by Mike Ratliff
As we study the Book of Revelation and other prophetic books in both the Old and New Testaments, we must take care not to take symbolic language we study and try to make it literal nor should we take literal language we study and try to make it symbolic. Revelation is highly symbolic. For instance, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is portrayed as a Lamb in much of the book. Is He a lamb? In chapter 5 v5 the Lamb is the only one found worthy to take the scroll from the Father’s hand and open it. When John sees Him, he describes Him as a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. This cannot be taken literally. All of this is symbolic language. Therefore, it is very dangerous to build doctrines from symbolism unless we are very careful to maintain the symbolism for what it represents.
We left Revelation in the last post as the Lamb had opened the sixth seal. We looked at the details from scripture as each seal was opened. Each described the birth pangs that set the stage for the following seal. The first seal showed a rider on a white horse that was seen as a man of peace, but he went out to conquer. He did not use war to conquer, but used intrigue, covenants and agreements. This is the one who will be revealed later as The Beast or the Lawless One or the Antichrist. However, he is shown here as one who became powerful all over the Earth because it had been granted to him. Then we looked at each succeeding seal and what each symbolized. The Second seal brought violence to the Earth in the form of terrorism, assassination, or just plain slaughter. The Third seal brought famine, the Fourth Seal brought death and Hades, and the Fifth seal revealed all of the Christian martyrs who had been killed since the Church began. The emphasis here is upon their prayers to God for vengeance for their blood. This is a clue for us to understand one of the reasons God is preparing to judge the World and the World system. Then the Lamb broke the Sixth seal. Here we see that this scroll is not a one-dimensional book at all.
This scroll is not only able to show symbols of the horses and riders and what they symbolize, but It also is able to show us the many layers or levels that each seal encompasses into the Trumpet and Bowl judgments. In Chapter 6 we see the first dimension that is a display of the birth pangs until the sixth seal is opened. Then we are given a picture that contains a summary of judgments yet to come that we will see as Angels blow their trumpets and pour out their bowls. Undoubtedly, some of what we see in 6:12-17 takes place as the Sixth Seal is broken, but, this being symbolic language, we can also look into this window and see that this is only the beginning of God’s judgment. Therefore, let’s look at the description of the sixth seal since it is the marker in this scroll that indicates the demarcation between birth pangs and the Day of the Lord and it carrying within its symbolism a view into the coming judgments.
12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they *said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:12-17 (NASB)
If we are correct in the timing of what is going on with the breaking of the seals, then much of what we see in these verses seem to be what we see later when things get very, very bad when the bowl judgments are poured out. For instance, the great earthquake causes massive damage by unleashing volcanic eruptions that seem to destroy the planet’s ability to sustain life. Mountains and islands are either destroyed or moved out of their place. The land itself is destroyed, the air is full of debris and ash, and there is a massive meteor shower with the asteroids actually hitting the Earth. Then we have the people who are terrified by all of this asking the rocks of the mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. While much of this probably does take place as the seal is broken, we also have a summary of what is coming. We are given a window. What immediately preceded the Sixth Seal? The Fifth Seal showed all of the Christian martyrs since the Church began. They are crying for God to avenge their blood. Then we have the Sixth Seal that shows us what God is going to do. The Fifth and Sixth Seals shows us that judgment is coming on those who persecuted and killed His people for their testimony and for the Word of God. We are also told that as God continues to judge the World and it’s system there will be more martyrs added to their number. So, the Fifth and Sixth Seals show us one picture while containing multi-dimensional information of what is coming.
If this is true then what about Seals One through Four. Let’s look. The First Seal described the rider on the white horse who had been given a crown of victory rather than a crown of a king. He is one who conquers men’s hearts. Is this seal multi-dimensional? We can’t line up Seal 1 with Trumpet 1 and Bowl 1. It doesn’t work that way. But we do know that the symbolism of this rider is describing some of the characteristics of The Beast who came up out of the sea in chapter 13. He is the one who kills the Two Witnesses and commits the abomination of desolation revealing who he really is. So, in the First Seal we have a look at how he becomes powerful then we see his real character the deeper we go into Revelation. The Second Seal describes people killing other people. This is unprecedented violence. This is a fulfilling of Jesus’ prophecy from Matthew 24:12, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” This prophecy was embedded within a larger prophecy describing the end times. This is part of the birth pangs, but could this also contribute to the persecution of God’s people throughout the Day of the Lord? The Third Seal described famine. While this too is part of the birth pangs, this is also going to be carried forward into the Day of the Lord only getting worse and worse. The Fourth Seal described death and Hades with power over 25% of the earth. This is bad, but as we shall see in the trumpet and bowl judgments, it is going to get a lot worse.
So there we have it for the first six seals. The first five seals are symbolic of the birth pangs that precede the Day of the Lord. However each are also symbols of judgment to come. The Fifth seal is the reason for the Sixth Seal. However, each also looks forward to what is coming. This scroll is indeed more than any graphic arts designer or multi-dimensional database analyst could ever produce. That is because it is a work of God not man. The title of Revelation in Greek means “to reveal” or “to unveil.” However, our enemy is leading many people astray using the expositions of this wonderful book done by those who have done violence to the symbolism in it. We must not do that.
If we try to interpret symbolic language literally we actually create a dangerous environment where prophetic events are presented so that Christians can be lead into deception as they accept these false doctrines about eschatology. One way of doing this is to read the symbolism in Revelation then go looking for literal interpretations of them in the Old Testament. We must never forget that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament. Many who mishandle eschatology do not make the same mistake with other doctrinal issues. They use the New Testament to reveal what was said in the Old Testament, but when it comes to Revelation then they reverse course and use the Book of Daniel or Zechariah or Joel to exposit what John wrote in an symbolic way in Revelation. We must not do that. Therefore, my brethren, let’s carefully work our way through Revelation and other books in the Bible that have prophesies in them that lead into relevant passages in The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. If we prayerfully do this perhaps God will work in our hearts and show us His truth about these things.
Soli Deo Gloria!