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Bible Commentaries

Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 6

THE OPENING OF THE SEVEN SEALS

--Revelation 6:1-17

The sealed scroll, written on both sides, containing the complete history of God’s plan, sealed with 7 seals indicating that the ultimate history of mankind must remain unknown to man’s unaided powers of reasoning, is now taken and opened by Christ.

In chapter 6 John’s book of Revelation really begins.

Throughout this whole section John is describing PRINCIPLES and not successive historical events.

II. MEDITATION--; Revelation 6:1-17 and Revelation 8:1

In chapter 5 John saw a parchment scroll in God’s hand, close written on both sides to tell the story of the history of-this world. But the scroll is sealed with 7 seals to indicate that the full history of man is unknown to man’s unaided reason.

The question raised by the close sealed book of Revelation 5:1 is--"Who has the right and the knowledge to reveal God’s plans and purposes for His church and for this world? In this vision John tells us that no man on earth is able to do this. Only Jesus Christ can open the seals. And now, after the view of the open door in heaven and the new song of atonement, redemption and consecration of the whole creation in chapters 4 and 5 chapter 6 opens with Jesus Christ opening the sealed book of man’s history, removing the 7 seals one by one so that we can know man’s fate and that of the church on earth.

In chapter 6 we are not looking at historical events still future but at things which ARE TAKING PLACE NOW. Chapter 6 describes principles which are operating around us today. the opening of the 7 seals of chapter 6 and 8:1 is the unveiling of events taking place NOW, not just things yet to take place in the future.

Verses 1-2

1.

THE FIRST SEAL 6:1, 2 "A WHITE HORSE"--(EVANGELISM) "and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer." The picture is drawn from Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8. To our minds horse and rider represent part of God’s action in this world before the second advent of Christ. Our interpretation of the WHITE horse and rider of the first seal as EVANGELISM links 6:1, 2 with Revelation 19:11-16 which reads, "I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse! He who sat upon it was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war . . . His Name is King of Kings and Lord of Lords." Revelation 19:11-16 is clearly a reference to Christ at the end of His war against evil. The first seal of Revelation 6:1-2 refers to the BEGINNING of Christ’s war against evil. Christ sits upon the white horse, His bow and crown depict the victories of Gospel preaching. In John’s day the Roman emperor claimed absolute power but John saw in this first seal THE REIGN OF GOD OVER LIVES OF MEN SURRENDERED IN FAITH TO HIM. The LIVING CHRIST on the white horse of gospel preaching and victory.

Verse 2

1. In verse 2 Christ opens THE FIRST SEAL

WHICH IS EVANGELISM--"And I saw A WHITE HORSE, and He that sat on him had a bow, and a crown was given unto Him: and He went forth conquering and to conquer."

Any interpretation of the rider on the WHITE horse of this first seal must agree with that of chapter 19 verse 11, which reads "I saw heaven opened, and behold A WHITE HORSE. And He that sat upon it was called faithful and true, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war"--"His eyes were as a flame of fire" (that is, He searches out everything. He sees all--there are no secrets hidden from Him). And verse 16 states, "His Name is King of kings and Lord of lords." Jesus Christ is the person in Revelation 6:1-17 verse 2 who sits on the WHITE HORSE of VICTORY, of CONQUEST.

This first seal reveals Christ going throughout the world preaching the gospel in a holy war against sin. Christian evangelism is marked by countless victories. In John’s day the Roman emperor claimed absolute power, but here in the first seal John saw that the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ will result in victories in his and all generations as the reign of Jesus Christ extends over surrendered Christians. Victory does not belong to temporal earthly powers--not even to Roman Emperors--but the bow and crown of victory is given to the evangel of the risen Christ.

So, in the first seal--The living Christ rides on the WHITE horse of gospel evangelism. EVANGELISM is the first seal.

Verses 3-4

2. In verses 3 and 4 THE SECOND SEAL IS WAR

Verse 4 records "There came another horse BRIGHT RED, and its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another, and he was given a great sword."

So, this second seal reveals that WAR AS WELL AS Christian evangelism precedes the final coming of Christ. Keep in mind that the RED horse of war, the shedding of blood, is not merely a judgment STILL to come in the future. It is ALREADY with us in man’s inhumanity to man which makes countless thousands mourn.

This second horseman is man’s inhumanity to man--WAR. The BRIGHT RED horse’s very color suggests the shedding of blood in war. Whenever men fight each other this second horse of the Apocalypse appears. In a sense this is not merely a judgment still to come in the future--it is present NOW in our world. The power of man to destroy himself deserves our serious consideration. The evil in man sends him to war to destroy himself. War is the only game in which both sides are bound to lose.

Verses 5-6

3. In verses 5 and 6 THE THIRD SEAL IS FAMINE

"Behold, a BLACK horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand." And I heard a voice in the midst of the FOUR living creatures (that is, "from men") saying "A quart of wheat for a whole days wages" (Good News Bible). The Living Bible translates as "A loaf of bread for $20, 3 lbs. of Barley flour, but there is no olive oil or wine."

When corn is weighed instead of measured it is a sign of scarcity. The BALANCE IN THE HAND of the rider on the BLACK horse depicts FAMINE--the scarcity of food which follows war. It is a plain fact of human history past and present that when men WASTE God’s substance in the destruction of WAR, Famine, scarcity, want always follows.

"A loaf of bread for $20" (inflation and famine always follows the third seal--the BLACK horse of war). Like the prodigal whom Jesus described in the far country who WASTED his father’s substance, mankind soon "comes to be in WANT, "for famine, the BLACK horse follows the RED horse of war.

Verses 7-8

4. In verses 7 and 8 THE FOURTH SEAL IS DEATH

"Behold, a PALE horse, (with the pallor of death) and its rider’s name was DEATH, and hades followed him, and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth."

The first four seals have been opened. Four horses have appeared--

The WHITE horse of EVANGELISM
The BRIGHT RED horse of WAR
The BLACK horse of FAMINE
The PALE horse of DEATH

Before we pass on to the next three seals let us pause to observe that our interpretation of John’s vision of these first four seals coincides with the words of Jesus Himself in-Matthew chapter 24.

In Matthew 24:1-51 verse 3 the disciples asked "When will this be? and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" In Matthew 24:6 Jesus said "You will hear of WARS and rumours of wars"--John’s second seal, The BRIGHT RED HORSE OF WAR.

In Matthew 24:7 Jesus continued--"There will be FAMINES and earthquakes in various places"--so Jesus foretold that the BLACK horse of FAMINE and the PALE horse of DEATH will precede His final coming.

In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations; and then will the end come"--so, the WHITE horse of Christian EVANGELISM is also there.

Verses 9-11

5. In verses 9-11 of Revelation chapter 6 THE FIFTH SEAL IS PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS (THE CRY OF THE MARTYRS)

When the fifth seal was opened, verses 9-11 records--

"I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne." They cried out . . . "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before Thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?"

Then they were each given a WHITE robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Remember that John was writing to encourage Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. In this fifth seal is the clear indication that Christians can expect persecution until Christ comes in the climax of history.

When persecution rages, Christians in every age echo the cry of the martyrs beneath the altar--"Why is this evil allowed to continue?" Christians are being persecuted because of their faith in many lands today. And the answer is given that EACH martyr is given a WHITE ROBE (suggesting PURITY and CONQUEST over sin is more important than vengeance).

The fifth seal depicts PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS IN ALL GENERATIONS. But WHO ARE THESE MARTYRS BENEATH THE ALTAR?

The Greek word for "MARTYR" is the same word as "WITNESS." There are times in translating the New Testament where we have to choose the meaning of the original Greek word "MARTUS" to be either "witness, or "Martyr." For example, in Revelation 2:13 in the message to the church in Smyrna "Antipas my faithful MARTUS" could equally mean that Antipas was a faithful "WITNESS," or a faithful "MARTYR." The point is that any faithful witness for Christ in John’s day, and in our own day must expect persecution from a hostile world, even as Jesus said "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake--for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And He also said "As they have persecuted Me, so also will they persecute you." The bringing of the good news of Christ to the world can be costly. It can involve suffering and even death.

The martyrs beneath the altar in this fifth seal I understand to be those who are faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, whether their witness is in living or dying. The fifth seal depicts persecution of Christians in all generations.

I understand that in the Apocalyptic literature of John’s book of Revelation "The MARTYRED DEAD" is a symbol of ALL THOSE WHO GIVE THEMSELVES COMPLETELY TO JESUS CHRIST. It is not necessarily a literal death but a DAILY DEATH TO SIN AND SELF.

Those Christians who live out the significance of their baptism in their daily life in home and social life around them--these are the martyrs beneath the altar of the fifth seal.

Alongside of this interpretation as to who these martyrs are of Revelation 6:1-17 we might well consider other scriptures.

Colossians 3:3 "You died, and your life is hid with Christ in God."

Romans 6:2 "How can we who died to sin continue to live in it?"

Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me."

To my thinking this interpretation of the martyrs of the fifth seal as THOSE WHO GIVE THEMSELVES COMPLETELY TO JESUS CHRIST, who live out their baptism in a daily death to sin and self is important in other references in John’s book of Revelation. Christians who live out their lives in such a manner will be persecuted by a hostile society in every land and age.

Verses 12-17

6. In verses 12-17 THE SIXTH SEAL IS CONFUSION AND DOWNFALL OF EARTHLY GOVERNMENT (CONVULSION IN NATURE)

These verses read "When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great EARTHQUAKE, and the SUN became BLACK as sackcloth, and the FULL MOON became like BLOOD.

And the STARS of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.

The SKY vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every MOUNTAIN and ISLAND was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. Calling to the mountains and rocks, ’Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.’ For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?"

This sixth seal of CONVULSION IN NATURE depicts the CONFUSION AND FALL OF EARTHLY GOVERNMENT.

A great EARTHQUAKE, the SUN becomes BLACK, the MOON like BLOOD, the STARS fall from their places, the HEAVENS are removed--this language, as we indicated in our previous notes, is common in the Old Testament to describe revolution and fall of governments. "The Stars that fell" of verse 13, as we noted in our notes from Old Testament references describes the FALL of EARTHLY RULERS, of Revolution and mob anarchy. John no doubt had in mind the destruction and fall of Roman power, but the sixth seal describes the fall of earthly governments and social systems whether liberal or labour, capitalistic or communistic, democratic or dictatorship. The collapse of social, economic and political systems in worldwide human society in the turmoil of human society in 19 79 can well be described in the vivid language of the sixth seal. There is not one stable earthly government or social system in any nation on earth today.

As we read the first four seals alongside the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:1-51 --so, alongside of the fifth seal--THE CRY OF THE MARTYRS--read Jesus’ word of Matthew 24:1-51 verse 9 "Then shall they deliver you up . . . and shall kill you." Here is the fifth seal. And alongside of the sixth seal, listen again to Jesus’ word in Matthew 24:1-51 verses 29 and 30. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the SUN will be DARKENED, and the MOON will not give her light, and the STARS will fall from heaven, and the POWERS of THE HEAVENS WILL BE SHAKEN. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

So, the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:1-51 coincides with our interpretation of the SIX seals of Revelation chapter 6. These seals are:

1. EVANGELISM
2. WAR
3. FAMINE
4. DEATH
5. PERSECUTION
6. CONFUSION AND FALL OF EARTHLY GOVERNMENT

With the opening of the sixth seal we are taken to the end of human history and the verge of the final coming of Christ. We would expect that the seventh seal would now be opened. But this is not so.

The next chapter of Revelation now records two visions about the church on earth and the church in heaven before the seventh seal is opened--the reason for these two visions about the church militant on earth and the church triumphant in heaven of Revelation chapter 7 coming before the opening of the seventh seal might well be that Christians might lose heart. They might ask "How can the church survive in such a hostile world as described in the six seals of Revelation chapter 6? The answer is given in the two reassuring visions of the church in chapter 7, before the opening of the seventh seal in Revelation 8:1-13 verse 1. We will return to chapter 7 after dealing with the seventh seal in Revelation 8:1.

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Bibliographical Information
Norris, Harold. "Commentary on Revelation 6". "Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/nor/revelation-6.html. 2021.