With this chapter commenceth the Opening of the Seals. Here are six of them opened in this Chapter, the various Events of which are enumerated in Prophetical Language, and with these the Chapter closeth.
(1) And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. (2) And I saw, and behold 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.
Let the Reader attend to the various particulars under these different periods of events, classed under the term of seals; everyone of which becomes interesting. It appears very plain, that the vision of seals, of trumpets, and of vials, hath each its distinct object in prophecy. The two preceding Chapters having introduced to the Church the divine authority of the whole in God and the Lamb; and Christ having come forward to open the book, and loose the seals thereof, now enters upon the glorious service. And here begins with the prophecy of the seals.
For the better apprehension of the subject it may be proper previously to consider, what we may suppose is meant, according to scripture language, of the term seal. Two or three striking significations seem to be folded up in the name. First. It certainly implies somewhat that is secret; and such, no doubt, are all the ways and works of God, in relation to his creatures. All the mysteries of our holy faith necessarily are secret, and, in some points, must ever: lastingly be so. And the opposition made to the Son of God, in the struggles of the kingdom of darkness, yea, the state of Christ's Church, in the Adam-nature of the fall, and the natural hatred, even of his own people, until recovered by grace, these are secrets indeed, which the Lord Only can explain, and therefore none but Christ could be found worthy to open and unfold them to his people.
Secondly. There is somewhat wonderfully striking in those seals, considered with an eye to the Lord's people, as distinguished from the World. To gather into one point of view all that is said of seals, and sealing, as relating to the Church of God, would make a large volume. The sacred purposes and decrees of God the Father, are frequently expressed by this term. His treasures are said to be sealed, Deuteronomy 32:34. His stars are sealed, Job 9:7. And Job observed, that his transgressions were sealed up in a bag; meaning, well-known, Job 14:17. In relation to Christ, circumcision is said to be a seal of the righteousness of faith, Romans 4:11, and regeneration is the seal of the Holy Ghost, 2 Corinthians 5:5. And the Lord's knowledge of his people is said to be as a seal, because the foundation of God standeth sure, 2 Timothy 2:19.
Thirdly. By seals, and opening them, implies so many pledges, that the things spoken of shall be assuredly accomplished. And we, in the present hour, have this additional testimony, that in the fulfillment of one, all the rest are pledged to be confirmed. Time only can bring to pass, according to the decree, what is said. Nevertheless, in the accomplishment of all that is past, we may safely calculate for all that is to come. The same Lord speaks now, that spoke to the Prophet of old: But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased, Daniel 12:4.
So much in a general way concerning the seals. Let us now attend to the effect, which attended the opening of them. John saith, that when the Lamb opened one of them, namely, the first, he heard as it were the noise of thunder; one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. Now here is an invitation, and that most persuasively introduced, to attend to the wonderful events contained in the opening of the seals. And what is the Church called upon for to see? Evidently, Christ himself, going forth, by the various Methods of his grace, to gather his Church out of the heathen world. Hence, he is represented as on a white horse, to intimate the spotless purity of himself and his Gospel; and the bow showed the weapons of his warfare, sure and certain in his victory, conquering and to conquer. There is nothing doubtful in this war. As for those that would not that I should reign over them; bring them hither, and slay them before me, Luke 19:27.
But, what I would particularly desire the Reader to attend to in this account is, the time, in which this prophecy opened, and the state of the world at its opening. Let the Reader recollect what hath before been remarked in the general observations, at the opening of this book of the Revelation, that the Roman Empire was at this time Mistress of the World; and that that Empire was heathen. The Jews were now dispersed. Christ, therefore, goeth forth, in the purity of his Gospel, to gather together in one, the children of God which are scattered abroad, John 11:52. A white horse, was a beautiful representation both of the purity of his Person, and of his doctrine. And the crown, as striking an insignalia of his sure victory. So spake the royal Prophet; Psalms 45:4-6. And the Holy Ghost again confirmed it, in reference to Christ: Hebrews 1:8. And the succeeding ages of the Church had the felicity to see the accomplishment of this part of the prophecy. For the Empire which, at Christ's ascension, was heathen, in a period of about three hundred years, became Christian; that is, professed Christianity; and this in the person of Constantine the Emperor, who first openly avowed it. So that by this time, the Gospel had run down all the idols of Rome.
I would pause, just to remark the slender means the Lord was pleased to adopt, for this purpose. In the few poor fishermen of Galilee, and their companions, the first preachers of the Gospel, we find the only instruments made use of, against all the philosophy of this known world; as if the Church should always have in view the Lord himself, on his white horse, and crown. For when is beheld such a disproportion between the instruments and the work accomplished, it is impossible but to recognize the divine hand. Here, most eminently, God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, 1 Corinthians 1:27. And, let not the Reader forget, while contemplating the subject as it then was accomplished, how sure a pledge it gave, that in like manner, all opposition should give way throughout the world in every age of the Church before the Gospel, in the sure accomplishment of all the remaining prophecies. Christ still appears to the eye of faith, on the white horse, with his crown, conquering and to conquer, until the seventh trumpet be sounded, and that glorious event follow, when the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shalt reign forever and ever. Revelation 11:15.
(3) And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. (4) And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
Here we have the immediate effect of the opening of the second seal. And let not the Reader overlook, who it is that opened everyone of them. None but Christ could be found worthy. Oh! precious thought! All power is our Lord's, in heaven, and in earth. He reigns, and rules over all. By a red horse, seems to imply blood. And, as power was given to him that sat thereon, to take peace from the earth, and there was given unto him a great sword; the matter seems plain enough, that where on his white horse, in the meekness and mildness of his Gospel-grace is not received, the judgments of peace are taken away, and blood-shedding shall succeed. And, in the history of the Church, as recorded from the time of Christ's return to glory, to about the year of our Lord God 140, there were great slaughters took place in the empire. John, the beloved Apostle, died, it is supposed, about ten years after writing this Book of the Revelation. And if this book be dated, as is generally done, Anno 94, then it will follow, that John died Anno 104. Reader! pause over this seal, just to remark the plan of divine government. Christ on his white horse, if not redeemed, hath his judgments on others that follow. All must bend to his sceptre. He hath sworn to it with an oath. Isaiah 45:23. How strong the words of the Psalmist. Kiss the Son lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him, Psalms 2:12.
(5) And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. (6) And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
By this third horse, which was black, and the scanty measure of corn, which John, heard proclaimed, as the standard price for a penny, meaning a man's daily allowance; (Matthew 20:2) is very plainly taught to us, that it implied famine: when all faces gather blackness, as the Prophet said, and when the land was desolate. Joel 2:3-6. And God long before declared, that such should be the case, when punishments followed, one upon the heels of another. When I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one open, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight, and ye shall eat and not be satisfied. Leviticus 26:26. Now let the Reader pause, and observe how suitably the Lord's judgments follow the rejection of Christ and his Gospel. Jesus is the bread of life. He comes on a white horse; to intimate peace, and plenty. Men, reject him. Then comes One on a red horse, with a sword for war. Whether we are to consider Christ himself on this red horse, I will not determine, or whether his messenger. For the Prophet Zechariah, in his vision, saw Christ on a red horse, and behind him there were red horses speckled, that is, bay and white, Zechariah 1:8. To this judgment succeeds another, namely, famine, And how awful doth the Prophet describe the little effect which followed all judgments, where grace is not in the heart? I have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places, yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord, Amos 4:6. But, Reader! what a yet more awful judgment is that when, for the wickedness of a land, the Lord withdraws his Gospel, gives the land up to a perpetual barrenness of God's truths. Such a state the same Prophet describes, if the Reader would see it: Amos 8:9 to the end. But let God's people rejoice under all scantiness of the bread that perisheth in using, as long as they have the bread of life broken to them by the Lord himself, from day to day. In times of persecution in this land, the old saints of God used to say, that bread and water, with Christ and his Gospel, was delicious fare. And this proved that sweet scripture, and marked the Lord's distinguishing grace over his people, when the Lord God said: Behold, my servant shall eat, but ye shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty; behold my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed? I beg the Reader to turn to the scripture itself, for it is a sweet one, and let him read the whole, Isaiah 65:13 to the end.
(7) And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. (8) And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
Here, at the opening by Christ, of the fourth seal, we have the end, for the present, of the ministry of the Beasts and we hear no more of them until the pouring out of the Vials, at Revelation 15:7, and then, but one of them. I do not presume to speak decidedly concerning them, but by their kind invitation to John, at the opening of each seal, to come and see, I am inclined to consider them, as representing ministers in the Church. We find their number four, in their place as before, and again towards the close of this Book of God, worshipping, Revelation 19:4.
This pale horse, and death upon him, closeth up the judgments. Indeed, death, as it relates to the present world, is a final close to all. But here was the awfulness of this judgment, hell followed. The Lord had said by his servant the Prophet, that he would bring his four sore judgments upon Jerusalem; the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, Ezekiel 14:21. But here, the tremendous addition at the opening of this fourth seal, in hell following death, gives the finishing stroke to misery, and sums up all in everlasting woe!
(9) And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: (10) And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (11) And white robes were given unto everyone of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
The opening of this fifth seal by Christ, opens with one of the most interesting subjects our minds, under the influence of grace, can possibly conceive. I shall beg the Reader's indulgence, to be somewhat particular upon it.
And first: the cry of those that had been slain for the testimony of Jesus, is beautifully represented, as under the Altar. Now this proves to us, that on, the departure of the faithful from this world they enter among the spirits of just men made perfect. They are under the Altar.
Secondly. They are not unacquainted with the circumstances here below, but take part in all that concerns the Church. Hence their cry, for judging, and avenging Christ's cause, what an animating thought to the Church of God upon earth! Reader! think of the multitude of martyrs, who are looking over the battlements of heaven, beholding the exercises of the Lord's people here below, Surely, with the eye of faith we may behold them! Yea, with the ear of faith hear them calling upon us, to be faithful unto death, and God will give us also a crown of glory that fadeth not away! Be ye followers of us, who now through faith and patience, inherit the promises.
Thirdly. While we regard what is here said, of their cry to God, for avenging their blood; and the assurance they here received, that all should be fully done, in due season; let us learn, the highest lesson we can learn below, in the assurance, how much more the blood of Christ, yea, Christ in Person, having carried up his own blood before the throne, must plead for his redeemed, and the destruction of all his enemies. Oh! how safe and sure, how eternally safe and sure, are all the interests of the Church! How unalterably determined, is the everlasting ruin of all the enemies of our God, and his Christ!
When the Reader hath duly pondered these things, let him attend to the gracious answers the Lord gave to the cry of those souls, and the blessedness shown them.
First. Their souls were clothed with white robes, yea, everyone of them, had his own separate and distinct robe, as each soul hath his separate and distinct mansion. Jesus's garment of salvation, each redeemed soul must appear in. It is his justifying dress. It is his coronation, his wedding robe. By this Jesus owns his Church, in every individual instance of his people. So the Lord had said to John, of the few names he had in Sardis. And here we find it confirmed. They shall walk with me in white, saith the Lord, for they are worthy, Revelation 3:4.
Secondly. The Lord assigns a reason, for suspending the judgments they called for on their murderers. There were other, their fellow servants, to have the crown of martyrdom. And, therefore, until those men, ordained of old to this condemnation, had filled in the measure of their iniquity, and the Lord's people were ripened for glory, they must rest for a little season. Oh! what subjects of endless meditation and delight, arise out of this one view of the Lord's regard to his people. Did the ungodly but know wherefore they are spared, or did the Lord's people but call to mind, in ten thousand instances, the causes of suspension, in all the numberless cases they hear of, or meet with in the world; how would the one tremble, and the other in patience possess their souls?
Thirdly. Ponder well the Lord's answer, in another point of view, for the suspension of the destruction of their enemies; in that thousands yet unborn, of the Lord's people, were to arise, to whom those enemies were to be persecutors, and whose happiness was to be increased from such evils. What a subject is here unfolded, and which no man can fill in, of the unborn, the uncalled, the unawakened, of the Lord's hidden ones, all of which are given to Jesus, and which also he must bring. Even down to our times, and so on to the end of the world, there are Jesus's lambs of his fold, which must arise and be worried by wolves, as the Lord told the Jews. Some of them shall ye kill and crucify, and some of them scourge in jour synagogue, and persecute them from city to city, Matthew 23:34. know, therefore, they which are gone before must rest under the altar, until that their fellow servants and their brethren be brought home. Yea, it is on their account, that the world itself standeth!
Fourthly. Let not the Reader overlook that beautiful feature in this representation. The souls under the altar in, heaven, are fellow servants and brethren. So the Lord himself hath here called them; and it is our mercy to know it, and to keep it in remembrance, Neither are they dearer though in heaven, to our glorious Head, than we are, though here below on earth. All alike the Father's gift, and the Saviour's purchase, and the subjects of God the Spirit's regenerating grace. Oh! how ought the consciousness of this to endear Jesus to our hearts! Our Lord will not fully answer, the cries of his redeemed in heaven, though martyrs to his cause, until that he hath secured his redeemed upon earth, and brought them also home to glory. Reader! think of these things, and bless the Lord for such tokens of his love.
(12) And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; (13) And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. (14) And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (15) And 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 free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; (16) And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: (17) For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
Some have thought, that what is here said under the sixth seal, hath respect to the final judgment at the great day of God. And to be sure, the awful things which are here related seem, in the first view of the subject, to favor that opinion. But when it be considered, that there is another seal yet remaining to be opened, independently also of what hath not yet been brought forward, of the Trumpets and Vials, it must at once strike the mind with conviction, that however strong in allusion to the last day, the things here represented may be, it is impossible.
I do not presume upon this, or any other scripture, of doubtful signification, to speak in the least decidedly, but I venture to observe, that as it strikes me, the whole events here represented, in this strong figurative language, was only intended to point out the awful judgments which should take place, under the ministration of the sixth seal. According to the general calculation, as to the time of this sixth seal, there had only run out about three hundred years, when it was opened. And the Empire now becoming Christian, (that is in the profession of it.) the persecutions which then began against the true Church, though now arising from heresies instead of heathenism without, became more dreadful, if possible, than the former. It was somewhat about this period, that arose that heretic Arius, denying the Godhead of Christ; whose baleful influence hath showed its malignity in every period, from that time to the present. I venture therefore to believe, that what is here said under the several similitudes of an earthquake, the sun becoming black, and the moon as blood, and stars from heaven falling and the like, are intended to set forth the awful event, in a Christ-despising doctrine, such as in the present day, the world professing Christianity is remarkable for. And what figures more suited to speak the monstrous baseness and ingratitude in the foul dishonor shown to the Lord Jesus Christ, than, that at the view of which, the sun turns black, and the moon becomes red with blood? And the eventual consequences to the actors of this perfidious treatment of Christ, is as finely represented, in that their discovery when too late, of the glory of the Lord Jesus; and as set forth under all the alarms of their guilty souls, in calling to the mountains and the rocks to fall on them, to hide them, if possible, from the wrath of the Lamb? According to my view of this scripture, there appears a striking propriety in the whole, and nothing can be more suited to each other, than the guilt and the punishment. But having said thus much, I leave it with the Reader to make his own conclusion, under God's teaching.
Methinks I would wait in silent humble adoration, while my God and Savior opens the seals one by one, to make known to his Church the mysteries of his kingdom. And while I hear the voice of invitation, come and see! oh! for the Lord that calls to give grace also to hear, that I may understand those prophecies of our God.
Precious Lord Jesus! IS it not thou that I behold, going forth on the white horse crowned with victory, conquering, and to conquer? And do I not hear thee say, and my soul makes her cheerful responses to the same; As for those that will not I should reign over them, bring them hither, and slay them before me! Yes, Lord, the red horse of blood, and the black horse of famine, and the pale horse or death, with hell in the rear, are suitable to follow in the execution of thy judgments.
I bless my God for unfolding to his Church, the precious view of the souls under the Altar, beseeching the Lord, to avenge their blood on their enemies. May I learn many a sweet lesson here from! And when at any time, I am impatient under exercises, waiting for answers to prayer, here may I look up and learn, how to explain all seeming difficulties. If Jesus deferred the answer to them, how shall I complain? I here discover, that delay is not denial. There is a set time to favor Zion. And learn, O my soul, a sweeter lesson still. Abel's blood called for vengeance. The martyrs of my God plead to be avenged. But Jesus's blood for mercy. Oh what a thought to comfort a poor sinner!
Lord! what an awful account this Chapter closeth with, of those apostates under the sixth seal, and every other who deny Christ's Godhead, and cause even sun, moon, and stars to blush at their foul ingratitude. Surely their judgment is just. For to whom can they look for salvation, while they deny his power who alone can save. Think then my soul of thy safety and happiness, in having Christ for thy portion! Precious Lord Jesus, say to my soul, fear not, I am thy salvation!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Revelation 6". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany