The seventh seal completes John’s first oracle.
The flow of Revelation begins with greetings from both John and Jesus. After John introduced himself, he described what reads like a vision, but which John described as palpably real: Jesus physically appeared to John much in the same way Jesus had appeared to the disciples on numerous occasions after His resurrection. But in this appearance, Jesus was not like the familiar rabbi of those Galilean days. The Lord Jesus Christ now stood before John fully glorified, transfigured from Son of God to God the Son.
Once Jesus had reassured John He was indeed John’s beloved teacher and friend, the Lord commissioned His faithful disciple to transcribe seven letters from Jesus to the Christian assemblies dotted along what is now the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Over the course of two chapters, Jesus referred to aspects of His appearance to John in each of His messages to these churches.
When the last letter was written, John was physically lifted up into the air and passed through a portal rent in the sky that translated him into the heavenly realms.
Another two chapters of John’s account are devoted to the wonders he saw and experienced in the throne room of God. He saw beings only few prophets had described—four living creatures whom his original audience would have recognized as the Seraphim of Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s narratives. John attended in awe as angels and elders surrounded the throne of God and fell in rapturous worship of the Holy Trinity—Father, Spirit, and Son depicted as brilliant light, seven spirits, and a slain lamb.
It is here John realized the adoration and devotion of the entirety of creation for Almighty God.
All of heaven had just finished singing a new song about Jesus, Who holds the future of all things in His hands, Who alone is worthy and able to open each of the seals on the scroll and read its contents, and Who has made redemption possible for all people everywhere. Then, John watched in wonder as the entire cosmos broke loose.
Then I beheld and I heard a sound of many angels round about the throne and of the living creatures and of the elders, and the number of them ten thousands (myriads) of ten thousands (myriad) and thousands of thousands,
And they were saying in a great voice, “Worthy is the Lamb Who was has been slain, to receive the power and riches and wisdom and mighty power and honor and glory and blessing,”
And every creature that is in heaven and upon the earth and under the earth and upon the sea and all the things in them, I heard saying, “To the One sitting upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and be honor and be glory and dominion into the ages of the ages.”
Then the four living creatures were saying, “Amen.”
And the elders fell prostrate and worshiped.Revelation 5:11-14
All of heaven now watched in hushed anticipation as the Lamb stepped forward to break open the seven-sealed scroll. Each seal unleashed increasingly horrific judgments upon the earth, and ultimately all of the physical universe, until the final seal completed the cycle in settled silence.
Not surprisingly, commentators have come to significantly different conclusions depending on what perspective is taken in reading these chapters
Some interpreters see all of John’s prophecies as having already been fulfilled over the course of church history. The breaking of each seal represents God’s judgment first of Jerusalem for rejecting and crucifying the Messiah, to the degeneracy of the Roman Empire into late antiquity.
- The breaking of the first seal happened when Emperor Domitian died in 96 CE.
- The breaking of the last seal corresponds with specific events happening in the fourth or fifth century CE.
- The 144,000 were believers representing spiritual Israel (which is the church) who were preserved by God during this time.
Other scholars focus on God’s judgment of Jerusalem and rejection of the Gospel by first century Judeans as the fulfillment of John’s revelation. Such scholars point to striking correlative passages in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21 where Jesus predicted the fate of God’s holy city, and the temple itself.
- The scroll represents the reading of God’s judgment.
- Each seal connects to specific events that happened during the time surrounding 70 CE, the Roman sacking of Jerusalem and subjugation of Palestine.
- The 144,000 were Judean Christians who heeded Jesus’s warning and fled for the hills, and thus were saved from the slaughter.
Certain commentators take a future-looking vantage which sees John’s oracle unfolding in a time still future to us now.
- The four horsemen are aspects of what will happen when the AntiChrist comes to power.
- The 144,000 are those of Jewish faith who will convert to Christianity during the seven-year-long tribulation.
- Dispensationalists believe Christians – both the living and those who have died – will have already been “raptured,” lifted into the air to meet the Lord. Therefore, the 144,000 are part of Israel, not the church.
Theologians with this view take a more general reading of these passages.
- The four horsemen symbolize the ills all people face in every age, though some posit the first horseman might be the Gospel riding forth.
- The martyrs also represent all those who have suffered for the faith, who will one day be vindicated.
- The 144,000 represent the church throughout history.
At the close of the Seven Seals Vision, John seemed to turn and a new vision opened before him: seven angels holding seven trumpets.
There are two schools of thought concerning this next oracle. The first school sees this as a linear progression of woes. The second sees this as a series of three cycles that covers the same time period, just from slightly different angles. All three cycles can be compared in this chart.
Three Sets of Seven, with an Interlude Between Cycle II and Cycle III
|Seven Seals (5:1-8:5)||Seven Trumpets (8:6-11:18)||Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)|
|1||Conqueror on a White Horse||Hail, fire, and blood burning a third of the earth||Painful sores|
|2||Warrior on a Fiery Red Horse||Mountain of fire turning a third of the sea to blood||All seas turn to blood|
|3||Famine on a Black Horse||Blazing star named Wormwood hurled into fresh water, making a third bitter||All fresh water turns to blood|
|4||Death on a Pale Green Horse||A third of all heavenly orbs are dimmed||Sun scorches the people|
|5||White-Robed Martyrs||Woe one: A star from heaven unlocks the abyss of horrors||Darkness covers the earth|
|6||Wrath of the Lamb||Woe two: four angels release three plagues, killing a third of humanity||Euphrates dries up, and armies prepare for war|
|Great multitude of those sealed to God are gathered to the throne||Seven thunders, two witnesses, massive earthquake, many die||Christians prepare, remain alert, wait expectantly|
|7||Silence in Heaven||Woe three: The Day of Judgment||“It Is Done!”|
Taken together, the four basic scholarly frames of reference will layer well with historical insight and scriptural overlay while leaving room for the possibility that John’s prophetic oracles have yet to be (completely) fulfilled.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg