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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 6

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-17

VI I-VIII 1 The Breaking of Seven Seals —John cannot use his imagery quite consistently, for so long as the scroll remains fastened by even one seal it cannot be unrolled. But he is offering a gradual exhibition of great principles, or energies at work, discernible in life by the keen-sighted. One of the ’Beings’ calls ’Come!’—not to John, but to the ensuing Apparition, which does not emerge from the scroll, but passes across the Seer’s field of vision. There follows (a ) the breaking of a group of 4 seals

—1. The First Seal. A Horseman appears. (cf.Zach 1:8-11; 6:1-7). He rides a white horse antreceives a bow and a crown and goes forth to conquer and again to conquer. Nothing will persuade me that this horseman is the same as the ’Word of God’ in ch 19 simply because each rides on a conqueror’s white horse and is crowned. The remaining 3 horsemen are all disasters; each is summoned in the same way; they are all on one plane of thought and imagery. John introduces at once a main theme of his book—what we should call ’aggressive imperialism’ in the widest sense: later, it will be seen as Roman imperialism in particular. Why a ’bow’? Possibly because of the haunting contemporary threat to Rome, the archer Parthians (ch. p).

3-4. The Second Seal. A Red Horse. Its rider creates War. No imperialism possible without it. 5-6. The Third Seal. A Black Horse. Its rider holds scales: A measure of wheat for a denarius (a day’s wage) three measures of barley (coarser grain) for the same—but do not injure oil or wine (olives and vines)’. The inevitable result of even victorious war: it reduces the very victors to penury-a whole day’s wage is demanded for the minimum needed for existence.

7-8. The Fourth Seal. A ’Wan’ Horse— the colour of decay is meant. His rider is Death; his escort Hell—the same thing. War is followed by famine and pestilence: this trio often occurs in OT and in our experience. (LXX often translates Hebrew ’death’ by pestilence which suits this context. Idle to say that Death is allowed to kill by means of death.) The ’wild beasts’ may be meant literally. Civilization collapses and men are too weak to restrain them. Or, men revert to ’jungle law’.—In Zach 1:8; 6:1-8 the 4 Horses are the 4 Winds (often symbolizing God’s messengers or instruments of judgement.—Psalms 103:4; Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 7:24, and below, ch 8). All the more reason for seeing here 4 objects or the same sort under cavalry symbols. This, then, is the series: Extension of Godless Power: this involves war: this creates terrible decline in ’standard of life which unless arrested brings about famine and epidemic. John, however, intending to write more, says (8) that only a quarter of the earth was destroyed.

(b) 9-17 A group of Two Seals —The Prayers of the Martyrs in heaven (9-11) and their effect on earth (12-17). 9 f. ’Under the altar.’ ’The’, not ’an’: John has pictured all the heavenly furniture ’ though he has not yet thought of mentioning it. ’Under’: ’at the foot of’ the altar of Holocaust, where the sacrificial blood was shed. The ’life’ is in the blood. The immediate perspective is formed by the Martyrs under Nero ( a.d. 64) asking when justice shall triumph and being told to wait for the martyrdoms under Domitian ( a.d. 96): but beyond these are all the martyrdoms of history. 11. The ’white robe’ shows that these Martyrs have already triumphed. ’How long?’, a dramatic enquiry: cf. 18, 20; 19:2; and especially Esdras 4:35-37 where the souls of the righteous dead ask when their reward shall come. An archangel says: ’When the number of your compeers shall be complete.’

VI 12-VII 17 The Sixth Seal —A vision displaying preliminaries to the ending of the world and the salvation of the elect. 12-17. Earthquake: sun blackened: moon like blood; the sky itself like a scroll torn in the middle and rolling up to its two ends. ’Apocalyptic and eschatological dialect’. See Agg 2:6; Nahum 1:6; Malachi 3:2 and Luke 21:36; Joel 2:30-31, quoted by St Peter, Acts 2:39; Isaiah 34:4; used by our Lord in Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:35. The ’dialect’ persisted for centuries, e.g. to describe the death of some important Jew. The cosmic catastrophes represent (as often in OT, especially earthquakes) social upheavais: these always precede, on a grand scale, the break-up, or end, of a ’world’ or social order.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Revelation 6". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/revelation-6.html. 1951.
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