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A Paper Presented to the Daniel and Revelation Committee March, 1990


Jon Paulien

Berrien Springs, MI December, 1989






The Seven Seals in Their Context


Structural Parallels in Revelation




The Throne-Room of the Universe


The Sound of Singing


A Sanctuary Scene


The OT Setting


The Churches Set the Tone


The Creator God on His Throne


Rev 4:1-6a


Rev 4:6b-11


Crisis and Resolution in the Throne-room


The Seven-Sealed Scroll


Rev 5:1-4


Rev 5:5-7


Rev 5:8-10


Rev 5:11-14




Structural Parallels to the OT


The Synoptic Apocalypse and Rev 6


The Interpretation of Rev 6


The Time of the Seals


Rev 6:1,2


Rev 6:3,4


Rev 6:5,6


Rev 6:7,8


The Four Horsemen


Rev 6:9-11


Rev 6:12-17


Rev 8:1





In recent years the seven seals of Revelation have excited increasing interest among

Seventh-day Adventist pastors and lay people. This chapter seeks to examine the major issues

that arise from the text of Rev 4-6, space does not, however, permit a detailed verse-by-verse

commentary, which must await another time and place. Neither is it possible to interact in detail

with other attempts to understand this much-debated portion of Revelation.

however, that this brief introduction will stimulate careful analysis of the passage and will provide

guidance to future discussions.

the seals (including this one) has so decisively settled the issues as to be self-evident to all honest

seekers, no interpretation of the seals should become a center of theological controversy. There

are far more crucial issues to divide over.

1 It is hoped,

2 One note of caution at the beginning. Since no interpretation of

1 Perceptive readers, for example, will notice that this outline dif Pacific Press, 1989). It was not the purpose of this volume to systematica realities and their larger implications.

2 Attention will be given to statements of Ellen White that have a b




Rev 4-6 opens with the invitation to John to "come up" through an open door into heaven itself (4:1). There he is permitted to view the throne of God surrounded by the heavenly court (4:2-8). In a scene of unutterable praise and devotion (4:8-11), the "One sitting on the throne" is adored for His holiness and His role in the creation of all things. In chapter five the worship scene is interrupted by a moment of crisis. A scroll of decisive importance in the hand of the "One sitting on the throne" cannot be opened unless a "worthy" individual can be found to break its seven seals (5:1-4). A "slain lamb," pronounced worthy, presents Himself and takes the scroll from the right hand of the One sitting on the throne (5:5-7). This act calls forth an even greater crescendo of praise to both the Lamb and the One sitting on the throne (5:8-14). The impression is left that this is, perhaps, the most decisive moment in the history of the universe. With chapter six the scene turns to the Lamb's successive breaking of the book's seven seals. While a sealed scroll cannot be read until all its seals are broken, the action of breaking each seal triggers frightful events on earth. The breaking of the first four seals results in the appearance of riders whose actions produce increasing disunity and distress upon the earth (6:1-8). The breaking of the fifth and sixth seals highlights the suffering of the martyrs and the cosmic signs that lead up to the end (6:9-17). The chapter ends with a solemn question--on the great day of the wrath of God and the Lamb what human being will be able to stand (6:17)? The answer is offered in chapter seven. When the winds of strife blow upon the


3 Gane, p. 42.



earth, those marked on the forehead with the seal of the living God will be sheltered (7:1-3). These "standing ones" are described by means of a pair of images, 144,000 composed of 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (7:4-8), and an innumerable multitude from every tribe on earth (7:9-17). Whether these two images represent one group or two, they clearly portray the totality of those who are shielded on the great day of wrath. They join the heavenly court in service (7:14-17) and praise (7:9-12) before the throne.

The Seven Seals in Their Context Statements of introduction and conclusion are of major importance in understanding

any Biblical book. It is particularly important, where Revelation is concerned, to notice that the author has a technique of artfully embedding each of his introductory summaries in the preceding section of the book, usually at the climactic spot. While the suffering of the souls under the altar in 6:9-11, for example, provides a pointed climax to the war, famine, and pestilence sequence of the four horsemen, the answer to their cry "how long, O Lord" awaits the plagues of the seven trumpets (cf. 8:3-5,13). Likewise, the five central concepts of 11:18 become the ordering principle of chapters twelve through


the dragon and his allies. At the same time, however, the language points forward to 15:1 which introduces the bowl plagues. 21:1-8 functions as both the climax of the vision of the 1000 years

and as the introduction to the detailed description of the New Jerusalem. The key to the larger significance of most portions of Revelation is, therefore, located in a preceding climax statement. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the best starting point for a study of Rev 4:1-8:1 is Rev 3:21. While Rev 3:21 functions as the climax of all the promises to the overcomer in Rev 2 and 3, its language provides a summary overview of the content of the seven seals:

4 The third angel's message (Rev 14:9-12) climaxes God's response to the attack of

4 This is worked out in more detail in my book Decoding Revelation's



To the one who overcomes I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne. 5

In this text Christ promises to reward the overcomer (ho nikôn) with a share of

His throne. An analogy to this action ("just as"--hôs) is the overcoming (enikêsa) of Christ which

resulted in His joining the Father on His throne. From the standpoint of the Revelator, the

believer's overcoming is described as a present ongoing experience (ho nikôn) while their sitting

on Christ's throne is future (dôsô). By way of contrast, both Christ's overcoming (enikêsa) and

His becoming seated on His Father's throne (ekathisa) are specific events that occurred in past

time. 7


The Father's throne (Rev 4), the overcoming of Christ (Rev 5:5--enikêsen), and

His joining the Father on His throne (5:6ff.) are the central themes of Rev 4 and 5. Not until Rev

7 are the redeemed explicitly permitted to join in the rejoicing and the worship of the heavenly

court (7:9-12). Just as the reward of the saints is related to Christ's in Rev 3:21, so the two

throne scenes of Rev 5 and 7:9ff. are likewise related, although equally separate chronologically. 8

5 Unless otherwise specified all quotations from the NT text are in

6 The Greek present indicative expresses action as a continuous proc

7 In the original language both verbs are aorist indicatives which e

8 Notice the literary parallels between the two scenes:

Rev 5:12

Worthy is the slain Lamb to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.

Rev 5:13 To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might

Rev 7:12

Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength to our God forever and ever.

Rev 7:10 Salvation to our God to the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb.


The introductory scene of the seals (Rev 4-5) is, therefore, an elaboration of the

latter part of 3:21 (concerning Christ's overcoming and enthronement). The praise scene of Rev

7:9-17 fulfills the promise that the overcomer will join Christ on his throne. Between the two

throne scenes is Rev 6. Therefore, the seals of chapter six correspond to the remaining assertion

of 3:21 ("to the one who overcomes"); they span the time from the overcoming of the Lamb to

the reward of the sealed.

The seals of chapter 6, then, have to do with the ongoing period in which God's

people are in the process of overcoming. Since the many promises to the overcomer (Rev

2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21) are offered to the seven churches of first-century Asia Minor, the period

of their overcoming had already begun in John's day and continues until all God's people have

joined Jesus on His throne.

What event did the Revelator have in mind as the beginning point of the seals?

The expressions "I overcame," "I sat down," and "he overcame" point us back to Christ's death,

resurrection, and inauguration as High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary.

nature of this overcoming is confirmed by the "new song" of the twenty-four elders in Rev 5:9:

9 The cross-centered

You are worthy to take the book and to open its seals because you were slain and purchased for God with your blood some from every tribe and language and people and nation and made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.

In this song the aorist indicatives (underlined above)

consequences. It is the slain Lamb who, by means of His blood, purchases humanity and offers it

a new status in Him. It is the cross that has made Christ "worthy" (Rev 5:2 cf. 5:9) to take up his

10 all refer to the Christ-event and its

forever and ever.

9 The Greek verbs (3:21: enikêsa, ekathisa, "I overcame specific points in past time.

sat down";

10 "You were slain"--esphagês; "bought"--êgorasas; "made"--epoiêsas.


work for our salvation in the heavenly sanctuary. It is the death of Christ that forms the basis of

the believer's overcoming (Rev 12:11).

Since the events of Rev 7 fall at the close of earth's history,

11 whereas the

emphasis of the throne scene in Rev 5 is on Christ's death, it is evident that Rev 6 is a visionary

description of events on earth between the cross and the second coming. There is a particular

focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ and on the people who accept and proclaim that gospel.

Structural Parallels in Revelation

It is essential that the interpreter of Revelation be sensitive to the other parts of

the book that may relate to the passage being studied. In the book of Revelation the key to the

meaning of one passage may lie at the opposite end of the book.

Kenneth Strand has concluded that the first fourteen chapters of the book

12 The author's choice of language suggests

to Strand that Rev 4-7 is paralleled primarily by the material in Rev 19 although elements of Rev

7:15-17 are closely related to Rev 21:3,4.

language of Rev 4-7 with that of Rev 19.

words and ideas.

function in chiastic parallel to the last eight chapters.

13 Building on Strand's work, I carefully compared the

14 There appear to be four main clusters of parallel

Worship Scenes

The first cluster involves the worship scenes. The only places in Revelation

which combine the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, God's throne, and scenes of

11 They are in the context of the great Day of the Lord (Rev 6:12-17)

12 For a diagram of how this works for the whole book see Kenneth A. Arbor Publishers, 1972), p. 52.

13 See Strand's fairly detailed chart in Ibid., p. 46. There are oth chapter 14, but these are far less explicit than those in chapter 19.

14 While various Adventist writers have sought to find parallels to R fall short of being convincing demonstrations of John's intention. Rev 6 a build our examination.


praise and worship are found in Rev 4,5,7 and Rev 19.

chapters include the words chosen with which to praise God

In chapters four and five, God and the Lamb are praised for their activity in creation and at the cross (Rev 4:11; 5:9,12). In Rev 7:9-14 and 19:1-8 they are praised for redeeming the great multitude at the close of their tribulation and for destroying the great end- time Babylon. This confirms that the perspective of Rev 4,5 is that of the beginning of the Christian era, while that of Rev 7 and 19 focuses on the end of the Christian era.

15 Other common elements between these


and the garments worn.


Equestrian Imagery The second main cluster ties the activities of the four horsemen, particularly the

first, with the actions of the horse and rider of Rev 19:11-15. The common elements include the

white horse, the crown, and the sword.

which appears nowhere else in Revelation. The image in both cases has to do with conquest. In 6:2, however, the word for crown (stephanos) implies a reward for victory,

while the word found in 19:12 (diadêmata) is the royal crown implying the right to rule.

context (see below) 6:2 highlights the victory on the cross and its consequences, while 19:11-15 highlights the final conquest of evil at the second coming of Christ, when Christ literally takes over His kingdom. This parallel signals the move from establishing Christ's right to rule in heavenly places (Rev 4-5) to demonstrating that right to rule on earth at His return (Rev 19:11-

15). The white horse of Rev 6 symbolizes the victory of Christ in the spread of his invisible kingdom through the preaching of the gospel, the white horse of Rev 19 symbolizes the total

18 The most striking parallel is that of the white horse,

19 In its

15 Rev 4:6-11; 5:8-14; 7:9-14 and 19:4.

16 Compare the language of Rev 4:8,11; 5:12,13; 7:10,12; 19:1,6,7.

17 Different words are used to describe essentially similar garments

18 The exact word used in 19:15,21 is romphaia, used only in 6:8, not

19 It is in plural ("many crowns").


subjugation of evil to Christ at His second coming.

Judgment The third cluster of parallels connects the fifth seal (Rev 6:10,11) with Rev 19:1,2. The former is a call for judgment (krineis) and vengeance (ekdikeis) on those who dwell on the earth. The latter proclaims that judgment (kriseis, ekrinen) and vengeance (exedikêsen) have been carried out on Babylon, the end-time equivalent of those who tormented the martyrs throughout the Christian era. The time of judgment and vengeance mentioned in Rev 19 does not refer directly to anything in the seals, but summarizes the explicit content of Rev 18, which builds on Rev 17 and 14:8-11. Thus, the rise of end-time Babylon and its judgment and destruction fall between the time of the fifth seal and the proclamation of Rev 19:2. Of the four main clusters of parallels between the seals and Rev 19, this is the most direct and comprehensive, with seven verbal parallels between 19:2 alone and 6:10,11 (ten if 19:1 is included). 20

Day of Wrath Finally, the fourth cluster involves a parallel between those who are terrified on the day of wrath (Rev 6:15-17) and those who are consumed in God's end-time banquet (Rev 19:17,18). Since these two events appear to be the same, it may be safe to conclude that the sixth seal climaxes with the event described in 19:17-21. The above examination supports the general observation of Strand that the material in the seals covers the broad sweep of Christian history, while the material in chapter 19 focuses on the final events leading up to the consummation of that history. This does not, however, rule out the obvious fact that elements of this historical sequence may in their order focus on the end as part of that historical sweep. The evidence suggests that the fifth and sixth seals definitely "lean toward the end" and point toward the same climax referred to in Rev 19. On

20 Since 19:1 has nine verbal parallels of its own with Rev 7:9-12, t


the other hand, the four horsemen (6:1-8) take their cue from the cross and its consequences, with emphasis on the earlier part of the Christian era.




The Throne-Room of the Universe

The word "throne" (thronos), representing the right to rule, is undoubtedly the

key word of Rev 4, appearing fourteen times. Still central to the scene's activity it appears five

times in the next chapter. It almost disappears from view in chapter six (one time) but returns in

Rev 7:9-17 with an emphasis comparable to its position in chapter four (seven times in only nine


Chapter four, therefore, sets the stage for the heavenly activity in Rev 5, while

Rev 7:9-17 is an extension of Rev 4 and 5 in its renewed focus on the throne. The throne nearly

disappears from view in chapter six because that chapter is concerned with events on earth. 21

Coming back to chapter four, the throne is clearly central to the visionary

description. It is the first thing

John sees in heaven; after that all activity is oriented to the throne. While the word "throne" is

normally associated with God in Revelation, it can be applied to Satan and his cohorts as well




(Rev 2:13; 13:2; 16:10). Thus, the centrality of the throne in this portion of Revelation

21 A strong literary tie, nevertheless, connects chapter six with chapters four and five in reference is made to the four living creatures.

22 Otto Schmitz, "thronos," in Theological Dictionary of the New Test ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 3:165.

23 Activity takes place "on the throne" (epi ton thronon--4:2,4,9,10) throne" (4:5), "in front of (enôpion) the throne" (4:5,6,10), and "in the m

24 The word is also applied to the 24 elders (Rev 4:4 [twice} and 11:16) and to the martyrs

a work of judgment (krima).

No such judgment task is given to the elders in Rev 4 and 5, they do,


highlights its concern with the controversy between God and Satan over the dominion of the universe. 25

The opening verses of chapter five portray a major crisis point in the development of that controversy. The remainder of the chapter asserts that the death of Christ has guaranteed the outcome of that controversy, and that the exalted Christ already shares the throne of God (Rev 3:21 cf. 5:6-14; 7:15,17; 22:1,3). 26

The Sound of Singing There is a deliberate progression of thought in the five hymns of chapters four and five. Chapter four contains two hymns addressed to the One sitting on the throne (Rev 4:8,11). The next two hymns are addressed to the Lamb (5:9,10,12). The fifth and final hymn is addressed to both the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb (5:13). That this equality of praise is the explicit highlight of this introductory scene is evident from the ever-increasing volume of participants. The hymn of Rev 4:8 is sung by the four living creatures alone. The hymn of 4:11 is sung by the twenty-four elders. The hymn of 5:9,10 is sung by both the creatures and the elders. With the hymn of 5:12, scores of millions of angels join the heavenly choir. The fifth and final hymn is sung by all creation. This ever-increasing participation indicates that it is heaven's greatest joy to exalt Jesus Christ as His Father is exalted. The all-encompassing language of Rev 5:13 suggests that this final hymn is proleptic (portrayed in advance): the entire universe in praise to God (cf. Phil 2:9-11). 27 Therefore, while the scene of Rev 5 highlights the enthronement of Christ at the beginning of the age, it also points forward to the universal rejoicing at the end.

A Sanctuary Scene

25 J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, Anchor Bible, vol. 38 (Garden Ci

26 Schmitz, pp. 166-167.

27 Massyngberde Ford, p. 95.


Although no single element of Rev 4 is drawn explicitly from the OT sanctuary or

temple, the cumulative effect of the imagery in the chapter does reflect a strong reminiscence of

that sanctuary and its services. The word for door (thura, 4:1) appears over 200 times in the

Greek OT (LXX), scores of which relate directly to the sanctuary (cf. Exod 29:4,10,11; Lev

28 Trumpets (4:1) were used in worship as well as battle (Num 10:8-

1:3,5; 1 Kings 6:31,32,34).

10). It is possible that the throne (4:2) was intended to recall the ark of the covenant (cf. 11:19;

Ps 99:1), but that cannot be assumed. It could, instead, correspond to the table of shewbread of

the Holy Place since the table is the only article of sanctuary furniture not mentioned explicitly in


The three precious stones of 4:3 are all found in the breastplate of the High Priest


(Exod 28:17-21). The twenty-four elders remind the reader of the twenty-four courses of

priests in the temple (1 Chr 24:4-19). The seven lamps (lampades) may recall the candlestick in

the Holy Place, although a different Greek word is used.

Greek word (thalassa) applied to the laver in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 7:23,24). The proximity

of the four living creatures to the throne in Ezek 1 and 10 remind one of the four cherubim

associated with the ark of the covenant (Exod 25:18-20; 1 Kings 6:23-28). Cherubim were,

however, visible also in the Holy Place (Exod 26:31-35). Jewish tradition also associates the lion,

calf, man and eagle with the four banners that surrounded the Israelite encampment in the

wilderness (cf. Num 2).

In chapter five many of these images are repeated with some additions. The slain


31 The sea of glass makes use of the

28 As a reading of the listed passages shows, the word in itself is n

29 C. Mervyn Maxwell, God Cares, 2 vols. (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1 Table-Throne."

30 The connection with the High Priest's breastplate is enhanced by t Exodus 28 and the jasper the last. Thus all the tribes are represented in

It is interesting that in the Greek (LXX) of Exod 28:21, the b

p. 71, 85). tribes.

31 The Greek Old Testament word for the candlestick is luchnia, the w


Lamb of verse six, reminiscent of Isa 53:7, reminds one of the morning and evening continual (Tamid) sacrifices (Exod 29:38-42) or possibly the Passover sacrifice (1 Cor 5:7). The blood of the Lamb (verse 9) provides the means to purchase the peoples of the earth for God. They serve God in analogy to the priests of the OT sanctuary (5:10). The twenty-four elders hold golden bowls of incense which are interpreted as the prayers of the saints (5:8). Both the incense and the prayers of the saints are associated with the continual morning and evening sacrifices of the sanctuary in Ps 141:2 (cf. Exod 29:38-43; Luke 1:9,10). No passage in Revelation contains a larger quantity or a wider variety of allusions to the sanctuary that this introductory scene. There were only two occasions in the Hebrew cultus when the entire sanctuary was involved; the Day of Atonement and the service of inauguration (cf. Exod 40). Since Rev 3:21 associates this scene with the cross and the enthronement of Christ, since the language of temple (naos) and judgment (cf. Rev 11:18,19) is absent, and since the implicit structure of Revelation places the Day of Atonement in the latter half of the book, 32 the best identification for the imagery in Rev 4 and 5 is the service of inauguration. Thus, Revelation 5 portrays the inauguration of the entire heavenly sanctuary in AD 31. In Rev 8:3-5 the author focuses more specifically on the daily services associated with the first apartment of the sanctuary, while in Rev 11:19 the ark of the second apartment is clearly brought to view.

The OT Setting At the close of this paper are a series of tables. Table 1 offers a list of the OT passages that the author of Revelation likely had in mind as he wrote Rev 4. An examination of the list indicates repeated parallels to three great throne-visions of the OT; Isa 6, Ezek 1-10 and Dan 7:9-14. In fact, only two major elements of Rev 4 cannot be found in them, the twenty-four elders and the creation hymn (4:11). The three OT visions are roughly equal in their importance

32 See the accompanying chapter, "Historicism and the Seals and Trump


to Rev 4, with Ezek 1 holding a slight edge in influence.

There is also a relationship to two earlier throne-oriented passages of the OT, 1

Kings 22:19 (and its parallel in 2 Chr 18:18) and Exod 19:16-24. There are, in addition, a number

of elements in Rev 4 that could not be drawn from the five "throne-visions."

although Ezekiel and Daniel are of major significance to Rev 4, only about a third of the material

in the chapter is drawn from them. Rev 4 parallels a wide variety of sources in its description of

the heavenly court. 34

33 Therefore,

Rev 5 assumes the description in chapter four. Therefore, most of the key OT

throne passages contribute little or nothing new to the scene. Dan 7, by contrast, becomes the

most prominent structural parallel in the chapter. Dan 7 depicts God on the throne, books open

for judgment, the coming of the "son of man," the bestowal of dominion over the earth, the

presence of the saints, and multiplied myriads of the heavenly host.


Rev 5:9-14, furthermore, seems structured on major movements in Dan 7:13-27.

First, the son of man receives dominion (Dan 7:13,14 cf. Rev 5:6-9). Then peoples, nations and

men of every language are mentioned (Dan 7:14 cf. Rev 5:9). Then the peoples receive dominion

(Dan 7:18,22,27a cf. Rev 5:10), and, finally, control over all things is returned to God (Dan 7:27b

cf. Rev 5:13,14).

There are, however, significant differences between Dan 7 and Rev 5. Many

intervening elements in Daniel are left out and many other elements are added in Revelation 5. 36

33 These include the "things which must happen after these things," t the phrase "Lord, God Almighty" (used in the Greek Old Testament for the He approbation of God as the Creator of all things.

34 It is also possible that John was aware of 1 Enoch 14:8-25, a heav reminiscent of Ezekiel and Daniel. For the text of 1 Enoch in English see City, NY: Doubleday, 1983-1985), 1:13-89.

35 See Table 2 for a list of direct allusions to the Old Testament in

Exod 19 con

the inside and on the back, which can be found in Ezek 2:9,10. Isa 6 and 1 Kings 22 have no additional contribution at all.

36 Significant elements of chapter five such as the Lion of Judah, th


In Dan 7 the books (plural) are open before the Son of Man appears on the scene, in Revelation

the book (singular) is not open until much later, in Rev 5 it remains sealed (cf. Dan 8:26; 12:4,9;

Rev 10; 22:10). The throne of God is also singular, not plural (cf. Dan 7:9) and is "there" (4:2), it

is not set up for a special event of judgment. Although the Revelator is familiar with the Danielic

term Son of Man for Christ (Rev 1:13), he deliberately avoids using it in Rev 5, using the titles

Lamb, Lion of Judah, and Root of David instead. In fact, in spite of the many similarities, less

than a quarter of Rev 5 is drawn from Dan 7.

Most striking of all, however, is the fact that John studiously avoids the language

of judgment in Rev 4 and 5. In the Greek language, judgment is usually expressed by the nouns

krisis (Rev 14:7; 16:7; 18:10; 19:2) and krima (Rev 17:1; 18:20; 20:4) and the verb krinô (Rev

6:10; 11:18; 16:5; 18:8,20; 19:2,11; 20:12,13). As the above listings indicate, John is quite

familiar with the language of judgment but deliberately avoids using it in the first half of the book

of Revelation. The seeming exception, Rev 6:10, is not a description of the judgment, but a call

for that judgment to begin. In contrast to the rest of the NT, where the language of judgment is

often applied to the cross (John 12:31; Rom 8:3, for example) and the preaching of the gospel

(John 3:18-21; 5:22-25; 9:35-41, for example), in Revelation the language of judgment is reserved

for the descriptions of the events of the end-time in Rev 12-20.

We must resist the temptation, therefore, to assume that since Dan 7 and Ezek 1-

10 involve investigative judgments, Rev 4 and 5 must likewise be an investigative judgment scene.

The author of Revelation, in fact, generally avoids those parts of Daniel and Ezekiel that involve

judgment to concentrate on those parts which offer familiar language with which to describe the

throne-room of the universe.

For example, the Ezekiel's throne scene (Ezek 1, 10) is repeatedly paralleled in

Rev 4. But judgment portions, like Ezek 9 (mark on forehead) come into play in Rev 7:1-8, a

the new song and the three-tiered universe (Rev 5:13) parallel other Old Te Testament at all.


clear end-time setting, but not in the introductory scene. The twenty-four elders are given an

intercessory task (Rev 5:8), but not a judgmental one (like the martyrs of Rev 20:4). The crisis of

Rev 5 is resolved, not by judgment, but by the death of the Lamb.

To say this is not to deny that the cross itself was an act of judgment (John

12:31,32; Rom 8:3). If John had wished to emphasize the judgment aspects of the cross in Rev 5,

it would have been easy for him to do so, but he deliberately avoided using that kind of

language. Therefore, as significant as the structural parallels to Daniel and Ezekiel are to this

scene, they do not require us to suggest that any portion of the heavenly events in Rev 4-5 portray

the end-time, pre-advent judgment.


This survey of the OT backgrounds to Rev 4 and 5 demonstrates the extent to

which Revelation is not only built up from elements in its literary background, but is also

packaged in creative ways that result in a fresh and original product. The interpreter should,

therefore, avoid a random search of background sources for symbols that can be plugged in at

will. Symbols by their varied nature are fluid in meaning. Their particular significance

must be determined by the immediate context, not by their use in a previous context. Where the

author's point is not plain from the immediate context, the interpreter may seek clues in the

themes and context of background passages, but such "clues" should never be permitted to undo

the meaning of texts which are reasonably clear in their own right.

The Churches Set the Tone

Before beginning a more-detailed analysis of the introductory vision to the seals

it may be helpful to consider briefly the role and function of the introductory scenes in Revelation.

The best starting point for such an analysis is the introductory vision to the seven churches (Rev

1-3) which sets the tone, in relatively clear language, for what John will do in more cryptic fashion

37 There are actually few passages of the Old Testament that are not these, has gone out of his way to help the reader avoid raising the wrong i

from chapter four on.


The introductory scene to the seven churches, Rev 1:9-20, provides the

theological basis for the letters to the seven churches (Rev 2-3). Jesus comes to comfort John

with a revelation of Himself (1:17,18). What He has done for John He will do for all the churches

that John represents (1:19,20). 38

Christ presents Himself to each church in terms of the characteristics listed in the

first chapter. No church is offered all of His characteristics, it receives only those appropriate to

its condition. In this manner the introductory scene remains in the background of the reader's

consciousness throughout the letters to the churches.


Many characteristics of the book of Revelation recall the dramas of the ancient,

Greco-Roman world. The sanctuary scenes at the beginning of most sections of Revelation

(1:9-20; 4-5; 8:2-6; 11:19; 15:5-8) function as the stage settings of the respective acts of the


drama. Each, therefore, is intended to be constantly in view throughout the section that it

introduces. These introductory scenes, therefore, provide the theological undergirding for all that

follows in that section of the book. They are not to be understood as completed before the

following material begins.


A similar literary pattern can be found in the seals section of the book (Rev 4:1-

8:1). The introductory scene (Rev 4-5) is repeatedly recalled in chapter six through the breaking

38 Notice the significance of the "therefore" (oun) in verse 19, link through the book that John will write for Him.

39 Please note the following:



cf. 1:13,16



cf. 1:17,18



cf. 1:16



cf. 1:14,15



cf. 1:4,16



cf. 1:18



cf. 1:5

40 John Wick Bowman, "Revelation, Book of," Interpreter's Dictionary

41 Ibid., p. 63-64.


of the seals and the mention of the living creatures (6:1-8). Since the book is never opened in

chapter five, chapter six occurs after the Lamb receives the book but before it is seen to be open

(Rev 10).

from the successive acts of breaking the seals. Since the song of 5:13 can only be truly fulfilled in

the new earth (Rev 21-22), the introductory scene is contemporary with the entire span covered

by 6:1-8:1.

Chapter six, therefore, depicts the conditions which prevail on earth between two

great mighty acts of God, portrayed in Revelation in terms of taking the scroll (Rev 5) and

presenting it fully open (Rev 10). The central focus of Rev 5 is the cross of Christ (5:5,6,9,12 cf.

3:21). Christ's overcoming on the cross provides the theological basis for the events of chapter

six, which is concerned with the people of God as they seek to overcome by His blood (12:11).

Thus, the seals run from the cross and enthronement of Christ to the end of the great controversy

between Christ and Satan when the entire universe will be filled with a complete harmony of

praise to God (5:13 cf. 7:9-17; 8:1?).

42 The introductory scene is constantly recalled in that the events of chapter six result

The Creator God on His Throne

Rev 4:1-6a

After this I saw, and behold a door had been opened in heaven and the first voice which I had heard (speaking with me in trumpet-like tones) said, "Come up here, and I will show you the things which must happen after this. Rev 4:1

The seals of Rev 4:1-8:1 open with an introductory scene (Rev 4 and 5) where

John ascends into the heavenly sanctuary, the throne-room of the universe. The open door (thura

42 Many have objected to equating the two scrolls on the grounds that chapter ten. However both terms are diminutive forms (suggesting "little b

to be used interchangeably in Revelation. Notice that even in chapter ten,

a biblion in 10:8.

"To open the book" (anoixai to biblion) in Rev 5:2 is m

it is used in each sentence) as "the opened book" (to biblion to êneôgmenon


êneôgmenê) is reminiscent of the open door (thuran êneôgmenên) of access to Christ which

bolsters the Philadelphia church in its weakness (Rev 3:8).

43 The trumpet-like voice recalls Rev

1:10, where Jesus last appeared to John.

The phrase "what must happen after this" (ha dei genesthai meta tauta), a major

verbal parallel to Dan 2:28,29,45,


after this" are the substance of the book of Revelation (Rev 1:1 indicates that the emphasis is

upon the latter).

44 deliberately recalls the purpose of Revelation outlined in Rev

45 Rev 1:19 states that the "things which are and the things which are about to happen

The absence of the "things which are" in 4:1 tells us two things, (1) the letters to

the churches focus primarily on the original situation of John's time rather than on later history, 46

and (2) with chapter four we are moving to the main emphasis of the book, the events to take

place after the time of the vision.

door of 3:8 and that of 4:1 does not presuppose an end-time setting for the throne scene of Rev 4-


47 Seen in this light, the literary connection between the open

To summarize the meaning of verse one: The open door through which John

ascends into the heavenly court enables him to see the "revelation of Jesus Christ" which will

result in the production of his book. It is not, therefore, illegitimate to suggest that chapter four

provides an introduction not only for the seals but for the rest of the book of Revelation.

43 Adela Yarbro Collins, The Apocalypse, NT Message, vol. 22 (Wilming

44 In two different Greek Old Testaments, the Septuagint (LXX) and Th

45 In Rev 1:1 the phrase "things which must happen" (ha dei genesthai (en tachei). In Rev 1:19 "must" (dei) is replaced by "about to" (mellei):

46 That the letters to the churches have a primary intent in the orig applications to their contents.

47 The future orientation of Rev 4 and following does not rule out fl Rev 12:1-5) or descriptions of the grounds upon which Christ acts in the fu (alluded to by the language of 4:1) the image vision concerns things "after years before.


Immediately I was in the spirit:

and behold a throne was there in heaven, and Someone was sitting on the throne. Rev 4:2

"In the spirit" seems to be the Revelator's way of introducing a visionary

sequence (cf. Rev 1:10; 17:3; 21:10). The tense of the Greek verb translated "was there" 48

(ekeito) attests that the author does not understand the throne to be recently set up but to have

been continually in that place up until that time. This is in contrast to Dan 7:9 where thrones are

"placed" or "set up,"

that found in Dan 7:9ff.

the scene. There are precious stones, a rainbow, thunder and lightning, seven lamps, a crystalline

Rev 4:3-6a offers a series of images that highlight the glory of

49 a clear signal that John does not perceive this scene to be a duplicate of

sea of glass, and twenty-four elders who sit on thrones around the throne dressed in white robes

and wearing golden crowns (stephanoi) on their heads.

Who are these twenty-four elders? They are mentioned twelve times in

Revelation (Rev 4:4,10; 5:5,6,8,11,14; 7:11,13: 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). The fact that the number

twenty-four is the sum of two sets of twelve, may suggest a link with the New Jerusalem's twelve

gates named after the twelve tribes of Israel and twelve foundations named after the twelve

apostles of the Lamb.


The twenty-four elders, apparently, represent exalted and redeemed humanity. It

is overcoming believers that share God's throne, not angels (Rev 3:21). White robes are normally

worn by the saints in Revelation (3:4,5,18; 6:11; 7:9,13,14)

50 A connection with the 144,000 (twelve times twelve) may also be

51 And the golden crowns are not

48 A Greek imperfect indicative, which expresses ongoing action, like

49 The Greek OT does not use keimai in Dan 7:9 but the aorist form of setting the thrones in position.

50 It is interesting to note that the walls and foundations are menti This is evidently intended to draw the reader's attention to the relationsh

51 In this, of course, they model after Christ (Rev 1:14). A possibl Parousia are dressed in white. The Greek word for "white" is not used in R


royal crowns (diadêmata--cf. Rev 19:11) but crowns of victory (stephanoi), particularly

appropriate to the redeemed (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 12:1) and Christ (14:14). 52

This is further supported by the background evidence. Angels never sit on

thrones anywhere in the Bible or in early Jewish literature.

have royal functions (1 Pet 2:9,10: Rev 1:6; 5:9,10), can be so depicted (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30;

Rev 20:4). The word for "victory crowns" (stephanoi) is used of the crown of thorns at the cross

(Matt 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2,5) and of believers and their reward (Phil 4:1; 1 Thess 2:19;

53 Christians, on the other hand, who

2 Tim 4:8), angels never wear them. Neither are angels called elders, while this is a common

designation for the leaders of both synagogue and church. 55


The twenty-four elders, therefore, appear to be human beings exalted to heaven

prior to the consummation of all things. They are probably to be identified with the individuals

raised at the resurrection of Christ (Matt 27:52,53; Eph 4:8). They symbolize what all believers

can become in Christ (Rev 3:21; 12:11).

Rev 4:6b-11

The full significance of the four living creatures (Rev 4:6b-8) becomes evident

only when they are seen in the light of the author's literary background, a topic that cannot be

explored here for lack of space. As heavenly throne-creatures, they introduce the first hymn sung

believers in white robes.

52 And also to His counterfeit (cf. Rev 9:7). It may be of particula contrasting literary connections between the twenty-four elders and the let in heavenly places, the earthly Laodiceans are repulsive to Jesus. The eld purchase such garments. The elders wear gold, the Laodiceans lack it. The status if they overcome. The elders are totally God-focused, the Laodicean Laodiceans are inside a shut door, with Jesus standing outside. The litera through the open door into heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

53 A. Feuillet, "Les vingt-quatre viellards de l'Apocalypse," Revue b

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., pp. 9-14; Alberto R. Treiyer, "The Members of the Heavenly Committee meeting in Bracknell, England, March 16-21, 1988, pp. 6-7.


in the throne-room, the three-fold "holy" (Rev 4:8). This hymn is strongly reminiscent of Rev


According to Rev 4:9,10, "whenever" (hotan) the four living creatures praise the

one sitting on the throne, the twenty-four elders fall down in worship, cast their crowns before the

throne, and sing a song of their own. The word "whenever" makes it clear that this scene in

chapter four is not a particular point in time (such as AD 31 or 1844) but portrays the ongoing

nature of heavenly worship. Chapter four is not a one-time event, but the basic setting for all

activity in the heavenly throne-room. In chapter five, on the other hand, a great crisis strikes the

heavenly court, and the elders' song in Rev 4:11 begins with a word that becomes central to the

resolution of that crisis:

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, because you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Rev 4:11

The elders ascribe ultimate worth to God on the grounds that, as Creator, he is

the source for the existence of all creation.

with no hint of the crisis to follow.

56 Thus chapter four is brought to its glorious climax,

Crisis and Resolution in the Throne-room

Rev 5 moves us from the general description of the throne-room and its activities

to a particular point in time when that throne-room is faced with a crisis of God-like proportions.

This crisis is a decisive one-time event. But it is overcome by the death of the Lion/Lamb

resulting in universal rejoicing.

Although the throne is ever-present in Rev 5, it is

56 Yarbro Collins, p. 37.


mentioned less frequently than in chapter four.

the book (biblion), its seals (sphragidas), the Lamb (arnion) and the issue of who is worthy (axios)

to open the book and break its seals.

57 Instead, the literary focus of chapter five is on

The Seven-Sealed Scroll

A major key to the interpretation of this entire section of Revelation (4:1-8:1) is

the identity and significance of the seven-sealed scroll.

sealing functions as a mark of protection or a sign of God's ownership (Rev 7:2; 9:4; cf. 14:1). 59

But when a book or a message is sealed, concealment is normally in view (Rev 22:10; 10:4). 60

This is in contrast to the open scroll of chapter ten, which is also associated with a mighty angel

(Rev 5:2; cf. 10:1--angellon ischuron). As one follows the flow of the action from chapters five

through ten one becomes impressed that the same scroll is in view, sealed in chapter five and

opened in chapter ten. 61

58 When people are sealed in Revelation,

What is the mysterious content of the scroll? It would appear to have something

to do with the overall purpose of the Book of Revelation:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him, to show to his servants

the things which must soon happen, and He signified it sending it through his angel

to His servant John,

Who testified concerning the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ,

57 God continues to sit on (epi) the throne (5:1,7,13), the Lamb appe around (kuklô) the throne (5:11) join the elders and the four living creatu

58 The seven-sealed book is clearly a scroll (cf. Rev 6:14) not a cod

59 Gottfried Fitzer, "sphragis, sphragizô, katasphragizô," in Theolog Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerd

60 Ibid., p. 950.

61 See note 42.


which he saw.

Rev 1:1,2

The Apocalypse came into being by a three-fold process. God handed "revelation" to Jesus

Christ, who conveyed it in symbol through an angel to John. John then passed on to the world

the things which he saw in the form of a "book of prophecy" (Rev 22:7,10,18,19), which is the

book of Revelation as we know it.

"book" over to Jesus and that this book, when opened, is passed on to John in Rev 10 by a mighty

angel who informs him of his prophetic imperative.

62 Thus, it is a striking parallel that in Rev 5 God hands a

The content of that revelation is particularly summed up in Rev 1:1 by the phrase

"things which must soon happen," or future events. These considerations, combined with the

number of parallels between Rev 1:4-8 and Rev 4:1-8,

chapter five is the content of Revelation itself. Since the scroll of chapter ten is strongly

associated with the book of Daniel

contains the destiny of the world; the purpose of God to deliver His people and resolve the crisis

in the universe at the end of time.

63 leave the impression that the scroll of

64 the combined impression suggests that the sealed scroll

This future action of God is fixed in His purpose (written down in a legal

document), but is withdrawn from human knowledge (sealed).

Himself to open the book shows that this plan is somehow endangered, hence all the weeping.

Thankfully, it can be opened as a result of the cross.

65 The inability of even God

Significant background information offers other perspectives on the meaning of

62 Although the term "book of prophecy" (tês prophêteias tou bibliou) about "the words of this prophecy" which are written down, and verse eleven Revelation was mediated by a process moving from God to Christ to John to t

63 The One who "is and was and is to come," the Almighty, the seven s

64 Note the many parallels to the sealing and unsealing of Daniel in

65 Gottlob Schrenk, "biblion," in Theological Dictionary of the New T ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:619.


the scroll.

two sides in Ezek 2:9,10 contains "words of lamentation, mourning and woe," a warning of the

66 Two OT settings place scrolls in a judgment context. The unrolled scroll written on

judgments about to fall upon Judah. The gigantic flying scroll written on both sides in Zech 5:1-4

contains the curses of God against the flagrant sinners in the land. The parallels are not fully

convincing, however. These scrolls are already open when the Seers receive them, and it is hard

to explain why John would weep that God's retributive judgments are being delayed.

Two other potential backgrounds relate to matters of inheritance. Roman wills

were sealed by six witnesses and the testator.

that Jeremiah's purchase of land according to the law of the go'el

return from Babylonian Exile.

67 And in Jer 32:6-15, the written scrolls guarantee

68 would be valid even after the

Both ideas are attractive. As a will the scroll could be opened and its contents

carried out because of Christ's sacrificial death.

represent the title deed to the world. The weeping of verse four would reflect the forfeiture of

that inheritance as a result of sin. Through his death the Lamb redeems the forfeited inheritance

and thus is worthy to break the seals and restore the rightful ownership. 70

As attractive as these ideas are, and as true to the NT concept of the cross, they

are not carried through consistently in the book of Revelation and, if in mind here, may only be a

literary device. 71

69 As a deed of purchase, the scroll would

66 See Schrenk, pp. 618-619, for another summary of background consid of the Seven Seals, Rev 4:1-8:1," unpublished paper, Andrews University, 19

67 See, for example, Fitzer, p. 950; Schrenk, pp. 618-619; Kenneth St Publishers, 1982), p. 55.

68 According to this law, a person in danger of losing his inheritanc

it in the family until such a time as he could afford to buy it back.


69 Schrenk, pp. 618-619.

70 See Waterhouse, p. 33.

71 Fitzer, p. 950.


Another sealed scroll in the OT is found in Isa 29:11,18; 30:8. Like Revelation,

the scroll of Isaiah contains the messages of the prophet himself. The absence of a strong

structural parallel between Isa 29,30 and Rev 5 makes it less than certain, however, that John was

drawing on Isaiah for his description of the sealed scroll.

The enthronement imagery of Rev 5 is quite compatible with another OT

concept. At the coronation of a new king, the scroll of the covenant (Deuteronomy) would be

presented to him (Deut 17:18-20; 2 Kings 11:12-17; 2 Kings 23:2,3).

scroll and the ability to open it demonstrate the right to rule and to deal with any crisis that might

occur. It would have been helpful to our understanding, however, if the allusions in Rev 5 to

Deuteronomy had been more explicit.

72 The reception of the

Some have argued that the sealed scroll should be identified with the slain Lamb's

book of life (Rev 13:8; 21:27).

identified, it is worth consideration. The content of the scroll in Rev 5, however, seems to be

broader than just the book of life.

73 Since this is the only book in Revelation whose content is clearly

A more promising background, perhaps, is the NT concept of "mystery"

(mustêrion). In Rev 10, when the sealed scroll is seen to be open, the mighty angel declares that

"there will be time no longer" (Rev 10:6--chronos ouketi estai), a reference to the time prophecies

of Daniel 8-12. When these come to an end it will be only a short time until the "mystery of God

is finished" (Rev 10:7--etelesthê to mustêrion tou theou). Thus, the opening of the scroll makes it

possible to consummate the mystery of God.

74 it would only be

In the NT, "mystery" is always used in an eschatological sense,

72 Waterhouse, p. 32.

73 R. Dean Davis, "Rev 4-5 Within the Context of Covenant Fulfillment at Bracknell, England, March 16-21, 1988, pp. 22-24.

74 For a thorough discussion of this word see Gunther Bornkamm, "must Gerhard Kittle and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Gra


revealed in the last days. But since Jesus is the Messiah, the last days have already come.

apocalyptic kingdom has become a present reality.

ages, has now become an open mystery.

preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23 cf. 2:2).

75 The

76 Therefore, the gospel, though hidden for

77 To announce the mystery of God (1 Cor 2:1) is to

But even though the mystery is open to the followers of Jesus, it is closed to

those who know Him not (Matt 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10), and aspects of that mystery are

not yet fully disclosed even to the believer (Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 13:2 cf. 12; Eph 1:9,10). Although

the last days have come in some sense, they are also yet future.

shares the NT tension between what has already been revealed in Christ (Rev 5) and what can

only be made known at the end (Rev 10ff.). 79

78 In the two scrolls Revelation

The crisis in the universe (Rev 5:1-4) is precipitated by the rebellion of Satan and

of his cohorts on earth.

of God's ordained plan to meet that crisis. As such it is the book of Revelation, the unsealing of

Daniel and more. Because of His sacrificial death, the Lamb is able to set in motion events that

will bring history to its foreordained conclusion. 81

80 The scroll is the heavenly book of destiny which contains the substance

The series of seven seals, nevertheless, portray a period when God's purpose

remains, to a large degree, hidden from earthly view (cf. Rev 6:9-11). But from Rev 10 on, that

75 Matt 12:32; Mark 10:29-31; Luke 18:30; 20:34-35; John 5:22-30; 12:

1:20; 1 John 2:18.

76 Matt 12:22-28; 13:24-26,31-33; Luke 11:20-22; 17:20,21.

77 Rom 16:25-27; 1 Cor 2:7-10; Eph 3:3-10; 6:19; 1 Tim 3:16.

78 Matt 6:10; 25:1ff.,31-46; Luke 13:28-29; 19:11; John 6:39,40,44,54

79 A related NT concept is that of the two ages.

The promised OT age

12:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Gal 1:4) although its fullness is consummated only in the

80 Yarbro Collins, p. 39.

81 Ibid.,; Strand, p. 55; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, N p. 142-143.


purpose is to be clearly revealed through the messages of the three angels and the visible events of

the consummation.

Rev 5:1-4

That the universe is in crisis becomes evident from the description in Rev 5:1-4.

God has a book in His hand which can only be opened by a uniquely qualified person. But no

such person is found, leading the prophet to weep much.

unique qualifications.

the fact that He was slain and thus enabled to redeem humanity with His blood.

The question "who is worthy?" calls for

82 According to Rev 5:9,10,12 the Lamb's unique qualifications derive from

Rev 5:5-7

The Lion of Judah symbolism (Rev 5:5) is, of course, based on the promise of

rulership to the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:9,10). Combining this with the symbolism of the "Root of

David" yields the idea that the enthronement of the Lamb implies the re-establishment of the

eternal Davidic dynasty promised in the OT (2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17; Dan 9:24-27).

promised Messiah. Thus, Jesus is understood to have re-established the Davidic dynasty when He

proclaimed the arrival of His Kingdom (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:20,21).

83 The Lamb is the

The first impression of the Lamb in Rev 5:6 is that it is "as it were slain" (hôs

esphagmenon). In verse seven, however, the Lamb moves to take the book, making it clear that

His death has been overcome (cf. Rev 1:18). The Lamb then proceeds to join God on His throne,

receive the worship of the heavenly host, and take over the government of the world (5:12-14;

17:14; 19:16). Finally, at the conclusion of the Apocalypse, the Lamb marries the New Jerusalem,

symbolic of the Christian community (Rev 19:6-8; 21:9ff.). 84

82 Werner Foerster, "axios," in Theological Dictionary of the New Tes ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:379.

83 Davis, p. 3.

84 Joachim Jeremias, "arnion," in Theological Dictionary of the New T


There can be no question that for the author of Revelation, the Lamb is none

other than the exalted Christ of Rev 1-3, who is qualified to take the book, not only on account of

what He has done (die on the cross), but on account of who He is. Thus, implicit in the text is the

full divinity and humanity which the Lamb had to embody in order to successfully carry out that

redemptive task. The Lamb's humanity is evident in that He was slain. His divinity is evident in

that He is exalted to the throne of God itself to receive the worship of the whole creation as the

Father did in chapter four. 85

The seven horns of the Lamb (Rev 5:6) recall OT images of political and/or


military power (Deut 33:17; Dan 7:8,21,22,24; 8:3-12). The seven eyes of the Lamb recall Zech

4:10 where the Lord Himself has seven eyes to scan the whole earth. By these two images the

all-powerful, all-knowing deity of the Lamb is clearly established.


Recently it has been suggested that when Jesus steps up to the throne to take the

book out of the Father's hand (Rev 5:7) He is moving from the first apartment of the heavenly

sanctuary into the second. But there is no hint anywhere in Rev 4-5 that the throne of God is

moved. Nor are the Lamb's movements significant to the scene, since they already begin "in the

midst of the throne" (Rev 5:6). It is best to understand the events of chapters four and five as a

single scene in a single place in the heavenly sanctuary. The exact location does not seem to be

critical to the interpretation of the vision.


Rev 5:8-10

The concept of a "new song" of praise to God (Rev 5:9) is common in the OT.

ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:341.

85 Rev 3:21.

86 Yarbro Collins, p. 41.

87 Ibid.

See above on the hymns in this section.

88 Robert W. Hauser, Give Glory to Him, (By the author, 515 Pine Hill specific point although he sees the throne of chapter four, in contrast to


New songs are sung to praise a new work of God in deliverance (Ps 40:1-3; 144:9,10; Isa 42:10- 13), in acts of salvation and judgment (Ps 96:1,2; 98:1,2; Ps 149:1-9), and for his creative power which is continually manifest on earth in fresh ways (Ps 33:1-9; Isa 42:5,10). Such a new song is entirely appropriate in the wake of God's greatest act of all time. The royal priesthood of Rev 5:10 is based on Exod 19 where God declared to Israel that it was to have a special priestly role. Through Israel, Yahweh planned to bring the blessing of Abraham to all the nations (Gen 12:1-3; 22:18). In Christ that privilege is transferred to the church. Rev 5:9,10 declares the followers of Christ to be a New Israel, with a world-wide role of dominion and blessing. This dominion is an outgrowth of the dominion of Christ which was established as a result of the cross (Rev 5:13 cf. Matt 28:18).

Rev 5:11-14 In these verses, the crescendo of praise reaches a magnificent climax. All creation praises both the Lamb and the One sitting on the throne. While appropriate in the context of the enthronement of Christ at His ascension, the final hymn looks beyond the banishment of sin and its effects to the great day when all creation lives to praise God (cf. Phil




In Rev 6 the throne, the scroll, and even the Lamb fade largely from view. The

major point of connection with the introductory scene is the opening of the seven seals which

bound the scroll. The events of chapter six are not the content of the book, but as the Lamb

opens each of the seals events take place on earth.

Structural Parallels to the OT

The main structural parallels to chapters four and five were found in the throne-

visions of the OT. Rev 6, on the other hand, recalls passages of covenant curse in the Pentateuch

and their execution in the context of the Babylonian exile.

pestilence" originated in the blessings and curses that climaxed the Holiness Codes

Pentateuch. The covenant curses of Lev 26:21-26 contain many parallels to the four horsemen of

Rev 6:

89 The concept of "war, famine, and

90 of the

If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me,

I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve.

I will send wild animals against you,

I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the

89 See Table 3 for a list of possible direct allusions to the Old Tes three major commentators. The others are added by the author because they

90 Lev 17-26 in particular is known to scholars as the "Holiness Code the light of the covenant between God and Israel. Lev 26 offers rewards an the stipulations of the Holiness Code. A parallel section of material can followed by blessings and curses (27-30). Although not technically part of those themes with many parallels to Lev 26.



I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in one oven, and they will dole our the bread by weight. Lev 26:21-26 (NIV)

War, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts are preliminary judgments from God with the intent of

producing repentance (vss. 27,40-42) so that God's blessings can be restored.

on the other hand, would result in desolation and exile which are the ultimate curses of the

covenant (vss. 28-39).

91 Further rebellion,

Deut 32 has many parallels to Lev 26. Verses 23-25 are in a context concerned

with punishment for Israel's idolatry. Verses 41-43, however, move beyond Lev 26. Here the

Lord's sword and His arrows are exercised to avenge His people:

When I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment,

I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.

I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh:

Rejoice, O nations, with his people for he will avenge the blood of his servants; Deut 32:41-43 (NIV)

When exercised upon His people, the sword, famine, and pestilence are preliminary judgments

intended to lead them to repentance. When exercised on nations who have shed the blood of his

people they are judgments of vengeance (cf. the fifth seal).

War, famine and pestilence become stereotyped images in the prophets, who use

92 Failing to

them, prior to the Exile, as threats to ward off Israel and Judah's increasing apostasy.

91 In practical terms war, famine, and pestilence are the language of

92 Jer 15:2,3; Ezek 5:12-17; Ezek 14:12-23 and Hab 3:2-16 have suffic certainty that the Revelator was aware of them as he wrote Rev 6. The centrality of sword, famine, and pestilence among the curses of stereotyped usage by the time of the Babylonian Exile (Jer 14:12,13; 21:6-9 technical terms for the covenant woes by which God punishes apostasy from t


achieve their purpose, however, both divisions of the nation reaped the ultimate curse, exile.

With the exile, however, God's attention is increasingly directed toward the

nations who are afflicting His people with. The judgments that had been directed toward His

people are now turned against their enemies. The great turning point in that process is dramatized

in Zech 1:8-17 and 6:1-8. The setting is a plaintive cry for help from the people of God:

"Lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?" So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. Zech 1:12,13 (NIV)

It is quite likely that the vision of Rev 6 draws its major imagery from Zechariah's

combination of four colored patrol horses with a plaintive "how long, O Lord?" The scene relates

to the close of Judah's exile in Babylon. The wicked are at ease. God has given Judah into their

hands as punishment for its sins. But the heathen have overplayed their judgment role. God is

now about to act in response to the covenant plea, "how long?" Particularly significant for the

seven seals is the equation of the four horses with the "four winds (spirits) of heaven" (Zech 6:5).

This may indicate that the four winds of Rev 7:1-3 are the horses of chapter six unleashed in a

covenant reversal like that of Deut 32. 93

The OT background implies that the seals focus particularly on the experience of

God's people in the world. The sword, famine, and pestilence of the horses are covenant woes by

which God punishes those who reject or disobey His covenant in the hope of leading them to


In the NT context, of course, the covenant is to be understood in terms of the

proclamation of the gospel of what God has done in Christ. The New Israel in Christ (Rev

5:9,10) conquers when it reckons itself into the victory of its commander, the Slain Lamb. But

93 Cf. also the apocryphal Sirach 39:28-31.


failure to appropriate the gospel produces inevitable and ever-increasing consequences. When God's people cry out to him in their distress (Rev 6:9-11), however, He turns on those who persecuted them. The horses of Rev 6 have their counterpart in the destroying winds of Rev 7. These are turned on those who do not have the seal of God. The horse-judgments affect only quarters of the earth (Rev 6:8), they are preliminary and partial. Their end-time counterparts, the wind-judgments of Rev 7:1-3, affect the whole earth with finality.

The Synoptic Apocalypse and Rev 6

In the Synoptic Apocalypse

94 Jesus combines the covenant woes with the

heavenly signs of the OT Day of the Lord. The covenant woes function as part of a description of the general character of the Christian age from the time of Jesus' sojourn on earth to his triumphant return in the clouds (Matt 24:3-14). Although the parallel language between the Synoptic Apocalypse and the seals is not always in the same order, the multitude of verbal and thematic parallels makes it virtually certain that the author of Revelation intended the reader to perceive a strong analogy between them. 95 As is the case in the Synoptic Apocalypse, there is a general progression in time as one moves through the seals. The language of the four horsemen parallels the language Jesus used to describe the general character of the age between his time and the Second Coming. It is a

time of proclaiming the gospel, and of war, famine, pestilence, and persecution (Mark 13:5-13; Matt 24:4-14: Luke 21:8,9,12-19). Between the time of Jesus and the end would come a time of heightened troubles and persecution (Mark 13:14-23; Matt 24:15-22; Luke 21:10,11,20-24 cf. Rev 6:9-11; 7:14). This time would be followed by a period of end-time deceptions and heavenly signs leading up to the Second Coming itself (Mark 13:24-27; Matt 24:23-31; Luke 21:25-28 cf.

94 Jesus' apocalyptic sermon recorded in Matt 24-25, Mark 13, and Luk

95 See Table 4 below.


Rev 6:12-17). The end-time deceptions are left out of the reckoning in the sixth seal, but are

taken up in great detail in Rev 13-17.

contemporary with those of that portion of Revelation.

96 Thus, the events of the sixth seal are to be understood as

The parallels between the seals and the Synoptic Apocalypse, therefore, are not

only enormous in quantity, but share a remarkable clustering along chronological lines. This

clustering underscores two main points. First, the seals clearly parallel the Synoptic Apocalypse

as a description of the entire Christian age, not just its end-time. Second, it underscores what was

observed earlier in comparing Rev 6 with chapter nineteen. The four horsemen express the

realities of the entire Christian age with emphasis on its beginning. The fifth and sixth seals deal

with events leading up to the close of the age.

The Interpretation of Rev 6

The Time of the Seals

We must recognize, in spite of the above discussion, that a number of elements in

Rev 4-6 suggest to some that this passage involves the Investigative Judgment as portrayed in

Dan 7:9-14. The introductory scene is based to a large degree on Dan 7. The view of the throne

could be associated with the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary.

draws on the language of judgment. If the preceding observations are correct, however, this is

not the most natural way to read the seals.

97 The sixth chapter

The connection between Rev 4-7 and Rev 3:21, as outlined in detail above,

implies that the introductory scene (Rev 4-5) depicts symbolically the enthronement of Christ in

the heavenly sanctuary at His ascension. Chapter seven ends with God's people in the throne-

room. Therefore, the seven seals of chapter six portray events on earth from the cross to the

96 Parallels between Matt 24:23-27 and Rev 12-17 include such concept Christs (sea beast), false prophets (land beast, cf. 16:13), deserts (Matt

97 It has been suggested that since Jesus is in the Holy Place in Rev

However, in Rev 1 Jesus is not in the Holy Place, He is amo

the Most Holy. into view.


second coming, with particular focus on the gospel and the experience of the people of God.

While the introductory scene is based on Dan 7, there are large differences.

There is only one throne and one book in contrast to the many in Dan 7. The throne here has not

recently been set up. The book is sealed instead of open. The one who approaches the throne is

the Lamb, not the Son of Man. Thus the two scenes of Rev 4-5 and Dan 7 are not the same. It is

more natural to understand the introductory scene as the inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary

rather than its great end-time Day of Atonement.

This conclusion is strongly supported by a number of other observations. There

is a total absence of explicit judgment language in the whole section. The one exception to this is

Rev 6:10, where the judgment is understood as still future! Although the language of judgment is

present in the chapter six, it is not out of place in the context of the preaching of the gospel

(John 3:18-21; 5:22-25).


End-time judgment, however, only becomes explicit in the language of the book

from Rev 11:18 onward. The parallels to Rev 19 and the Synoptic Apocalypse also underline the

placement of Rev 4-6 in the historical portion of Strand's chiasm. This placement is further

underlined by John's larger strategy for the first half of the book of Revelation. 99

The introductory scene, therefore, is a description of the enthronement of Christ

and the inauguration of the heavenly sanctuary in AD 31. This event is made possible by His

victory on the cross. Chapter six portrays the consequences on earth from that time until the

second coming. Its focus is on the gospel and on the historical process within which God's people

overcome just as Christ overcame.


98 Waterhouse, p. 6.

99 See the accompanying chapter "Historicism, the Seals and the Trump

100 Those who wish to find the Investigative Judgment in the Book of Investigative Judgment plays a major role in the book, particularly in Rev Judgment Portrayed in Revelation 18, Andrews University Seminary Studies 20 Revelation 11:1," Andrews University Seminary Studies 22 (1984): 317-325). To misread a text is serious even though the conclusion may be correct theo


Rev 6:1,2

The first living creature (Rev 6:1--Lion; with a voice like thunder!) calls forth a

white horse, whose rider carries a bow and goes out conquering and to conquer (nikôn kai hina

nikêsê). The interpretation of this seal is decisive for understanding all four horsemen. There are

three major views.

langauge describing events shortly to take place in the Roman Empire.

rider on the white horse symbolizes military conquest. 102

Most preterist scholars prefer to understand the seals as literal

101 In this interpretation the

Other scholars see in the white horse a portrayal of the future AntiChrist, a

parody of the Christ portrayed in Rev 19. In this interpretation, the seals portray the activity of

Satan's kingdom in the events leading up to the end.

A third group of scholars understand the four horsemen of the seals to be a

symbolic portrayal of the victorious spread of the gospel and the consequences of its rejection.

Each of these will be taken up in its turn.

While Adventists do not accept the presuppositions of preterist scholars, it is

possible that the war, famine, and pestilence of the seals are to be taken in their natural meaning

as is the case with the parallel imagery of the Synoptic Apocalypse. If so, the message of the seals

would exactly parallel that of the Synoptic Apocalypse, a portrayal of the natural disasters and the

persecution that characterize the Christian age and lead up to the heavenly signs that mark its

close. However, a number of factors suggest a more symbolic approach to the seals.

First of all, the entire book of Revelation is "signified" (Rev 1:1), and much of its

imagery makes little sense if taken literally. Second, the horses themselves are never interpreted

as literal, but as representations of something else. They are transformed eventually into winds.

101 Such as a Parthian invasion from the east that the Revelator feel Yarbro Collins, pp. 44-45.

102 The four horsemen in this interpretation portray war, strife, fam



Third, chapters four and five are filled with symbolic language, what indication is there that

chapter six is any different? Certainly no Adventist would interpret the fifth seal literally. Finally,

the detailed images of the four horsemen make coherent sense when understood in the light of

figurative and spiritual meanings familiar to people at the time Revelation was written.

Many scholars interpret the seals in a symbolic way, but argue that the rider on

the white horse is the AntiChrist on several grounds. (1) The bow (toxon--Rev 6:2) represents

the power of Gog and Babylon in the OT, and these are types of the AntiChrist. (2) The Satanic

beasts of Rev 11 and 13 "conquer" (Rev 6:2--nikêsê; Rev 11:7--nikêsei; Rev 13:7--nikêsai) the

saints. (3) There is a continual interaction in Revelation between the true and the counterfeit. 103

(4) The "it was given" (edothê) of Rev 6:2 is a "divine passive" parallel to that of Rev 9:1 where

God permits the angel of the abyss to lead his demonic hordes against humanity. (5) While the

white horse of Rev 6:2 is an exact verbal parallel to the white horse of Rev 19:11, there are many

striking differences between the two accounts, thus they should not be equated. 104

These arguments in favor of the AntiChrist hypothesis are not as strong as they

may at first appear. (1) While the bow is used to portray the power of God's enemies in the OT

(Jer 51:56; Ezek 39:3; Hos 1:5) it is in each case introduced so it can be smashed by Yahweh's

superior power. In an even greater number of cases, bows and arrows represent Yahweh's

weapons directed against His enemies (Deut 32:41-43;

105 Ps 7:13; Lam 2:4; 3:12; Hab 3:8,9).

(2) While the Greek word for "conquering" (nikêsê) can be used to refer to the

beasts and their persecution of the saints, the more immediate context is the "conquering" of

Christ on the cross (Rev 5:6,9 cf. 3:21), which provides the basic substance of the gospel


103 Notice that the dragon, beast, and false prophet of Rev 12 and 13 Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

104 For example, two different Greek words are used for the crown (Re

105 It is significant that the Revelator was probably intentionally a


(3) While the dragon, beast, and false prophet do counterfeit the Trinity, their

evil character is clearly portrayed in their opposition to the woman, the remnant, and the saints.

In the case of Rev 6:2, on the other hand, John gives no hint that the color white should be taken

in a negative sense.

always associated with Christ or His people. 107

106 And with only one exception in the NT, a stephanos (victory crown) is

(4) While it is true that God's activity is to be seen behind the judgments of the

fifth trumpet, the giving of the key in Rev 9:1 and authority in Rev 9:3,5 indicates that God is

permitting, with limitations, the activity of Satan to run rampant. But in Rev 6 the activity of the

four horses is not permitted, it is "commanded."

way He does?

108 Does God command AntiChrist to behave the

(5) The differences between chapters six and nineteen are explainable in terms of

the difference between the church militant and the church triumphant. Christ wears the diadem 109

in Rev 19:12 because His conquering activity

(stephanos) in Rev 6:2 because the heavenly kingdom conquered on the cross is still in the

process of establishing its dominion on earth.

110 is complete. He wears the victory crown

The positive nature of the white horse is supported by the fact that the first

horseman does not produce afflictions as do the other three, there is no hint of counterfeit in the

text itself. And if the rider on the white horse symbolizes the gospel, the analogy with the

106 Notice the following associations of white in the book of Revelat (1) With Christ--1:14; 14:14; 19:11,14 (2) With believers--2:17; 3:4,5,18; 7:9,13,14; 15:6; 19:8 (3) With heavenly beings--4:4; 19:14 (4) With God--20:11

107 See, for example, Matt 27:29 and parallels; 1 Cor 9:25; 2 Tim 4:8 9:7 where the stephanoi are placed on the heads of the demonic riders from were" (hôs). The demonic riders do not really wear stephanoi, they only ap

108 Cf. the repeated command "come" (erchou).

109 The royal crown of ruling authority.

110 Symbolized by the victory garland (stephanos) of Rev 6:2.


Synoptic Apocalypse is more complete than it would otherwise be. 111

It seems best, therefore, to understand the white horse to symbolize Christ's

gradual conquest of His kingdom through the preaching of the gospel by his people. What was

ratified in heaven at the enthronement of the Lamb is now actuated in the experience of His

people in the course of human history.

This picture is probably based on the Israelite kingship motif in Ps 45:3-7:

Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king's enemies:

let the nations fall beneath your feet. Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. (NIV)

Ps 45 combines this military image with that of a royal wedding (Ps 45:10-15). When the

conquest is complete the wedding can take place. But in Rev 6:2 the conquest is just getting

under way, the wedding must await a future time (Rev 19:6-8; 21:9ff.).

Since the phrase "conquering and to conquer" (nikôn kai hina nikêsê) expresses a

progressive increase of victory, the white horse does not end with the first century but portrays in

a general way the scope of the gospel's impact over the entire Christian era.

Rev 6:3,4

At the opening of the second seal (Rev 6:3,4), the second living creature (the calf

or young bull according to Rev 4:7) calls forth a red horse. Its rider takes peace from the earth,

resulting in mutual destruction, and receives a great sword.

111 In the Synoptic Apocalypse it is the preaching of the gospel that


The horse is not "red" in the technical sense, the adjective is drawn from the

Greek word for fire (pur). Fire in Revelation is often associated with heavenly things (Rev 8:5;

14:18) but always for the purpose of judgment (Rev 8:7; 20:10,14,15). 112

Although the imagery in this passage recalls military warfare, the only other

mention of "peace" (eirênê) in Revelation is of a spiritual nature (Rev 1:4). The Greek word for

"slay" (sphaxousin) is normally used of the death of Christ and of His saints (Rev 5:6,9,12; 6:9;

13:8; 18:24).

113 Consequently, it is unlikely that the second seal refers primarily to military strife,

more likely it represents persecution, the loss of spiritual peace, and division over the gospel.

In Ps 45 the same rider who fires arrows at his enemies also carries a sword as he

rides off. The same gospel message that is a savor of life unto life can also become a savor of

death to those who reject it (2 Cor 2:14-16 cf. Isa 26:3; 57:19-21). One is reminded of the words

of Jesus:

Whoever confesses me before men,

I will also confess before my father in heaven. But whoever denies me before men,

I will also deny before my father in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth:

I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn

a man against his father

a daughter against her mother and

a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

A man's enemies will be of his own household.

Matt 10:32-36

Wherever the gospel is preached victories take place, but even more often comes division and

persecution as a result of its rejection.

with the peace that comes from the favor of others.

114 The peace that comes in Christ must not be confused

112 For a more thorough discussion of "fire" as a symbolic concept se

113 The one exception to this is Rev 13:3 where the sea beast of Rev

114 Gane, pp. 77-78.


Rev 6:5,6

At the opening of the third seal (Rev 6:5,6), the third living creature (presumably

the one with the face of a man) calls forth a rider on a black horse carrying a set of scales. The

color "black" (melas) is not otherwise symbolic in the Greek Scriptures. It is normally used for

the color of hair or skin on the one hand, and as the word for "ink" on the other. Its meaning in

this passage is probably related to the contrast with the white horse of the first seal. The scale

(zugon) is often used as a symbol of God judging people (Job 31:6; Ps 16:10,11; Dan 5:27). In

this case it would be judgment according to the gospel (John 3:18-21; 5:22-25).

The rider on the black horse, unlike the first two riders, takes no action, instead a

voice from the midst of the four living creatures (presumably Christ on the throne) proclaims:

"A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius:

and do not injure the oil and the wine." Rev 6:6

Grain, oil, and wine were the three main crops of ancient Palestine. As such they represented the

blessing of God (cf. Deut 7:13, Hos 2:8 and Joel 2:19,24, for example). Since grain is shallow-

rooted, it is more easily damaged in a drought than olives and grapes. A denarius was the ancient

designation for a day's wage. Under these circumstances, a day's earnings could only provide

enough wheat (the grain of preference) for one person to survive on. The picture is of a drought-

induced famine which has not yet progressed to the level where deep-rooted plants and trees are

affected. 115


Once again the language of the seal suggests a spiritual application rather than

literal famine.

The word for "injure" (adikeô) is used elsewhere to describe judgments on

evildoers (Rev 7:2,3; 9:4,10,19) and attempts to persecute God's people (11:5; 22:11). If the

white horse represents the gospel, the black horse would represent its opposite, erroneous

doctrine. Although in Rev 14 the grain harvest represents the righteous and the grape harvest the

115 According to Lev 26:26, which lies in the background of this pass


wicked, the famine context implies that all three food products represent spiritual benefits. This

seal represents a famine for the Word of God (cf. Amos 8:11,12), but a famine that is limited by

the command of Christ so as to not remove the means of grace.

but its benefits are still available.

116 The gospel has been obscured

Rev 6:7,8

As the fourth seal is opened (Rev 6:7,8) the fourth living creature (probably the

eagle or vulture) calls forth a rider on a yellow-green colored horse (hippos chlôros). This rider is

named death, is followed by Hades, and has authority over a quarter of the earth to kill with the

sword, famine, death (pestilence) and the beasts of the earth. This intensification of the

harmful activities of the second and third horsemen is completed by the other two elements of

covenant judgment, death (pestilence) and wild beasts. 119



If this is to be understood in spiritual terms, it is by far the most serious spiritual

declension yet described in the book (the climax comes in 18:2,3). It is a pestilence of soul.

These plagues fall on those whose rejection of the gospel has hardened to the point of near


In Rev 1:18 death and Hades are clearly under Christ's control. In Rev 20:14

they are in association with the concept of the Second Death. This triple parallel offers evidence

that the fourth seal involves the threat of permanent exclusion from mercy.

This seal, however, as terrible as it is, is not to be equated with the final end-time

116 In this understanding the oil could represent the Spirit and the were healing remedies.

117 The sword in the second seal is a different Greek word (machaira) in Lev 26 and Deut 32, the usage in the "sword, famine and pestilence" pass essentially identical in meaning here.

118 In the Greek OT the word for death (thanatos) translates the Hebr example, Jer 14:12; 24:10; Ezek 5:12,17. Since thanatos is followed by Had in the word.

119 Cf. Ezek 14:20,21; 5:12,17; Jer 14:12; 29:17,18.


close of probation of which it is clearly a foretaste. As was the case with the third horseman, this

rider does not "go out" (exêlthen), thus limiting the plague. In the background texts of Lev 26

and Deut 32 these plagues are not final but are intended to evoke repentance. Still further

judgments on the wicked lie ahead in the fifth and sixth seals.

The Four Horsemen

The four horsemen should probably be understood more as a progression of

thought than as a rigid historical sequence.

time in the language of chapter six is in striking contrast, for example, to the seven trumpets. 121

Furthermore, the woes reflected in seals two through four are ordered in a wide variety of ways in

the OT.

Apocalypse (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), where these woes constitute the general character of

the whole Christian age.

120 For one thing, the virtual absence of the passage of

122 A similar variety of usage can be seen by comparing the three versions of the Synoptic

The description of the rider on the white horse "conquering and to conquer"

suggests an ongoing activity rather than a period of history to be followed by another period.

Thus, the four horsemen mostly likely represent a general description of the spread of the gospel

(white horse), the resulting persecution and division (red horse), and the increasing consequences

of rejection of that gospel (black and pale horses).

the gospel and the arrival of the new age in Christ does not halt the spread of evil in the world.

This expresses well the tension between the two ages so characteristic of the NT as a whole.

123 The central theme is that the preaching of

120 Gane, p. 53.

121 Note the successive woes of the trumpets (Rev 8:13; 9:12; 11:14), a half days (11:9).

122 A dozen Old Testament passages list at least three of the five wo

and wild beasts). Four of the five are found in Lev 26:21-26; Deut 32:23-2

these are they in the same order.

24:10; 29:17,18; Ezek 6:11,12), but two change the order (Jer 21:6-9; Ezek

123 In the language of the covenant, the rider on the white horse off due to rejection of the gospel.

Of the triple listings, four offer the s


Having said this, however, it is noteworthy that the thematic progression of the

four horses fits so well with the history of the first thousand years of the Christian era. First, there

was the initial rapid expansion of the church throughout much of the then-known world. The

succeeding period brought increasing division and compromise in the face of persecution. The

loss of a clear understanding of the gospel followed as the church settled into an earthly kingdom

in the years after Constantine. Finally the Dark Ages of spiritual decline and death engulfed

Christendom. Thus the progression of thought may well be chronological at least in the first

major appearance of each characteristic in the church. 124

This view is supported by the fact that the four living creatures are never

separated in Scripture except in the four horsemen. Their successive involvement in Rev 6:1-8 is

a clue that a certain chronological progression parallels the progression of thought. The four

horses, therefore, outline both the trend of history at the beginning of the Christian era, and the

general realities of the Christian age. 125

The preaching of the gospel and its consequences; victories for the kingdom,

persecution, division, and, for those who rejected, increasing spiritual famine and decline, have

proven to be realities at both the corporate and the individual level. The great final going forth of

the rider on the white horse is attested in terms of a sealing message in Rev 7 and three angels in

Rev 14.

As mentioned earlier, the first two riders are said to "go out" (exêlthen) but the

last two are only seen. Each affects only a quarter of the earth (Rev 6:8). Thus, the "judgments"

of the horsemen are partial and restrained at first. If the relationship of the living creatures with

the horses is paralleled by the angels and the four winds of Rev 7:1,

126 the releasing of the "four


A parallel to this is the three angels' messages. They are chron

side until the end.


A parallel to this double application can be found in Dan 7:11,12

spirit of each beast lives on to the end.

126 Note Zech 6:5. The four horses have authority over quarters of t


winds of strife" represent the consummation of the events alluded to in the four horsemen. The

third and fourth horsemen themselves are not final events. They are preliminary and partial

foretastes of the great end-time collapse of spiritual life and understanding. Historically they fit

the Middle Ages best, a time of spiritual decline and persecution.

Rev 6:9-11

The opening of the fifth seal reveals not another horse, but a picture of righteous

souls under the altar who cry out,

"How long, O Lord, the holy and true One, do You not judge and avenge our blood on those who live on the earth?" Rev 6:10

The image here is of a people who have been sacrificed for their faith prior to the opening of this


until "their fellow servants and brethren who are about to be killed as they were are 'completed' or


127 After receiving a white robe, these are informed that they should rest a little while longer

The imagery of the souls under the altar represents the frustration of God's

people, for whom the content of the scroll is yet hidden. Though their trust in God is unshaken,

they long for the consummation when their names will be cleared in a higher court. The seal as a

whole represents God's awareness of their sufferings and His intention to respond when the time

is right.

explain the state of the dead. 129

128 God's concern for His suffering people is the point of the passage, it is not intended to

at the "four corners" of the earth.

127 Gane, p. 115.

128 Gane, p. 117.

129 The altar in view here is the altar of burnt offering, not the al poured out (ekcheô--Exod 19:12; Lev 4:7,18,25,30,34; 8:15; 9:9 LXX) at the base of the incense altar. In Rev 16:6 the blood of saints and prophets wa How could martyring be referred to in terms of sanctuary service? John 16:


The phrase "how long" is used frequently in the OT, particularly in relation to the

destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (Hab 1:2). Ps 79 is of interest:

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name; Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" Before our eyes, make known among the nations that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.

Ps 79:5,6,10

In the fifth seal we see the results of the persecutions which have been alluded to

in the horsemen, particularly the second. Thus the fifth seal represents a later point in time than

the four horsemen themselves.

to the great tribulation of the Middle Ages, Rev 6:10 may appropriately represent a cry of protest

over the martyrdoms of the Dark Ages.

130 Since the phrase "how long" is applied in Dan 8:13 and 12:6,7

Since it consists in a call for judgment to begin, however, the cry of the martyrs is

prior to the time of judgment and the final crisis (Rev 7:1ff.; 13:15-17; 20:4). The terms "judge"

(krineis) and "avenge" (ekdikeis) point to a two-part request. The martyrs wish to be both

vindicated and avenged.

vengeance are future. The giving of white robes in verse eleven, however, symbolizes the

vindication of the martyrs in the investigative judgment (cf. Rev 3:5). Nevertheless, the execution

131 From the perspective of the "how long?" cry both judgment and

offering sacrificial service (latreian prospherein) to God." The death of Since the altar of burnt offering is never portrayed in heaven, rather is s in heaven, they are in their earthly graves. They do not "come to life" un symbolic, like the crying out of Abel's blood in Gen 4.

130 The corresponding event in the Synoptic Apocalypse, the great tri characteristics of the age mentioned in Matt 24:3-14.

131 The verb krinô applies to investigative judgment as well as execu


of that judgment (ekdikeis) is still future. The comparison between 6:10 and 19:2 (see above) indicates that 6:11 portrays

the beginning of the investigative judgment, while Rev 18 portrays its conclusion just before the

Second Advent.

(v. 10) is prior to the investigative judgment. But the giving of white robes signals the onset of that judgment. Therefore, the fifth seal fits well between the great persecutions of the Middle Ages and the conclusion of the investigative judgment. The end has been delayed. The gospel task is not yet complete when this seal draws to a close. Before moving on, note should be taken of an exegetical problem in the last part

of Rev 6:11. Literally translated, the souls under the altar are to wait a little longer until "their fellow servants and brethren who are about to be killed as they were are 'completed' or 'fulfilled' (plêrôthôsin). The relation of the passive verb plêrôthôsin ("to be filled up completely") to the sentence is ambiguous. Most translators (RSV, NEB, NASB, NIV) have assumed that the mention of a group of martyrs being "completed" means the completion of a set number of martyrs before the end (the KJV translation retains the ambiguity of the original). Erwin Gane, building on the parallel usages in Rev 3:2,4,5 and 19:7,8 proposes that the fulfilling of the brethren refers not to their martyrdom but to their character development

as the end approaches.

obedience to the divine will.

that the events of the end-time await a fulfillment of character growth on the part of God's people.

132 Thus, the fifth seal is divided into two parts chronologically. The martyrs' cry

133 He cites numerous NT passages where the root verb plêroô implies

134 If plêrôthôsin has a similar meaning in the fifth seal it would imply

Gane's suggestion is intriguing but problematic. For one thing, the "completion" taking place is parallel to the experience of the martyrs. The fellow servants are alive now but

132 See Strand, "Two Aspects of Babylon's Judgment," pp. 53-60, for a

133 Gane, pp. 124-133.

134 Ibid., pp. 130-131.


they are "about to be killed" as the souls under the altar were.

their death rather than a certain quality of life. This finds confirmation in a number of

contemporary traditions which support the translation "full number."

this interesting sentence remains uncertain.

135 If so, what needs completing is

136 Thus, the intention behind

Rev 6:12-17

The opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17) unleashes massive heavenly and

earthly phenomena. There is a great earthquake (evidently prior to and distinct from the one in

Rev 16:18), a series of heavenly signs, and an even greater earthquake, which moves every

mountain and island out of its place (probably the earthquake of 16:18).

leads to the great terror of unsaved humanity, which utilizes caves and the rocks of the mountains

in a futile attempt to hide from the approaching presence of the One sitting on the throne and of

the wrath of the Lamb. The unsaved cry out,

137 The final earthquake

"For the great day of His wrath has come, and who will be able to stand?" Rev 6:17

The heavenly signs of this seal are not unique to Revelation but recall a long

history of similar phenomena in the Day of the Lord passages of the OT.

important to our author is Jesus' use of heavenly signs in Matt 24:

Immediately after the distress of those days

138 Perhaps even more

135 Gane's explanation of this phrase on pp. 129, 140 of his book is

136 1 Enoch 47:1-4; 4 Ezra 4:35-38; 2 Baruch 30:2. Note the followin Revelation: "Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask abou come the harvest of our reward?' And Jeremiel the archangel answered them has weighed the age in the balance, and measured the times by measure, and that measure is fulfilled.'" Here are strong contemporary witnesses to the

137 The language of 6:14 is repeated in 16:20, but that verse reflect 16:18, verse twenty describes the results.

138 Cf. Ezek 32:7,8; Amos 8:8,10; Jer 4:23-27; Isa 34;4; 13:10-13; Na


the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Matt 24:29

The parallel with the Synoptic Apocalypse argues that some, at least, of these phenomena fall

shortly after the great tribulation period alluded to in the fifth seal. That the heavenly signs are to

be understood as literal is indicated by the fact that each is followed by an "as" (hôs) which in this

construction introduces a figurative analogy to an actual event. 139

The sixth seal, therefore, spans the period from the cry of the martyrs to the end-

time. Since the heavenly signs of 1780 and 1833 had a great impact on the developing interest in

the study of prophecy, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is the best candidate for the earthquake of

Rev 6:12.

stunning fashion in relation to the final events of earth's history, summarized in Rev 6:14-17, then

laid out in much greater detail in Rev 12-20.

140 Rev 6:14 makes it plain that the signs of 6:12,13 will be repeated in far more

Rev 8:1

The opening of the seventh seal results in the simple statement that a brief silence

occurs in heaven. This silence functions in the text as the calm after the storm of destruction

performed by Christ at the Second Advent.

none has proved decisive.

141 A number of explanations have been offered, but

139 Notice the following pattern:

The sun becomes black

as (hôs)

sackcloth of hair

The whole moon becomes

as (hôs)


The stars of heaven fall to the earth

as (hôs)

a fig tree discards

The heaven split up

as (hôs)

as a rolled-up scroll

140 Many have rejected the Dark Day and the falling of the stars as a natural events. But the fact that they are now explainable does not undo t Great Advent Movement. While they no longer function as convincing signs o study of Daniel and Revelation make them of major importance to the history

141 Gane, p. 153.


One possibility is that the silence is an announcement that the justice of God has

been fully executed.

silent until justice had been served (cf. Ps 50:3-6; Isa 65:6,7).

142 In the face of injustice (Rev 6:9-11) the God of the OT refused to keep

For Zion's sake I will not keep silence, for Jerusalem's sake I will speak out, until her right shines forth like the sunrise, her deliverance like a blazing torch, until the nations see the triumph of your right and all the kings see your glory. Isa 62:1,2 (NEB)

Other possibilities for interpreting the silence of this seal include the end-time

counterpart to the silence at the beginning (Gen 1:2; cf. 4 Ezra 7:26-31)

, the silence of the universe as it watches the destruction of evil (in stark contrast

to the noisy celebration of Rev 5), and the silence of the courtroom when the book is finally

opened. 143

Since the sixth seal portrays the events surrounding the second coming itself

(6:15-17) and describes the heavenly reward of those who will stand at that time (7:9-17) the

seventh is probably best understood as either a cryptic precursor of the millennium or the

universal peace that results from the consummation at the end of the millennium (cf. Rev 20:9-


142 Ibid., pp. 153-154.

143 Compare the intense silence when the contents of a will are about


Although no attempt was made to align the interpretations of this paper with

those of Uriah Smith, his views on the seals are remarkably similar to the conclusions of this

paper. While at times Smith did not grapple seriously with the text of Revelation, his

conclusions must be taken seriously by Adventists when he did.



What difference does it make to everyday Christian living that we have gained a

better understanding of this passage? Our passage lifts the curtain that hides the unseen world of

spiritual reality from those who live on earth. The grand introductory scene (Rev 4-5) impresses

upon the reader that the scenes which follow are a visible and earthly expression of the invisible

and heavenly conflict between Christ and Satan. The same Christ who safeguards the

churches (Rev 1-3) also sits on God's throne in heavenly places (Rev 4-5). He knows and cares

when His people suffer or are forced to walk this life alone because of faith in Jesus Christ. It is,

therefore, not surprising that God's people throughout this age have found meaning for their lives

in the strange collection of images which make up the apocalyptic portions of the book.

The seals of chapter six provide a telling description of Christian life on this earth

between the cross and the second coming. God's suffering people often wonder if reality does not

demonstrate their faith to be an illusion. The glory and the glitter seem to reside with the

opponents of the gospel. But the fact that the grim realities of earth's history and experience


144 Uriah Smith, Daniel and the Revelation, (Battle Creek, MI: Review

145 An example is the material on the trumpets, where no observations other writers. See Ibid., pp. 455-487. Note the disclaimer on p. 455 wher publication authored originally by James White in 1859.

146 Stott, John R. W., The Cross of Christ (Downer's Grove, IL: Inter



follow from the opening of seals and the blowing of trumpets in heaven demonstrates that these

realities are under the control of the Lamb, who is already reigning (Rev 5) and whose perfect

kingdom will soon be consummated (Rev 11:18). 147

To beleaguered saints a theological treatise is far less effective than the

apocalyptic pictures of a slain lamb who wins an irreversible victory. Through contemplation of

that Lamb and His victory by faith, the suffering and harassed ones gain courage to finish their

course. After quoting portions of Rev 5 and Rev 7, Ellen White says,

Will you catch the inspiration of the vision? Will you let your mind dwell upon the picture? Will you not be truly converted, and then go forth to labor in a spirit entirely different from the spirit in which you have labored in the past, displacing the enemy, breaking down every barrier to the advancement of the gospel, filling hearts with the light and peace and joy of the Lord?


If we would permit our minds to dwell more upon Christ and the heavenly world, we should find a powerful stimulus and support in fighting the battles of the Lord. Pride and love of the world will lose their power as we contemplate the glories of that better land so soon to be our home. Beside the loveliness of Christ, all earthy attractions will seem of little worth. RH, Nov 15, 1887

There is one further insight of crucial importance. We stand in history between

two earthquakes and two sets of heavenly signs (Rev 6:12,13 and 14). The portents of the end-

time have already gotten under way. Though the continued delay of the Advent causes many to

say "how long," it is comforting to know that from the standpoint of One who sees the end from

the beginning we are nearly home!

147 Ibid., p. 248.


Table The Synoptic Apocalypse and Rev 6



Matt 24:14

Rev 6:1,2

Mark 13:10


Matt 24:6,7,10 Mark 13:7,8,12 Luke 21:9,10,16,25

Rev 6:3,4


Mark 13:8

Rev 6:5,6

Luke 21:11


Luke 21:11

Rev 6:7,8


Matt 24:9,10 Matt 10:17-22 Mark 13:9,11-13 Luke 21:12,16,17

Rev 6:9-11


Matt 24:9,21,29 Mark 13:19,24

Rev 7:14


Luke 21:22

Rev 6:10

Heavenly Signs

Matt 24:29

Rev 6:12,13

Mark 13:24,25

Luke 21:25,26

Tribes mourn

Matt 24:30

Rev 6:15-17

Son of Man comes

Matt 24:30

Rev 6:17

Mark 24:26

Luke 21:27

Sends angels

Matt 24:31

Rev 7:1-3

Mark 13:27

Gather elect

Matt 24:31

Rev 7:3

Mark 13:27