Seven Seals - Overview

Upon his arrival before the Throne, the Lamb began to open the seven seals of the sealed scroll

The forces unleashed by the “seven seals” are linked often to the horrific calamities many expect before the return of Jesus, and especially so with the first four seal openings popularly described as the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Supposedly, with His patience exhausted, God plagues rebellious humanity in a last-ditch effort to bring men to repentance.

Before we can hope to understand the seal openings, certain questions must be addressed. When are (or were) the seals opened? Who opens them and why? Are the images “literal,” and do they portray past, present, or future realities?
  • (Revelation 6:1-2) - “When the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, I heard one of the four living creatures saying, as with a voice of thunder: Go! And I saw a white horse, and he that was sitting thereon holding a bow, and there was given to him a crown, and he went forth conquering, and that he might conquer.”


It is the “slain Lamb” who is declared “worthy” to open the scroll, and in the vision, he proceeds to do so immediately upon his arrival at the throne. And he is “worthy” because he gave his life to redeem men from every nation for the kingdom of God.

Thus, beginning with the first seal opening, it is the “Lamb” who acts by breaking open each seal. In the narrative, there is no hint of any delay or passage of time between the enthronement of the “Lamb” and the commencement of the seal openings.

The first four seals form a distinct group characterized by horses and riders. These seal openings release “riders” on colored horses that execute their assigned tasks on command, but only after the Lamb opens each seal.


Collectively, the four “riders” afflict the “fourth of the earth, with sword, and with famine, and with death, and with the wild beasts of the earth.”

As Jesus “opens” each of the first four seals, a voice summons each “rider” to “be going.” Each time, the Greek verb rendered “opened” is in the aorist tense, representing a past action, but the tense of the verb rendered “go” is a progressive present, that is, an action in progress. The language suggests historical processes put into motion by the past act of breaking open the seals by the “Lamb.”

The unleashing of the fourth “rider” is followed by a summary statement applicable to all four - “Authority was given to them over the fourth of the earth to kill with sword and with famine and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

Thus, they are authorized to act by the “Lamb,” but their actions impact only the fourth part of the earth - within the limits set by Jesus. Thus, he remains in firm control over the whole process.


The “fifth seal” reveals martyred souls underneath the “altar,” where they are to remain until the full number of their fellow martyrs has been gathered. No time-lapse is indicated by the text between the first four and the fifth seals. Their sequence is literary, not chronological.

The “sixth seal” causes a great earthquake and celestial upheaval as the “Day of the Lord” dawns, the time of the “wrath of the Lamb and He Who sits on the Throne.

Thus, the “sixth seal” signifies the arrival of the final judgment and the reconfiguration of the created order, presumably, in preparation for the New Creation - (Joel 2:28-32, Revelation 6:12-17).

Before the “seventh seal” is opened, the series of seven seals is interrupted for the “sealing of the servants of God,” which occurs before the “four winds of the earth” are released on the earth. The “sealing” enables His servants to endure whatever the “four winds” represent, and thus, “to stand” before the “Lamb and the Throne.”


In context, the “four winds of the earth” correspond to the first “four seals” and the afflictions unleashed by their respective “riders.” The placement of the sealing of the servants between the sixth and seventh seals should caution us against assuming that the “seven seals” are presented in neat chronological order - (Revelation 7:1-17).

The “interruption” between the sixth and seventh seals is a literary pattern used several times in Revelation. Likewise, the series of “seven trumpets” is “interrupted” between the sixth and seventh trumpets by several visions. Like the first “four seals,” the first four trumpets are distinguished from the final three, which were labeled the “three woes.” And like the “seven seals,” the “seven trumpets” culminate in the “Day of the Lord” and a judgment scene at the end of the age - (Revelation 11:15-19).

The opening of the “seventh seal” produces “silence” in heaven while the prayers of the saints ascend as “incense” upon the altar before the “throne.” The “seventh seal” also serves to transition the narrative to the next literary section, the series of “seven trumpets” - (Revelation 8:1-6).

The series of “seven seals” concludes with “claps of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake,” the same phenomenon seen and heard previously before the “throne,” but now with the “earthquake” added - (Revelation 4:1-68:1-5).

Thus, whatever the opening of the “seven seals” represents, the sevenfold series covers the entire period between the enthronement of the “Lamb” and the “Day of the Lord.” It is the freshly slain Lamb who ascends to the throne and immediately begins to break open the seven seals.


Two Little Horns?

Language of the New Testament