Some editorial changes in Lesson #5 made the text looks better. The changes were not numerous.
Some devotional questions were changed.
In the Sunday lesson, the change is made from “This whole scene is symbolic” to “Although symbolic, Revelation 6:1,2 is about conquest too.” This implies that there is a literal conquest in view in the vision. I do not believe that this is what the editor wished to say.
In the Tuesday lesson, the second paragraph is unnecessarily taken out: “The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.” So also, “Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically.”
In the Wednesday lesson, two sentences are added to the first paragraph, which clarify the point. Not bad.
Here’s my original manuscript before the editorial changes.
Lesson 5 * January 26-February 1
The Seven Seals
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 6.
Memory Verse: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us unto kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NKJV).
Revelation 6 continues the scene of chapters 4-5 describing Christ who, by taking the sealed scroll and sitting on the heavenly throne, regained what was lost through Adam. The destiny of all humanity was put into His hands. He is now ready to open the seals on the scroll and carry out the plan of salvation to its ultimate realization.
Pentecost marked the beginning of the spread of the gospel, by which Christ expands His kingdom by winning human hearts to himself. However, He has to rule in the midst of His enemies (1 Cor. 15:25). There are still many who do not accept his authority. Yet, He wants to bring them under his rule, for He does want anyone to perish but all to come to salvation.
Thus, the breaking of the seals refers to the preaching of the gospel, which started at Pentecost, and the consequences of rejecting it. The opening of the seventh and last seal brings us to the conclusion of this world’s history.
Revelation 3:21 gives us the key to the meaning of the of the seven seals: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne (NKJV).” Chapters 4-5 tell us of Christ’s overcoming and His exaltation to His Father’s throne, and chapter 7 of the overcomers before Christ’s throne. Thus, chapter 6 is about God’s people in the process of overcoming so that they might share Jesus’ throne.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 3.
Sunday January 27
The Opening of the First Seal
Read Revelation 6:1-8 along with Leviticus 26:21-26 and Matthew 24:1-14. Note the common key words in these texts? What do you learn about the meaning of the first four seals on the basis of these parallels?
The events of the seven seals must be understood in the context of the Old Testament covenant curses specified in terms of sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts (Lev. 26:21-26). Ezekiel calls them God’s “four severe judgements” (Ezek. 14:21). They were the disciplinary judgments by which God chastised His people when they became unfaithful to the covenant in order to awaken them from their condition. In a similar way, the four horsemen are the means God uses to keep His people awake as they await Jesus’ return.
There are also close parallels between the first four seals and Matthew 24:4-14 where Jesus explained what would happen in the world throughout history up until His return. The four horsemen are the means by which God keeps His people on the right track by reminding them that this world is not their home and of the reality of Christ’s return.
Read Revelation 6:1-2. The scene points to a conquest situation. On the basis of the color of the horse and the description of the horseman, what does this scene point to?
This whole scene is symbolic. It brings to mind Revelation 19:11-16, which portrays Christ as riding a white horse and leading the heavenly armies into the final battle of earth’s history. As a symbol of purity, the white color is regularly associated with Christ and His followers. The rider on the horse holds a bow and is given a crown, which evokes the image of God in the Old Testament riding a horse with a bow in His hand conquering His people’s enemies (Hab. 3:8-13; Ps. 45:4-5). The Greek word for the crown worn by the rider is stephanos, which is the crown of victory (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). This rider is a conqueror going forward conquering and to conquer.
The scene of the first seal describes the spreading of the gospel, which started powerfully at Pentecost, by which Christ began expanding His kingdom. There were many territories to conquer and many people to win. This conquest of the gospel will continue all until the ultimate conquest is realized with Christ’s coming in glory.
Prophetically, the scene of the first seal corresponds to the message to the church in Ephesus; it describes the apostolic period during which the gospel spread rapidly throughout the world (Col. 1:23).
Monday January 28
The Second and Third Seals
Read Revelation 6:3-4. On the basis of the description of the red horse and the rider, to what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel does it refer?
Red is the color of blood and corresponds to the mission of this horse. The rider has a great sword and is allowed to take peace from the earth, so that people may kill one another.
The second seal describes the consequences of the rejection of the gospel. As Christ is waging spiritual warfare through the preaching of the gospel, the forces of evil render strong resistance. Inevitably, persecution follows. The rider does not do the killing. Instead, he takes peace from the earth and inevitably, as a result, persecution follows. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus said. “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34, NKJV).
Read Revelation 6:5-6 along with Lev. 26:26 and Ezek. 4:16. On the basis of the description of the black horse and the rider, what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel is referred to?
The rider on the black horse holds a scale for weighing food. An announcement is made: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius (Rev. 6:6, NKJV).” In Palestine, grain, oil and wine were the basic necessities of life (Deut. 11:14). To eat bread by carefully weighing the grain denoted great scarcity or famine (Lev. 26:26; Ezek. 4:16). In John’s day, a denarius was a daily wage (Mat. 20:2). In normal circumstances, a daily wage would buy all the necessities for the family. However, a famine would enormously inflate the normal price. In the scene of the third seal, it would take a whole day’s work to buy just enough food for only one person. In order to feed a small family, a day’s wage would be used to buy three quarts of barley, a cheaper, coarser food for the poor.
The scene of the third seal points to the further consequences of rejecting the gospel. If the white horse represents the preaching of the gospel, the black horse denotes the absence of the gospel. Grain in the Bible symbolizes the word of God (Luke 8:11). The rejection of the gospel inevitably results in a famine of the word of God similar to the one prophesied by Amos (8:11-13).
What lessons does the scene of the third seal speak to you? Does merely possessing the Bible mean that a person is safe from the spiritual famine?
Tuesday January 29
The Scene of the Fourth Seal
Read Revelation 6:3-4. What scene is here portrayed? How is this scene related to the previous one?
The color of the horse in the fourth seal is expressed with the Greek word chloros, which is the ashen-grey color of a decomposing corpse. The rider’s name is Death and Hades, the place of the dead, accompanies him. These two are allowed to destroy people by sword, hunger, death, and wild beasts over one-fourth of the earth.
The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.
The good news is that the power of Death and Hades is very limited; they are given authority only over a part (one-fourth) of the earth. Jesus assures us that he has the keys of Death and Hades (see Rev. 1:18). Death does not have power over those who accept the gospel.
Review once again the contents of the messages to the churches in Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamum, and Thyatira in Revelation 2. Compare the situation in those churches with the scenes of the opening of the first four seals. What parallels do you observe between them?
Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically. As was the case with the seven churches, the seals also correlate to the different periods in Christian history. During the apostolic times, the gospel rapidly spread throughout the world. This was followed by the period of persecution in the Roman Empire from the end of the first to the beginning of the fourth century, as portrayed in the scene of the second seal. The third seal points to the period of compromise of the fourth and fifth centuries, which were characterized by a spiritual famine of the Bible, which led to the Dark Ages or the medieval period. The fourth seal aptly describes the spiritual death that characterized Christianity during the dark, Middle Ages when the Bible was unavailable to people and tradition replaced and overruled the teaching of the Bible.
Go overs again Revelation 6:6, which states that “the oil and the wine” will not be affected by the famine of the third seal’s plague. Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and wine salvation in Jesus Christ. Even when the word of God is scarce, the Holy Spirit is still at work and salvation is still available to all who want it. What lesson does this speak to you?
Wednesday January 30
The Opening of the Fifth Seal
Read Revelation 6:9-10. What two groups of people are in view in this scene? Why do the souls underneath the altar cry out to God? Why are they martyred? Who are those referred to as “those who dwell on the earth” (e.g., 8:13; 13:8; 17:2)?
The word “soul” in the Bible denotes the whole person (Gen. 2:7). The death of God’s faithful and persecuted people is here portrayed in terms of the sacrificial blood poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice of the earthly sanctuary (Exod. 29:12; Lev. 4:7). Here are God’s people suffering injustice for their faithfulness to the gospel. They are crying to God asking Him to step in and vindicate them.
Read Revelation 6:11 along with Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 79:10. What was heaven’s response to the prayers of God’s martyred people? How long were they told to wait until God vindicates them?
The martyred saints were given white robes representing Christ’s righteousness as Christ’s free gift to those who accept His offer of grace (Rev. 3:5; 19:8). Then, they were told that they would have to rest until their brothers who would go through a similar experience are made complete. It is important to notice that the Greek text does not have the word “number.” Revelation does not talk of a number of the martyred saints to be reached before Christ’s return, but of the completeness regarding their character. God’s people are made complete by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, not their own merit (Rev. 7:10). The martyred saints will not be resurrected and vindicated until the second coming of Christ and the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 20:4).
Although the scene of the fifth seal applied historically to the period of the Middle Ages during which millions were martyred because of their faithfulness to the teaching of the Bible, it also denotes the experience of God’s suffering people throughout history, from the time of Abel (Gen. 4:10) until the time when God will finally avenge “the blood of His servants” (Rev. 19:2). The day is coming when Christ will come in judgment against the enemies of His people and bring “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9, NKJV).
“How long, O Lord?” has been the cry of God’s suffering people throughout history. Have you ever struggled with an apparent lack of God’s intervention as you suffered injustice in your life? What comfort do you find in the scene of the fifth seal?
Thursday January 31
The Opening of the Sixth Seal
In the fifth seal, we saw God’s people suffering injustice in a hostile world, crying for God’s intervention on their behalf. The time has come for God to intervene in answer to the prayers of His people.
Read Revelation 6:12-14 along with Matthew 24:29-30 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
The cosmic signs of the sixth seal are those foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-30 that were to occur at the conclusion of the tribulation of the Middle Ages as the harbingers of the Second Coming. The sun, the moon, the stars, and the sky are literal here. The use of the words “as” or “like” points to a symbolic analogy to an actual thing or event—the sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became like blood, the stars fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its late figs, and the sky receded as a scroll. The Christians in the western world recognized in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the dark day of May 19, 1780 experienced in eastern New York and southern New England, and the spectacular meteor shower over the Atlantic Ocean on November 13, 1833 the fulfillment of the prophecy with reference to Christ’s coming. This in turn led to a series of revivals known as the Second Great Awakening.
Read Revelation 6:15-17 along with 19:11-21. Also read Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30.
The scene portrays people of all walks of life in a panic trying to hide from the terror of the upheaval at the coming of Christ. They are asking rocks and mountains to cover them in order to protect them from the “face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (NKJV).” The time has arrived for justice to be dispersed as Christ comes “to be glorified in His saints” (2 Thess. 1:10). Their end is described in Revelation 19:17-21.
The scene concludes with the rhetorical question by the terror-stricken wicked: “The great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (NKJV)” (see also Nah. 1:6; Mal. 3:2). The answer to that question is given in Revelation 7; those who will be able to stand in that day are the sealed people of God.
Reflect on the scene of the opening of the sixth seal. Do you feel that you would be able to stand before God on the day of His wrath? If you knew that Jesus would come in a matter of days, what changes would you make in your life?
Friday February 1
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The World’s Need,” pp. 457-460, in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers.
The vision of the opening of the seven seals points symbolically to God’s care for His people on earth. As Kenneth A. Strand pointed out:
“In Scripture there is assurance that God has always cared for His people: that in history itself He is ever present to sustain them, and that in the great eschatological denouement He will give the full vindication and an incomprehensibly generous reward in life everlasting. The Book of Revelation picks up and expands beautifully this same theme, and thus Revelation is not by any means some sort of offbeat apocalypse that is out of tune with biblical literature in general; it conveys the very heart and substance of the biblical message. Indeed, as Revelation emphatically points out, the ‘Living One’—the One who conquered death and the grave (1:18)—will never forsake His faithful followers and that even when they suffer martyrdom they are victorious (12:11), with the ‘crown of life’ awaiting them (see 2:10; 21:1-4; and 22:4)”—Kenneth A. Strand, “The Seven Heads: Do They Represent Roman Emperors?” in Symposium on Revelation—Book 2, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series 7 (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 206.
After studying this week’s lesson, what valuable lessons have you learned from the scene of the opening of the seven seals? How has it provided you with the assurance that God is in charge of the events in the world? Does this fill you with the assurance that you can trust him when you face trials in your life? How does it impact your attitude toward the surrounding world? What changes have you decided to make?
Reflect on the following statement: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.” Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9. Think of your local church. Is it faithful in spreading the gospel in order to reach people with the gospel message? If it is not, what can be done to reach the surrounding world?