Scene 2 of 7: “Vision from heaven, seven seals.” (chapters 4-6) In the second scene, Jesus provides John with a perspective from Heaven. John makes a clear distinction between the previous chapters by beginning with the statement in verse 1, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.” Jesus has enabled John to break free from the boundaries of time and space. Can you imagine that opportunity? John doesn’t have an iPhone and must take in as much as he can. Then Jesus declares to him, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” I would love to fly in a fighter jet, maybe even a rocket. In my wildest imagination, I would get to fly in a rocket with Neil Armstrong. But that is nothing compared to John. He gets instantaneously teleported to Heaven with Jesus. Without a camera.
Not only does John not have any recording devices, but he doesn’t even have the language necessary to adequately explain what he is seeing. He does the best he can with the words and concepts he knows from the physical world. Let us carefully read his account beginning in verse two: “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing.”
John describes Heaven using the colors of known objects on earth. This does not mean that Heaven is made of rocks and rainbows and rumblings of thunder. This is merely the symbolic language that John uses to describe the beauty and holiness of heaven. We are provided a reminder of our interpretive key at the end of verse five where John writes, “…in front of the throne, seven lamps blazing.” John immediately continues by noting that these seven lamps refer to seven spirits of God (spirits here is lower case). The seven spirits of God are mentioned in Isaiah 11:2. Remember: Symbols refer to Reality.
John continues in verse 6, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’who was, and is, and is to come.” What are these odd creatures to whom John is referring? In Ezekiel 1:7-25 these same creatures are described. In Ezekiel 10 we learn that these creatures are Cherubim, a type of angel.
John’s symbolic and vivid description referred to the reality of Heavenly Cherubim. Symbols refer to Reality. Whenever the Cherubim, continuing in verse 9, give thanks to God, the 24 Elders fall down before God. So what do we make of these 24 Elders? Is this symbolic of angels? I do not think so because God’s Word never uses the term Elders as a reference for angels. The Bible only uses the term Elders as a descriptor of men. There are two reasonable thoughts and I will share them both with you. Some conclude that the 24 Elders are a composite of the 12 Tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles. Others, including John MacArthur, find the number 24 to be symbolic of representation. They view the 24 Elders as symbolic representation of the fullness of the body of Christ – the Church. Both interpretations represent the same idea.
In chapter 5 we are introduced to the scroll and the Lamb. We know from verses five and six that the Lamb is Jesus. “The Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb who has triumphed.” But what do we make of the scroll, this book that only Jesus can open? Some refer to this scroll/book as symbolic of ownership of the earth. For today it is sufficient to know that only Jesus is worthy to open the seven seals that have closed this book for a long time.
In chapter 6 we are still in heaven as Jesus begins the process of opening the seven seals. The scene has not changed, but the message is about to change significantly. The message concerns the tribulation, a seven-year period during which God will Judge the earth. Each time Jesus removes a seal from the book, something dramatic occurs. Each of the first four seals results in the release of a symbolic horseman.
As Jesus breaks the first seal, a horseman riding a white horse is released (verse 2). Some have thought that this horseman represents Jesus. While white is often symbolic of Jesus, I do not think this is true for a number of reasons. First, Jesus is already pictured in the vision – as the bearer of the scroll. Secondly, Christ is always portrayed bearing a sword rather than a bow. Third, this rider is “bent on conquest,” Jesus has already won the battle. Others view this rider as the Anti-Christ – which is certainly a possibility. Yet the other three riders are identified by their actions and I think this first rider is also symbolic of action. The white could symbolize a purity or peace (or false purity/peace), while the bow clearly aligns with the concept of conquest. I am confident that the white horsemen with the bow will be identified as a ruler who appears who speaks of peace but actually brings conquest.
In verse four we learn that the second horsemen riding a red horse is set free as Jesus opens the second seal. This symbolism of red, taking peace from the earth, and the large sword clearly identifies war (or war-like actions).
The third horse is black (verse 5), and it is released as Jesus opens the third seal. In addition to dark color we are provided the symbolism of a pair of scales. John specifically notes that these scales are a reference to the prices of food. A days wages are needed for the amount of food needed to sustain a family for one day. This is a picture of famine, perhaps on a scale never experienced on the earth before.
As Jesus removes the forth seal (verse 8), we meet the forth horseman. This rider is not only identified by its pale (pale-green) color but also by name – Death. Not only is Death the name of this rider but we learn that Hades follows closely behind this rider. Clearly evil, this rider (and the proceeding three) are given the power to kill over one quarter of the population of the earth via sword, famine, disease, and wild beasts (verse 8). This could well affect over a billion people – and we are still in the early stages of the tribulation!
The fifth seal is different. Remember we are still in heaven, and when the fifth seal is open those in heaven cry out (verse 10), “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of earth and avenge our blood?” God is not yet ready to complete His work on earth. God wants to wait until the every human on earth has had a chance to respond to the Gospel message. Those in heaven are asked to be patient a bit longer.
When the sixth seal is opened (verse 12), there was a great earthquake, the sun turned black, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth. The very foundations of creation are shaking because God is about to take action! By this time, every government on earth understands what is taking place and they shutter. But there is no place to hide.