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The book that was sealed with seven seals (Revelation 4:1-8:1)


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PURPOSE

The purpose of this article is to explain the second vision in the Book of Revelation, namely of the sealed book (Revelation 4:1-8:1).

BRIEF OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

Revelation 4 does not describe any specific event but provides a timeless description of God’s throne room.

CRISIS IN HEAVEN

Revelation 5:1-4 describes a crisis in heaven symbolized by a book that nobody was able to open or read because it was sealed up with seven seals. Not even Christ was able to open the book (Rev 5:1-3).

A book symbolizes knowledge and a sealed book symbolizes concealed knowledge; things that are not understood. In other words, there are or were things that the beings in heaven do not understand.

        • What are these things?
        • Why do they not understand?
        • Why did God not explain (open the book)?

This causes John “to weep greatly” (Rev 5:4), symbolizing the sorrow in heaven because these things are not understood. 

In Revelation 5:5, the sorrow turns to joy, for Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Then Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). This refers to His cross and implies that the time of sorrow (Rev 5:1-4) was the time BEFORE His death.

WORTHY TO OPEN THE BOOK

Through His death, Jesus became “worthy” to open the book (Rev 5:5, 9).

To open or read a book means to explain its contents; to make this knowledge available. Before Christ died, there was no way out of this crisis. There was no way to enable the heavenly beings to understand.

        • Why was Jesus not able to open the book before He died?
        • How did His death make Him “worthy” to open the book?

The rest of Revelation 5 focuses on one specific event, namely Jesus’ glorification at His Father’s right hand after His ascension.

THE CHURCH AGE

In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the first six seals of the book. Each time that He breaks a seal in heaven, something happens on earth.

Breaking the first seal brings victory (Rev 6:1-2) but the next three bring death (Rev 6:3-8), culminating in the fifth seal where God’s slain people cry for revenge (Rev 6:9-11).

The seals are the things that PREVENT understanding. Breaking the seals means removing these barriers to understanding. Somehow, the deaths of God’s people enable the heavenly beings to understand.

The fifth seal describes a specific point in time, interpreted as the beginning of the time of the endThe sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14) and concludes with “the great day of their wrath” (Rev 6:17), which is the Day of Judgment.

Since Jesus received the book and began to break its seals after His Cross, and since the sixth seal is the Day of Judgment, the first five seals represent the church age. Christ’s death did NOT enable the heavens to understand immediately, but His death made Him “worthy” to explain these things OVER THE CHURCH AGE.

THE SEALING OF GOD’S PEOPLE

After the fifth seal (6:9-11), which is the beginning of the time of the end, and after the sixth seal (6:12-17), which is the Day of Judgment, the first part of Revelation 7 (7:1-8) describes the sealing of 144000 Jews. These verses explain that “the four winds,” symbolizing the end-time crisis before Christ returns, are delayed until ALL of God’s people are sealed with “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:1-3).

Since God’s people must be sealed BEFORE judgment day, the sealing (7:1-8) describes a time BEFORE the sixth seal.

Since “the four winds,” symbolizing the end-time crisis, are delayed until God’s people are sealed, God’s people are not ready for that crisis. God delays that crisis UNTIL His people are ready (sealed).

        • What is the seal of God?
        • Why are only 144000 people sealed?
        • And why are only Jews sealed?

JUDGMENT DAY CONTINUES

Revelation 7:9 picks up where Revelation 6 left off and describes an Innumerable Multitude standing before the throne of God. This, therefore, continues to describe the Day of Judgment. On that day, while one group hides in the mountain from the presence of God (Rev 6:15), the other group stands before God (Rev 7:9).

THE END

The seventh and last seal is described in only a single verse (Rev 8:1). It says that all the worship and sounds of heaven, which we read about in Revelation 4 and 5, turn to silence for about half an hour. This website interprets this silence as the sorrow in the hearts of God and His people at the destruction of the lost when Christ returns (Rev 19:21).

CONCLUSIONS

These concepts are not merely nice to know. This vision reveals the true significance of Christ’s death and explains why evil still reigns on earth 2000 years after His death. This is “solid food” (Heb 5:14; 1 Cor 3:2).

The average Christian is not even aware of these questions. These are not questions that preachers normally ask. The reader must not expect traditional answers.

Some interpretations attempt to interpret the events that result from breaking the seals without identifying the sealed book. In this commentary, the identification of the book is foundational. We will only understand the catastrophes caused by breaking the seals when we understand what this book is.

This article is a summary of a series of detailed articles (See, List of articles). Links to the detailed articles are provided below.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the NASB.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT

This article first provides an overview of all four chapters (4:1-8:1), listing several questions. There-after, it proposes answers.

REVELATION 4

The vision begins in Revelation 4 with a description of God’s throne room. It does not describe a specific event or a specific point in time. It describes:

    • A throne and One sitting on the throne (Rev 4:2-3),
    • 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones around the throne (Rev 4:4),
    • The seven Spirits of God “burning before the throne” (Rev 4:5), and
    • Four living creatures; “full of eyes in front and behind” (Rev 4:6-8).

The elders and the living beings continually “worship Him who lives forever and ever,” saying:

For You created all things, and
because of Your will they existed,
and were created
” (Rev 4:8-11).

Jesus is NOT present in the throne room in this chapter.

THE 24 ELDERS

For reasons such as the following, the 24 elders are human beings; not angels:

      • Elder” is a familiar Biblical title for humans but not for angels.
      • Angels never sit on thrones and never wear crowns of any kind, but humans do (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 3:21; 20:4).
      • The number 24 is equal to 12+12 and 12 is a symbol for God’s people. For example, on the New Jerusalem are written the names of the 12 tribes of Israel as well as the names of the 12 apostles (Rev 21:12, 14).

The full articles are available at:

CRISIS IN HEAVEN (5:1-6)

Revelation 5 begins by describing a crisis in heaven, symbolized by a book that nobody was “worthy” to open or read because it was sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1-3). Since a sealed book symbolizes concealed knowledge, and since this book is in heaven, it means that there were things that the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures were unable to understand.

This causes John to weep greatly (Rev 5:4). Since John is now in heaven (Rev 4:1), his great weeping symbolizes the sorrow among the beings in heaven because they do not understand. Apparently, this knowledge is of vital importance for the happiness of the universe.

But Revelation 5:5 turns that sorrow into joy, for it announces that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Jesus now appears as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6). In other words, His death enabled Him to open the book. The crisis of the book that nobody was able to open (Rev 5:1-4), therefore, describes the time BEFORE CHRIST’S DEATH.

CHRIST ENTHRONED (5:7-14)

After Jesus takes the book (Rev 5:7), the beings in God’s throne room declare Him worthy to break the seven seals and to open the book (Rev 5:9-10). Then the “myriads of myriads” of “angels around the throne,” together with “the living creatures and the elders,” praise “the Lamb.” Lastly, “every created thing” praises BOTH “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb” (Rev 5:11-14). 

Jesus does not open the book immediately. In Revelation 6, He breaks the seals one by one, resulting in catastrophes on earth. Therefore, to know WHEN these things happen, we need to know WHEN the Lamb receives the book.

Some put the meeting in Revelation 5 in the end-time; shortly before Christ returns. However, for the following reasons, Revelation 5:7-14 describes what happens when Jesus arrives in heaven after He ascended.

Firstly, the events described in Revelation 5:7-14 fits exactly with what the New Testament elsewhere says happened when Jesus arrived in heaven after He ascended.

Secondly, Revelation 3:21 provides an outline of the vision of the seven seals (chapters 4 to 7) and, in that outline, Revelation 5:7-14 aligns with the statement, “I (Jesus) also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Thirdly, the similarities with the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matthew 24, etc.) identify the first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) as the entire church age. Since Revelation 5 precedes the first four seals, it describes an event right at the beginning of the Christian era.

These points are explained below in the section Titled – Revelation 5 describes events in heaven after Jesus ascended.

QUESTION

A very important question is this: Why did He not open the book (i.e., explain the contents) immediately after His death made Him “worthy” to do so (Rev 5:9)? Put differently: Why has Christ not returned yet?

BREAKING THE SEALS (6:1 TO 8:1)

FIRST FOUR SEALS (6:1-8)

The first four seals – the famous horsemen of the apocalypse – bring victory but also bloodshed, famine, and death (Rev 6:1-8).

Since the first four seals are all symbolized as horses, they form a unit, meaning that they symbolize one thing consisting of four parts.

Since the seals are the things that prevent understanding, and since breaking the seals causes bloodshed, famine, and death, we can say that Jesus removes those barriers to understanding through catastrophic events on earth.

FIFTH SEAL (6:9-11)

The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) shows the souls of God’s people who have been slain for their testimony. They are under the altar and cry out:

How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?

In Old Testament sacrificial rituals, the blood of animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar (e.g., Exo 29:12). The fifth seal converts this ritual into a metaphor: God’s people are symbolically sacrificed ON the altar. They are not under a literal altar.

Since the fifth seal shows us God’s slain people, the bloodshed of the previous seals is the killing of God’s people. The following supports this conclusion:

As discussed below, the white horse of the first seal symbolizes the gospel. Since the first four seals form a unit, the killing in seals 2 to 4 should be the consequence of the gospel.

Put in different words, the first seal in the gospel. The fifth seal shows God’s people slain for their faith. Given this context, what could the killing in the intermediate seals be other that the killing of God’s people?

The souls under the altar cry out for revenge, but this is not the end yet, for they are told to wait, for more must die for their faith (Rev 6:9-11). This fifth seal, therefore, describes a specific point in time in history. Before that point in history, many have died but, after that point in history, many more must die.

SIXTH SEAL (6:12-17)

As already stated, the sixth seal has signs of Christ’s return; signs in the sun, moon, and stars (Rev 6:12-14; cf. Matt 24:29-30). It is the Day of Judgment; “the great day of their wrath” (Rev 6:17). Although a great earthquake shifts mountains out of their places, the people hide in the mountains because they are more scared of “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16) than of this great earthquake.

QUESTION: Where are God’s people at this time?

THE SEALING OF THE 144000 (7:1-3)

Chapter seven begins by interrupting the sequence of seals. In a play on words, while the book is being unsealed, “the bond-servants of our God” are sealed with “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:3).

The sealing of God’s people (Rev 7:1-3) must be completed before the Day of Judgment as described in the sixth seal. The sealing, therefore, describes something that happens BEFORE the sixth seal

The four winds” of destruction (by implication, the sixth seal) are held back until ALL of God’s people are sealed (Rev 7:3). In other words, the purpose of the seal of the living God is to protect God’s people when the end-time winds of destruction are released (Rev 7:1-3). This also means that this seal will ONLY be available in the end-time.

THE 144000 (7:4-8)

These verses explain who is sealed. According to Revelation 7:3, “the bond-servants of our God” are sealed. But now we hear that 144000 people are sealed, and they are all Jews; 12000 from each of the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:1-4).

THE MULTITUDE BEFORE THE THRONE (7:9-17)

At the end of Revelation 6, the multitude hiding in the mountains asked:

The great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand” (Rev 6:16-17)?

After Revelation has jumped back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000 (7:1-8), Revelation 7 continues to describe:

A great multitude which no one could count …,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9).

The great multitude “standing before the throne,’ therefore, is the answer to the question of the hiding multitude; they are the people who are able to stand on Judgment Day. They have the “white robes” of salvation (Rev 7:9).

Consequently, the sealing of the 144000 (Rev 7:1-8) is an interruption of the sixth seal and the multitude before the throne (Rev 7:9-17) is a continuation of the sixth seal. In other words, the sixth seal describes a point in history, DURING Christ’s return, when:

      • God’s people are standing before God’s throne while
      • The lost hides in the mountains.

THE SEVENTH SEAL

The final seal is described in only one verse:

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven
for about half an hour
” (Rev 8:1).

Revelation 5 began with sorrow in heaven because nobody was able to open the book (Rev 5:1-4). With the seventh seal broken, the book is now fully open.

QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE TEXT

By way of summary, several questions have been raised in this introductory overview of the text, including:

      1. What and why do they not understand?
      2. Why did God not open the book and why was not even the Son of God able to open the book before His death?
      3. How did Christ’s death make Him “worthy” to break the seals?
      4. The seven seals symbolize things that prevent understanding. What are these things?
      5. Why did Jesus not open the book immediately after He received it?
      6. Why are bloodshed, famine, and death necessary to enable the heavenly beings to understand the things written in the book?
      7. What are the “four winds” against which God’s end-time people must be protected?
      8. What is the seal of God and how will it protect God’s people?
      9. Why are only 144000 people sealed and why are they all Jews?
      10. Why are the beings in heaven silent when the seventh seal is broken and the book is fully open?

This is the end of the overview of the text. The remainder of this article proposes some answers. The first question is: What is the sealed book?

REVELATION 5 DESCRIBES CHRIST’S ENTHRONEMENT AFTER HE ASCENDED

This is a summary of the article – Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement.

Revelation 5 describes one specific event when all the billions of angels gather in God’s throne room (Rev 5:11) to witness the Son of God receive the book that is sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:7). He does not open the book immediately. In Revelation 6, He breaks the seals one by one, resulting in catastrophes on earth. Therefore, to know WHEN these things happen, we need to know WHEN the Lamb receives the book.

Some put the meeting in Revelation 5 in the end-time; shortly before Christ returns. However, this article shows that Revelation 5:7-14 describes what happens when Jesus arrives in heaven AFTER HE ASCENDED. This will be argued in three ways:

Firstly, the events described in 5:7-14 fits exactly with what the New Testament elsewhere says happened when Jesus arrived in heaven after He ascended.

Secondly, Revelation 3:21 provides an outline of the vision of the seven seals (4:1-8:1) and, in that outline, 5:7-14 aligns with the statement, “I (Jesus) also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Thirdly, a comparison with the Synoptic Apocalypse (e.g., Matthew 24) identifies the first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) as the entire church age. Since Revelation 5 precedes the first four seals, it must describe an event right at the beginning of the Christian era.

In conclusion, since Revelation 5 describes what happened in heaven after He ascended, Jesus received the sealed book and began breaking its seals 2000 years ago.

(A) FITS THE NEW TESTAMENT DESCRIPTION

This section shows that what we see in Revelation 5 fits exactly with what the New Testament elsewhere says happened after His ascension.

A common theme in the New Testament is that, after Jesus died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven, He was exalted at His Father’s right hand (e.g., Eph 1:20-22; Rom 8:34; Acts 2:31-36). Furthermore, Jesus was exalted at his Father’s right hand BEFORE the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) (e.g., John 7:39; Acts 2:32-33).

This is also what we see in Revelation 5:

Firstly, it emphasizes His death:

Jesus appears as a SLAIN LAMB and is said to be “worthy” because He “purchased for God with Your BLOOD men” (Rev 5:6, 9-10, 12).

Secondly, Revelation 5 describes Him as exalted with God:

The book was ON the right hand (or side) of God (5:1) and Jesus took it FROM the RIGHT SIDE OR HAND of God (5:7). Since the Bible often states that Jesus was exalted AT the right hand of God (e.g. Eph 1:20-22), it is proposed that when He took the book (Rev 5:7), He also sat down at His Father’s right hand.

This is supported a few verses later when Jesus, TOGETHER WITH THE FATHER, is praised by “every created thing” (Rev 5:13). This implies that They are now BOTH on the throne.

This is further confirmed when Jesus is described as “in the CENTER of the throne” (Rev 7:17).

Thirdly, Revelation 5 describes the Holy Spirit as sent out:

Before Jesus appeared, “the seven Spirits of God” were “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but after He appeared as a slain lamb, God’s Spirit is said to be sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6). This corresponds with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Revelation 5, therefore, says that (1) after Jesus died, (2) He arrived in heaven, (3) and was immediately exalted at the right hand of God while (4) the Holy Spirit was “sent out.” This fits the Bible’s description of His exaltation after His ascension quite precisely.

(B) REVELATION 3:21

Revelation 3:21 is the climax of the promises given to the overcomers in the seven churches. But, similar to other such verses, it is also an outline of the vision of the sealed book (4:1 to 8:1). It reads:

(a) To him who overcomes,
(b) I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,
(c) just as I overcame
(d) and sat down with my Father on his throne
(NIV).

(a) To him who overcomes

This is in the present tense, meaning that God’s people are NOW overcoming. This is what breaking the seals is all about. As concluded, Revelation 6 describes the gospel going forth into the world, its acceptance and rejection, and the experience of the people of God on earth, throughout the church age, struggling to overcome much opposition and many trials.

(b) I will give the right to sit with me on my throne

This is in the future tense and is fulfilled in Revelation 7 where the overcomers are described as an innumerable multitude who are able to stand before God when Jesus returns (Rev 7:9; cf. 6:17; 7:15, 17).

(c) Just as I overcame

One of the elders similarly said that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book” (Rev 5:5). Since 5:5 announces an end to John’s weeping because Jesus “has overcome” (Rev 5:4-5), the time of sorrow in heaven, as described in Revelation 5:1-4, describes the time BEFORE He overcame through His life and death. In other words, He overcame somewhere between verses 4 and 5.

(d) and sat down with my Father on his throne

Since 3:21(a) and (b) are an outline of Revelation 6 and 7, and since 3:21(c) fits in 5:4-5, the phrase “sat down with my Father on his throne” (3:21(d)), by implication, summarizes the remainder of Revelation 5. In other words, 5:7-14 describes Jesus sitting down on His Father’s throne after His ascension.

CONCLUSION ON 3:21

Based on 3:21, the entire vision of the sealed book (4:1-8:1) may be summarized as follows:

The struggle of God’s people to overcome and the promise that they will “sit down with Me (Jesus) on My throne” are described by Revelation 6 and 7.

But, before that, the statement that the Lamb “overcame and sat down with … (His) Father on His throne” is described by Revelation 5.

(C) SYNOPTIC APOCALYPSE

In His sermon in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 (See – The Little Apocalypse), Jesus divided history into three great eras:

      • General realities of the entire Christian age;
      • A great persecution toward the end of that era; and
      • His return.

This fits the seven seals:

      • The first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) are similar to the general realities of the church age,
      • The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11), read together with the sealing (Rev 7:1-3), describes a great end-time persecution.
      • The sixth seal is His return (Rev 6:12-14).

In conclusion:

      • The book is still fully sealed in Revelation 5 and the seals are broken one by one in Revelation 6. Revelation 5, therefore, precedes the first four seals.
      • Since the parallels with the Synoptic Apocalypse identify the first four seals as the church age, Revelation 5 must describe an event right at the beginning of the Christian era. This supports the view that Revelation 5 is Christ’s ascension and enthronement.

CONCLUSIONS

In Revelation 5, Jesus overcame (Rev 5:5), appears as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6), accepts the sealed book at His Father’s right hand (Rev 5:7), and, while the Holy Spirit is sent out into all the world (Rev 5:6), the Son is glorified by the entire universe (Rev 5:13). This fits exactly with His exaltation at His Father’s right hand after His ascension, as described elsewhere in the New Testament – somewhere between AD 30 to 33, based on astronomical calculations. Therefore, since He also received the book when He was exalted at His Father’s right hand, He received the book also somewhere between AD 30 to 33.

At that time, the book was still sealed. In Revelation 6, the Lamb breaks the seals one by one. Each time that He breaks a seal in heaven, something happens on earth. The sixth seal is the return of Christ (Rev 6:12-14, 17). A further conclusion, therefore, is that the first five seals symbolize the present-tense overcoming of God’s people over the church age.

THE SEALED BOOK
IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

In Revelation 6:1 to 8:1, Jesus breaks the seven seals of the book one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. We will not be able to understand what these events are unless we understand what this book is.

Revelation mentions the “book of life” 6 times. As its name indicates, it identifies those who will inherit eternal life (e.g., Rev 21:2, 27; 20:14-15). The main purpose of this section is to show that the sealed book is the book of life. This is based on the following similarities:

1) Both books are written by God:

Book of LifeThe sealed book is in God’s hand (Rev 5:1; cf. 4:11), implying that He wrote it. Since the book of life contains the names of the redeemed and since God is the judge, He also writes that book.

2) The slain Lamb receives both books:

The full title of the “book of life” is “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8; 21:27). Since Jesus receives the sealed book when He appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6-7), the two books must be the same.

3) Both books are required for redemption:

Jesus died to save people but since He also died to open the sealed book (Rev 5:5, 9), opening this book is also required for the redemption of God’s people. The same applies to the book of life, for it identifies God’s elect.

4) Both are opened AFTER Christ’s return:

Since the sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14), the sealed book will only be fully open at or after His return. The book of life, similarly, will be opened in the final judgment (Rev 20:12).

5) Both separate the living from the dead.

The sixth seal divides the people of the world between God’s people, standing before His throne (Rev 7:9), and those hiding in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17), soon to be put to death by Christ (Rev 19:21). The book of life,” similarly, determines who will live and who will die (Rev 20:15).

These similarities identify the sealed book as the book of life. The full article is available at – The sealed book is the Book of Life.

REVELATION 12 EXPLAINS THE SEALED BOOK.

This section shows that Revelation 12 also identifies the sealed book as the book of life. In brief, this section shows that:

(1) Both Revelation 5 and 12 describe a crisis in heaven and, in both chapters, the crisis is caused by things that are NOT UNDERSTOOD.

(2) In both chapters, Christ’s death resolved the crisis in heaven BUT NOT ON EARTH.

For that reason, it is concluded that these two chapters describe THE SAME CRISIS. And by identifying the nature of the crisis in Revelation 12, this section finds additional support for the conclusion that the sealed book of Revelation 5 is the book of life.

This identification of the sealed book does not explain why nobody is able to open the book, what the seals are, or what breaking the seals means. But Revelation 12 does explain these things.

Another article series discusses Revelation 12 in much detail. The following is a brief overview:

OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 12

CHRIST

Revelation 12:5 describes Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension in a single verse. The dragon attempted to devour Him (Rev 12:4) but Christ escaped and was “caught up to God” (Rev 12:5).

WAR IN HEAVEN

Revelation 12:7-12 describes a WAR IN HEAVEN between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. The dragon” is “Satan” (Rev 12:9).

The most important point from Revelation 12 is that the nature of the “war in heaven” is indicated by the identification of Satan as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). In other words, he specifically accuses only God’s people, showing that they are sinners and deserve to die.

We see evidence of the nature of the crisis in the universe already in the book of Job – probably the oldest book of the Bible. In that book, “the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). God continued to describe the man Job as “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8) but Satan accused Job, saying “touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:11). For a discussion of Job, see – Why Satan thought he could win against God.

Another example is where Satan accused Joshua the high priest before the angel of the LORD (Zech 3:1).

Similarly, in Romans 3:25-26, Paul explains that Jesus died as a public demonstration of God’s “righteousness because … He passed over the sins previously committed.” In other words, Christ’s death was necessary because God forgave sins. How this works we attempt to explain below in the section: Why Jesus had to die.

The war in heaven, therefore, is CAUSED BY SATAN’S ACCUSATIONS.

It is not directly stated, but we can assume that Satan’s goal is to save himself. God condemned Satan (cf. Ezek 28:19). Satan responds by showing that God’s elect are sinners and arguing that, if he needs to die, then God’s elect must also die (cf. Rom 6:23; Matt 10:28; Hell). In other words, he argues that God judges unfairly when He forgives some sinners but condemns others. If it can be shown that God’s judgments are faulty, even to the slightest degree, then Satan and his angels would have grounds for their claim that they have been judged unfairly.

Since, in this war in heaven, “Michael and his angels” (Rev 12:7) oppose Satan, they defend God’s judgments and protect God’s people (cf. Dan 12:1). The “war in heaven,” therefore, is a dispute between the angels of heaven OVER GOD’S JUDGMENTS.

If we remember that many of the mighty angels have accepted Satan’s arguments (Rev 12:4, 7; cf. Isa 9:15), we must realize that his arguments are very convincing. Consequently, not even God’s loyal angels are certain that God’s judgments are ALWAYS perfect.

CHRIST’S DEATH

But Satan and his angels were defeated, driven out of heaven, and thrown down to the earth” (Rev 12:9-10). “There was no longer a place found for them in heaven” (Rev 12:8).

The series of articles on Revelation 12 shows that Satan was driven out of heaven as THE DIRECT CONSEQUENCE OF and, therefore, immediately after Christ’s victory on earth (cf. Rev 12:13). This means that Jesus died to make an end to this war in heaven and that, without His death, it would not have been possible to refute Satan’s objections to God’s judgments. (This is also explained below in the section, Why Christ had to die.)

WAR CONTINUES ON EARTH

However, His death did NOT make an end to the war on earth (Rev 12:12).

A single error by God or even the slightest doubt about the perfection of His judgments will limit the perfect happiness of the whole universe for all eternity. If only one person, who should be saved, is condemned to hell, some sorrow will always remain. Therefore, for as long as even one of Satan’s accusations remains unrefuted, and until all understand that His judgments are always perfect, God delays Christ’s return and, therefore, the implementation of His judgments.

The war in heaven is seldomly mentioned from pulpits. The Bible is mostly concerned with things on earth and does not mention the bigger context of the war in heaven much. Consequently, many Christians are not even aware of it. Nevertheless, it should be clear that evil developed in heaven and was brought to this world (Gen 3:1-5). Since an appreciation of the nature of the war in heaven is critical for the interpretation of the sealed book, the reader is advised to read some of the articles in the series – The Origin of Evil; particularly the article – Why Satan thought he could win against GodThe series of articles on Revelation 12 is also important.

See the series on Revelation 12 for a further discussion.

THE SAME CRISIS

Based on this explanation, it can be shown as follows that Revelation 5 and 12 describe the same crisis:

1) Both chapters describe Christ’s death:

In both chapters, (a) the first four verses describe the time BEFORE Christ, (b) the fifth refers to His death, and (c) the rest of both chapters describe the time AFTER His death.

2) Both chapters describe a crisis in heaven because of an inability to understand:

Revelation 5 symbolizes the crisis as a book that nobody is able to open, causing John to weep greatly (Rev 5:1-4).

Revelation 12 describes the crisis as a “war” between the angels of heaven, namely a dispute over God’s judgments and an inability to refute Satan’s accusations and to conclusively show that God’s judgments are always perfect.

3) In both chapters, Christ’s death solved the crisis in heaven BUT NOT ON EARTH:

In Revelation 5, Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book,” turning the sorrow in heaven into joy (Rev 5:4-5) but the war continued on earth, as evidenced by the seals (e.g., Rev 6:9-10).

In Revelation 12, after Christ’s death, Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven (Rev 12:8-9), bringing the war in heaven to an end but the war continued on earth (Rev 12:12-13).

4) In both chapters, the crisis will only finally be resolved through God’s people (Rev 6:9-10; 12:11-12).

In Revelation 12, to “overcame” Satan, required BOTH the blood of the Lamb” and the “testimony” of God’s people, “even when faced with death” is required (Rev 12:10-11). Similarly, in the vision of the sealed book:

Christ, firstly, became “worthy” to open the book because He “purchased” people for God with His blood (Rev 5:9).

Secondly, He breaks the seals. The fifth seal shows God’s people under the altar crying to God to avenge their “blood” (Rev 6:9-10). By implication, it was their blood that was spilled in the previous seals. Since the book is opened by breaking the seals, it means that the testimony (and consequential deaths) of God’s people are required for that purpose.

THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

Book of LifeFor these reasons, the sealed book and the “war in heaven” describe the same crisis. Consequently, the war in Revelation 12 helps us to understand the nature of the concealed information in Revelation 5.

In both Revelation 5 and 12, the crisis is caused by a lack of understanding. What Revelation 12 adds is that that lack of understanding relates to God’s judgments. The sealed book in Revelation 5, therefore, symbolizes a dispute about God’s judgments. And since His judgments are contained in the book of life (Rev 21:27; 20:15; Rom 8:13), the sealed book is the book of life.

FURTHER CONCLUSIONS

The conclusion that the two chapters describe the same crisis also allows us to interpret other aspects of the symbolism of the book with the seven seals:

1) The seven seals – the barriers to understanding God’s judgments – are Satan’s brilliantly presented and informed accusations against the people whom God elected to eternal life.

2) That the book is sealed does not mean that God’s judgments were unknown or not explained but that nobody was able to fully refute Satan and show conclusively that God’s judgments are always perfect.

3) John’s tears (Rev 5:4) represent the sorrow in heaven in the time BEFORE Christ’s victory for, at that time, it seemed as if God would NEVER be able to execute His judgments, that Satan and evil would have to exist for all eternity, and that God’s people will never be resurrected.

4) That Jesus breaks the seals means that He directs events on earth to obtain evidence that Satan’s objections are false.

5) To open and read the book does not mean to learn WHO is saved, but to understand WHY they and only they are saved.

6) God is unable to open the book Himself in the sense that He created intelligent beings who are truly free and HE WANTS His creatures to understand His judgments (cf. John 15:15)! He will not force them to accept His judgments.

7) Until all understand that His judgments are perfect, God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments.

This section is discussed in more detail in the article – The sealed book in Revelation 5 is the Lamb’s Book of Life.

WHY CHRIST HAD TO DIE

This section discusses the significance of Christ’s death as explained by the vision of the sealed book. Before His death, nobody was able to break the seals (Rev 5:3) but, after He appeared as a slain lamb, Jesus Christ was declared “worthy” to do it (Rev 5:5, 9). So, we ask, why was He not “worthy” to break the seals before His death and how did His death make Him “worthy?”

The church has been debating this question – why Jesus had to die – for the last 2000 years. (See – Theories of the Atonement.) In my view, the vision of the sealed book provides the answer but, to my knowledge, my website is the only one that uses this vision for that purpose.

CHRIST’S SAVING DEATH

To answer questions about the significance of Christ’s death, we must first agree on what it means when the Bible says that we are saved by Christ’s death or His blood. What about His death is able to save people?

Firstly, we are not saved by His literal blood, but by His death. His blood is simply a symbol of His death.

Secondly, we are not saved merely because He died but because He died without sin (Heb 4:15). That is what Revelation means when it says that He “has overcome” (Rev 5:5; 3:21).

Thirdly, His death does not simply refer to the fact that He died but to His FINAL HOURS. During those hours, Satan inflicted the most severe torment and temptations on Jesus in an effort that He would act contrary to the will of God by using His power to save Himself from his agony (cf. Luke 22:42). But Jesus remained “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10).

However, fourthly, that victory reflects how He overcame THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE, for if He disobeyed God AT ANY TIME during His life, His death would have been to no avail.

Lastly, the significance of the MOMENT of His death was that it was THE END of the test He had to endure. He became a human being to allow Satan to test Him with temptations to sin. Until He died, the heavenly beings watched the battle between Christ and Satan with bated breath. But when He died, that test came to an end. Knowing that He died without ever disobeying God, the heavens erupted in jubilation, as recorded in Revelation 5.

In conclusion, when the Bible refers to His blood or His death, it really refers to the fact that He remained “faithful until death.” That is what gave His death the power to save.

See HERE for the full discussion.

HOW DID HIS DEATH MAKE HIM WORTHY?

The Cross

Why was the Son of God not “worthy” to break the seals before His death (cf. Rev 5:3, 5)? And how did His death make Him “worthy” (Rev 5:9)?

Firstly, we should agree that the Son of God was not somehow improved by overcoming Satan’s temptations.

Neither did Christ’s death make God more willing to forgive, as church tradition claims. The opposite is true: God, the Father, is the One driving redemption (e.g., John 3:16; Col 1:12-14; 1:19-20; 1 Tim 1:1; 2:3-5).

The following is my best current explanation:

1) Satan accused God’s people (Rev 12:10), showing that they are sinners. Effectively, Satan accused God of unfair judgment.

2) Since the Son is the One who breaks the seals of the book, thereby providing evidence to support God’s judgments, we can assume that that was also His role BEFORE He became a human being. In other words, before His incarnation, the Son was Satan’s main opponent.

3) Since Satan’s nature is that of an accuser (cf. Gen 3:3-5; Rev 12:10), we can assume that he also accused the Son PERSONALLY.

4) The important point is that, since Satan tempted Jesus to sin in every conceivable way (Heb 4:15), we can assume that Satan claimed that, given the right circumstances, the Son would also sin.

5) Satan’s purpose is to defend himself against God’s condemnation.

6) In order to be trusted to defend God’s judgments, the Son had to refute Satan’s charges against Himself. For that reason, by becoming a human being, He subjected Himself to a test. Although tempted in every conceivable way (Heb 4:15), Jesus remained “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). This demonstrated something about Him that was ALWAYS true. Now, the universe is fully convinced that Jesus is “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:14), meaning that they trust Him to reveal the truth about God’s judgments.

So, what changed at His death is that He passed the test, demonstrating His worthiness.

However, even after the Cross, the book remains sealed. This is explained as follows: The book is the book of God’s judgments, and the seals are Satan’s objections to God’s judgments. Christ’s victory over sin removed Satan’s accusations against Christ personally. However, while Jesus never sinned, God’s people are all sinners. Christ’s victory, therefore, did not address Satan’s objections against God’s people.

See HERE for the full discussion.

GOD’S CREATURES ARE TRULY FREE.

CREATED FREE

The previous discussion assumes that God allows His creatures to question His judgments. Many Christians think of God as a dictator, deciding unilaterally who will be saved and who will go to hell.

This website takes the opposite view, namely that the Almighty God desires a universe filled with love. For that reason, He has populated the universe with intelligent creatures who are truly free, for true love is only possible where there is freedom. Love cannot be forced.

But that also means that God has sacrificed a great deal of control over the course of events in the universe. He has limited His own freedom.

Since God’s creatures are free to love, they are also free to rebel against their Creator. They have that freedom without even the fear of punishment, for if we obey because we fear punishment, then we are not really free. (God will eventually destroy evil, but not as punishment for evil done in the PAST. He will destroy evil to protect the FUTURE happiness of the universe.)

THE CRISIS

When God condemned him (Ezek 28:5, 19), Lucifer criticized God’s judgment, claiming that He judges unfairly. Because of the freedom His creatures have, God allows Satan complete freedom to defend himself.

To suppress this rebellion with force, BEFORE the intelligent creatures understand the true nature of the rebellion, would only serve to confirm to them Satan’s accusations that we do not have real freedom, and that God judges unilaterally. For that reason, God allows time and provides evidence of the perfect accuracy of His judgments. That is what the sealed book of Revelation is all about. God’s intelligent beings must decide for themselves whether Satan’s accusations are true. The controversy can only be resolved on the basis of evidence.

Consistent with the principle of complete freedom, the One through whom God created all things (e.g., Col 1:16-17), works in the weakness of a slain lamb (Rev 5:6). This is how God rules the universe. He is infinitely powerful but exercises that power through self-sacrificial love.

For a further discussion:

REVELATION 5

This section is a summary of the article – Revelation 5; verse by verse. But it also serves as a summary of the previous conclusions.

THE SEALED BOOK (5:1)

This chapter begins with the sealed book in God’s right hand (Rev 5:1).

The sealed book has been interpreted as the book of God’s judgments (the book of life) and the seals as Satan’s informed accusations against God’s elect.

God’s judgments are known. “Sealed up,” therefore, means that, due to Satan’s accusations, even God’s loyal angels are unable to fully refute Satan’s allegations of unfair judgment.

NO ONE IS WORTHY (5:2-3)

A search is made but no one is found “worthy to open the book
and to break its seals” (Rev 5:2-3).

The Son of God defended God’s people and God’s judgments. As part of Satan’s strategy to discredit God’s judgments, Satan was able to create a level of doubt in the minds of the created universe about the trustworthiness of the Son. In that sense, before His death, not even the Son was not regarded as “worthy” to open the book.

GREAT SORROW (5:4)

John began “to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:4). John’s weeping symbolizes the great sorrow in God’s creation caused by the inability to conclusively prove the perfection of God’s judgments because, for as long as Satan’s objections to God’s judgments remain unrefuted, God delays Christ’s return and evil must continue to reign over the world.

JESUS OVERCAME (5:5-6)

But then one of the elders said to John:

“Stop weeping … the Lion
that is from the tribe of Judah
(Jesus Christ) …
has overcome so as to open the book
and its seven seals
” (Rev 5:5).

And I saw between the throne … and the elders
a Lamb standing, as if slain” (Rev 5:6).

HOW DID JESUS OVERCOME?

Overcome” means to be “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10); to maintain your testimony “even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11). People are not persecuted for their faith, but for their testimony.

Jesus overcame throughout His life. But His highest test and greatest victory were the hours preceding His death. He remained “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10).

WHY DID OVERCOMING MAKE THE SON WORTHY?

Satan claimed that even the Son would sin, given the right circumstances. By remaining faithful to God despite all temptations which Satan put in His path, the Son refuted all of Satan’s accusations against Him personally. Now, the Son is trusted as “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:14) to reveal the true nature of God’s people.

WHEN DOES JESUS APPEAR IN THE THRONE ROOM?

In verse 6, Jesus appears as a slain lamb. That symbolism explains HOW he overcame, namely at the cross as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Revelation 5:5-6, therefore, describes Christ’s ascension to heaven. (See here for more.) Consequently:

      • Revelation 5:1-4 and John’s weeping describe the time BEFORE Christ’s death.
      • The remainder of Revelation 5 describes events in heaven immediately AFTER Christ’s ascension.

THE LION AND THE LAMB

John hears about a lion (Rev 5:5) but when he looks, He sees a lamb (Rev 5:6). These animals seem like opposites, but reflect two different roles of the same person; Jesus Christ. He “has overcome;” not by using His lion-like power but by restraining His power and, like a lamb, by offering up His life. However, He will return as a lion (Rev 6:16-17).

SENT OUT IN ALL THE WORLD

Before Jesus appeared in the throne room, “the seven Spirits of God” were “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but, now they are “sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6). In the context of a slain lamb, this points to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:33; cf. John 14:26).

CHRIST’S ENTHRONEMENT (5:7-14)

Jesus “came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (Rev 5:7). This has been interpreted above as Jesus’ enthronement after His ascension. The New Testament frequently states that Jesus sat down “at the right hand of God” (e.g., Eph 1:20; Rom 8:34).

Christ does not open the book immediately. He will break the seals over the church age. The reason is that He, by overcoming, did not refute Satan’s objections against God’s elect. Before His death, the war in heaven was at a stalemate and it seems as if evil will have to exist forever. But His death brought a breakthrough because it showed Jesus to be “worthy” to break the seals (Rev 5:9).

YOU WERE SLAIN

The heavenly beings sang “a new song” (Rev 5:9) because something new has happened. They sang to Jesus:

You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

The Cross of ChristAs argued above, Christ’s blood symbolizes His death. His death refers not only to when He breathed His last but to His final hours. During those hours the tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him, but He overcame; just like He lived His entire life in obedience to God.

PRAISE AND WORSHIP

The chapter concludes with “myriads of myriads” angels praising “the Lamb that was slain” (Rev 5:11-12), followed by “every created thing” saying:

To Him who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb,
be blessing and honor and glory and
dominion forever and ever.

And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen’. And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Rev 5:13-14)

THE FIRST FOUR SEALS

THE WHITE HORSE

When the Lamb broke one of the seven seals …
and behold, a white horse,
and he who sat on it had a bow;
and a crown was given to him,
and he went out conquering and to conquer
(Rev 6:1-2).

PARTHIANS

In the view of critical scholars, the first seal describes the Parthians, a first-century enemy of the Roman Empire, who rode on white horses. However, the seals symbolize spiritual realities; not literal things such as horses. Furthermore, this horse “went out conquering and to conquer.” This implies that it will never stop conquering. Therefore, it symbolizes events leading up to the second coming. It cannot be limited to the beginning of the church age, as the Parthian interpretation does.

THE GOSPEL

For the following reasons, the white horse symbolizes

Used with permission from Andries Jacobus van Niekerk.

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