Revelation 6

Revelation 6  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 8
THIS chapter opens with the breaking of the first of the seven seals of the mystic roll. It is evident that what follows refers to the earth. For the help of those who have not yet studied this part of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we would add a few prefatory remarks on the vision of Daniel in chapter 9:20-27, as it is closely connected with the period and circumstances, etc., here portrayed. Space will not permit us to enter upon all the details. We can only give a short outline. It is spoken of as the vision of the seventy weeks. The weeks are weeks of years. So that seventy weeks embrace four hundred and ninety years. At the close of the sixty-ninth, i.e., four hundred and eighty-three years, the Messiah appeared. After ministering about three and a half years He was cut off, crucified. Following upon His resurrection and ascent to glory, the Holy Ghost came, who forms the church. During the period of Christ's absence on high, and His presence here below, and the church's sojourn on earth, time is not reckoned. The church is composed of saints whose calling and blessing are distinctly heavenly. The present period is an interval in the ways of God on earth. One more week of seven years remains still uncompleted. It is the period when the man who is called "the beast" shall make a covenant with Israel. (Dan. 9:2727And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. (Daniel 9:27).) We shall have to refer to further detail in connection with this as we proceed. The rapture of the heavenly saints precedes it (1 Thess. 4:15-1815For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15‑18)); the close of the week will be the reappearing of Christ to establish His kingdom. That which takes place during this last week is detailed after chapter 6 to chapter 19 of the Revelation.
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold 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. (Chapter 6:1, 2.) John sees when the Lamb, who had taken the roll from the right hand of Him who sat upon the throne, opens the first of the seals. It is the commencement of His providential ways with men prior to the ushering in of His kingdom. One of the four living creatures says, as a voice of thunder," Come and see." The words "and see" are not found in the original. It is simply "Come." This word is not addressed to John, but refers to that which follows. Verse 2 is the answer to the summons, where a rider upon a white horse appears. The same remark applies to all the first four seals. "And I saw, and behold a white horse," etc. A "horse" in these visions denotes the providential dealings of God through human power. "White" conveys the thought of a victory secured by peaceful means. The rider has a bow, which would denote power to overcome opposition at a distance, without any loud accompaniment. A crown was given unto him. This successful leader is generally welcomed, and becomes the recipient of regal authority. He enters upon the stage of the world as a conqueror, carrying everything before him, and continues his success. In that, later on, in chapter 19., Christ appears on a white horse, some have erroneously thought that it is the same here. But, as said, it is the beginning of God's providential dealings in view of the establishing of Christ's kingdom.
“And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come [and see]. And there went out another horse that was red: 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." (Verses 3, 4.) John hears the second living creature say, Come. And there went out another horse that was red. The color is in character with that which follows. It is given to the rider to take peace from the earth. Men think that an era of peace was dawning. The peaceful entrance of the conqueror leads them to thoughts of peace and safety. But it is saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:1414They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14).) Wars will not be (broken out of the earth, till Christ Himself shall have come. It breaks out again. Blood flows. The lusts and passions of men burst out again in fury, as so oft before, and they kill one another. Dreams of universal peace and fraternity are dispelled, and there is widespread carnage. "There was given unto him a great sword." The sword is the symbol of military rule. Great power comes into this leader's hand. The short presage and duration of peace is succeeded by, devastating war. Further effects are seen under seals three and four.
“And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come [and see]. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three 'measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." (Verses 5, 6.) The color black is again characteristic. As is so often the case in the history of man, war is followed by famine. Men being engaged in warfare neglect tillage. The rider holds a pair of balances, instead of a sword like him on the red horse. War is succeeded by a terrible and widespread famine. Suddenly a voice proceeds from the midst of the living creatures connected with God's throne. He knows all, and has a voice in all. Things had not yet wholly fallen into Satan's hand. The voice declares authoritatively the price, one choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius, which shows the prevalence of great scarcity of the necessaries of life; but the oil and wine, which are, comparatively speaking, luxuries, are not to be injured.
“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come [and see]. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was 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."(Verses 7, 8.) The fourth living creature says, Come. And behold a pale horse. As in the other three seals, the color, pale, is again in keeping with that which follows. The name of the rider is now said to be Death, and Hell (or Hades) keeps him company.
“And power [or authority] was given unto him [not them] over the fourth [part] of the earth to slay. "How dreadful the contrast between the action of this wicked tool of Satan, and the rule of Him whom God has appointed Heir and King. The action of the one is characterized by death, and the rule of the other by life. Four things are mentioned as busy in the destruction of men, where he holds authority over the fourth of the earth, namely, the sword, hunger, death, and wild beasts, like the four sore plagues in Ezekiel, to which we have already referred.
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were 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, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled." (Verses 9-11) One rejoices to find from this fifth seal, that God has devoted witnesses in the midst of all the sorrows depicted under the seals. John sees the souls of slain ones under the altar, figure of the cross of Christ where He suffered martyrdom. His death too there for God's glory and for sin was the foundation of the testimony which they had borne, and which cost them their lives. The heavenly saints having been translated to glory, as we have seen, God will raise up fresh witnesses, who, during the beginning of sorrows, will hold fast to the word of God, and bear testimony in the midst of the accumulating evil. They seal their testimony with their blood. They are a fresh company of martyrs. No man can serve two masters. Men at that day will not brook the light of the word of God, and will display the deadly enmity of their hearts against God by slaughtering those who bear His testimony. These martyred saints are seen in the vision in the disembodied state. They cry for vengeance. This makes it quite clear that they are not Christians, who are taught to love and pray for their enemies. But it is fully witnessed to in the Psalms and elsewhere that it is a characteristic cry of Jews, and of a day when God's testimony, has changed. The day of grace will then be past; and the throne of God, as we have seen, become a throne of judgment, when this company bears its testimony. Clearly they are Jews. They cry with a loud voice, "How long, O sovereign ruler [for so it reads in the Greek], holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell upon the earth?" Such language would be totally out of place from the lips of those whose hearts have been won by the gospel of the grace of God and of the glory of Christ. It is the "how long" of the Psalms (Psa. 90:1313Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. (Psalm 90:13), etc.), addressed to Him who is Sovereign Ruler, and who has almighty power to overrule and restrain the wrath of man and the power of Satan, and to control all things for His own glory, and for the profitable discipline and welfare of His people. They add "holy and true," the same words which the Lord Jesus uses in presenting Himself to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. They had sought to walk in holiness and truth before Him, and had suffered for their faithfulness unto death. Unholiness and error were abounding, and they cry for vengeance on their persecutors, who practice these things. They speak of them as dwellers upon the earth. This is a characteristic term in the book of Revelation, mentioned a dozen times or so. (See, for example, chaps. 3: 10; 6:10; 11:10; 13:8) They appear to be a class that were living on the earth before God's heavenly testimony ceased, and those who received it were translated to glory. But having neglected or refused it, they are left behind at that moment, and instead of becoming heavenly pilgrims through faith, settle down in unbelief, and become dwellers on the earth, their minds being set on things on the earth, instead of things above. And they become persecutors.
But the Sovereign Ruler is merciful. Moreover, other saints were yet to bear testimony and suffer for His sake. Hence white robes were given to every one of them, and they are told to rest for a little season, until these things should be fulfilled. A white robe was the recognition of their purity when surrounded with the evil of the world before their martyrdom. And they were to rest yet for a little while after their hour of affliction. Others, as said, were yet to suffer, their fellow-bondmen and their brethren, those who carried on the testimony after their death; their brethren probably pointing to other Jews who would share in it. It was about to be fulfilled, that these also would be killed.
In the description of the first resurrection in Rev. 20:4-64And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4‑6) these martyrs are again referred to. Verse 4 is divided into three parts. The first company viewed on millennial thrones, with judgment entrusted to them, consists of the heavenly saints. "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Cor. 6:22Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? (1 Corinthians 6:2).) Next, we 'get souls (saints in the disembodied state) who had suffered death for the witness of Jesus and the word of God, evidently corresponding with the sufferers of Rev. 6:9, 109And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6:9‑10). Thirdly, "and those which had not worshipped the beast," etc. There should be a semicolon after "word of God"; and it reads in the original "and those which." These correspond with the fellow-servants and brethren of chapter 6:11, for which those of verses 9, 10 are told to wait. The latter suffer when the beast shall have been fully manifested, and the hour of tribulation is present.
“And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." (Verses 12-14.) "A great earthquake." In seeking to apprehend the moral force conveyed by this language, we must be careful not to circumscribe our thoughts. We are all more or less familiar with descriptions of earthquakes, and their effects, whether in the earth itself or on the surrounding atmospheric heavens, etc. The Spirit of God takes this up to convey to us a terrible moral catastrophe which at the moment of the opening of the sixth seal shall affect the whole sphere of the heavens and the earth. It has been thought by several capable and spiritually minded students of this book, that this earthquake takes place before the last half-week (which commences under the seventh seal, chapter 8:1), producing a premature panic concerning the wrath of the Lamb at His appearing. One feels very unwilling to diverge in any way from such weighty and competent testimony. But after pondering over this passage for some years a further thought suggests itself which one would present in all humility to the judgment of our readers. We are in full accord that it presents to us figuratively a great moral earthquake, with very widespread effects. One has thought that it probably sets forth in graphic language the general break-up of the whole established system of the present heavens and earth; which, commencing at the opening of the sixth seal, before the last half-week, and producing at first a panic, embraces in its bearing the then existing state of things, and probably continues in its effects for a little while, not necessarily closing at the commencement of the last half-week. This character of things, as students of the Revelation are well aware, is not uncommon in this book. Several times the events and circumstances depicted in figure, symbol, etc., run on for a while, and the reader has to return again in thought to things which will precede them in their accomplishment.
There will be then at that day a general subversion of that which exists at present. There will be also physical signs in heaven and earth. But the moral aspect is the more important one, viz., the universal break-up of all that is fixed and stable, the darkening, etc., of ruling powers, and the fall of prominent lights, etc., etc. The earth is shaken generally. (Read Isa. 24:16-2316From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous. But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously. 17Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. 18And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake. 19The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. 20The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again. 21And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. 22And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited. 23Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously. (Isaiah 24:16‑23).) The sun, figure of the supreme source of light and rule, becomes black as hair-sackcloth. A power that should shed forth healthful light and influence over the whole scene will be judicially darkened. The whole moon (as it should read), which sets forth derivative and reflected light, becomes as blood. The professed policy of peace will become a policy anarchic and sanguinary in its effects. The stars of heaven fall to the earth. This alone should prevent the reader from falling into the snare of literal interpretation of that which is clearly figurative. The fact is surely well known that the stars are immensely greater than the earth. One star falling on this earth would suffice to shatter it to atoms. No, it must be taken morally. We judge that these stars set forth prominent men of mark and distinction, who should be lights in the sphere in which they are set in the government of God, but who, having failed to glorify God (Dan. 8:1010And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. (Daniel 8:10)), fall from their exalted position under that same just, but then judicial, dealing of God to the level of the earth. They are compared to a fig tree (which, when applied to Israel, is a national emblem) which casteth her untimely figs. Instead of proving themselves to be like a healthy tree, by bringing forth a crop of good figs at the approaching time of gathering, they cast their figs unripe before the time. Like a tree shaken by a mighty wind. Satan is the prince of the power of the air. (Eph. 2:22Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: (Ephesians 2:2).) Hence we judge that there is a mighty movement of his power at this moment, subservient to the will of God, operating in connection with the fall of these lesser luminaries. "And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together." The whole sphere of ruling power departs (or is removed). A scroll unfolded would show its contents, but a scroll rolled up would signify that the use of it ceases, its contents no longer being carried out. "And every mountain and island were moved out of their places." A mountain is often employed figuratively in scripture to set forth a great established power in the earth. An island would denote that which is solid and stable in the midst of that which is in agitation and unrest. In the course of the terrible state of things depicted concerning this great and universal moral upheaval, all established power and authority, and everything that has been fixed and stable in relation to governmental order and the general social life of men, will be removed. Nothing but instability, agitation, and general anarchy will ensue. Nothing escapes the general overthrow.
“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens 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 that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great 'day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? " (Ver. 15-17.) This dreadful revolution of everything produces a great effect upon all classes of men. There is no sign of repentance, but only of fear and dread, with consciousness of unfitness to stand before the Judge of all. Seven classes are spoken of, showing the completeness of the panic. The kings of the earth, the great men of mark and position, the wealthy classes, the chief Military leaders, those who are renowned for their strength, those who are in bond-service, and those that are free; all are mentioned as seeking an asylum in the caves and rocks of the mountains, a resource as useless as when men may have sought a similar refuge from the approaching flood in the days of Noah. Their cry of agony and distress rings vainly when every mountain and island is described as moved out of their places. These inanimate witnesses of God's power and strength cannot save them, however loudly and earnestly they may appeal to them to fall upon them that they might be hidden from the dreadful wrath of the One on the throne and from the Lamb. We are here further inclined to judge, that instead of it being a premature panic before the judgment of Christ, the Son of man at His appearing, that this terrible universal overthrow with all its attendant effects, is indeed an outpouring of wrath from the throne of God and from the Lamb which causes great fear, before that final catastrophe in relation to the quick or living nations. In chapter 19, in the description of the advent of Christ upon the white horse to judge, He has different names, but the title of the Lamb is omitted. We think that their cry, "the great day of his wrath is come," and "who is [not, shall be] able to stand?" strengthens this. When the King of kings appears in chapter 19., men are bold. There is a mighty military host with their leaders arrayed against Him. There is no thought of hiding, and wishing for death, but boldness and defiance; men will have recovered from their panic and fear.
Well may they cry, Who is able to stand? What is the answer? Whether at that day, or at His appearing, or now, there is no one who, after the flesh, can stand before the Lord; only he, who in true repentance before God, believes His testimony concerning His beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. (Mark 1:1515And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15), etc.) That one's sins are forgiven for His name's sake. (1 John 2:1212I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. (1 John 2:12).) A just God justifies and reconciles him. Henceforth, through the gift of the Spirit, he stands complete in Christ before Him. The cry, "Who is able to stand?" shall never issue from his lips.