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Here begin the proper prophecies of the book extending onward from the writer’s day to the end of the world. For the general plan of the series and the principles on which its several parts are to be interpreted. In the present chapter every thing depends on the interpretation of the sixth seal. There are those who suppose that the seven seals and the seven trumpets run, either wholly or in part, parallel with each other in time, each carrying the history of the church and the world down to the era of millennial glory. Such of course apply the sixth seal to the mighty revolutions, commotions, and overturnings that immediately precede the millennial reign of Christ. But it seems impossible to reconcile this view with the plain words of the apostle in chap Revelation 8:1-2 , which represent the seven trumpets as included under the seventh seal, and therefore following the sixth. Taking then this latter as the true view, we may inquire to what great event in past history the sixth seal applies. They who suppose that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem very naturally refer the sixth seal to that awful catastrophe, and they find an interpretation of the five preceding seals in our Saviour’s words which describe the signs preceding that event, Matthew 24:6-14 , where the triumphant progress of the gospel amidst wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences, and bitter persecutions, is set forth, and the great catastrophe itself is described, verse Matthew 24:29 , in imagery remarkably agreeing with that of the opening of the sixth seal. If, according to the more usual supposition, this book was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, A.D. 70, there are but two events to which the sixth seal can, with any degree of probability, be referred-the overthrow of paganism by Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, or the dissolution of the old Roman empire by the invasion of the northern barbarians. The imagery employed seems more appropriate to the latter event than to the former. If we apply the sixth seal to that mighty revolution by which the fact of the civilized world was permanently changed, it will be best to understand it as representing the dissolution of the old Roman empire, not in its successive stages, but in its entireness; in other words, the breaking up of that great central power which had, for so many centuries, kept the world in subordination, thus preparing the way for the series of desolating invasions from the north which had their origin in the decay of the Roman state, and which completed the work of its destruction.
One of the four beasts ; according to the interpretation of the four living creatures that has been given, that they represent the sum of the created powers and agencies by which God administers his providential government over the world, the call to "come and see" proceeding from them will signify that the events predicted are of a providential character.
A white horse ; here, as in Zechariah 1:8 ; Zechariah 6:1-8 , the horses denote dispensations, the character of which is indicated by their color and the other emblems employed. A white horse is the symbol of victory. The rider plainly represents Christ. It is therefore a symbol of victory and under his guidance, and redounding to the enlargement of his church.
Red ; an emblem of war and bloodshed. Men left without restraint to the indulgence of their lusts and passions, become the tormentors and destroyers of one another.
Black ; a symbol of devastation, mourning, and woe.
Balances ; indicating that food would be but scantily supplied.
A measure ; about enough to sustain a man for a day.
A penny ; the price of a day’s labor.
Hurt not the oil and the wine ; these would be needed to keep men from starving, so great would be the scarcity of food. Men are dependent on God for the blessings of this life, as well as the life to come. Without his aid, the earth will not yield her increase, and men cannot obtain the necessary means of subsistence.
A pale horse ; the original denotes the ghastly paleness of a corpse. By this awful symbol destruction in multiplied forms is indicated.
Hell ; that is, Hades, the abode of the dead. Hades follows death to swallow in its abyss those whom death has slain.
The fourth part of the earth ; see note to chapter Revelation 8:7 .
With sword-hunger-death , and with the beasts of the earth ; four destroying agents to slay the fourth part of men. Compare Ezekiel 14:21 , from which the imagery is taken; also Jeremiah 15:3 , where also four destroyers are named. Not only famine, but pestilence and all destructive judgments are under divine control; and whenever God pleases, he can desolate cities, sweep off nations, and consign their inhabitants to utter ruin.
The souls of them that were slain ; the souls of the martyrs in Christ’s cause represent a period of severe persecution. These are seen under the altar, which may mean either the altar of burnt-offering in the court before the temple, or the altar of incense in the outer sanctuary. If, as seems probably, the altar of burnt-offering is meant, the idea will be that they have been sacrificed on God’s altar as victims in his cause, and their blood poured out beneath it. Those who understand the altar of incense, which was the symbol of intercessory prayer, explain their position from their words as recorded in verse Revelation 6:10 .
White robes ; expressive of victory and blessedness.
Should rest yet for a little season ; an intimation that the full time for avenging their blood has not yet come, but that more must first be added to their numbers. Persecutors, by putting Christians to death, do not annihilate them or their influence.
When he had opened the sixth seal ; according to either of the interpretations of this seal above given, the course of events indicated in the preceding five seals had a remarkable fulfilment in history. For an account of the events preceding the overthrow of paganism by Christianity, and of the old Roman empire by the northern invaders, the history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire should be studied, with the fuller commentaries on the Apocalypse, in which the interpretation of these prophetic symbols is discussed at large.
Earthquake-the sun became black-moon became as blood-stars of heaven fell-the heaven departed-every mountain and island were moved ; here as often elsewhere, symbols of great commotions, dissolutions of civil governments, fall of illustrious men, and multitudes overwhelmed in ruin. Compare Isaiah 13:10 ; Isaiah 24:19-20 ; Isaiah 24:23 ; Isaiah 34:4 ; Jeremiah 4:23-25 ; Ezekiel 32:7-8 ; Joel 2:12 ; Joel 3:15-16 ; Amos 8:9 ; Matthew 24:29 ; with the notes on those passages.
Hid themselves ; under the judgments of God, fled, and attempted by concealment to elude the search of their destroyers.
Full on us , and hide us ; representing their great consternation when Christ should appear, in answer to the prayers of the martyrs, to deliver his people and take vengeance on their foes. Compare Hosea 10:8 . When Christ comes to take vengeance on his foes, they can neither elude nor withstand him. No dens nor caverns, rocks nor mountains, can hide them; nor can any created power screen them from the indignation of him who sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.
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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Revelation 6". "Family Bible New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29