REVELATION’S SEALS AND ISRAEL’S DOOM

PMT 2013-046 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr

Jerusalem besiegedIn my previous blog study I focused on the significance of the seven-sealed scroll as God’s divorce decree against his old covenant wife, Israel. Now the Lamb begins opening the seals so that God’s judgments against his adulterous wife may begin.

The first seal (the white horse with its long distance weapon) pictures the Roman army victoriously fighting their way to Jerusalem, the capital city (Rev 6:1–2). This horseman does not represent Christ because:

  1. Christ is the one opening the seals in heaven (Rev 5:5, 9; 6:1, 3, 5, 7).
  2. He remains in heaven, while the other seals are opened (Rev 6:3, 5, 7, 9, 12).
  3. It seems inappropriate for the living creatures (who had just fallen before Christ in praise, Rev 5:8–10, 13) to command Christ the Lord: “Come!”
  4. The white horse is the only similarity with Revelation 19:11, which does picture Christ. So then, the first horseman is God’s “avenger” upon Israel, the Romans who are “his armies” avenging God’s anger at Israel’s rejecting his overtures (Mt 22:7; cf. vv 1–7). The white color of the horse pictures victory, not holiness. God often uses the unjust to bring his judgments in history. For instance, Assyria becomes “the rod of My anger” against Israel (Isa 10:5).

Survey of the Book of Revelation (DVDs by Ken Gentry)
Twenty-four careful, down-to-earth lectures provide a basic introduction to and survey of the entire Book of Revelation. Professionally produced lectures of 30-35 minutes length.


The second seal (the red horse and its close-in weapon) pictures the eruption of the Jewish civil war during the Jewish War (Rev 6:3–4). In Greek the definite article emphasizes “the peace.” Here “the [well-known] peace” refers to the famous pax Romana covering the Roman Empire. Hence, the sign function of “rumors of wars” in Matthew 24:6: in such a peaceful era wars could serve as signs. Josephus laments that the civil war in the Land causes more carnage than the Romans themselves (Josephus, J.W. 4:3:2; 5:1:1, 5; cp. Mt 10:34–36; 24:10–12).

The third seal (the black horse and scales) portrays famine plaguing Israel (Rev 6:5–6) — in that black symbolizes famine (Lam 4:8; 5:10) and the “pair of scales” containing wheat and barley portray basic food items being measured out. One of the most horrible aspects of Jerusalem’s woes is the famine they themselves cause by their own internal civil strife (Josephus, J.W. 4:6:2; 5:10:2–5. See: Tacitus, Hist. 5:12:4). The Roman historian Tacitus states that: “It was upon each other that they turned the weapons of battle, ambush and fire, and great stocks of corn went up in flames” (Hist 5:12). Josephus writes as an eyewitness: “Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the marketplaces like shadows, all swelled with the famine” (J.W. 5:12:3).

The fourth seal (the pale horse named Death) causes the death of one-fourth of Israel (Rev 6:7–8). The animals devouring the dead indicates covenantal curse (Dt 28:15, 26). Josephus reports of the zealots’ treat-ment of the dead: “their dead bodies were thrown to the dogs” (J.W. 6:7:2) and that some “were cast out naked, and seen to be the food of dogs and wild beasts” (J.W. 4:5:2). This seal reflects God’s Old Testament judgment upon Jerusalem: “For thus says the Lord God, ‘How much more when I send My four severe judgments against Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague to cut off man and beast from it!’” (Eze 14:21; cp. Eze 5:17; 33:27; Am 4:6–10).

With the fifth seal’s opening we get another look into heaven. We see the altar in heaven and hear the promise of vindication for Christian martyrs (Rev 6:9–11). This vindication will occur in “a little while” (Rev 6:10). It comes in the final collapse of Jerusalem at the end of the Jewish War. This is in keeping with Revelation’s near term indicators (1:1, 3; 2:16; 3:11; 6:11; 10:6; 12:12; 16:17; 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20).

The sixth seal (stellar phenomena) symbolizes the fall of Israel’s government (Rev 6:12–17). Scripture often associates these phenomena in picturing governmental collapse: Babylon (Isa 13:1, 10, 19); Egypt (Eze 32:2, 7–8, 16, 18); Idumea (Isa 34:3–5); Judah (Jer 4:14, 23–24). That they “hid themselves in the caves” (Rev 6:15) reflects historical events: Josephus mentions that the Jews actually sought refuge underground during the AD 67–70 war, as per the symbolic imagery (Josephus, J.W. 6:7:3; cf. 7:2:1). For instance, he states that many Jews “went down into the subterranean caverns” (J.W. 6:8:5; cp. 6:8:4) and that the Romans “made a search for under ground, and when they found where they were, they broke up the ground and slew all they met with” (J.W. 6:9:4). Christ warns that this would happen to his generation (Lk 23:27–30).


Before Jerusalem Fell Lecture (DVD by Ken Gentry)
A summary of the evidence for Revelation’s early date.
Helpful, succinct introduction to Revelation’s pre-AD 70 composition.


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6 thoughts on “REVELATION’S SEALS AND ISRAEL’S DOOM

  1. Jen March 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Thank you for your blog.

    I have just recently begun studying eschatology (as a newish Christian I thought it better to wait a few years before beginning on this topic). I tell you this because my questions probably have obvious answers which I’m just not seeing.

    Why was John so desolate that the scroll couldn’t be opened?
    Why was Christ able to open them? (That he appears as a lamb signifies that it was his sacrifice that allowed him to do this, but I don’t understand why.)

    Thank you so much for all your efforts to educate people.

    Jen

  2. Kenneth Gentry March 19, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    John was heart-broken that no one could open it because it received such prominence: in the right hand of God who sat on the throne. Christ alone could open it for he was the Lamb of God (pictured here as such for the first time in Revelation). Throughout the rest of Revelation the Lamb of God will be the dominant character who wins the victory.

  3. Jen March 19, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Thank you for the response. I guess I was wondering more in terms of a covenantal sense – if the scroll, as you suppose, was a divorce scroll, then that would mean that Christ was the ‘husband’ or the one who originally made the covenant with Israel. This might be why he is the only one who can open the scroll. I’m trying to work this out from a legal perspective, which I should have indicated to begin with.

    If Christ was the ‘husband’, then surely his death would have ended the marriage. However, as Israel’s fornication occurred while she was still in covenant, then justice was still due her. I think it all relates back to Leviticus 26, but even then God said he wouldn’t end the covenant, and yet I believe in AD 70 He did just that. I’ll keep at it!

    Thanks again for your time.

  4. Kenneth Gentry March 19, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    At this point in the judicial narrative of Revelation, Christ appears as the mediator of the covenant. He executes God’s covenant decree against Israel, which protects the New Israel, the church.

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  6. […] REVELATION’S SEALS AND ISRAEL’S DOOM […]

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