by Elder James S. White
Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,
Vol. 55 No. 2, 1880, Jan. 8
"Signs of the Times #2"
8. The seven seals of the sixth chapter of Revelation. John saw a book in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne, sealed with seven seals. Books in the days of the prophet, before the art of printing and binding was discovered, were rolls of parchment. "The usual books of the ancients were not like ours, but were volumes, or long pieces of parchment, rolled upon a long stick as we frequently roll silks. Such was this represented which was sealed with seven seals. Not as if the apostle saw all the seals at once; for there were seven volumes wrapped up one within another, each of which was sealed; so that upon opening and unrolling the first, the second appeared to be sealed up till that was opened, and so on to the seventh."—Wesley.
"It appeared as a roll, consisting of several parchments, according to the custom of those times; and though it was supposed to be written within, yet nothing could be read till the seals were loosed. It was afterward found to contain seven parchments, or small volumes, each of which was separately sealed; but if all the seals had been on the outside, nothing could have been read till they had all been loosed; whereas the loosing of each seal was followed by some discovery of the contents of the roll. Yet the appearance on the outside seems to have indicated that it consisted of seven, or at least of several parts."—Scott,
Here we have a figure of the nature of prophecy, and a special symbol of the prophetic history of the Christian church. The book of Revelation relates to the fourth universal empire, and particularly to that portion of the Christian age that was future when the book was given. He, alone, who sees the end from the beginning, could survey the future of the church and present her history to the prophet in seven distinct periods, illustrated by the seven seals. Therefore the Revelation was. a sealed book when given to John, to be opened and understood as fulfilled. Of the number seven, Dr. Adam Clarke says:—
"The priest in his consecration was to abide seven days and nights at the door of the tabernacle, keeping the Lord's watch. The number seven is what is called among the Hebrews a number of perfection; and it is often used to denote the completion, accomplishment, fullness, or perfection, of a thing, as this period contained the whole course of that time in which God created the world, and appointed the day of rest. As this act of consecration lasted seven days, it signified a per- fect consecration; and intimated to the priest that his whole body and soul, his time and talents, should be devoted to the service of God and his people."
" SEVEN. The way in which this number comes before us on many occasions in Scripture is very remarkable, and suggests that it must have had some hidden or typical significance. The present constitution of nature is recorded to have been made in six days, followed by a seventh day, in which God rested, and which he blessed and sanctified forever. Gen. 2:2, 3.
" The division of time into weeks of seven days each originated in this great event; and the hallowing of the Sabbath in the fourth commandment finds its reason herein: ' For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.' Ex. 20:11. In the patriarchal history, as well as in the Mosaic legislation, the recurrence of the number seven and its combinations is very frequent.
Even in the later Old-Testament history this number is met with too often for it to be always accidental. The repetition of the same number and of its multiples in the New Testament has also been observed. Seven has been called the symbol of perfection and the symbol of rest. But whether this is certainly correct or not, we may safely say with Mr. Wemyss: 'Jacob's seven years' service to Laban; Pharaoh's seven fat oxen and seven lean ones ; the seven branches of the golden candlestick; the seven trumpets, and the seven priests who sounded them; the seven days' siege of Jericho; the seven churches, seven spirits, seven stars, seven seals, seven vials, and many others, sufficiently prove the importance of this sacred number.'—Key to Symbolical Language of Scripture. Jews, Pagans, and Christians have' vied with each other in attempts to prove the mysterious character of this number. The estimation in which it was held, on account of its singularly sacred character, may explain its adoption as a sort of representative number. Of this last use of the term seven, instances occur in the following texts: Lev. 25:4; 1 Sam. 2:5; Ps. 12:6; 79:12; Prov. 26:16; Isa. 4:1; Matt. 18:21,22; Luke 17:4."—Cassell's Bible Dictionary, vol. i.
We briefly call attention to the events under each of the seven seals in their order.
(1.) The opening of the first seal reveals a white horse, whose rider had a bow and a crown as he went forth conquering and to conquer. This is a fit emblem of the triumphs of the gospel in the first centuries of this dispensation, the whiteness of the horse denoting the purity of faith in that age.
(2.) At the opening of the second seal, there appeared a red horse. If the whiteness of the first horse denoted the purity of the gospel in the first period, the redness of the second horse may denote that in the second period the original purity of the church began to be corrupted. The mystery of iniquity was at work hi Paul's day. Errors began to arise, and the love of the world came in at an early date, which ripened into a state of things in Constantine's time, A. D. 323, described by Dr. Rice thus: "It represents a secular period, or union of church and State. Constantine aided the clergy, and put them under obligations to him. Mosheim says of this period, ' There was continual war and trouble,'"
(3.) The opening of the third seal presented a black horse, and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. The work of corruption in the church progressed rapidly. The black horse, the very opposite of the first, represents a period of great darkness and moral corruption. By the events of the second seal, the way was fully opened for that state of things to be brought about which is here presented. The time that intervened between the reign of Constantine and the establishment of the papacy in A. D. 538, may be justly noted as the time when the darkest errors and grossest superstitions sprung up in the church.
"The balances denoted that religion and civil power would be united in the person who would administer the executive power in the government, and that he would claim the judicial authority both in church and State. This was true among the Roman emperors from the days of Constantine until the reign of Justinian, when he gave the same judicial power to the bishop of Rome."—Miller's Lectures, p. 181.
(4.) When the fourth seal was opened, there appeared a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was called Death, and Hell followed with him. The color of this horse, which is pale or yellowish, like that seen in blighted or sickly plants, denotes the condition of things in the church when the papacy bore its unrestrained and persecuting rule, commencing about A. D. 538, and extending to the time when the reformers had exposed the corruptions of the papal system. During that period fifty millions of martyrs lost their lives by the very instrumentalities named in the prophetic description of that period.
(5.) The events to transpire under the fifth seal are, the crying of the martyrs for vengeance, and giving to them white robes. This represents the work of the reformers, and covers the period of the great reformation. In reference to the souls under the altar, Dr. Clarke says:
"A symbolical vision was exhibited in which he saw an altar. And under it the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God—-martyred for their attachment to Christianity—are represented as being newly slain, as victims to idolatry and superstition. The altar is upon earth not in Heaven."
A, Barnes makes the following remarks in reference to this subject:—
" We are not to suppose that this literally occurred, and that John actually saw the souls of the martyrs beneath the altars—for the whole representation is symbolical; nor are we to suppose that the injured and the wronged in Heaven actually pray for vengeance on those who wronged them, or that the redeemed in Heaven will continue to pray with reference to things on the earth ; but it may be fairly inferred from this that there will be as real a remembrance of the wrongs of the persecuted, the injured, and the oppressed, as if such prayer were offered there ; and that the oppressor has as much to dread from the divine vengeance as if those whom he has injured should cry in Heaven to the God who hears prayer, and who takes vengeance. The wrongs done to the children of God, to the orphan, the widow, the down-trodden, to the slave and the outcast, will be as certainly remembered in Heaven as if they who are wronged should plead for vengeance there ; for every act of injustice and oppression goes to Heaven and pleads for vengeance. Every persecutor should dread the death of the persecuted as if he went to Heaven to plead against him ; every cruel master should dread the death of his slave that is crushed by wrongs ; every seducer should dread the death and the cries of his victim ; every one who does wrong in any way should remember that the sufferings of the injured cry to Heaven with a martyr's pleadings, saying, ' How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood ?'"For a full exposition of this subject, read Thoughts on the Revelation, by Elder U. Smith.
(6.) "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 ; 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; and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, 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 ; for the great day of his wrath is come ; and who shall be able to stand?"
Such are the solemn and sublime scenes that transpire under the sixth seal. And a thought well calculated to awaken in every heart an in- tense interest in divine things, is the consideration that we are now living amid the momentous events of this seal.
Between the fifth and sixth seals there seems to be a sudden and entire change in the language, from the highly figurative to the strictly literal. Whatever may be the cause of this change, the change itself cannot well be denied. By no principle of interpretation can the language of the preceding seals be made to be literal; nor can that language of this any more easily be made to be figurative.
The first event under this seal, perhaps the one which marks its opening, is a great earthquake. As the more probable fulfillment of this prediction, we refer to the great earthquake of Nov. 1, 1755. Of this earthquake, Sears in his " Wonders of the World," pp. 50, 58, 381, says:—
"The great earthquake of Nov. 1, 1755, extended over a tract of at least 4,000,000 of square miles. Its effects were even extended to the waters in many places where the shocks were not perceptible. It pervaded the greater portion of Europe, Africa, and America; but its extreme violence was exercised on the southwestern part of the former. In Africa this earthquake was felt almost as severely as it had been in Europe. A great part of Algiers was destroyed. Many houses were thrown clown at Fez and Mequinez, and multitudes were buried beneath the ruins. Similar effects were realized at Morocco. Its effects were likewise felt at Tangiers, at Tetuan, at Funchal in the island of Madeira. It is probable that all Africa was shaken. At the north it extended to Norway and Sweden. Germany, Holland, France, Great Britain, and Ireland were all more or less agitated by the same great commotion of the elements. Lisbon (Portugal), previous to the earthquake in 1755, contained 150,000 inhabitants. Mr. Barretti says that 90,000 persons are suppose to have been lost on that fatal day."
On page 200 of the same work, we again read:
" The terror of the1 people was beyond description. Nobody wept—it was beyond tears—they ran hither and thither, delirious with horror and astonishment, beating their faces and breasts, crying, 'Misericordia, the world's at an end!' Mothers forgot their children, and ran about loaded with crucifix images. Unfortunately many ran to the churches for protection; but in vain was the sacrament exposed; in vain did the poor creatures embrace the altars; images, priests, and people were buried in one common ruin."
The Encyclopedia Americana states that this earthquake extended also to Greenland ; and of its effects upon the city of Lisbon, further says:
" The city then contained about 150,000 inhabitants. The shock was instantly followed by the fall of every church and convent, almost all the large public buildings, and more than one-fourth of the houses. In about two hours after the shock, fires broke out in different quarters, and raged with such violence, for the space of nearly three days, that the city was completely desolated. The earthquake happened on a holy-day, when the churches and convents were full of people, very few of whom escaped."
The events which follow the great earthquake under the sixth seal are the special signs, in the sun, moon, and stars, of the second coming of Christ. The dark day and dark night of 1780 is described in these words: "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood." The moon that was full the day before, appeared through the darkness of the night like a ball of blood. This was the appearance as presented to the prophet. Christ, speaking of these signs, says, " The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall' not give her light."
The Concord [N. H.] People speaks of the dark day, May 19, 1780, thus:—
" It was not the blackness of a storm-cloud, such as sometimes with a frightful agitation breaks over a single city; it was the silent spreading of the pall cloth over the earth by strong, invisible hands."
"The dark day, May 19, 1780, so called on account of a remarkable darkness on that day, extending over all New England, In some places persons could not see to read common print in the open air for several hours together. The true cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not known."— Webster's Dictionary, edition for 1869.
The prophetic description of the falling of the stars met a literal fulfillment in the meteoric shower of Nov. 13, 1833, which was unlike any other on record in appearance, extent, and magnitude. The falling stars is the last special sign upon which believers, base their faith in the near second advent. The departing of the atmospheric heaven is after the close of probation. This seems evident from the fact that the affrighted multitudes in despair of the mercy of the Lord, direct their cries to mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.
While the book of Daniel has to do with four universal monarchies, Babylon, Persia, Grecia, and Rome, and its several chains of prophecy bring us with wonderful definiteness, to the day of God, the second coming of Christ, and the last Judgment the book of Revelation pertains to the fourth Rome, and its several lines of prophecy bring us down, with the same minuteness, to the same point, and open before us the naked glare of eternal scenes.
James White and Seven Trumpets
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