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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 6

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

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Verses 1-17

Chapter Six Six Seals Opened

As we begin our study of Revelation 6:1 wish to repeat that the great tribulation cannot begin until the redeemed are gathered around the Lord in glory and crowned there. It cannot be emphasized too much that no saints in Heaven now have crowns. The apostle says, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord…shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). “That day” when the saints are gathered around the judgment seat of Christ is the day when they will get their crowns.

Well then, after the church has gone, what is going to take place in the world? Look at this chapter from the standpoint that we are in Heaven already, the rapture having taken place. Let us suppose that last night, while things were going on in the ordinary way, suddenly there was a heartening shout heard from the glory. Every redeemed one responded to the trumpet of God. In a moment the graves were opened, and in every place where the believing dead were resting, the bodies were raised and the living saints were changed. We found ourselves caught away. We entered with Him into the Father’s house and gathered around the throne and fell down to worship. We will say that we have had twenty-four hours in Heaven. At first our hearts would just be too full of Christ to think of anything else. (O sinner, you wouldn’t be there. It is saved people I am talking about.) But He, Himself, stirs us at last to think of what He is about to do. We say to ourselves, What is going to happen next in that world we have left behind? We look down to that poor scene where we lived yesterday. Men are going on much as before, only in great excitement. Look at the streets of the great cities. We can see the headlines, “A great number of people have disappeared!” There is a rush to get the newspapers to find out all about this strange event. Throngs are crowding the popular churches to hear the preachers give their explanation of the great disappearance of so many people.

I believe there will be lots of church-going for a little while after the rapture of God’s people; those left behind will be crowding into the churches as never before. I think I see the Rev. Mr. Smooth-things standing in his pulpit, with pale, wan face. He looks at scores of parishioners he hasn’t seen for many years and thinks to himself, “Now, I have to explain to these people. I have been telling them for twenty years that this talk of the second coming is false.” People who believed in the second coming were looked on as idiotic ranters who didn’t know what they were talking about. I think I hear mutterings down in the congregation: “We trusted our souls to you. You had been to the colleges, seminaries, and universities, and read a whole library of books. We believed you when you told us the old idea of salvation by the blood of Christ was all worn out and that we could save ourselves by culture. We believed you when you said Christ’s second coming was only a fantastic notion. Now explain this to us.” Another cries, “What about my grandmother? She believed in her Bible to the end. She was reading just the other day, ‘In an hour when ye think not, the Son of man cometh.’ Now Grandmother is gone, and I am here. Now, Doctor, explain all this.” Oh, there are going to be some wonderful meetings after the Lord has come! There is that world seething with corruption, men’s hearts failing them for fear. Christian statesmen will have gone; Christian business men and people of all ranks who knew Christ will have disappeared. Cities and communities will be in turmoil. What are they going to do? Let’s look at the Book and see.

The First Seal (Revelation 6:1-2)

We behold the Lamb as He breaks the first seal, and John hears a noise as of thunder. Thunder speaks of a coming storm, though the scene seems peaceful enough. A warrior comes forth on a white horse with a bow in his hand. A bow signifies distant warfare. Horses, as in Zechariah 1:0, symbolize providential movements. This rider on the white horse evidently pictures man’s last effort to bring in a reign of order and peace while Christ is still rejected. It will be the world’s greatest attempt to pull things together after the church is gone. It will be the devil’s cunning scheme for bringing in a mock millennium without Christ. How long will it last?

The Second Seal (Revelation 6:3-4)

As the Lamb opened the second seal a red horse appeared. It’s rider brought anarchy and bloody warfare! “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). The first effort in the world we have left behind will be to bring in universal peace apart from Christ. But it will end in universal, bloody warfare, greater far than has ever been known. The rider on the blood-red horse has a sword representing a different type of warfare than that of the bow: man wrestling with man, nation with nation. Internal strife, class wars, civil wars, the breaking up of all established order is illustrated here.

The Third Seal (Revelation 6:5-6)

When the Lamb had opened the third seal, a black horse appeared, with his rider holding a pair of balances. We have that which inevitably follows worldwide war-worldwide famine. We understand a little more now what this vision means than when these things were first opened up by men of God. We have had our food sold to us by measure, and we have known much of the high cost of living. But in this coming day, conditions will be so dreadful that it will be a measure of wheat for a penny or three measures of barley for the same amount. The word translated “measure” means just enough wheat to make a man one meal, and the penny or denarius was a full day’s wages. It will cost a whole day’s wages for enough food for one meal-that is, if one is going to eat wheat. Now if they will take barley they will get three meals for a day’s work. What hard conditions! Prices are going to be unprecedented in those days of the tribulation.

“And see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” (Revelation 6:6). The oil and the wine are put in contrast with the wheat and the barley. The wheat and barley are the food of the poor-almost out of reach; but the food of the rich, or the luxuries, are not touched.

The Fourth Seal (Revelation 6:7-8)

Next the Lamb opened the fourth seal, and a pale horse ridden by Death appeared. The word rendered pale means “chrome green.” A better translation would be a livid horse, in the sense of being the color of a corpse. It pictures pestilence, which always follows war and famine.

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9:0

Before examining what is written concerning the breaking of the fifth and sixth seals, it is necessary to say something as to God’s dispensational dealings with His earthly people Israel. We will endeavor to show how the book we are studying links up with the older prophecy of Daniel.

For fifteen hundred years before the cross, God was dealing in covenant-relationship with the people of Israel. He had chosen them to be peculiarly His own, in accordance with His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He separated them to Himself and gave them the land of Canaan as their inheritance, so long as they remained faithful to Him as their unseen King. He gave them His holy law and declared that if they obeyed His voice they would be the head of all nations and His witnesses to the ends of the earth. On the other hand, He warned them that if they were disobedient to Him, if they did not keep His testimonies, if they broke His commandments, if they turned to the false gods of the surrounding nations, He would no longer protect them from their enemies. He would give them up to desolation and scattering until they judged themselves and turned from their sins. Then He would remember His covenant with their fathers and would restore them to their own land and fulfill all His promises.

They completely broke down under every test and in accordance with God’s word ten tribes were carried away by the king of Assyria. A little later the remaining two tribes were deported to Babylon, where they remained in bondage for seventy years. At the end of this prophetic period they were permitted to return to their own land, that they might be there to welcome their promised Messiah when He would be revealed. Only a remnant of the Jews availed themselves of this privilege and their descendants were living in Palestine when the Lord Jesus Christ appeared in the fullness of time. Yet He was rejected by the very nation that had waited for Him so long.

The time of His coming had been very definitely foretold in the book of Daniel. In the ninth chapter we are told that a heavenly messenger brought word to the prophet that God had appointed seventy weeks to His people and their holy city. These are not to be understood as weeks of days, but sevens of years. The term “weeks” might better be simply rendered sevens. Seventy times seven years would be 490 years. It is an appointed period in the course of time and has to do especially with the Jews and Jerusalem.

This period was divided into three parts: 7 weeks, or 49 years, in which the streets and the wall of the city were to be rebuilt; then 62 weeks, or 434 years, immediately following the completion of this work until the appearing and cutting off of Messiah the Prince; and one final week, or 7 years, to complete the cycle. At the end of this week the King would be reigning in the holy city and all prophecy fulfilled by the establishment of the kingdom so long foretold. The starting point is clearly defined as, “The going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem” (Daniel 9:25). This is the decree of Artaxerxes as recorded in Nehemiah 2:0. During the next 49 years the city was rebuilt. Then, 434 years later, our Lord rode into Jerusalem and was acclaimed by the multitudes as King, the Son of David. But a few days later He was rejected and crucified. Thus Messiah was cut off and had nothing.

What about the last week? Has it been fulfilled? It has not. When His Son was cast out, God cast off the nation of Israel. That week will not be fulfilled until a future day when He takes up Israel again.

The angel-revealer said to Daniel, “Unto the end of the war desolations are determined” (Daniel 9:26). This gives the whole history of Palestine for the past 1900 years. It has been a great battleground and a scene of almost unparalleled desolation because Israel knew not the time of their visitation. Their times are not in progress now. God is doing another work. While the Jews are blinded in part, He is gathering out the church. This body of Christ, a heavenly company, will reign with Christ when He establishes His kingdom of righteousness on the earth. The last week of 7 years cannot begin to run until the Jews are again in the land, and Jerusalem becomes the Jewish capital, after the church has been caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The greater part of the book of the Revelation treats this last week. It is only when this is seen that all becomes plain and the prophecy becomes intelligible.

The church began on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ glorified, came on the disciples. Yet the full truth of this wonderful mystery was not made known until Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle. The truth of the present dispensation was made known to him and through him to us. The church of Christ is one, though men who take His name and claim to be His followers have become sadly divided. They have formed many systems, often embracing saved and unsaved alike. But God’s church consists only of those who are born of the Spirit and baptized by the same Spirit into the body of Christ. This special work will cease at the return of the Lord to the air, which is the first stage of His second coming. The second stage will be when He comes to earth to reign in glory. The 70th, or last week of Daniel, comes in between these two momentous events. The Lord spoke of this period as the “end of the age” in Matthew 24:0. He divided it into two parts, “the beginning of sorrows” and “the great tribulation.”

A careful comparison of our Lord’s great prophecy with Revelation 6:0 will make it plain that the first six seals correspond to the first half of the week-“the beginning of sorrows”. From the opening of the seventh seal (Revelation 8:0) we are introduced to the great tribulation itself with all its attendant horrors. Jesus’ warning as to false Christs, implying false hopes of a lasting peace (Matthew 24:5) corresponds to the first seal. His declaration that wars and rumors of wars will follow (24:6) fits perfectly with the second seal. In like manner His solemn warnings of famine and pestilence (24:7) find their counterparts in the third and fourth seals. The Lord then goes on to foretell a time when His followers will be ruthlessly slain (24:9) bringing us to the breaking of the fifth seal. It will be all one’s life is worth to confess His name.

The Fifth Seal (Revelation 6:9-11)

John saw under the altar the souls of those who had been beheaded for the Word of God and the testimony of the Lord. Who are these martyred saints, and to what dispensation do they belong? They cannot belong to the church. We have already seen, that the church is represented by the throned and crowned elders in Heaven before the first seal is broken. But Romans 11:0 makes it clear that after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in-after the present dispensation has come to an end and the church has been removed to Heaven- the blindness will pass away from Israel. They will realize their true condition and their sin in rejecting their Messiah. Then they will call on Him for deliverance. Thus a new company of saints will be formed on the earth, altogether different from the present heavenly company. Many of these Jewish believers will be martyred by the Satanic hosts of the last days. It is these who are seen as having been sacrificed and their souls poured out at the bottom of the altar.

They cry for vengeance on their adversaries, for this is fully in keeping with the dispensation of judgment to which they belong, whereas it would be thoroughly contrary to the grace of the present gospel dispensation. God’s people are taught of His Spirit to pray according to the ruling principle of the specific time in which their lot is cast. This accounts for what often disturbs and even shocks sensitive souls-the so-called imprecatory psalms. They cannot understand the cries for vengeance that seem so opposed to the grace of God as now made known. It is no wonder they are troubled and hesitate to speak such words, for those psalms do not belong to us at all. But they will be exactly suited to the remnant of Israel, suffering for Jehovah’s sake, but with no clear knowledge of an accomplished redemption. They will be waiting for their Messiah to appear and overthrow the last great Gentile confederation, which, as we will see when we come to chapter 13, will be bent upon their absolute extermination.

White robes are given to these souls under the altar who are invoking the judgment of God on their merciless adversaries. They are told that they must wait a little season till the time of Jacob’s trouble is ended and they are joined by their brethren who are yet to be slain. The hatred to God and His Christ rises ever higher until the Lord Jesus will be revealed from Heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God (2 Thessaloniansl:8).

The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12-17)

The opening of the sixth seal gives a marvelous symbolic picture of grave import. It should be evident from the balance of the book that we are not to take this as a literal earthquake, though our Lord’s words in Matthew 24:0 show us that there will be such phenomena in various places, terrific in character as the end draws near. Already we have had some noteworthy reminders and warnings of this nature that shocked the civilized world, but are apparently so easily forgotten within a very short time. But the earthquake of the sixth seal is of a different type altogether. It cannot be merely literal, as the actual islands, mountains, and seas, together with the cities of the nations are still seen to be in existence long after this vision has had its fulfillment. Rather it illustrates the complete breaking up of society as now constituted, the destruction of the boasted civilization of our present day. Looked at from this standpoint, we have abundant Old Testament Scripture to throw light on it and to make plain its awful portents.

We will be helped, too, if we remember that in the very beginning of the book of Revelation we are told that the Lord sent and “signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (1:1). That is, He revealed those “things which must shortly come to pass” through signs or symbols. If this is kept in mind we will be preserved from taking literally what God meant us to take symbolically. We will be more likely to get the mind of the Spirit in regard to the future of both Christendom and Judaism, the two spheres with which this book deals.

Therefore the sixth seal does not introduce a worldwide, literal earthquake. Rather it is the destruction of the present order- political, social, and ecclesiastical-reduced to chaos; the breaking down of all authority; and the breaking up of all established and apparently permanent institutions.

We may see, I believe, a foreshadowing of this in what has taken place in Russia (1917-1920): the overturning of the throne; the blotting out of the Romanoff Dynasty; the wrecking of all industrial and social order; the fearful orgies of fanatical Bolshevism; blood-red anarchy everywhere holding sway, making wild promises of liberty while destroying every safeguard against the unrestrained brutality of beast-like men. Take as but one horrible instance the attempted abolition of marriage (that which God Himself instituted, at the very beginning of human history, for the sanctity and blessing of His creatures), and the substitution of the degrading custom of forcing all women to be common property, taken by whoever may desire them, and all children born in these abominable conditions to be separated from their parents and reared as children of the state. Natural affection at once receives its death-blow, and all restraint on man’s animal propensities is at an end. Another event that has shocked the world has been the overturning of Russia’s state church. It is true that it had become unspeakably corrupt, but in their wild desire to destroy it the Soviet government has declared war on all that bears a religious name, whether human or divine. “No God and no church” is the cry ringing through the unhappy land, and who can foretell what the dreaded future has in store?

Many thought in the past century that they saw the French Revolution portrayed in this sixth seal, and it was indeed but an earlier sample of the same conditions we have been considering; so was the break-up of the Roman Empire in the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. But none of these cataclysms, stupendous as they were, fully met the requirements of the prophecy. The church of the Firstborn is still here, and the gospel of the grace of God is still being proclaimed to a guilty world. But we have already seen that when the seals are broken the church will be with Christ, waiting for the moment when He will descend to take His world kingdom and establish His authority in righteousness.

But we must now proceed to look at the passage in detail that we may better grasp its true import. The sun, we are told, became black as sackcloth of hair. The sun, the source of light and life for this planet, symbolizes supreme authority. It is the well-known type of the Lord Himself. “Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). Such is Malachi’s declaration concerning the coming of Christ the second time. At present Christendom, at least nominally, acknowledges His lordship. We speak of Him as our Lord and profess to receive our governments from His hand. But soon He will be entirely rejected and His Word utterly despised. Thus will the sun be blotted out from the heavens, and God will seem to have been dethroned.

Naturally enough this will mean the complete destruction of all derived authority, so we read next, “the moon became as blood” (6:12). The moon gets all its light from the sun, just as “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1) and are appointed by Him for man’s blessing. But all government being overthrown, the lurid glare of anarchy will take its place, for a time at least.

The stars falling from heaven indicate the downfall and apostasy of great religious leaders, the bright lights in the ecclesiastical heavens. In Daniel, those who turn many to righteousness shine as the stars. In the first part of our book the stars are said to be the messengers of the churches. So it would seem clear that we are to understand the symbol in the same sense here. After the true church has been caught up to meet the Lord in the air, there will be a vast host of unconverted ecclesiastics left behind. Thousands of Protestant and Catholic church dignitaries looked on as spiritual guides will be revealed as utterly bereft of divine life. These professional clergymen, despite their pretensions and exalted calling, are simply natural men intruding into spiritual things. They are like the Philistines of old who lived in the land of Canaan. They gave their name, Palestine, to the whole region as though it rightfully belonged to them, while all the time they were unwarranted intruders of Egyptian descent. These are the stars who will be hurled from their places of power and eminence in that awful day of the wrath of the Lamb. Apostatizing from the last vestiges of Christianity, they will soon become leaders in the worship of antichrist.

Thus the heavens, symbolizing the ecclesiastical powers of every description, will depart as a scroll when it is rolled up. The whole fabric of Christendom will be wound up as something obsolete and out of date. Religious leaders have often questioned the finality of the Christian religion. They attempt to formulate a new religious system, which results in the worship of humanity. They teach that God lives in all men and can only be found within the heart of man. But as long as the Holy Spirit is here on earth, dwelling in the church of God, the full development of this mystery of iniquity is checked. As soon as He goes up with the church, the whole profession that is left will be destroyed. Out of its ruins will arise the final Satanic masterpiece of the last days.

The destruction of all organized religion will intensify the frightful conditions of that dreadful time. Men drunk with their false liberty, and rejoicing in the triumph of a blatant God-defying demagoguery, will for a brief period turn this earth into a great madhouse. The vile orgies of those days will be indescribable until it dawns on multitudes that the Lamb of God whom they had rejected and whose gentle rule they had spurned has in some way brought the punishment for their sins on their own heads. Then we have depicted what someone has called “the greatest prayer meeting of all history.” “The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains.” They will cry out in their distress for the mountains and the rocks to cover them and hide them “from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” They will cry as with one voice, “the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (6:15-17)

Yet we read of no repentance, no true turning back to God or trusting His Christ-just an awful realization that they have to face the rejected Lamb, and they cannot escape His wrath. They are like those of whom Jeremiah prophesied who will cry in that day of the fierce anger of the Lord, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jeremiah 8:20).

Notice the solemnity of the expression “the wrath of the Lamb.” We are not accustomed to couple the thought of wrath, or indignation, with the Lamb, which has always been the accepted symbol of gentleness. But there is a terrible truth involved in it nevertheless. For if the grace of the Lamb of God is rejected, His indignation and wrath must be faced. It is part of eternal righteousness to do so. God Himself will not, and in accordance with the holiness of His nature can not, have it otherwise. As we read elsewhere, “He cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

Hear the just law, the judgment of the skies:

He that hates truth must be the dupe of lies:

And he who will be cheated to the last,

Delusions strong as hell must bind him fast.


For such there can be nothing in reserve but fearfully waiting for judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. This judgment will be much worse than that which befell those who despised Moses’ law, for they now defy God revealed in grace in the person of His Son. For such there must be the wrath of the Lamb. “Grace like this despised, brings judgment / Measured by the wrath He bore.”

But the wrath of God is an even deeper and more intense form of judgment. It will be poured out on the earth from the seven vials (or bowls) of the wrath of God (Revelation 16:0). The Christ-rejector must abide under this judgment for eternity. It is written, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Note the hopelessness of the condition here depicted. Abiding wrath precludes any thought of either annihilation or restoration, and warns us that the results of refusing the matchless grace of God are eternal; for that which abides is unending.

This sixth seal brings us to the end of the first part of that last unfulfilled week of the ninth chapter of Daniel. It divides into two parts. The Lord Himself defines the first part as “the beginning of sorrows,” while He designates the last part as “the great tribulation.” This is introduced for us in the book of Revelation by the breaking of the seventh seal. That will come before us after the great parenthesis of the seventh chapter.

The wrath of the Lamb is visited on the nations in the beginning of sorrows; the wrath of God will be their portion in the great tribulation. May He grant, in His mercy, that none who read these words enter into either the one or the other. Grace is still reigning through righteousness. A just God waits in lovingkindness to be the justifier of everyone that believes in Jesus.

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 6". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/revelation-6.html. 1914.
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