What are the 7 seals in Revelation?
The seven seals
The seven seals represent events to take place on this earth during each seal’s specific time period—beginning at the time of Christ and continuing until Christ’s second coming. Below is a listing of the seven seals.
Seven seals list:
- White horse
- Red horse
- Black horse
- Pale horse
- Souls crying out from under the altar
- Earthquake, sun & moon, stars fall
- Silence in heaven
Jesus, seals and prophecy
The whole book of Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John” (Revelation 1:1).
A great many of Revelation's prophecies have already been fulfilled, and history bears record of them. Some are now in the process of being fulfilled, and others are still in the future. Most of these important prophecies of the Bible are in figurative language so that they might be understood equally well in any age of the world.
The seven seals are found in Revelation chapters five, six and eight. As each of the seven seals is broken a picture or representation of events to take place on the earth during that seal period is described.
Who can open the seals?
As this prophecy opens, we see Christ as the Lamb of God take the great book of God’s providence and begin to open its seven seals, one by one. The right to break these seven seals of future events belongs to Jesus Christ because He died for humanity of all ages, from creation to the end of time. When He took the book, the holy ones about God’s throne…
“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation’” (Revelation 5:9).
The lamb is worthy
There, supreme, at the center of power of the whole universe, is the Lamb of God who died for us. In Him we see infinite power in self-sacrifice. Lucifer in heaven sought power in self-exaltation, but Jesus humbled Himself and was awarded exaltation above every name—something He had never sought. He came to save the lost and to glorify His Father. As by faith we see the shining ones above bow before Him in loving adoration, declaring Him worthy to open the seven-sealed book.
1. The first seal: a white horse
As the Savior breaks the first seal of the great book, a wondrous scene flashes before the gaze of the holy apostle John, He says, “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 6:2).
These seals cover seven eras or periods of time from the time of the apostles to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, to a large extent, they depict: religious affairs in the world.
In the first seal we see Christ with the wreath of a conqueror. He rides the white horse, white being the emblem of victory and also of purity. This prophetic picture shows the apostolic church led on by its divine Captain to victory over a pagan world, its doctrines pure, and its victorious Leader, Christ Himself. As the apostle Paul exclaimed when he saw the pure gospel transforming men:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans. 1:16).
Read more about the first seal
But after the apostles died, a change came. Faith grew cold, and the predicted days of “falling away” came (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The next seal flashes a sad picture on the screen of prophecy.
2. The second seal: a red horse
“When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword” (Revelation 6:3, 4).
From a white horse, denoting victory and purity and truth, the color is changed to red—the red horse of bloodshed. These days, from the death of the apostles to exaltation of the worldly church by the great emperor Constantine, depicted the times of pagan persecution.
Nero, Diocletian, and other emperors of Rome put the followers of Christ to death and also attempted to destroy all copies of the Bible. Many Christians found refuge in the catacombs or underground rock quarries in Rome.
But, when one Christian was thrown to the hungry lions or burned at the stake to make a Roman holiday, another took their place, and faith spread more and more. The martyrs of Jesus “loved not their lives unto death” (Revelation 12:11).
Read more about the second seal
3. The third seal: a black horse
The third seal was broken and the apostle says, “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand” (Revelation 6:5, 6).
What a strange picture this is! The color black surely implies a departure from the purity of the faith of Jesus, represented by the white horse of the conquering apostolic church. Black also signifies sadness and want.
The pair of balances is a symbol of scarcity of bread representing spiritual food or the scarcity of the holy Word of God—being doled out by weight. The apostle Paul had foretold the apostasy in Acts 20:29, 30: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
And so it happened. For the next two hundred years there was a great departure from pure gospel truth and widespread absorption of pagan philosophy and forms. There grew up also a union of the church with the state.
Read more about the third seal
4. The fourth seal: a pale horse
This is the vision of dark times: “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7, 8).
Notice it is a pale horse—the very color of death. Notice the fourfold judgment: “Power was given unto them...to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”
This seal represents “the Dark Ages,” when the principles of religious and civil liberty were obscured, and leaders in both the political and spiritual realm were far from our present-day blessings of democracy and religious freedom.
This seal was marked by much cooperation of the political and spiritual powers and of religious wars and troubles. The history of those times is full of the sad record of intolerance, especially religious intolerance, and it was not limited to any one religion, or to anyone nation or race.
Catholics suffered, Protestants suffered, Jews suffered—and those of other religious views, and even those of no religious profession, suffered. It is said that many, many thousands were put to death for their faith in those sorrowful years. How thankful we can be for the religious freedom we enjoy today!
Read more about the fourth seal
5. The fifth seal: souls crying from under the altar
Next, the fifth seal is opened and we see…“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (Revelation 6:9-11).
Remember the story of Cain and Abel; and that the Lord said to Cain, who had just killed his brother, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10).
This is a picture of the martyred victims who were killed during the previous seal and up until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the power of persecution for religious faith was restrained. During this time those who witnessed for the faith with their blood are shown as crying out to God.
Read more about the fifth seal
6. The sixth seal: earthquake, sun & moon and stars
“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains” (Revelation 6:12-15).
The days of the fifth seal, the Protestant Reformation, had just closed, when according to the prophecy, the sixth seal was to open with "a great earthquake.”
Sure enough a great earthquake did follow. History shows God spoke the truth, for “the most notable earthquake of history,” as Nelson’s encyclopedia calls it, took place on November 1, 1755. It is called the Lisbon Earthquake because that great city was practically destroyed by the quake in six minutes.
The dark day
25 years later came the next event of the sixth seal, the great Dark Day of May 19, 1780, when that mysterious darkening of the sun took place which scientists are still arguing about. Its real cause is not yet known. But God foresaw it, and it was a part of the prophetic forecast of the book of Revelation nearly 1700 years before it made its black mark on the face of nature. The following night the moon appeared as blood.
Prophecy now marches on 53 years, to the night of November 13, 1833, when stars fell over America in the most gigantic display of celestial fireworks ever seen by the eye of man. Eye-witnesses of the falling stars describe with vivid words that never-to-be-forgotten night when the whole sky seemed to be on fire with blazing stars—and continued so for hours.
Deeply impressed with these signs in the heavens, someone wrote the following few lines:
“Let your eyes to heaven be turning,
Darkened sun and falling stars,
See the crimson heavens burning,
Earth prepared for final wars;
Hear the scoffer ask with jeering,
‘Where’s the sign that He is nigh?’
Turn your eyes with joy and fearing
To the omens in the sky.”
— L. D. Santee
The vision of the sixth seal sweeps on to the events that occur in connection with the second coming of Christ. But multitudes are pictured as unprepared for His appearing. They have no faith in God's Word; therefore they are not looking for the certain events of the sixth seal.
They have not yielded themselves to God's love, nor received the free gift of eternal life offered to them through the blood of Christ as a gift to all men. They have either rejected or neglected so great a salvation. And as the sixth seal closes they are being forced out of the era or time and are not prepared for eternity.
God grant that none of us be in such a situation and that our hearts may be prepared for Christ’s appearing, with every sin confessed and forgiven. Men who never prayed to God will cry to the rocks and mountains of inanimate nature, and say…
“to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”
Read more about the sixth seal
7. The seventh seal: silence in heaven
“When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Revelation 8:1).
That's all—silence! But silence where? Silence in heaven? Yes, silence in heaven.
This is the end of the seven time periods in the history of redemption, the completion of God's plan for humanity in the Christian dispensation. It's the end of the story, when God puts a period to history. It is that “divine event, to which the whole creation moves.” (Tennyson) It is the return of Jesus in power and great glory.
Heaven is emptied of all its angels. The songs of many angels around the throne are stilled, because the singers are not there. They are with Jesus on the happiest mission of all their blessed ministry for the heirs of salvation.
When our Lord returns in His glory He will have “all the holy angels with Him” (Matthew 25:31). Not one will be left behind. Heaven will be emptied of its angel throng; as they accompany Him to earth to gather together His elect.
Heaven is silent, but earth is not. When the righteous return with Christ and all the holy angels to the Father’s home above, heaven will be no longer silent. At the coronation of the King the whole universe will rejoice in glorious song!
And you and I may have a part in that song—the song of the redeemed as they praise the Lamb for the victory of the cross.
Read more about the seventh seal
So, at last, when time shall have run its sevenfold course, and the last of the seven seals are broken, all the saved will unite in the anthem, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (Revelation 5:12) and who has redeemed us to God by His blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation.
May we all be there!