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Revelation 6

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To this point, Revelation has been relatively easy to interpret; but, beginning with this chapter, there are scores of interpretations, with multiple schools of interpreters, following all kinds of bizarre and fanciful "explanations" of what is here written. (See introduction for a discussion of some of the more important methods followed by various groups.) In a sense, one must be accounted rather bold to write confidently of things about which there is so much disagreement; but, on the other hand, there are some things which this writer brings to this study which are by no means universal. First, there is a general knowledge, at least, of what the New Testament teaches; secondly, there is a fundamental rejection of the notion that this sacred prophecy is some kind of hodgepodge cooked up by the apostle John and made up of materials gleaned from "Semitic folklore, Persian elements, Babylonian mythology, the writings of Virgil, Semitic and Hellenic mythology, the Apocrypha, and the Book of Enoch." James Moffatt, Expositor’s Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), pp. 388-390. Scholars who pursue such an assumption can never know what Revelation means, simply because they are seeking its meaning in the wrong place. Thirdly, there is a deep sense of conviction that no "brand new doctrine," such as that usually designated as premillennialism, is to be found in the book. In other words, Revelation is considered to be in full and complete harmony with everything else in the New Testament. For example, the one judgment day of the whole New Testament is not a conception here replaced by a multiple series of judgments; but the references which appear to be such are repeated references to the very same judgment day (singular). Fourthly, many of the common pitfalls of supposing: (1) that the whole book refers to a period following the Second Advent; (2) that every line of it has already been fulfilled; (3) that John was restricted to current events in his terminology; (4) that an "Antichrist" is anywhere mentioned in Revelation; or (5) that the various seals, trumpets, bowls, etc., have reference to "successive events" - these and many other common assumptions which mar the works of many are here rejected and avoided.

The general assumptions underlying this interpretation are: (1) that the succeeding series of seals, trumpets, bowls, etc., and "Onward from chapter 6 are a panorama of parallel judgments"; F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 642. (2) that "The millennium and the present age are one and the same thing"; Jay E. Adams, The Time is at Hand (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1977), p. 24. (3) that the true key to unlocking the mysteries of Revelation must be sought in the Olivet discourse of Jesus (Matthew and parallels), and in other Scriptural passages; (4) that much of the symbolism in Revelation has a double application, just as was clearly the case in the Olivet discourse; (5) that the known fulfillment of a given passage in some historical event now past does not preclude its reference to some final, future event; (6) that the successive mention, for example, of such symbols as the horses (in this chapter) does not mean the reality symbolized by one of them disappeared when the next came to view, but that the various conditions symbolized were probably manifested simultaneously; and (7) that the great landmark by which the whole prophecy can be properly oriented and understood is that of the Second Advent and the simultaneous resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. Without such a "rudder" as this, the interpreter’s ship is doomed to drift in all directions. That such assumptions as these are candidly and confidently made derives from a lifetime of studying the sacred text; and it surely is our prayerful hope that in none of them have we been misled or deceived.

Chapter summary: the opening of the seven seals begins here, with six of them being opened in this chapter. It should be noted that what is revealed following the opening of each seal is not said to be read from the scroll, which is never either opened or read in the whole prophecy. Rather, the contents of it, as far as it pertained to the fortunes of God’s church in the world, were revealed in the visions that promptly succeeded the breaking of each of the seals.

Verses 1-2

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, Come. And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon had a bow; and there was given unto him a crown: and he came forth conquering, and to conquer.

Of all those who have discussed this in their books, as far as we have investigated, William Hendriksen has the most thorough and intensive study of it; and the symbol (the white horse and its rider) which dominates these two verses was identified by him with "The Christ". William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 113. Although disagreeing with it, Bruce admitted that this "is the long established interpretation"; F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 644. "many think this"; J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1078. Roberson, Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305, 1957), p. 38. Cox, Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 48. Wallace, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., The Book of Revelation (Nashville: The Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Publications, 1966), p. 143. and a very great many others might be cited; but perhaps it is more profitable to point out the reasons behind this view.

1. "The white horse …" The color here is significant, for its contrasts with the colors of the other horses; and nowhere in Revelation is white used otherwise than as a symbol of purity, holiness, glory, etc. "In the book of Revelation, white is never used of anything evil." Jim McGuiggan, The Book of Revelation (West Monroe, Louisiana: William C. Johnson, 1976), p. 77. The white throne upon which God sits is an example.

2. The choice of a "horse" in this symbolism means "war." It is a righteous war, for the horse was white, indicating truth and righteousness. "This war began when Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, and his disciples began to go everywhere at his command." Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 48.

3. The rider wore a crown which was "given to him," not a crown extorted through the atrocities of war, but a gift of God. A "crown" in the Scriptural sense upon the head of some profane conqueror is impossible to believe. Only Christ fits the picture.

4. The rider on this white horse went forth "conquering and to conquer," expressions used extensively elsewhere in the New Testament of Christ. "We feel sure that had you never heard another interpretation you would at once have said, ’This is the Conquering Christ.’" William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 115.

5. The conqueror in Revelation 19:11 is also crowned and rides upon a white horse; but he cannot be mistaken. His name is given: "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." Can this conqueror be any other? As Roberson said, "All efforts to separate the white horse of this vision from that of Revelation 19:11 are futile." Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 38.

Objections to this interpretation are not grounded in a proper understanding of the New Testament. For example, the notion advanced by many to the effect that the other three horsemen all represent judgments, but the conquering Christ is not a judgment, fails to take into account that the preaching of Christ’s gospel is indeed the principal and leading judgment of this earth. "An odor of life unto life in them that are saved, and an odor of death unto death in them that perish" (2 Corinthians 2:16). Christ came to send, not peace, "but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). There is extensive teaching along this vein of thought in the New Testament, and all of it nullifies the objection that "Christ is quite out of place" William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 3. in this passage. Indeed, he is exactly where he belongs, "leading the van" of the judgments of earth. Furthermore, extensive terminology in the Old Testament corroborates this. See Psalms 45:3-5, Zech. l:8ff; etc. For those interested in a more extensive discussion of this interpretation, see William Hendriksen’s analysis. William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 113-118.

The further objection that Christ would not have rushed off on a white horse at the behest of one of the living creatures fails to note that what we have is "a vision." It is also not inconsistent that Christ both opens the seals and appears in the visions extensively throughout Revelation.

Despite what would appear to be conclusive evidence that the crowned rider on the white horse of the first seal could hardly be any other than the Son of God, he is "interpreted" as the Antichrist, Finis Jennings Dake, Revelation Expounded (Lawrenceville, Georgia: Finis Jennings Dake, 1950), p. 81. "conquering military power," J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 65. "the victory of selfish, lustful conquest," Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), p. 67. "the victorious warrior," Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 517. etc. Most of the interpretations of this symbol as anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of his holy gospel are firmly grounded in a priori conceptions of such things as the millennium, the parousia, the great tribulation, the rapture, or some other stylized interpretation of the prophecy.

Some little time has been devoted to this opening of the first seal, because the way it is interpreted will color all that follows. For example, if this crowned rider on the white horse with the bow in his hand is understood to mean Jesus Christ and his worldwide program of preaching the gospel, it is clear enough that it cannot possibly refer to some relatively short period of history, but to the entire dispensation reaching from the First Advent to the Second Advent. Thus we confidently interpret it. "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matthew 24:14).

The reluctance of some to bracket Christ on the first horse with others symbolizing bloodshed, famine, and pestilence is due to a failure to see all four (even the preaching of the gospel) as a divine series of judgments upon mankind. They are operative continuously and simultaneously throughout the earth until the end of time. If it is asked why, then, do they "follow" one after another in the vision; it must be replied, "because they do follow." The gospel is preached, and the failure to obey its holy teachings causes bloodshed, famine, and death. The great paradox of the Christ is that the Prince of Peace should bring, not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). The principle inherent in this interpretation is that all human suffering, in the last analysis, is traceable to the fountain source of sin and rebellion against God in human hearts.

Verses 3-4

And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, Come. And another horse came forth, a red horse: and to him that sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

The interpretation of this and the two following horsemen is clear enough. Practically all students see this one as bloodshed, warfare, and the desolation caused by the sword. One point of difference is grounded upon a different word for "sword" being used in this passage and in Revelation 6:8. It could be that the use of a synonym in one place or another has no significance. Swords of all descriptions have been used in warfare throughout history. If a reason is sought, it probably appears in the fact of the Roman sword being in view here, the one used in the times of the apostles.

The word here means the Roman short sword, called great, not because it was disproportionate to the horse and rider, but because of the constant and terrible slaughter it symbolizes. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 225.

The Roman short sword was also "great" because it was the triumphant weapon which enabled Roman armies to destroy the ingenious phalanx, the military device perfected and used by Alexander the Great in his conquest of the world. Just as the French crossbow overcame and vanquished the English long bow, the Roman short sword was supreme over every other weapon for an extended period of history.

They should slay one another … Hendriksen applied this to "religious persecution," William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 120. but we cannot so limit it. It means all warfare and bloodshed, as evident from the pronoun "they" which cannot indicate the church, and from the further fact that the slaughter of the Christians is given in this same series under the fifth seal, following. Also, there is the pattern of three and four, or four and three, as subdivisions of the numerous sevens in Revelation; and all of these first four judgments are upon the "whole world," the number four usually being applied to things of the earth and the number three usually being evident when the church is spoken of.

Again the key of understanding is in the Olivet discourse. "Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." "This refers to no particular war, but to all war in general." Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 49. The history of mankind is hardly anything else other than a record of one brutal conflict after another. Lenski rejected the view that warfare in any sense follows the preaching of the gospel as a consequence; and, in a sense, he is correct. Wars of course existed before the gospel; but they did not exist before sin and rebellion entered Eden. In the sense, therefore, of a rejection of the gospel being a conscious choice of continuing in sin, it is morally true that wars follow.

The historicist view of Revelation continues to be attractive to many people, despite the many objections to it. Barnes’ interpretation of the four seals was: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), pp. 142-146.

1st seal…..a period of great prosperity for the church until A.D. 180.

2nd seal…..a period of 92 years beginning with the death of Commodus.

3rd seal…..a period of excessive taxation prior to A.D. 248.

4th seal…..the period from A.D. 248 to 268, in which half the people on earth (Gibbon) died of famine, pestilence, etc.

Note that the period of "great prosperity" was the period of many persecutions and martyrdoms. Is this great prosperity? In the fourth seal, is it proper to single out a mere 20 years out of nearly 2,000 years, as being entitled to an individual horse in this parade of symbols? Gibbon also wrote that in the great Black Death plague of the mid-fourteenth century, "the moity," (the majority) of mankind perished. Thus, an event well over a thousand years later is just as good a fulfillment of the fourth seal as the one chosen by Barnes.

All of the things symbolized by the four seals existed in John’s current era, and they have continued to exist ever since. When was there ever a time when the red horse of war’s desolation no longer ravaged the earth? This condition, like that of the continued proclamation of the gospel, will go on until the end of time. Again, from the Olivet discourse: "Wars and rumors of wars … but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6).

Verses 5-6

And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, Come. And I saw and behold a black horse; and he that sat thereon had 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 shilling, and three measures of barley for a shilling; and the oil and wine hurt thou not.

Practically all commentators find here a symbol of great "economic difficulty and inequality. Michael Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), p. 71. The specter of bread being sold by the ounce is enough to make this nearly certain.

The oil and wine hurt thou not … There are two ways of construing these words. Some have seen in them an indication that while wheat and barley are priced almost out of the reach of the poor, the rich still have their oil and wine. As Hendriksen put it, "The rich enjoy their abundance, but the poor have hardly enough to hold body and soul together." William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 123. The other view, that of Beckwith, is that the words are "merely intended as a limitation on the severity of the famine." Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 521. It is believed that the latter interpretation is correct. (1) It corresponds with the limitation placed upon the pale horse. (2) It is hard to understand why an order from the living creatures should have promulgated an edict favoring the rich. (3) The identification of "oil and wine" as pertaining to the rich only is unsound. "Oil and wine were not luxuries, but part of the basic commodities of life." Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p. 521.

The black horseman of this seal still rides in the world today, the fact being that at perhaps no other time in human history were more people threatened by the specter of starvation than at this very moment. Is the present, therefore, in any exclusive way to be identified with the rider? No. The black horseman has been riding in all generations and will continue to do so until the end. As Lenski said:

Men attempt to abolish war without abolishing the sin, wickedness and injustice in their hearts; so they determine to abolish … injustice and poverty … without abolishing the moral cause back of them. The black horseman is ever riding in the whole world. R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 229.

Verses 7-8

And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, Come. And I saw and behold, a pale horse: and he that sat upon him, his name was Death; and Hades followed with him. And there was given unto them authority over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with famine, and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

It is wrong to read of these continuing scourges of war, famine, and disease as if they were, in any sense, unlimited. The oil and wine were not to be hurt under the black horse, and in the case of the pale horse, even the extensive arsenal of destructive weapons could not give him any authority over anything beyond "the fourth part of the earth." Thus, God’s merciful providence for mankind is plainly evident in these awful calamities. Some have been perplexed that God would permit such a thing as the disasters depicted under the last three of these horsemen. Caird thought that, "We may be pardoned for asking whether the Lamb who lets such horrors loose on the world is really the same person as the Jesus of the gospel story." G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 82. A comment like that is grounded in blindness to the great mercy of God evident even in these four judgments; and also, there is a blindness to the truth that it was not the Lamb who let loose the horrors - that epic mistake belongs to Adam and his posterity. Man, having rebelled against his Creator and being expelled from the Paradise of God, may thank only himself for the manifold miseries which drown the world in sorrows. The progression of these visions is one that exhibits the following: (1) God permits people to continue the enjoyment of freedom of their will. God will not procure obedience through coercion. (2) The progression of disastrous human calamities is not permitted to ravage without limitation, but each of them is limited, a fact that will often recur in subsequent visions. (3) Nor are these terrible riders permitted to go alone. At the head of the van is the white horse with its crowned rider; and all of the others "following" him means that they are not permitted to destroy except under the rules of divine restraint. Moreover, that first rider carries the news of the everlasting gospel, capable of saving all who were ever born on earth. It has the double quality, however, of making even worse those who hear it and reject it, a quality which fully entitles the Rider of the first seal to take his place with the other "judgments" upon mankind, indeed not as their equal, but as their king and leader. For "Neither does the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22).

The above analysis of these four riders absolutely requires that the first be understood as the Lord Jesus Christ. The denial of this can lead to exactly the kind of pessimism mentioned by Caird.

"The futurist interpretation holds that these seals refer to terrible judgments upon humanity at the end of this age." Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 543. However, such an explanation leaves out of sight the undeniable truth that every morning’s newspaper carries the account of what these ravaging horsemen are doing, not at some future time, but right now all over the world.

Kill with the sword … "No significance should be attached to John’s choice of a different word for ’sword,’ from that in v. 4. The two words are synonyms." Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 156.

There is a remarkable similarity in these symbols. The sword is a feature of the second and fourth; and famine is prominent in the third and fourth, the latter being the most terrible, displaying the powers, not only of the second and third (sword and famine), but also the dimension of death by wild beasts. The very personification of the grave itself attends the rider of the pale horse. Significantly, there is no suggestion of any identity in the fourth with the white horse and its rider, indicating emphatically that there is a fundamental difference between the first symbol and the three following.

There would appear to be also a progression of some kind in the last three. War, as bad as it is, affects relatively minor proportions of the earth’s peoples. Famine, which, in many instances, attends war and is a resulting consequence of war, is a far more extensive destroyer; and the combined elements of destruction evident in the fourth go far beyond the devastation of both the others put together.

How long do these three ravaging horsemen operate? There is nothing in the text to suggest that they shall ever cease until the Second Advent. They are represented as proceeding against mankind from an authority in heaven identified with the Throne himself; and not one of them was pictured as returning prior to the sending of the others, or at any other time. The finding of successive ages or periods of history in these symbols is contrary to the known destruction represented by all three being operative throughout history. There is no historical period when any one of them may not be said to prevail.

The difficulty of understanding Christ as the rider of the first horse, or rather the whole symbol as a figure of Christ, is admittedly present; but the failure to do so is a far greater difficulty. From the beginning, it has been pointed out that "judgment" is the theme of Revelation (Revelation 1:7); and the very fact of there being "four" of these symbols grouped together adds to their identification as judgments upon mankind. As Roberson pointed out:

Three being the divine number takes precedence when the fortunes of the church are under consideration, and four being the number of the world takes the lead when judgments on the world are described. Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 41.

We have noted this phenomenon before, and it will recur again. The inclusion of Christ himself as a participant in this judgment series is not merely in keeping with his character as judge of all mankind, but also with the whole purpose of Revelation. And how is Christ, throughout this dispensation, judging the world? The answer: from his throne in heaven (Matthew 19:28), by the preaching of the gospel of Christ in all nations through his followers, and by the witness of the church, his spiritual body. The gospel judges all who hear it. Most significantly, no bad result of any kind was indicated in the progression of the throned rider on the white horse! As Lenski said: "Those who think of Christ or Christianity here are not far wrong." R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 221. But does not preaching the gospel refer to the church? In the context here, it refers to the impact of the gospel upon unbelievers, to whom the gospel is also preached; and the fact of their unbelief results in its being an adverse judgment of themselves.

Verse 9

And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

The opening of this seal intimately concerns the fortunes of God’s church, showing that, "God is not unmindful of the death of the martyrs." J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1079. "John is still in heaven, therefore the altar represents the altar of incense in heaven"; F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 644. but, to be sure, there is no actual altar in heaven; the thing being symbolized is that of the saints being, in some sense, in the presence of God, despite their having been slain on earth. Here is a powerful intimation of life after death.

Who are these deceased martyrs? We cannot agree that only the ancient saints of Judaism Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 43. are meant, nor that those alone who "perished in the persecution under Nero," Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 524. are intended. This is a dispensational picture, and all of the saints who ever perished for the word of God are they of whom John spoke; especially those who are Christians were meant. Stephen, the first martyr, was surely among them, and James the apostle, and all who had suffered for the testimony which they held.

Verse 10

and they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, O Master, the holy and true, does thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

Moffatt found what he called something "inferior" in this cry for "blood-revenge." James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 392 Scott likewise said, "To a Christian such an invocation is impossible," Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, n.d.), p. 156. from this concluding that the martyrs here were Old Testament Jews. Such views miss the mark. "This is not the language of private revenge but of public justice." G. B. Caird. op. cit.. p. 85. One grows a little weary of commentators who fancy that they are in possession of such a faith that a prayer of this kind must be repudiated as non-Christian; but let those who were martyred for their testimony speak; they are entitled to be heard. Furthermore, their invocation is in full harmony with what the Son of God himself said:

Will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you he will vindicate them speedily (Luke 18:7).

"The vindication of the righteous is a recurring note throughout the Scriptures." William Barclay, op. cit., p. 13. Did not God say to Cain, "Thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground" (Genesis 4:10). Wrongs in the final analysis must be made right. The justice of the holy and righteous God can be accepted only in the light of the solemn fact that "vengeance belongs to him," and that it will be executed upon the wicked. It cannot be that the prayers of the martyred, for God to exercise that prerogative are in any sense whatever, either inconsistent with true faith in Christ, or reprehensible in any degree. For Christians, upon their own behalf, to engage in acts of vengeance is indeed sinful, but for them to pray for God’s vengeance to fall upon their enemies is right, a proposition that is proved by the verse we are studying.

The fact that only martyrs are mentioned here should not obscure the fact that all of the righteous dead are with the Lord and that all receive the same blessings implied by the white robes in the next verse.

Verse 11

And there was given them to each one a white robe; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course.

The prayers of martyred saints for God’s vengeance to be executed upon the wicked could not be answered at once, but in God’s own time. In the meanwhile, the bestowal of white robes upon the deceased saints symbolized their absolute assurance of eternal life with God.

That they should rest for a little while … This is a very interesting clause, for it gives a glimpse of John’s use of time references. What is "this little while"? It is all the time between the First and Second Advents of Jesus Christ; but with God this is only a little while. Later, John would call this same expanse of time "a thousand years."

Their fellow servants also … is an extension of the meaning to include others than those actually martyred.

And their brethren who should be killed … In the times during which Revelation was written, and throughout history, there were to be many more martyrs who would take their place along with those already slain, and all would be rewarded together "on that day" (2 Timothy 4:8).

Should have fulfilled their course … The alternative reading of this clause in the ASV is, "should be fulfilled in number," a thought that harmonizes with sentiments expressed a number of times in the New Testament. The historical church has taken note of these, and as Barclay noted, "The Anglican Prayer Book has this in the burial prayer, "That it may please Thee shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect.’"<41> Back of such a conception is the view that God will keep on saving people until the total number of the redeemed, predetermined by the will of God, shall have been accomplished. An exposition of this thought has been attempted by this writer in The Mystery of Redemption. Hendriksen stated the proposition thus:

"For a little time" means until every elect has been brought into the fold … God knows the exact number. It has been fixed from eternity in his decree. Until that number has been realized on earth the day of final judgment cannot come. William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 129.

They shall rest … Russell cautioned that:

Care should be taken not to reason from this passage, that all shall sleep unconsciously in an intermediate world. Sleep is a symbol of rest, but it belongs to life (2 Thessalonians 1:7; Hebrews 4:3; Revelation 14:13). James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 630.

Hinds also pointed out in this connection that:

This passage shows that the death of the body does not end the soul’s existence; consciousness between death and the resurrection must be a fact. Such passages are a deathblow to the soul-sleeping doctrine of materialism. John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 104.

Verse 12

And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood;

This and the following five verses are a prophetic description of the Second Advent and the judgment of the great day. There is no way that the total imagery of these amazing verses can be accommodated to any other view.

Smith said, "The events here must be placed at the end of this age." Wilbur M. Smith, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1068. "It is the day of the Lord’s summing up of all things." Douglas Ezell, Revelations on Revelation (Waco: Word Books, 1977), p. 43. "The fullest application of this belongs to the final advent." W. Boyd Carpenter, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 562. It is our sincere conviction that those expositors, of many illustrious names, who fancy that these verses are a prophecy of "the decay of society," Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 45. or "sudden revolutions that would fill the world with alarm," Albert Barnes, op: cit., p. 136. are mistaken. These words simply cannot be so explained. It is true, of course, that Joel’s very similar language was declared by Peter to have been fulfilled by the momentous events of Pentecost, but there are most essential differences in the prophecy here from those found in the Old Testament.

The cosmic earthquake in view here should be understood in the light of Hebrews 12:28, under which see fuller comment on "the end of the world," in my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 335ff. "The whole universe will be shaken to pieces, and the only things to survive will be those that are unshakable." F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 383. Hendriksen was sure that, "This describes the judgment day, the one great catastrophe at the end of the age." William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 129.

Verses 13-14

and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs when she is shaken of a great wind. And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

"Here we have one picture of the end; all of the language is figurative." R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 239. All discussion of whether these passages are to be understood figuratively or literally are beside the point. "That day will spell the end of the entire universe as we know it." Michael Wilcock, op. cit., p. 74. "The atomic age has opened our eyes to the fact that such extreme language may be fulfilled with horrible literalness." Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 546.

Verses 15-17

And the kings of the earth, and the princes, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains; and they say to the mountains and to the 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 their wrath is come; and who is able to stand?

It is the presence of the Lamb in this scene that separates it from all similar prophecy in the Old Testament. Furthermore, the total assembly of all citizens of earth does the same thing. Read Matthew 24:29,30 in connection with this; and it is starkly clear that the same Great Day is in both prophecies. That a visible coming of Christ is taught here is certain, because the unbelieving populations would never acknowledge the existence of the Lamb of God on the Throne on the basis of any other evidence than his appearance in glory.

Like many others, Caird rejects the idea of the actual end of the world being depicted here on the basis that, "The inhabitants of the earth would hardly still be hiding and calling to the mountains to fall on them." G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 92. Despite this objection, Christ himself represented the great judgment (Matthew 25) as a time when there would actually be dialogue between the King and both the saved and the lost, and all of this upon the very occasion of their being assigned their eternal destiny. A similar thing is in view here. Therefore, far from being an objection to interpreting this as the final Great Day, the cries of earth’s inhabitants is a proof of that very thing, because it identifies the occasion with that of Matthew 25.

The thing that is actually in the way of many interpreters accepting this as the final judgment day was stated thus by Love, "One would have difficulty with later scenes in Revelation," Julian Price Love, Layman’s Bible Commentary, Revelation (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1961), p. 69. in which the world still stands. Therefore, it is the understanding of Revelation as some kind of in-sequence story of the earth that prevents many from understanding this reference to the judgment. When all the "judgment references" are understood as successive references to the "same day," the difficulty disappears.

Kings … captains … princes … rich … strong … Six classes of mankind are mentioned, but they stand for all people. "Under the symbolism of these six classes, John sees the entire godless world seized with sudden fear." William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 131. Fear of what? They do not fear death, because death is what they are praying for. It is the Lamb of God whose sudden appearance in glory has signaled the close of earth’s probation. Instantaneously, there’s not an infidel anywhere in the universe anymore. It is this colossal scene that requires our understanding of it as the Second Advent and judgment. Just how the accompanying language of stars falling, mountains moving, sun being darkened, etc., must be interpreted, we do not pretend to know; but one thing is sure:

God will bring his purpose to pass, and he will do so though it means that this world order, and indeed this whole mighty universe, pass away. Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, Vol. 20, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 112.

The essential reality underlying all the symbolism of these verses is simply, "The terror which John foresaw when God would invade the earth when time was coming to an end." William Barclay, op. cit., p. 15. "The swift agony of being crushed to death is preferable to being left face to face with the indignation of an outraged God." James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 394.

Of all the incredible postulations advanced by scholars regarding the meaning of this passage, that of Caird wins the prize. He wrote:

There is no need to find a place in John’s theology for any concept of the wrath of the Lamb! It is not a phrase which he (John) uses, but one on the lips of the terrified inhabitants of earth! G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 92.

Caird went on to insist that the wicked of earth are such that a lie has become their second nature. Therefore, this must be a lie which they speak on the occasion envisioned here. Our view is that the wrath of the Lamb is central to the theology of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and of all apostles of Jesus Christ. As for the inhabitants of earth shouting another lie at the Second Advent, who could believe such a thought? It will be the supreme moment of truth for all mankind; and the terrors of the occasion for the wicked will in no sense be merely psychological, nor the result of some "paranoiac delusion to which they have surrendered themselves." Ibid.

The great day of their wrath … Any theology which fails to take into account the ultimate wrath of God against wickedness and injustice is a false theology. The so-called theology of our own times has reduced God to the status of an overindulgent grandfather image who is too lazy, too indifferent, or too full of love to punish anything or anybody, no matter what crimes of lust and blood may rage under his very nose. Subscribers to this brand of theology are to be identified absolutely with those who, in this great passage, suddenly behold the truth and cry for the rocks and mountains to hide them.

This glimpse of the Second Advent and final judgment is brief and fragmentary, as must needs be with all such glimpses; but the picture will be filled out in subsequent chapters of Revelation where are to be found other visions of the Great Day. These successive presentations of that ultimate day of wrath and glory actually provide the most logical and convenient divisions of this complicated prophecy.

The events of Revelation 7, about to be prophesied, are actually prior in the time sequence to this judgment scene. "It is isolated in form and content from its context." James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 394. The whole of Revelation 7 may therefore be understood as a parenthetic interruption of the terrible judgment scene for the purpose of comforting the faithful. More about this apparent dislocation of Revelation 7 will be given in the notes on it; but we are including here Moffatt’s words on the design of it:

It is a consoling rhapsody or rapture designed to relieve the tension by lifting the eyes of the faithful over the foam and the rocks of the rapids on which they were tossing to the calm, sunlit pool of bliss. The parenthesis consists of two visions, one on earth, one in heaven. Ibid.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 6". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/revelation-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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