St. John’s Apocalypse is a numerological puzzle, and the seven seals are one of the sevenfold units describing God’s work in issuing judgment on the Harlot and the Beast. The first four seals are broken and four horsemen are freed. Who are the horsemen and how do they relate to the remaining three seals?
The Seven Seals, divided up into seven, are a clearly theological number. But the sides of the sevens, hinging on the fourth seal, are comparable with each other. But first, a discussion of the Horsemen:
I firmly believe that the Horsemen are Christ and the martyrs. When Zechariah saw the Angel of the Lord in the midst of myrtles on the edge of “the deep”, he saw the horsemen subservient to the messenger. The horsemen went to and fro on the earth, noting that the earth was at rest. When the earth is ruled by wicked leaders, rest is wicked. The angels job was to unsettle the world, subvert that rest, and make the world chaotic that Yahweh might bring his order into the world (cf. Zechariah 1:7-17). The horsemen go in the directions of God (North) and Man (South), toward the Holy of Holies in the North where God has set his Spirit at rest and toward the South, the bronze altar, where men will be sacrificed before God (and the smoke of their torment will rise forever in a sacrificial sense) (cf. Zechariah 6:1-8). We are at the same context here: the world is at a wicked rest. The Herodian Land Beast has teamed up with the Neronic Sea Beast in an unholy union, supported by Satan and the nations of the World. The world is ruled by the Dragon, the Land Beast, and the Sea Beast with a locust-Bride standing against the saints of God. The Horsemen come, then, to take rest away from the world. The Horsemen are led by a rider on a white horse (whom we see again in chapter 19 as Christ). They have a fourfold job (H/T to Mike Bull for showing me some of the finer points of this structure):
1. The White Horse goes into the world with a bow, a crown, who went out conquering and to conquer. The bow is a symbol of times that the heavenly waters touched the earthly waters, such as in the Flood or when Elijah was on Mount Carmel. The Bow is used as a Heavenly Flood, the Spirit, to tear people’s bone from their sinews. In the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Risen Christ laid his first siege against the Devil by disarming him. At Pentecost, the Church fired her opening salvo against the world’s governments. But for now, the White Horse has gone to conquer the world through the proclamation of the Gospel by the Spirit. (White, the color of Naphtali, suggests a link to the full holiness of the rider. In the Scriptures, being fully white is being fully holy. Only Christ is fully holy at this point in the book, so we can draw a comparison here. The saints will be clothed in white very shortly. Just because the book isn’t exactly chronological does not mean there is not a timeline in the book.)
2. The second horse, the Red Horse, was given the ability to take peace from the world. He was given a great sword, and people began to slay one another. This is the division between the saints and the world. He is given the very same sword that Yahweh uses to cut up the Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1), suggesting that this Horse aims to destroy the dragon that stands over every nation. It also relies on language from Isaiah 37:28-29 LXX, comparing this time to the time of Sennecharib (that’s another post for another time). In every deliverance, God separates his people from that of her enemy so that they are spared from the ensuing chaos. God hid Israel in their house-tombs, with the doorposts covered by blood, to mark her out against the people of Egypt. (Red, the color of Reuben, suggests a link to both Rahab and the Exodus.)
3. The third horse, the Black Horse, is sent into the world as a just judge, holding the balance of God (Lev 19:36; Psalm 62:9; Proverbs 11:1). He measures the wheat and barley against the wine and oil. Wheat and barley make bread, the “Alpha Food” (cf. James Jordan), which is the food of the Old Covenant. The costs rise in judgment. The oil and wine, though, are untouched because they are the food of the New Covenant. The oil symbolizes the Spirit, and the wine is the drink of kings who find rest in the Promised Land. (Black, the color of Joseph, is an obvious connection. Joseph was a true King, who ruled over Egypt with wisdom as Imhotep, who built pyramids and ruled Jew and Gentile together, feeding them a Eucharistic meal of bread and wine.)
4. The final horse, the pale horse named Death, goes into the world, followed by Hades. They are given the authority to kill with sword (Deut 28:22), famine (Deut 28:16-17), pestilence (Deut 28:21), and wild beasts (Deut 28:26). These being all covenant curses, Death is the judge of the world who brings the covenant curses upon the unfaithful.
In all of these things, the horsemen are acting as covenant judges who bring God’s righteous judgment into the world in an effort to upend the peace of the world, the so-called “pax romana”. This all takes place between the Ascension and Pentecost.
Now, the chiasm as pointed out by Mike Bull:
A. The White Horse spreads the Gospel to the world (6:1-2)
-B. The Red Horse divides the world among the saints and the followers of the Beast (6:3-4)
–C. The Black Horse weighs the old covenant against the new (6:5-6)
—D. The Pale Horse doles out the covenant curses (6:7-8)
–C’. The Host of the Saints and Martyrs call upon God to act upon his side of the covenant. They have already been killed for the sake of the New Covenant, so they expect Him to act. They are clothed in White, and gathered as in the Feast of Trumpets. The saints are singing Psalm 79, a psalm which cries out to God as the nations torture and kill God’s servants. Herodian Jerusalem and Neronic Rome are torturing and killing the saints, so the psalm is appropriate here as well. (6:9-11)
-B’. The Heavens are shaken, and the earth is struck by natural disasters. The stars, sun, and moon all stand for the rulers, so verses 12-17 all say the same thing: because of the opening of the sixth seal, rulers from nations all over the world are shaken and try to Cover themselves, an artificial Day of Coverings/Atonement. The kings fail to be covered because God is shaking the earth, too. This sections relies heavily on Hosea 10, when the kings that Israel relied on are taken down by God head on. The 144,000 are sealed: the first martyrs are sealed in the name of Israel. We then see them in Heavenly worship. They join the saints from the fifth seal in white. This section relies on language from Joel because Joel tells us of the signs that accompany the coming of the Spirit on the world (cf. Joel 2:18-3:5). (6:12-8:1)
A’. The Seventh Seal begins with a silence in heaven, in opposition to the spreading of the Gospel in the first Seal. Another Angel, leading seven angels, appears on the Altar. I think this is the Spirit, because we know that the Spirit is “the seven eyes of God” and the “seven spirits of God”. The Spirit is also associated with the Glory-Cloud, and in Revelation, the Glory-Cloud is the prayers of the saints. The Spirit holds the cloud, pouring the lit prayers on the earth. This is Pentecost. (8:1-5)
This chiasm is a clear 4 + 3 sequence, a worldwide witness to the Triune God.
The Seven Seals sit in the Fourth Day slot of Revelation, the turning point of the book. This is the Pentecost section because the Spirit is being poured out onto all of the world, bringing God’s law with it, which judges nations and divides them. This division is a priestly division, dividing righteous from unrighteous that they might both ascend to God in smoke. The Seven Seals focus primarily on the work of the Church who carries the Spirit to the world led by the risen Joshua, who speaks as if with a sword.
Part of the importance of studying chiasms in Scripture is that you are shown the middle, or turning point, of the passage. We might miss the central point of a passage if we accidentally preach from the fifth day slot as the most important or focus on the second, the division, slot. In this passage, we see that the turning point is the covenant curses being applied to those unfaithful to the covenant. Mike Bull says that someone is always bound that another might be free. Lot’s wife was made a pillar of salt that Sarah might not be barren anymore; Christ was bound that we might be free; the Strong Man is bound that the nations might be free. In the same way, Israel of the flesh was bound by the covenant curses that the saints might be free in the Spirit. This is the most important aspect of the opening of the Seals. The vindication of the saints, the sealing of those alive, and Pentecost are all reactions to the covenant curses being applied. By opening the seals, the Lamb who was slain judges those unfaithful to the old covenant and frees and vindicates those faithful to the new one.
Bonus chiasm: Revelation 7:15-17
A. Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in the temple;
-B. and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence,
–C. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
—D. the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
–C’. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
-B’. and he will guide them to the springs of water,
A’. and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
A mess of quotations from Psalms 1-2, 110, Isaiah 49:10, Ezekiel, Proverbs, come together to say what David said centuries before: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…