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The First Four Seals
Before we start with chapter 6 I will give you a brief summary of the chapters to come, that you may have a general overview of what will come to pass.
1. In chapter 6 the first six seals are broken. Those six seals describe the first six trials that will come over the earth after the rapture of the church.
2. Chapter 7 is a parenthesis between the sixth and the seventh seal, wherein God shows that a great number of believers will be kept saved, right through the judgments until the coming of the Lord Jesus to the earth. They will enter alive into the millennial kingdom of peace.
3. In chapter 8:1-5 the seventh seal is opened. That causes a silence of half an hour in heaven, after which seven trumpets, blown by angels, give the sign for new judgments.
4. In chapters 8:6-9:21 six trumpet judgments are being described.
5. The portion of chapter 10:1-11:13 forms a new parenthesis.
6. Then the seventh trumpet is blown (chapter 11:14-18).
7. In chapters 12-14 some events of the forgoing period are more precisely described.
8. In chapters 15-16 you read about the seven angels with seven bowl judgments. These are the final judgments. They are the most severe.
9. The chapters 17-18 are specially dedicated to the judgment over the great Babylon, the false church.
10. Then the wedding of the Lamb with the true church takes place in chapter 19.
11. Up till chapter 21:8 it is described in chronological order what still more is to happen until eternity begins.
12. From chapter 21:9 you have a description of the new Jerusalem in the kingdom of peace.
13. The book ends with information on the coming of Christ and His promise that He will come soon.
Rev 6:1. Here you see, with John, the Lord Jesus as the Lamb, opening the first seal. As it is said, it is one of the seals of the book in which God has recorded His counsels and judgments with regard to the earth. You may call the judgments that will come over the earth with the opening of each of the seals, the introductory judgments. They are not yet the actual, ultimate judgments with the effect of the purification of the earth and the redemption of it, but they prepare the way to it. The seal judgments announce the beginning of the end, which means that God will fulfil His will by preparing the earth for the reign of Christ.
The command “come” is not addressed to John and still less to Christ. It comes from one of the living creatures that are related to the execution of the judgment and is addressed to the horse as a symbol of the judgment. Here it is still about judgments in providence. That means that those are judgments which by unbelievers are ascribed to natural elements or to political or other circumstances, while in reality they are directed by God. They still do not recognize God’s hand in these plagues.
Rev 6:2. Horses represent authorities here that God uses for a judgment in His providence (cf. Zec 1:10; Rev 19:11). The colors of the horses which are related to the first four seals, consecutively represent as follows: white for victory, fiery red for blood, black for mourning and ashen as the color of a corpse (cf. Zec 1:8; Zec 6:2-8).
The white horse with its rider who goes out conquering is not a representation of the coming of Christ. Christ will come down from heaven only in chapter 19. Indeed an assumption has been made that a prince is represented here who works and sustains the cohesion of the Roman empire. I do want to remind you that we find here the first events on earth that will take place right after the rapture of the church.
When the church has been taken away it will for a moment seem that all human efforts have been successful in order to achieve a sustainable peace. It is a short period of apparent peace and prosperity with a sense of security. God will allow it, while man in his arrogance will see it as his own success (1Thes 5:3). He does not consider about peace with God and about what He finds righteous.
The “bow” without an arrow may probably indicate that there is no arms race at that very moment, but that the disarmament regarding the mass destruction which could be effected at a great distance, has been realized for a great deal. It is also possible that there is such an amount of long distance weapons that the threat is enough to win people without any direct bloodshed. That this process will probably be taking place peacefully can be derived from the white color.
“A crown was given” to the conqueror. That indicates that he overcomes under the approval of God, because it is fitting in His plans. It does not mean that God approves of all his acts and motives, but that He allows the performance.
Rev 6:3-4. When “the second seal” is opened by the Lamb, John hears the second living creature commanding: “Come!” Because in Rev 6:1 it is not said ‘the first living creature’, but “one of the four living creatures”, the order of speaking of the living creatures cannot be determined on the basis of chapter 4 (Rev 4:7). The horse that appears has a fiery red color. Shortly after the rider of the white horse had established a peaceful period, the rider of the fiery red horse brutally makes an end to it.
After a period of peace during the first seal, a spirit of discontentment is now working which instigates war, possibly a civil war. Here you do not see a bow, like with the first seal, but “a great sword” for the fight of man to man. It is a ‘great sword’, which indicates that the slaughter is great. Here it becomes apparent that the disarmament is not complete. Men will continue to be deceitful. Peace that is worked by men will not be sustained. Only God can give sustainable peace (Psa 147:14). Peace is a result of the submission of man to the government of God.
Rev 6:5. When the Lamb opens “the third seal” the command of “the third living creature” sounds: Come!” John sees “a black horse” and the one who sits on it. He also sees that the rider has “a pair of scales in his hand”. We don’t need to guess what the black color represents. Black doesn’t evoke pleasant thoughts, but is related to mourning and lamenting (Lam 5:10; Jer 4:28). The pair of scales indicates an accurate measurement of what is available. The general prosperity is over and done with.
Rev 6:6. You can imagine that because of the war under the second seal, an economic chaos arises. The most necessary provisions will be enormously scarce and therefore expensive. This situation is emphatically related to a judgment that comes from God. It is not written for nothing that “like a voice in the center of the four living creatures” announces this scarcity.
Especially the common population will suffer under this crisis. “A quart of wheat” will cost “a denarius”, which is equal to a day’s pay (Mt 20:2). The ordinary man will not be able to afford more than one meal a day. The word ‘quart’ doesn’t evoke the thought that there is much choice. It is scarce, just enough to stay alive. All the money that has been earned will be used for that. There is no more money to spend on anything else.
“The oil and the wine” must be spared. These products are presented as prosperity goods, which we are warned to keep ourselves from loving (Pro 21:17). If these things must be spared it may indicate that the rich people are still prospering. They can always maintain themselves for a longer period of time. But they will surely have to face the shortage. Maybe not in material sense, but surely in spiritual sense (Rev 6:15). I myself prefer to relate the oil and wine with medicines (Lk 10:34). Then I can see in the sparing of oil and wine God’s compassion, that despite the severe trials which come over the earth, will not be completely taken away.
Rev 6:7-8. When the Lamb breaks “the fourth seal” John hears the command “of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” Now all four living creatures have spoken. The horse you see now is “ashen”. The rider of this horse has a name called “Death” and a follower called “Hades”. Here you can find no trace of compassion. It is all darkness. That cannot be otherwise, for wherever God is being denied as the source of life, death enters.
The territory where this judgment takes place is “the fourth of the earth”. That is a smaller part than ‘the third part’, which embraces the Roman empire (Rev 12:4). The judgment is therefore still of a relative small size.
The famine under the previous seal will be followed by death that in several ways will claim victims. Hades follows death because that is the place where the victims of death end up. Death deals with the living and hades with the dead. Together they make victims with “sword” (wars), “famine” (hunger), “pestilence” (cf. Eze 14:21) and “the wild beasts of the earth” (Jer 14:12; Jer 15:2; Eze 5:12; 17; Eze 14:21; Eze 33:27). Wild beasts probably represent unscrupulous people who terrorize their fellow men.
Now read Revelation 6:1-8 again.
Reflection: Try to summarize in one word (some words are also allowed) the characteristic of each of the first four seals.
The Fifth and Sixth Seal
Rev 6:9. When the Lamb opens “the fifth seal” the result is different from the opening of the previous seals. Then several horses with riders appeared and did certain things. After the establishment of a false peace, several actions followed that resulted in death and misery. With this fifth seal you see nothing happen, but you get the chance to look behind the scenes of death. You see and hear individuals who cry for revenge.
This seal is not a direct judgment, but it is actually the preparation for the judgments that will follow hereafter under the remaining seals. Those are not the same kind of judgments like those of the previous seals. There things happened on earth that are a plague for men, which are apparently caused by their own wrong acts, although God directed them. The judgments that are still coming are judgments wherein men are forced to recognize more directly the hand of God.
Those who cry for revenge are “underneath the altar”. The altar is a place of offering. That appears from the description that follows. “The souls” are “of those who had been slain”. They were slain by the enemies of God. They are ‘underneath the altar’ because they have brought their lives as offerings for the sake of “the word of God” (cf. the blood, wherein the soul is, that was shed at the foot of the altar, Exo 29:12; Lev 4). God considers their death as a pleasing offering to Him.
Here you read about ‘souls’, because these believers have not been resurrected yet. Their bodies are still in the grave. At the same time that makes clear that they do not belong to the church, for the bodies of those who belong to the church, will be resurrected at the coming of the Lord Jesus. The believers that we are talking about here, died during the time when the seals were opened, when the gospel was also proclaimed, meaning the gospel of the kingdom (Mt 24:14). They will remain in that condition till the return of Christ (Rev 20:4).
They did not die a natural death or because of an illness. No, they were killed “because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained”. They remained faithful to the truth of God’s Word and also testified of it. They had to pay with their lives for it and they were willing to pay that price. That’s why they were “slain”, which is the same word that is used for the Lord Jesus as the ‘Lamb as though it had been slain’ (Rev 5:6). What men did to the Lord Jesus, they also do to those who are faithful to Him (Jn 15:18-20). These souls are the first martyrs. Many of their brothers will follow in even more horrible times (Rev 12:17; Rev 13:7).
Rev 6:10. The words that they cry out are words of revenge. That also makes clear that we do not find ourselves on Christian ground. It is the language of the Old Testament (cf. Psa 79:10-13; Psa 137:7-9). The believers of the church do not pray for revenge on their persecutors, but for grace (Acts 7:60). After the rapture of the church this will be a prayer that is fitting to be prayed. Then what only counts is that God will exert His right on earth and the only way is by judgment. When the believers then will be persecuted they will not be liberated by being taken out of the persecution, but by the enemies being judged. Those enemies are the people “who dwell on the earth”. They do not want to have anything to do with God and do not want to be confronted with Him.
The souls under the altar cry out to God as the “Lord, holy and true”. They long for justice for the injustice that was done to them. Therefore they make an appeal to God, Who empathizes. After all He is holy and hates unholiness. He is also true and hates injustice. They have no doubt that He will act against the evil and will thereby show His absolute sovereignty as Ruler. They only wonder how long they should wait for that (Psa 94:3; Hab 1:2). At the same time this question indicates that they know that the persecution of the faithful will come to an end.
Rev 6:11. As an answer to their call the martyrs receive “a white robe”. It is about a symbolic robe, for souls cannot be clothed. In the same sentence it is said of God Who is Spirit, that He is clothed (Psa 104:2; Isa 6:1). In that way they receive as it were a high recognition for the fact that they are righteous and overcomers. It underlines their dignity.
It is also said to them that they will have to rest a little while longer. It is about “a little while”, which is the time of the great tribulation. The group that is talking here is the first group of martyrs after the rapture of the church. There will be more martyrs joining them; those who will be killed during the great tribulation (Rev 20:4b). Those are “their fellow servants”, for they serve the same Lord, and “their brethren”, for they belong to the same family of those who did the will of God (Mt 12:49-50). When they are killed the number of the martyrs will be full and then the Lord will come to meet their request for revenge.
Rev 6:12. After this brief conversation the Lamb opens “the sixth seal”. What then happens is as it were an ‘advance’ of the answer to the prayer under the previous seal. An enormous earthquake will occur which turns the earth into a chaos. This demonstration of power makes of man a completely insignificant, void creature. Above the earth it becomes black and red. The whole creation has changed into a terrifying décor. It is possible that what is described here will literally happen. It is also possible, which seems to me to be the first meaning, that it is a symbolic illustration of matters.
Symbolically the “great earthquake” represents an enormous revolution which causes that man will lose everything that granted him security and support. It regards social, political and religious order, things that supply man in life. Normally the ground under the feet is the most secure thing in life. Sun, moon and stars may be considered to be symbols for rulers (cf. Gen 1:16). When these celestial objects lose their glow and become black and red, it means that these rulers, who were intentionally given by God to preserve order and life, are now causing darkness and death.
Rev 6:13. These stars seem surely to be a symbolic presentation of rulers. If it would be literally true that the stars fall on the earth, then nothing will be left of the earth. That they “fell to the earth”, means that they lose their original function. What they were intended for, as an orientation for man, has disappeared. They now show their true nature. Formerly they were rather in control, due to certain Christian values. Their own righteousness comes under the control of powers which they are not able to resist. Evil power will take over the control.
Rev 6:14. God, as it were, takes His hands off His creation. The thoughts of heaven (i.e. of God) are being obscured, without any possibility of being informed about it. After all, you cannot read a ‘scroll that is rolled up’. There is no more light from above, only moral darkness, which causes men to be blind for any Divine guidance. That has the result that “every mountain and island were moved out of their places”. In relation to the previous verses it seems that this also has to be considered symbolically. Then the mountains represent immense, immoveable powers and the islands are images of commercial powers. They also lose their usual functions and become disoriented.
Rev 6:15. You may take the description in this verse literally. In the sevenfold description you will view the whole human race, from king to slave. They are all astonished and helpless by the elimination of any human government, that they want to hide themselves. Every difference in prosperity, wealth, riches and social positions disappears. None of the economic, social or political benefits gives any protection against these judgments. They will all hide themselves “in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains” (Isa 2:19).
Rev 6:16. While they are sitting there, they will still not feel safe from “the wrath of the Lamb”. Due to the disasters under the previous seal they discovered that they have to do with God and the Lamb. They start to consider God and even the Lamb (Pro 10:24a). It is the proof that also the unbelieving man is inwardly aware that he has got to do with God as a Judge. He also knows of the Lamb and His wrath. That indicates that we find ourselves in what was formerly a Christian part of the world.
But how fearful they may be, they refuse to convert! They do not want to accept what they always have denied and what they are now forced to acknowledge. They do not want to bow down before the Lamb. They prefer that the mountains and rocks fall on them. They probably think that if only they die, they will be able to escape from God and the wrath of the Lamb. That also will appear to be a tragic and fatal mistake when they will be called to come before the great white throne (Rev 20:12-13).
Rev 6:17. People who refuse to convert are always mistaken. These people claim that “the great day” of the wrath of God and of the Lamb has come. But that is not true. It is yet the beginning of the sorrows (Mt 24:8). That great day will have come only when Christ appears.
Now read Revelation 6:9-17 again.
Reflection: Mention some differences between what the souls under the altar ask of God and what you as a Christian ask of God.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Revelation 6". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19