTION OF GOD’S PEOPLE.

6:3 When He broke the second seal,
I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.”
4 And another, a red horse, went out;
and to him who sat on it,
it was granted to take peace from the earth,
and that men would slay one another;
and a great sword was given to him.

The second horse is red. Its rider has a sword and causes men to “slay one another.” This may refer to general violence. However, for the following reasons, the slaying in the second seal is likely slaying of God’s people when the gospel is rejected:

    • Since the four horsemen form a unit, the bloodshed of the second must be the consequence of the first, which is the gospel going forth.
    • The Greek word for the rider’s “sword” refers to a smaller weapon used for close-in combat or for sacrifice.
    • The fifth seal shows “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9). They are UNDER the altar (Rev 6:9; 18:24), which means that they have been sacrificed ON the altar. This makes it evident that the first four seals have resulted in many martyrs.
    • The word translated “slay” is the same Greek word for “slay” as in the fifth seal and it is the primary word used for animal sacrifice in the Greek Old Testament.

As Jesus said:

A time is coming when anyone who kills you
will think he is offering a service to God

(John 16:2, NIV).

THIRD SEAL: THE BLACK HORSE IS
A
FAMINE OF THE WORD OF GOD.

Rev 6:5 When He broke the third seal,
I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.”
I looked, and behold, a black horse;
and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.
6 And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying,

“A quart of wheat for a denarius,
and three quarts of barley for a denarius;
and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

DISCUSSION

This rider has a pair of scales in his hand. In times of scarcity, the quantity of things being bought or sold is measured very accurately. For that purpose, you would require a scale. Since this seal focuses on food, the scale indicates a shortage of food – famine conditions.

This is confirmed by the voice in this seal, which sets very high prices for wheat and barley. Based on the quoted prices, it would cost a person his whole day’s wage to buy enough wheat for one day for one person.

For the following reasons, this lack of food can be interpreted symbolically as a famine of the Word of God; a time when the word of God may be hard to find or poorly understood:

      • Since the four horsemen form a unit, this famine must be the consequence of the second seal, namely of the persecution of the people who proclaim the word of God.
      • The third horse is black. The sixth seal implies that black is the opposite of the light of the sun (Rev 6:12). Since the sun symbolizes the gospel (John 3:18-21), the black horse may represent the absence of the gospel.
      • The Bible often uses food in a spiritual sense. For example, Jesus is, “the bread of life.”

THE FOURTH SEAL IS SPIRITUAL DEATH.

6:7 When the Lamb broke the fourth seal,
I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.”
8 I looked, and behold, an ashen horse;
and he who sat on it had the name Death;
and Hades was following with him.
Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth,
to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

DISCUSSION

The fourth horse has the color of the appearance of a very sick person; on the verge of death.

The fourth horseman’s name is Death. He is death personified. Hades, which is the dwelling place of the dead, followed after him.  As in human experience, after death comes the grave. This seal personifies Death as an executioner and Hades as an undertaker.

The fourth horse combines and intensifies the second and third seals for it has both the sword of the second seal and the famine of the third but intensifies them with pestilence and the beasts of the earth.

Since the four horsemen form a unit, the death of the fourth seal must be the consequence of the spiritual famine of the previous seal. It is, therefore, interpreted as spiritual death; permanent exclusion from mercy; the frightful consequence for people who have chosen to exclude God from their lives.

ZECHARIAH’S COLORED HORSES DO NOT EXPLAIN THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE.

Zechariah’s visions also have colored horses and sound very similar to the four horsemen of Revelation 6. However, Zechariah’s horses serve as scouts and signify God’s awareness of what is happening on earth, compared to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who actively bring the gospel and then major calamities. Because of these differences, Zechariah’s horses do not help us to explain the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

CONCLUSION – FIRST FOUR SEALS

As discussed before, the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) divides history into three great parts. Revelation 6 follows this pattern. In this pattern, the first four seals of Revelation 6 describe the church age. The bloodshed, famine, and death of seals 2 to 4 are the consequences of the preaching of God’s word:

        • The white horse, which will never stop conquering, is the gospel.
        • The red horse symbolizes the persecution of God’s people when they proclaim the gospel. For example, William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English and was burnt at the stake.
        • The black horse is a famine for the Word of God that follows when the people who proclaim the word of God are persecuted and killed. During the Dark Ages, Rome burned Bibles along with their owners.
        • And the pale horse is spiritual death; the frightful permanent exclusion from mercy.

FIFTH SEAL

6:9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal,
I 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;

10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying,
“How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood
on those who dwell on the earth?”

11 And there was given to each of them a white robe;
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.

IS THE FIFTH SEAL A POINT IN TIME OR A GENERAL PRINCIPLE?

Is the fifth seal a specific event at a specific point in time or a general principle?

God’s slain people would not cry out for revenge, as they are symbolized to do in the fifth seal. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would say, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)! This, therefore, is not a literal cry for revenge. Rather, it is similar to Abel’s blood that cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10). The crying out, therefore, symbolizes the general principle that God is aware of the injustice to His people and His desire to set things right. It is not something that happens at a specific point in time.

In response to their cry, they receive white robes. The implication is that receiving white robes is also not a specific event, but a general principle. 

The fifth seal, therefore, seems to symbolize the general principle that, during the church age, “they will … kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. … But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matt 24:9-11).

The main message of the seals is that God’s people remain faithful until death:

Before Christ became a human being, He defended God’s elect and God’s judgments, but Satan accused Him of being a false witness. The Son of God then became the vulnerable man Jesus and overcame the most severe temptations to reveal Himself as “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:13; 5:5, 9).

Similarly, Satan accused God’s elect. They must suffer to reveal the true nature of God’s elect; they overcome the accuser because of the word of their testimony, and they do not love their life even when faced with death (Rev 12:11).

This is required for the final judgment, through which God will recreate eternal peace (Rev 21:1). In that judgment, the books will be opened. “The dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev 20:12).

THE SOULS UNDER THE ALTAR ARE NOT ALIVE.

The fifth seal is often used to support the popular belief that believers go to heaven in a bodiless state when they die. However, below are several reasons why this must not be literally interpreted:

    1. In Old Testament sacrificial rituals, the blood of animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar. The fifth seal converts this ritual into a metaphor: God’s people are symbolically sacrificed ON the altar. They are not literally under a literal altar.
    2. The idea that humans consist of two parts – a physical body and an immaterial soul – comes from Greek philosophy. In the Bible, the soul refers to the entire human being (cf. Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 14:45).
    3. There are two indications in the text that the souls under the altar are dead:
      • They are told to “rest” for a while longer (Rev 6:11). “Rest” refers to death. For example, an angel said to Daniel: “You will enter into rest and rise again … at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13).
      • The same “souls” that are under the altar in the fifth seal “came to life” when Christ returns (Rev 20:2). That means that they are not alive today.
    4. For two reasons, the crying out for revenge is not literal:
      • God’s people would not cry for revenge. While dying, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34)!
      • Similar to Abel’s blood that cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10), the cry of the souls symbolizes God’s awareness of the suffering of His people.
    5. The souls under the altar receive white robes, which is confirmation of salvation, “a little while” before Christ returns (Rev 6:11). Therefore it makes no sense to suggest that they, at death, go directly to heaven.

CONCLUSION

There is much good quality information on the web that explains the Biblical view of the soul. For example, see What Does the Bible Say About the “Immortal Soul”? 

From a human perspective, time elapses between death and resurrection but the faithful dead are in God’s care and with God, time does not exist. From the experience of the dead, they are resurrected immediately on death.

GOD’S PEOPLE ARE COMPLETED IN CHARACTER; NOT IN NUMBER.

Verse 11 reads:

11 And there was given to each of them a white robe;
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.

This translation adds the words “number of.” However, there is no such word in the Greek text of this verse. For the following reasons, the phrase “the number of” should not be added:

      • Would a God of love arbitrarily decree that a fixed number of people must suffer before He would interfere?
      • In Revelation 7, we see the people who receive white robes in the fifth seal standing before the throne of God. It is then said that “no one could count” them (Rev 7:9). So, the number is not important.

Elsewhere, Revelation indicates that completed” should be understood qualitatively, namely that God’s people must be completed in character; not in number. For example, in end-time context:

    • His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8).
    • The 144000 are sealed on their foreheads (their minds) with the name (the character) of God (Rev 7:3; 14:1).
    • It is said of the 144000: 
      no lie was found in their mouth;
      they are blameless
      ” (Rev 14:4-5).

God’s end-time people will not be perfect in an absolute sense, but they will be completely loyal to God as David apparently was in spite of his many flaws (1 Kings 11:4-6).

SIXTH SEAL

I looked when He broke the sixth seal,

and there was a great earthquake;
and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair,
and the whole moon became like blood;
13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth,
as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.
14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up,
and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man
hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;
16 and they 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;
17 for the great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand?”

This seal divides into two parts:

    • Dramatic natural events (Rev 6:12-14).
    • The reaction of people who live in rebellion against God (Rev 6:15-17)

Literally interpreted, everything in heaven and on earth is destroyed. But we should not interpret these signs symbolically because, even after the stars have fallen on the earth (Rev 6:13), the people still hide in the mountains.

Him who sits on the throne” is the Father. The Lamb is Jesus Christ. He now appears as the loving Ruler of the universe, but for people who have cursed God all their lives, His appearance is pure torment.

THE SIXTH SEAL IS NOT YET THE END.

The sixth seal seems to be the end of all things. A “great earthquake” moves islands and mountains out of their places and the signs in the sun, moon, and stars are associated with the return of Christ (Matt 24:29). But it is not yet the end, for the hiding multitude will be put to death when Christ returns (Rev 19:18-21). The sixth seal, therefore, describes the situation on earth immediately before the destruction of the lost at His return. (See, The Case for Annihilationism.)

THE SIXTH SEAL IS THE DAY OF THE LORD.

These signs in the sun, moon, and stars, coupled with the phrase “the great day,” identify the sixth seal as the well-known Old Testament “great and terrible Day of the LORD.” The New Testament converts the Day of the Lord into the Second Coming of Jesus; the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8).

THE SIXTH SEAL DESCRIBES CONDITIONS AFTER THE PLAGUES.

During the seven last plagues, the people still refuse to repent (Rev 16:9, 11) but in the sixth seal, the people hide in the mountains from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:15-17). This, therefore, must be after the plagues.

The revenge requested in the fifth plague is the judgment on Babylon (compare Rev 6:9-11 to Rev 19:2), which is the seventh plague (Rev 16:19; cf. 16:6). Since the sixth seal is after the plagues, it is a point in time after that revenge.

THE SIXTH SEAL IS JUST BEFORE ARMAGEDDON

In the sixth seal, “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17). The “great day” is also called Armageddon (Rev 16:14-16). The sixth plague only prepares for the “great day” through the gathering of the kings. Christ’s return, as described in Revelation 19:11-21, is the real Armageddon, for then 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 (Rev 19:19).

Has come” in the phrase “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17) means that “the great day” is about to begin (e.g., Rev 14:15). In other words, the sixth seal brings us to just before the slaughter of Armageddon (Rev 19:17-18), at the return of Christ. 

THE SIXTH SEAL DIVIDES THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD INTO TWO GROUPS.

The multitude that hides in the mountains asks, “who is able to stand” (Rev 6:17)?  After an interruption (Rev 7:1-8), the seventh seal continues when Revelation 7 answers that question by describing “a great multitude which no one could count … standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). The sixth seal, therefore, divides the world into these two multitudes. As Jesus said:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, …
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

(Matt 25:31-32).

7:1-3
THE SEALING

1 After this I saw 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.

2 And I saw another angel ascending
from the rising of the sun,
having the seal of the living God;
and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels
to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea
3 saying,

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees
until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God
on their foreheads.

WHERE THE SEALING FIT
IN THE END-TIME EVENTS

These verses are discussed in three articles. The purpose of this first article is to determine where the sealing of the 144000, as described in Revelation 7, fits chronologically in the end-time events, as described in Revelation 13 to 16, and for what purpose God’s people are sealed. Are they sealed:

    • For the end-time persecution of Revelation 13 or
    • For the plagues of Revelation 16.

AFTER THE END-TIME CRISIS, EVERY PERSON WILL HAVE THE MARK OF THE BEAST OR THE SEAL OF GOD.

Revelation 13 describes the end-time crisis during which the image of the beast will attempt to mark all people with the mark of the beast.

Rev 13:16-14:3 identifies both the mark of the beast and the seal of God as names on foreheads. This implies that that end-time persecution will divide the world into two groups:

    • Those with the mark of the beast and
    • Those with the seal of God.

GOD’S PEOPLE ARE SEALED THROUGH PERSECUTION TO PREPARE THEM FOR THE PLAGUES.

The introduction to the seven last plagues (Revelation 15) defines God’s people as “those who had been victorious over the beast” (Rev 15:2). In other words, they have been the target of the efforts of the image of the beast to mark them with the mark of the beast in Revelation 13. But Revelation 14 describes the same people as the 144000 with the seal of God (Rev 14:1). The “victorious” people of Rev 15, therefore, are the same as the 144000.

After the description of the “victorious” people, the seven angels pour out the plagues on “the people who had the mark of the beast” (Rev 16:2). For the following reasons, there will be no switching of sides after the plagues begin to fall:

    • None of the people with the mark of the beast will repent during the plagues (Rev 16:9, 11) and
    • The seal of God implies that the eternal destiny of the people that have God’s seal has been permanently settled.

Therefore, the introduction to the plagues (Revelation 15) describes a point in human history when every person will either have the mark of the beast or the seal of God. At that time, there will be no third ‘undecided’ group.

Since God’s people are described as the 144000 with the seal of God AFTER the Rev-13-persecution (Rev 14:1) but as the victorious people BEFORE the plagues fall (Rev 15:2), God’s people will be sealed DURING AND THROUGH the Rev-13-persecution but the sealing will be complete before the plagues begin to fall. This means that God’s people receive the seal of God to prepare them for the plagues.

THE FOUR WINDS ARE THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES.

In Rev 7, four angels hold the four winds back until God’s people (the 144000) are all sealed. The winds will be released as soon as they are sealed (Rev 7:1-3).

However, it was concluded above that the seven plagues will be poured out as soon as all of God’s people have been sealed. Therefore:

    • The sealing (Rev 7:1-8) coincides with the Rev-13-persecution and
    • The four winds are the seven last plagues.

GOD’S END-TIME SERVANTS WILL RECEIVE
THE SEAL OF GOD
.

This is the second article on Revelation 7:1-3.

The earth and sea (Rev 7:1) symbolize the people of the world but the trees represent God’s people (Rev 9:4).

The four winds (Rev 7:1), as argued, are another symbol for the seven last plagues, as described in Revelation 16.

Holding back – The “four angels” symbolize God “holding back” (Rev 7:1) the end-time catastrophes. God has always been holding back the forces of destruction. But a time will come when God will release those forces. When that happens, God’s people must be protected by the seal of God. Therefore, God holds the plagues back until His “bond-servants” are sealed (Rev 7:2-3). 

THE SEAL IS ONLY AVAILABLE
IN THE END-TIME.

According to the apostle Paul, people are sealed with the Holy Spirit when they put their faith in Christ. In contrast, for the reasons below, the seal of God in Revelation 7 is something special that only end-time believers will receive to protect them during catastrophic end-time events before Christ returns:

    • The seal is given to people who were already Christians (Rev 7:3).
    • The seal serves as protection against a danger that does not exist in previous ages, namely when the four winds; understood as the seven last plagues.
    • Revelation mentions the seal of God only in the context of the end-time, namely in relation to the great day of God’s wrath (Rev 6:17-7:2) and the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-14:1).

THE SEAL WILL CHANGE PEOPLE.

The purpose of the seal is to protect God’s people when the winds (the seven last plagues) are released (Rev 7:1-3). One possibility is that the seal serves to identify God’s people so that the angels would not pour the plagues out on them (Rev 16:2). But, for the following reasons, the seal of God will actually change God’s people and empower them to remain standing during the seven last plagues:

    • The seal is God’s name (Rev 14:1 – symbolizing His character) put on the forehead (symbolizing the mind). Consequently, the 144000 with the seal of God will have “no lie … in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:1-5).
    • Spiritually mature – In several places, Revelation indicates that Christ will only return when His people have become spiritually mature. For example:
      • His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7).
      • The number 144000 symbolizes spiritual maturity.
    • New Earth – On the new earth, God’s people will still have “His name … on their foreheads” (Rev 22:4). This cannot symbolize mere identification.
    • Complete – The sealing begins before the time of the sixth seal because that seal contains the signs of Christ’s return. As argued, the sealing is equivalent to the ‘completion’ of “their fellow servants” in the Fifth Seal. This completing is not quantitative but qualitative.
    • Refute accusations – The context of the sealing is the breaking of the seven seals of the book of life. As discussed, the breaking of the seals means that Jesus directs events on earth to refute Satan’s accusations against God’s people by revealing their faithfulness under persecution. In that context, spiritual maturity makes more sense than mere identification.
    • Purpose of the plagues – The “four winds” are interpreted as the seven last plagues and one purpose of the plagues is to show that repentant sinners would rather die than disobey God. This also implies spiritual maturity.

Remember, this article is only a summary and does not provide complete explanations. Please follow the links provided in the section headings to the detailed discussions. 

RICK JOYNER CONFIRMS THAT GOD’S END-TIME PEOPLE WILL BE EMPOWERED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. 

The seal of God is well explained 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.

THE TIME OF THE END

THE FIFTH SEAL IS THE POINT IN TIME WHEN THE ANGEL BRINGS THE SEAL OF GOD OUT OF HEAVEN.

The first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) describe the timeless realities of the church age. But the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) seems to be a specific point in history when the souls under the altar receive white robes and are told to rest for a little while longer (Rev 6:9-11).

The article on the fifth seal considered this question and proposes that the fifth seal symbolizes a general principle, namely that the persecution of God’s people call out to God to set things right.

However, Revelation 7:1-4, where an angel brings the seal of the living God out of heaven and 144000 are sealed, is parallel to the fifth seal. For example, both: 

    • Refer to the past, present, and to future;
    • Involve a delay until God’s people are mature;
    • Give a token of salvation to God’s people; and
    • Are followed by massive destruction.

As discussed above, the seal of God is only available in the end-timeThis means that the angel brings the seal down from heaven at a specific point in time. Then the parallels between the sealing and the fifth seal imply that the fifth seal is more than a general principle and also a point in history; the same point in time when the angel brings the seal out of heaven (Rev 7:1-3).

THE SEAL OF GOD COMES FROM HEAVEN IN THE TIME OF THE END.

Time of the EndThen the question is, what is this point in time? Since the book of Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation rests, we should find this point in history in Daniel. Since, in the fifth seal, God’s people are killed both before and after this point in time, we need to find a similar point in time in Daniel. There is such a point in time in Daniel 12, namely “the time of the end” (Dan 12:4), when the prophecies of Daniel will be understood:

    • Before that time, God’s people will be persecuted for “a time, times, and half a time” and
    • During “the time of the end,” they will “finish shattering the power of the holy people” (Dan 12:7).

For these reasons, it is proposed that the point in history, when the souls under the altar are told to rest a little while longer, and when the angel brings the seal of God out of heaven, is the beginning of “the time of the end.”

THE LITTLE BOOK OF REVELATION 10 ALSO COMES FROM HEAVEN IN THE TIME OF THE END.

This conclusion finds support in Revelation 10. In that chapter, an angel brings something else out of heaven at a specific point in time, namely “a little book which was open” (Rev 10:1-2). He gives it to John to eat and tells John to “prophesy again” (Rev 10:9-11). In doing this, John symbolizes the church receiving a special message from heaven.

What makes the prophecy of Revelation 10 particularly relevant to the discussion above is that the little open book is understanding of the book of Daniel (see discussion below). This means that the little book comes down from heaven at the beginning of the time of the end (Dan 12:4). Therefore, both the seal of God and the little book come out of heaven in “the time of the end.

THE 144000 ARE NOT LITERAL BUT SYMBOLIZES THE CHURCH (Rev 7:4-8)

In Rev 7:1-3, an angel comes down from heaven with “the seal of the living God.” He commands four other angels to hold back the four winds of destruction “until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev 7:1-3). Then John heard that 144000 were “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (Rev 7:4).

THE NUMBER 144000 IS NOT LITERAL.
IT SYMBOLIZES FAITHFULNESS.

For the following reasons, the 144000 Israelites cannot be interpreted literally:

    • Ten of the twelve tribes have disappeared long ago.
    • This is not a valid list of tribes.
    • 144000 is too exact to be literal.
    • Literally interpreted, they are all men and without sin.

Rather, the number 144000 is symbolic. Revelation is a symbolic book and all numbers in Revelation are symbols. Revelation frequently uses literal things from the Old Testament as symbols and the number 144000 is Old Testament military language converted into a symbol.

As indicated by the following, the number 144000 symbolizes that they will remain faithful until death:

    • As argued. the sealing of “the bond-servants of our God” (Rev 7:3) is equivalent to the ‘completion’ of “their fellow servants” in the fifth seal (6:11) and that is qualitative completion.
    • Revelation 14 describes the 144000 as spiritually mature.

REVELATION MERGES THE CHURCH INTO ISRAEL.

Israel in exileFurthermore, as discussed under Rev 4:4, Revelation merges the church into Israel. For example:

    • The seven churches are promised the things that previously belonged to Israel.
    • The woman of Revelation 12 represents both Israel and the Church.
    • “Those who had been victorious over the beast … sang the song” of both Moses and the Lamb; the main characters in the Old and New Testaments.
    • The New Jerusalem” symbolizes God’s people and has the names of the 12 apostles on its foundations but the names of the 12 tribes its gates.
    • John hears about the 144000 Jews but then sees the innumerable multitude from all nations. Such hear-see combinations, in Revelation, actually are different perspectives OF THE SAME THING.
    • In the seven letters, there are people “who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In this context, to claim to be a Jew is a claim to be a true Christian.

THE ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT MERGES THE CHURCH INTO ISRAEL.

The entire New Testament merges the church into Israel. This is a huge study by itself. The following are a few examples:

    • In Romans 11, Gentiles are grafted into Israel’s olive tree.
    • The study of Romans 9 and 11 concluded that God elected a remnant from Israel to inherit Israel’s promises and covenants, but included believing Gentiles into this chosen remnant.
    • If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).
    • By choosing twelve disciples and not eleven or thirteen, Jesus signaled His intention to re-shape Israel.

THE GREAT MULTITUDE THAT CAME OUT OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION

REVELATION 7:9

After these things I looked, and behold,
a great multitude which no one could count,

It is not literally true that they cannot be counted. This is a way of saying that this is a very large group.

from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues,

Revelation uses such four-fold descriptions of people (e.g., Rev 10:11; 14:6; 17:15) because the number 4 symbolizes worldwide extension.

In contrast, the first 8 verses of Revelation 7 describe the sealing of the 144000 from the 12 tribes of Israel. 

standing before the throne and before the Lamb,

The multitude hiding in the mountains, asked: “Hide us from … Him who sits on the throne … for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:16). Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to that question. This also implies that this multitude is described as on “the great day of their wrath.

clothed in white robes,
and palm branches were in their hands;

In Revelation, the color white always describes Christ and His people. Since white robes were given to the people who have been martyred “because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9-11), the great multitude includes all who have died for their faith. However, in Revelation, symbolically, all of God’s people die for their faith. In other words, the great multitude includes all of God’s people from all ages.

REVELATION 7:10

and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,

In the fifth seal, God’s martyrs cried for revenge also “with a loud voice” (Rev 6:10). Now, they no longer cry for revenge, which implies that the time of the vision is after that judgment has been executed.

“Salvation to our God who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

While the hiding multitude acknowledges their doom (Rev 6:16), this great multitude acknowledges that they are not the authors of their salvation; they were saved by God and the Lamb.

REVELATION 7:11-12

and all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures;

This is similar to the scene in Revelation 5 of a multitude of angels, the 24 elders, and the four living creatures in the heavenly throne room (Rev 5:11).

and they fell on their faces
before the throne and worshiped God saying,
“Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

The Greek words translated “fell on their faces” and “worship” have a similar meaning. For is a discussion, see the discussion of Rev 4:10 or 5:8 above, or Worship in God’s presence.

REVELATION 7:13-14

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me,
“These who are clothed in the white robes,
who are they,
and where have they come from?”

I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me,
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation,

Many translations put “come out” in the past tense (e.g., KJV), but it translates an extremely continuous Greek expression, implying that the multitude is still coming out of the tribulation. In other words, their dwelling in heaven is an eternal reality but not yet visible or experienced.

Tribulation” means oppression and affliction (e.g., Matt 24:9), or simply difficult circumstances (e.g., 2 Cor 8:13). But, in this chapter, it is “the great tribulation” (7:14). It refers to one particular tribulation that the reader already knows about. Given the context, it is the martyrdom of God’s people during the entire church age as emphasized by the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11).

and they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The CrossIt is not literally possible to make clothes white in blood. This is a metaphor: The discussion of the sealed book proposes that Christ’s blood is a symbol for His death. Furthermore, His death does not only refer to His last moment but to His final hours when the tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him. But the hours of His death were His greatest victory, for He overcame by remaining “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). Through faith, He subjected Himself to God’s will.

The people with the white robes had to wash their own robes because “God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom 2:6). This is discussed in the next section.

PEOPLE ARE JUDGED BY THEIR DEEDS

White robes are a sign of being right with God (cf. Rev 3:4-5). The people clothed in the white robes had to wash their own robes (Rev 7:14). This principle, that people must work for their salvation, is expressed several times in Revelation (e.g., Rev 3:4-5; 19:7-8; 16:15).

Judged by deeds – This principle consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible that man is judged by his deeds (cf. Rev 20:12). It is sometimes said that Paul taught something different, but he taught the same thing (Rom 2:5-8; 9-13; 8:13).

Works of the law – Sometimes people have difficulty reconciling the principle that man is judged by his deeds with the fact that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20). However, these “works of the law” refer to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law and are very different from the “deeds” by which people are judged.

Faith – People also struggle to reconcile judgment of deeds with salvation by faith, but these are two ways of saying the same thing. Firstly, salvation by faith does require a judgment of the person’s faith. Secondly, God sees and judges the entire being. The “deeds” by which people are judged include the character, words, deeds, thoughts, desires, and faith.

Grace – Another objection which people may offer to judgment by deeds is that we are saved by grace. But that is also not a challenge, for people are judged by their deeds but saved by grace. People DO NOT EARN salvation through their deeds. Judgment by deeds determines WHO must be saved. By grace is HOW those people are saved. For a more detailed discussion, see People are not justified by the works of the law but are judged by their deeds.

REVELATION 7:15

For this reason,

Because they have washed their robes.

they are before the throne of God;
and they serve Him day and night

“Day and night” means continually.

in His temple;

There is no temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22). There is no physical temple in heaven either. The temple on earth was a symbolic representation of heavenly realities; of how God deals with sin. John’s visions use things from the Old Testament as symbols. The throne of God, which is in His temple (Rev 16:17), is a symbol of God’s presence. This is what Revelation 21:22 confirms: “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

and He who sits on the throne
will spread His tabernacle over them.

Revelation 21:3, depicting the time after the millennium, when God has come down to earth with the New Jerusalem, describes God’s “tabernacle” as where God lives. 

REVELATION 7:16-17

They will hunger no longer,
nor thirst anymore;
nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat

In this life, being a believer does not guarantee physical comfort. But, in eternity, things will be different.

for the Lamb in the center of the throne

The Lamb is not “around the throne,” like the elders and the angels (Rev 4:4; 5:11), or “before the throne,” like the great multitude (Rev 7:9, 15); He is “in the center of the throne.”  This confirms that He ascended to the throne of God when He took the sealed book (Rev 5:7). He had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (e.g., Acts 2:33).

will be their shepherd,

That “the Lamb” will be “their shepherd” is a bit ironic, but shows the symbolic nature of Revelation.

and will guide them to springs of the water of life;
and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 21:4 repeats: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The sorrow, which the innumerable multitude suffered during the great tribulation, will end.

If this passage was the end of the Book of Revelation, we would not have noticed anything missing. It describes the glorious reward of the eternal life of the redeemed, as explained in more detail in Revelation chapters 21-22.

WHO ARE THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE?

While the 144000 are exactly numbered, from the tribes of Israel, and on earth (Rev 7:1-3), the great multitude cannot be counted, is from every nation, and before the throne of God, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19).

One way to describe the relationship between the innumerable multitude and the 144000 is as a hear/see combination. In Revelation, in these combinations, the prophet first hears about something, but when he looks, he sees something completely different. For example, John hears about a Lion but then sees a Lamb (Rev 5:5-6). What John first hears and then sees is not exactly the same. In this example, both the lion and the lamb represent Jesus but different aspects of His work. Similarly, John hears the number of the 144000 (Rev 7:4-8) but sees a great multitude that no one can number (Rev 7:9). They are not exactly the same but different perspectives of God’s people.

While the 144000 symbolizes His end-time people, based on the following, the innumerable multitude includes all of God’s people of all time:

The fifth seal divides God’s people into those that have already died and those who still must die. In that seal, those that have already died receive white robes. By implication, the people who must still die will also receive white robes. The innumerable multitude, since they are dressed in white robes, includes both groups. On the other hand, the article on the Sealing shows that the point in time in the fifth seal is when the seal comes down out of heaven. This implies that those in the fifth seal who must still die, are the 144000; God’s end-time people.

The innumerable multitude has come through “the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). Since both groups of people in the fifth seal are martyred, both came out of “the great tribulation.

WHEN – AT WHAT TIME ARE THEY DESCRIBED?

AFTER HIS RETURN

Does Revelation 7:9-17 describe the time before or after Christ’s return? The following seems to indicate that it describes the time AFTER His Return:

    • They stand before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev 11:19 & 16:17).
    • Revelation 6:17 asks, “who is able to stand” on “the great day of their wrath?” Since the Innumerable Multitude stands before the throne, they are the answer to this question. This implies that the time is “the great day of their wrath,” namely Christ’s return.
    • The palm branches in their hands foreshadow the bliss of eternity.
    • The souls under the altar cried out for revenge. The multitude does not. This implies that they have had their revenge.

BEFORE HIS RETURN

However, the New Testament sometimes describes things that are an eternal reality, but not yet visibly realized, as if they already happened (e.g., John 5:24). Revelation, similarly, often depicts God’s people on earth as if they are in heaven (Rev 13:6-7; 14:1-5; 15:2). This may also apply to Revelation 7:9-17.

An important aspect of Revelation 7:9-17 is the verb tenses. Verses 15 to 17, describing what God will do for His people, are in the future tense. For example: “God will wipe every tear.” In contrast, the activities of the great multitude are in the present tense. For example, they “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). This implies that Revelation 7:9-17 describes the time BEFORE the return of Christ.

PROPOSAL

Revelation 7:1-8 jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000. It is proposed that verse 9 continues exactly where Revelation 6 left off. In other words, the hiding multitude (Rev 6:15-17) and the great multitude describe the same point in history; immediately BEFORE the return of Christ.

THE SEVENTH SEAL (8:1)
IS THE RETURN OF CHRIST.

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Many commentators assume that the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets (Rev 8-11), but the sixth seal already ends immediately before the return of Christ while the seven trumpets describe an earlier time when people still have time to repent. See the next article for a discussion.

For the following reasons, the seventh seal is the sorrow in heaven when the multitude that hides in the mountains in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15), is put to death at the return of Christ (Rev 19:21):

      • The seventh seal is the last seal of the Book of Life; containing God’s judgments. The seals of the book are Satan’s informed objections to the people whom God chose for eternal life. That nobody is able to open the book symbolizes that the heavenly beings are unable to refute Satan’s objections. When the last (seventh) seal is broken, all barriers to understanding God’s judgments are removed. Then God can make an end to the reign of evil through the return of Christ.
      • As stated, the sixth seal ends immediately before the return of Christ. The seventh seal, therefore, should be the Return of Christ.
      • Other main parts of Revelation, such as the seven trumpets (Rev 8-11) and Rev 12-14, conclude with the return of Christ and describe different aspects of the same period of time.

For these reasons, it is proposed that the silence in heaven of the seventh seal is caused by the immeasurable sorrow in the heart of God and in the hearts of His people at the destruction of billions of people at the return of Christ.

DOES THE SEVENTH SEAL
INCLUDE THE SEVEN TRUMPETS?

The Book of Revelation may be divided into main parts, including:

      • Seven Seals (ch. 4-7);
      • Seven Trumpets (ch. 8-11); and
      • Seven Wars (ch. 12-14).

Some propose that the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets. Nothing happens when the seventh seal is broken—only silence. For some, this is evidence that the real action of the seventh seal is the seven trumpets. Perhaps in the 13th century, when they divided the Bible into chapters and put the seventh seal in a new chapter with the trumpets, they held this view.

However, for the following reasons, the seventh seal does not include the seven trumpets: 

DIFFERENT THEMES

While the seals are about the experience of God’s people, the trumpets are about unbelievers and about what God does to reconcile them back to Him. Therefore, the trumpets cannot be part of the seals.

THE SEVEN SEALS END WITH THE RETURN OF CHRIST.

The sixth seal has the signs associated with the return of Christ (Rev 6:12-17) and continues in Revelation 7 with a description of the “new earth” (Rev 7:15-17). Since the seven trumpets jump back in time to the old earth of sin and sorrow, they cannot be part of the seventh seal.

JUMPS BACK IN TIME

The seventh trumpet is the return of Christ (Rev 11:15). Then the next main part of Revelation (chapters 12-14) jumps back to the time of Christ’s first advent (Rev 12:2, 5). Since that happens in the switch between those two main sections, the same may happen in the switch from the seven seals to the seven trumpets.

SATAN’S OBJECTIONS FULLY REFUTED

Book of LifeThe seals are Satan’s objections to God’s judgments. When the seventh seal is broken, all of Satan’s accusations have been refuted. Then there would remain no further reason for God to delay the execution of His judgments through the return of Christ.

RECAPITULATION

Both the seven seals and the seven wars (Rev 12-14) start at the time of Christ and reach to Christ’s second coming. Therefore, it is likely that the trumpets also cover the whole church age.

Daniel the prophetIt 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 Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation is built, we might also expect recapitulation in the Apocalypse.

Both the seven trumpets (ch 8-11) and the seven wars (ch 12-14) include the “time, times, and a half” (Rev 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:6). Because this is a period of persecution for God’s people (Dan 7:25) and because the seals are about the persecution of God’s people, the seals must also cover this period.

A LITERAL READING CONTRADICTS ITSELF.

In the first trumpet, all the green grass is burned up (Rev 8:7) but, in the fifth trumpet, the grass is protected (Rev 9:4). This is an example of the contradictions that would result from a strictly literal and chronological reading of the text.

REV 8:1 IS NOT PART OF 8:2-6

Revelation 8:2-6 is the introduction to the trumpets. This passage has a literary structure called a chiasm which means that it forms a self-contained unit. Since verse 1 does not have a place in this chiasm, it implies that Rev 8:1 does not form part of the trumpets.

CONCLUSIONS

The trumpets are not part of the seventh seal.

The relationship between the seals and trumpets may be explained as follows: The first five seals focus on God’s people. The sixth seal has the signs of Christ’s return and describes:

    • The lost hiding in the mountain (Rev 6:15-17) and
    • The saved standing before God’s throne (Rev 7:8-17).

The silence in the seventh seal reflects the sorrow in heaven when the hiding multitude is destroyed at Christ’s return (Rev 19:21). The seventh seal, therefore, shifts the focus from God’s elect to the lost. The trumpets then jump back in time to explain what God did to turn the lost from their disastrous paths.

PEOPLE’S DEEDS
WILL REFUTE SATAN’S CRITICISM
OF GOD’S JUDGMENTS.

SUMMARY OF PREVIOUS CONCLUSIONS

To an extent, this article summarizes the articles on the seven seals. Previous articles concluded that:

    1. The sealed book in God’s right hand is the Book of Life, containing God’s judgments as to who will receive eternal life.
    2. The seals of the book are Satan’s accusations against those people.
    3. That the book is sealed up so that no one “was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:3) symbolizes that God’s created intelligent beings are unable to refute Satan’s accusations.
    4. John’s great weeping (Rev 5:4) represents the great sorrow in heaven caused by this “war in heaven” (Rev 12:7).
    5. Christ’s victory on earth brought an end to the sorrow (Rev 5:5) and caused Satan to be banished from heaven (Rev 12:8-9). Christ, on the other hand, was acclaimed trust-“worthy” to refute Satan’s accusations: “Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals” (5:9).
    6. The CrossChrist’s victory did not immediately bring an end to the crisis. He is still busy breaking the seals today. Christ’s return and the implementation of God’s judgments are delayed until the last seal has been broken and the intelligent beings have the assurance that God’s judgments are perfect.
    7. That Jesus breaks the seals symbolizes that Christ directs events on earth to show that Satan’s objections are deceptive.

THE DEEDS OF PEOPLE BREAK THE SEALS.

Various books will be opened in the last judgment (Rev 20:12-13):

    • One of these is the book of life.
    • The other books contain the “deeds” of people by which people will be judged.

Consequently, the “deeds” of people, as recorded in the “books,” are the evidence that will allow God’s intelligent creatures to understand that God’s judgment, as contained in “the book of life,” are perfect. Therefore, when Christ breaks the seals, it symbolizes that He directs events on earth in such a way that the deeds of people will reveal their true natures; what they really are; that which the Creator is already able to see in the hearts of people, and on which He also based His judgments. These “deeds” will confirm that God judges perfectly.

Both the deeds of God’s people and the deeds of Satan’s people are recorded in the books.

THE WORLD IS PREPARING FOR THE FINAL BATTLE.

There will again be a battle between Christ and Satan; through their people on earth. Both sides are preparing for this battle:

Generally, God limits Satan with respect to what he is allowed to do against God’s people (e.g. Job 1:12). However, in this final battle, God will allow Satan to use the full force of his demonic powers unrestricted to persecute and deceive.

God’s end-time people, on the other hand, will be equipped with every spiritual power available to them. Symbolized by the seal of the living God (Rev 7:2), they will reach a level of spiritual maturity that was previously perhaps visible in individuals such as Job, but never before in God’s people as a group:

WHY GOD’S PEOPLE HAVE TO SUFFER

God does not allow His people to suffer without purpose. God claims certain people as worthy of eternal life. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. By rejecting God’s assessment or judgment of His elect, Satan actually accuses God of unfair judgment. Satan’s goal is to save himself. He wants to show to the universe that God makes mistakes in His judgments. If it can be shown that God’s judgments are faulty, even to the slightest degree, the implications for the creation will be massive. Satan and his angels would have grounds for their claim that they have been judged unfairly.

By choosing death rather than going against God’s laws, they will show that the people listed in the book of life will not surrender His principles. This will justify God’s decision to save them.

THE PURPOSE OF THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES

The frequent mention in the plagues that the worshipers of the beast do not repent, even when confronted with clear evidence that they are wrong, implies that the purpose of the plagues is to show that the people with the mark of the beast will not repent under any circumstances; that they have become haters of God—solidly confirmed in their ways—irreversibly committed to evil.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

The purpose of the plagues is to show that God judges perfectly.

SUMMARY

The purpose of the plagues is not to save or to punishBut then the question remains, why does God torment men with the fearful plagues? 

Revelation uses the literal Egyptian plagues as symbols for the end-time disasters.  This implies that the Egyptian plagues can teach us about the end-time plagues, namely:

God will right all wrongs. We complain that life is not fair, but God will ensure that life is eventually fair, except that God’s people receive mercy which they do not deserve. 

The plagues are a judgment on false religions.

That the purpose of the plagues is to teach.  God purposefully hardened Pharaoh’s heart for His purpose was to teach the Egyptians and the nations about the true God.  The end-time plagues will also serve as a lesson.

The plagues in Revelation 16 teach three lessons, namely:

That the people with the mark of the beast, although they appear to be Christians, are hardened beyond repentance, even WHEN THEY KNOW that they oppose God; This shows that, for the happiness of the universe, the only solution for them is the second (eternal) DEATH.

That the repentant sinners—the people with the seal of God—would rather die than disobey God, and are worthy of ETERNAL LIFE.

Consequently, God’s judgment (assessment) of people, as to who will inherit eternal life and who will suffer the second death, is without fault.

These concepts will now be discussed in more detail.

PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES

Not to save – As indicated by the following, the purpose of the plagues is not to save, for nobody will be saved during plagues:

      • The empty temple (Rev 15:8), which symbolizes that salvation is no longer available; (See Introduction to the Plagues);
      • The repeated mention in the plagues that sinners do not repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21).

Not to punish – Many believe that the purpose of the plagues is to punish, without any saving purpose. In other words, God will punish the wicked simply for the sake of punishment. This website does not support this view, for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). He loves even the people with the mark of the beast. 

Why then torment? – But then the question remains, why does God torment men with the fearful plagues if nobody will repent? The plagues start to fall after the eternal destiny of every person has been permanently sealed.  (See Introduction to the Plagues)  Why will Christ not return and end the reign of sin as soon as all destinies are fixed?

EGYPTIAN TYPOLOGY

Both the plagues on ancient Egyptian and the end-time plagues in Revelation 16 include sores, water turning to blood, darkness, and frogs (Exo 7:17-21; 8:2-13; 9:8-11; 10:21-23).  In fact, the disasters in Revelation 16 are called plagues because Revelation uses the literal Egyptian plagues as symbols for the end-time disasters. This implies that the Egyptian plagues can teach us about the end-time plagues. 

We can learn the following principles from the Egyptian plagues:

      1. That God will right all wrongs;
      2. That the plagues are a judgment on false religions; and
      3. That the PURPOSE of the plagues is to teach.

GOD WILL RIGHT ALL WRONGS

Israel was enslaved and subjected to harsh treatment in Egypt. In the same way, in the end-time, the persecution of God’s people (Rev 13:15) will serve as a catalyst for the end-time plagues. Revelation contains a strong theme of avenging the blood of the martyrs:

The souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” cried out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” (Rev 6:9-10). 

After the first three plagues, “the angel of the waters” commented, “they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (Rev 16:6). 

After Babylon was judged (Rev 17:16), “a strong angel” declared, “in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:21, 24). And the “great multitude in heaven” rejoiced, saying, “He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her” (Rev 19:1-2).

These statements imply revenge or punishment, but only the living wicked will suffer this punishment. Therefore, this should rather be understood more generally as that God will correct all wrongs. We complain that life is not fair, but in the end, God will ensure that life is fair, except that God’s people receive mercy which they do not deserve. 

JUDGES FALSE RELIGION

The Egyptians worshiped the sun, the river, and many other things, and the Egyptian plagues were a judgment on their gods:

I … will strike down all the firstborn …
and against all the gods of Egypt,
I will execute judgments

(Exo 12:12)

Similarly, the end-time plagues will show how futile reliance on false religion is:

TO TEACH 

But the real main purpose of the plagues is to teach God’s creatures. 

In redeeming Israel from Egypt, God chose to act very visibly. But when He liberated Israel from ancient Babylon, but He acted invisible, except as seen through the eyes of the prophets. He sent pagan armies against Babylon and arranged these forces to be favorable towards Israel. Why did He act so visibly in Egypt?  God purposefully hardened Pharaoh’s heart for His purpose was to teach the Egyptians and the nations about the true God:

I will harden Pharaoh’s heart …
and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”
(Exo 14:4; see also Exo 7:3, 7; 4:21; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8)

The deliverance from Egypt was to serve as a visible lesson to the peoples of the world.  In His mercy He wanted them to learn about His existence and power:

I raised you (Pharaoh) up,
to demonstrate My power in you,
and that My name might be proclaimed
throughout the whole earth”  (Rom 9:17).

The end-time plagues will also serve as a lesson, for God will not let people suffer simply for the sake of punishment. But the question is: What is the lesson? To discuss this is the purpose of the current article. The next article discusses the questions: For who is the lesson and why do they need these lessons?

THREE LESSONS

The plagues in Revelation 16 teach three lessons, namely:

That the people with the mark of the beast, although they appear to be Christians, are in reality committed to Satan’s principles and are unable to repent, even when they know that they oppose God;

That the people with the seal of God would rather die than disobey God.

Consequently, the plagues reveal that God’s judgment (assessment) of people, as to who will inherit eternal life, is fully accurate.

MARK OF THE BEAST

Three times (16:9, 11, 21) it is said in the plagues that the people with the mark of the beast blaspheme God and do not repent.  This implies that the purpose of the plagues is to see whether they would repent. 

WHEN THE PLAGUES BEGIN

When the plagues start to fall, the people of the world are divided into two clearly demarcated groups.  For example, the people with the mark of the beast are allowed to buy and sell; the others are not (Rev 13:17).  Just like the seal of God is not a literal mark, the mark of the beast is also not a literal mark, but somehow it will be possible to determine to what group each person belongs, for the one group will persecute the other.

Both groups are Christians.  See, the throne of the beast is Christian religious authority.  People often ask what the mark of the beast is.  That question is unnecessary.  Irrespective of what the mark of the beast is, when we see a Christian persecuting another person, either physically or by verbal abuse, we see the spirit of the beast in action.

THE PLAGUES

The plagues only target the large group with the mark of the Beast (Rev 16:2).  These people must, therefore, become increasingly aware of some sort of supernatural support for the hated minority.  In the fifth plague, the mighty angel of Revelation 18 destroys Christian authority.  Through the plagues, therefore, the people with the mark of the beast increasingly realize that they themselves are opposing God.  

But instead of repenting, they curse Him even more bitterly than ever before (Rev 16:9, 11, 21) and become even more resolute in their opposition.  They refuse to admit that they are wrong, even in the face of these severe judgments. 

CONCLUSION

One purpose of the plagues is, therefore, to show that the people with the mark of the beast, although they present themselves as Christians, are hardened beyond repentance.  The plagues serve to reveal the spirit of rebellion that controls their hearts.  

Sin changed people.  There is a point where it becomes impossible for a person to turn to God.  That is the point at which the person receives the mark of the beast.  It means that that person cannot be saved; NOT because God does not want to save, but because something has changed in that individual which makes it impossible to become one with God again.

The plagues, therefore, are not some arbitrary punishment.  It has an eternal purpose.  Through the plagues, God provides abundant proof of the inability of the people with the mark of the beast to repent.  They confess to being Christians, but the plagues will show what they really are; unalterably committed to evil; that the only solution, for the happiness of the universe, is the second death (e.g. Rev. 2:11):

The wages of sin is death, but
the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:23)

SEAL OF GOD

The second lesson from the plagues that the people with the seal of God are willing to die rather than to disobey God.

They overcame him (Satan)
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

(Rev 12:11). 

The plagues follow and continue the period of the most intense persecution of believers in history.  Under the extremely difficult circumstances created by the plagues, the persecutors continue to blaspheme God (Rev 16:8, 11) and continue to persecute the saints.  God will withdraw His restraining Spirit, to allow the persecutors to do whatever they please with God’s people.  This will thoroughly test the characters of the saints, but they will rather die than disobey God.  It will show the changed nature of repentant sinners who were washed clean with the blood of Christ; that they are worthy of eternal life.

GOD’S JUDGMENTS

In the plagues, God is frequently praised for the righteousness of His judgments (Rev 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:2).  This implies that the third lesson from the plagues is that God judges righteously.  The plagues prove to the intelligent creatures of the universe that God’s distinction between the people that will receive eternal life and those that will die is without error:

It proves that the people with the mark of the beast are hardened beyond the possibility of repentance, even under the most difficult circumstances. 

The plagues also prove that the people with the seal of God are not willing to disobey God, whatever the cost. 

Together, these issues prove that God judged rightly.  This is, actually, the only purpose of the plagues.

OTHER ARTICLES

An article that is related to the current article asks why the Euphrates has to dry up to prepare the way for the kings from the east.  That article also concludes that the purpose of the plagues is to teach that God’s judgments are right, but it comes to that conclusion by analyzing the symbolism in the sixth plague specifically.

The current article does not explain why it is necessary for the accuracy of God’s judgments to be confirmed, and who needs that information.  Those questions are discussed in the next article.