THE BOOK WITH SEVEN SEALS
WHAT did John the revelator see in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne?
"And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within, and on the backside sealed with seven seals." Revelation 5:1.
What did the Lamb do with this book?
"And He came and took the bookQut of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne.", Verse 1.
Why was Christ declared worthy to open these seals?
"Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." Verse 9.
OPENING THE SEALS
What was shown upon the opening of the first seal?
"And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals . . . a white horse: and He that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." Reve- lation 6:1, 2.
NOTE.—The seven seals embrace the whole of a class of events in which is narrated the history of the church from the beginning of the Christian Era to the second coming of Christ. The white horse, with his rider going forth to conquer, fitly represents the early Christian church in its purity, gointintb all the world with the gospel message of salvation, a fit emblem of the church triumphant in the first century.
What appeared upon the opening of the second seal?
"And when He had opened the second seal, . . . there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." Verses 3, 4.
NOTE.—As whiteness in the first horse denoted the purity of the gospel which its rider propagated, so the color of the second horse would show that corruption had begun to creep in when this symbol applies. It is true that such a state of things did succeed the apostolic church. Speaking of the secondcentury, James Wharey says: "Christianity began already to wear the garb of heathenism. The seeds of most of those errors that afterwards so entirely overran the church, marred its beauty, and tarnished its glory, were already beginning to take root."—Sketches of Church History (1840 ed.), p. 39.
"The mighty Catholic Church was little more than the Roman Empire baptised. Rome was transformed as well as converted. . . . Christianity could not grow up through Roman civilisation and paganism, however, without in turn being coloured and influenced by the rites, festivities, and ceremonies of old polytheism. Christianity not only conquered Rome, but Rome conquered Christianity. It is not a matter of great surprise, therefore, to find that from the first to the fourth century the Church had undergone many changes."— A. C. FLICK, The Rise of the Mediaeval Church (Putnam's, 1909 ed.), pp. 148, 149.
What was the color of the symbol under the third seal?
"When He had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand." Verse 5.
NOTE.—The "black" horse fitly represents the spiritual darkness and degen- eracy that characterized the church from the time of Constantine till the establishment of papal supremacy in A.D. 538. Of the condition of things in the fourth century, Philip Schaff says: "But the elevation of Christianity as the religion of the state presents also an opposite aspect to our contemplation. It involved great risk of degeneracy to the church. . . . The christianizing of the state amounted therefore in great measure to a paganizing and seculariz- ing of the church. . . . The mass of the Roman empire was baptized only with water, not with the Spirit and fire of the gospel, and it smuggled heathen manners and practices into the sanctuary under a new name."—History of the Christian Church, vol. 3 (Scribner's, 1902 ed.), p. 93.
What were the color and character of the fourth symbol?
"And when He had opened the fourth seal, . . . behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell [Greek, Hades, the grave] followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." Verses 7, 8.
NOTE.—The original denotes the pale or yellowish color of blighted plants, an unnatural color for a horse. The symbol evidently refers to the work of persecution and death carried on by the Roman Church against the people of God from the time of the beginning of papal supremacy in A.D. 538 to the time when the Reformation exposed the true character of the Papacy, and a check was placed upon this work of death.
On opening the fifth seal, what was seen under the altar?
"And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." Verse 9.
NoTE.—This is a view of the martyr victims of papal persecution from the sixteenth century to the time when the persecuting power of the Papacy was restrained.
What were these martyrs represented as doing?
"And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth ?" Verse 10.
NOTE.—Their cruel mistreatment cried for vengeance, just as Abel's blood cried to God from the ground. Genesis 4:10. They were not in heaven, but under the altar, where they had been slain. On this Adam Clarke says: "The altar is upon earth, not in heaven." See next note.
What was given these martyrs?
"And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled ["have fulfilled their course," margin R.V.]." Verse 11.
NOTE.—These had been slain during the centuries covered by the preceding seal. Their persecutors, most of them, at least, had died. And if they had at death passed to their punishment, as is by some supposed, why should the martyred ones still importune for their punishment? In this, as in other parts of the Bible, the figure of personification is used, in which inanimate objects are represented as alive and speaking, and things that are not as though they were. (See Judges 9:8-15; Hebrews 2:11; Romans 4:17.) These martyrs had gone down as heretics under the darkness and superstition of the preceding seal, covered with ignominy and shame. Now, in the light of the Reformation, their true character appears, and they are seen to have been righteous, and hence are given "white robes." "The fine linen [white robes] is the righteous- ness of saints." Revelation 19:8. Righteousness is ascribed to them; and when they have rested a little longer where they are—under the altar—till all others who are to die for their faith have followed them, then together they will be raised to immortality.
What was first seen on the opening of the sixth seal?
"And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake." Verse 12, first part.
NoTE.—Following the events of the fifth seal, and preceding the signs next mentioned, comes a great earthquake. "The Lisbon Earthquake, which oc- curred on November 1, 1755, is the most notable earthquake of history." —Nelson's New Loose-leaf Encyclopedia (Book Production Industries Inc.), art. "Earthquake." Says Sir Charles Lyell, ,"A violent shock threw down the greater part of the city. In the course of about six minutes, 60,000 persons perished. The sea first retired and laid the bar dry; it then rolled in, rising 50 feet or more above its ordinary level.... The area over which this convulsion extended is very remarkable."—Principles of Geology (11th ed., 1872), vol. 2, pp. 147, 148.
Encyclopaedia Britannica (1945) estimates the deaths at a lower figure, but says that the effects of the quake were felt from Scotland to Asia Minor and that the distinctive feature of the Lisbon earthquake was the agitation of inland lakes and streams far beyond the disturbed area—in Italy, Switzer- land, Great Britain, Sweden, and Norway. (Articles "Lisbon" and "Earth- quakes.")
What was to follow the great earthquake?
"And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood." Same verse, latter part.
NOTE.—May 19, 1780, is known in history as the "Dark Day." The obscura- tion extended, in varying degrees, over New England and into New York. Newspapers said that a smoky haze from continued forest fires, which had been noticeable for several days, was said to have combined with heavy clouds to pro- duce an unaccountable darkness from about 11 A.M. until past midnight, after which time the moon and stars reappeared. "There was the appearance of mid- night at noonday," and in the evening, although the moon was just past full, "perhaps it was never darker since the children of Israel left the house of bond- age." In connection with this extraordinary phenomenon the moon was reported to appear red. The cause was disputed, for the forest fires seemed insufficient to explain such an extensive darkness, and the exact cause has never been settled. (Letter signed "Viator" in Independent Chronicle [Boston], May 25, 1780, p. 2; see also the Pennsylvania Evening Post [Philadelphia], June 6, 1780, p. 62.) (For further explanation see page 310.)
What other event is mentioned under this seal?
"And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Verse 13.
NOTE.—When the Scripture mentions stars falling, it evidently means what even an astronomer refers to as "falling stars," or meteors. Within a little over a half century following the most notable darkening of the sun and moon, a number of star showers occurred, but "probably the most remarkable of all the meteoric showers that have ever occurred was that of the Leonids, on November 12 [12-13], 1833" (Charles A. Young, Manual of Astronomy [1902 ed.], sec. 521), when "a tempest of falling stars broke over the earth. North America bore the brunt of its pelting (Agnes M. Clerke, A Popular History of Astronomy in the Nineteenth Century, 1885 ed., p. 369).
An eyewitness reported: "This language of the prophet has always been received as metaphorical. Yesterday it was literally fulfilled, . . . as no man before yesterday had conceived to be possible that it should be fulfilled. . . . Were I to hunt through nature for a simile, I could not find one so apt to illustrate the appearance of the heavens as that which St. John uses in the prophecy. . . . They were what the world understands by the name of 'Fall- ing Stars.' . . . The falling stars did not come, as if from several trees shaken, but from one: those which appeared in the east fell toward the East; those which appeared in the north fell toward the North; those which appeared in the west fell toward the West; and those which appeared in the south, (for I went out of my residence in the Park,) fell toward the South; and they fell, not as the ripe fruit falls. Far from it. But they flew, they were cast, like the unripe fruit, which at first refuses to leave the branch; and, when it does break its hold, flies swiftly, strait ofi, descending; and in the multitude falling some cross the track of others, as they are thrown with more or less force."—Eyewitness account in the New York Journal of Commerce, vol. 8, no. 534, Saturday, Nov. 16, 1833. (See page 311.)
What is the next event mentioned in the prophecy?
"And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." Verse 14.
Note.—This event is still future, and will take place in connection with Christ's second coming. We are now standing between the two events—the last of the signs in the heavens, and the parting of the heavens and removal of earthly things out of their places. The great signs here mentioned which mark the approach of Christ's second coming and the dissolution of all earthly things, are all in the past, and the world awaits the sound of the last trump as the closing scene in earth's drama.
How will this great event affect the world?
"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond- man, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand ?" Verses 15-17. After the sealing work in Revelation 7, which takes place under the sixth seal, how is the seventh seal introduced? "And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." Revelation 8:1.
NoTE.—The sixth seal introduced the events connected with the second coming of Christ. The seventh seal most naturally, therefore, would refer to that event, or to some accompanying result of it. When Christ comes, all the holy angels will accompany Him (Matthew 25:31); and it follows that silence will necessarily, therefore; reign in heaven during their absence. A half hour of prophetic time would be about seven days. The seven seals, therefore, bring us down to the second coming of Christ.