I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder,“Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse!Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
In Revelation 6, the Lamb (Jesus) is about to break open the seals that hold the title deed to Earth sealed shut. Note that Seals aren’t normally considered part of a document, they “lock” the document until it is the right time, place, and person to open it. Opening the seal(s) is a prerequisite to reading the document. The Seals restrain the document from being opened (sound familiar? 2 Thessalonians 2…). When the Seals open, restraint is released.
After much pondering, I don’t believe that the Seals contain the “wrath” of God. I believe they announce His imminent, or impending, wrath (as the inhabitants of the earth recognize in Seal 6). One reason is that the nature of the seals, which are generic and somewhat natural, is very different from the nature of the trumpets and bowls, which are specific and obviously supernatural. Another is that the Lamb opens the seals, whereas the Trumpet and Bowl Judgments are carried out by holy angels. The cherubim announce the actions resulting from Seals 1-4, the 5th seal contains no judgment at all, and Seal 6 contains a massive amount of catastrophe with no listed cause (I believe the cause is the rapture of the church).
I strongly believe that Seals 1-7 involve the removing of the “Restrainer”, which is the Holy Spirit indwelling in the body of Christ. This results in the “beginning of birth pains” as described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse.
There are a few interpretations of when the seals are opened. For a number of reasons, I don’t agree with the interpretation that the seals are opened over a period of time during the “Tribulation”. The two interpretations of the Seals that I consider most logical are:
- Jesus takes the Seven Sealed Scroll from the right hand of God at His triumphant ascension to Heaven. He immediately opens Seals 1-5. The first four seals unleash 4 spirits who roam the earth, bringing trials and testing throughout the entirety of the church age. In Zechariah chapters 1&6 we can see these exact horses, and at that time they report on the earth’s condition to God. Perhaps seals 1-4 reassign them to new or more specific purposes. The fifth seal isn’t a judgment, but represents the persecution and martyrdom that the church has faced throughout the entire age (for details see Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs!). Following Seal 5, there is a long (2000+ year) pause while waiting for a certain number of the Seal 5 martyrs to accumulate, as well as the fullness of the Gentiles to come into the new covenant – Romans 11:25 – before opening Seal 6. While Seals 1-4 seemingly include judgment, it’s markedly different than the wrath that occurs in Seal 6 and the Trumpets and Bowls. When Seal 6 is opened, it unleashes the Day of the Lord (wrath). For further reading on this view I recommend David Lowe’s book – Earthquake Resurrection.
- Jesus takes the Seven Sealed Scroll from the right hand of God at His triumphant ascension to Heaven. Jesus then waits (~2000 years) until the fullness of time to open the seals. This includes the fullness of the Gentiles to come into the new covenant – Romans 11:25. There is scriptural corroboration for this in Daniel 12:4, 9: “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book [scroll], until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”… He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end.” The time of the end seems to be marked by an increase in transportation abilities and in knowledge, which happens to be actively happening in our day. When this set of preconditions occurs, Jesus will then open the seals simultaneously – it’s time!!! As one unit, seals 1-7 unleash a torrent of chaos on the earth, while the saints are transformed and caught up to heaven. Berner describes this moment – the unleashing of the seals – as the beginning of birth pains. Having birthed two children, I understand what Berner conveys – once birth pains hit, you KNOW. They are different than the Braxton Hicks where you wonder, is it? isn’t it? There are two keys that make me suspect Berner is right. The first is in Daniel 12 as above, about the scroll remaining sealed until the time of the end. The second is that in Seal 4, Death and Hades (Hell) specifically are BOTH given control over 1/4 of the population to kill them. Hades / Hell has no power over believers, and as there is no mention of them being supernaturally protected from seal 4 it is extremely unlikely to apply to the church age. There is only one point in time when there will be NO saints on the earth, and that is at the moment of the rapture. Douglas Berner’s book When God Intervenes is the best book I have read on end times prophecy models, hands down, and I highly recommend it for further reading.
The first 4 seals appear to unleash (or unrestrain) a series of spirits who bring judgment and tribulation to the world. They are commonly called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. The horses and riders are “chomping at the bit” to ride forth, but are currently being restrained – at least from full expression. I see a strong connection between Seals 1-4 and the removal of the Restrainer (2 Thessalonians 2).
Opening the seals initiates the specific results described, but the effects of the seals continue on for some time. Note how closely the seals parallel the description of the “birth pains” given by Jesus in Matthew 24. The fact that we can see elements of the first 5 seals as occurring throughout the entirety of the church age, and even increasing in intensity, suggests that the time of their full expression must be near. Perhaps the church age is a shadow or glimpse of how these seals will function during the approximately 7 year “Tribulation”.
Seal 1 – White Horse with a Rider holding a Bow and wearing a Crown
This rider is not Christ (who is opening the seals). Some favor this rider to be symbolic of an impersonal force – a false worldwide peace (John MacArthur). The rider has a bow but no arrows, and is honored with a winner’s crown (not a royalty crown). Some suggest that his victories will be bloodless (political) . David Lowe sees this rider as a conquoring spirit, which goes forth into the world using a religious system and the name of Christ with conquest and domination of the masses as its goal. This horse and rider would symbolize spiritual oppression and include the “false christs” mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24 (the culmination would be in the Antichrist and false prophet). Yet others, such as Jack Kelley, favor the rider to be the Antichrist, rising to power on the world stage. Douglas Berner also favors this view, that Antichrist is freed to rise to political power once the Restrainer is removed.
An interesting association may be with the head of the gods of Assyria. Way back in the days before the Flood, at the original Babylonian religion, this “god” also carried a bow with no arrows. He is depicted with a winged (flying) disc, with connections to the Sun (sun-worship). There seems to be some suggestion in scripture that the end times will see a revival of ancient Babylonian religion/idolatry (through “Mystery Babylon”). Satan, as the author of all false religion, will certainly be behind the antichrist and his rise to power both politically and spiritually.
I tend to favor the interpretation that Seal 1 unrestrains the rise to power of the Antichrist. His rise to power may be through political victories involving peace talks and contracts, but it also describes in the book of Daniel (chapters 7&11) that he will fight wars (Seal 2). It’s entirely possible that he identifies himself as a religious figure (a type of “messiah”). I actually believe he will proclaim to be the Jewish “messiah” at some point.
The antichrist, and his false religion, will feature prominently throughout the entire Day of the Lord.
Seal 2- Red Horse with a Rider Granted to Take Peace From the Earth
Red depicts war. The false peace (if there was any, depending on your view of Seal 1) dissolves as God grants permission for peace to be lifted and men to kill each other. This Seal could be a picture of the Gog/Magog invasion, which God halts before it can come to fruition. The parallels between Seal 6 and Ezekiel 38-39 are strong, and if the seals are popped open all at the same time, this view might have validity. This seal will also likely include regional wars and infighting, and probably the antichrist’s wars as he comes into power (Daniel 7, 11).
Lowe identifies that this is not normal human killing (apokteino), but the word used here describes a brutal slaying with no conscience (sphazo). I imagine in the aftermath of the rapture and associated phenomena (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis), the pandemonium will unleash the worst in humanity as people literally fight for survival.
I believe the entire Day of the Lord will be marked by violence.
Seal 3 – Black Horse with a Rider Holding a Pair of Scales or a Yoke
Black is associated with famine, which is a logical consequence of worldwide war. Economic collapse is also common following wars. The scales represent the rationing resulting from the famine, in one view. A day’s wages for an average worker will only buy enough to feed him for that day.
Alternative explanations to this horse and rider include an inequitable distribution of wealth around the world, such that although the world produces enough food to feed us all – many are starving and nutritionally deprived while the “oil and wine” – wealthy nations – aren’t as affected by famines. The scales would represent economic justice (in this case, the lack of it). David Lowe notes that the word used for balance scale is also used as yoke (Jesus’ yoke is easy – Matt 11 – this yoke is almost unbearable). This would strengthen the interpretation of financial oppression and bondage for this seal.
I think the most likely explanation of Seal 3 includes a global economic crisis, triggered by the effects from worldwide calamity (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions) and the disappearance of a portion of earth’s population in the rapture. Weather will be changed because of the ash in the atmosphere, affecting agriculture. Transportation of goods will be affected. Electricity may be unreliable, and food storage affected. Food will become scarce and extremely expensive.
The culmination of this seal would be in the institution of the Mark of the Beast system (after the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week/the abomination of desolation) in the ultimate economic system of control.
Seal 4 – Ashen (Pale/Green/Dappled) Horse ridden by Death, Given Authority to Kill a Fourth of the Earth
The color of the horse vividly portrays the color of a decaying corpse. Death on a massive scale – 1/4 the population – is unleashed on the earth. Sword, famine, and pestilence are often linked in scripture as judgments from God, and wild beasts are included in the past as well in Ezekiel 14:12-21. Pestilence likely refers to disease, but could encompass natural disasters or biological/chemical weapons. MacArthur offers an interpretation of “wild beasts” to be the rat as a disease spreader [mosquitoes also spread disease very effectively; an alternative interpretation could include bacteria and perhaps viruses as well].
In support of David Lowe’s interpretation of this seal being open in the church age, a search of cause of death worldwide, when added together, war + famine + infectious disease = 25%. Or, alternatively, third world nations, with their shortened lifespans, make up about 1/4 of the world’s land mass. Interesting statistics in light of this Seal.
Douglas Berner points out that the mention of Hades as well as Death is very significant. Death kills the body, and we all (well, not all!!!) face that. Hades is uniquely an abode for the soul of unbelievers. Thus, no Christian is affected by this Seal. How is that possible? The only explanation is that they have all just been snatched away in the rapture. Thus, it seems most logical that 1/4 of the world’s population dies very quickly via 4 main causes – war/murder, hunger/famine, death/pestilence, and wild beasts. This is very difficult to comprehend – over 1.5 billion people will die in a short span of time.
Another interesting inclusion in this seal is wild beasts. Sure, it could be bacteria. But wouldn’t bacteria be included in “pestilence”? Interestingly, we see a feast for wild animals/carrion prepared two times in the Bible – once at the beginning of the Day of the Lord, and once at the end of the Day of the Lord. Ezekiel 39:17: “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood.” I believe this strongly associates the Gog/Magog war with the beginning of the Day of the Lord (Seal 6), and Seal 4. (This is discussed more fully here – Gog/Magog post).
The first four seals seemingly involve humans (perhaps influenced by demons) acting in quite “natural” ways. Political and religious domination, war, famine, pestilence, economic oppression – these are things that occur in our world with regularity. God has used all of these phenomenon before in executing His judgments. In particular, a reading of Zechariah 1&6 shows us that we have seen the 4 horses of the apocalypse before. In Zechariah, these are spiritual beings in the form of horses and riders that roam the earth and are given permission by God to carry out various judgments and actions. They also report on the earth’s condition to God. Because of these things, I believe Seals 1-4 (and 5-7 as well) occur as a side effect, or result, of the removal of the Restrainer (the Holy Spirit indwelling the body of Christ). I see all the seals being opened at the same time as the rapture of the church. The Seals describe what is left in the wake of this great event.
I believe that the resemblance of the Church Age to meeting the criteria in Seals 1-4 is a foreshadowing. When the Seals are truly opened, there will be no mistaking it – the wrath of the One on the Throne and the Lamb has come, and who can stand??? (The answer to this is found in Revelation 7). The four horses and riders will be unleashed to bring various forms of judgment over the whole world – deception, war, famine, economic collapse, pestilence, and death. The phenomenon may seem “natural”, but the extent and severity will be unparalleled.
A Disclaimer: The Bible is infallible. I am not. Be a Berean – examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!