The first seal (Rev. 6:1-2)

Previously – Blessing, honor, glory and dominion (Rev. 5:13-14)

The scripture

Rev. 6:1 – Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer (HCSB).

The opening of the first seal prompts the widest divergence of interpreters’ viewpoints of Revelation thus far. The preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist now follow their own paths that will not meet again until the final chapters of this apocalyptic text:

  • Preterists see the seal, bowl and trumpet judgments as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age, either at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or at both the fall of Jerusalem and later at the fall of Rome in the fifth century.
  • Historicists view these events as unfolding throughout the course of history, generally equating the papal system of Reformation times with the Apostle John’s vision of the Antichrist.
  • Futurists argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22. More specifically, many see the opening of the first seal as the beginning of a seven-year tribulation period, to be followed by the return of Christ.
  • Idealists see these chapters setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – a battle that continues throughout the church age.
  • Meanwhile, a fifth group of interpreters, the eclectics, gleans the strengths of the other four views while avoiding their pitfalls.

While this study avoids championing any of these views to the exclusion of the others, or getting bogged down in interpretive squabbles, it does attempt to draw out of the text clear truths that speak to first-century readers as well as to us today. With that in mind, let’s proceed cautiously as we join John in witnessing the opening of the first seal.

The ESV Study Bible sets the stage: “As the vision of the Son of Man introduced edicts to seven churches (chs. 2–3), so the vision of the Lamb’s receiving the scroll (4:1–5:14) introduces a series of seven visions as the scroll’s seals are broken. These visions introduce instruments employed by the Lamb to bring his enemies to justice (seals 1–4), the rationale for his righteous wrath (seals 5 and 7), and the climax of judgment at history’s end (seal 6).”

As Jesus opens the first seal, it’s important to understand what is meant by the word “seal.” In this context, a seal likely is a piece of wax or clay that has been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. It identifies the one who has authorized what’s been written, and the seal may be broken only by the designated authority. Just as the Father is the Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe, the Lamb is worthy to take possession of the earth and exercise both judgment and reward because of His slaughter on our behalf (see Rev. 5:6, 9, 12). Likely, each seal, as it is broken, allows a portion of the scroll to be opened, until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed. Seals of a larger kind are placed on entrances to prevent the unauthorized from entering. There is, for example, a seal on the lion’s den into which Daniel is thrown (Dan. 6:17), and a seal over the sepulcher into which Jesus is laid following His crucifixion (Matt. 27:66). Neither of these seals is successful in fulfilling their purpose. But the breaking of the seals in Revelation 6 is in perfect accordance with the divine will and good pleasure of Almighty God.

Next – A white horse and his rider (Rev. 6:1-2)

3 comments

  1. Marco

    According to the Bible, Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God, who lived approximately 6,000 years ago. According to the science, humans existed a long time before. The two lines of thought can be easily united, thanks to the omnipotence of God, who in the beginning created humans in a reality where there was no concept of “evil”. Metaphorically speaking, Adam and Eve were expelled from this heavenly reality, find himself in another reality, namely in today’s reality that we all know, where there is the concept of evil, as well as that of the well; not necessarily a reality where they were the first humans, but the first who experienced firsthand the life God had reserved for them (so they were the first humans in the “perfect” reality). From here it is clear that the story of Adam and Eve does not upset in the least bit the evolutionary linearity, and the seven days of creation relate to a creation took place in the reality of Adam and Eve, where everything was possible, even just create the stars, animals and everything else, without the scientific method and the time needed to have their share. In practice, they were the first men of God; whereas prehistoric man lived before Adam and Eve was a man, but it could be considered as an animal evolved from apes or created by something else, which had two arms and two legs, and that may have hybridazed with the descendants of Adam And Eve after they were “moved away” from the “perfect reality”. God has endowed man about the concept of “infinity” and “eternity”, as well as other questions can not be explained through the use of the scientific method, thus making humans free to believe in God or not, in a reality for us tricky and necessary for the construction and continuation of his project.

  2. rphilli

    Andrew, thanks for writing. I have approved your comment for posting on the Web site. And I certainly appreciate your frustration with my approach to this study, since virtually all studies of this type embrace a particular point of view.

    The purpose of this study is different, however. It is to explore four major views of Revelation, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. In addition, I am hoping to draw out some clear doctrinal truths that all views embrace — the deity of Christ, the gospel of salvation by grace, Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death on the cross, His bodily resurrection from the dead, future resurrection and judgment, etc.

    As for the prophetic details, I am less certain. I’m not sure that any single view has all the right answers. Just so you know, I was always taught the futurist view to the exclusion of all others, so this is a journey for me. If I have learned anything so far, it is how much I don’t know. Yet, the Lord promises a blessing to those who read, hear and keep what is written in Revelation. I am hoping to be blessed in that regard, and in the process I hope the study is a blessing to others.

    Thanks so much for visiting the Web site and reading the posts. You are always welcome to post comments, and I welcome your views. Blessings.

  3. Andrew

    My comment might be critical, although I know the efforts it takes to do the work you do, so just want to raise a point. I can’t understand why you dont take a stand? Surely if preterism or historicism is true, the futuristic approach is false and visa versa. They cant both be true. It either was fulfilled and can be proven to be, or it has not? I understand that you may want to avoid conflict between Christians, but while Revelation might indeed be multifaceted and have layers, they can’t both be the same thing. It is like saying, there is one God and many paths to Him. Or like saying there are many Gospels but they all boil down to the same thing. Whilst I enjoy your site from an observation mode, not taking a stand spoils it to a certain degree. In my opninion, I would rather state my personal belief and then back it and not sit on a fence.

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