Mainly we can say that the events in the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven vials come as a result of the earth being under the rule of the destroyer. The basis for the understanding and interpretation of seals, trumpets and vials is the conflict between Jesus Christ and Satan, a conflict that started in heaven and was moved to earth when Satan and his evil angels were cast out of heaven, a conflict that will continue here on earth until Christ returns. This conflict has two sides and runs parallel in the entire history of the church and appears in the following way. When God does something for his people, Satan is immediately on the spot with his countermeasures, something we will clearly see here under the seven seals.
Where the letters tell about the church’s religious history, the seals tell about the church’s political history. Many people want the seals to follow the same time frames as the letters, but I think that is wrong, and such an interpretation is not coherent in terms of what the texts imply. Another thing which speaks against such a thought is that the letters are sent to seven churches, or said this way, there is a uniform structure behind the letters. In other words, there is no difference between the churches in that sense, and they follow each other in a linear story. On the other hand the seals tell a different type of story, and if we look at the structure behind the seals, we find that they differ from each other. There is not an equal nature or uniform structure behind the seals as it is behind the letters, and we can divide the seals into three groups. It will be visible when we look at what the seals tells us.
The difference between the letters and the seals is so great that they cannot be compared. If we go to Revelation 1,11, we see that Jesus tells John to write the seven letters as a kind of memorandum: … I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. When the messages are dictated, it seems that there is an angel who on behalf of Jesus gives John what he is to write, as in Revelation 2,1 where it says … These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand …
All the letters begin with these things saith and then follows a description of Christ. The seals, on the other hand, come to John as a vision, and there is an angel explaining to him what this is all about, and we have this pattern for the first four seals: Come and see.
When it comes to the seals, there are many different interpretations. Some of them are completely taken out of context, others are close to a healthy biblical interpretation, while others compromise with themselves. We have an example of such an interpretation where it is said that the rider on the white horse represents the spread of the gospel. This is a pictorial interpretation of the text, while the next three seals are interpreted literally so that there is a physical war, a physical famine, physicals plagues and death these riders brings with them. This interpretation has received much attention probably because those behind it are well known within the Advent movement. But when they apply two different interpretive principles to the same prophecy, it is not a coherent interpretation.
An interesting observation we can make is that John uses two verses to describe the first seal, two verses to describe the second seal, two verses to describe the third seal, two verses to describe the fourth seal. Then he uses three verses to describe the fifth seal, and he uses six verses to describe the sixth seal. This is hardly a coincidence, because I think there is a reason behind this, and it will confirm my claim that the seals can be divided into three groups of respectively four seals, one seal and two seals. Six verses have also been used to describe the seventh seal, which turns out to contain the seven trumpets. It is not the case that I divide the seals according to the number of verses. No, it is the content of the seals that is crucial to this division.
I think the reason for this is to give God’s faithful people a clue that when they are approaching the end time they will be able to recognize the signs that will be given under the sixth seal, so that God’s people can make their preparations as William Miller and the Millerites did in the first part of the 19th century. Today we can look back on those prophecies as fulfilled prophecies which place us well within the time frame we can call the end time in the broadest sense.
We must always remember that every time God does something for his people, the enemy is there right away to destroy it. No matter what God does, the devil comes up with his countermeasures. An example is the Reformation. When God raised Luther to reform the (Catholic) church and bring it back to the original (see Revelation 3,3), the devil immediately began to destroy Luther. The church would in no way repent, instead there was a breach, and the Protestant church grew forth. But that was not all. Satan was afraid that the Reformation would totally expose him and began his conspiracy within the Protestant Church. And already while Luther was alive came the first divisions of the Reformed Church. Today, the Protestant Church has been fragmented, and we have about 50,000 denominations that have their origins in the Reformation that began with Luther in 1517.
The question is a resounding; why?
The answer is simply that the more confusion Satan manages to create, the better it is for his purpose, which is to destroy God’s faithful people, or rather annihilate them from the face of the earth, because God’s remnant in the end times will, with their lives, show the way to God and expose Satan as the great deceiver, and the fallen church as the devil´s henchmen.
The first seal, Revelation 6,1-2; A white horse.
White: The white colour represents purity, see Psalm 51,9 and Isaiah 1,18.
Bow: Symbolizes victory in the battle against evil.
Crown: Royal dignity, and when it is Christ or the saved who wears the crown, it also means victory.
Went forth conquering, and to conquer: It is implicit in the expression what it is about. The implication is that the gospel will go its triumphant march over the whole world despite massive opposition.
The verb that is translated as conquering is inflected in present participle active, which means that the rider on the white horse, who is conquering, performs an ongoing action, which is not completed. This form of inflection, the present participle active, is found in many places in the Bible, and it always refers to an action that is constantly ongoing.
The rider on the white horse therefore represents the spread of the gospel. The spread, or preaching, of the gospel did not stop in the second century, it has been going on ever since the days of the apostles, albeit with varying intensity, and is still going on, and will continue until Christ comes again. This is what the inflectional form of the verb, present participle active, tells us. It can also be interpreted this way that it is Jesus Christ who continues to move in triumph through his church during the torments that are to come, and who goes victorious through tribulations to finally win a final victory over the evil one.
Most people lay down guidelines for the white horse to cover the same period as the letter to Ephesus. But the first seal shows us the spread of the gospel, and it did not stop in the year 155 AD. It is still going on and will continue until Jesus returns. It is necessary to put the cosmic conflict as a backdrop to understand the prophecies, and this conflict is between good and evil, between Jesus Christ and Satan. And we see it throughout the Bible that every time God does something for his people, be it Abraham’s carnal descendants or his spiritual descendants, the Christians, Satan is on the spot to destroy what God is doing for His faithful people. The first seal covers the period from year 31, optionally 34, until the second coming of Christ.
The second seal, Revelation 6,3-4; A fiery red horse
Red: The fiery red colour represents blood, sin, depravity, destruction, persecution, and war, see Isaiah 1,18 and Nahum 2,4.
To make men slay each other: This is the consequence and the result of the gospel being preached that men shall slay each other. This became more visible after Stephen was stoned in the year 34.
When God brings the good news to the world, the devil will face this in different ways. The first countermeasure is found here under the second seal. The colour of the horse is fiery red, and red is associated with blood, sin, depravity, destruction, persecution, and war, as mentioned above.
When the fiery red horse rides out, peace is taken away from the church of God. The second seal therefore contains persecution and death for God’s people.
Already the early church was persecuted, and all the apostles, except John, were killed. The persecution varied in intensity, and culminated in the great persecution in the years 303 – 313, before Emperor Constantine made Christianity one of the state religions of the Roman Empire. The devil tries as hard as he can to exterminate God’s faithful people by persecuting and killing them, but the martyrs’ blood becomes seed, and Christianity gains more and more followers, and it gradually spreads to ever new areas because they must flee from the persecutors.
The first step the devil takes is to persecute and kill the Christians, in order to exterminate God’s people completely. The intensity of the persecution varied during this period, and the church in Smyrna was told that they would suffer a particularly hard persecution for 10 years (10 prophetic days) in which many thousands Christians would be killed. These ten years ends the second seal.
As mentioned, the fiery red horse symbolizes strife and war. It is easy to dismiss strife’s and wars as an end-time sign, because wars have always been fought on earth. It has probably only been less than 300 years that no war of any kind has been fought on earth. Nevertheless, there are more wars and rumours of war nowadays. It is said that there were more than 80 armed conflicts in the world in 2020. The wars have also become more brutal and destructive in the last hundred years, and it is probably enough to refer to August 1945 and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which both were annihilated by two atomic bombs, respectively Little boy and Fat man, and it is estimated that 260,000 people were killed by these two bombs. But the most striking thing about this horse is that it is fiery red, which has a clear connection with Revelation 12,3 and Revelation 17,3. The second seal covers the period 31 to 313.
The third seal, Revelation 6,5-6; A black horse
Most people interpret this text as meaning that there is a physical famine, and that there is a shortage of food. But the question is which backdrop we realy have for these prophecies.
Black: The black colour represents moral darkness, sin, and decay, see Acts 26,18 and John 12,35.
A pair of scales: A pair of scales was a common weight used in buying and selling, and the Greek word zugos (pronounced dzoo-gos’) (G2218) is literally translated a pair of scales. However, there are several possible translations of the word, including yoke – which is a form of a pair of scales – and in pictorial use it is translated as bondage (under a law or obligation). In relation to the cosmic conflict, slavery or yoke is probably a much better translation than a pair of scales.
Wheat and barley: These were the basic products for a family, and a measure (= one litre) of wheat or three measures of barley was a daily ration for a small family. Of wheat and barley they could bake the daily bread.
Oil and wine: This was not counted among the basic products. The oil is seen as a picture of the Holy Spirit, which emerges from the interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. It was used to anoint kings and priests. In John 15,1 Jesus says that he is the true vine, and that we cannot bear good fruit without being in Christ.
A day´s wages: One penny was the a full day’s wages.
We see that what is affected under the third seal are the basic products, and this is usually interpreted to mean that it is a famine that is affecting the world due to lack of food. However, what is striking is that only the basic products are affected, and other products such as oil and wine, which are not basic products, should not be affected by the famine.
When he didn’t help exterminate the Christians, the devil changed tactics, and now he plays out his second card against the spread of God’s pure truth. Instead of persecuting and killing, he now infiltrates the church, using Emperor Constantine as a medium to make Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Mainly the persecution now stops, but only temporarily, so instead of these persecutions, the decay in the church now begins seriously by introducing pagan doctrines and human traditions to destroy the true worship of God, which the black colour symbolizes. These unbiblical traditions that enter the church lie like a thick black veil or blanket over the truth, making it difficult for seekers to find the truth of God. This is also due to the fact that the Bible was not for ordinary people.
Here in Revelation 6,5-6 it is undoubtedly a form of hunger we are talking about, but it is a spiritual hunger. God’s word in the form of preaching and the Bible are the basic products of the Christian life. This means that it gradually became difficult to find God’s word pure and unadulterated, so that one was forced to accept, or do things, contrary to God’s pure doctrine, (see verse 5). Many honest and seeking peoples therefore did not get hold of the basic products as the prophecy says and they spiritually starved to death. Yet there were some who were able to find the way to Christ because the oil and the wine could not be damaged. The third seal covers the period 313 to 538.
The fourth seal, Revelation 6,1-2; A pale horse.
As far as to the third seal, Satan has tried two ways to exterminate God’s people or destroy the true worship of God, but he has not succeeded. Now follows the third way.
Pale: The pale colour symbolizes fear and death, and we will see that this fits perfectly into the scenario we have.
Power to kill by sword, famine, and plague: Once again, this must be put into the right context. Those who are killed with the sword are God’s faithful people who will not submit to human commandments but will rather die in the knowledge of a resurrection sometime in the future. Even if they lose their lives here and now, they will win eternal life when Jesus returns. Those who are killed by famine are those who do not find the word of God because of the seductions and darkness we saw under the third seal.
With death, and with the beasts of the earth: To kill with death means losing eternal life because one has submitted to thêri´on, which in addition to its literally meaning a wild beast also means a brute in a figuratively sense.
The pale horse symbolizes fear and death. Although the fourth seal affects many, it is only a fourth part of the earth. The scope is therefore limited. However, I think we need to see the red, the black, and the pale horse as a whole.
Since the false doctrines also fail to destroy God’s faithful remnant, the devil changes tactics once again. Now the devil mixes the red and the black horse together, and uses the church power, which is now well established to… a) to take up again the persecution and kill those who do not submit to the orders of the church power, and this corresponds to blood, sin, depravity, destruction, persecution and war as we saw under the second seal, and … b) to continue the established paganism, and to develop new false doctrines, corresponding to the moral darkness, sin, and decay that we saw under the third seal.
Now it is suddenly the church that has become the persecuting power, and it persecutes those whom I call God’s people, and it is no wonder at all that John wondered when he saw the woman in Revelation 17,6: And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
The fourth seal covers the period 538 until the second coming of Christ.
There are many who equate the four horses we find here in Revelation with the four horses Zechariah 6,2-3 mentions. To that it is to say that there are more differences than similarities between them. In Revelation, they come in the following order; white, red, black, and pale, and all with riders, and all mentioned in singular. In Zechariah they come in this order: red, black, white and grisled and bay – not with riders, but with chariots and all mentioned in plural.
The fifth seal, Revelation 6,9-11; The martyrs.
Let us first look at the usual interpretation of the seals where the dating of each seal follows the dating of the letters in Chapters 2 and 3. If we set this up, and add what the seals contain, we get the following:
1st letter and seal, 34 to 155: The seal tells about the spread of Christianity.
2nd letter and seal, 155 to 313: The seal tells of persecution and death.
3rd letter and seal, 313 to 538: The seal tells of paganism and human doctrines mixed into the church.
4th letter and seal, 538 to 1517: The seal tells of new persecution and paganism continued and human doctrines mixed into the church.
5th letter and seal, 1517 to 1755: The seal tells about the martyrs.
6th letter and seal, 1755 to 1844: The seal tells about signs in nature.
7th letter and seal, 1844 to…?: The seal tells of silence in heaven.
Now we have to stop, because there are at least five questions we need to look into:
a) Did the spreading of the gospel stop in the year 155?
b) Were Christians killed for their faith first when we come to the year 155?
c) Did all persecution and death stop, and did paganism and human doctrines cease in 1517?
d) Was it only between 1517 and 1755 that the Christians became martyrs?
e) Were all the signs in the nature fulfilled before we came to 1844?
I think these questions problematize the claim that the seals follow the letters, and the answers to all these five questions are and will simply be no. Because:
a) … the gospel is still spreading, and this will continue until Jesus comes again.
b) … the Christians have been killed since Jesus died on the cross in the year 31, or at least since Stephen was stoned in the year 34.
c) … new pagan doctrines and human traditions are constantly being implemented in the church, it has not stopped – on the contrary, there is an escalation of the problem.
d) … there have been Christian martyrs ever since Stephen was stoned, and according to Revelation 6,11, the number of martyrs is not fulfilled yet.
e) … we are still waiting for the last act of the signs in the nature that Revelation 6,14 tells us about. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
I believe the fifth seal shows us the consequences of Satan’s countermeasures unfolding under the second, third and fourth seals. What we see here is the results of the devil’s regime. Millions have been killed, and will be killed, for the Word of God. When the fifth seal was opened, there were still many who would suffer the same fate. The souls we are talking about here represent all the people who have lost their lives because of their faith from the year 34 when Stephen was stoned, and to the second coming of Christ.
We must remember that because John sees this in the spirit, that is, in many ways as the details of a parable, we cannot attribute this altar or the souls to being located in a particular place or to a particular time in history. However, it seems that the symbolism shows that the fifth seal was given for encouragement and comfort to those who have faced martyrdom throughout history until now. But it has also been given to comfort, encouragement, and a blessing for those who in the future will face the martyrdom.
Under the altar: During the daily sacrifices in the temple, some of the blood of the sacrificial animal was put on the horns of the sacrificial altar and the rest was poured out at the foot of the altar, hence under the altar.
The souls of them that ware slain: There is no evidence that this is a part of man who lives after death in one form or another, but in symbolic form John sees all those who have been killed for their faith throughout history.
White robes: The white robe is a symbol of Jesus’ righteousness, and that they have been found righteous before God.
Should be fulfilled does not mean that there is a predetermined number of people who must suffer martyrdom. What lies in this is that the devil must be given the time he needs to reveal himself and his evil intentions, so that we can see God in all his righteousness and glory.
Ellen White writes in the book Early Writings that in her first vision she saw the martyrs as a special group, and they have a red border on their clothes. This red border is a sign of their suffering and that they have made an experience that only those who are killed for Jesus’ name can obtain.
The fifth seal covers the period from 31 to the second coming of Christ.