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THE FIRST SEAL

 

Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1–2).

 

Before we look into the first seal, it is necessary that we understand what a seal is. The scroll held by the Glorified Christ was sealed with seven seals even though John saw that it was “written inside and on the back”. What is unusual about this description is that a scroll was usually written on one side and wound up so that the writing could not be seen unless the scroll was opened. On the other hand, if the scroll were actually a book of leaves bound together, the writing would logically be on both sides of the pages.

Placing seals on the scroll seems somewhat problematic. If the scroll was indeed a paged book, then it may be that the book was in seven sections with each section sealed with a wax seal. For a scroll to be sealed, it would seem that the seals would have to be at the opening edge of the scroll. How would one seal successive portions of the scroll as all seven seals would have to be broken to open the scroll? Albert Barnes suggests a solution to the problem.

 

It is not stated in what manner the seals were attached to the volume, but it is clear that they were so attached that each seal closed one part of the volume, and that when one was broken and the portion which that was designed to fasten was unrolled, a second would be come to, which it would be necessary to break in order to read the next portion. The outer seal would indeed bind the whole; but when that was broken it would not give access to the whole volume unless each successive seal were broken. . . . All that is necessary to be supposed is, that the seven seals were put successively upon the margin of the volume as it was rolled up, so that each opening would extend only as far as the next seal.

 

The word scroll in Greek is bib-lee-on meaning a small book and could be understood to be a book with pages or a scroll. Reliable versions of the Bible translate the word as either book or scroll. For the purpose of the Revelation, the scroll or the book is in the hand of the Glorified Christ and only He can open it and show us the contents.

In breaking the wax and opening the seal, Christ gives us a succession of views of the contents of the scroll. The scroll does not contain the entire Book of Revelation. What is revealed with the opening of the seven seals is contained in chapters 6 through 11 comprising the visions of the seven seals and the seven trumpets. The remainder of the Book of Revelation is a number of visions John saw after the opening of the scroll. What is important at this juncture is to understand what the seven seals represent.

 

The Church Historic Interpretation

 

John was told in Revelation 1:19 to “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” It makes sense that the contents under the seals are things that have been seen, things which are, and things which will take place after this. This indicator gives credibility to the church-historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

In my opinion, any form of millennialism does not qualify as those forms all concern supposed future events signaling the end of time and the dawn of a millennial reign of Christ on earth. The church-historic interpretation conforms to what the Glorified Christ told John as it deals with the church in all three time-frames: that which John has seen; that which is, and that which is to come.

As we noted in an earlier lecture, both the Adventists and the Church of God Reformation movements followed church-historic interpretations of the Revelation. In these interpretations, the history of the Christian church is divided into seven church ages as suggested by the letters to the seven churches of Asia, the seven seals, and so forth. In our lectures, we discounted the seven letters to the churches of Asia as representing seven church ages because we saw that the conditions depicted in those letters can be applicable to any church at any time in history. Those conditions do not depict the over-all condition of the church-at-large in each of those ages and would not be consistent with actual church history. In fact, it is not correct to identify all of those entities as “the church”, the body of Christ, but more properly as backslidden or apostate remnants that apostatized out of the Church. It may be a moot point, but a more accurate description of the interpretation is the kingdom-historic interpretation rather than church-historic. With this interpretation we can follow the kingdom of God under the leadership of the Glorified Christ through history. In so doing, we will see the true church and the forms of apostasy that fall away from it along with their consequences.

The Church of God Reformation Movement in its church-historic interpretation contends that there has always been a true church of God throughout the gospel dispensation. This is allowable and necessary under a kingdom-historic interpretation because of the visions we have seen in chapters 4 and 5. The redeemed of all ages along with the traits of grace appear in their succeeding generations throughout history—not just at one time in history. When we looked at the letters to the churches of Asia, we saw that even in the most apostate of conditions, some of the redeemed were still present and had grace to live for Christ in spite of those conditions.

 

About the Seals

 

There are some consistencies between the opening of the seals and the letters to the churches. They are not one-and-the-same; that is, the first seal is not the Church of Ephesus. While each of the letters may correspond in some way to each of the seals, the situations and the purposes of the messages are different although overlapping to some degree.

Under the first four seals, the church is represented by horses. The colors of the horses represent the spiritual state of a dominant body that professes to be the church. Some features of the first four letters are seen in the corresponding horses. As we saw from the letters to the churches, conditions progressively deteriorate as we progress through the letters. Such deterioration has been recorded in church history.

Under the fifth seal, the true church is depicted as souls under the altar.

Under the sixth seal, the true church is depicted as the 144,000—not to be understood as a literal number.

Under the seventh seal, the true church is represented first by half an hour of silence and then as seven angels to whom were given seven trumpets. The seventh seal continues with those angels breaking the silence with blasts from their trumpets.

 

The First Seal

 

Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.”

 

By saying one of the seals the obvious meaning is the first seal as the rest of the seals are called second, third, etc.

There is an immediate correlation between this first seal and the first of the living creatures mentioned in chapter 4. The first creature mentioned was the lion and we learned that the attribute represented under this symbol is grace to reign over sin. As we look into this seal, we will also take note that there is some degree of correlation between this seal and the letter to the church at Ephesus.

This first creature, the grace to reign over sin, speaks up with a voice like thunder. The living creatures relative to the next three seals also speak, but they do not speak like thunder, which suggests to us that some type of quality has been lost after the first seal. We have seen, or heard, thunders several times so far in the Revelation. This is the voice of God speaking with His divine authority. This grace to reign over sin announces something that has never before been possible in the human realm which is the real deliverance from the power and bondage of sin.

As John looks to what the living creature shows him, he sees a white horse. White is the symbol of purity and holiness. It is fitting that the grace to reign over sin shows us the purity and holiness brought into human lives through the atonement in Christ. The horse symbolizes the church built by Christ.

Adam Clarke suggests that the white horse is “Supposed to represent the Gospel system, and pointing out its excellence, swiftness, and purity.”

F. G. Smith in The Revelation Explained writes: “This symbol is a faithful representation of the early triumphs of Christianity in its aggressive conflict with the huge systems of error with which it had to contend.”[1]

Matthew Henry says of this horse and its rider, “The Lord Jesus appears riding on a white horse. White horses are generally refused in war, because they make the rider a mark for the enemy; but our Lord Redeemer was sure of the victory and a glorious triumph, and he rides on the white horse of a pure but despised gospel, with great swiftness through the world.”

Lillie McCuthcheon writes in her book The Symbols Speak, “Since the author’s subject is religion and the chronological placement of the first-seal vision is at Christ’s first advent, we immediately direct our thinking to our Lord who introduced to the world the mighty, aggressive religion of pure Christianity. The symbol drawn from militant life is not a new metaphor. Paul also speaks of soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:2–3). Christ established a militant church with power to conquer all her foes. New Testament Christians marched boldly to war against sin under the banner of the cross.”[2]

This same white horse and rider symbolism appears later in Revelation chapter 19 after the marriage supper of the Lamb in which it is clearly seen that the horse is the church.

The rider on the white horse of the first seal is not described other than he has a bow and he is given a crown. This rider is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the head of His church and uses His church in the battle against sin and error as any cavalry soldier uses his horse in battle. While the church participates in the battle, it is only the vehicle used by its head to go out conquering and to conquer. As important as the horse, the church, is to the battle, it is not what is used to conquer; instead, it is the weapon the rider holds in his hand: a bow.

We normally think of a bow used in combat as something that shoots arrows. Psalm 45:4–5 gives us some insight to this bow.

 

And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; And Your right hand shall teach You awesome things. Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; The peoples fall under You.

 

The bow in His right hand shoots arrows, but those arrows are not literal arrows, they are the teaching of awesome things that penetrate the heart of the King’s enemies.

Recall that around the throne of the kingdom was a rainbow (Revelation 4:3). Matthew Henry comments on this rainbow:

 

The rainbow was the seal and token of the covenant of the providence that God made with Noah and his posterity with him, and is a fit emblem of that covenant of promise that God has made with Christ as the head of the church, and all his people in him, which covenant is as the waters of Noah unto God, an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.

 

Here under the first seal, this bow is nothing less than the gospel.

 

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. (Hebrews 13:20–21)

 

We also see in this seal that Christ is given a crown. We know He is the king in the Kingdom of God. Matthew Henry speaks of the relationship of those who receive the gospel with Christ: “A crown was given him, importing that all who receive the gospel must receive Christ as a king, and must be his loyal and obedient subjects.”

This relationship also is seen in the Glorified Christ’s revelation of Himself to the church at Ephesus. He holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Jesus as the head of His church holds that church in His right hand. It is His weapon; not a weapon of destruction, but a weapon of deliverance for all who will turn to Him repenting of sin and placing their faith in Him. You will recall that the church at Ephesus had a passion for the truth. In their case, they tested those that professed to be apostles but were not. Christ commended this church for its perseverance and patience in pursuing the battle for truth.

Under the symbol of the white horse in the first seal, we see a picture of the early church beginning on the Day of Pentecost in the beauty of holiness and under the leadership of its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. We see its earliest history in the book of Acts, first overcoming the resistance of a Jewish nation that rejected its Messiah, and then, particularly in the mission trips of the Apostle Paul, spreading the gospel across Asia Minor and into southeastern Europe. What we do not read in the book of Acts we find in history as the church spread the gospel across North Africa, the Middle East, India, and all the way to the British Isles.

The beauty of holiness, reigning over sin, and under the leadership of Christ, the infant church from the Day of Pentecost through the fourth century accomplished what seemed impossible. In this seal, we see the church fulfilling the words of Christ in the Mount Olivet Discourse, Mark 13:10 “And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.”

 

Dates for the Seals

 

Many advocates of the church-historic interpretation of the Revelation assign church ages to the seals as well as to the letters to the Churches of Asia. The purpose of the seals is not to pinpoint certain times in history. Some assign dates to the first seal, such as 33 a.d. to 270 a.d., which may or may not be accurate depending on personal points of view. The seals, rather than assigning dates to the history of the church, serve more to reveal different reactions to the message of the gospel and the progress of the church as it moves through history.  We do find some parallels between the letters to the churches and the seals, but equating them is all too arbitrary.

We do adhere to the church historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation, but we are not fascinated with dates or attempts to show that the Revelation identifies any particular group or movement as its object. Jesus built His church, the biblical church of God, and charged it with the work of the kingdom of God. The Book of Revelation is that story.



[1] Smith, F. G.,  The Revelation Explained,  Faith Publishing House: Guthrie, OK,  1973,  pg. 91.

 

[2] McCutcheon, Lillie,  The Symbols Speak,  Lillie McCutcheon: Newton Falls, OH,  1964,  pg. 32.