Historicism is a method of interpretation in Christian eschatology that associates biblical prophecies with actual historical events (which may also be symbolic of repeated occurrences). This means that many things in Revelation have occurred while other things have not. Also that the symbols in the visions match major historical events in remarkable ways and in a chronology that actually occurs in the annals of history.

Historical interpretation naturally takes much more work than pure symbolic or mere speculative interpretation because one actually has to be familiar with the history of the world as it pertains to the Christian church. To be expected, the outcome of such hard work also leads to large amounts of information to provide as there is so much evidence to weigh. For example, this old classic on Revelation (Horae Apocalypticae; or, A commentary on the Apocalypse, critical and historical; including also an examination of the chief prophecies of Daniel 1862) is around 3000 pages of detailed arguments wrapping history around Revelation in chronological order.

My question:

Under a Protestant historicist view what are typically the seven seals in Revelation referring to?


3 Answers 3


The details argued by E. B. ELLIOTT are a good example of historic interpretations. He places the seven seals during the period of John’s writing of the Apocalypse until the time of the barbarian invasions of Rome.

The interpretation can be summarized as follows:

  • First Seal – While Horse with bow and crown conquering – Continued expansion of Rome (~ A.D. 96-184). All the symbols match the period as white, the crown and even the bow representative of the line of Emperor’s association with Crete, which was famous for the bow suit to this period of continued Roman conquest.

  • Second Seal - fiery red and taking peace and killing each other with a large sword – The civil wars that followed the expansion during approximately (~A.D 185 – 248) All the symbols match this period as the large sword indicates too much power given to the military leaders that suppressed the peace of the senate and resulted in killing each other through bloody civil war.

  • Third Seal - black horse, rider holding a pair of scales in his hand with voice mentioning the official cost of wheat, barley and a desire to protect oil and the wine – this indicates the injustice of the following period where the rich war machine overtaxed the masses resulting in greater inequality between the rich and poor (~A.D 248 - 268) All the symbols match as the scales represented justice and the backwards measuring represents injustice. Scales were also used to extract taxes and even oil and wine were part of the tax revenue.

  • Fourth Seal - pale horse, which was Death, and Hades killing by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts – A period of initial barbarian invasions, poverty, plagues, natural disasters that made the period a low point (~A.D 268-292). All the symbols naturally match for it was more or less like the Black Death in the middle ages and during such times even wild animals begin to encroach upon the people in their weakness and death.

  • Fifth Seal - the souls of those who had been slain – the era of the Martyrs centered on the Diocletian persecutions (~A.D. 303). Naturally the symbols match as the fifth seal is about the martyrs.

  • Sixth Seal – an earthquake, sun turning black, moon turned blood red and stars fell etc.–This is the sudden change in the ‘heavenly powers’ of Rome, when the persecuted now became the powerful and Constantine declared Rome Christian (~A.D. 313). This is immediately followed by the 144,000 sealed, representing God’s election of his true church out from the initial beginnings of the anti-Christian church just established by Constantine through civil power of sword. Doctrinally this same truth was soon developed in revelation to St. Augustine establishing the tradition of the true church within the anti-Christian power eventually leading to the future reformation along Augustinian lines.

  • Seventh Seal - silence in heaven for about half an hour – indicates the brief silent prayers of the elect before the first trumpet is to sound triggering the judgment of severe barbaric invasions on Rome, the beginning of judgment for its sins against the previous persecutions of the elect.

Of course not all historicists hold the same timelines but this gives a good example of how closely and logically revelation can be made to record a chronology of history before the events actually occurred. The strength of this method is that this is how most Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming Messiah are understood today. This means 'all biblical prophecy' can use the same uniform exegetical methods and that prophecies already fulfilled become potentially faith building (depending on one's confidence level) rather than just confusing.


@Mike has a wonderful answer that attaches the seven seals to events in Rome up until the 400's. My view (shared by others) is that history is fractal and that the grosser features of Revelation have been repeated multiple times, with one ultimate fulfillment yet to come that will match all the details perfectly. This makes all of history a series of warnings to the inhabitants of the earth, threatening a great judgment if they do not repent.

Judgment of Byzantium

A second application of the seals would be against Byzantium.

First seal and first horseman (who wielded a bow): Mohammed, who was an Arab descended from Ishmael, noted as an archer in Genesis. When Mohammed captured Mecca, he removed the idols from the Kaaba. The Kaaba also contained seven arrows used for divination.

Second seal and second horseman: Civil war. The Byzantine empire was gripped by civil war for centuries.

Third seal and third horseman: Pestilence. The Great Famine of the early 14th century was followed by the Black Plague.

Fourth seal and fourth horseman: Death. This includes the Black Death, which returned about a dozen times to Constantinople over the course of a century, and concludes with the Ottoman conquest and fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.

Fifth seal: Persecution. After Constantinople fell, millions of Christians in Asia Minor and the Balkans were killed, enslaved or forcibly converted to Islam.

Sixth seal: Earthquake. The whole political structure of Europe was transformed.

Seventh seal: Silence. The silence was waiting for what God would do next.

Discipline of the Church

Another application of the pattern is God's judgment upon the church, not to destroy her, but to perfect her.

First seal and first horseman: Ottoman conquest of Byzantium (the Ottomans were the successors to Mohammed, hence inheritor of his bow). In this pattern the consummation of the previous judgment is the starting point for this new series. This is a judgment against relying upon a unified state as savior. Purpose: Political freedom.

Second seal and second horseman: Civil war inside the church. The Protestant Reformation and wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries. This was judgment against relying upon a single church hierarchy as a savior. Purpose: Religious freedom.

Third seal and third horseman: Pestilence. The Industrial revolution and advent of capitalism caused the deaths of millions, as increased productivity in the industrializing nations lowered prices and impoverished traditional peoples. this also included the anti-slavery movement. The old economic order was completely overturned. Purpose: Economic freedom.

Fourth seal and fourth horseman: Death. Nationalism, Classism and Racism opposed by unifying ideologies like Democracy and Communism, leading to the horrendous wars and revolutions of the 20th century. Purpose: Equality.

Fifth seal: Persecution. This is the next seal to be opened. A fresh wave of persecution will usher in Solomon's "a time to hate". Hate has to do with choosing for and against, with taking sides. The end of the world will see the sheep and goats separated into two camps. We are currently seeing deep fractures forming in our society. They will widen, until true Christians, Jews and lovers of God will be partitioned from the rest of society.

Sixth seal: Earthquake. This will be the final war against Leviathan. Within this larger structure of the discipline of the church will occur a new instance of the fractal pattern of seven seals. This last fractal will be judgment against the whole world, not just Rome, Byzantium or the church. Unlike the discipline of the church, which led to civilizational advance and the promotion of Christian ideals throughout the world, the final set of seven seals will destroy the world to make a place for the heavenly city to descend.

Seventh seal: Silence. This silence will be concurrent with the peace of Christ's final victory in the final set of seals. In the silence, the seventh trumpet will sound.


Another historicist interpretation is as follows:

  • The white horse, which will never stop conquering, is the gospel.
  • The red horse symbolizes the persecution of God’s people when they proclaim the gospel. William Tyndale, for example, was the first to translate the Bible into English and was burnt to death at the stake.
  • The black horse is a famine for the Word of God that follows when the people who proclaim the word of God are persecuted and killed. During the Dark Ages, the church burned Bibles along with their owners.
  • Lastly, the ashen horse is spiritual death; the frightful permanent exclusion from mercy.

The full article is available at - The four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

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