The Lamb begins now to open the seals, and John sees a panoramic vision of the history of the world. On rare occasions, John is permitted to see the past. The first seal is opened, revealing the dealings of man during the first thousand years of its temporal existence, or between about 4000 b.c. and 3000 b.c. John sees during this time period a man riding a white horse, “and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (v. 2). Who was this great conqueror?
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, was a valiant prophet-leader who might appropriately be termed a conqueror: “And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled. . . ; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him. . . . And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion. And it came to pass that Enoch talked with the Lord; and he said unto the Lord: Surely Zion shall dwell in safety forever” (Moses 7:13, 19–20).
The opening of the second seal, a revelation of the time period from 3000 b.c. to 2000 b.c., begins with a vision of a man riding a red horse. “And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword” (v. 4). This seems to be a clear allusion to the rampant manner in which Satan roamed the earth at this time, particularly during the days of Noah, when filth and wickedness and violence reached pandemic proportions (see Moses 8).
John next witnesses some of the events of the period from 2000 b.c. to 1000 b.c. (third seal), and he observes a man riding a black horse and holding “a pair of balances in his hand” (v. 5). Two different symbolic possibilities might be involved here with balances. First, balances are often used to symbolize scarcity, as in times of famine or economic upheaval. In this sense, the balances may have been symbolic of the great famine in the days of Abraham, a famine so severe that the effects were still being felt in the days of his grandchildren. On the other hand, balances are used to represent justice or law. It was during this same thousand-year period that Jehovah gave the law of Moses to a stumbling and faithless lot of Israelites.
The period of time from 1000 b.c. to the coming of Christ (fourth seal) is seen by John to be a gruesome one. He sees a pale (green) horse, whose rider is named death, “and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (v. 8). We know, first of all, that this period was characterized by warfare and bloodshed during the reigns of Saul and David. At the death of Solomon in 975 b.c., the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel precipitated further hostilities among the Israelites, resulting in death and misery to many. Further, consider the captivities of the house of Israel down to the time of Christ: Assyrian (721 b.c.), Babylonian (558 b.c.), Medo-Persian (538 b.c.), Greek (332 b.c.), and Roman (60 b.c).
When the Savior opens the fifth seal (Christian era to a.d. 1000), John learns of the Christian martyrs, “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” (v. 9). He further sees that these Saints are clothed in “white robes” after suffering death in the flesh (v. 11), for “whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal” (D&C 98:13). Joseph Smith is reported to have said about Christian martyrs: “I have, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim . . . , seen those martyrs. They were honest, devoted followers of Christ, according to the light they possessed. They will be saved.”
The scenes of the sixth seal (a.d. 1000 to a.d. 2000) are signs of the times, signs incident to the Lord’s coming in glory (see vv. 12–17) and of particular interest to us, for John is now witnessing our day. Unusual happenings in the heavens and on the earth are typical of this time; it is a time when the wicked begin to shrink at the thought that the coming of the Son of Man is indeed nigh at hand.