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And I saw (κα ειδον). As in Revelation 4:1; Revelation 5:1. The vision unfolds without anything being said about opening the book and reading from it. In a more vivid and dramatic fashion the Lamb breaks the seals one by one and reveals the contents and the symbolism. The first four seals have a common note from one of the four ζωα and the appearance of a horse. No effort will be made here to interpret these seals as referring to persons or historical events in the past, present, or future, but simply to relate the symbolism to the other symbols in the book. It is possible that there is some allusion here to the symbolism in the so-called "Little Apocalypse" of Revelation 6:13; Revelation 6:24; Revelation 6:21. The imagery of the four horses is similar to that in Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8 (cf. Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 42:17). In the Old Testament the horse is often the emblem of war (Job 39:25; Psalms 76:6; Proverbs 21:31; Ezekiel 26:10). "Homer pictures the horses of Rhesus as whiter than snow, and swift as the wind" (Vincent).
When the Lamb opened (οτε ηνοιξεν το αρνιον). First aorist active indicative of ανοιγω. This same phrase recurs in rhythmical order at the opening of each seal (Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:3; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:7; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 6:12) till the last (Revelation 8:1), where we have οταν ηνοιξεν (οταν rather than οτε calling particular attention to it).
One (μιαν). Probably used here as an ordinal (the first) as in Matthew 28:1. See Robertson, Grammar, p. 671f.
Of (εκ). This use of εκ with the ablative in the partitive sense is common in the Apocalypse, as twice in this verse (εκ των, etc.). So ενος εκ των (one of the four living creatures) is "the first of," etc.
In a voice of thunder (εν φωνη βροντης). Old word used of John and James (Mark 3:17) and elsewhere in N.T. only John 12:29 and a dozen times in the Apocalypse.
Come (Ερχου). Present middle imperative of ερχομα, but with exclamatory force (not strictly linear). The command is not addressed to the Lamb nor to John (the correct text omits κα ιδε "and see") as in Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9, but to one of the four horsemen each time. Swete takes it as a call to Christ because ερχου is so used in Revelation 22:17; Revelation 22:20, but that is not conclusive.
And I saw and behold (κα ειδον κα ιδου). This combination is frequent in the Apocalypse (Revelation 4:1; Revelation 6:2; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 14:14; Revelation 19:11).
A white horse (ιππος λευκος). In Zechariah 6:1-8 we have red, black, white, and grizzled bay horses like the four winds of heaven, ministers to do God's will. White seems to be the colour of victory (cf. the white horse of the Persian Kings) like the white horse ridden by the Roman conqueror in a triumphant procession.
Had (εχων). Agreeing in gender and case with ο καθημενος.
A bow (τοξον). Old word (Zechariah 9:13 of a great bow), here only in N.T.
Was given (εδοθη). First aorist passive indicative of διδωμ.
A crown (στεφανος). See on Revelation 4:4 for this word.
He came forth (εξηλθεν). Second aorist active indicative of εξερχομα, either to come out or to go out (went forth).
Conquering (νικων). Present active participle of νικαω.
And to conquer (κα ινα νικηση). Purpose clause with ινα and the first aorist active subjunctive of νικαω. Here ως νικησων (future active participle with ως) could have been used. The aorist tense here points to ultimate victory. Commentators have been busy identifying the rider of the white horse according to their various theories. "It is tempting to identify him with the Rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:11, whose name is 'the Word of God'" (Swete). Tempting, "but the two riders have nothing in common beyond the white horse."
The second seal (την σφραγιδα την δευτεραν). "The seal the second." The white horse with his rider vanished from the scene bent on his conquering career.
A red horse (ιππος πυρρος). Old adjective from πυρ (fire), flame-coloured, blood-red (2 Kings 3:22), in N.T. only here and Revelation 12:3, like Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 6:2 (roan horse).
To take peace from the earth (λαβειν την ειρηνην εκ της γης). Second aorist active infinitive of λαμβανω, and here the nominative case, the subject of εδοθη (see verse Revelation 6:2), "to take peace out of the earth." Alas, how many red horses have been ridden through the ages.
And that they should slay one another (κα ινα αλληλους σφαξουσιν). Epexegetical explanatory purpose clause with ινα and the future active of σφαζω (Revelation 5:6) instead of the more usual subjunctive (verse Revelation 6:2). Cf. Robertson, Grammar, p. 998f. This is what war does to perfection, makes cannon fodder (cf. John 14:27) of men.
A great sword (μαχαιρα μεγαλη). Μαχαιρα may be a knife carried in a sheath at the girdle (John 18:10) or a long sword in battle as here. Ρομφαια, also a large sword, is the only other word for sword in the N.T. (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 19:15; Revelation 19:21).
A black horse (ιππος μελας). Lust of conquest brings bloodshed, but also famine and hunger. "The colour of mourning and famine. See Jeremiah 4:28; Jeremiah 8:21; Malachi 3:14, where mournfully is, literally, in black" (Vincent).
Had (εχων) as in verse Revelation 6:2.
A balance (ζυγον). Literally, a yoke (old word from ζευγνυμ, to join), of slavery (Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1), of teaching (Matthew 11:29), of weight or measure like a pair of scales evenly balancing as here (Ezekiel 5:1; Ezekiel 45:10). The rider of this black horse, like the spectral figure of hunger, carries in his hand a pair of scales. This is also one of the fruits of war.
As it were a voice (ως φωνην). "This use of ως, giving a certain vagueness or mysteriousness to a phrase, is one of the characteristics of the writer's style, e.g., Revelation 8:1; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 19:1; Revelation 19:6" (Beckwith). This voice comes from the midst of the four living creatures, "the protest of nature against the horrors of famine" (Swete).
A measure (χοινιξ). Old word for less than a quart with us, here only in N.T.
Of wheat (σιτου). Old word for wheat, a number of times in N.T., in Rev. only here and Revelation 18:13. This was enough wheat to keep a man of moderate appetite alive for a day.
For a penny (δηναριου). Genitive of price, the wages of a day laborer (Matthew 20:2), about eighteen cents in our money today.
Of barley (κριθων). Old word κριθη, usually in plural as here. Barley was the food of the poor and it was cheaper even in the famine and it took more of it to support life. Here the proportion is three to one (cf. 2 Kings 7:18). The proclamation forbids famine prices for food (solid and liquid).
Hurt thou not (μη αδικησηις). Prohibition with μη and the ingressive first aorist active subjunctive of αδικεω. See Revelation 7:3; Revelation 9:4 for αδικεω for injury to vegetable life. "The prohibition is addressed to the nameless rider who represents Dearth" (Swete). Wheat and barley, oil and the vine, were the staple foods in Palestine and Asia Minor.
A pale horse (ιππος χλωρος). Old adjective. Contracted from χλοερος (from χλοη, tender green grass) used of green grass (Mark 6:39; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 9:4), here for yellowish, common in both senses in old Greek, though here only in N.T. in this sense, greenish yellow. We speak of a sorrel horse, never of a green horse. Zechariah (Zechariah 6:3) uses ποικιλος (grizzled or variegated). Homer used χλωρος of the ashen colour of a face blanched by fear (pallid) and so the pale horse is a symbol of death and of terror.
His name was Death (ονομα αυτω ο θανατος). Anacoluthon in grammatical structure like that in John 3:1 (cf. Revelation 2:26) and common enough. Death is the name of this fourth rider (so personified) and there is with Death "his inseparable comrade, Hades (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 20:13)" (Swete). Hades (αιδης, alpha privative, and ιδειν, to see, the unseen) is the abode of the dead, the keys of which Christ holds (Revelation 1:18).
Followed (ηκολουθε). Imperfect active of ακολουθεω, kept step with death, whether on the same horse or on another horse by his side or on foot John does not say.
Over the fourth part of the earth (επ το τεταρτον της γης). Partitive genitive γης after τεταρτον. Wider authority (εξουσια) was given to this rider than to the others, though what part of the earth is included in the fourth part is not indicated.
To kill (αποκτεινα). First aorist active infinitive of αποκτεινω, explanation of the εξουσια (authority). The four scourges of Ezekiel 14:21 are here reproduced with instrumental εν with the inanimate things (ρομφαιαι, λιμω θανατω) and υπο for the beasts (θηριων). Death here (θανατω) seems to mean pestilence as the Hebrew does (λοιμος -- cf. λιμος famine). Cf. the "black death" for a plague.
Under the altar (υποκατω του θυσιαστηριου). "Under" (υποκατω), for the blood of the sacrifices was poured at the bottom of the altar (Leviticus 4:7). The altar of sacrifice (Exodus 39:39; Exodus 40:29), not of incense. The imagery, as in Hebrews, is from the tabernacle. For the word see Matthew 5:23, often in Rev. (Revelation 8:3; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 9:13; Revelation 11:1; Revelation 14:18; Revelation 16:7). This altar in heaven is symbolic, of course, the antitype for the tabernacle altar (Hebrews 8:5). The Lamb was slain (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 5:12) and these martyrs have followed the example of their Lord.
The souls (τας ψυχας). The lives, for the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), were given for Christ (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6).
Of the slain (των εσφαγμενων). See Revelation 5:6. Christians were slain during the Neronian persecution and now again under Domitian. A long line of martyrs has followed.
For the word of God (δια τον λογον του θεου). As in Revelation 1:9, the confession of loyalty to Christ as opposed to emperor-worship.
And for the testimony which they held (κα δια την μαρτυριαν ην ειχον). See also Revelation 1:9. Probably κα equals "even" here, explaining the preceding. The imperfect tense ειχον suits the repetition of the witness to Christ and the consequent death.
How long (εως ποτε). "Until when." Cf. Matthew 7:17; John 10:24.
O Master (ο δεσποτης). Nominative articular form, but used as vocative (δεσποτα) as in Revelation 4:11 (John 20:28). On δεσποτης (correlative of δουλος) see Luke 2:29. Here (alone in the Apocalypse) it is applied to God as in Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24, but to Christ in Judges 1:4; 2 Peter 2:1.
The holy and true (ο αγιος κα αληθινος). See Revelation 3:7 for these attributes of God.
Avenge our blood on them that dwell upon the earth (εκδικεις το αιμα ημων εκ των κατοικουντων επ της γης). This same idiom in Revelation 19:2 and see it also in Luke 18:7, "a passage which goes far to answer many questions in theodicy" (Swete). We find εκδικεω, late compound, used with εκ as here in Deuteronomy 18:19; 1 Samuel 24:13, but with απο in Luke 18:3. For επ της γης (upon the earth) see Revelation 3:10.
A white robe (στολη λευκη). Old word from στελλω, to equip, an equipment in clothes, a flowing robe (Mark 12:38). For the white robe for martyrs see Revelation 3:4; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13; Revelation 19:14.
That they should rest (ινα αναπαυσοντα). Sub-final clause with ινα and the future indicative (as in Revelation 3:9; Revelation 6:4) middle rather than the aorist middle subjunctive αναπαυσωντα of Aleph C.
Yet for a little time (ετ χρονον μικρον). Accusative of extension of time as in Revelation 20:3. Perhaps rest from their cry for vengeance and also rest in peace (Revelation 14:13). For the verb αναπαυω see on Matthew 11:28.
Until should be fulfilled (εως πληρωθωσιν). Future indefinite temporal clause with εως and the first aorist passive subjunctive of πληροω, to fill full (Matthew 23:32; Colossians 2:10), "until be filled full" (the number of), regular Greek idiom.
Which should be killed (ο μελλοντες αποκτεννεσθα). Regular construction of articular present active participle of μελλω (about to be, going to be) with the present passive infinitive of αποκτεννω, Aeolic and late form for αποκτεινω, to kill (also in Mark 12:5). John foresees more persecution coming (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:10).
There was a great earthquake (σεισμος μεγας εγενετο). "There came a great earthquake." Jesus spoke of earthquakes in his great eschatological discourse (Mark 13:8). In Matthew 24:29 the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Σεισμος is from σειω, to shake, and occurs also in Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:13; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18. The reference is not a local earthquake like those so common in Asia Minor.
As sackcloth of hair (ως σακκος τριχινος). Σακκος (Attic σακος), Latin saccus, English sack, originally a bag for holding things (Genesis 42:25; Genesis 42:35), then coarse garment of hair (τριχινος, old word from θριξ, here only in N.T.) clinging to one like a sack, of mourners, suppliants, prophets leading austere lives (Matthew 3:4; Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). Here the hair is that of the black goat (Isaiah 50:3). Cf. Joel 2:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Isaiah 13:10; Mark 13:24. See Ecclesiastes 12:2 for eclipses treated as symbols of old age. Apocalyptic pictures all have celestial phenomena following earthquakes.
As blood (ως αιμα). In Acts 2:20 we find Peter interpreting the apocalyptic eschatological language of Joel 2:31 about the sun being turned into darkness and the moon into blood as pointing to the events of the day of Pentecost as also "the great day of the Lord." Peter's interpretation of Joel should make us cautious about too literal an exegesis of these grand symbols.
Her unripe figs (τους ολυνθους αυτης). An old word (Latin grossi) for figs that grow in winter and fall off in the spring without getting ripe (Song of Solomon 2:11), here only in N.T. Jesus used the fig tree (Mark 13:28) as a sign of the "end of the world's long winter" (Swete). Cf. Isaiah 34:4; Nahum 3:12.
When she is shaken of a great wind (υπο ανεμου μεγαλου σειομενη). Present passive participle of σειω, "being shaken by a great wind." See Matthew 11:7 for the reed so shaken.
Was removed (απεχωρισθη). First aorist passive indicative of αποχωριζω, to separate, to part (Acts 15:39). "The heaven was parted."
As a scroll when it is rolled up (ως βιβλιον ελισσομενον). Present passive participle of ελισσω, old verb, to roll up, in N.T. only here (from Isaiah 34:4) and Hebrews 1:12 (from Psalms 102:27). Vivid picture of the expanse of the sky rolled up and away as a papyrus roll (Luke 4:17).
Were moved (εκινηθησαν). First aorist passive indicative of κινεω, to move.
Out of their places (εκ των τοπων αυτων). See also Revelation 16:20 for these violent displacements in the earth's crust. Cf. Nahum 1:5; Jeremiah 4:24. Jesus spoke of faith removing mountains (of difficulty) as in Mark 11:23 (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:2).
The princes (ο μεγιστανες). Late word from the superlative μεγιστος, in LXX, Josephus, papyri, in N.T. only in Mark 6:21; Revelation 6:15; Revelation 18:23, for the grandees, the persecuting proconsuls (Swete).
The chief captains (ο χιλιαρχο). The commanders of thousands, the military tribunes (Mark 6:21; Mark 19:18).
The rich (ο πλουσιο). Not merely those in civil and military authority will be terror-stricken, but the self-satisfied and complacent rich (James 5:4).
The strong (ο ισχυρο). Who usually scoff at fear. See the list in Revelation 13:16; Revelation 19:18. Cf. Luke 21:26.
Every bondman (πας δουλος)
and freeman (κα ελευθερος). The two extremes of society.
Hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains (εκρυψαν εαυτους εις τα σπηλαια κα εις τας πετρας των ορεων). Based on Isaiah 2:10; Isaiah 2:18. First aorist active indicative of κρυπτω with the reflexive pronoun. For the old word σπηλαιον see Matthew 21:13; Hebrews 11:38. Ορεων is the uncontracted Ionic form (for ορων) of the genitive plural of ορος (mountain).
They say (λεγουσιν). Vivid dramatic present active indicative, as is natural here.
Fall on us (Πεσατε εφ' ημας). Second aorist (first aorist ending) imperative of πιπτω, tense of urgency, do it now.
And hide us (κα κρυψατε ημας). Same tense of urgency again from κρυπτω (verb in verse Revelation 6:15). Both imperatives come in inverted order from Hosea 10:8 with καλυψατε (cover) in place of κρυψατε (hide), quoted by Jesus on the way to the Cross (Luke 23:30) in the order here, but with καλυψατε, not κρυψατε.
From the face of him that (απο προσωπου του, etc.). "What sinners dread most is not death, but the revealed Presence of God" (Swete). Cf. Genesis 3:8.
And from the wrath of the Lamb (κα απο της οργης του αρνιου). Repetition of "the grave irony" (Swete) of Revelation 5:5. The Lamb is the Lion again in the terribleness of his wrath. Recall the mourning in Revelation 1:7. See Matthew 25:41 where Jesus pronounces the woes on the wicked.
The great day (η ημερα η μεγαλη). The phrase occurs in the O.T. prophets (Joel 2:11; Joel 2:31; Zephaniah 1:14. Cf. Jude 1:6) and is here combined with "of their wrath" (της οργης αυτων) as in Zephaniah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:18; Zephaniah 2:3; Romans 2:5. "Their" (αυτων) means the wrath of God and of the Lamb put here on an equality as in Revelation 1:17; Revelation 22:3; Revelation 22:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16. Beckwith holds that this language about the great day having come "is the mistaken cry of men in terror caused by the portents which are bursting upon them." There is something, to be sure, to be said for this view which denies that John commits himself to the position that this is the end of the ages.
And who is able to stand? (κα τις δυνατα σταθηναι?). Very much like the words in Nahum 1:6; Malachi 3:2. First aorist passive infinitive of ιστημ. It is a rhetorical question, apparently by the frightened crowds of verse Revelation 6:15. Swete observes that the only possible answer to that cry is the command of Jesus in Luke 21:36: "Keep awake on every occasion, praying that ye may get strength to stand (σταθηνα, the very form) before the Son of Man."
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Revelation 6". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30