The seven seals, as many Bible commentators agree, depicts seven periods in the Christian Church from the first century until the end of time. Let’s see what the Word of God, the Bible, reveals.
“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 saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” (Rev. 6:1, 2)
NOTE: The vision presented in chs. 4 and 5 continues, but a new phase of action now begins. The seals of the book (ch. 5:1–5) are being opened.
The pure white horse is a fitting symbol of the first century church, 31-100 AD. It went forth with power, preaching the gospel. These men “turned the world upside down” for Jesus. (see Acts 17:6). The early church carried the gospel truth into the entire world: “Have they not heard? Ye verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world,” (Rom. 10:18) cf. Col. 1:23.
On a different note, Ellen G. White says, “Thus the Jewish leaders made their choice. Their decision [to crucify Christ] was registered in the book which John saw in the hand of Him that sat upon the throne, the book which no man could open. In all its vindictiveness this decision will appear before them in the day when this book is unsealed by the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (COL 294). This statement shows that, among other things, the book records the actions of the Jews at the trial of Christ, and that in the great final judgment (see on ch. 20:11–15) these enemies of Christ will be confronted with the record of their evil deeds. It seems reasonable to conclude that the book contains a record also of other significant events in the great controversy through the ages.
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“And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast 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.” (Rev. 6:3, 4)
NOTE: The symbolism of the red horse describes the condition of the church in the second and third centuries, 100-313 AD (cf. on ch. 2:10). Internally, rather than being pure as the first horse, it was red which can be regarded as a corruption of faith. It was during this time that various heresies were introduced. Externally, the church suffered violent persecutions at the hands of the Roman Caesars and countless numbers of Christians were killed. This is well depicted by the “great sword” and the power “to take peace from the earth.”
“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.” (Rev. 6:5)
NOTE: Following the line that the color of the horse represents both the spirituality in the church and its success: if white represented purity and victory (v.1) and red tainted faith and beaten (v.4) then we can safely say that a black horse implies further spiritual corruption and defeat. This was the state during this period, 313-538 A.D., the 4th century when church and state were united which is a defeat for the church. (Anytime the church and state unite it is the church that has compromised.)6
The pair of balances further showed the connection between church and state. The Greek word zugos, meaning “a yoke,” is the word for balance. How fitting. It correctly illustrated that the church was yoked to the secular government. We see the same thing happening today. The church is yoked to the laws and practices of the land, which has led to a further dearth of spirituality. Subsequently, no longer does the warfare by the church lead to victory (v.2), and its members are not willing to “contend for the faith,” resisting unto blood (v.4) and now the dreaded result was a famine.
“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.” (Rev. 6:6)
NOTE: After the church was legalized in the fourth century spiritual poverty and famine came in, which is symbolized by the fact that it took a measure, a day’s work (Matt. 20:2), to buy barely sufficient food for a family. This makes sense because the false hearted believers could now join the secular church without having to be faithful. It was during this period that the fallen church, the “great harlot” was formed. (See Rev. 17).
“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast 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.” (Rev. 6:7, 8)
NOTE: This fourth pale horse represents the church in the latter part of the Dark Ages, about 538 to 1517. During this period an estimated 50 million believers were put to death by the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. What made this possible was the decree made in 533 A.D. by emperor Justinian, which was fully carried out in 538 A.D. Justinian defeated the Ostrogoths the last opposition to the Catholic’s and installed the Bishop of the Rome as Pope.
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held,” (Rev. 6:9)
“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?”
“And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” (Rev. 6:11)
NOTE: First, they are told to “rest yet for a little season.” Even in their death, God has assured them peace and not just physical peace, but spiritual peace. Those who die in the Lord are assured life evermore. Jesus said, “for the time is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life.” (See John 5:28, 29). Revelation 14:13 tells us that they are blessed and that they will rest from their labors. Notice also that those who die go to the grave.
These souls under the altar are symbolic of the many that were slain upon the earth for their faith. They are not literal souls jammed under the altar in heaven as some might think. Let us remember that a soul is a living being. You and I, as long as we have life in us, are “souls.” Notice what the Bible says. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,” (Gen. 2:7). Breath plus body equals a living soul. Further, the Bible says, that souls die: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” and ” every living soul died in the sea.” (Eze. 18:4, Rev. 16:3).
“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; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” (Rev. 6:12, 13)
NOTE: The events depicted under the fifth and sixth seals are actual events that have already happened. In fact, these events not only correspond to what Jesus stated would happen (Matthew 24:29, 30), but they happened precisely in the order he gave. They also happened in the time period covered by the fifth and sixth seal.