1, 2.] And I saw when the Lamb opened one from among the seven seals, and I heard one from among the four living-beings saying, as the voice (a pendent nominative; the regular construction would be dative) of thunder (which is to be taken not as peculiarly belonging to this first as resembling a lion, but as belonging to all alike, and accounted for by their mysterious and exalted nature: cf. ch. Revelation 1:10, Revelation 10:3), Come (to whom, and with what meaning is this ἔρχου spoken? The great majority of Commentators have taken the rec. reading, which fixes it by adding καὶ βλέπε, as an address to the Seer, to approach nearer and look at the coming vision. And even those who have rejected this addition have yet regarded it as a true gloss, and the “Come” as addressed to the Seer. But whither was he to come? Separated as he was by the glassy sea from the throne, was he to cross it? And where shall we find the simple verb ἔρχεσθαι used absolutely in such a sense, “Draw near,” without ὧδε or some such particle? Compare also the place where the Seer is to go and take the little book (ch. Revelation 10:8), and see how different is the whole form of expression. In interpreting so unusual a term of address, surely we should rather begin by enquiring whether we have not the key to it in the book itself. And in this enquiry, are we justified in leaving out of consideration such a verse as ch. Revelation 22:17, τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ ἡ γὐμφη λέγουσιν ἔρχου· καὶ ὁ ἀκούων εἰπάτω ἔρχου, and the following ἀμὴν ἔρχου, κύριε ἰησοῦ, ib. Revelation 22:20? This seems to shew, in my mind, beyond a doubt, what, in the mind of the Seer, the remarkable and insulated exclamation ἔρχου imported. It was a cry addressed, not to himself, but to the Lord Jesus: and as each of these four first seals is accompanied by a similar cry from one of the four living-beings, I see represented in this fourfold ἔρχου the groaning and travailing together of creation for the manifestation of the sons of God, expressed in each case in a prayer for Christ’s coming: and in the things revealed when the seals are opened, His fourfold preparation for His coming on earth. Then at the opening of the fifth seal the longing of the martyred saints for the same great consummation is expressed, and at that of the sixth it actually arrives). And I saw, and behold a white horse, and he that sat on him having a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering, and in order that he may conquer (in the first place, the figure of the horses and their riders at once brings to mind the similar vision in Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8, where the men on the horses are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the whole earth. In Zechariah 1, as here, that part of the vision is followed, Revelation 6:12, by the cry of the ἕως τίνος. Here the horses and their riders are the various aspects of the divine dispensations which should come upon the earth preparatory to the great day of the Lord’s coming. As regards this first, the whole imagery speaks of victory. The horses of the Roman commanders in their triumphs were white. Wetst. quotes Virg. Æn. iii. 537, where Æneas says, “Quatuor hic primum omen equos in gramine vidi, Tondentes campum late, candore nivali;” where Servius’s comment is “Hoc ad victoriæ omen pertinet.” The bow serves to identify the imagery here with that in Habakkuk 3:9, where God goes forth for the salvation of His people: see also Isaiah 41:2; Zechariah 9:13; and even more strikingly with that in Psalms 45:4-5, “In thy majesty ride prosperously, because of truth and meekness and righteousness: and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.” It is hardly possible that one whose mind was full of such imagery, should have had any other meaning in his thoughts, than that to which these prophecies point. The crown finds its parallel in the vision of Zechariah 6, where, Revelation 6:11, it is said, “take silver and gold, and make crowns ( στεφάνους, LXX), and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high-priest.” The going forth conquering and in order to conquer can only, it seems to me, point to one interpretation. The νικῶν might be said of any victorious earthly power whose victories should endure for the time then present, and afterwards pass away: but the ἵνα νικήσῃ can only be said of a power whose victories should last for ever. Final and permanent victory then is here imported. Victory, we may safely say, on the part of that kingdom against which the gates of hell shall not prevail: whose fortunes and whose trials are the great subject of this revelation. Such is the first vision, the opening of the first seal in the mystery of the divine purposes: victory for God’s church and people: the great key-note, so to speak, of all the apocalyptic harmonies. And notice, that in this interpretation, there is no lack of correspondence with the three visions which follow. All four are judgments upon the earth: the beating down of earthly power, the breaking up of earthly peace, the exhausting of earthly wealth, the destruction of earthly life. Nor is this analogy disturbed, when we come to enquire, who is the rider on this white horse. We must not, in reply, on the one hand, too hastily introduce the Person of our Lord Himself, or on the other, be startled at the objection that we shall be paralleling Him, or one closely resembling Him, with the far different forms which follow. Doubtless, the resemblance to the rider in ch. Revelation 19:11 ff. is very close, and is intended to be very close. The difference however is considerable. There, He is set forth as present in his triumph, followed by the hosts of heaven: here, He is working, in bodily absence, and the rider is not Himself, but only a symbol of His victorious power, the embodiment of His advancing kingdom as regards that side of its progress where it breaks down earthly power, and makes the kingdom of the world to be the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. Further it would not be wise, nor indeed according to the analogy of these visions, to specify. In all cases but the last, these riders are left in the vagueness of their symbolic offices. If we attempt in this case to specify further, e. g. as Victorinus, “Equus albus verbum est prædicationis cum Spiritu sancto missum in orbem. Ait enim Dominus, Prædicabitur hoc Evangelium per totum orbem terrarum in testimonium coram gentibus, et tunc veniet finis,”—while we are sure that we are thus far right, we are but partially right: we do not cover the extent of the symbol, seeing that there are other aspects and instruments of victory of the kingdom of Christ, besides the preaching of the Word. The same might be said of any other of the partial interpretations which have been given by those who have taken this view. And it was taken, with divergences of separate detail, by all expositors from the earliest times down to the year 1500).
1–8.] THE OPENING OF THE FIRST FOUR SEALS, marked by the ministration of the four living-beings.
CH. Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 8:1.] THE OPENING OF THE SEVEN SEALS. As preliminary to the exegesis of this section, I may observe that it is of the first importance to bear in mind, that the openings of these seals correspond to the various arrangements of God’s Providence by which the way is prepared for the final opening of the closed book of His purposes to His glorified Church. That opening shall not fully and freely be made, till His people will know even as they are known. And that will not be, till they are fully gathered in to His heavenly garner. This book the Lamb opens, containing as it does matters which οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ ἄγγελος ἐν οὐρανῷ, οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, first by the acts and procedures of His establishment of His reign over the earth, and then finally by His great second coming, the necessary condition of His elect being gathered out of the four winds into His glory. When these preparations for His coming have taken place, and that coming itself has passed, and the elect are gathered into glory, then will be the time when the last hindrance to our perfect knowledge will be removed, and the book of God’s eternal purposes will lie open—the theme of eternity’s praise.
I may add that for the sake of perspicuity, I shall mainly follow, in these notes, the track of that interpretation which seems to me to be required; noticing only differences in those of other Commentators where grammar and philology are concerned.
3, 4.] And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living-being saying, Come (see above on Revelation 6:1). And there came forth another horse, red (the colour of blood: Song of Solomon 4 Kings Revelation 3:22, ὕδατα πυῤῥὰ ὡς αἷμα. The colour of the horse in each case has reference to the employment of the rider. Tertullian, de Spectaculis, 9, vol. i. p. 641, says: “russeum … Marti … consecraverunt”), and to him that sat upon him it was given (to him) to take away peace ( τὴν εἰρ. not, as Elliott, “the peace left by the former seal,” for 1) the former seal neither implies nor leaves such peace, and 2) these four seals are strictly correlative, not consecutive on one another: but, peace in its entirety, the τήν distributing, as the logicians say, the substantive. See for εἰρήνη without the art., Matthew 10:34 (peace, at all: any peace): Luke 2:14 (peace, in each particular case, under every circumstance), &c.: with the art., Romans 14:19, τὰ τῆς εἰρ. διώκωμεν: Romans 15:33, al., ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης: Ephesians 2:14, αὐτὸς ἐστὶν ἡ εἰρήνη ἡμῶν, &c.) out of the earth (generally, as ever: not, Judæa, nor the Roman “orbis terrarum,” nor any special portion merely) and that they (men: the inhabitants of the earth) shall kill (the pregnant future after ἵνα not only imports the result of purpose, but includes also matter of fact, “that they may … which they also shall;” see Winer (edn. 6, § 41 b. 1. b), who however inteprets it as expressing duration (?), whereas the aor. denotes rapid transition) one another: and there was given to him a great sword (the key to the interpretation of this seal is to be found in Matthew 10:34, μὴ νομίσητε ὅτι ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν· οὐκ ἦλθον βαλεῖν εἰρήνην ἀλλὰ μάχαιραν: see also Luke 12:51. It represents to us the taking away of peace from the earth, the slaying one another, the reign of the sword, as one of the destined concomitants of the growing and conquering power of Christ, and one of the world-long and world-wide preparations for His coming. Observe, all limitations of this meaning are wrong: whether to the persecutions of the Christians, or to any period of time, ancient or modern. The above was the most ancient interpretation; e. g. we have in Victorinus, “Equus roseus et qui sedebat super eum habens gladium. bella sunt significata futura, ut legimus in Evangelio, Surget enim gens contra gentem,” &c., Matthew 24:7).
5, 6.] And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living-being saying, Come (see above on Revelation 6:1). And I saw, and behold a black horse (the colour is indicative of the mournful nature of the employment of the rider: see below), and he that sat on him having a balance (the symbol of scarcity, during which the bread is doled out by weight: see Ezekiel 4:16, φάγονται ἄρτον ἐν σταθμῷ καὶ ἐν ἐνδείᾳ: and Leviticus 26:26, ἀποδώσουσι τοὺς ἄρτους ὑμῶν ἐν σταθμῷ, καὶ φάγεσθε καὶ οὐ μὴ ἐμπλησθῆτε. Some, as e. g. Woodhouse, have defended the meaning “yoke” for ζυγόν. But surely the question is here decided for us by ref. Ezek., ζυγὸς δίκαιος, καὶ μέτρον δίκαιον, καὶ χοῖνιξ δικαία ἔσται ὑμῖν τοῦ μέτρου: where the same words occur in juxtaposition. The assertion of Mr. Barker, in his strictures on Elliott’s Horæ Ap., that ζυγός in the sense of balance absolutely is very rare, is sufficiently answered by the proverb ἀκριβέστερος ζυγοῦ: by Diog. Laert. viii. 18, where he records of Pythagoras the maxim ζυγὸν μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν, τουτέστι, τὸ ἴσον καὶ δίκαιον μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν. When a word can be thus used figuratively in common sayings, its literal sense cannot be so very rare. Cf. also the Etymologicon in Wetstein, ζυγὸς εἴρηται καὶ τὸ λεγόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν ποιητῶν τάλαντον ἠγοῦν ἢ τρυτάνη: and his citations from Sextus Empir. and Demosthenes) in his hand. And I heard as it were ( ὡς must apparently be taken with the whole clause—“something like (a voice in the midst of the four living-beings),” the uncertainty applying to the situation, not to its being a voice, which it was) a voice in the midst of the four living-beings (it is not specified, whose voice: but the point from which the voice comes is appropriate to its intent, which is to mitigate the woes of creation, represented by the four living-beings: see below), saying (Let there be) A chœnix of wheat for a denarius (gen. of price, see Winer, edn. 6, § 30. 10 end), and three chœnixes of barley for a denarius (the sense seems to be, Take care that there be thus much food for thus much price. The denarius was the ordinary soldier’s pay for a day in the time of Tiberius (see note on Matthew 20:2), and has been usually and not unfairly assumed to be twice mentioned here as representing a day’s wages. The chœnix appears in like manner to be taken for a day’s provision: for so it is used in several of the numerous places cited by Wetst.: e. g. Herod., vii. 187, who, in estimating the amount of food consumed by the army of Xerxes, assumes this: εὑρίσκω γὰρ συμβαλλεόμενος, εἰ χοίνικα πυρῶν ἕκαστος τῆς ἡμέρας ἐλάμβανε καὶ μηδὲν πλέον: Thuc. iv. 16, speaking of the allowance made to the Lacedæmonians in Sphacteria while negotiations were going on,— σῖτον … δύο χοίνικας ἑκάστῳ ἀττικὰς ἀλφίτων, καὶ δύο κοτύλας: Athen. x. 452 E, μὴ καθῆσθαι ἐπὶ χοίνικα, ἀντὶ τοῦ μὴ σκοπεῖν τὰ ἐφʼ ἡμέρας, ἀλλὰ τὴν ἐπιοῦσαν ἀεὶ προσδέχεσθαι: Diog. Laert. Pythag. viii. 18, and Suidas under Pythagoras, ἐπὶ χοίνικος μὴ καθίζειν, ἐν ἴσῳ τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος φροντίδα ποιεῖσθαι καὶ τοῦ μέλλοντος· ἡ γὰρ χοῖνιξ ἡμερήσιος τροφή. Nothing can be more decisive than such proverbial usage. The tendency of the voice is then to check or limit the agency of the rider on the black horse, and to provide that notwithstanding his errand sustenance shall not utterly fail. With regard to the three chœnixes of barley, the cheaper and less profitable grain, it seems to have been rightly interpreted as taking in the other case, of the workman who, out of his denarius a day, has to maintain not himself only, but his family also, and cannot consequently afford the dearer wheaten bread); and the oil and the wine do not thou injure (not, as Heinr. and recently Elliott, “do thou not commit injustice in the matter of the oil and the wine.” The usage of this book should have prevented such an interpretation: for ἀδικεῖν with the accus. of the material object hurt or injured is the constant habit of our Writer, see reff.: and in no case do we find the other construction used by him, or indeed by any other writer to my knowledge, except with such general adverbial accusatives as τι and οὐδέν, e. g. Galatians 4:12; Philemon 1:18. This statement of the usage of ἀδικέω in this Book and in Greek literature, Mr. Elliott, more suo, calls a “vain dictum:” and adds, “In the three Apocalyptic examples of the thing injured, occurring in connexion with the verb ἀδικέω in the active sense of injury, the accusative follows the verb: Revelation 7:2-3, Revelation 9:4.” It did not suit his purpose to cite Revelation 11:5, αὐτοὺς ἀδικῆσαι, and he therefore appears to introduce a distinction (of course untenable) between the person and thing injured. But this whole matter of the position of the accusative has to do with the emphasis only, and not with the construction at all. Not one of the examples which he cites in his note is to the point: in that from Xenophon, Cyrop. iv. 5. 42, τὴν δʼ ἀγορὰν τὴν οὖσαν ἐν τῷ στρατοπέδῳ κηρυξάτω μὲν ἤδη, ἔφη, μὴ ἀδικεῖν μηδένα, πωλεῖν δὲ τοὺς καπήλους ὅ τι ἔχει ἕκαστος πράσιμον …, the pendent accusative being evidently prefixed to the whole subsequent enactment, not connected with the first verb in it only. Rinck gives another meaning, equally untenable, “waste not the oil and the wine,” seeing they are so costly.
As regards the meaning, the spirit of the saying is as explained above: the rider on the black horse symbolizing Famine, is limited in his desolating action by the command given, that enough is to be reserved for sustenance. Wheat, barley, oil, and wine, formed the ordinary sources of nourishment: cf. Psalms 104:14-15. So that as regards its intent, the command is parallel with that saying of our Lord in Matthew 24:22; καὶ εἰ μὴ ἐκολοβώθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι, οὐκ ἂν ἐσώθη πᾶσα σάρξ· διὰ δὲ τοὺς ἐκλεκτοὺς κολοβωθήσονται αἱ ἡμέραι ἐκεῖναι. It is the mercy of God, tempering His judgments. And in its general interpretation, as the opening of the first seal revealed the certain proceeding on to victory of Christ and His church, and the second, that His coming should be prepared in the world not by peace but by the sword, so now by this third we learn that Famine, the pressure of want on men, not sweeping them away by utter failure of the means of subsistence, but keeping them far below the ordinary standard of comfort, and especially those who depend on their daily labour, will be one of the four judgments by which the way of the Lord’s coming will be opened. This seems to point, not so much to death by famine, which belongs to the next vision, as to agrarian distress with all its dreadful consequences: ripening in some cases (see below) into the hunger-death, properly the consequence of Famine.
The above interpretation of the third seal is given in the main by Victorinus—“Equus niger autem famem significat; ait enim Dominus: Erunt fames per loca:” but he allegorizes the latter part of the vision: “vinum et oleum ne læseris, id est, hominem spiritualem ne plagis percusseris”).
7, 8.] And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living-being saying, Come (see above on Revelation 6:1). And I saw, and behold a livid horse ( χλωρός, originally and properly grass-green, when used of flesh implies that greenish pallor which we know as livid: the colour of the corpse in incipient decay, or of the complexion extremely pale through disease. Thus Thucyd. in describing the symptoms of the plague at Athens, says that the body was οὐκ ἄγαν θερμόν, οὔτε χλωρόν, ἀλλʼ ὑπέρυθρον. Callistratus, as quoted in Wetst. says, ἡ μὲν γὰρ χεὶρ ὑπὸ τοῦ φόβου χλωρόν τε καὶ τεθνηκὸς ὁρῶσα. Hippocrates, ibid. says of the colour, μελάντερόν ἐστι τοῦ ἐρυθροῦ, καὶ οἷον ἀρχή τις τοῦ μελαίνεσθαι καὶ πελιδνοῦσθαι. And again, in describing the symptoms of approaching death,— ῥὶς ὀξεῖα, ὀφθαλμοὶ κοιλοί, … καὶ τὸ χρῶμα τοῦ ξύμπαντος προσώπου χλωρόν τε καὶ μέλαν ἐὸν.… σημαίνει θανατῶδες. See also Wetst.’s other quotations), and he that sat upon him ( ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ, lit. on the top of him: in the three other cases, ἐπʼ αὐτόν. The nominative is pendent, see ch. Revelation 3:12; Revelation 3:21) his name was Death (i. e. he was death personified. In this case only of the four is the explanation given. It is wrong to understand Pestilence by this θάνατος: see below), and Hades (the impersonation of the place of the departed: see ch. Revelation 1:18, Revelation 20:14, where as here θανάτου καὶ ᾅδου go together. Eichhorn and Ebrard understand it of the whole multitude of the departed: but this clearly is beside the purpose: personification being the prevailing character of these four riders) was following with him (in his train: ready to engulf and detain his victims), and there was given to them (Death and Hades, considered as joint partners in the baleful work) power over the fourth part of the earth ( ἐπί with accus., as extending over, spreading over, τὸ τέταρτον τῆς γῆς, perhaps owing to the fourfold division of these former seals: not implying thereby that this last rider divided the earth with the three former, but thus specifying his portion as being one of four. At all events this suggests itself here as a possible reference of the number four: whereas in ch. 8 the continually recurring τὸ τρίτον has no such assignable solution. The expositors for the most part pass it over, merely as signifying a considerable portion. Elliott, with whose historical interpretation it will not square, takes refuge in the reading of the vulg., “super quatuor partes terræ”), to kill with (the ἐν of investiture, expressing the element or vehicle in which the action transpires) sword and with famine and with death (i. e. here, pestilence: see below), and by ( ὑπο, seeing that the other three were rather general indications of the manner in which, but this last of the actual agent by whose administration. Wetst. gives examples of ἀποθανεῖν, τελευτᾷν, ὑπο, but the construction with an active verb is not common. See Matthiæ, § 592, who gives, besides ref., Eurip. Alcest. 753, εἰ δὲ ἀπειπεῖν χρῆν με κηρύκων ὕπο τὴν σὴν πατρῴαν ἑστίαν,—Plato, Phileb. p. 320, ὑπὸ ἀγγέλων φράζειν,—and Thuc. vi. 32, ὑπὸ κήρυκος εὐχὰς ποιεῖσθαι. It is singular that these examples should all belong to the same description of employment of agents) the wild beasts of the earth (the enumeration comprehends the “four sore judgments” enumerated in Ezekiel 14:21, and in the same terms: τὰς τέσσαρας ἐκδικήσεις μου τὰς πονηράς, ῥομφαίαν καὶ λιμὸν καὶ θηρία πονηρὰ καὶ θάνατον. This fixes the meaning of this second and subordinate θανάτῳ as above.
This seal also is interpreted as above by the earliest Commentators: e. g. Victorinus: “Hæc eadem quoque inter cæteras clades præmiserat Dominus, venturas pestes magnas et mortalitates.” But as on the third seal, so here also, he goes off into vague allegory about the latter part of the vision).
We have now passed the four first seals, after which the character of the vision changes. One feature common to these four is, Personification: the representation of processions of events by the impersonation of their leading features. Another is, the share which the four living-creatures bear in the representation, which after this point ceases, as far as the seals are concerned. No interpretation can be right, which does not take both these common features into account. And in my view this may best be done by viewing, as above, these four visions as the four solemn preparations for the coming of the Lord as regards the visible Creation, which these four living-beings symbolize. The whole Creation demands His coming. ἔρχου, is the cry of all its tribes. This cry is answered, first by the vision of the great Conqueror, whose arrows are in the heart of his enemies, and whose career is the world’s history. The breaking of this first seal is the great opening of the mystery of God. This in some sense includes and brings in the others. Those others then, as we might expect, hold a place subordinate to this. They are, in fact, but exponents of the mysteries enwrapt within this conquering career: visions of the method of its being carried out to the end in its operation on the outward world. That the world-wide declaration of the everlasting Gospel should be accompanied by war, by famine, by pestilence, and other forms of death, had been announced by our Lord Himself (Matthew 24:7), and is now repeated in this series of visions. The fulfilment of each of these judgments is, as it were, the removing a seal from the book of God’s mysterious purposes: the bringing nearer of the time when that book shall be open for all the redeemed to read.
With regard to the question whether these four visions are to be regarded as consecutive or contemporaneous, I have already expressed an opinion. In their fulness, I believe them to be contemporaneous, and each of them to extend through the whole lifetime of the church. The analogy of the whole four symbols seems to require this. We read nothing implying that there are “days” of the opening of any particular seal, as there are, ch. Revelation 10:7, of the sounding of the several trumpets. The ἵνα νικήσῃ of the first seal speaks of a purpose which will not be accomplished till the earth be all subjugated: and if I am right in supposing the other visions subordinate to this, their agency is necessarily included in its process. At the same time I would by no means deny that they may receive continually recurring, or even ultimate fulfilments, as the ages of the world go on, in distinct periods of time, and by distinctly assignable events. So far we may derive benefit from the Commentaries of those who imagine that they have discovered their fulfilment in successive periods of history, that, from the very variety and discrepancy of the periods assigned by them, we may verify the fact of the prevalence of these announced judgments, hitherto, throughout the whole lifetime of the Church.
As regards ultimate fulfilment, there can be no doubt, that all these judgments on the world without, as well as the manifestation (of which they form a part) of the conquering career of the Kingdom of Christ, will reach their culminating point before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. I may add, that no account whatever is taken, in the common historic interpretation, of the distinctive character of the four first seals, as introduced by the cry of the four living-beings: nor indeed is any interpretation commonly given of that cry itself.
9.] And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar (it is an altar of sacrifice which is here meant; ἐσφαγμένων, which follows, seems plainly to imply this: see below) the souls (i. e. departed spirits. It is manifestly idle to enquire, seeing that the Apostle was in a state of spiritual and supernatural vision, how these disembodied spirits became visible to him. That they were not, as Eichhorn, clothed with bodies, is manifest) of those that have been slain on account of the word of God and on account of the testimony which they had (i. e. which was committed to them to bear, and which they bore: see reff., especially ch. Revelation 12:17. The testimony is one borne by them, as most Commentators: not one borne to them by the faithful Witness, as Düsterd. and Ebrard, most unnaturally: for how could the testimony borne to them before the Father by Christ (so Ebr.) be the cause of their being put to death on earth?
Much has been said about the souls of the martyrs not being their departed spirits, which must be conceived of as being in bliss with Christ (cf. Hengstb.), and in consequence it has been imagined that these were only their animal lives, resident in the blood and shed forth with it. But no such difficulty really exists. We know, whatever be the bliss of the departed martyrs and confessors, that they are waiting for the coming of the Lord, without which they are not perfect: and in the holy fire of their purified zeal, they look forward to that day as one of righteous judgment on the ungodly world. The representation here, in which they are seen under the altar, is simply symbolical, carrying out the likening of them to victims slain on an altar. Even as the blood of these victims was poured under the altar and the life was in the blood, so their souls are represented as under the symbolical altar in heaven, crying for vengeance, as blood is often said to do. After this, it hardly need be said that no inference can be drawn from this vision respecting the intermediate state between the death of the saints and the coming of the Lord): and they cried with a great voice, saying (viz. αἱ ψυχαί, which are identified in the sentence with the persons themselves: not, as Ebr. and Düsterd. the ἐσφαγμένοι as distinguished from the ψυχαί) Until when (i. e. how long: see reff.), thou Master ( δεσπότης is the correlative of δοῦλος, cf. σύνδουλοι below, Revelation 6:11, and see ch. Revelation 1:1; Luke 2:29; 1 Timothy 6:1. It is God who is here addressed; with Him rests the time when to avenge His elect, cf. Luke 18:7-8) holy and true (see on ch. Revelation 3:7, for the sense of ἀληθινός in such connexion: here it is too evidently intended of subjective truthfulness for the other meaning even to be brought into question: and it is wonderful that Düsterd. should have insisted on it, “der Herr welcher in Wahrheit diesen Namen verdient.” For the voc. expressed by the nom. with the art., see reff., and Winer, edn. 6, § 29. 2), dost thou not judge (give decision in the matter of; with ἐκ, see reff.) and exact vengeance for our blood from (reff.: ἀπο is found in Luke 18:3) them that dwell upon the earth (i. e. the ungodly world, as distinguished from the church of God)?
As hitherto, so here again, the analogy and order of our Lord’s great prophecy in Matthew 24:11 is closely followed. “The signs of His coming, and of the end of the world” were there announced by Himself as war, famine, and pestilence, Revelation 6:6-7. And when He had declared that these were but the beginning of sorrows ( ὠδίνων), He next, Revelation 6:9 f., announces the persecution and martyrdom of His people. Similarly here, after the judgments already announced, we have the prayer for vengeance on the part of the martyrs, and the announcement of more such martyrdoms to come. And as our Lord’s prophecies received a partial fulfilment in the events preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, and may have done so again and again since, but await their great and final fulfilment when the day of His coming approaches, so it is with these. The cry of the martyrs’ blood has been ever going up before God since Stephen fell: ever and anon, at some great time of persecution, it has waxed louder: and so on through the ages it shall accumulate and gather strength, till the great issue of the parable Luke 18:1 ff. is accomplished. And there was given to them [each] a white robe (there will be no real difficulty in understanding this, if we are careful to mark its real place and interpret it accordingly. The white robe, in this book, is the vestment of acknowledged and glorified righteousness in which the saints walk and reign with Christ: cf. ch. Revelation 3:4; Revelation 7:13 ff., al. This was given to the martyrs: but their prayer for vengeance was not yet granted. The Seer saw in vision that this was so. The white robe was not actually bestowed as some additional boon, but seemed in vision to be thus bestowed, because in that vision one side only of the martyrs’ intermediate state had been presented, viz. the fact of their slaughter and their collective cry for vengeance. Now, as over against that, the other more glorious side is presented, viz. that though the collective cry for vengeance is not yet answered, yet individually they are blessed in glory with Christ, and waiting for their fellows to be fully complete), and it was said to them that they should rest (not merely, abstain from their cry for vengeance, be quiet (so De W., al.):—but rest in blessedness, see ch. Revelation 14:13, and ref. Daniel) yet a little while until (construction, see reff.) their fellow-servants (see above on δεσπότης) also and their brethren (the καὶ.… καί may be taken as “both … and,” in which case two different sets of persons are indicated by the σύνδουλοι and the ἀδελφοί, which distinction it would not be easy to give an account of. So that I prefer regarding the first καί as “also,” “as well as themselves,” and the two substantives as describing (notwithstanding the repetition of the οἱ before ἀδελφοί) the same persons; those who are οἱ σύνδουλοι αὐτῶν and οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτῶν: the former term reminding them of the necessity of completeness as far as the service of their one Master is concerned: the latter, as far as they belong to one and the same great family) shall have accomplished (scil. “their course.” Considering that this absolute use of πληροῦν without an object following is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, it is strange that Ebr. and Düsterd. should designate πληρώσωσιν as an explanatory reading for πληρωθῶσιν. If this latter be read, then we must render, shall have been completed (in number); a meaning found Luke 21:24; Acts 7:23; Acts 7:30; Acts 9:23; Acts 24:27; cf. also Colossians 2:10, which suggests another reason for altering to - θῶσιν), who are about to be slain as also they were.
9–11.] OPENING OF THE FIFTH SEAL. We may at once observe, that the whole character of the vision is altered. The four living-beings have uttered each his cry of ἔρχου, and are now silent. No more horses and riders go forth upon the earth. The scene is changed to the heavenly altar, and the cry is from thence. Any interpretation which makes this vision of the same kind with and consecutive to the four preceding, must so far be wrong. In one point only is the character of the former vision sustained. It is the κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς who are objects of the judgment invoked: as it was the earth, and its inhabitants, and its produce, which were the objects of the former judgments. See again below on the sixth seal.
12–7:17.] OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL, AND ITS ATTENDANT VISIONS. And herein (Revelation 6:12-17) Immediate approach of the great day of the Lord, Matthew 24:29 (98): (Revelation 7:1-8) gathering of the elect out of the four winds, Matthew 24:31; (Revelation 7:9-17) vision of the whole glorified church, Matthew 25.
The interpretation of this sixth seal is a crucial point in Apocalyptic exegesis. We may unhesitatingly set down all interpretations as wrong, which view as the fulfilment of this passage any period except that of the coming of the Lord. See the grounds of this below. And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and a great earthquake took place (we have no word but “earthquake” for σεισμός, but it does not by any means cover the meaning. For here the heavens are shaken (against Düsterd.), and the sea, and the dry land. See Haggai 2:6-7, and the comment in Hebrews 12:26 f. Compare also Zechariah 14:4-5), and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair (see ref. Isa. The cloth meant is the cilicium: see note on Acts 18:3. This answers to Matthew 24:29,— εὐθὺς δὲ μετὰ τὴν θλῖψιν τῶν ἡμερῶν ἐκείνων ὁ ἥλιος σκοτισθήσεται.…, and to ὁ ἥλιος μεταστραφήσεται εἰς σκότος, in Joel 2:31), and the whole moon (i. e. not the moon in her crescent or her incomplete form, but entire; as we say, the full moon) became as blood (so Matt. l. c., καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φέγγος αὐτῆς; and Joel 2:31, καὶ ἡ σελήνη εἰς αἷμα, πρὶν ἐλθεῖν τὴν ἡμέραν κυρίου τὴν μεγάλην καὶ ἐπιφανῆ), and the stars of the heaven fell to the earth (so Matt. l. c., καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες πεσοῦνται ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), as a fig-tree casteth her unripe figs ( ὄλυνθος, τὸ μὴ πεπαμμένον σῦκον, Hesych. De W. explains it to mean, the winter figs, which almost always fall off unripe) when shaken by a great wind (so Matt. again, l. c., καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν σαλευθήσονται. It is remarkable, that in Matt., when the description has finished, the next words are ἀπὸ τῆς συκῆς μάθετε τὴν παραβολήν. The similitude from the fig-tree, though a different one, rises to the mind of the Apostle as he sees in vision the fulfilment of his Master’s words which were so shortly followed by a similar illustration. The imagery itself, as that in the beginning of the next verse, is from Isaiah 34:4). And the heaven parted asunder as a scroll when rolled up (the stars having fallen from it, the firmament itself was removed away, as an open scroll which is rolled up and put by. So also almost verbatim, Isaiah 34:4), and every mountain and island were moved out of their places (cf. again Matthew 24:35, ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσεται: the whole earth is broken up by a change as total as any of those previous ones which have prepared it for its present inhabitants. Cf. ch. Revelation 16:20; and Nahum 1:5, τὰ ὄρη ἐσείσθησαν ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ οἱ βουνοὶ ἐσαλεύθησαν, καὶ ἀνεστὰλη ἡ γῆ ἀπὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἡ σύμπασα καὶ πάντες οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐν αὐτῇ). And the kings of the earth and the great men (the word μεγιστᾶνες belongs to later Greek. It serves here to designate the great civil officers, statesmen and courtiers, as distinguished from the next following) and the chief captains (see reff., especially those in Acts, where the officer in command of the garrison at Jerusalem is so called) and the rich men and the strong men (hitherto the enumeration has comprised all those who from their circumstances would have most ground for trust in the permanence of the existing state of the earth: these last, the ἰσχυροί, being perhaps the physically strong, cf. Ps. 32:16: or perhaps all those who on account of any ἰσχύς, physical or intellectual, are of the number of the sturdy or stout-hearted. The word is commonly used by the LXX as an epithet or even as a name ( ὁ ἰσχυρός) of Jehovah: but also as here: see reff. Now, the catalogue becomes more general) and every man, bond and free, hid themselves in ( εἰς, pregn.; ran for shelter into) the caves and in the rocks of the mountains (see reff. Isa., from which the imagery comes), and say to the mountains and to the rooks, Fall upon us and hide us from the countenance (see ref., and cf. Psalms 33:16, πρόσωπον κυρίου ἐπὶ ποιοῦντας κακά) of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (the imagery is from Hosea 10:8, further impressed by our Lord’s solemn saying on the way to Calvary, Luke 23:30 :—the meaning, that all these shall seek death or annihilation in terror of the coming day, when they shall have to stand before God): because the great day (we have no way in English of expressing the ἡ μεγάλη without an awkward periphrasis. The art. lifts the adjective out of its mere epithetal office, and makes it almost a title—the day, that great day: cf. Acts 8:10, where the people say of Simon Magus, οὗτός ἐστιν ἡ δύναμις τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ καλουμένη μεγάλη. This name, ἡ ἡμ. ἡ μεγάλη, if properly considered, should have kept expositors firm here to the great verity of this part of the Apocalyptic visions, and prevented them from going in omnia alia as they have done) of His wrath is come (the virtually perfect sense of the aor. ἦλθεν here can hardly be questioned. Yet even here an account may be given of the aoristic use: see note on ch. Revelation 11:15), and who is able to stand (reff., and Malachi 3:2)? We are thus brought to the very threshold itself of the great day of the Lord’s coming. It has not yet happened: but the tribes of the earth are troubled at its immediate approach, and those terrible signs with which all Scripture ushers it in, have taken place. We are now then arrived at the time described in Matthew 24:30; the coming itself of the Son of man being for a while kept in the background, as hereafter to be resumed. He is seen as it were coming: but before the vengeance is fully accomplished, the elect of God then living on the earth must be gathered, as Matthew 24:31, out of the four winds of heaven, from among the inhabitants of the earth. To this ingathering the sealing in our text is the necessary preliminary. The correspondence between the series of prophecies holds even in the minutest particulars, and where they do not correspond, their very differences are full of instruction. See these pointed out as we proceed.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Revelation 6". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Saturday in Easter Week