Beyond Today

Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow | Learn more...

You are here

The Seals of the Prophetic Scroll

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

Revelation’s main prophetic message is unveiled primarily through seven sets of symbols sketched on a scroll fastened with seven successive seals. Jesus Christ breaks the seals and opens the scroll before John’s eyes (Revelation 6:1 Revelation 6:1And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
American King James Version×
). John sees and describes the symbols of the vision, each having a specific prophetic significance.

As we have already seen, Christ alone has the right to unveil the meaning of the seals. But He does not fully explain each seal in this context. In fact, He had already—before His death and resurrection—revealed the keys we need to understand the seals.

This information is recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. The writers of each of these three Gospel accounts record Jesus’ answer to the questions His disciples asked Him concerning when He would come again and what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age. “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3 Matthew 24:3And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?
American King James Version×
).

Jesus revealed to them the trends and conditions that would dominate the world until His return. The seals of Revelation 6 symbolically portray the same conditions in the same sequence Christ had earlier described.

Most of Revelation—about two thirds of its content—is devoted to the seventh seal. The contents of the first six seals are found in chapter 6 alone.

Chapter 7 interrupts the explanation of the seals to explain that 144,000 of the tribes of Israel, after being spiritually converted, will be protected from the seven plagues heralded by trumpet blasts. It also explains that during the Great Tribulation a great multitude from every nation on earth will repent and turn to God.

The events corresponding to the seventh seal dominate the remainder of the book.

Why God’s judgment is needed

The first five seals correspond to adversities that are to afflict vast portions of humanity, including some of God’s servants, between the first and second appearances of Christ. These hardships, having already begun in the lifetime of John, extend to the time of the end.

Concerning these particular afflictions, Jesus had earlier warned that “all these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8 Matthew 24:8All these are the beginning of sorrows.
American King James Version×
)—or “of birth pains” (NIV), signifying calamaties that would, like labor contractions, escalate in frequency and intensity before the end. He also said: “… Do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately” (Luke 21:9 Luke 21:9But when you shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by.
American King James Version×
).

We should remember that the primary time frame for Revelation’s main prophecies is the Day of the Lord. It is the day of God’s judgment and wrath on the nations. The occurrences of that time are the specific subject of the seventh seal.

The first five seals describe conditions that predate the Day of the Lord. These are the afflictions that make God’s intervention and judgment necessary and just. They describe the particular end-time application of Satan’s enduring deception of humanity, his persecution of the saints and the unending pattern of war—with its horrible consequences—that are the fruits of his deception.

Under the sixth seal we see portrayed a stunning display of signs and wonders in the heavens. This will transpire just before the Day of the Lord, announcing that God’s wrath and judgment are at hand.

Now notice Jesus personally identifying the adversities associated with the seals: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars … Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:4-9 Matthew 24:4-9 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
American King James Version×
, KJV).

Let’s compare what Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24 to what the apostle John saw in vision as each seal was opened.

The first seal: false religion

The opening of the first four seals reveals the ride of the notorious “four horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

John reports on the first: “I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then … I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (Revelation 6:1-2 Revelation 6:1-2 1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

What is the meaning of this mysterious rider? What is the object of his conquest?

In Revelation 19:11 Revelation 19:11And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war.
American King James Version×
, in a later time frame, Jesus Christ is pictured as returning victoriously on a white horse. Does this seal picture the returning, conquering Christ? Certainly this symbolic horseman bears much outward similarity to Christ at His return. But notice significant differences in the details. Christ is wearing many crowns (verse 12), not just the one crown this rider wears, and Jesus is pictured with a sword as His weapon (verse 15) rather than a bow. The horseman of the first seal appears similar to the returning Christ, but different. Does he symbolize the real Christ or an impostor?

Now let’s compare this symbolic horseman to the first warning Jesus gave His disciples in the Olivet prophecy. He warned them: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5 Matthew 24:4-5 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
American King James Version×
, KJV).

Jesus warned His disciples that the first adversity they would face would come from deceivers. A few verses later He explained methods impostors would use as they usurped His name. He reveals that they would stamp His name on a religion that is really a counterfeit Christianity:

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and  false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:23-26 Matthew 24:23-26 23 Then if any man shall say to you, See, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. 25 Behold, I have told you before. 26 Why if they shall say to you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
American King James Version×
).

To be consistent with Jesus’ prophecies, this first rider can represent only a deceptive power masquerading as Christ. Outwardly it will appear Christian, but in reality it will be, like the three riders that follow, a force for evil and destruction.

This deception began in the days of the apostles. But it will reach its greatest fulfillment in the last days. For example, Paul says a “lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8 2 Thessalonians 2:8And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
American King James Version×
). His influence over humanity will be “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception …” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all delusion of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
American King James Version×
).

At the time of the end the deception of humanity will be so great that most of the world will be under the sway of a corrupt, counterfeit and idolatrous religious system, one that has rejected the true teachings of the Bible.

The second seal: the horror of war

“When the Lamb opened the second seal … another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword” (Revelation 6:3-4 Revelation 6:3-4 3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4 And 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 to him a great sword.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

This horse, the color of blood, matches Christ’s second warning. “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6-7 Matthew 24:6-7 6 And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
American King James Version×
).

Whe n Jesus founded the Church, the Roman Empire was enjoying a brief period of peace. But this lasted only a few decades, then Rome was again at war. This pattern was to continue until the time of the end when it would reach its climax in “the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14 Revelation 16:14For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 19:11-21 Revelation 19:11-21 11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13 And he was clothed with a clothing dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the middle of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together to the supper of the great God; 18 That you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. 19 And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. 20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat on the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
American King James Version×
).

But even before that final battle, the book of Revelation indicates that global warfare will already be underway. It describes massive armies engaged in military actions that will take hundreds of millions of lives.

The third seal: war’s consequences

“When the Lamb opened the third seal … I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’” (Revelation 6:5-6 Revelation 6:5-6 5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and see a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the middle of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see you hurt not the oil and the wine.
American King James Version×
, NIV). This seal portrays an extreme scarcity of food and other basic necessities of life. It corresponds to Christ’s third warning: “And there will be famines …” (Matthew 24:7 Matthew 24:7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
American King James Version×
).

Scarcity of food and resulting famines are the natural aftermath of war. At the time of the end, military conflicts among nations will destroy property and disrupt agricultural production, leading to widespread and severe scarcity of food and other necessities.

The fourth seal: the mounting toll

“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal … I looked, and there before me was a pale [sickly looking] horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades [the grave] was following close behind him. They [all four horsemen] were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:7-8 Revelation 6:7-8 7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given to 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.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The fourth seal describes widespread disease epidemics and death in the wake of the war and famine of the previous seals. This corresponds with the fourth condition listed by Jesus—”pestilence,” or deadly epidemics of sickness and disease (Matthew 24:7 Matthew 24:7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
American King James Version×
). His mention of natural disasters such as earthquakes also fits within the context of plagues that bring widespread death.

Moreover, all these elements—war, famine, pestilence and other calamities—reinforce each other. Wars and other disasters lead to famines and pestilences, which lead to further fighting over resources. The wild beasts of the earth become a concern in times of societal breakdown—and the reference here could also be to disease carriers such as rats or even microscopic pathogens.

At the time of the end we can expect such dire conditions to impact various nations and regions of the world—and the faithful people of God living among them. Conditions in some areas may be similar to the last days of ancient Israel when God told Jeremiah He would “consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence” (Jeremiah 14:12 Jeremiah 14:12When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.
American King James Version×
). God does not want His servants to be surprised by outbreaks of such tragedies, but to look to Him for help and deliverance.

The fifth seal: a religious persecution

After the four horsemen, Jesus opens yet more seals. John writes:

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow-servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed” (Revelation 6:9-11 Revelation 6:9-11 9 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: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given to every one of them; and it was said to them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brothers, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Symbolically pictured at the altar in God’s temple, those who have already given their lives as martyrs in His service are still waiting, on the eve of the Day of the Lord, for God’s judgment on those who hate Him, His ways and His servants. But they will have to wait a little longer because another massive martyrdom of God’s faithful must first occur.

Christ had already explained to His disciples what must take place: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:9-12 Matthew 24:9-12 9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
American King James Version×
).

The early Church had scarcely been established before persecution set in. Several of the letters of the apostles refer to the suffering and martyrdom of faithful members at the hands of the enemies of the Church. Most of the apostles met a violent and early death. The epistles of 2 Timothy and 2 Peter record the final encouraging thoughts of Paul and Peter as they awaited execution. Brutal persecution and harassment continued in the following decades and on into later centuries. And it will happen again.

Jesus explained that the worst persecution and martyrdom would come at the time of the end: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [alive]; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×
).

As we will see more clearly later, people who refuse to worship “the image of the beast” in the last days will face the possibility of execution (Revelation 13:15 Revelation 13:15And he had power to give life to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
American King James Version×
). The primary targets of this carnage will be those “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17 Revelation 12:17And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
).

Additional prophecies explain that this time of great tribulation and persecution will also afflict the modern physical descendants of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel.

The sixth seal: signs in the skies

Then we come to a major transition.

“I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig-tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (Revelation 6:12-14 Revelation 6:12-14 12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, see, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Did Christ earlier explain when, in the sequence of prophesied events, these awesome and fearful heavenly signs would occur? He certainly did: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29 Matthew 24:29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
American King James Version×
).

Now notice, in the concluding description of the sixth seal, what is to follow the heavenly signs: “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, and said 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?’” (Revelation 6:15-17 Revelation 6:15-17 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every slave, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
American King James Version×
; compare Zephaniah 1:14-17 Zephaniah 1:14-17 14 The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hastens greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. 15 That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. 17 And I will bring distress on men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung.
American King James Version×
).

Note the order of these three separate events: First comes the tribulation, as described in the fifth seal. Next the heavenly signs, described in the sixth seal, occur. After the heavenly signs is the Day of the Lord, the day of God’s wrath.

The heavenly signs occur after the time of tribulation has begun but before the Day of the Lord begins. The prophet Joel confirms this: “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31 Joel 2:30-31 30 And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come.
American King James Version×
).

Why is this so significant?

Satan lashes out

The end-time persecution and martyrdom of the saints (also directed at the physical descendants of ancient Israel) begins before the heavenly signs and is both the product and the expression of Satan’s wrath. Later John describes hearing a voice from heaven announcing: “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12 Revelation 12:12Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time.
American King James Version×
).

Knowing his time is short, what does Satan do? “Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child” (Revelation 12:13 Revelation 12:13And when the dragon saw that he was cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
American King James Version×
).

The woman represents the people of God. At the time of the end Satan will trigger many destructive events. Because his time is short, he will mobilize a deceived humanity into a frenzy of hatred and destruction against anything and anyone that represents the true God.

This point is extremely important. Satan’s vindictive rampage of terror will be launched against the natural descendants of the tribes of Israel as well as the converted servants of Christ before the heavenly signs announce the Day of the Lord.

This means that Satan’s wrath —the time when great tribulation will fall on God’s people—will have been underway for some time before the beginning of God’s wrath. Even after the time of God’s wrath—the Day of the Lord—Satan’s destructive war on God’s people apparently will not cease until he is bound at Jesus’ return (Revelation 20:1-2 Revelation 20:1-2 1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
American King James Version×
).

Notice that the woman of chapter 12 will be “nourished for a time and times and half a time [a year, years and half a year], from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 20:14 Revelation 20:14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
American King James Version×
). Even though God will nourish, strengthen and protect some of His people during that terrible time, many others, as we have already seen, will be killed.

Revelation 11:2 Revelation 11:2But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
American King James Version×
tells us that Jerusalem is to be trampled underfoot by gentiles for 42 months (Revelation 11:2 Revelation 11:2But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
American King James Version×
). God also promises to raise up two prophets to be His witnesses for 1,260 days (Revelation 11:3 Revelation 11:3And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth.
American King James Version×
).

That each of these periods equals 3 ½ years is significant. These references indicate that a total of 3 ½ years elapses from the beginning of Satan’s attack on the people of God until his political and religious system is destroyed and he is locked away at Christ’s return.

The day of God’s wrath will be brief

The length of God’s judgment is nowhere specified in Revelation, unless it is implied in the expression “the great day of His wrath” (Revelation 6:17 Revelation 6:17For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
American King James Version×
). In some other prophetic passages God specifies that a “day” represents a year of punishment (Numbers 14:34 Numbers 14:34After the number of the days in which you searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years, and you shall know my breach of promise.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 4:4-6 Ezekiel 4:4-6 4 Lie you also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it: according to the number of the days that you shall lie on it you shall bear their iniquity. 5 For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shall you bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have accomplished them, lie again on your right side, and you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed you each day for a year.
American King James Version×
). If that same principle applies here in Revelation, the Day of the Lord (“the day of His wrath”) would be the final year before Christ returns. Indeed, Isaiah 34:8 Isaiah 34:8For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.
American King James Version×
refers to the day of the Lord’s anger as a year-long period.

This corresponds to the last year of the 3 ½ years of Satan’s wrath. In other words, God’s punishments on the Day of the Lord would overlap Satan’s vengeance on God’s people for a period of one year—the final year of the last 3 ½ years.

This time frame seems to be what John, under the inspiration of Christ, was indicating for the major end-time events described in Revelation. And it is entirely compatible with Christ’s words. As He said: “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22 Matthew 24:22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×
, NIV). He indicates that all the events specifically related to the end time will occur within a brief period.

The description of the sixth seal in Revelation 6 ends with the words: “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Matthew 24:17 Matthew 24:17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
American King James Version×
). This announces the Day of the Lord, the subject of the seventh seal. Yet the opening of the seventh seal is not discussed until the beginning of chapter 8. John interrupts the story flow of the seven seals to show that 144,000 are sealed and a great innumerable multitude are converted from all nations in this time of worldwide turmoil.

The sealing of the 144,000

First, an angel announces, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees [all are mentioned as being devastated by the first four trumpet plagues in chapter 8] till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3 Revelation 7:3Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
American King James Version×
).

Why are the 144,000 sealed? One key is given later when another angel commands locust-like implements of war “not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (Revelation 9:4 Revelation 9:4And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
American King James Version×
).

The sealing of those who are chosen by God is now completed. And now the massive devastation of the coming trumpet plagues that God will inflict on mankind during the Day of the Lord will not harm them. They may continue to experience some of the effects of Satan’s vengeance, even during the Day of the Lord, but their sealing guarantees that punishments representing God’s wrath will in no way affect them.

Who are these 144,000? How are they identified?

“And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed” (Revelation 7:4 Revelation 7:4And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.
American King James Version×
). This sealing has to do with receiving God’s Holy Spirit so one may become spiritually converted. As Ephesians 1:13-14 Ephesians 1:13-14 13 In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.
American King James Version×
says: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, [which] is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (NIV, compare Ephesians 4:30 Ephesians 4:30And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed to the day of redemption.
American King James Version×
; 2 Timothy 2:19 2 Timothy 2:19Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
American King James Version×
).

The 144,000 of Revelation 7 are mentioned again in Revelation 14, where it becomes clear that these spiritual “firstfruits” will have repented and been converted before the beginning of the Day of the Lord. They are described as being redeemed and without fault. They are represented as having a relationship both with God the Father and Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God.

“Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.

“These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Revelation 14:1-5 Revelation 14:1-5 1 And I looked, and, see, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: 3 And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
American King James Version×
).

The great innumerable multitude

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10 Revelation 7:9-10 9 After this I beheld, and, see, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.
American King James Version×
). This multitude is made up of people from the many nationalities and ethnic groups on earth—from their tribes, clans and languages. What makes them special is that they all have “come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13-14 Revelation 7:13-14 13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and from where came they? 14 And I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
American King James Version×
). They are converted servants of God, having suffered from and—as seems to be implied—been converted during the first 2 ½ years of the Great Tribulation, before the beginning of the Day of the Lord.

There is no firm agreement among biblical interpreters as to what the text of Revelation 7 implies about the immediate future of this multitude. These people are, however, promised eternal life—salvation—with the rest of the saints at the return of Christ.

Some interpret the receiving of “white robes” by the great innumerable multitude as an indication they may have been martyred by the beginning of the Day of the Lord. If so, they will be resurrected at Christ’s coming—just as those martyrs given white robes in Revelation 6:11 Revelation 6:11And white robes were given to every one of them; and it was said to them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brothers, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
American King James Version×
must “wait” until their deaths are avenged (during the Day of the Lord) to be resurrected to eternal life at Christ’s return.

Another view is that the innumerable multitude will survive the Great Tribulation and will continue to live and be sheltered by God during the Day of the Lord.

The New Revised Standard Version seems to advocate this meaning by the way it translates Revelation 7:15 Revelation 7:15Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sits on the throne shall dwell among them.
American King James Version×
: “For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.”

Other translations, however, are less specific in their rendering of this verse. The reason for this is that the original Greek wording states only that God will “dwell” (or “tabernacle”) among them. The conclusion that they remain alive and are sheltered from further harm during the Day of the Lord is then deduced from this promise.

The promises in the next two verses, though their specific application is somewhat ambiguous, are generally regarded as reinforcements of this deduction: “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17 Revelation 7:16-17 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the middle of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
American King James Version×
).

Unmistakably clear in Revelation 7 is that a great harvest of true and faithful Christians will occur during the first years of the great tribulation period. That immense spiritual harvest will be reaped not only from the literal tribes of Israel but from the others nations and peoples throughout the earth. The powerful preaching of God’s two witnesses (chapter 11) will no doubt contribute greatly to the conversion of this vast number during that frightening and deadly time.

You might also be interested in...

Discover what you can do to survive the four frightful outbursts of violence...

The last book of the Bible is full of intriguing symbols and mysterious...