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?


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.

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