CHAPTER 6 GIVES US the opening of the seals. Judgment dealings with the earth begin. The words, “and see” in verses Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3, Revelation 6:5, Revelation 6:7, are doubtful, and the “Come,” uttered by the four living creatures, seems to be a call to the respective riders to come forth. The living creatures speak with a voice like thunder, which befits a call, which has governmental justice and judgment as its object. One after the other there appear four riders, mounted on horses, white, red, black and pale or sallow. Each has his own special feature, but all under the controlling hand of God, symbolized by the living creatures.
First in order, there is the going forth of a great conqueror—bloodless conquest apparently, since white is the colour. Second, an outbreak of war, especially civil war with its lawless horrors. Third, black famine and scarcity. Fourth, pestilence ending in death and Hades, but over a limited area—the fourth part of the earth. It is certainly remarkable how in recent times colours have come to be identified with human movements and confederations. We have heard of armies both white and red, and of blackshirts, etc.
All the activities indicated in these verses are oppressive and destructive: human activities, and yet called forth as retributive judgment under Divine control. They remind us of what the Lord Himself called, “the beginnings of sorrows” (Mark 13:8). Then the next verse in Mark 13:1-37 speaks of the persecution of those who will be witnesses for God in those days; and similarly, the fifth seal follows here. It is opened by the Lamb as before, but no “Come” is uttered, for it only revealed to John the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God. The movements under the four seals, which meant oppression and misery for men generally, had meant persecution and death for these, and their souls cried out for vengeance. They had to wait, however. They had fallen under these beginnings of sorrows and other martyrs were to follow. Vengeance on their adversaries and the full vindication of themselves would not take place until the end of God’s ways was reached. But meanwhile they were given a more secret token of approval, symbolized by the white robes.
The contrast between the cry of these martyred souls and the dying cry of Stephen is worthy of note. No request for vengeance came from his lips, but the very reverse— “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” But he lived at the beginning of the present dispensation of grace, and the church is still here as the exponent of the grace of God. These souls under the altar belong to the age of judgment, that follows the calling out of the church. Their cry coincides with that which we so often find in those Psalms, which men have called, “imprecatory.” What would not be suitable on our lips is quite suitable on theirs, for when God is going to take up His “strange work” of judgment it is in order to ask Him to do it speedily. He is going to make it a short work in the earth, only what is short to Him may seem long to the creature.
So verses Revelation 6:10-11, we judge, confirm the thought that we have left the church dispensation behind; and the opening of the sixth seal makes this yet more plain. Again there is no “Come,” for agencies that are superhuman, and more directly from the hand of God, come into play. There are great convulsions both terrestrial and celestial, which result in the overturning of all that had seemed firmly established. What more firm than sun, moon and stars in the heaven and mountains and islands on earth, though stormy seas surround the latter? They symbolize established authorities and powers, whether in the heavens or on earth, and all are involved in a catastrophic fall or at least thrown into a state of flux. Recent happenings among the shaken nations of Europe have shown how disconcerting it is when those who have been like established luminaries are cast down. The allusion to the fig tree, which is so often symbolic of the Jew, may indicate that this upheaval will specially affect that people, thus preparing the way for the acceptance of antichrist.
How all these upheavals will affect men, from the greatest to the least, is shown in the close of the chapter. Apparently they will discern that the hand of God is behind them, and the wrath of the Lamb will strike them as dreadful beyond words. Better be crushed out of existence on earth than face that! Psalms 2:1-12 had said, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little;” and at this point there was only a little wrath, for we are at the beginning of sorrows, yet perishing from the way was plainly before them. Though the climax of “the great day of His wrath” was not yet, they had entered upon that day, for the day of God’s grace in the Gospel was closed. Men may stand in God’s grace but no one can stand before His wrath.
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 6". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter