The First Seal: The White Horse
In the Lamb's opening of the seals our sight is transferred again to earth, but John does not return there. His vision is from heaven. The first seal (v. 1) indicates the beginning of Daniel's seventieth week (Daniel 9:27). In Daniel 9:1-27, beginning with verse 24, Daniel is told that after seven "weeks" (or "sevens") and sixty-two "weeks" Messiah would be cut off (vv. 25-26). This has proven to be 69 weeks of years, which brings us to the exact date of Christ's presentation to Israel when riding into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:6-11) just before His crucifixion. Since that time Israel's history has not been counted, for she rejected her Messiah, and the 70th week (the last seven years) of this prophecy can only begin after the Church has gone to heaven and God resumes His dealings with the nation Israel. This prophecy is most important to consider in connection with the book of Revelation.
With a noise like thunder one of the living creatures (evidently the lion) calls, "Come" (NASB). It is the Lamb who is in control of these events foretold in prophecy and He will initiate them at precisely the right time. A white horse appears, bearing a man with a bow (v. 2). A crown given to him indicates his taking earthly authority. The bow (but without arrows) pictures long-range warfare, and by this he is enabled to conquer. There is one clearly consistent interpretation of this, if we compare Revelation 17:11-13 with Daniel 9:27. The Roman beast, the future head of the revived Roman empire (the prince that shall come) will conquer without bloodshed by the long range warfare of amalgamation-by attracting the allegiance of ten European nations-which will form the future revived Roman empire. At the beginning of the seventieth week (often called the Tribulation Period) he will confirm a covenant with "the many" in Israel. Today, conquests like this are classified as "cold wars," and there are clear signs of the revival of this ancient Roman empire in NATO and the European Common Market. The white horse speaks of victory: all here appears to be to the advantage of its rider. This man will appear often after this in the book of Revelation, usually called a Beast because he will be "like the beasts that perish"-living only for this life with no recognition of God. (Compare Daniel 4:29-33)
The Second Seal: The Red Horse
When the second seal is opened (v. 3) the second living creature (the Ox) calls "Come." A red horse appears, and power is given to its rider to take peace from the earth. It seems the important point here is not who the rider is, but that violence and bloodshed will follow quickly in the wake of the Roman Beast's ascendancy to power in Western Europe. His great confederacy of nations will not prevent this, though likely he wants to bring stability by this confederacy, but his designs are thwarted. This is only the beginning of troubles for him, however.
The Third Seal: The Black Horse
The third seal is opened and the third living creature (with the face of a man) calls, "Come" (v. 5). The black horse that comes into sight bears a rider holding a pair of balances (for careful measuring) and a voice announces the high cost of wheat and barley (the food of the common people), while stating that the oil and wine (the luxury of the wealthy) is not to be affected. Famine is the usual result of the ravages of war, but it is the poor who suffer by it. The seals are not the direct outpouring of God's judgments (as are the upcoming inflictions of the vials or bowls), but a picture of God's sovereign working behind the scenes in providential action that is the forerunner of later solemn judgment.
The Fourth Seal: The Pale Horse
The voice of the fourth living creature (the flying eagle) is heard as the fourth seal is opened (v. 7), summoning a pale horse, his rider named Death. Hades follows with him. A fourth part of the earth is now affected by the suffering of death caused by famine, pestilence, the sword and beasts of the earth (perhaps a reference to murder by bestial men). This is simply the natural outcome of what has gone before. Man's pride (as seen in the white horse) wants to conquer. This is offensive to the pride of others and therefore leads to bloodshed (the red horse). Bloodshed will just as surely lead to famine (the black horse), and the sad palor of death from famine, pestilence, etc. (the pale horse) will follow close behind. Only a fourth part of the earth is affected. The third part (Revelation 8:7-12) refers to the Roman empire, so in this case it is less than all the Roman earth.
The Fifth Seal: Martyrs
When the Lamb opens the fifth seal (v. 9) we are directed to the souls of those who have suffered martyrdom during the first three and a half years of Daniel's seventieth week of years. In all the events under the first four seals the pow- er of God will work in awakening and bringing people in faith to Himself. At the time of the Rapture, millions will be living on earth who have never heard or known the gospel of the grace of God, so they are not those who have rejected Christ during our dispensation of grace. In fact, those who know the gospel now and refuse it will have no hope of salvation in the Tribulation, for God will send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie of the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11)! But many others have not known it and will have opportunity even in the Tribulation to turn to the Lord Jesus. Many of these will be put to death because of their belief in the Word of God and because of their testimony to Himself. They are seen as crying out for the vengeance of God against those earth-dwellers who have murdered them. They know their Sovereign Ruler as holy and true, and thus have no doubt He will judge, but wonder at the length of His patience (v. 10). We do not pray this way today, but rather are told to pray for the blessing of our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45), for today is the day of grace. When the day of God's judgment begins, however, it will be right for people to pray that God will judge the ungodly.
White robes are given them as signifying God's gracious approval of them. This is only an interim provision, for they are not yet in bodily form and must rest in their disembodied state for a short time until others also are killed for the Lord's sake during the remainder of the seven years (v. 11). Since the great bulk of believers will have been raised before this, at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), there will be only martyrs left to be raised for heaven after the Rapture. The number of martyrs will not be full until the end of the Tribulation, so these first ones must wait for the later ones in order that all will be raised together. In the latter half of the Tribulation many will suffer martyrdom for refusing to worship the beast (Revelation 13:15). When the Tribulation ends, these will all be raised to complete "the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:4-5). The first resurrection is that of believers: it began with the resurrection of Christ: the main part of it is at the Rapture, and it will be completed with the martyrs being raised.
The Sixth Seal: Apostasy & Anarchy
The opening of the sixth seal (v. 12) brings us near to the end of the first 3-1/2 years of Daniel's seventieth week. While there will no doubt be physical disturbances such as a great earthquake and the sun, the moon and the stars affected), yet the spiritual significance of these things is of far greater importance. The earthquake (v. 12) speaks of a general convulsion on earth that indicates the shaking of governments by anarchy (Hebrews 12:26-27). The sun becoming black speaks of the light of God withdrawn because of gross atheism, for the sun is the supreme source of light to earth, and people's refusal of God leaves them in spiritual dark- ness (Malachi 4:2). The moon speaks of Israel in the place of responsibility to reflect God's glory, but turned into a state of violence and bloodshed. The stars of heaven stand for those who profess spiritual light (Genesis 15:5), but their falling to the earth in great numbers intimates a general apostasy-a giving up of any heavenly profession and falling to the level of earthly-mindedness. Having no stability, they are easily shaken by the wind of adverse circumstances (Ephesians 4:14, Judges 1:12).
The heaven departing as a rolled up scroll signifies that, since heaven's rule has been rejected by men, God will leave them for a time exposed to the results of their own folly, as it were rolling up the scroll of His direct government. The mountains removed (v. 14) speak of the overthrow of the solid powers of government, while islands indicate neutral powers (isolationists) which will not be able to isolate themselves from the general upheaval: they cannot maintain their neutrality.
In verse 15 individuals are mentioned: kings of the earth (those in authority), great men (men of dignity), rich men (those of wealth), chief captains (those of organizational ability), mighty men (men of power), bondmen (in the place of servitude) and free men (those considered at liberty). All of these together, great and small, will be reduced to the same level of having their hearts fail them for fear. They hide themselves, but not in the secret of God's presence (Psalms 31:19-20). They prefer the dens and rocks of the mountains (v. 16) which speak of men's professedly solid institutions which have been so shaken. Though they feel that this is God's judgment and the wrath of the Lamb, they do not repent and think only of avoiding the judgment by humanly improvised protection. Yet, little as they realize it, they are virtually inviting their own destruction.
They are wrong in assuming that the great day of the Lamb's wrath has come (v. 17). They are only reaping the normal consequences of their own folly at this time, for it is just approaching the middle of Daniel's seventieth week, and God's judgment falls only after this. Note however the arresting expression, "the wrath of the Lamb." He who was the gentle, submissive Lamb of sacrifice at Calvary's cross will yet be the unsparing Judge of all those who have despised Him.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Revelation 6". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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