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The Seven Seals Examined

With God, Timing Is Everything

No doubt, you have heard it said, “With God, timing is everything.” This statement is particularly poignant in this study on the seven seals. If the Book of Life were prematurely opened, Go would not be able to “prove” beyond doubt that He does not use His divine powers of omniscience and omnipotence to manipulate His children and the outcome of history. Therefore, God sealed the Book of Life with seven seals to prove at an appointed time that He does not manipulate the choice of His children. His children are truly free to make up their own minds; therefore, we are completely accountable for our actions.  We can choose to submit to submit to God’s government or we can choose to rebel. With these thoughts in mind, consider how timing affects the following events:

  1. The Book of Life was written before life was created.
  1. Jesus was found worthy to receive the Book of Life in 1798.
  1. The first seal was broken in 1798 and the breaking of the seventh seal will occur at the end of the thousand years.
  1. The contents of the Book of Life will be revealed at the end of the thousand years.

There is a close relationship between the contents of the Book of Life and the breaking of the seven seals. The Book of Life contains a prerecorded history of life, and the breaking of each seal does two things. First, a new revelation about Jesus occurs, as each seal is broken. Second, as each seal is broken, God’s children move closer (both chronologically and intellectually) to the resolution of the sin problem. Therefore, what new truths about Jesus have been discovered since 1798? Before I respond to this question, please review the first four seals.


Seal #1 – White Horse

“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts [the one that had the face of a lion] saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:1,2 KJV, insertion mine)


Seal #2 – Red Horse

“And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast {the one that had the face of an ox] say, Come and see. 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.” (Revelation 6:3,4, KJV, insertion mine)


Seal #3 – Black Horse

“And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast [the one having the face of a man] 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. 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.” (Revelation 6: 5,6, KJV, insertion mine)


Seal #4 – Pale or Dappled Horse

“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast [the one that had the face of an eagle] say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell 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, and with the beasts of the Earth.” (Revelation 6:7,8, KJV, insertion mine)


These eight verses speak volumes with very few words. The first four seals describe four tasks assigned to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is represented as four living creatures, and the four living creatures are represented as four horsemen.  These representations of the same thing enable us to understand the diverse work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.


As Jesus breaks each of the first four seals, He gives a command to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit invites John to “come and see” His actions. Many people have heard of the four horseman of the Apocalypse, but preachers and artists who have painted scary and grotesque pictures of the four horsemen have distorted their understanding. Few people have any idea why four horsemen are part of this vision, even though the solution to this mystery is quite simple.


Royal Horses and Royal Horsemen

In ancient times, there were no telephones, faxes, satellites, high-speed Internet connections, televisions, or radios. In those days, kings dispatched “couriers” on fast horses throughout their kingdoms to deliver laws, edicts, bulletins, political directives and other information that was pertinent to the administration of the kingdom. The person in charge of the couriers lived in or near the king’s residence so the king could dispatch royal couriers at a moments’ notice. The king’s commands could have no delay. Royal couriers rode special horses that had breed and trained for stamina because the king’s province could be hundreds of miles away from the throne.

For example, during the time of Queen Easter, King Artaxerses naively issued a decree that allowed the Persians – at an appointed time – to kill all of the Jews and take their possessions. (Esther 3:9-11) However, the queen learned of the plot and she cleverly exposed Haman. Haman had masterminded the plan because he hated the Jews, especially her uncle, Mordecai. When King Artaxerxes discovered that he had been duped into granting a decree to kill all of his wife’s people, he had Haman hung on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The king asked Mordecai to write an emergency edict that was sent to all the Jews throughout his kingdom, notifying them that they were to take up arms and defend themselves. “Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king’s signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king. The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies….The couriers, riding the royal horses, raced out, spurred on by the king’s command….” (Esther 8:10-14, italics mine) The parallel should be obvious. As horsemen, they were dispatched from God’s throne as Jesus breaks the first four seals. God used the imagery of horses and riders because this is how couriers were used in John’s day. In short, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse represent the Holy Spirit who was sent on four missions.

According to Rule Three of apocalyptic prophecy, the use of parallel language within the Bible is highly important. Parallel language helps to clarify the intended meaning of language found in Revelation 6. The prophet Zechariah wrote, “I looked up again – and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains – mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled – all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel answered me, ‘These are the four spirits of Heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.’ When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth.  And he said, ‘Go throughout the Earth!’ So they went throughout the Earth. Then he called to me, ‘Look, those going toward the north country have given my spirit rest in the land of the north.’” (Zechariah 6:1-8)

Around 510 B.C., God gave the prophet Zechariah this vision showing how His will is accomplished on Earth. Zechariah saw God send out the four spirits, who stood before His throne, into Earth. The four spirits are the four living creatures. They were represented to Zechariah as four horses going toward the north, south, east and west, and in this vision, their task was to restore peace on Earth. Zechariah particularly noted the horse that went toward ‘the north country” because this was the direction from which God’s wrath came against Israel. (See Isaiah 41; Leviticus 26:24,25; Jeremiah 1:14; 15:3,12; 51:48; Ezekiel 1:4; Zechariah 1:19-21.) At other times, God sends a spirit of peace throughout the Earth and the Holy Spirit is the means through which the will of God is accomplished. For example, God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem because of its degeneracy, and after Israel had served seventy years of captivity, the Holy Spirit moved Cyrus to set Israel free at just the right time. “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put in writing.” (2 Chronicles 36:22, italics mine)

Even though Zechariah 6 does not mention riders on the horses, the point remains that the four living creatures that stood before the throne of God were represented to Zechariah as horses with the same four colors found in Revelation 6. Understand that the Holy Spirit is not actually four living creatures or four horses. God creates these caricatures of the Holy Spirit so that human beings can understand something about divine processes and powers that exist outside the realm of human understanding and ability. 


Four Horns and Four Craftsmen

Perhaps one more sample of parallel language will make the connection between the four living creatures and the Holy Spirit clearer. Notice these verses from a vision recorded in Zechariah 1: “Then I looked up and there before me were four horns! I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these?’ He answered me, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.’ Then the Lord showed me the four craftsmen. I asked, ‘What are these [four craftsmen] coming to do?’ He answered, ‘These are the [four] horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise his head, but the [four] craftsmen have come to terrify them [the enemies of Jerusalem] and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.’” (Zechariah 1:18-21, insertions mine) This vision reveals an awesome truth. The four horns that brought down Jerusalem was not King Nebuchadnezzar. The four horns (or four powers) that brought down Jerusalem were the four living creatures. The Holy Spirit aroused King Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish God’s will and the Holy Spirit delivered Jerusalem into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar! (Daniel 5:18,19) God told Jeremiah, “’I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.’” (Jeremiah 25:9)


It is interesting that God calls Nebuchadnezzar “my servant” in Jeremiah 25:9 even though the king did not recognize the God of Israel as the Most High God until many years later. The Holy Spirit punished God’s people by arousing Nebuchadnezzar, and the angel told Zechariah that four craftsmen would rebuild the city. In other words, God told the Holy Spirit to raise a destroyer for Jerusalem, and He did. Then, God told the Holy Spirit to set His people free, and He did. Cyrus issued the decree right on time! (2 Chronicles 36:22) Then, God told the Holy Spirit to raise a builder so that Jerusalem might be rebuilt, and He did. “So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel [the rebuilder]: ‘Not by might nor by [human] power, but by my Spirit,’ [You will overcome the obstacles and rebuild the temple.] Says the Lord Almighty. ‘What are you, O mighty mountain [of obstacles]? Before Zerubbabel, you will become level ground [and enable his success]. ‘” (Zechariah 4:6,7, insertions mine)


Putting It Together

When we compare parallel language from the books of Esther and Zechariah with Revelation 6, the mystery of the four living creatures is easily resolved. The four living creatures represent the Holy Spirit. He is the omnipresent “Enabler” through whom the will of God is accomplished on Earth. Now we know when the Book of Life was written, why the Book of Life was written, who the four living creatures are, why the Holy Spirit is represented as four couriers on horseback, and when Jesus was found worthy to receive the Book of Life; now we can now examine the seven seals to learn how Jesus will resolve the sin problem and exonerate the government of God!


Seal # 1 – White Horse – 1798 – The Salvation of Jesus Proclaimed

“I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard on e of the four living creatures say in a loud voice like thunder, ‘Come’ I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” (Revelation 6:1,2) The English translation of these verses can mislead the reader. The Greek text indicates the horseman rode out of Heaven’s temple carrying a toxon, that is, a winner’s ribbon, an ornamental bow made of fabric. The rider also carries a stephanos, a crown of laurel, or a crown of victory like an athlete would wear (the rider is not carrying a diadema which denotes authority or dominion). The Greek syntax also indicates the work of this horseman takes time and effort. Literally, the Greek say, “the rider went out overcoming that he might overcome.”

One highly respected authority; A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich says the Greek word, toxon, means a weapon, a bow for arrows. On the other hand, another respected authority, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that the Greek word #5115 means a bow made of fabric. Both meanings of toxon will fit into this scene of a rider bent on conquest. Apparently, the Holy Spirit rode out of Heaven’s temple to engage in a spiritual war – in conquest to exalt Jesus as the Savior of the world. In this sense, a bow for arrows (although arrows are not mentioned in this passage) could be figuratively appropriate. On the other hand, Strong’s definition for toxon seems to fit better if we understand the bow is a “winner’s ribbon” offered to those who overcome the world through faith in Christ. I prefer the ribbon to a bow for arrows because the crown in this passage is a stephanos (Greek: a crown of victory) – not a diadema (Greek: a crown of authority).

What is the Holy Spirit attempting to overcome? Would you believe the two greatest enemies of truth are arrogance and ignorance? According to Revelation 4:7, the first living creature had a face of a lion. As you will see, this face describes “the relentless conquest” of the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to the world. (See Numbers 23:24 for the characteristics of a lion.) The success of the Holy Spirit will be revealed at the Second Coming when a large number of saints “go marching in.!”

Seven Campaigns

I like to think of the breaking of the seven seals as seven campaigns, with each campaign having a set of unique disclosures, processes, objectives and results. To win public office, politicians conduct political campaigns. A political campaign is a process that the candidate undertakes to win recognition and favor for himself. Politicians travel around the nation to be seen and heard. They make promises and ask voters to put their faith in them. In a similar way, the seven seals are seven unique campaigns that Jesus conducts to resolve the sin problem and exonerate God’s government. Jesus undertakes seven campaigns that dovetail into one grand climax. During these seven campaigns, Jesus is seeking recognition. He wants to be seen and heard. He wants to win the affection of the people of Earth because He alone can save us from the penalty and consequences of sin! Long ago, Jesus traveled to Earth to make a number of promises to the human race and He asks us to trust that He will fulfill His promises. Of course, there are several differences between putting faith in a politician and putting faith in Jesus. When we put our faith in a politician, we believe that he will do good things for us. When we put our faith in Jesus, we believe that He will not only do good things for us, but He will also do good things through us. 

After Jesus was found worthy to receive the Book of Life in 1798, He immediately broke the first seal. Because this world is in darkness about God, He initiated a campaign to overcome the arrogance and ignorance of this world. The first campaign is an offer of salvation and everyone who submits to the terms and conditions of His offer will be gathered up at the Second Coming. Jesus’ victory at the Second Coming will be bittersweet. Many people for whom Jesus died will not receive Him. Even though Jesus is not willing that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9), human beings have the power of choice.


Because of man’s arrogance and ignorance, Jesus is the most hated God on Earth today. The world hates Jesus because Jesus offends our carnal nature more than any other God. He has made claims that are just too hard for non-Christians to swallow. Many so-called Christians would also reject the teachings of Jesus (if they knew them) because His demands are hard to accept. Even though Jesus is widely hated, He loves us and offers to save us from the penalty of sin. He understands our darkness, diversity, arrogance, ignorance, prejudice and paradigms, and in spite of these things, He loved each one of us enough to die for us. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10) The point is that Jesus will conduct seven campaigns to win as many souls as possible. These campaigns will carefully separate the sheep from the goats in every religious body, and in the end, Jesus will exonerate the government and reveal the love of God. Just as Jesus removed our guilt through His death, He will remove Lucifer’s reproach on the Father’s character by proving that Lucifer is a liar! 



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