Revelation 6:1-8:5

The Seven Seals

Discussion Question

What is the BIGGEST thing you have ever seen? Have you seen the Grand Canyon? Niagara Falls? The night sky? Ayers Rock? What is the biggest thing that you can imagine?

Background (Context)

John is being shown a great vision of what is to come (4:1) and is shown a great heavenly throne room with lights and sounds and angels and elders all looking and surrounding a throne in the centre. In Chapter 4, God is declared worthy to receive honour and power because He is the Creator of all things (4:11). In Chapter 5 there is a scroll with seven seals around it and the question asked: who is worthy to break the seals (5:2). The answer is given: The Lion of Judah is worthy (5:5), but when John looked he saw The Lamb who was slain (5:6-7).

In Revelation 5:9 they sang, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

In Chapters 6-8, the seals are open one by one. These are not a prescription of specific events but a description of the view of all ages from God’s vantage point.

The 7 Seals section of revelation follows a similar pattern to the 7 trumpets (8:6-11:19); the 7 plagues (15:1-8) and the 7 bowls (16:1-21). Reading them all will give the overview of their united theme while reading them individually highlights their nuances. Paul Barnett describes them as non-linear events. The seven items are non-linear and can be thought of as layers of information rather than sequential events. And the four sequences of seven (seals, trumpets, plagues and bowls) are also non-linear. They point to four different themes: tyranny, chaos, persecution and destruction.

Read Revelation 6:1-8:5

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)


  • Opening seals 1 to 6
    • The first seal – conquering (6:1-2)
    • The second seal – bloodshed (6:3-4)
    • The third seal – famine (6:5-6)
    • The fourth seal – death (6:7-8)
    • The fifth seal – the cry of the redeemed (6:9-11)
    • The sixth seal – Judgement Day (6:12-17)
  • The 144,000 – The saved are sealed (7:1-8)
  • The uncountable – God’s grace is huge! (7:9-17)
  • The seventh seal – It is finished (8:1-5)

Opening seals 1 to 6

The first seal – conquering (6:1-2)

“I watched as the Lamb opened…” I must remind us that this was the Lamb and His credentials were laid out in Chapter 5.

“…one of the four living creatures…” See 4:6,7. The first creature was like a lion.

“…white horse…its rider…was given a crown, and he rode out…on conquest.” Both a great king or an evil king could be described by these words. Psalm 45 (especially Verse 4) give an OT imagery of the anointed King of Israel who is righteous in God’s eyes who goes out to defend truth and such. But John gives us words like ‘conqueror’ and ‘conquest’ to depict a ruler that takes by force.

The four riders are best compared to the four horses depicted in Zechariah 6:1-8. Both sets are commissioned to cause destruction. The horses in Zechariah were commissioned by God to punish nations who have oppressed the people of God. The four horses in Revelation (often called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) must be seen as unleashed by God but not ridden by Him and, as we’ve already said, do not depict a moment in time, but a description of the suffering in this world which points us to the judgment of God. As we’ll see in the 5th seal, we long for these days to be ended and the final judgement of God to come.

The second seal – bloodshed (6:3-4)

“…the second living creature…” He was like an ox.

“…fiery red…take peace…make people kill each other…” The theme of tyranny is clear here. Notice how the rider does not initiate his quest and that he is given power and given the sword. This is also true of the first rider and we’ll see this as we continue.

The third seal – famine (6:5-6)

“…the third living creature…” This had the face like a man.

“…holding a pair of scales…two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages…” The imagery here is of a famine. See Lev 26:26; 2 Kings 7:1; Ezek 4:10,16 for what is on view. It is perhaps a famine brought on by a siege – the food supply is cut off and the only way to survive is to measure out the food and not let anything be wasted.

The fourth seal – death (6:7-8)

“…the fourth living creature…” was the flying eagle.

“…the rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.” We continue to see these images all portraying life outside the garden where death has come.

“…kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” A broad representative of violent forms of death.

The fifth seal (6:9-11)

“…under the altar…” The golden altar of incense described in Exodus 30 and Leviticus 4:7.

“…How long, Sovereign Lord…” The persecuted people of God cry out for vengeance. God has promised that he will take vengeance for His name’s sake. This cry is a familiar one in the Old Testament but this reference is particularly close to Zechariah 1:12ff which is responded to with four horses going out in Chapter 6 to inflict judgement.

The sixth seal (6:12-17)

I cannot expand on the imagery in Verses 12-14 one by one. Each image is a picture of all things coming to an end. Many of them are repeated again in the book (Rev 16:18, 20; 20:11). The sun, the moon and the stars are a common triplet in the Bible as we are reminded that God is above them and not the other way around (Deut 17:2-3; Psalm 148:3; Isaiah 13:10; Jer 31:35; Luke 21:25). Great celestial objects that seem solid and strong in our sky are shaken like figs on a tree and fall. The Sun goes black! The heavens recede and every mountain is removed. Like everything in Revelation, it is picture language but what is described is the undoing of things that appear immovable. The heavens above and the foundations beneath us are gone. Our God is so big.

“For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” See that it is incomaptible for the mountains to be removed from their place and yet kings and generals are now described as hiding in them. A reminder to take each image as a statement and not to build a comprehensive picture in this book. 

Verses 12-14 were the undoing of creation and Verses 15-17 is the terror facing humanity. No power or authority is excluded from God’s wrath. “…their wrath…” is perhaps the wrath of God and the Lamb. Some manuscripts have his wrath but it is more likely the text should be their. See Rev 22:3.

The 144,000 – The saved are sealed (7:1-8)

“…four…four…four…” Depicting the entire globe in view – the four corners of the globe – Nth, Sth, Est, Wst etc.

“…holding back the four winds…” An image of complete still is depicted. After the scene of the four horsemen, we now have utter still across the globe – not a leaf is disturbed.

“…having the seal of the living God…” We have not opened the seventh seal yet and there is this long interlude and build up toward it. Look out for these interruptions as the book continues.

“…until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” The mercy of God is to hold back his wrath on the entire inhabitants of earth until His people have been marked out. I notice an irony that in the seven seals there is a seal placed on heads – not sure if there is anything to make of that.

“…I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.” The name Israel became synonymous with God’s people in the story of the bible. It was a literal line of descendants from Jacob but the bible teaches us to think about a true Israel who are not Israel by blood but by promise. The number given and the list that follows is giving us the impression of completeness. It is not simply a role call and a maximum seating capacity of heaven. What follows demonstrates that it is one thing to hear the number called, it is quite another to see.

The uncountable – God’s grace is huge! (7:9-17)

“…I looked, and … a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language…” The gospel is for the whole world and every nation. Those who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and given mercy from God’s wrath are many – a great, uncountable multitude. I hope that our vision of heaven is big!

“…These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?” They are washed by the blood of the Lamb. Who washes in blood!! But we know this metaphore don’t we? WE are not cleaned by our works or by looking neat and turning up on time! We are redeemed by the death of the One who would take away our sin! He has done that for us! They came through the tribulation because, despite the mocking, the slandering and even the threat or action of death, they stood by the cross for their protection. They feared God more than they feared men. And they have been washed and clothed in white.

“…they are before the throne of God….wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Compare the grandeur of God with his gentle hand that touches the face of redeemed sinners to wipe away their tear. Psalm 23 is surely alluded to here. And we are saved from the disaster that will befall all who have not come to the Lamb to be robed and cleaned.

The seventh seal – It is finished (8:1-5)

“…there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” The seventh seal appears empty. It seems to follow the stillness of the sixth seal and a quiet before the storm. But the silence is to be associated with divine judgment (see 1 Sam 2:9-10; Ps 31:17; 115:17; Isa 47:5; Lam 2:10-11). What follows is the beginning of the seven trumpets and some have suggested that the seventh seal unleashes the seven trumpets. That suggests a kind of linear event but we’ll leave this thought until we look at the content of the seven trumpets.

“…went up before God…” The pleasing aroma of worship and dependant thankfulness is the flavour of God and his people. Those who repel at this idea are likely to repel at anything to do with the true and eternal God.

“…took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth…” The wrath of God is unleashed.

“…thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and earthquake.” This was first depicted in Chapter 4 Verse 5 and seen again in Rev 11:9 and 16:18 and depicts the final judgement. You may see that what is depicted in Chapter 4 is retold again and again to show the glory of God, the mercy of God, the judge not of God and the eternal peace. This emphasises again that the book is not one unfolding story but a statement on judgement and salvation depicted in many images.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The world is not a random and chaotic event but is overseen by the Glory of God. The slain Lamb is worthy to open the seals which unleash conflict and judgement in this world. The Lamb is able to set apart a great multitude who will be protected from Judgement. And the Lamb will bring the suffering of this life to an end and wipe away our tears. We live with this hope and we have two ways to respond: to lose hope in suffering, or to cry out to God for Him to come again soon. Will you be among the multitude in heaven because of the blood of the Lamb?

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Recognise the destruction that is native to this life. The horses remind us of the harshness of this life. Eternity with God will not have any of this! They are a response from God against sin and they ought to bring us to dependence on God in prayer. Wars, bloodshed, famine and death are native to this world only. They are only ‘normal’ in the sense that we have not experienced life without them. Sure, we live in a ‘good’ age where these extremes are out of our sight, but they still exist and we can certainly pray, with the saints, “How long Sovereign Master, holy and true?”

Topic B: Recognise the eternal and highest power that is God’s alone. The calamity depicted in this passage is from the hand of evil men, unleashed by the Sovereign God. I’m reminded of 2 Thessalonians where the evil one is depicted as dangerous only as far as God allows him to be. But all the realities of this world: power, bullying, pain, mountains and stars, are all fleeting. We need to grow our vision and faith in God. He is bigger than all of our fears combined.

Topic C: Praise our God who is both definitive in judgement, mighty to save and gentle in eternity . Judgment day will come and evil will be removed decidedly. Those who have not been clothed by Jesus will not be included in the final count. Now is the time to be sealed by the Lamb for our future. We must not wait to see what happens – Revelation is a great warning to us all. His salvation is as sure as His justice. If you are with Jesus, you will be saved! And our Almighty God is also tender to lead us like sheep and to wipe away our tears. He is as gentle as He is powerful. Our God is worthy of our praise and honour and glory and power and strength forever and ever. Amen!


The basic message of this book is that even though Christians may be called upon to suffer terrible persecution in this life, they must remember that they will win in the end because Jesus, described as the Lamb that was slain, defeated evil on the cross and has prepared a place for his faithful people to be with him forever.

The way this message is conveyed is through pictures. All these pictures are from this world, reminding us that they are not to be taken literally. The reader has to look for the meaning behind the pictures.

Always remember, the reality which the word pictures represent will be far, far, greater than anything that can be imagined; like the very first scratchy black and white moving pictures of over a century ago have morphed into a big, smart, ultra-high-definition TV, able to tune in live to anything, anywhere in the world.

All that said; let’s look at the great vision of heaven which John described in Chapters 4 and 5 of the Revelation.

Revelation 4:1-6 [Read]

John sees an open door into heaven. Before him is someone, not described, on a throne. This represents God ruling over all things.

Surrounding the throne are 24 other thrones with 24 elders sitting on them. They represent all of God’s people gathered in the presence of God. They are decked-out in white, with crowns of gold on their head; these represent purity and honour.

From the throne comes flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, representing God’s awesome power and holiness. Before the throne is what looks like a sea of glass, clear as crystal, representing the tranquility and safety of that place.

Revelation 4:6-7 [Read]

Then there are the four living creatures, representing the whole heavenly realm, who know all that can be known about the one who sits upon the throne.

Revelation 4:8-11 [Read]

They never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the 24 elders fall down before him seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever saying;

‘Worthy are you our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power for you created all things and by your will they existed and where created.’

Here are the essential elements of heaven in worldly pictorial form. We don’t know what it will actually look like, but we know enough to be sure that it will be wonderful beyond description and much too marvelous for words.

All his people, purified from sin, will be in his presence. It will be a place of awe and wonder, and it will be beautiful and secure like a tranquil sea.

Notice also that the focus in this vision is on God as creator. In a sense it takes us back to Genesis.

Revelation 1:1-25 [Read]

The theme of God as creator permeates the whole Scripture.

Take as an example Psalm 8 as David gazed up to those very same heavens:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him? … O Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Back to Revelation 4, what do the people of God, gathered in his presence, say? Verse 11:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and where created.

When faced with the challenges and mysteries of life in this world, we need to give more thought to our great, almighty Creator, who can do anything he wants to, and always does what is exactly right.


  1. How would you explain to a new Christian the significance of God as creator when so many today live as if he doesn’t even exist?
  2. When faced with natural disasters such as the Covid -19, or terrible earthquakes, how do they fit into our world-view as Christians in ways that might lead us to worship God the way it is portrayed in this vision?

Revelation 5:1-5 [Read]

But even the picture of God as creator is not the complete story. For that we must go to the second part of this vision, Chapter 5:1:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?’

In all of heaven, no one was found worthy to open the scroll. John began to weep loudly because of this. Then, verse 5;

One of the elders said to me, ‘weep no more; behold, the Lion of Judah, the root of David has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Is that familiar? Think of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5), Jacob (Genesis 34:9-15), Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), David (2 Samuel 7:8-17), and great David’s greater son, Jesus?

He is the one who has conquered Satan and all his works. … So he alone has the right to know what is written on the scroll and what is to come.

Revelation 5:6-7 [Read]

Having introduced us to the long promised conquering king, under the title ‘The Lion of Judah’, the imagery changes; verse 6;

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

From now on in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is mainly referred to as ‘the Lamb that was slain’, who has redeemed us to God.

This reminds us that in heaven we will never be able to forget that we are there because he laid down his life for us and took upon himself the penalty for all our sins.

Revelation 5:8-10

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying;

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open the seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.

Is this not what God promised to Abraham in the beginning? Is this not what God promised, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David and is not Jesus the fulfilment of all those promises? That is what we will be affirming in heaven, that all the promises of God find their fulfilment in Jesus.

Exactly what it will be like in heaven, we cannot imagine, but the key point to remember is that whatever it turns out to be like, it will all be about our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will have gathered us to himself like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and it will be wonderful beyond anything that has ever entered our minds.


  1. In addition to God as Creator, how would you explain to a new Christian the significance of the phrases ‘the lamb that was slain’ and ‘The Lion of Judah of the root of David’?
  2. Why do you think it is important to state these descriptions of Jesus in the vision?
  3. How would you explain why the ‘Lamb’ is worshipped alongside the one who is seated on the throne?


Imagine we are those Christians in Asia Minor being told to confess Caesar as Lord. Imagine you are a Christian in the Middle East or in Nigeria being ordered to renounce Jesus and embrace Islam, imagine you belong to a house church in China and the knock comes on the door and they take you away for re-education. What would we do?

If we have the hope of eternal life burning in our hearts, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, we will stand but if we take our eyes off him …

That is the message behind is great heavenly vision which we must hold onto in good times and the bad.

Revelations 3 Study guide

The first thing to note is the distinct change in the pattern of Chapter 3.  3 of the past 4 churches were very ‘mixed reviews’… you do this, but I hold this against you. In chapter 3 we get more clear cut shades – bad, good, bad.

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Description of God (1): The one who holds the churches in his hand.  The emphasis is on God as owner and sustainer of the churches.

I know (1-2): Emphasis is on REPUTATION – they have a reputation of being vibrantly alive, but they have a REALITY of being dead.  Their deeds are unfinished – likely, they say the gospel but don’t live the gospel.  

Instruction (3-4): Verse 3 gives the rebuke and a warning. A rebuke to return to the gospel they have received – to turn back to Christ and to hold fast to scripture. A warning that if they do not, Christ will return in judgement.  Verse 4 talks of those few who have stood firm in the gospel and encourages others to join them (note: cool picture of sin as peeing on yourself)

The one who is victorious (5): A picture of being pure, the book of life and acknowledgement before GOD (as opposed to verse 1’s reputation).

Bringing it together (for us): Reputation doesn’t matter when God can see your heart.  Let your knowledge of the God through scripture profoundly shape your actions.  Don’t give pretences of faith while covertly living a life which denies it.

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Description of God (7): Holy, Truth, empowering.  God is perfectly good; God is on the side of truth; God holds the key to heaven… and he opens and shuts the gate – not others.  This description matters in a place that is suffering.

I know… (8): You feel weak, You are keeping my word, you have not denied me.  And I think that there is something beautiful in this description.  The God who empowers sees them in their weakness and says I’m in charge, the door is open to you… don’t heed the words of those who are dominating you.

Instruction (9-11): God will make those who oppose them to be liars.  The opposition seems to be coming from Jews within the local synagogue.  Likely to be issues to do with the response to the Deuteronomic law and Christianity.  But it could be referring to Christians being reported by Jews to the local authorities.  Jews were a recognized religion and paid tax to Rome to not participate in the Emperor worship.  Some churches were covered by the local synagogues… some synagogues however, caused trouble for the Christians – instead reporting them to authorities for arrest.  This could be the trial that they are being spared from, in God’s mercy.

The one who is victorious (12)Beautiful picture – these people who feel weak will be made into a pillar of strength.  I would suggest it is drawing on some pictures from 1 Corinthians 3… of the temple of God which is built up being the church.  
“Never will they leave it” had significance for the people of this city who were often displaced due to earthquakes… God’s city, his chosen people, is firm to it’s foundations.

Bringing it all together (for us): In our moments where we feel weak and battered – turn to God for your strength.  Don’t listen to the words that mock your faith – whether it is your internal dialogue and your emotions, or if you are facing real pressure from others to abandon your faith.  But trust in the Holy, Truthful, empowering God who says – I will see you through this.

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Description of God (14): The faithful; The true witness; The ruler over God’s creation; In whose words we all agree (Amen).  The last 3 images themselves lend themselves towards a picture of judgement – Where God sees, God is ruler and God’s judgement is final and agreeable.  And what is judged?  Faithfulness… which the Laodiceans lacked.

I know… (15-17): Neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.  A specific reference to the hot springs right near Laodicea… which were … well, not particularly hot.  But particular reference is the taste – it’s volcanic water – it tastes foul… and that is Jesus’ response to this church.  He looks at them and he sees them as foul.  So what tastes foul to Jesus?  Self-reliance.
Particular emphasis is on the RESULT of wealth – that they do not need anything.  But instead Jesus reveals them as the spiritual pauper.

Instruction (18-20): The problem is that they need to receive from Christ – not from themselves.  True wealth, true appearance, true sight (19).  Jesus then calls for them to repent (20) – because he loves them and, in his discipline, he wants them to turn from their self-reliance and to depend on him.  Jesus’ desire is fellowship – to eat with them, to participate with them.  But it comes from relying on Jesus and not beginning from a position of self-reliance.

The one who is victorious (21): Is given authority with Christ… it loops around to the images from the beginning: as we participate in these with Christ.  Those who are faithful, are witnesses of the truth of God.  We stand with Christ and have a role as judge (cf. 1 Cor 6:2).

Bringing it all together (for us): Do not be self-reliant!!  As talented or well off as we may be – we are foolish to think that we are any less needy of Christ.  I think one litmus test is our prayer life: do we actually pray, genuinely asking God to work in our life, or do we just think that we have it under control in our own power?

Self-reliance is a big deal – and it is a problem encultured in our society – to not be dependant on anybody else.  As a recommendation, I would spend more time here in application than in the previous 2.