Lesson 13
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Our last study considered three basic rules of interpretation for apocalyptic prophecies.  In shortened form they are:

  1. Apocalyptic prophecies have a beginning and ending points in time.  Events within the prophecy that mark the passage of time must occur in order in which they are presented.
  2. Apocalyptic prophecy is not fulfilled until all the specifications and the chronology of the prophecy are both met.
  3. Applicable scripture must interpret those elements believed to be symbolic for the Bible must interpret itself.

We also learned that Revelation has three languages types.  These are:

  1. Symbolic or spiritual
  2. Analogue
  3. Literal

The student of Revelation must be careful to make the proper distinction between these language types when studying the story.

When does Revelation’s story begin?

In order to understand Revelation’s story, we must have a chronological beginning date.  Because apocalyptic prophecy deals with sequence or structure, a chronological beginning date is extremely important.  We saw this point confirmed in our study on Daniel 8.  The decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem in 457 B.C. marked the beginning of the 490 years as well as the 2,300-year prophecy!

We have learned that John’s vision (like Daniel’s) contained information for his day and information on things that would occur later.  How much later?  From the outline in the previous lesson, we know that Revelation 4-6 contain a new sequence.  These chapters tell us about a great convocation in heaven where Jesus is found worthy to take a book sealed with seven seals.  Upon receiving the book, Jesus begins to open the book by breaking one seal open at a time.  What is this book?  What is inside it?  Why is it sealed up?  When does this scene take place?

The all-important book

We need to read the story that surrounds the book with seven seals.  Notice John’s remark:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.  And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what soon must take place after this.’ {2} At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.  {3} And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.  A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

{4} Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders.  They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.  {5} From the throne came flashes of lightening, rumblings and peals of thunder.  Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing.  These are the seven spirits of God. 

{6} Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.  In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.  {7} The first living creature was like an lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.  {8} Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.  Day and night they never stop saying: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’  {9} Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever, {10} the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever.  They lay their crowns before the throne and say: {11} ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’

{5:1} Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. {2} And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ {3} But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.

{4} I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. {5} Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll its seven seals.’ {6} Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.  He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

{7} He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.  {8} And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.  Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. {9} And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  {10} You made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth.’

{11} Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. {12} In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ {13} Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and power, for ever and ever!’ “ Revelation 4 and 5

The elders?

Who are the 24 elders?  The Bible doesn’t explain who they are in clear terms.  They are mentioned 12 times in Revelation.  However, there are some very strong clues that reveal their identity.  First, the term elder means “one who has gone before,” or someone of greater experience. Revelation 5:9 indicate that the blood of Jesus has redeemed the elders.  Paul tells us that Jesus took some resurrected people to heaven with him at the time of His ascension.  Ephesians 4:7,8 But perhaps the greatest evidence supporting the idea that these are people who once lived on earth is the location of their thrones. Understand that billions of angels are in this assembly.  The judgment of human beings is taking place. And who should be given a front row seat to observe the fairness and mercy of Jesus? Those who have been redeemed!

The Lamb’s book

John clearly saw the Lamb deemed worthy to take this all-important book from the right hand of the Father.  Revelation 5:7 Even though John does not call the book sealed with seven seals the “book of life” in chapter 5, he clearly refers to this book of life in other places in Revelation.  It’s the only book the Lamb receives in Revelation’s story!


“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb…” Revelation 13:8

“…The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast…” Revelation 17:8  (Note when the book of life was written.)

“Nothing impure will ever enter it (New Jerusalem), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  Revelation 21: 27

Daniel knew of this book even though he does not call it by name!  Speaking about the close of probation, Daniel says, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as not happened from the beginning of nations until then.  But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.”  Daniel 12:1

King David knew of this book. “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

There is only one place in the Bible that tells us when this book is opened: It’s at the end of the 1,000 years. This is when the 7th seal is broken. John says, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life…” Revelation 20:12

The book of life was composed and perfectly sealed up before the creation of the world. It contains the story of the plan of salvation and the outcome. When the great day of reckoning comes at the end of the 1,000 years, the resurrection of the wicked takes place. Revelation 20:5 At this one and only time in earth’s existence, all members of the human race are alive! It’s a grand and terrible moment.

With the wicked resurrected, Satan immediately stirs the vast multitude with rebellion. He convinces the numberless crowd that God intends to do them harm. He incites a dramatic uprising to destroy the New Jerusalem and the saints.  As the wicked rush upon the city, Jesus speaks. The multitude is stopped in their tracks.

Silence falls upon the breathless mob for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1 Jesus, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, speaks.  The anger and rebellion of the numberless mob dissipates. As lighting pierces the darkness, the wicked realize they stand before their Maker. He is not a tyrant. He is not angry. He speaks.

Jesus explains the plan of salvation to the multitude. The wicked behold the love of God. Each person understands the economy of salvation. Each person’s life is presented from the open books. The wicked see their deeds just as God saw their deeds. Each person beholds the spiritual influences of good and evil upon their life. They see the choices they made. He who sees the hearts and reads the motives reveals sin to them with unvarnished clarity. The wicked know why they are condemned. All justification for sin is expelled in the light of God’s love. With every motive fully exposed, sin is seen as nothing more than love for self. The wicked now know what the love of Jesus is, why he died on Calvary and why they cannot be saved.

At the end of this revelation, every knee bows before Jesus with deepest emotion. The wicked admit Jesus is fair and just in his eternal decision and the righteous admit that Jesus is unbelievably merciful. Jesus said, “ Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength’ All who have raged against him will come and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.” Isaiah 45:23-25 even though the wicked admit the justice and love of God, they cannot change their evil course. Outside of God there is no power to overcome sin! Such is the heinous power of sin.

John says, “Then another book was opened which is the book of life.” At last, the breaking of the 7th seal allows the mysterious book of life to be opened. Heaven’s most intriguing book has been sealed for thousands of years and it contains not only the story of salvation, but also the names of all who have been granted eternal life! The victors stand around the throne with deep interest.

What a moment! What a day! If the number of the redeemed of all ages is 14,567,259,123 that’s the exact number of names remaining there! The names of the wicked were blotted out when the book was written. Both the wicked and the righteous watch with amazement. The wicked have no argument with the salvation of the saints. The mercy and justice of Jesus has been revealed to them. The righteous bow in awe that Jesus knew them before the world existed! Consider the significance of this moment. One group bows before Jesus recognizing his fairness and justice while the other group bows before Jesus recognizing his love and mercy!

The opening of this book proves two very important things. First, it unquestionably proves the omniscience of God. He knows everything about everything. The contents of the book, written before the world came into existence, clearly describes what actually took place upon earth. Each member of the human family beholds the story written in the book of life, and knows the story is accurate for he was an actor in the story. The book of life is identical to the book of deeds with one exception. The names of the wicked are blotted out of the book of life.

Secondly, the book of life unquestionably proves that god actually granted the power of choice to each person. Each member of the human family knows that his eternal reward was his choice. Those inside the New Jerusalem know they are there because they chose Jesus as their Savior. Those outside the city know they are there because they chose to reject the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The net effect is this:  Even though God knows everything about everything. He does not manipulate his subjects on the basis of foreknowledge. The power of choice was freely bestowed upon all his children and the opening of this book confirms it!

The book of life is so-called because it contains the names of those who will live forever. This book will be studied for eternity. The contents of this book will be compared with the Bible and the books of record throughout the ages, for the redeemed will never cease to marvel at the love of God.

One last and very important point. The greatest punishment God gives a human being is the “reality of forfeiture.” When the wicked behold with their own eyes what they chose to forfeit, words will not be able to describe their anguish.  The wicked, in deepest grief, turn and vent their remorse upon each other. They begin to kill one another and to finish the carnage; Jesus sends fire from heaven and burns them up. Sin and sinners are no more. The universe is free at last! Free of sin.

Back to the book with seven seals

So, when does Jesus take the book sealed with seven seals? There are only three choices for the answer to this question.

1.      Shortly after his ascension

2.      1844

3.      Sometime in the future

The Bible answers the question! In fact, Daniel provides the key. Notice Daniel’s vision recorded in Daniel 7:

“As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white as wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened…and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:9-14

Consider the parallels

Several parallels immediately appear between Daniel 7 and Revelation 4 and 5. The most important parallel in these two scenes is that Jesus is especially honored. He receives authority, glory and sovereign power at a specific ceremony in both cases.  According to John, this point in time is connected with a Lamb receiving the book of life.  It is unreasonable to suggest that Jesus receives glory, sovereign power and authority on two separate occasions.  In other words, Jesus wouldn’t need sovereign power conferred upon Him again if it had been previously given to him.

Daniel and John favorably compare:

Daniel 7:9 and Revelation 4:2,4

I looked thrones were set in place.

Before me was a throne with 24 thrones surrounding it occupied by 24 elders.

Daniel 7:9 and Revelation 4:3,4

The Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool.

The One who sat there had the appearance of a jasper and (the brilliance of a ruby). The elders were dressed in white.

Daniel 7:9,10 and Revelation 4:5

His throne was flaming with fire and its wheels were all ablaze. And the books were opened.

From the throne came flashes of lightening, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne seven lamps were blazing.

Daniel 7:13 and Revelation 5:7

I saw one like “a son of man.” He approached the Father sitting on the throne and took the scroll from His right hand.

The Lamb approached the Father sitting on the throne and took the scroll from His right hand.

Daniel 7:14 and Revelation 5:9,12

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power.

The Elders sing of Jesus, “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals.” Billions of angels sing, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

The parallel between the scenes is unmistakable.  Daniel and John saw the heavenly courtroom scene. Daniel saw a human being, “a son of man”, approach the Father sitting on His throne and John saw “a Lamb looking as though it had been slain” come before the Father as He sat upon His throne. Daniel saw thrones put in place and the court convene with billions of angels in attendance. He saw the Father take His seat and the books of record were opened. He saw Jesus approach the Father and receive sovereign power and glory.

John also saw a great convocation in the throne room of the universe and specifically mentions seeing 24 thrones around the Father’s throne.  Billions of angels were in attendance.  Heaven’s most important book was in the right hand of the Father.  A search through the universe was conducted for someone worthy to receive this important book – for some heavenly process cannot continue until this book is received.  John wept because the business of heaven was suspended until someone was found worthy to receive the book of life.  After an intense investigation throughout the universe, Jesus was judged worthy to receive the book.  The elders along with billions of angels sang enthusiastically as power, wealth, honor and praise were conferred upon Jesus.

Jesus received book of life in 1844

After comparing the two visions, there is no question that Daniel and John saw the recognition and promotion given to Jesus when He received power, wealth, strength, wisdom and praise. From Daniel we learn that Jesus is promoted at the time heaven’s court convenes in 1844.  From John we learn that Jesus is promoted at the time He receives the book sealed with seven seals. The honor conferred upon Jesus in these scenes confirms that Daniel and John saw the same scene.  Thus the book of life was given to Jesus in 1844.

Two other matters confirm 1844 as the correct date.  First, on the Old Testament Day of Atonement, the High Priest had to be found worthy to officiate on behalf of Israel before he could conduct the service. (See Leviticus 16)  If we understand that the courtroom scene described by Daniel and John symbolizes the actual Day of Atonement in the heavenly sanctuary, it is appropriate that Jesus is found worthy to conduct the services related to this occasion.

The last point confirming 1844 as the date Jesus received the book sealed with seven seals comes from the internal harmony of Revelation’s story.  Since the story has not been studied yet, this point is not helpful at this moment to the Bible student.  However, as we study Revelation, the harmony of the sum of the parts will continue to confirm the importance and significance of 1844.  When we look into the various sequences that involve timing, the significance of this point will be clearly realized.

What are the seven seals?

According to Webster, a seal is a device that secures an object.  In this case, 7 seals perfectly secure the contents of the book of life.  This means no one can get into the book and change its contents. What was written down in the book cannot be altered.  In fact, the content of the book of life is not revealed in Revelation’s story.  The contents are not revealed until every person who ever lived stands before Jesus!  John saw when the book was opened (Revelation 20:12), but he did not see what was in the book.

The opening of the seals implies two things.  First, as each seal opens, the contents of the book are chronologically nearer to exposure.  The seals are numbered consecutively, thus when the 4th seal is opened, the events that occur under this seal confirm where in the sequence we are.  When the 6th seal is opened, the second coming of Jesus occurs – but keep in mind, the book still has one more seal to be opened.  The book is not opened at the second coming.

Secondly, and more importantly, the openings of the seals only have meaning when we understand their relationship to the book. What point is made unsealing the book with seven seals if the exposure of the contents of the book is not the object of the sequence? The seals progress in a definite sequence towards the climatic moment when the book of life is opened.  The progression of the seals is viewed in heaven by billions of attending angels (remember, they haven’t seen inside the book) and on earth by people studying Revelation’s story!  These things may not be easy to understand at first, but those who study will understand.  Daniel was told, “None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” Daniel 12:10

A very brief review of the 7 seals is outlined below:

  1. Rider on white horse – sets out to conquer.
  2. Rider on red horse – causes conflict and war.
  3. Rider on black horse – warns of judgment.
  4. Rider on pale horse – brings devastation.
  5. Martyrs for truth’s sake.
  6. The Lamb’s second coming.
  7. Silence for about a half hour.

Jesus received the book of life in 1844 and begun opening the seals at that time.  We will see that the first three seals were opened during a short period of time and that these seals prepare the world for the events described in the next three seals!

Before we examine the seals, we must understand an important point that is often overlooked.  John is in vision and he has been taken to the heavenly throne room to view the things that occur at the end of the world. Remember John was told; “write the things you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”  Revelation 4 begins an apocalyptic sequence that begins with 1844 and ends at the end of the millennium.

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