Biblical Archaeology Review 43:5, September/October 2017

Strata: How Many?

How many apocalyptic seals are there in the Book of Revelation?

Answer: Seven

The end-time events described in the Book of Revelation begin with the opening of a scroll locked with seven seals (Revelation 6–8).

The image of a sealed scroll at the Final Judgment is not unique to the New Testament. It has roots in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Daniel. In Daniel’s apocalyptic vision, a voice proclaims, “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. […] Keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:1,Daniel 12:4).

In John’s New Testament vision, only Jesus (the Lamb) can break the seals. The opening of the first four seals brings four angels riding horses—the four horsemen of the apocalypse—who bring horrors and much death to the earth. When the fifth seal is opened, those who have been martyred ask to be avenged. With the opening of the sixth seal comes a large earthquake and other disasters. Then those called servants of God are marked with a seal on their foreheads—John sees uncountable multitudes of people from every nation. The breaking of the last, seventh, seal unleashes the destruction of the earth and the people without God’s seal on their foreheads. After a long sequence of events, the dead are finally judged “according to their works, as recorded in the books,” and “new Jerusalem [comes] down out of heaven” (Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:2).

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