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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Revelation 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-17

Chapter 6

THE OPENING OF THE SEALS (Revelation 6:1-8)

As one by one the seals of the roll are opened, history unfolds itself before John's eyes.

As we study this section, we must remember one general fact which is basic to its understanding. In this series of visions John is seeing in advance the end of terror and judgment which could bring in the golden age of God.

Before we study the section in detail, we note one general point. In the first section of the visions, Revelation 6:1-8, the King James Version consistently follows a form of the Greek text which makes each of the four living creatures say: "Come and see!" (Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:3; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:7). In all the best Greek manuscripts it is simply, "Come!" as translated in the Revised Standard Version. This is not an invitation to John to come and see; it is a summons to the four horses and their riders one by one to come forward on the stage of history.

THE FOUR HORSES AND THEIR RIDERS (Revelation 6:1-8 continued)

6:1-8 And I saw when the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a loud voice like the sound of thunder, "Come!" And I saw, and, behold, a white horse, and he who was seated on it had a bow, and a conqueror's crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.

And, when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" And there came forth another horse blood-red in colour, and to him that sat upon it there was given to take peace from the earth, and to bring it about that men slay one another, and a great sword was given to him.

And, when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And, behold, there came a black horse, and he who sat upon it had the beam of a balance in his hand. And I heard as it were a voice in the middle of the four living creatures saying: "A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius. But you must not injure the oil and the wine."

And, when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come!" And I saw, and, behold, there came a pale horse, and the name of him who sat upon it was Death, and Hades followed with him; and they were given power over a fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Before we embark on a detailed interpretation of this vision, we note two important points.

(i) We note that the origin of this vision is in Zechariah 6:1-8. Zechariah sees four horses which are let loose upon the earth to deal out vengeance on Babylon and Egypt and the nations which have oppressed God's people. "These are going forth to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth" (Zechariah 6:5). The horses stand for the four mighty winds which God is about to let loose on the earth with a blast of destruction. John does not keep the details the same; but for him, too, the horses and their riders are the instruments of the avenging judgment of God.

(ii) We must explain the method of interpretation which we think must be used. The four horses and their riders stand for four great destructive forces which are in the times before the end to be despatched against the evil world by the holy wrath of God. But, John sees these forces in terms of actual events in the world which he knew where life seemed a chaos, the world seemed to be disintegrating, and the earth seemed to be full of terrors. The horses and their riders are forces of destruction and agents of wrath; they are not to be identified with any historical figures but in the events of his own time John saw symbols and types of the destruction to come

Our method of interpretation will, therefore, be to define the destructive force for which each of the horses stands, and then, where possible, to find circumstances in the history of John's own time which illustrate the destruction to come. We will further see that in more than one case John is dealing in pictures and ideas which were part of the stock in trade of the writers of these visions of the days of the end.

The White Horse Of Conquest (Revelation 6:1-2)

6:1-2 And I saw, when the Lamb opened the first of the seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a loud voice like the sound of thunder: "Come!" And I saw, and, behold a white horse, and he who was seated on it had a bow, and a conqueror's crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.

As each of the seven seals is broken and opened, a new terror falls upon the earth. The first terror is depicted under the form of a white horse and its rider. What do they represent? Two explanations have been suggested, one of which is certainly wrong.

(i) It has been suggested that the rider on the white horse is the victorious Christ himself. This conclusion is drawn because this picture is connected by some commentators with that in Revelation 19:11-12 which tells of a white horse and on it a rider, called Faithful and True and crowned with many crowns, who is the victorious Christ. It is to be noted that the crown in this passage is different from that in Revelation 19:1-21 . Here the crown is stephanos (Greek #4735), which is the victor's crown; in Revelation 19:1-21 it is diadema (Greek #1238), which is the royal crown. The passage we are here studying is telling of woe upon woe and disaster upon disaster; any picture of the victorious Christ is quite out of place in it. This picture tells of the coming not of the victor Christ but of the terrors of the wrath of God.

(ii) Quite certainly, the white horse and its rider stand for conquest in war. When a Roman general celebrated a triumph, that is, when he paraded through the streets of Rome with his armies and his captives and his spoils after some great victory, his chariot was drawn by white horses, the symbol of victory.

But, as we said in the introduction to this passage, John is clothing his predictions of the future in pictures of the present which his readers would recognize. The rider of the horse had in his hand a bow. In the Old Testament the bow is always the sign of military power. In the final defeat of Babylon her mighty men are taken and their bows--that is, their military power--destroyed (Jeremiah 51:56). God will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel (Hosea 1:5). God breaks the bow and shatters the spear in sunder and burns the chariots with fire; that is, against him no human military power can stand (Psalms 46:9). The bow, then, would always stand for military power. But there is one particular picture which the Romans and all who dwelt in Asia would at once recognize. The one enemy whom. the Romans feared was the Parthian power. The Parthians dwelt on the far eastern frontiers of the Empire and were the scourge of Rome. In A.D. 62 an unprecedented event had occurred; a Roman army had actually surrendered to Vologeses, the king of the Parthians. The Parthians rode white horses and were the most famous bowmen in the world. A "Parthian shot" still means a final, devastating blow, to which there is no possible answer.

So, then, the white horse and its rider with the bow stand for militarism and conquest.

Here is something which it has taken men long to learn. Military conquest has been presented as a thing of glamour; but it is always tragedy. When Euripides wished to depict warfare upon the stage, he did not bring on an army with banners. He brought on a bent and bewildered old woman leading by the hand a weeping child who had lost his parents. During the Spanish civil war a journalist told how he suddenly realized what war was. He was in a Spanish city in which the opposing parties were waging guerrilla warfare. He saw walking along the pavement a little boy, obviously lost, and bewildered and terrified, dragging along a toy which had lost its wheels. Suddenly there was the crack of a rifle shot; and the little boy pitched on the ground, dead. That is war. First among the tragic terrors of the terrible times John sets the white horse and the man with the bow, the vision of the tragedy of militaristic conquest.

The Blood-red Horse Of Strife (Revelation 6:3-4)

6:3-4 When he had opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say: "Come!" And there came forth another horse, blood-red in colour, and to him that sat upon it there was given to take peace from the earth, and to bring it about that men should slay each other, and a great sword was given to him.

The function of the second horse and its rider is to take peace from the earth. They stand for that destructive strife which sets man against man and nation against nation in a chaos of tragic destruction. There are two backgrounds to this.

(i) John was writing in a time when internecine strife was tearing the world apart. In the thirty years before the reign of Herod the Great, 67 to 37 B.C., in Palestine alone no fewer than 100,000 men had perished in abortive revolutions. In A.D. 61 in Britain there had arisen the rebellion connected with the name of Queen Boadicea. The Romans crushed it, Boadicea committed suicide and 150,000 men perished.

(ii) In the Jewish pictures of the end time, an essential element is the complete disintegration of all human relationships. Brother will fight against brother, neighbour against neighbour, city will rise against city, and kingdom against kingdom (Isaiah 19:2). Every man's hand shall be against the hand of his neighbour (Zechariah 14:13). From dawn to sunset they will slay each other (Enoch 100:12). Friend shall war against friend; friends will attack one another suddenly (4Ezra 5:9; Ezra 4:1-24 Ezra 6:24). Some of them shall fall in battle, and some of them shall perish in anguish, and some of them shall be destroyed by their own (2 Baruch 70:2-8). Many shall be stirred up in anger to injure many, and they shall rouse up all men in order to shed blood, and in the end they will all perish together (Baruch 48:37).

The vision of the end was a vision of a time when all human relationships would be destroyed and the world a seething cauldron of embittered hate.

It is still true that the nation in which there is division between man and man and class and class and hatred based on competitive ambition and selfish desire is doomed; and the world in which nation is set against nation is hastening to its end.

The Black Horse Of Famine (Revelation 6:5-6)

6:5-6 When he had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say: "Come!" And, behold, there came a black horse, and he who sat upon it had the beam of a balance in his hand. And I heard, as it were, a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying: "A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius. But you must not injure the oil and the wine."

It will help us to understand the idea behind this passage if we remember that John is giving an account not of the end of things, but of the signs and events which precede the end. So here the black horse and its rider represent famine, a famine which is very severe and causes great hardship, but which is not desperate enough to kill. There is wheat--at a prohibitive price; and the wine and the oil are not affected.

The three main crops of Palestine were the corn, the wine and the oil; and it is these three which are always mentioned when the crops of the land are being described (Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 11:14; Deuteronomy 28:51; Hosea 2:8; Hosea 2:22). The rider of the horse had the cross-beam of a balance in his hand. In the Old Testament the phrase to eat bread by weight indicates the greatest scarcity. In Leviticus it is the threat of God that, if the people are disobedient "they shall deliver your bread again by weight" (Leviticus 26:26). It is the threat of God to Ezekiel: "I will break the stall of bread in Jerusalem; they shall eat bread by weight and with fearfulness" (Ezekiel 4:16).

It was not entirely abnormal that there should be wine and oil when there was no corn. The olive and the vine were much more deeply-rooted than the corn; and they could stand a drought which would wipe out the corn crop. When Jacob had to send down to Egypt for corn in the days of the famine in the time of Joseph, he was still able to send with his sons a gift of "the choice fruits of the land" (Genesis 43:11). But it is true that a situation in which wine and oil were plentiful and corn prohibitively dear would be the equivalent of one in which luxuries were plentiful and necessities scarce.

We can see the extent of the scarcity from the statement of the voice from amidst the four living creatures. A measure of wheat or three measures of barley was to cost a denarius. The measure was a choinix (Greek #5518), equivalent to two pints and consistently defined in the ancient world as a man's ration for a day. A denarius was the equivalent of four pence and was a working man's wage for a day. Normally one denarius bought anything from eight to sixteen measures of corn and three to four times as much barley. What John is foretelling is a situation in which a man's whole working wage would be needed to buy enough corn for himself for a day, leaving absolutely nothing to buy any of the other necessities of life and absolutely nothing for his wife and family. If instead of corn he bought the much inferior barley, he might manage to give some to his wife and family but again he would have nothing to buy anything else.

We have seen that, although John was telling of the signs which were to precede the end, he was nevertheless painting them in terms of actual historical situations which men would recognize. There had been desperate famines in the time of Nero which left the luxury of the rich untouched. There was an occasion when a ship arrived in Italy from Alexandria. The starving populace thought it was a cornship, for all the cornships came from Alexandria; and they rioted when they discovered that the cargo was not corn but a special kind of sand from the Nile Delta to spread upon the ground of the arena for a gladiatorial show. This passage finds an amazing echo in certain events during the reign of Domitian, at the very time when John was writing. There was a very serious shortage of grain and also a superabundance of wine. Domitian took the drastic step of enacting that no fresh vineyards should be planted and that half the vineyards in the provinces should be cut down. At this edict the people of the province of Asia, in which John was writing, came very near to rebelling for their vineyards were one of their principal sources of revenue. In view of the violent reaction of the people of Asia, Domitian rescinded his edict and actually enacted that those who allowed their vineyards to go out of cultivation should be prosecuted. Here is the very picture of a situation in which corn was scarce and it was yet forbidden to interfere with the supply of wine and oil.

So, then, this is a picture of famine set alongside luxury. There is always something radically wrong with a situation in which some have too much and others too little. This is always a sign that the society in which it occurs is hastening to its ruin.

There is one other interesting point which, it has been suggested, is in this passage. It is from the midst of the four living creatures that there comes the voice telling of the famine prices of corn. We have already seen that the four living creatures may well symbolize all that is best in nature; and this may well be taken to be nature's protest against famine amidst men. The tragedy has nearly always been that nature produces enough, and more than enough, but that there are many people to whom that abundance never comes. It is as if John was symbolically indicating that nature herself protests when the gifts she offers are used selfishly and irresponsibly for the luxury of the few at the expense of the many.

The Pale Horse Of Pestilence And Death (Revelation 6:7-8)

6:7-8 When he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying: "Come!" And I saw, and, behold, there came a pale horse, and the name of him who sat upon it was Death, and Hades followed with him; and they were given power over a fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

As we approach this passage we must once again remember that it is telling not of the final end but of the signs which precede it. That is why it is a fourth part of the earth which is involved in death and disaster. This is a terrible time but it is not the time of total destruction.

The picture is a grim one. The horse is pale in colour. The word is chloros (Greek #5515) which means pale in the sense of livid and is used of a face blenched with terror. The passage is complicated by the fact that the Greek word thanatos (Greek #2288) is used in a double sense. In Revelation 6:8 it is used to mean both death and pestilence.

John was writing in a time when famine and pestilence did devastate the world; but in this case he is thinking in terms provided by the Old Testament which more than once speaks of "the four sore judgments." Ezekiel hears God tell of the time when he will send his "four sore acts of judgment upon Jerusalem"--sword, famine, evil beasts, and pestilence (Ezekiel 14:21). In Leviticus there is a passage which tells of the penalties which God will send upon his people because of their disobedience. Wild beasts will rob them of their children and destroy their cattle and make them few in number. The sword will avenge their breaches of the covenant. When they are gathered in their cities the pestilence will be among them. He will break the stall of bread and they will eat and not be satisfied (Leviticus 26:21-26).

Here John is using a traditional picture of what is to happen when God despatches his wrath upon his disobedient people. At the back of it all is the permanent truth that no man or nation can escape the consequences of their sin.

THE SOULS OF THE MARTYRS (Revelation 6:9-11)

6:9-11 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw beneath the altar the souls of those who had been stain for the sake of the word of God and because of the witness which they bore. And they cried with a loud voice: "How long, Lord, Holy and True, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" And to each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to rest for still a little while, until there should be completed the number of their fellow-servants and of their brothers who must be killed.

At the breaking of the fifth seal comes the vision of the souls of those who had died for their faith.

Jesus left his followers in no doubt as to the suffering and the martyrdom they would be called upon to endure. "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated of all nations for my name's sake" (Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12; Luke 21:18). The day would come when those who killed Christians would think they were doing a service for God (John 16:2).

The idea of an altar in heaven is one that occurs more than once in the Revelation (Revelation 8:5; Revelation 14:18). It is not by any means a new idea. When the furnishings of the tabernacle were to be made, they were all to be constructed according to the pattern which God possessed and would show (Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40; Numbers 8:4; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:23). It is the consistent idea of those who wrote about the Tabernacle and the Temple that the pattern of all the holy things already existed in heaven.

The souls of those who had been slain were there beneath the altar. That picture is taken directly from the sacrificial ritual of the Temple. For a Jew the most sacred part of any sacrifice was the blood; the blood was regarded as being the life and the life belonged to God (Leviticus 17:11-14). Because of that, there were special regulations for the offering of the blood.

"The rest of the blood of the bull the priest shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering" (Leviticus 4:7). That is to say, the blood is offered at the foot of the altar.

This gives us the meaning of our passage here. The souls of the martyrs are beneath the altar. That is to say, their life-blood has been poured out as an offering to God. The idea of the martyr's life as a sacrifice to God is in the mind of Paul. He says that he will rejoice, if he is offered up on the sacrifice and the service of the faith of the Philippians (Philippians 2:17). "I am already," he says, "on the point of being sacrificed" (2 Timothy 4:6). In the time of the Maccabees the Jews suffered terribly for their faith. There was a mother whose seven sons were threatened with death because of their loyalty to their Jewish beliefs. She encouraged them not to yield and reminded them how Abraham had not refused to offer Isaac. She told them that, when they reached their glory, they must tell Abraham that he had built one altar of sacrifice but their mother had built seven. In later Judaism it was said that Michael, the archangel, sacrificed on the heavenly altar the souls of the righteous and of those who had been faithful students of the law. When Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to Rome to be burned, his prayer was that he should be found a sacrifice belonging to God.

There is a great and uplifting truth here. When a good man dies for the sake of goodness, it may look like tragedy, like the waste of a fine life; like the work of evil men; and, indeed, it may be all these things. But every life laid down for right and truth and God is ultimately more than any of these things--it is an offering made to God.

THE CRY OF THE MARTYRS (Revelation 6:9-11 continued)

There are three things in this section which we must note.

(i) We have the eternal cry of the suffering righteous--"How long?" This was the cry of the Psalmist. How long were the heathen to be allowed to afflict God's righteous people? How long were they to be allowed to taunt his people by asking where God was and what he was doing? (Psalms 79:5-10). The thing to remember is that when the saints of God uttered this cry, they were bewildered by God's seeming inactivity but they never doubted his ultimate action, and the ultimate vindication of the righteous.

(ii) We have a picture which is easy to criticize. The saints actually wished to see the punishment of their persecutors. it is hard for us to understand the idea that part of the joy of heaven was to see the punishment of the sinners in Hell. In the Assumption of Moses the Jewish writer (10: 10) hears God promise:

And thou shalt look from on high and shalt see thy enemies in

Gehenna.

And thou shalt recognize them and rejoice,

And thou shalt give thanks and confess thy Creator.

In later times Tertullian (Concerning Spectacles 30) was to taunt the heathen with their love of spectacles and to say that the spectacle to which the Christian most looked forward was to see his one-time persecutors writhing in Hell.

You are fond of spectacles; expect the greatest of all spectacles,

the last and eternal judgment of the universe. How shall I admire,

how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud

monarchs, and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of

darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord,

liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the

Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in red hot flames

with their deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling

before the tribunal, not of Minos, but of Christ; so many

tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings;

so many dancers writhing in the flames.

It is easy to stand aghast at the spirit of vengeance which could write like that. But we must remember what these men went through, the agony of the flames, of the arena and the wild beasts, of the sadistic torture which they suffered. We have the right to criticize only when we have gone through the same agony.

(iii) The martyrs must rest in peace for a little longer until their number is made up. The Jews had the conviction that the drama of history had to be played out in full before the end could come. God would not stir until the measure appointed had been fulfilled (2 Esdras 4:36). The number of the righteous first has to be offered (Enoch 47:4). The Messiah would not come until all the souls which were to be born had been born. The same idea finds its echo in the burial prayer in the Anglican Prayer Book that "it may please thee shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect and to hasten thy kingdom." It is a curious notion but at the back of it is the idea that all history is in the hand of God, and that in it and through it all he is working his purpose out to its certain end.

THE SHATTERED UNIVERSE (Revelation 6:12-14)

6:12-14 I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black like sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the heaven fell upon the earth, as a fig-tree casts its figs, when it is shaken by a high wind; and the heavens were split like a roll that is rolled up, and the hills and islands were moved from their places.

John is using pictures very familiar to his Jewish readers. The Jews always regarded the end as a time when the earth would be shattered and there would be cosmic upheaval and destruction. In the picture there are, as it were, five elements which can all be abundantly illustrated from the Old Testament and from the books written between the Testaments.

(i) There is the earthquake. At the coming of the Lord the earth will tremble (Amos 8:8). There will be a great shaking in the land of Israel (Ezekiel 38:19). The earth will quake and the heavens will tremble (Joel 2:10). God will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land (Haggai 2:6). The earth will tremble and be shaken to its bounds; the hills will be shaken and fall (Assumption of Moses 10: 4). The earth shall open and fire burst forth (2 Esdras 5:8). Whoever gets out of the war will die in the earthquake; and whoever gets out of the earthquake will die in the fire, and whoever gets out of the fire will perish in the famine (Baruch 70:8). The Jewish prophets and seers saw a time when earth would be shattered and a tide of destruction would flow over the old world before the new world was born.

(ii) There is the darkening of the sun and moon. The sun will set at midday, and earth will grow dark in the clear day light (Amos 8:9). The stars will not shine; the sun will be darkened in his going forth and the moon will not cause her light to shine (Isaiah 13:10). God will clothe the heavens with blackness and will make sackcloth their covering (Isaiah 50:3). God will make the stars dark and cover the sun with a cloud (Ezekiel 32:7). The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood (Joel 2:31). The horns of the sun will be broken and he will be turned into darkness, the moon will not give her light, and will be turned into blood; and the circle of the stars will be disturbed (Assumption of Moses 10: 4-5). The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give her light (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 23:45).

(iii) There is the falling of the stars. To the Jew this idea was specially terrible, for the order of the heavens was the very guarantee of the unchanging fidelity of God. Take away the reliability of the heavens and there was nothing left but chaos. The angel tells Enoch to behold the heavens, to see how the heavenly bodies never change their orbits or transgress against their appointed order (Enoch 2:1). Enoch saw the chambers of the sun and moon, how they go out and come in, how they never leave their orbit, and add nothing to it and take nothing from it (Enoch 41:5). To the Jew the last word in chaos was a world of falling stars. But in the end time the host of heaven would be dissolved and fall down as the leaf falls from the vine and the fig from the fig-tree (Isaiah 34:4). The stars will fall from heaven and the powers of heaven shall be shaken (Matthew 24:29). The firmament shall fall on the sea and a cataract of fire will reduce the heavens and the stars to a molten mass (Sibylline Oracles 3: 83). The stars will transgress their order and alter their orbits (Enoch 80:5-6). The outgoings of the stars will change (2 Esdras 5:4). The end will be a time when the most reliable things in the universe will become a disorderly and terrifying chaos.

(iv) There is the folding up of the heavens. The picture in this passage is of a roll stretched out and held open, and then suddenly split down the middle so that each half recoils and rolls up. God will shake the heavens (Isaiah 13:13). The heavens will be rolled together as a scroll (Isaiah 34:4). They will be changed like a garment and folded up (Psalms 102:25-26). At the end the eternal heavens themselves will be rent in two.

(v) There is the moving of the hills and of the islands of the sea. The mountains will tremble and the hills will be moved (Jeremiah 4:24). The mountains will quake and the hills will melt (Nahum 1:5). John saw a time when the most unshakeable things would be shaken and when even rocky isles like Patmos would be lifted from their foundation.

Strange as John's pictures may seem to us, there is not a single detail which is not in the pictures of the end time in the Old Testament and in the books written between the Testaments. We must not think that these pictures are to be taken literally. Their point is that John is taking every terrifying thing that can be imagined and piling them all together to give a picture of the terrors of the end time. Today, with our increased scientific knowledge, we might well paint the picture in different terms; but it is not the picture that matters. What matters is the terrors which John and the Jewish seers foresaw when God would invade the earth when time was coming to an end.

THE TIME OF TERROR (Revelation 6:15-17)

6:15-17 And the kings of the earth and the great ones and the captains and the rich and the strong, and every slave and every free person hid themselves in the caves and the rocks of the hills, and said to the mountains and to the 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, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

As John saw it in his vision, the end time was to be one of universal terror. Here again he is working with pictures familiar to all who knew the Old Testament and the later Jewish writings. When the Day of the Lord came, men would be afraid; pangs and sorrows would take hold of them; they would be in pain as a woman who travails; and they would be amazed at one another (Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:8). At that time even the mighty man would cry bitterly (Zephaniah 1:14). The inhabitants of the land would tremble (Joel 2:1). They would be frighted with fear; there would be no place to which to flee and no place in which to hide; the children of earth would tremble and quake (Enoch 102:1, 3). God would come to be a witness against his sinning people (Micah 1:1-4). He would be like a refiner's fire, and who might abide the day of his coming? (Malachi 3:1-3). The Day of the Lord would be great and terrible, and who could endure it? (Joel 2:11). Men would say to the mountains, "Cover us," and to the hills, "Fall on us" (Hosea 10:8), words which Jesus quoted on the way to the Cross (Luke 23:30).

This passage has two significant things to say about this fear.

(i) It is universal. Revelation 6:15 speaks of the kings, the captains, the great ones, the rich, the strong, the slave and the free. It has been pointed out that these seven words include "the whole fabric of human society." No one is exempt from the judgment of God. The great ones may well be the Roman governors who persecute the Church; the captains are the military authorities. However great a governor a man is and however much power he wields, he is still subject to the judgment of God. However rich a man may be, however strong, however free he may count himself, however much of a slave, however insignificant, he does not escape the judgment of God.

(ii) When the day of the Lord comes, John sees people seeking somewhere to hide. Here is the great truth that the first instinct of sin is to hide. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve sought to hide themselves (Genesis 3:8). H. B. Swete says: "What sinners dread most is not death, but the revealed presence of God." The terrible thing about sin is that it makes a man a fugitive from God; and the supreme thing about the work of Jesus Christ is that it puts a man into a relationship with God in which he no longer need seek to hide, knowing that he can cast himself on the love and the mercy of God.

(iii) We note one last thing. That from which men flee is the wrath of the Lamb. Here is paradox; we do not readily associate wrath with the Lamb but rather gentleness and kindness. But the wrath of God is the wrath of love, which is not out to destroy but even in anger is out to save the one it loves.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Revelation 6:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/revelation-6.html. 1956-1959.

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the Seventh Week after Easter
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