The seven seals are a set of items referenced in the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible. In Revelation, a lamb is deemed worthy to open a book or scroll closed with seven seals. Each seal precipitates an event of apocalyptic nature. For those who take the Book of Revelation as literal truth, these events and the opening of the seven seals signify the beginning of the final end for human life on earth. While some view this story as prophecy, there are also many historical, metaphorical, and otherwise less literal interpretations of the seven seals as well.
As the Christian Bible tells the story, in the time of Revelation there is a book or scroll held by the Lord, and this book is sealed with seven separate seals that must be opened by a worthy party. The Lion of Judah is determined to be worthy of breaking the seven seals that bind the book. This lion is actually a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes who was slain in sacrifice, still bearing the marks of that sacrifice. In some interpretations it is said that this lamb is Jesus Christ, and in others that he is simply a worthy prince.
When the lamb proceeds to break the seals on the book, each seal brings forth an event. The first four seals bring forth the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These are, in order, the white horse with a bow and arrows bringing religious conquest; the red horse with a sword bringing war and conflict; the black horse with scales bringing famine and drought; and the pale horse bringing death. The Christian Bible contends that each of these horses and their riders are sent to these tasks by God in order to bring about the apocalypse and divine judgment.
After the four horsemen, the fifth seal brings about a vision of Christian religious martyrs who were slain for speaking the word of God. These martyrs cry out for vengeance and judgment on those who live on the earth. Each of the martyrs is given a white robe and told to wait a little longer, for those who should be punished will be.
When the sixth seal is broken there is a great earthquake and the world's physical landscape is highly disturbed. The sun turns black and the moon turns to blood, while stars fall from the heavens, the sky is cleared of its contents, and mountains are moved. Also as a result of this seal, 144,000 servants of God from various tribes are sealed in their foreheads and become robed in white. This is sometimes understood to be the Rapture, where the worthy are lifted to heaven. Those servants selected are destined for an eternity free of suffering.
Finally, the opening of the seventh seal brings about first a half hour of silence, and then sets off the sounding of the seven trumpets by seven angels as well as the final judgment. Like the seven seals, each of the seven trumpets heralds an event, and so this begins another series of seven. While all the seals are apocalyptic, the seventh seal is particularly thought of as the beginning of the end.
Even in Christian thought, there is much disagreement about the appropriate interpretation of this part of the Bible. There is a sliding scale of Christian interpretation, ranging from those who believe that the tale is exact prophecy to those who believe this section of the Bible to be purely symbolic. Some people who are otherwise strong adherents to the Christian Bible have had doubts about the text, including Martin Luther and John Calvin. For those who read the text from a non-religious perspective, the seven seals can be interpreted symbolically in many ways when read in conjunction with the rest of the Bible and histories of the period. While there are many theories from many perspectives, there is no final and exact truth to the meaning of the seven seals.