What is the significance of Jesus opening the seals on the scroll?
Recently in a facebook group, that I am a member of, prominent pretribulationist Dave James said concerning when the eschatological wrath of God begins, "The bottom-line question is "who opens the seals?" It is the Lamb."
One of the many misunderstandings that contribute to what I consider to be the error of pretribulationism is saying that Christ's action, in opening the seals, makes the future events associated with them the eschatological wrath of God. To say it another way, pretribulationism is highly dependent upon all the events witnessed by John at the opening of the seals being various expressions of God's eschatological wrath. To simplify further, Jesus opened the seals, therefore the associated events are God's wrath. That is the standard pretrib position. However, there are some pretribbers, prominent men, who recognize that the day of the Lord doesn't begin until after the sixth seal. I don't want to unfairly pigeonhole all pretribbers into this traditional view.
Numerous times I have laid out manifold evidence against the events associated with the first 6 seals being the eschatological wrath of God. What I would like to do now is explain the false construct of "seal judgments".
For many years I taught that there were 19 specific detailed judgments upon the unbelieving following the rapture of the church. I taught six seals, six trumpets, and seven bowls, that they were the three septet judgments of God's eschatological wrath (How does 6+6+7 = 3 septet judgments? Those who know, know.) However, after recognizing many of the errors of the form of pretribulationism that I taught, I came to acknowledge that the day of the Lord, and God's wrath therein, cannot begin until after the great earthquake and cosmic disturbance witnessed at the opening of the sixth seal. This meant that a view of God's eschatological wrath was not present in Revelation until after the sixth seal is opened.
To corroborate this truth, I began to understand the nature of God's eschatological wrath during the day of the Lord and noticed that it was God's vengeance in recompense upon those who persecuted His holy ones (saints). Moses, the prophets, Christ, and Paul each spoke of this truth. Paul said that Christ, at His revelation, in vengeance, would recompense tribulation upon those who persecuted His church (2Thes 1:6-10). Isaiah said, behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. (Isa 35:4) Jesus said: "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luk 18:7-8).
Then I remembered, that in the scene associated with the fifth seal, the souls of the martyrs under the altar were crying out that their blood be avenged. But they were told that they had to wait a little while until more of their brethren and fellow-servants be killed (Rev 6:9-11). What did this mean? It meant that the vengeance in recompense that characterizes the eschatological day of the Lord had not taken place yet. God's eschatological wrath was still in store. It was not yet falling upon the wicked at the time of the fifth seal martyrs event, and that it would not fall for a little time yet.
While this is all strong evidence that the wrath of God is not present in these seal events, in the minds of many we still have not dealt the death blow to the "Jesus opened the seals therefore it is God's wrath" idea. Now let's examine the opening of the seals on the biblion. Let's consider the idea of a seal as it is used in the book of Revelation.
Notice: let me state that the prewrath eschatological model which I hold is not in any way dependent upon the interpretive clarification that I am about to make. Pre-wrath eschatology stands firmly upon the explicit statements of the prophets, the apostles, and Christ. It is what flows from a natural reading of the eschatological teaching of Jesus and Paul, a reading that is not subordinate to a contrived eschatological construct.
What is the nature of the scroll and seven seals that only Christ can open?
Many various explanations have been presented over the last 100 years concerning the scroll. They range from the "title deed of the earth" to "a certificate of debenture". Some explanations have plausibility, or at least some reasonable arguments in support of such an interpretation. Yet, some of these appear to be accommodations to the pretrib eschatological model. While the contents of the scroll, what is written within and without, is important, I want to focus upon the seals themselves.
What is the function of seals?
The purpose of the seals is to secure, keep hid, or keep private that which is written within the scroll. The imagery used is that which was not uncommon to important documents millennia ago. Wax or clay seals would be placed so that the first seal protected (kept shielded from view and damage or tampering) the remaining seals and what was written upon the scroll. When the first seal was broken or loosed the scroll could be opened to the point of the second seal. This allowed a small portion of the contents to be viewed and gave access to the second seal. This methodology ensured that the primary contents of the scroll could not be viewed or altered due to an accidentally broken seal on the outside of the scroll.
When the second seal was loosed or broken some more of the writing would be able to be viewed and the third seal would become accessible. As each successive seal is opened more of the contents of the scroll would be revealed. This continues until the last seal is broken. At that point, all that was within the scroll could be viewed. The purpose of the seals was to keep what was within hidden from all but He who was authorized to open the scroll. The seals could only be opened by one with authority to do so.
The question before us is, "Do the seals function to guard the contents from view, or do they signify some type of initiating action."
I believe that their primary and likely exclusive import is to keep hidden the revelation of future events. We see this very thing in Rev 10:4 and Rev 22:10 where John is told to seal up something that he saw or heard and later seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book. I believe that informs us of the true nature of the seven seals on the scroll.
Rev 10:4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.
Rev 22:10 And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
Does the historical use of seals to keep private and protect the contents of scrolls fit the context and language that we see in the Book of Revelation? I believe it does. John was caught up to the throne of God in spirit for the purpose of being shown the things which shall be hereafter.
Rev 4:1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
Upon arriving he witnesses the LORD upon the throne, the four living creatures, and the 24 elders. There is no indication yet about future events. The revelation of future events is contained within the scroll. Then he is told no man can open the scroll. He is distraught. Then he is comforted by the news of the Lamb being able to open the scroll. Then when Christ opens the first seal, John is told to "come and see". John witnessed Christ break the 1st seal and was beckoned to see a future event. It was not words that John saw, but a vision of the future.
Rev 6:1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
Rev 6:2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
The same takes place when John saw Christ open the 2nd seal on the scroll.
Rev 6:3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
Rev 6:4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
Christ's opening of the second seal made more of the scroll available to view. Each time he sees a vision of the future, a vision of the days prior to Christ's return.
Rev 6:5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
Rev 6:6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
Rev 6:7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
Rev 6:8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
This continues until the 5th seal. By the time Christ opens the 5th seal, John no longer needs to be told "come and see".
Rev 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Rev 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Rev 6:11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
It is this change in pattern from the apocalyptic visions of the first four seals to the cry of martyred saints that makes it easy to recognize that the opening of the seals is not Jesus executing His wrath upon the evil world. The subject here in the vision of the fifth seal is Christ's own dear ones, of whom the world was not worthy. It is testimony to the megas thlipsis great slaughter of believing Jews and Gentiles by the god of this present evil world, through his Beast and False Prophet.
If the seals are Christ pouring out His eschatological wrath as pretribulationists claim, then Christ makes a great departure from the historic pattern and promise of not subjecting His own to His wrath. In fact, many pretribulationists believe that God's saints are of different classes, one class (the church) who is promised exemption from His wrath and others (the fictitious sub-class tribulation saints) who will be subjected to His wrath. God forbid the thought that He would pour out His wrath upon His own dear servants for whom Christ's blood has already satisfied the righteous justice of God.
The opening of seal six remains true to form. Jesus opens the seal and John witnesses a future event from within the scroll. This future event concerns the portent sign of Christ's arrival and His arrival at His parousia. It is at His arrival that He is revealed in power and glory with the mighty holy angels for every eye to see.
Rev 6:12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
Rev 6:13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
Rev 6:14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
Rev 6:15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
Rev 6:16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
Rev 6:17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
What John saw was consistent with the great earthquake and cosmic disturbance that Joel, Isaiah, and Christ said would precede Christ's arrival initiating the day of the Lord. It is as if John used Isaiah's words describing the fear of the nations at Christ's arrival.
Isa 2:19 And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
Jesus spoke of this same thing. An earthquake that moves islands and mountains out of their places sends the seas and waves roaring.
Luk 21:25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
Luk 21:26 Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
Luk 21:27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Yet, with all that John has seen, the majority of the scroll remains sealed. It isn't until the last, the seventh seal, is opened that all the contents are available to view. When the seventh seal is opened, the ominous nature of what remained, left all in Heaven quiet for the space of half an hour. It is the horrific expressions of God's wrath that would fall in that future day that hushed every tongue. Throughout the remainder of the book, John describes what he saw that left all the hosts of heaven speechless.
Rev 8:1 And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
Rev 8:2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
Rev 8:3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
Rev 8:4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
Rev 8:5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
Rev 8:6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
Rev 8:7 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
I understand this whole event to have taken place in John's day. He was caught up to Heaven in his day, at the end of the first century AD. The seals were opened while John was there. What John saw when the seals were opened are future events that are yet to take place. Nothing about this is an indication that Jesus opening the seals means the events in association with them are the wrath of God. The wrath of God begins with the FIRE (a common theme) of the first trumpet judgment.