“And I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see” (Revelation 6:1).
by Micah Hess
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The book of Revelation contains multiple pictures of the Gospel Age. Each of the pictures shows the history of the Church from a different perspective. The second of these five views is the seven seals of Revelation as described in 6:1 through 8:1. The opening of the seven seals shows the progression of doctrinal truth from the original pure truth provided to the early church, continuing through its decay and corruption in the Middle Ages, then to the end of the Reformation, and finally to the pure doctrinal truth restored at the period of the Gospel Age Harvest.
In Revelation 5 the question is posed, “who is worthy to take the book and break the seals?” It is the “lamb as it had been slain” that is worthy to take the book and break the seals. The Lamb, Jesus, proved himself worthy and was thereby given the authority and the ability to both know and to execute God’s plan of redemption for the human race.
The First Seal
The first seal is pictured in Revelation 6:1-2. The lamb broke the first seal and John describes what he saw in Revelation 6:2. “I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer” (NASB). The white horse is the first of four horsemen John sees in Revelation 6. This white horse, the bow, and the crown depict the pure truth, the high quality of doctrine that was poured out to the early church. The power of this pure message allowed it to spread and take root throughout the known world by the missionary work of the apostles and the early church.
The Second Seal
The second seal is opened in Revelation 6:3. John then describes a red horse with a rider to whom “it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another, and a great sword was given to him.” The red horse depicts the quality of doctrine available to the second stage of the church as no longer pure. The growth and influence of the true church began to wane as the apostate church increased in power and influence. Even in the Apostles’ day, destructive false doctrinal influences had been trying to work their way into the church (1 John 4:1-3).
Then, after the Apostles had all passed away, the ability to combat these influences was severely diminished. Peace within the true church gave way to infighting, and its once treasured unity became fractured. The great sword given to this stage of the church most likely depicts the completion of the canonization of the Bible. But this great sword of scripture caused the church to divide instead of preserving it with a united message to preach the word.
The Third Seal
The third seal is opened in Revelation 6:5. John sees the third horseman riding upon a black horse and in possession of a set of scales. During this third stage of the church, the persecutions of Roman Emperors subsided after Constantine converted to Christianity. As a result, the church had begun to grow in number and influence.
This resulted in the beginning of the earthly elevation of the church. The temptation of this elevation proved to be too much and a church-state union began to take hold, pictured by the black horse. The importance of doctrine now became secondary to a growing desire to increase the influence and extend the reach of the church. Unfortunately, doctrine preached to Christians was now determined by the clergy with a corrupted understanding of the truth and no tolerance for opposing views.
The voice heard here said, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.” Perhaps this indicates the historical fact that while the nominal Christian system was allowed to dictate most matters of doctrine, there were certain truths that God would not allow to be withheld from the true church. Doctrines that influence the operation of the holy Spirit (the oil) in the members could not be suppressed by the nominal Christian system.
Though the true church was limited in what it could learn during this stage, pure truths were available to those who were willing to search for them. A denarius was the wage of a day-laborer; so great scarcity may be implied by its use. Perhaps also, Christ [barley] was deemed to be worth less than the church [wheat].
The Fourth Seal
Breaking the fourth seal brought the last horseman forward. It revealed a pale horse, depicting the doctrinal weakness of this fourth stage of church. The doctrines of this stage were meted out by what had grown into the repressive papacy and these polluted doctrines were not truthful enough to maintain a healthy spiritual life. Verse eight says, “and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him” (Revelation 6:8 NASB). This aptly describes the wicked papacy during this stage of the true church. The doctrinal teachings and practices promoted by the papacy could only lead to spiritual death.
The authority of the rider is also mentioned in verse eight. During this period of the Gospel Age, the papacy used its association with the civil powers of Christendom to persecute the true church. The first of these inquisitions appeared in 1184 AD. In the terrible persecution of the true church during the inquisitions, the oppressive papacy required agreement with their polluted doctrines or death would result. The true church endured great suffering during its 4th stage.
The Fifth Seal
Breaking the fifth seal brings the vision to an altar. Underneath that altar, John saw the souls of the saints who had suffered because of their faithfulness to the truth. These saints are crying out! They are asking the Lord in Revelation 6:10 (NASB), “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The true church at this point had been persecuted during the 1st and 2nd stage of the church by the Jews and then by the Roman civil authority, only to be followed by the intense persecution of the apostate church during the 3rd and 4th stages. These bitter persecutions cost the lives of thousands of Christian saints. The
combined weight of centuries of oppression and persecution of the true church is depicted in these figurative voices. The faithful Christian saints had stayed true to whatever small morsels of truth they could find and tightly grasp, only to be met with the sword and stake. How much longer would our righteous Heavenly Father allow this state of affairs to continue?
In Revelation 6:11, the saints are each given a white robe along with the message that they should yet rest for a while. There was still work to be done: more members of the church to be found and to be proven faithful. Only after the final member of the body of Christ has passed beyond the veil will the final judgment be given. Until that time the church would have to cling strongly to their faith in God’s promises.
The Sixth Seal
Now we arrive at a powerful scene. Revelation 6:12 begins with several earth-shattering events. First a great earthquake, then the sun becoming black like sackcloth, and the moon turning to the color of blood. Next, the stars of the sky fall to the earth followed by the sky departed as a scroll and every mountain and island being moved away.
These events would cause the greatest and least of men to hide themselves in caves and among the rocks of mountains; to be spared from the wrath of the lamb. Chapter 6 closes with the question, “Who is able to stand?”
The great earthquake is the French Revolution; a tremendous social upheaval when people were able to challenge the geopolitical power and topple entrenched religious and civil governments, at the same time! The abused masses stood up for their individual freedoms and liberties and this desire for individual freedoms was not to be subdued. Individual freedoms have become the critical social issue in the civilized world.
The sun and the moon changing colors, the stars falling from the sky to earth, and the great wind shaking every mountain and island represented the societal changes that were happening all around the church. The sun and the moon (New and Old Testament) were no longer considered by higher critics to be of divine inspiration. These higher critics fought to disprove the Bible’s claim to be the word of God. The church-going masses began to lose faith in the ecclesiastical system.
The after-effects of the French Revolution (the great earthquake) shook all of Europe and forever changed the world’s political landscape. During this great earthquake, the masses of people looked for a safe haven. They began looking to their governments to provide for their safety when papacy proved untrustworthy and obviously fallible. However, the governments also proved to be unworthy of their trust. The world would never be the same.
The Seventh Seal
Before we arrive at the breaking of the seventh seal we must go through Revelation 7. It begins with the vision of four angels holding back the four winds. These four angels are told not to harm the earth (society), the sea (the masses), or the trees (the elect) until the bond-servants of God are sealed on their foreheads. This depicts an intellectual sealing that is taking place among the true church.1
Revelation 7:4-8 depicts the true church as shown in the twelve tribes of natural Israel. Following this picture, Revelation 7:9-17 provides a picture of the Great Company as a class. Then in Revelation 8:1, the seventh seal is broken and John ends with: “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” When this last seal is broken, then the scroll opens up, and we can see what is written on the inside — the 7 trumpets (Ezekiel 2:9-3:3, Zechariah 5:1-4).
(1) Editor’s note: This is the more common thought. But may not the scriptures suggest a related thought of spirit begettal, as in the high priest’s seal on the forehead (HOLY TO JEHOVAH, Exodus 28:36, Ephesians 4:30, and likely Ezekiel 9:4).
The seven seals are one of three “sevens” in Revelation that are pictures of the Gospel Age from different perspectives. The seven seals picture shows a progression of Gospel Age doctrine:
(a) Starting with the pure truths poured out to the early church.
(b) Continuing through the second, third, and fourth stages with a long string of terrible degradation in both doctrine and practice.
(c) Followed by the fifth and six stages with a turn for the better with original truths gradually being restored during the Reformation. This was accompanied by the return of the practice of individual Bible study along with the widespread availability of the Bible in many languages. This provided the means to find the Truth for those who wished to search for it.
(d) Finally, once the seventh seal was broken during the Gospel Age Harvest, the truth of Christ’s second presence and its call to “come out,” and the mystery of the true church of the Gospel Age was revealed. The message for us at the end of the Gospel
Age is to use our individual gifts to edify the brethren and to be a faithful witness to the world by proclaiming the harvest message. Despite all the attempts to discredit Christianity and a belief in the Bible, we see in the breaking of the seven seals, that God knew all about the struggles the church would suffer. We now have the reassurance that God gave each stage of the
church the help and direction they needed to find pure doctrine and to practice it.
God continues to provide us with aid at the end of the Gospel Age. Now that the seventh seal has been broken we have amazing doctrinal clarity that has not been enjoyed by any other stage of the church. Now is the time for us to go forth and spread the gospel to gather the remaining grains of wheat together while we see the prospect of the peaceable Kingdom of God on the horizon, soon to be fully established!