Resources » The IVP New Testament Commentary Series » Revelation » The Seven Seals (6:1—8:5) » The Opening of the First Four Seals (6:1-8)

The Opening of the First Four Seals (6:1-8)

In John's vision the Lamb, who is Jesus of Nazareth and no one else, has been holding the seven-sealed scroll from the moment he took it from the hand of the one seated on the throne (5:7). Now he begins to open its seals. If the scroll is sealed in normal fashion, it obviously cannot be opened and read until all seven of its seals are broken. This prompts a question that John does not ask, but we cannot help asking, When in the book of Revelation is the scroll itself actually opened? We never see this happening, unless the scroll is the same as "the book of life" opened at the last judgment (20:12, 15; "scroll" and "book" are the same word in Greek). This "book of life," twice identified as belonging to the slain Lamb (13:8; 21:27), is said to contain a list of the names of all who would be redeemed (compare 3:5 and 17:8). But this scroll is simply one of many "books" or scrolls opened at the last judgment (20:12), while the scroll in chapter 5 is never explicitly described as a scroll "of life."

A more likely possibility is that the scroll taken by the Lamb in chapter 5 is the same one John will later see lying open in the hand of a mighty angel (10:2, 8-10). If so, the opening of the seventh and last seal (8:1) implies the opening of the scroll itself, or the opening of the scroll is visualized as a process taking place as the seals are broken, not afterward. As we have seen, the Greek word order in 5:2 and 5:5 (see NRSV) suggests that the scroll was to be opened first, and then its seals were to be opened, which makes no sense if taken literally. To John, opening the scroll and breaking the seals amount to the same thing, but even the opening of the scroll is not quite the same thing as looking into it (5:4) or examining its contents. The latter is what must wait until chapter 10 or beyond. Only in chapter 10 is the scroll actually said to be "open" (10:2, 8), and only then are its contents revealed. Even in the framework of a very literal interpretation of John's visions, the placement of the seven seals this early in the prophecy suggests that the end of the world was by no means so near as David Koresh believed.

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