Revelation 6 Commentary: Breaking The Seals of The Mysterious Book (End of Days Prophecies)

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Please click here for the previous study on Revelation 5 Commentary: A Book No Man Could Open.
Revelation 6:1, 2: Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, "Come and see." And I looked, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

The "seven seals" bring us either to glorious victory, or to terrible defeat; to adoration and praise at the coming of Jesus, or to calling on the rocks to hide us from the wrath of the Lamb. They bring us to life or to death. To the saved ones, Christ is the Lamb slain; to the lost, He is the avenging lion of Judah. God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes of the saved; the lost will cry with agony in that day.

A fierce battle rages between light and darkness, between Christ and Satan. Each of us acts a part in that battle; we cannot escape.

Horses symbolize messengers for God. The messengers sent bring both salvation and judgment. Cooperation with God means life and victory; resistance means defeat and death.

The four horses and their riders evidently symbolize the work of God's angel messengers to earth, bringing people to repentance, life and victory; protecting the righteous and keeping under restraint the wicked; striving with the wicked, and trying to bring them to repentance; bringing judgments and afflictions upon those who resist God's grace that they might be led to repent; and final judgment and death for those who refuse to repent. Here we see both the love of God and His justice, His mercy and His righteous anger.

For many centuries Bible students have seen these three series of panoramic world events (the seven churches, the seven seals, and the seven trumpets) as parallel. Like a TV camera panning back and forth, covering many aspects of a scene, these three journeys through world history reveal the footsteps of Christ leading up to the final scenes of victory. This book is "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" in history.

The white horse is naturally a symbol of righteousness and victory. The bow in the hand of the rider can represent the conviction that the Holy Spirit sends into the hearts of human beings. "When the strongholds of kings shall be overthrown, when the arrows of God's wrath shall strike through the hearts of His enemies, His people will be safe in His hands." "The words of the apostles were as sharp arrows of the Almighty, convicting men of their terrible guilt in rejecting and crucifying the Lord of Glory."

The white horse is a fit emblem of the triumphs of the gospel in the first century of Christian history. This would symbolize the church of the apostles, or Ephesus in Revelation 2:1.

Revelation 6:3, 4: When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come and see." And another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.
Seven Seals of Revelation

Although the Bible says that Christ is "the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6), we can't avoid seeing that the gospel has often brought strife and bloodshed. Not that the gospel itself produces strife; what happens is that when people reject the gospel, they seek to compel others against their conscience and to persecute them. Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34).

The red horse is a fit symbol of the bloody persecutions inflicted on the followers of Jesus after the time of the apostles, the same period as the church of Smyrna in Revelation 2:8.

Revelation 6:5, 6: When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come and see." And I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard 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 the wine."

Conditions for God's people were getting more difficult! First, a beautiful white horse, symbolizing purity and victory; then bloody red, symbolizing persecution; and now the color of black.

The "voice" that speaks announces more bad news. "A quart of wheat" or barley was the daily ration, as a pound and a half of maize flour is even today considered a poor man's daily food allowance in some Third World countries. A "denarius" in New Testament times was the wage of a laboring man for an entire day (see Matthew 20:1, 2). No one wants to work hard all day and earn only a pound and a half of grain. The "voice" announces the bad news of fearful famine.

But this is not a famine for mere physical food. "The days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). Following the time of severe persecution of the church, she became elevated and prosperous in the world. This was the Pergamos period of Revelation 2:12. Pleasing fables and traditions of men crowded out the Word of God. Those who went to church found little spiritual food on which to feed their souls. Copies of the Bible became rare, and the pure gospel was all but forgotten. A little of the Word of God became as precious as a little food in famine.

But this did not mean that God had withdrawn His Holy Spirit from the earth. Zechariah says that oil is a symbol of God's Spirit (see Zechariah 4:2-6). Spiritual food may be rare, but those who desire it can find access to God's Spirit. All through the Dark Ages God had those who continued to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Often they were hidden in the mountains.

Revelation 6:7, 8: When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come and see." And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

This color signifies death itself. It has been the understanding of Bible students for centuries that the fourth horse denotes the deathlike conditions of the church in the Middle Ages, from about A.D. 538 to the time of the Protestant Reformers, when the church was partially delivered from the power of papal control and persecutions.

The "fourth part of the earth" would thus mean the territory where millions of martyrs were imprisoned and died during centuries that have aptly been termed the Dark Ages. The light of the gospel was almost extinguished. This was spiritual famine. Now comes hope for better times:

Revelation 6:9-11: 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 testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

We are not to understand that these martyrs who cry for vengeance are actually alive at this time. The Bible does not teach that when people die they go immediately to heaven. Certainly Lazarus did not, for our Lord said of him, "'Our friend Lazarus sleeps. . . .' Jesus spoke of his death" (John 11:11, 13). The Lord would surely not be so cruel as to imprison the souls of martyrs under "the altar" if they went to heaven as soon as they died! This has to be symbolic language.

Three texts will help us understand this symbol:

(1) After Abel was killed by his brother Cain, the Lord said, "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground" (Genesis 4:10).

(2) 'The stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the timber will answer it" (Habakkuk 2:11).

(3) "The wages of the laborers who have mowed your fields, which is kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries . . . have reached the ears of the Lord of sabaoth" James 5:4).

No one can suppose that the actual literal blood of Abel cried, or that the stone in the wall, or the wages held back from laborers, literally cried! It was justice that symbolically cried for restitution. John sees the saints as having been slain upon the altar of sacrifice on this earth, and lying dead beneath it. But they do not live again until at the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5).

It is commonly understood that the expression "a white robe" means the work of the Protestant Reformation, which for the first time honored the martyrs who died as a papal sacrifice. At last men like Huss and Jerome who had been hated by the papacy were honored as true servants of God. Among the most enlightened nations, the corruptions of the papal blasphemies and persecutions were fully exposed. Instead of being considered criminals, the martyrs were praised because they had died "for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." In this way "a white robe was given to each of them.

"Now we come to the cataclysmic events of the time of the end:

Revelation 6:12-17: I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"

The Dark Ages are now past, and great events begin to take center stage on earth.

The entire civilized world was startled by the greatest earthquake on record on the morning of All Souls' Day, November 1, 1755. It centered at Lisbon, Portugal, and extended over almost all Europe and North Africa. Nearly 30,000 people were killed in six minutes.

Many people at once understood this event as the fulfilment of this prophecy. Recent scientific writers say: "The destruction of Lisbon in A.D. 1755 was a disaster which had a profound effect on European thought in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Voltaire was . . . reeling from the mental shock of the news from Lisbon. . . . Goethe, who was six years old at the time, remembered later how the 'demon of fright' spread across the world. Everyone was shocked, . . . Wesley [said], that this warning from God had been directed 'not to the small vulgar, but to the great and learned, the rich, and honorable heathens commonly called Christians. ..." It would appear that the disaster of Lisbon had as profound effect on the minds and morals of men in the mid and late 1700's as the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945 have had on the twentieth century." (Basil Booth and Frank Fitch, Earthshock, London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1978; pp. 95, 96).

The next great event followed a few years later. On May 19, 1780, occurred what is known as the Great Dark Day. Many people also recognized this immediately as the specific fulfilment of this prophecy. The strange darkness in New England was understood as not caused by an eclipse, because the moon was full that night. About noon of that day, the people had to bring in candles. The cows came home from the pasture, the chickens went to roost, the birds fell silent. It was said to be the greatest darkness since the children of Israel left Egypt. This terrible omen continued until about one o'clock next morning, when the moon appeared red as blood. Multitudes of Christians immediately saw these events as the fulfillment of the sixth seal.

Then, on November 13, 1833, "the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as the fig tree drops its late figs." Never, before or since, has such a sight been seen. An eyewitness reported: "The falling stars did not come, as if from several trees shaken, but from one, those which appeared in the East fell toward the East; those which appeared in the North fell toward the North; those which appeared in the South (for I went out of my residence into the park) fell toward the South; and they fell not as ripe fruit falls. Far from it. But they flew, they were cast like the unripe fruit, which at first refuses to leave the branch . . . thrown with more or less force."

So it was that these three remarkable signs in the heavens followed each other, all within one person's lifetime. The minds of millions of people were directed to the fulfilment of Bible prophecy. Never had world events so electrified students of Bible prophecy as these three events.

The next great event is yet future—the heavens departing as a scroll when it is rolled together. This will take place at the second coming of the Lord Jesus (Psalm 46:2, 3; Isaiah 24:1, 19, 20; Revelation 16:20). "The mountains shake like a reed in the wind, and rugged rocks are scattered on every side. There is a roar as of a coming tempest. The sea is lashed into fury. There is heard the shriek of a hurricane like the voice of demons upon a mission of destruction. The whole earth heaves and swells like the waves of the sea. Its surface is breaking up. Its very foundations seem to be giving way. Mountain chains are sinking. Inhabited islands disappear. The seaports that have become like Sodom for wickedness, are swallowed up by the angry waters."

"Who shall be able to stand?" "Kings of the earth" and "great men," and both "slaves" and "free men," will know when earth's last hour comes. They have always been too proud to pray for the forgiveness of sin; now they cannot bear to look into the face of the Lamb of God, or to endure His gaze. They direct their long-delayed prayers to rocks and mountains!

There is no judgment like the judgment of love which has been rejected. There is no wrath so terrible as that of the Lamb who once said He was "meek and gentle in heart." To reject the cross of Christ, to steel the heart against the constraint of Jesus' love, to crucify Him afresh, to trample upon Him and to put Him to open shame, to betray Him as Judas did, is to merit through all eternity the condemning judgment of the universe. Though we may sometimes have been tempted to doubt, there is indeed such a thing as complete justice; and these verses reveal to us one side of its terror.

There is another side of God's character—that of tender mercy and forgiveness through the faith of Jesus. To understand and appreciate that grace is what changes sinners into saints, for it melts the human heart and motivates to obedience to all the commandments of God. God is both "just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus" (Romans 3:26), because such belief is the response of an honest heart to the claims of the cross of Calvary. That side of God's justice may be manifest to you today. "The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out" (John 6:37).

For a detailed, well researched and easy to read commentary on the book of Revelation I urge to buy a copy of Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation This verse-by-verse commentary offers a text-focused and Christ-centered approach to the book of Revelation. Appropriate for personal study and as a college and seminary text, this volume provides both in-depth notes and lay-oriented exposition for use by scholars, students, pastors, and laypeople. An ever-increasing interest in the prophecies of the Apocalypse has resulted in deeper understandings which are introduced in this updated edition. 

Ranko Stefanovic is professor of New Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He holds a Ph.D. degree from Andrews University and is a well-loved teacher, popular speaker, and author of scholarly articles.

Please click here for the next study on Revelation 7 Commentary: God's Seal on His People.

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