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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 6

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

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Verse 1

Rev 6:1. The Lamb began to open the book (or roll), and when the first seal was broken John heard a voice like thunder. That indicated a powerful voice was sounding that would demand attention. Accordingly one of the four creatures called to John to come and see. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Introduction. A summary of the seven seals. Verses 3-4--seal two: The red horse and the rider stood for bloodshed, the symbol of the color red, representing the persecutor waging war against the church, and the Jews against their own flesh-the unbelieving Jews versus those who professed faith in Christ-an extension of Mat 24:10. Verses 5-6--seal three: The black horse and the rider represented distress and calamity, the sign of the color black, signifying here the dreadful famine in the land, in the signs of the balances and the scales, an enlargement of Mat 24:7. Verses 7-8--seal four: The pale horse and the rider, the color of death, but it was not martyrdom. It was the scene of carnage, of deadly pestilence, with all the ravishing conditions which prevailed during the siege of Jerusalem, foretold in Mat 24:6-8. Verses 9-11--seal five: The souls under the altar were the martyrs asking for the avenging judgment they were later seen receiving, in Rev 20:4, where the same souls, beholden in martyrdom, under the altar of chapter 6, were enthroned in the victory of chapter 20--a further fulfillment of Mat 24:9. Verses 12-17--seal six: The earthquake was a symbol of the shaking of the persecuting powers in the predicted upheaval, of revolt, and of wars, in fulfillment of Mat 24:29, in signs of the blackening sun, the falling stars, and the scrolled heavens--all of which were the portents of the destruction of the existing persecuting powers which were concluded in the scenes attending the day of wrath to come upon them, and described in the closing verses of chapter six. Verse 1. THE OPENING OF THE SEVEN SEALS The ominous announcement--Rev 6:1. The Lamb opened: Christ the Lamb, the only one able to open, begins in order the opening of the seven seals. The noise of thunder: The voice of "one of the creatures (beings)" announced the opening, with a noise like thunder. It signified the ominous import of the announcement, the awesome note of what was about to be revealed. Come and see: This meant that the announcer was ready to show unto John what was to occur successively in the struggle with and overthrow of persecuting powers.

Verse 2

Rev 6:2. Horses were used in war and it could mean either spiritual or carnal war depending upon the connection in which it is used. The rider on the horse had both a crown and a bow, which signified that he was a person of authority and that he would engage in war. The rider represents Christ who was fighting for the truth through the instrumentality of His disciples. The white horse agrees with the phrase conquering and to conquer, for the Gospel won many battles over the foe in the first years of the church. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 2. The mounted horses - Horse #1--Rev 6:2. The horse is portrayed in the Old Testament as the noblest of animals. (Gen 49:17; Job 39:19-25) The beasts of burden were oxen and asses, horses were warriors, reserved for the arsenals of war, used by kings, either mounted or harnessed to chariots. (Exo 9:23; Est 6:8) Solomon imported them from Syria and Egypt. (1Ki 4:26; 1Ki 10:26; 1Ki 10:29; 2Ch 1:14-17; 2Ch 9:25) They were here in the apocalypse employed under different colors to represent the character of the event as Zec 1:8; Zec 6:2-6, and to signify the fleetness and the strength to represent angels. Before Solomon's time no horsemen were mentioned in the armies of Israel. The kings were forbidden to keep many horses (Deu 17:16), as a military disarmament plan to prevent oppression and tyranny; and as a domestic policy to prevent unnecessary burdens on the people by the imposition of taxes; and further to discourage trust in horses and chariots by Israel's kings, who were exhorted to put their trust in God. (Psa 20:7) Solomon had horses in great number, which he kept for pomp rather than war. He is said to have had forty thousand stalls for his horses and chariots. It appears that Solomon specialized in horses and wives ! Among the heathen, horses were consecrated to the sun idol (2Ki 23:11); for the worship of the sun by the easterns prevailed for many centuries, and the horse was consecrated to that deity over all the east. The sun-god was represented as riding his chariot drawn by the swiftest and most beautiful horses, completing every day the journey from east to west, for the communication of light to all mankind. It is worthy of note that the secrets and ceremonies of some fraternal orders today, a certain one in particular, based on the ancient mysteries surrounding the god and goddess of the sun, Osiris and Isis, are not far removed from this ancient deism. At one time the Lord forbade the kings of Judah to multiply horses as an embargo measure to prevent trade between Judah and Israel, fearing that by means of commerce, as a system of communication, Israel would become infected with the Egyptian idolatries. In the Old Testament apocalypses, as in Revelation, the symbols of the horse and its rider were the most graphic, if not the most moving imagery. The striking resemblance in the vision of horses, in the first chapter of Zechariah, to that of the four horses in the sixth chapter of Revelation, parallels the historical events in the fortunes of Old Testament Israel with the corresponding experiences of the New Testament church. The white horse (the first seal)--Rev 6:2. "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." The white horse and its rider were a symbol of the invincible Lord; riding a white horse was the symbol of majesty in a war of victory. He (the Christ) that sat on him had a bow: The bow was for distance signifying a long conflict; the sword symbolized the clash of combat in the surge of battle. In the ancient armor, the arms of war were the shield, the sword, the spear and the bow. The bow was the instrument for shooting the arrow. This slender combustible missile shot from the bow was the chief dependence in attack and defence. David refers to "the sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper." (Psa 120:4) The fire from combustible juniper wood was conveyed on the arrow tip to its target, and became a symbol of terror from God. (Psa 38:2; Job 6:4) Along with lightning, thunder and famine, it was employed as a symbol of divine judgment. (2Sa 22:15) As a metaphor of the penetrating power of truth the arrow symbolized the word of God. David refers to "sharp" arrows in hearts causing men to yield to "the sceptre of righteousness." (Psa 45:4-7) In the same figure the bow stands for fidelity and strength, as in Gen 49:24, and Psa 44:6. In the hand of the rider of the white horse the bow was the symbol of all these characters of conflict. A crown was given unto him: This is a significant description as it is noteworthy that Vespasian who initiated, and Titus who executed, the Jewish war both received the imperial crown. He went forth conquering, and to conquer: The conquest of Christ was not spontaneous, intermittent or spasmodic; it did not consist in single victories; it was a continuous, progressive conquest of hearts which no might could defeat.

Verse 3

Rev 6:3. At the breaking of each of the first four seals the event was announced by one of the four beasts (or creatures). Come and see means to call the attention of John to what was about to be revealed. Rev 6:4. The next horse was red which denotes bloodshed. Accordingly the rider was given power to take peace from the earth. This was fulfilled by the persecutions the Roman Empire began to wage against the Christians when their teaching began to show up with greater success. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 3-4. The red horse (second seal)--Rev 6:3-4. The color of each horse corresponds to the mission of its rider. In the symbol of colors red stands for bloodshed; the rider was the persecutor waging war against Christ and his church. This rider had power, and political authority, to take peace from the earth. This symbolized the dwelling place of the nations. The statement that they should kill one another, meant the war of the Jews against Jews, their own flesh and blood kindred. This phase of events was described in Mat 24:10 in foretelling the Jewish persecutions, the hostilities of the unbelieving Jews against their Jewish kinsmen who professed faith in Christ. And there was given unto him a great sword. To the rider of the red steed of bloodshed and war, a great sword was given, in contrast with the bow, signifying a closer, bitter, relentless and bloody struggle. It was an intensified view of the events in successive symbols. The sword has connotations of both civil authority and military might. Even when it is used as a metaphor for the word of God it is a function of war against sin in the soul and the rebellion of the heart against the will of God. (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12) Moses used the sword as a metaphor of war. "I will punish you for your sins, I will bring the sword upon you," (Lev 26:24-25), which meant that God would cause war to come upon them. "Ye shall be delivered into hands of enemies," he said. Paul used the sword to signify the authority of government. "For he beareth not the sword in vain, for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Rom 13:4) God has ordained the rightful power of government to punish evildoers and defend the good. Jesus used the sword to symbolize capital punishment. "Put up thy sword into its place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Mat 26:52) They that take the sword by their own authority, assuming unto themselves the prerogative of vengeful justice, deserve to be put to death by the sword of authority. It is stated in Gen 9:6 : "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." That was and yet is the universal law of requital. The great sword given to the rider of the red horse was not the sword of government, but the sword of persecution. It was a "great" sword in significance, the survival of the church was involved, the gospel was at stake. It was great in extent--the whole Jewish and Roman world were drawing the sword against the church. It was a great sword in effect--resulting in the martyrdom of the followers of Christ, who would not yield to the coercion of conscience, when their testimony for the truth was sealed by the blood of witnesses; who trusted to the power of the truth, against the sword of persecution, for the success of the cause of the Lamb; and for the universal expansion of Christianity through the blood of its adherents.

Verse 5

Rev 6:5. The third seal was broken and the announcement was made for John to come and see. This time lie saw a black horse which symbolized a condition of famine or shortage of food. The same subject was further indicated by the pair of balances that the rider held in his hand. It denoted that the necessities of life would be measured out to the people. Rev 6:6. Wheat and barley are necessities of life, and the great price that is indicated by the figures shows that it was to be a time of scarcity, which is generally the case after a siege of warfare. Oil and mine are not necessary as articles of food, but are helpful as agencies of relief in times of distress. In the midst of the hardships the Lord predicted some relief would be afforded through these articles. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 5-6. The black horse (third seal)--Rev 6:5-6. The black horse was the color of distress, the portent of terror in the approaching calamity. It compares with the Old Testament figure in Joe 2:6 : "The people shall be much pained, all faces gather blackness"; and in Nah 2:10 : "The faces of them all gather blackness"; and in Jer 8:21 : "For the hurt of my people am I hurt, I am black." Jud 1:13 refers to the "blackness of darkness forever." It is the picture of the grim, dread calamity of famine in the land. The balances in the hand of the rider were scales and measures and indicated the scarcity in the land; the strict and small allowance of food to be issued by minute measure or exact weight with legislated care. It compares with Mat 24:7, where Jesus foretold the famine that prevailed during the siege of Jerusalem. The voice in the midst of the four beasts (or beings) was in repetition of the voices heard in the visions, and impressed the hidden source of the revelations, adding to the portentous element of its apocalyptic character. The sound of this voice came from the midst of the four beings; hence, from within deep recesses of the throne, since the beings were in the midst of the throne; it was a voice of solemn authority, requiring reverence and heed. The measures of wheat and barley for a penny were according to the standard of the time. A measure of wheat was equal to approximately one quart. The penny is a translation of the Greek denarius, which the Bible Dictionaries say was equivalent to fifteen or twenty cents, and represented a regular full day's wages. The price for a measure of wheat, or a quart, in this vision amounted to a whole day's wages, and was therefore an extortionate price, the payment of a full day's work. (Mat 20:2) Three measures of barley were less than a gallon for a day's wages, which indicates the extreme scarcity in the usually common and plentiful sources of food. The command to hurt not the oil and the wine was addressed to the rider of the black horse, holding the scales and measures, not to suppress the oil and the wine. The oil was an extract from olives and spices, having many uses in both the Old and New Testaments. It was used in the preparation of food (Exo 29:2; Lev 2:4); for illumination, or lamps (Exo 25:6; Mat 25:3); for medicinal remedies (Isa 1:6; Mar 6:13); for a divine confection in the various legal and religious ceremonies and appointments. (Exo 30:25; Eze 28:14). The use of oil signified joy; the omission of it was a token of sorrow. (Psa 92:10; 2Sa 14:2; Mat 6:17) The wine has been the subject of sundry and divers views, based on variations of the Hebrew and Greek words; but it is a well known fact that the characteristic common to all wine is that of an exhilarating beverage. Its misuse is severely condemned in both testaments and in some cases and places expressly forbidden. The word is used to denote abundance of temporal good things (Gen 27:28-37); and as a type of spiritual blessings (Isa 55:1); and as alleviation of trouble and sorrow (Pro 31:6). In the vision of the red horse, the voice commanded the rider not to hurt the oil and the wine, not to limit or ration the oil and the wine; though famine would dissipate all other commodities, oil and wine would be undiminished. It was evidently the symbol of the providential alleviation of suffering and mitigation of sorrow--with oil and wine he would bind up their wounds. It was the voice of promise in the midst of the living creatures, from within the throne, that the ransomed of the Lord should come to Zion with songs of everlasting joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing would flee away.

Verse 7

Rev 6:7. No description is given of the voice of the beasts (living creatures) after the first one. But in each case (up to the fourth) the call to attention is made to John that he would be sure to see what was about to be revealed. Rev 6:8. When the fourth seal was broken John saw a pale horse which indicates death. That calmity would come first as a result of the terrible famine which the war had brought about, and it was made worse by the persecutions that were fostered by the Pagan Roman Empire. Death and hell are named in the order they would observe in their occurrence. The word hell is from Hades which is the abode of departed spirits. It was logical therefore to name them in the order as stated. Power . . . over the fourth part of the earth. God never did suffer the enemy to exterminate completely the victims attacked. The general purpose of the enemy was to kill. The means by which it might be accomplished we-re various, such as with the sword and hunger. With either of these the death would be a direct result of the means used. With death might seem a meaningless phrase unless it is understood that it refers to some indirect means such as a pestilence. Another means of causing the death of the Lord's people was to expose them to vicious beasts as was done in the arenas of Rome. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 7-8. The pale horse (fourth seal)--Rev 6:7-8. The color of pale was the symbol of death. This seal is specifically called a death procession, but was not a martyr scene. It signifies death by the destructive forces of the sword (war); of hunger (famine); of death (pestilence or disease); and of wild beasts (devoured or ravished). By the sword--as the instrument employed by the rider of the pale horse to accomplish his work of destruction--he is represented as having power to kill. It symbolized the weapon of war waged against Jerusalem. Hunger is the blight of famine, and is descriptive of the mass starvation that prevailed during the siege of Jerusalem. Pestilence is the terror of death by ravishing disease, which also prevailed in the destruction and siege of Jerusalem. The beasts of this symbol do not refer to wild animals, as usually considered, but to cannibalism, as men turned beasts to ravish and devour each other and even to eat the flesh of their children. It occurred during the siege of Jerusalem, according to Jesus in Mat 24:6-8 and according to the eye witness accounts of Josephus and Pliny. It is declared that death and hell followed the rider of the pale horse. The word is hades, and refers to the domain of death, the realm of the departed, the unseen world of disembodied spirits, the subterranean abode of the dead. There are important distinctions in the uses of hell in the old English text. To translate Gehenna and Hades in the same word hell has had the effect of obliterating the difference between the place of eternal torment and the temporary abode of the dead. Since the descent of Christ into Hades, as described by the psalmist David, in Psa 16:10 and by the apostle Peter in Act 2:29, no one prepared for the eventuality of death need fear entrance into this realm nor the passage through it. He who "was dead and is alive," holds "the keys of death and hades," and from that fear he delivers us. (Heb 2:14) The rider of the pale horse was death, and hades was his companion--it followed with him. They were joined together as associates in the dark and ghastly mission of grim Reapers, in the role assigned to them in these seals. To Death and Hades was given power over fourth part of earth: To the rider Death, and his colleague Hades, this power was given by the four creatures; it was the authority to kill by the means named--war, famine, pestilence and ravishment over the fourth part of the earth. The earth is the place of the nations in the vision; and this assignment is made by the fourth beast in the fourth seal, to the fourth rider, of the fourth horse, and his division of work was a fourth part in this pageant of devastation. Elsewhere in the scenes are found the expressions third part and tenth part, apparently intended as proportionate figures of the vast destruction, but without geographical or mathematical significance. The scene of the four horses and riders is a panorama of the war on Jerusalem in a fourfold set of events, an extension of twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. They represent one set of events, not separate figures for separated periods or ages of the world, such as war in one age, famine in another century, carnage in another generation, and with a final fantastic millennium in the end of the world. It is a combined series fulfilled in one period as foretold by Jesus in Mat 24:34. The conquest of the victorious rider of the white horse through the bow could not be accomplished without the war on Jerusalem. The red horse of war could not perform without the black horse of famine, or without the pale horse of death in immediate pursuit. To separate the seals by centuries of time is to destroy the entire imagery. The records of Mat 24:1-51, Mar 13:1-37, and Luk 21:1-38, concerning Jerusalem, are counterparts of the seals of Revelation. The works of Josephus on the Palestinian wars give historical fulfillment in the account of the bloody war of the Jews and the siege of Jerusalem. The historical parallels in the history of the Roman empire by Edward Gibbon is a virtual commentary on the book Revelation, in the portion covering the period of the Roman war against Jerusalem. Truly, these things must have shortly come to pass, and verily was the time at hand.

Verse 9

Rev 6:9. This verse brings to the fifth seal but nothing is said by either of the four creatures. Evidently by this time John's interest had been so centered on the drama being enacted before him that it was not necessary to call his attention. He was shown an altar because this is a book of symbols that are used to denote some literal facts. The present symbol is drawn from the temple of the Jews in which the altar was the center of their worship. At the bottom of the altar the blood of the sacrifices was poured, the bodies having been laid on the altar to be burned. (See Lev 4:7.) From this imagery it was fitting to represent the Christians as victims that had been sacrificed to the cruelty of their persecutors, and also to picture their souls as being poured out at the foot of the altar. It is interesting to note that the bodies only had been put on the altar which left the souls still alive and able to speak intelligently. (See Mat 10:28.) The word for is used twice which is from the Greek word DIA. The Englishman's Greek New Testament renders this word "because of." The point is that these Christians had been killed "because of" their defense of the word of God. It is the same word that is used in chapter 1:9 where John was banished to the isle of Patmos "for" (because of) the word of God. Hence both John and these Christians who had been slain were martyrs, because the word means one who is faithful to the word of God regardless of threatened consequences. Rev 6:10. The witnesses whose souls John saw (he was able to see a soul because he himself was "in the Spirit" --chapter 1:10) were calling for vengeance to be put on the ones who had caused their mistreatment. Rev 6:11. Before replying to their cry with the explanation of the stitua-tion, they were given present consolation in the form of white robes. That indicated their standing of favor with God for chapter 3:4 shows white as a symbol of worthiness in His sight. It was then told them that they would be avenged after a while, namely, when some of their brethren should be killed. As they were means they would be killed "for" (because of) the word of God. This was fulfilled as reported in chapter 20:4 which will be commented upon when we come to that passage. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 9-11. Souls under the altar (fifth seal)--Rev 6:9-11. The scene: Here is the first glimpse of the martyrdom pageant which was reopened in the twentieth chapter with the grand finale of victory. It is the tribulation of Matthew twenty-four in extended form, an enlargement of Mat 24:9 and Luk 21:16; depicting the supreme sufferings of those who were companions "in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ," during the apostolic age, in the wake of the war on Jerusalem and the persecutions of Christians. The altar: The material altar was a structure appropriated exclusively to the offering of sacrifices. (Gen 8:20) Spiritually it is applied to Christ as the Christian's altar upon which spiritual offerings are made. (Heb 13:10) The souls of slain: In this martyr-scene the victims were sacrificed on the altar of the cause of Christ for which they were offered or slain. The word slain is connected with the offering of victims (Act 7:42); and is descriptive of Christ (Heb 13:1-25); and of the Lamb in Rev 5:6 Rev 5:9 Rev 5:12 of this vision. John saw souls of the slain. In the Old Testament the blood, which was the life (Gen 9:4), was poured at the base of, or under, the altar (Lev 4:7); and it stood for the offering of life which is in the blood ( Lev 17:11). The souls of this altar scene are represented as the sacrifices of life in the aggregate slain for the word of God as the victims of the testimony which they held. The souls under the altar: As the figurative altar of this vision signifies martyrdom, the phrase under the altar describes the scene of defeat. The cause for which they were offered was represented as being despised and defeated. But it was temporary, because the same souls were removed from beneath the altar of chapter 6, and elevated to the thrones in chapter 20, signifying the resurrection of the cause for which they had died, by the victory of the white horse and its rider over all the portents of the seven seals. They cried with great voice: It was the voice of righteous blood rising up to heaven, to be heard throughout the whole earth, as the blood of Abel cried to God "from the ground" (Gen 4:10) , and representative of "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of Abel," to include the blood of all the slain and martyred victims of the impending persecutions, all of which was predicted in Mat 23:35; Mat 24:9, and here depicted in the fifth seal of Rev 6:9-11. How long, 0 Lord how long: The word "lord is variously applied to kings, (Dan 1:10; Act 25:26); to rulers with authority (Dan 2:10); to princes and nobles (Dan 5:1; Mar 6:21); to tyrants (Isa 26:13); to a husband (Gen 18:12); to masters (Joh 15:15); to Jesus Christ, as Lord of all (Psa 110:1, Act 10:36); and to God, who is over all (Psa 100:3). It is used in this scene as a master, the ownership of a servant; and refers to God. This prayer of the martyrs is addressed to God for judgment against persecutors, asking here for what they received in the scene of Rev 20:4. Dost thou not judge and avenge our blood: This was not a vindictive outcry, but a judicial petition, calling on the Judge of all the earth, whose prerogative it is to exercise avenging judgment (Rom 12:19), and who surely will "avenge his own who cry unto him." (Luk 18:7-8) On them that dwell on the earth: The earth of these visions is the place or location of nations; it is not a reference here to the people of the earth, upon whom no vengeance was asked, but specifically those persecuting nations personified in their rulers. Compare Zec 12:9; Mat 24:29-31 and Luk 21:25-28, in specific reference to the post-destruction period of Jerusalem--the redemption and the retribution of history presents a convincing parallel on the period of the Revelation visions. The white robes were an assurance of victory--Rev 9:7 Rev 13:7. The word rest means to wait in patience and hope-- Luk 21:19; Luk 21:28. The expression little season (time) limits the period, and compares with Mat 24:22, "except those days should be shortened"; also Luk 21:22 on the "days of vengeance." The time was extended to include that part of their fellow servants and brethren that should be killed in the later successive events. There could be no premature act of divine interposition. It should be fulfilled according to seals--that is the events of the vision completed. Again, the apocalypse is parallel with Mat 24:34 : "This generation shail not pass till all these things be fulfilled"; and Mat 23:36 : "All these things shall come upon this generation"; and Luk 21:22 : "For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled." The identity of the period of the seals of Rev 6:1-17 with the events of Mat 24:1-51 is unmistakable, as referring to, symbolic of, and fulfilled in, the destruction of Jerusalem.

Verse 12

Rev 6:12. Following the opening of the fifth seal John saw some of the results of persecution, and it had been brought against Christians by Pagan (heathen) Rome. But there came a change in the general conditions. The emperor Constantine professed to be converted to Christianity, and it caused him to make many reverses in the activities of men in high places. The statements through the rest of this chapter are worded as if John saw the works of creation undergo radical changes. Such is to be expected in a book written with symbols. Hence the earthquake and darkening of the heavenly lights are tokens of the disturbances in the government. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 12. The shaking of the nations (sixth seal)--Rev 6:12-17. The judgments depicted in this seal indicate a response to the plea of the souls under the altar in the fifth seal. The representations, symbols and language are so similar to the descriptions of Mat 24:29-31 as to be identical in their significance. It describes the coming of the Son of man after the tribulation mentioned in the verses before it, as the sixth seal of Rev 6:1-17 joins with the contents of the fifth seal before it. The divine visitations in the signs of terrestrial upheavals and celestial disturbances form an identical imagery. The comparison is impressive, if not conclusive evidence of their fulfillment in the same series of events. 1. There was a great earthquake--Rev 6:12. In all of these scenes the earth is the place of the nations. The earthquake is the symbol of revolution, the shaking up of the nations in their various places. It is the figure of the agitations, upheavals, resulting in the revolutions and wars of Mat 24:29. It is the symbol of divine judgment on the nations persecuting the cause of the Lamb. The same signal of the earthquake is found in the Old Testament prophecies of Isa 29:6, in the former judgments on Judah and Jerusalem. It has the same adaptations and similar applications, in Mat 24:6-7, describing the wars in the tributaries of Rome and all over Palestine, Galilee, Samaria, 177 A.D. 66, preceding the destruction of Jerusalem. 2. The sun black, the moon blood--Rev 6:12. These exact metaphors were employed by the prophet Isaiah to signify the darkness that was then to settle over the Babylonian people in the destruction of their city, Babylon. (Isa 13:10) The same figures of speech were adapted by Jesus to describe the end of the Jewish state which resulted from the destruction of Jerusalem, and of their theocracy in the demolition of the temple. (Mat 24:27-29) The figurative description is appropriated in the sixth seal of Revelation as a preview of the divine visitations on the persecuting powers.

Verse 13

Rev 6:13. Stars of heaven refer to men in high places who lost much of their power by the changes that Constantine was making. Untimely figs means fruit that is not ripe, yet it was shaken loose by the revolution going on in the government. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 13. 3. The stars of heaven fell unto the earth--Rev 6:13. The downfall of Jewish authorities, rulers, and officials of government is here symbolized. The same signs are used in Isa 13:10 in the prophetic description of the fall of the Babylonian rulers. The princes and nobles of the Babylonian kingdom were called stars in Dan 8:10, and were said to be "cast down"; and in Dan 12:3 God's people were said to shine "as stars forever." 4. As a fig tree casting untimely figs when shaken by mighty wind--Rev 6:13. The fig tree was the most familiar fruit bearing tree of scripture illustrations. The first pair clothed their nakedness with fig leaves. (Gen 3:7) The universal benefits of the new covenant were envisioned by Malachi as "every man under his vine and under his fig tree." (Mic 4:4) The desolation of Nineveh is compared by Nahum to the ripe fig falling from the tree that is shaken. (Nah 3:12) The dissolution of the enemies of God's people is described by Isaiah to the leaf falling from the vine and to a falling fig from a tree. (Isa 34:4) The rejection of the Jews was insinuated by Jesus in the cursing of the fruitless fig tree. (Mat 21:19) So the maledictions about to fall upon the persecutors of the Lamb's followers all symbolized by the casting, or forcible falling, of figs from the tree "when she is shaken of a mighty wind"--the wind of divine wrath. Isaiah compares the withholding of divine judgments against Ephraim as the staying of "his rough wind" (Isa 27:4); and Jeremiah prophesied that a "full wind" would come upon Jerusalem, "not to fan, not to cleanse," but as a judgment to execute "sentence against them." (Jer 4:11-12) So this apocalyptic seal makes the casting of the fig from the tree, "when shaken of a mighty wind," a portent of the destruction that was reserved for the persecutors of the Lamb's people.

Verse 14

Rev 6:14. The heaven refers to the region that covers the earth, used here as a symbol of the great domain in which important men ruled with selfish interests. The disappearance of this reign of selfishness is likened to a scroll that is rolled up and laid away. Mountains and isles in symbolic language means seats of government, and these began to be altered by the revolutionary work of Constantine. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 14. 5. The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled-- Rev 6:14. The word heaven here refers to the seats of government, the powers of dominion. The persecuting powers would depart, fold up, as a scroll, and roll back. Using the same figure in describing the fall of Babylon, Isaiah said "the host of heaven shall be dissolved and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll." (Isa 34:4) The disintegration of the enemies of the church was also foretold in the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah by the use of the same figures as John employed in the imagery of Revelation; and it is again comparable to the Lord's pronouncement concerning the events after the fall of Jerusalem, that with a great sound of a trumpet, he would send his messengers to "gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other"--(Mat 24:31) -a description of expansion of the gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem and the downfall of Judaism. And in Mat 24:34, the Lord said with the emphasis of Verily I say unto you that "this generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled." Here is the blanket proof that these events belonged to that time, that they pertained to the church and the nations of the persecution period and not to a distant future of far and remote centuries. 6. Every mountain and island were moved out of their places--Rev 6:14. This is another symbolic expression to designate the divine visitations on the persecuting powers. Figuratively the mountains denoted places of authority in a kingdom (Amo 4:1) , and the powerful concentration of enemies (Isa 41:15). The island denotes the inhabitants of the sea, from over the sea, or any land bordering the sea; and the prophets referred to the Gentile peoples as the "isles of the Gentiles" and "isles of the sea." In the imagery of this sixth seal mountains and islands --both Jewish and Gentile persecuting authorities, Palestinian and Romans--would be overthrown, moved out of their places, their power dissipated. Pronouncing judgment on Tyrus for oppressing Jerusalem, Ezekiel said the isles would "shake" and "tremble" at her fall and "all the isles of the sea shall be troubled at thy departure." (Eze 26:15-18) So of these Jewish and Gentile authorities "after the tribulation of those days." Jesus said "the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." (Mat 24:29)

Verse 15

Rev 6:15. The various great persons named in this verse are the men in high position who had been holding uninterrupted sway over their people. As they began to see the fading of their domination it filled them with terror. Such an attitude is symbolized by an attempt to find hiding places in dens and among the rocks. Rev 6:16. In their state of fear they would prefer being put out of the conflict, even if the mountains would tumble down upon them. Hide us . . . from the face of the Lamb. These men who had held sway for so long were made to realize that the change was brought about by the influence of the religion their emperor had espoused. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 15-16. 7. "And the kings of the earth, and the great men . . . said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne. . . . For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"--Rev 6:15-16. This is a quotation from Hosea describing the men of high places--kings, nobles, warriors, captains and conquerors-- all of whom were to be humbled with men of low station, calling to the mountains for cover. In pronouncing doom on Jerusalem Jesus quoted Hos 10:8, as recorded by Luke: "Daughters of Jerusalem weep not for me but weep for your children. For behold the days are coming . . . they shall begin to say to the mountains 'Fall on us'; and to the hills 'cover us'."--(Luk 23:28-30) Since the quotation in Rev 6:16 and Luk 23:30 are from the same prophecy of Hos 10:8, it is the Lord's own application of its fulfillment in those events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem, and it is therefore solid evidence which cannot be controverted that the seals of Revelation are not now future.

Verse 17

Rev 6:17 : Great day of his wrath does not refer to the last great day of judgment, for the book is not that far along in the world drama. It is the day in which these overbearing men in high places in the pagan government of Rome, came to realize the effects that the religion of Christ was bringing as a punishment upon them. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 17. 8. For the great day of his wrath is come and who shall be able to stand--Rev 6:17. As the previous verse is a direct quotation from Hosea, this last verse of the sixth seal is an allusion, if not a quotation, of Nah 1:5-6 : "The mountains quake at him, the earth burned at his presence . . . who can stand before his indignation? Who can abide his fierce anger? His fury is poured out . . . the rocks are thrown down by him." The Revelation passages are connected by quotation and the meaning is evident. The appeal of the great and mighty was for covert from the face of Him that sat on the throne and from the Lamb who was in the midst of the throne, which means that both God and Christ joined in the events of visitation in this pageant of retributive judgment on the nations. It places the passage where it belongs, not to the final judgment nor to a future procession of events, but to the period of the struggle and triumph of the early church with and over the Jewish and Roman persecutors of the apostolic and post-apostolic period.
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 6". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/revelation-6.html. 1952.
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