The Seven Seals on the Scroll in God’s Hand (Rev. 5): What do seals do and what do they mean?

By Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes

This post is an excerpt for the BYU New Testament Commentary on the Book of Revelation.

The seals “served as a legal protection and guarantee in many ways, especially in relation to property. All objects suitable for sealing could be marked as the property of the owner in this way.” The ancient seal also evidenced the power of its holder and underscored his position “in a duly constituted order. Might and right come together in the seal.” [1] The seal protected the document from inappropriate or premature disclosure. Indeed, the function of so many seals on the scroll John saw was to assure that its contents would not be disclosed until God saw fit to do so. In John’s case, God’s will would not be executed until all was ready. Only then would the seals be broken and the will executed “according to the foreordained time schedule of God.”[2] And finally, “the seal makes a document legally valid.”[3] In John’s vision, they acted in all these ways giving evidence that God owned, guaranteed, protected, and controlled the contents. Modern revelation explains that each of the seven seals corresponded with one of the seven millennia of the earth’s temporal existence. According to the Lord, “The first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh” (D&C 77:7). It is of note that it is the seals that contain the visions John saw. Nowhere in Revelation is there any indication that the document itself was actually read. Further, the vision suggests that the breaking of each seal did, to some degree, allow God’s will to be executed.


[1] Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), 7:940.

[2] Parry, Understanding the Book of Revelation, 68.

[3] TDNT, 7:945.