“Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!”
We saw in chapter 5 that Jesus Christ has been found worthy to open the seals and the scroll. This book Jesus has been given is a living will for redeeming the earth back to God. It has seven seals of judgment. Associated with these seals are seven bowls and seven trumpets. Seals are used here as imagery of antiquated documents of the biblical day. Scrolled letters sealed with a clay or wax seal. We see the thunderous voice again here in the imagery which denotes something big about to happen: “God’s judgments on the earth.”
So you have the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven vials, and also the seven thunders, which all denote events of judgment occurring on the earth in these coming days. The climax of all of these seven events converge upon one thing: the Day of the Lord, His appearing, His return, the first resurrection, the marriage supper of the Lamb, the day of His wrath,…the great and notable day of the Lord. This messes with a lot of people’s theology, their elaborate, denominational charts, timetables, and outlines, but, honestly, who cares. This is what the Word of God says, when biblical context, language, and culture are rightly applied to interpretation. But if we really love God then we are excited and happy to see what the Word says, rather than our idol doctrines being shown as right, and allow Him to be Lord over us and our theology.
Lists of judgments were not unusual in apocalyptic or prophetic writings. The list of four plagues resemble the old testament lists, although the lists of 3 judgments was more common in the Old Testament. By repeating war and conquest, Revelation makes this particular kind of plague more emphatic. Zechariah 1:8,10 and Zechariah 6:2-4 speaks of chariots and riders on horses of different colors, where they seem to be angels of God’s judgment, or angels patrolling the earth. This seems to provide the backdrop for the different colored horses in these passages here in Rev 6.
Remember: Every passage of this book references or alludes to Old Testament scriptures, which John uses to SIGNIFY the vision to God’s people.
“I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’
The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong. Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
This imagery is of war and conquest…With a background knowledge of the Old Testament and synoptic gospels, we find this fits exactly with what Jesus said would be occurring just prior to his return. You see nations fighting nations. You see religions emerging that are desiring to wipe the presence of Christianity from the earth, such as the “religion of peace.”
The “White horse” imagery is used when Christ returns. So it being used here denotes that during this first seal/trumpet/vial/thunder, that there will be false prophets and false Christs (antiChrists) deceiving men upon the earth during the time of the end. Revelation depicts a metaphorical “false Christ” known as the Antichrist, or “man of perdition”, during these days who desires to conquer the world. And he is portrayed to have a man known as the false prophet at his side. Much of this war and conquest is depicted to be the orchestration of his hands. We can see that this beast system’s attack on Christians is being partially led by the vehicle of Islam in our modern era, and deception led by the beast’s symbolic prophet, a false message of false Christianity. Considering all these things and what is going on today, we see the beast’s form in this generation. Islam is Antichrist. It says Allah has no Son. 1 John says, “Who is Antichrist but he who denies both the Father and the Son.” Jesus said, “They that know the Father know Him also.” Judaism is no different. It too denies the Son. But Islam and other religions that are not about the true Jesus are but one small aspect of the Beast System. The Beast is ANYTHING that is incongruent to scripture and Christ. Politics, materialism, socio-economic status, the American Dream, and any “me-focused” thing. The world system is the Beast.
The allegorical man depicted as the Antichrist in Revelation represents the world system and its leaders that are contrary to Christ, just as the metaphorical Temple in the New Covenant symbolizes the Church. So when Paul said this antichrist figure will enter the temple and exalt himself as God, he is referring to a disposition of rebellion entering through the hearts of men and women who find their way into the churches causing division and false teachings. The Antichrist is a metaphorical figure denoting an attitude or agenda that is not subject to the Word of God. It is you, or me, or anyone who is contrary to sound biblical living. In essence, it is the “my own way” attitude. That is the Antichrist. Antithesis means opposite of. So the Antichrist spirit is the opposite of Christ’s Spirit, and Christ’s Spirit and the Word of God are one and the same. But anyway……
White horses were prized and rare. Royalty rode them. To impersonate royalty, the usurper would certainly be depicted as an identity thief. Bows were often used as metonymy (metaphorically) for conquest. Mounted archers here are associated in this context to the Parthians, or people of the “east” by those who wrote about them. (The Parthians were called the “Kings of the East.”) The Parthians had defeated Rome around 62 A.D., about one generation before this writing. They were a very powerful empire and many Jews in this day of writing expected the Parthians to be involved in an end time war against Rome…..partly because many Jews lived in Parthia, as well as the Roman Empire. The Roman “Pax Romana”, the claim that Rome had established peace throughout the Earth, was but mere propaganda. This first rider symbolizes conquest, and struck fear into people’s hearts, especially in the Roman Empire with each nuance that could remind them of the Parthian menace as they saw it, on the horizon.
“When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.”
The second rider on the Red Horse (6.:4) symbolizes judgment, turning the world to blood. The imagery of the sword was metonymy for war over one-hundred times in the Old Testament. But the type of war here in this passage refers to a civil war, which was the worst kind. This rider represents bloodshed.
Take a moment to think about the implications of these judgment images before proceeding.
• Are all the victims of war and conquest being punished for their own sins?
• Or do these judgments address corporate guilt for societies?
Too often people are ready to look at the suffering of others and say, “it is judgment.” But Jesus says in Luke 13:2-5, referring to the Galileans whose blood was shed by Pilate, “Do you think they were worse sinners than all others? Unless you repent, all of you will likewise perish.” Jesus said those on whom the tower of Siloam fell were no worse or better than any others. These judgments here are meant to call the world to account. This is not a judgment specifically on the people who suffer it, but on societies to remember that God calls all men to give an account of their deeds.
“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
The Black Horse is famine in verses 5-6. Scales were balances used to weigh grain in the market. Staples for the first century Mediterranean diet were barley, wheat, and sometimes cheese, olives, figs, fish, and eggs. But especially the grains, barley and wheat.
One quart of wheat, a denarius worth, would feed a worker for a day. It was basically a day’s wage under these conditions. But if he has a family, he would often buy three times that, which was cheaper. But these prices mentioned here were fifteen times higher than normal. We see today that many children have already died in places like Egypt because of malnutrition from lack of food. So as food prices become exorbitant, many people will die. Famine, like disease, often follows in the wake of war.
But the voice says, “Spare the oil and wine.” Wine trade was more profitable than grain trade which is why Asia Minor raised excess wine and insufficient grain. They were profit focused and didn’t lay up for hard times. So they had to import extra grain from the Black Sea area, or from Egypt. This was especially true in Domitian’s time, where there was high inflation also. So these images John was writing were things the people would fear, but this imagery also shows God’s mercy. Ancient warfare destroyed standing crops. That would be one year’s hardship if their crops were destroyed. But not olive trees, which would take seventeen years to grow back, not including vineyards. That would be a long term effect and shortage. Conquerors didn’t wanna destroy the good of the land that they were taking over, if they planned to inhabit it. So we see God’s mercy here in these passages with short term judgments rather than long term judgments. Only those who were considered the most savage barbarians, like some of the northern Europeans who later overthrew Rome, would destroy the olive oil groves and the wine producing crops.
“When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”
The Pale horse (actually a green horse, but colors were defined a bit differently back then), in Greek, literally, chloros hippos, so “pale horse” is a legitimate translation.
Death was often personified as an angel in Jewish sources. Sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals (see below Ezekiel 14:21) are evocative sources compelling men to repent, which means to change course from destruction to following eternal life in submissive obedience to Christ.
“For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!
Revelation is called a scary book by some. And others say it isn’t scary if understood properly. But the truth is, it is not scary to those to whom it is meant to vindicate, but it is terrifying to those who aren’t living in obedience to Christ. Judgments are meant to remind us that those who are oppressed or suffering at the hands of others are not the only ones who are going to suffer. But even those who persecute them will also have to give an account, and those who are persecuting them will also be brought down by suffering in this world. It is a reminder that God isn’t looking the other way.
But what about those who are suffering as sacrifices or martyrs for following Christ?
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.”
So what about the suffering of the righteous? “Judgment must first begin at the house of God…” 1 Peter 4:17
The fifth seal (6:9-11) says the souls were under the altar. Why does John depict them this way? Because in Leviticus, the blood of the sacrifice was poured out under the altar. These martyrs are united with the sacrificial Lamb.
Don’t let anyone fool you. It always gets worse before it gets better. That is part of the message of the Book of Revelation. But if we are looking forward to what God has for us in the future, then we most certainly can endure the sufferings of the present for Him. Yes?
“They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
“Are you ready?!?” That is the question being posed. These saints were slain because of their allegiance to the Word of God and the testimony that they had maintained. What price will we pay to make known God’s salvation path? We read about people from all nations, tribes, and languages. Some of those peoples will never hear the Good News unless we are willing to pay the price. Just like someone paid the price in faith, so we could hear it and believe, or aka “be doers of the work.”
•“How long, O Lord?” these souls said. These words are the Old Testament standard for pleas of vindication, and in other apocalyptic literatures such as 4 Ezra. They were condemned to death by people, but now awaited God’s verdict to overturn that of the earthly courts. God does hear their cries. In Revelation 8:4 the prayers of the saints hasten judgment. Prayer of His children matters and makes a difference with God.
• The full number of martyrs must be completed. Geez…now isn’t this a mouthful in the face of the modern prosperity gospel?!!? The Old Testament prophets emphasized the witnessing to the nations and the suffering of the righteous blended together. We see them blended in Mark 13:9-11.
“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
Suffering normally accompanies groundbreaking evangelism. Mark’s same words in Mark 13 appear in Matthew in the context of the sending of the 12 Apostles. And that suggests to us that as we go forth with the message of God, in whatever setting, we can expect suffering. Think about how many parts of the world today that will not be evangelized without martyrs?… People willing to die for Christ!?! Do we really believe Jesus is necessary for salvation and atonement? I certainly hope so, otherwise why would God send His Son to die? What kind of God would send his own Son to die if there were other means of overcoming sin or obedience to salvation? But there is no other Name given among men whereby we must be saved than Jesus Christ. Do we really value other people’s eternal destiny? If not, why bother with any of it? After all, that is the point of the entire gospel. Will we love as Jesus loved and be willing to lay down our lives for them? If we incur no true persecution and suffering for our witness, we might ought to rethink our salvation, because Jesus said all who follow His lead will suffer in this life for it….and I’m not talking about someone talking about us behind our back or sitting in “our pew.”
“Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
White robes and linen, as we’ve repeated in preceding chapters, are symbolic of purity, which denotes being unspotted by the world system. This depicts loyalty to Christ and having denied the world system through living in obedience to the Word and will of God.
Here, again, we see the will of God for the martyrdom of other saints to come for His purposes. God had willed the plan of redemption in sending His Son before Adam was created, foreseeing the plausibility of Adam’s fall. God had willed allowing the death of His own Son, if need be. The servant is not greater than his Master.
“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood,”
The sixth seal (6:12-14)
In this period, many of the seven cities of the churches there had recently been demolished by earthquakes within the past generation. The earthquake here in this verse is an image of terror, but is like no earthquake they’d ever seen or heard of. The Old Testament spoke of an end time earthquake that would move mountains, like you see in this verse and Revelation 11:13 and Revelation 16:18. There are also images like this in Psalm 97:5, Ezekiel 38:19-20, and especially Zechariah 14:5.
“And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.”
Most ancient people were terrified by the obscuring of the Sun and Moon, but this is no small eclipse here in this passage 6:12. This imagery is portrayed here as something like the dissolution of the cosmos. This may be simply God preparing it for renewal. But in any case this is something that would end society as we know it.
“And the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”
These stars falling from their place is visionary imagery that Jewish oracles used for the end of the age, as the universe would unravel at its seams and roll up like the scroll depicted. This event changes the topography of all the earth.
There’s always theological debate as to how much of this is literal and how much is figurative. All of us would agree that at least some of it is figurative, like the stars falling from the sky to the earth. It all echoes Old Testament language…. Old Testament prophets speaking of, for example, the “fig tree shaking of a mighty wind and its figs falling to the ground”, and the stars of heaven would fall like this. John is using human imagery to paint a word picture of the cataclysm he saw, and also to veil the meaning from those who were without the true Church. But the reality is, it is all symbolism, Apocalyptic writing always is.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,
People of all social stations will stand before God in judgment, from the greatest to the least. From kings and rulers to the most poor and lowly. And all these people would hide among caves and in the rocks of the mountains. Even the great emporers and rulers!!
Whether we are looking at these seals, or the trumpets, or vials, they are all integrated. Each are just another angle in telling the same story. They happen simultaneously, meaning that a seal, vial, and trumpet all coincide with one another. The Hebrew narrative depicts seven events, not twenty-one distinct events, and Hebrew narrative is never chronological. But all are merely metaphor. But what is evident is that numbers six and seven in these events are always moments before the resurrection of the saints and His imminent return, no matter which event item we are looking at, whether seals, vials, or trumpets. All of this is symbolic language using Old Testament verses to create a metaphorical narrative concealing a simple message. Dispensational literalism from not knowing ancient near eastern perspective has convoluted it into confusion.
“Calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb”
In Hosea 10:8, we find this language referring to Israel then in the time of judgment.
The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed.
Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.”
In Isaiah 2:19, we see this language again, but referring to the future on the day of the Lord, as in context with what we see in Revelation 6:17…
And people shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to terrify the earth.
Revelation 6:17 … “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
Caves and mountains were useful for hiding from human enemies. Christians in Sardis reading this may have recalled the mountain cave tombs facing Necropolis. But in this context, hiding is futile before the One who moves mountains.
They say, “Hide us from Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.”
Lambs by nature are among the most docile of creatures. So this wording here is a jarring image of Christ. These people don’t cry for mercy, for it is now too late for that. “Who shall be able to stand?” The answer comes in chapter seven….“only those who have been made pure by the blood of the Lamb.” The return of the Lord is the dissolution of mortality on the earth. It is the inheritance of the earth for Jesus and His faithful, and the destruction and judgment of those who rejected Him. Every knee bows. None stand before Him.