Tag Archives: the seven seals

The Meaning of Seals and Sealing in Rev 7 (Interlude 2)

Chapter seven is inserted parenthetically between the sixth (Rev. 6:12-17) and seventh (8:1) seals. Chapter six climaxes with the opponents of God calling on the rocks and mountains to hide them from the face of God and the wrath of the Lamb (6:15-16). These opponents then close with the poignant statement, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Rev. 6:17, NRSV. That question is answered in chapter seven with the appearance of two groups, the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8) and the Great Multitude (7:9-14). The keys to surviving the calamities that accompany the Second Coming, are being sealed (7:1-3), saved by God (7:10) and having one’s robes washed in the blood of the Lamb (7:14). The end result of the final events is a people who are continually before the throne of God, serving Him in His temple (7:15). The purpose of Revelation 7 within its larger context is to identify what God’s people will be like just before the Second Coming.

In the ancient world, sealing a book had two main purposes. One sealed a book to conceal its contents from view (Isa. 29:11; Rev. 10:4) or to validate the contents as being authentic or official (1 Kgs. 21:8; Esth. 8:8; Jer. 32:44). Concealment seems to be the basic purpose of sealing the book in Revelation 5. The book doesn’t need a seal of validation, it was already validated by being in God’s possession. The purpose of breaking the seals and opening the book would be to bring its contents into view.

A more symbolic use of the word sealing can be found when you are talking about people. Sealing a person could be a sign of ownership (Exod. 21:2-6; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 14:1) or a sign of protection (Ezek. 9:4-6). In early Judaism sealing was associated with circumcision. In Second-Century Christianity, sealing was associated with baptism. So the sealing of people by God would be a sign that they belong to God (Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2 Tim. 2:19; Rev. 9:4), and that God knows the ones who belong to Him. In a spiritual sense, sealing validates where a person stands with God.

But the sealing of Revelation 7 is different from that of Ephesians, Second Timothy, or even Revelation 9. The sealing of Revelation 7 is not primarily about evangelism, the people being sealed are already “servants of God” (Rev. 7:3). That means that they are already sealed in the sense of being owned and validated by God. In Revelation 7 the people of God (sealed in the first sense) are sealed again as a protection against the calamities that accompany the End-Time (Rev. 6:15 – 7:3). So the usage of sealing in Revelation 7 seems to be different from the meaning in the rest of the New Testament. As such, it is a play on words here, used in relation to a book in chapters five and six and used in relation to people in chapter seven. Sealing conceals in chapter five and protects in chapter seven.

Summary of Revelation 6, The Seven Seals (Seals 1)

Chapter six describes the events that occur as the Lamb breaks the first six of the seven seals. This scene follows directly on the vision of the heavenly throne room in chapter five. A careful study of this chapter exposed a number of interesting
Themes, which I will explore at greater length in posts to follow:

1. The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8) Portray the Progress of the Gospel and the Consequences of Its Rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2).
2. The Main OT Background of the Four Horses Involves the Curses of the Covenant. The OT covenant, with its blessings and curses, is adopted in chapter six as a metaphor of the gospel.
3. The Judgments Portrayed in Revelation 6 Affect the People of God. This builds on the covenant promises and threats made to Israel in Lev. 26 and Deut. 32.
4. The “Souls Under the Altar” Passage Does Not Address the State of the Dead. The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) has often been misused to argue consciousness after death.
5. The Adventist Reading of the Sixth Seal Is Supported by the Text. Close reading of Rev. 6:12-14 indicates both a movement in time in the passage and the literal meaning of sun, moon and stars.

This chapter in the book of Revelation is one of the more difficult ones to understand. This leaves scholars with two main and seemingly contradictory readings of the four horsemen in particular. One sees them along the lines of Matthew 24 as a symbolic portrayal as the work of Christ and the gospel throughout the course of Christian history. The presentation of the gospel compels decision and thus divides the world into two classes of people. Those who reject the gospel enter a downward slide leading to ultimate destruction. The second reading sees all four horsemen as negative, including the rider on the white horse. In this reading, the seals describe not the work of Christ but the work of Satan, which God permits him to do, a work of lies, deception, force and torment. Both readings are appealing in many ways. I prefer the first reading because to me the evidence that the white horse is a positive entity seems compelling. More on this in the next blog.

Chapter six is clearly based on chapter five. The chapter opens with “and” (Greek: kai), indicating a connection to what precedes. At the close of chapter five, the Lamb is holding the scroll (5:7-8) and receiving the worship of the heavenly host (5:12-14). John continues looking (both chapters begin with John saying “and I saw”—5:1; 6:1) and sees the Lamb open seal after seal (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12). The fact that Satan does not appear in the heavenly visions of Revelation four and five is further evidence to me that the satanic reading of Revelation six is not to be preferred.

The events that occur as each seal is opened are not the content of the scroll. All seven seals need to be broken before the scroll can be unrolled and its contents seen (see 6:14). The events unleashed by the breaking of the seals are events on earth that lead up to the opening of the scroll, which seems to be associated with the consummation of human history and possibly even the whole cosmic conflict.