The Revelation: The First Six Seals

Late in the first century AD the apostle John received a vision, which he introduced as follows:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. (Revelation 1:1-3)

The Revelation was given by God to Christ, who gave it to John via an angel. It shows Christ's servants the future using a mixture of symbols and literal statements. The Revelation is the most comprehensive and detailed prophecy in the Bible. It covers events from John's time through the return of Christ, then into the kingdom of God and into the distant future. When we look at Jesus' prophecy as recorded in Matthew 24 we will see many similarities to Revelation.

In the Revelation the "Lamb" symbolizes Christ. The Lamb is shown opening seven seals on a symbolic scroll or book of the future. As each seal is opened, the scroll is unrolled a little more and we see more of the future revealed. The seals help organize the events prophesied in Revelation in sequential order. The first six seals describe events prior to the return of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God, which occur late in the seventh seal.

Revelation chapter six opens the first four seals by telling of the famous "four horsemen of the apocalypse." Apocalypse is the Greek word for "revelation." The horsemen are not literal flesh-and-blood horsemen. Rather, they are symbolic. The first, riding a white horse, is generally understood to symbolize the spread of religions that misrepresent God. As these religions spread around the world they are pictured as "conquering" or deceiving:

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder [thunder warns of trouble - a "storm" - ahead], one of the four beasts [in this case referring to special creatures at the throne of God, Rev. 4:6] saying, Come and see. 2. And I saw, and behold a white horse [traditionally, a white horse is ridden by a conqueror]: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1,2)

The second horseman brings violence and death to the earth. He symbolically brings war, terrorism, crime and strife (civil, racial, political, and religious):

3. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

 The third horseman symbolically brings famine. Essential foods such as grains are shown to be in short supply and costly, causing famine in various parts of the world. Meanwhile other non-basic foods - oil and wine - continue to be available:

5. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.

Finally the fourth horseman, with his rider, brings death by disease as well as by war, strife and famine:

7. And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell [Greek "hades" meaning the grave] followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death [disease], and with the beasts of the earth.

Note that the four horsemen are not sent by God or by Christ. The horsemen are not executing Divine will or intention; rather, they only illustrate conditions on the earth brought about by man and nature. As each horseman is "added" conditions worsen. And with the addition of the fourth, who brings an extra measure of violence, famine and disease, conditions worsen to a point where one fourth the earth's population will die.

Upon the opening of the fifth seal a different type of event takes place: a martyrdom:

9. And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar [in heaven] the souls [figurative or "virtual" persons] of them that were [in previous times] slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11. And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said [figuratively] unto them, that they should rest [in the "sleep" of death] yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

The opening of the sixth seal suddenly brings the most amazing, surprising, world-shaking events in all of prophecy. These events are the milestone - the sign - that confirms the coming of the Kingdom of God in a way the whole world can neither ignore nor deny. All activity stops while mankind stares in amazed wonder:

12. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood [dull red in color]; 13. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth [there was a great meteor shower], even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together [the stars seemed to disappear]; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16. And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17. For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

Could this really happen? What could cause the sun and moon to dim? What could cause a great meteor shower at the same time, and make the stars in the night sky seem to disappear? Even now clouds of dust in space prevent astronomers from viewing certain regions of the night sky. And it is dust or small particles shooting from space into our atmosphere that gives us most meteors. This is speculation, but it may be that a cloud of dust in space flows into our solar system, including between the earth and the sun. This could explain the simultaneous meteor shower, the darkening the sun and moon to a deep red "sunset" color, and the blocking of our view of the stars.

Regarding the rest of the prophecy: why do the people who see these events say "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne"? Why do they think the events have anything to do with God or Christ, and why are they afraid? They suddenly believe in God because they see in the sky, apparently literally, a symbol or sign of Christ seated on His throne. We'll see this described in Jesus' prophecy also. And they are afraid for several reasons. They ignored the message that God is real and would intervene in human affairs. And they will have only recently, in the fifth seal's martyrdom, "shot the messengers" who brought that message.

In Jesus' prophecy we will see many parallels to the prophecies we've seen in Revelation: religions, wars, famines, disease epidemics, a martyrdom, and heavenly signs. We'll also gain insight as to when and why the heavenly signs occur.