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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Revelation 6

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 6:1. And I saw. This word ‘saw’ is to be taken absolutely, as in Revelation 6:2, where it is repeated.

when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals. We have no right to translate the original word for ‘one’ in this and also in the next clause, by the words ‘the first’ At chap. Revelation 4:7, where the living creatures are described, the proper expressions for the first, the second, the third, and the fourth are used. Whether, therefore, the living creatures now meet us in one same order as that in which they are mentioned there, it is hardly possible to say. The probability is that they do; out that alone will not entitle us to find a special connection between each of the four and the vision introduced in answer to its ‘cry,’ as if the lion called for subjugation, the bull-calf for sacrificial slaughter, the man for mourning, and the eagle for tearing the prey. It is enough to say that the visions are introduced with peculiar propriety as an answer to the cry of the living creatures. These beings represent redeemed creation, and it is upon the world that judgment is to fall. This last consideration also shows us that it is a mistake to imagine that the living creatures are mentioned because they are connected with a throne of grace. They are emblems of judgment, not of grace (see on chap. Revelation 4:7); and judgment is about to be executed. The living creature cries ‘Come,’ not ‘Come and see.’ In the latter case the cry would be addressed to the Seer. It is really addressed to Jesus (comp. chap. Revelation 22:17; Revelation 22:20). The cry is answered.


Verses 1-17

With the beginning of this chapter we enter upon the fourth or leading section of the Apocalypse, extending to chap. Revelation 18:24. The section contains what had been described in chap. Revelation 4:1 as ‘the things which must come to pass.’ Chaps. 4 and 5 have been only preparatory to these ‘things:’ now we come to the things themselves. Here, therefore, the Apocalypse in the stricter sense of the word may be properly said to begin. The object of the section is to unfold the great principles which shall mark the history of the Church in her struggle with the world, throughout the whole period of the present Dispensation. We are to behold the ‘Son of man’ (chap. Revelation 1:13), the Priest and King of His Church, meeting and overcoming His people’s foes, establishing His own reign of truth and righteousness, preserving His saints amidst all the sorrows and persecutions which they meet while they follow in His steps, bringing them out even of the degenerate Church herself, and finally conducting them to the perfect happiness of the New Jerusalem. The reader must observe that throughout the whole of this section we have to deal with principles, not with particular historical events. This will become clearer as we proceed; but even at the outset it is necessary to fix the thought firmly in the mind. No single detail of future history will be presented to our view. We shall see only in successive pictures the great relations subsisting between God and man in the present preparatory scene, the relation of the glorified Lord to His own people, and His relation in them to a hostile world upon the one hand, and to a Church which proves faithless to her high vocation upon the other. Christ’s perfect kingdom cannot be established except through opposition to the two last-named powers. It cannot therefore be established without a struggle in which the children of God must share the fate of their Lord and Master. He suffered from the enmity both of the Roman Government and of that Church of His day which had been constituted by the appointment, and organized upon the plan, of God Himself. A similar fate awaits His followers; and it is a fate so strange, so contrary to all that they naturally look for, as to make it a matter of supreme importance that they shall be prepared to meet it.

This Revelation begins in chap. 6 with the opening of the roll sealed with seven seals which the Lamb has in His hands. The seven seals are divided into two groups of four and three. Various considerations make this so clear that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it at any length. It will be observed that the first four are distinguished from the three that follow by the fact, that each of them sets before us a rider coming forth upon a horse, and that each is introduced in answer to the cry of one of the living creatures, ‘Come,’ while nothing of the kind is to be found in the second group. The line of demarcation is also marked by the obvious circumstance that, at the opening of the fifth seal, we pass from the visible to the invisible world (chap. Revelation 6:9),—a circumstance the more worthy of notice because it finds a parallel in the visions of the seven Trumpets and the seven Bowls. Nor is it difficult to see why we should now have a division into four and three, instead of that division into three and four which marked the Epistles to the seven churches. The contest of the Church with the world is before us, and four is the world’s number. The visions of the horses and their riders may be compared with Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8.


Verse 2

Revelation 6:2. All the figures of this verse are those of victory,—the horse and its whiteness, the crown, and the distinct statement at the close of the verse (comp. chap. Revelation 19:11; Revelation 19:14). The bow expresses the fact that the Conqueror sees and strikes down His enemies from afar.

The great question is, Who is this rider? On the one hand it might seem as if it cannot be the Lord Himself, for how in that case shall we preserve a perfect parallelism between the first vision and the three that follow it? Can Christ be named in the same category with War, Famine, and Pestilence? On the other hand, if it be not the Lord, how shall we draw a line of distinction between the first and the second vision? Both will symbolize war. Besides which, the last words of the verse to conquer so clearly point to complete and permanent victory that it is difficult to limit them to any lower object than the triumphant Saviour. In the Old Testament, too, the judgments of God are three, not four, in number, ‘the sword, the famine, and the pestilence’ (Ezekiel 6:11, etc.), exactly those found in the three following riders. We are thus led to see here our Lord in His cause and kingdom ‘riding prosperously (as in Psalms 45), because of truth and meekness and righteousness, His arrows sharp in the heart of His enemies, and His right hand teaching them terrible things.’ It is His kingdom, first in Himself and then in His people, who are one with Him and in Him, that passes before the Seer’s eye,—a kingdom which shall yet prevail over every adversary. By looking at the matter in this light we preserve the analogy of the four riders, not one of whom is strictly speaking a person, while at the same time we render full justice to each part of the figure. ‘Wars’ and ‘famines and pestilences’ are foretold in the same order by our Lord in Matthew 24:6-7.


Verse 3-4

Revelation 6:3-4. The second horse is red, the colour of blood (comp. 2 Kings 3:22); and he and his rider appear in answer to the second cry Come. In this seal Jesus comes just as He came in the victory of the first seal; but He comes in war and with the sword. There are two ways in which the warfare may be viewed. It may be the struggle of light with darkness and of truth with error, the opposition awakened by the faithful proclamation of the Gospel, and deepened into fiercer enmity as the Gospel makes progress in the world, the contest spoken of by our Lord in Matthew 10:34-36. Were this the struggle alluded to, the ‘war’ represented by the second rider would be that between the world and the Church, an opposition shaping itself into many other forms than those of the march of infantry or the thunder of artillery. But the words of Revelation 6:4 forbid this interpretation. The war there thought of is not between the Church and the world, but between different portions of the world itself. The ‘earth’ out of which peace is taken is the ungodly world, and the slaughtering of which we read is not produced by the attacks of the wicked on the good, but by those of the former on one another. War, in short, is here represented as one of the curses or judgments which a world that will not accept the rule of the Prince of peace brings upon itself. It rejects those principles by which alone security and peace can be enjoyed. It yields to its own evil passions, and the sword and the battlefield are the result. In the midst of all this nothing is said of what shall be the condition of the righteous. By and by we shall hear more of them. In the meantime, with the first vision in our mind, we may rest in the assurance that they are safe in the hollow of their Redeemer’s hand. Before passing on it may be well to notice the extremely peculiar language in which the effect of the wars here alluded to is described in the second of the three clauses of the description, and that they should slaughter one another. The verb is the sacrificial word already met by us in chap. Revelation 5:6, and it appears to be chosen for the purpose of bringing out the irony of God’s dealings with those who reject His Son. They will not flee to the slaughtered Lamb, taking advantage of His sacrifice. In the righteous judgment of God, therefore, sacrifice of another kind shall be required of them: they shall ‘slaughter one another.’ Their mutual and fratricidal war is a coming of Jesus to judgment. Compare Isaiah 34:6, ‘The Lord hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea.’


Verse 5-6

Revelation 6:5-6. The third horse is black, the colour of mourning and of famine (Jeremiah 4:28; Jeremiah 8:21; Jeremiah 14:2; Malachi 3:14, margin; Revelation 6:12), and he comes forth with his rider in answer to the same cry as before, Come. Again Jesus comes in this seal just as He had come in the first and second seals, although no more than in these is the rider Jesus Himself. The judgment of this seal is famine. The rider has a pair of balances in his hand in order to weigh the corn. The usual method of dealing out corn was to measure it: here it is to be weighed, not measured, and the mention of the ‘measure’ in the following words is simply to give us a proper idea of the quantity weighed out. The symbol is one of great scarcity (Ezekiel 4:16; comp. Leviticus 26:26-28).

A voice, or rather as it were a voice, is then heard in the midst of the four living creatures, a voice, therefore, which can only come from the throne of God, saying, A measure of wheat, etc. The ‘measure’ referred to was considered to be the amount needed for the daily support of one man. The penny, nearly nine-pence of our money, was the wage of a complete day’s work (Matthew 20:2), and sufficed in ordinary circumstances to purchase about eight ‘measures.’ The meaning is, that so great would be the scarcity that a man, by working a whole day, would be able to purchase with his earnings no more than an eighth part of what he could purchase at the same price in ordinary times, or than would be sufficient for the necessity of his own life, to say nothing either of his many other wants, or of the wants of his family. He might indeed obtain three measures of barley for the same sum; but to be obliged to depend upon barley was itself a token of severe scarcity.—The scarcity is produced by the rider’s ‘hurting’ the wheat and the barley. The words next addressed to him, therefore,—and the oil and the wine hurt thou not,—mean in the first instance that he is not to carry this hurting to an unreasonable extent. ‘The tendency of the voice is to check or limit the agency of the rider on the black horse, and to provide that, notwithstanding his errand, sustenance shall not utterly fail.’ Yet it is not enough to say this. We are persuaded that the meaning lies much deeper. ‘Oil’ and ‘wine’ are not to be regarded only as the privilege of the rich; and thus the symbol cannot be one of the mocking contrast between an abundance of luxuries and a famine of the necessaries of life. In Eastern lands ‘oil and wine’ are as needful to the poor as to the rich (comp. Deuteronomy 15:14; Luke 7:46). But to all, both rich and poor, they were symbols not so much of the ordinary provision for existence as of feasting and joy (Psalms 23:5). Their preservation, therefore, neither means only on the one hand, that a certain check shall be put upon the ravages of a famine by which all are to be overtaken, nor, on the other hand, that the misery to come shall be aggravated by the fact of luxuries being untouched while the necessary aliment of life fails. The symbol seems to point in an entirely different direction, and to show that He who restrains the power of famine does this with especial reference to that joy of life which is the portion of His people. While the world suffers He preserves them. The plague does not come nigh their dwelling. For His elect’s sake God spares those things which are the expression of their joy. ‘Except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened’ (Matthew 24:22). The interpretation now given derives confirmation from the use of the verb ‘hurt’ in chap. Revelation 7:3, ‘Hurt not,’ that is, do not execute judgment upon ‘the earth.’ We learn now where the people of God were during these times of trial. We heard nothing of them under the second seal, but they were safe; and, with the usual climax of thought running through this book, we hear under the third seal, speaking on their behalf, the voice of Him who is their unfailing Guardian and Friend. Now they are more than safe. They can say, ‘Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over’ (Psalms 23:5).


Verse 7-8

Revelation 6:7-8. The fourth horse is pale in colour, that is, with the livid paleness of a corpse. He comes forth in circumstances precisely similar to those already met by us, and he is to be looked at in the same way. As in them, so also in him and in his rider Jesus comes to judgment,

The name of the rider is given, Death, which is to be understood in its natural signification. For the mode of expression comp. John 3:1. He is represented as accompanied by Hades, who does not follow after him, but ‘with him;’ or, in other words, is his inseparable companion. We are to understand Hades here in the same sense as that in which we met it in chap. Revelation 1:18 (see note). Neither Hades nor death touches the people of God. The judgment is on the world.

Authority is given unto them to kill, etc. May these words not be an echo of the words, ‘they sought to kill Him,’ so often said of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel? His enemies sought to ‘kill’ Him: He, in His judgments, ‘kills’ them (comp. on Revelation 6:4). That there are four things by which death and Hades kill we learn from Ezekiel 14:21, to which passage there is here an obvious reference. It is true that we have a change of preposition when we come to the last of the four; but this change may be dependent upon the fact that the same preposition which had been used with the first three could not also be used with the last.

The authority to kill spoken of is given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, that is, over a fourth part of the ungodly, not of all who dwell upon the surface of the earth. Over the elect, who are preserved unhurt, they have no power. Thus again there is a climax when we pass from the third to the fourth seal. In the third seal provision for the saints was to be left unhurt: in the fourth, while death and Hades accomplish their dread work around them, they are untouched. It is not easy to say why the ‘fourth’ part of the earth should be selected as the prey of this last and greatest judgment. The suggestion that it is designed to bring out a correspondence with the ‘fourth’ rider is unsatisfactory, and finds no analogy in chap. 8, where a ‘third’ part is spoken of. The object may be only to give scope for the climax which we shall hereafter find in comparing the Trumpets and Bowls with the Seals. At this point of the Apocalypse the judgments of God appear in their earliest and most limited range. Were they to extend over the whole earth, there would be no room for the extension of judgment that is to follow. The Seer therefore beheld them exercising their sway only over a part of the earth; and that he chose the fourth, as hereafter the third, part may arise from nothing more than this, that the numbers four and three were so often in his mind, and that a fourth part was smaller than a third.

Such then are the first four seals which, to be understood, must be viewed ideally. They refer to no specific war or famine or pestilence, nor do they even necessarily follow one another in chronological succession. They express the great principle borne witness to by the whole course of human history,—that the world, refusing the yoke and kingdom of the Son of God, draws down upon itself His righteous judgments. These judgments again are confined to no particular period. War, famine, and pestilence, or the troubles and sufferings which they symbolize, darken the whole history of man, and all of them are but ominous forerunners of the more terrible judgment to come, when the Lord shall finally and for ever vindicate His own cause, put all His enemies beneath His feet, and establish His reign of perfect peace and righteousness (Matthew 24:8). During the calamities produced by them, too, the Lord preserves His own. They suffer, but judgments such as these are not directed against them. On the contrary, in sorrow they rejoice, in famine they ‘live’ by other things than bread, and they are unaffected by the pestilence that walketh in darkness. Even in death itself they do not die, and the spirit in which they are enabled to meet their outward trials is to them ‘a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, to the end that they may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which they also suffer’ (2 Thessalonians 1:5).


Verse 9

Revelation 6:9. And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slaughtered because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they held. With the opening of the fifth seal we pass into scenes of a kind in many respects distinguished from those of the first four. No voice of one of the living creatures now cries ‘Come:’ there are no horses and their riders: we make a transition from what is of earth to what is not of earth.

The Seer beholds first ‘the altar.’ We have already seen that the whole imagery of the heavenly abode is taken from the structure of the Tabernacle, afterwards copied in the Temple. The only question, therefore, is whether we have here the altar of incense which stood in the holy place, or the great brazen altar of burnt-offering which stood in the outer court. One answer is given to this question by all the most eminent commentators, and it would seem as if one only could be given. It is the latter of the two; and if any difficulty be found in accepting this owing to the fact that we might expect the souls of the saints to be preserved in the inner rather than in the outer sanctuary, the answer will be found in the first consideration to be immediately submitted when we inquire who the saints are. But whether that answer be correct or not, there can be little doubt that we have here a vision of the brazen altar. What is seen under it is the blood (see below) of those slaughtered in sacrifice. Nothing of this kind found a place at the altar of incense, while the command of the law was that the blood of animals sacrificed should be poured out ‘at the bottom of the altar of burnt-offering, which is before the tabernacle of the congregation’ (Leviticus 4:7). Those here referred to had been sacrificed. The word used, the same as that applied to the Lamb in chap. Revelation 5:6, leaves no doubt upon the point. They had been sacrificed in the same manner as their Lord; their blood had been shed as His was, and their bodies had been laid upon God’s altar to be consumed as an offering acceptable to Him. It corresponds with this that what St. John sees under the altar is in all probability blood. He speak indeed of ‘souls,’ or rather ‘lives;’ but to the Hebrew blood and life were equivalent terms; ‘the life of the flesh,’ he said, ‘ is in the blood’ (Leviticus 17:11). No shadowy spectres, therefore, were beheld by the Seer. He beheld only blood, but he knew that that blood was the souls or lives of men.

Two important questions demanding consideration meet us. First, What is the period to which these martyred saints belong? Secondly, Are they martyrs in the sense in which that word is usually employed, or do they include a larger number? In reply to the first of these questions, we have to urge that these saints belong neither to the period of the Neronic persecution, nor to any longer period of Rome’s history, nor to the whole Christian era from its beginning to its close. We must agree with those who think that they are saints of the Old Testament Dispensation. (1) Mark where the blood lies. It is under the brazen altar in the Court. The way into the Holiest of all had not yet been manifested. (2) Observe the manner in which their ‘testimony’ is described. The word used for ‘testimony’ occurs nine times in the Apocalypse, and in every case (including even chap. Revelation 12:11), except the present and chap. Revelation 11:7 which may be in some respects similar, it is associated in one form or another with the name of Jesus. The absence of any such addition in the words before us can hardly be thought of otherwise than as designed; and, if so, a distinction would seem to be drawn between the ‘testimony’ here alluded to and the full ‘testimony of Jesus.’ (3) The word ‘Master,’ not ‘Lord,’ of Revelation 6:10 is remarkable. It can hardly be referred directly to Christ: it is rather an epithet of God Himself, to whom it breathes the feeling of Old Testament rather than New Testament relation (comp. Acts 4:24; Jude 1:4, Revised New Testament margin). (4) The parallelism of thought between Revelation 6:10 and Revelation 6:11 of this chapter and Hebrews 11:39-40 is very marked, and confirms what has been said. (5) A powerful argument tending towards the same conclusion is that the saints of the New Testament receive during their lift on earth that very ‘white robe’ which is here given to the souls under the altar. Thus in chap. Revelation 7:14, after they have been described as ‘standing before the throne and before the Lamb,’ it is said of them, in the Elder’s inquiry, Who they are and whence they came, that they had ‘washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,’ words evidently implying that the cleansing and whitening referred to had taken place during the period of their mortal pilgrimage. In Revelation 3:4, they who are described as the ‘few names’ must have been already clothed in the ‘white garments’ which they had not ‘defiled.’ In chap. Revelation 19:8 the Lamb’s bride is made ready for the marriage which has not yet taken place, by its being given her to array herself ‘in fine linen, bright and pure;’ and in the 14th verse of the same chapter, at a time when the Church’s victory has not yet been completed, the Rider on the white horse is followed by the armies of heaven ‘clothed in fine linen, white and pure.’ To the same effect is the counsel addressed to the Church of Laodicea in chap. Revelation 3:18, that she shall buy of her Lord ‘white garments,’ as well as the description in chap. Revelation 19:8 of what ‘fine linen’ means, ‘for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.’ It is true that in chaps, Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13 and Revelation 4:4, these white robes are also those of glory in heaven, but it is unnecessary to dwell upon the fact that the believer appears there in the same perfect righteousness as that in which he is accepted here. The ‘white robe’ of the present passage, therefore, is a more complete justification than that which was enjoyed under the old covenant. It is that referred to by St. Paul when, speaking to the Jews at Antioch of Pisidia, he said, ‘By Him every one that believeth is justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses’ (Acts 13:39). It is that robe of righteousness which had been promised in Isaiah 61:10 and Zechariah 3:4, that complete reward for which David longed (Psalms 51), and to which both Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:34) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:25) had pointed as the great gift of Gospel times. The promise of the Old Testament, which the saints of God who then lived did not ‘receive,’ was not simply that of a better country, but of the ‘day’ of Christ, with all the blessings that should accompany it. In that hope they ‘exulted,’ and at length they ‘saw it and rejoiced’ (comp. note on John 8:56). Not until Christ came were even Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their faithful seed perfected. At death they passed into a place of holy waiting until the great work of redemption should be finished; and then only did they receive what is now bestowed upon the follower of Jesus even during his earthly life. Only under the Christian Dispensation have they been made equal to us; and at this moment they wait, as we wait, for the making up of the full number of the redeemed, and for the open acknowledgment and acquittal which shall yet be granted them. (6) Finally, it ought to be noticed that in the verse before us the saints referred to are not said to have been killed under the fifth seal which, like all the others, starts from a point of time contemporaneous with the beginning of the Christian age. It is rather distinctly implied that they had been killed before. The moment the seal is broken their blood is seen.

These ‘souls underneath the altar,’ therefore, are the saints of the Old Testament waiting for the completion of their happiness by having added to them their ‘fellow-servants’ of New Testament times.

The second question is not less important than the first. We cannot enter upon it fully, and it will meet us again. In the meantime it is enough to say that the analogy of other passages of the Apocalypse leads to the conclusion that the persons alluded to are not confined to those who had actually been killed in the service of God. It includes all who had remained faithful unto death, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the long line of those who, whether known or unknown, had died in faith. All were offerings. All had a life of struggle. All shared ‘the reproach of Christ’ (Hebrews 11:26); and all had an interest in crying, ‘Lord, how long?’ If, therefore, martyrs in the ordinary sense of the term are to be first thought of, it seems to be only as the type and emblem of the whole company of those who had lived and died in faith.


Verse 10

Revelation 6:10. And they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? ‘They’ cried (yet not the martyrs themselves but the blood which represents them) as the blood of Abel cried (Genesis 4:10). The cause of holiness and truth suffering in them was at stake; and only as they identify themselves with this great cause do they ‘cry.’ They cried with a ‘great’ voice in the earnestness of their cry. The cry is addressed to Him who is spoken of as ‘Master,’ and by whom we are most probably to understand not Christ but God. There is much indeed that might lead us to think of the former, but the song of chap. Revelation 19:1 appears to determine in favour of the latter. Their confidence that God will deliver is confirmed by the thought of the attributes which distinguish Him. He is ‘the holy:’ therefore He will the more surely punish wickedness. He is the ‘true,’ that is, certainly not the truthful, which is never the meaning of the word here employed, but either the Being who alone has true and substantial existence, or the Master who completely corresponds with the idea of what a Master ought to be.—Their cry is, How long will it be before the Judge arises to claim the victory as His own, and to punish His adversaries as they deserve? Those who are thus to be judged are then described as ‘they that dwell upon the earth;’ and by the ‘earth’ here, as almost always in the Apocalypse, is to be understood the ungodly earth: those that dwell on it are the ungodly. It may be observed that all the ungodly are included. This is allowed by the best commentators, and it supplies a strong argument in favour of what was said with regard to the number of those underneath the altar,—there all the godly belonging to the time spoken of; here all the ungodly.


Verse 11

Revelation 6:11. To the cry of these martyred souls an answer is given both by deed and word. By deed; for a white robe, denoting the purity of saints perfected in Christ, was bestowed on each of them (comp. chaps, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 4:4, Revelation 7:9). This robe is the garment of all who overcome,—another indication that all such, and not martyrs only, are included in the souls underneath the altar. To this act of grace words are added, telling them that they must rest a little space until their fellow-servants of the New Testament Dispensation shall be completed, and all the children of God shall be gathered together, ‘no wanderer lost, a family in heaven.’


Verses 12-14

Revelation 6:12 a. And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The verb ‘saw’ is again to be taken absolutely as in Revelation 6:1-2; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:8. The things seen divide themselves naturally into four groups; and we need not add to what has been already said as to the meaning of this number. (1) ‘A great earthquake,’ which must be understood in its usual sense as a shaking of the earth alone (chaps. Revelation 6:5; Revelation 11:13; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18), and not as a general shaking including heaven as well as earth. The celestial phenomena immediately following are quite independent. The idea of the earthquake may be in part that of Matthew 24:7, but it is especially that of Matthew 24:29. The figure is frequently used in the Old Testament as a symbol of the judgments of God about to come upon a sinful world (Psalms 60:3-5; Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:6; Haggai 2:22-23).

Revelation 6:12 b, Revelation 6:13-14 A. And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood, and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs when she is shaken of a great wind, and the heaven withdrew as a book roll when it is rolled together. (2) We pass from earth to the heavens. The vision is still couched in the language of Matthew 24:29, and that again rests upon the figures with which Old Testament prophecy had made the Jews familiar (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 1:3; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9-10; Micah 3:6). The sun becomes ‘black as sackcloth of hair,’ the coarse sackcloth made of the black hair of camels. His light is quenched; and, instead of shining with his splendour in the sky, he appears as a great black orb. It is obvious that here, as in innumerable parts of the Apocalypse, we are to content ourselves with the main idea of the writer, and not to demand prosaic verisimilitude.—The ‘whole’ moon next becomes as blood, the word ‘whole’ denoting the moon at its full size, so that the spectacle may be the more terrible. The addition is not found in the Old Testament prophecies upon which the language before us rests. It is made by the Seer under the feeling that no ancient prophet had foreseen such sights of woe as he had been commissioned to reveal.—‘The stars of the heaven’ next fall to the earth, like unripe figs when the fig tree is shaken by a great wind. Firmly as they appear to be set in heaven, they are yet as easily displaced as the unripe fig when a ‘great wind’ blows. They fall in a moment.—‘The heaven’ itself is touched last of all Like a book-roll, it is rolled together, and is no longer the glorious firmament that it has been.

Revelation 6:14 b. And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. (3) In these words the third member of the description follows. It will be observed that we have in them much more than the mention of the earthquake in Revelation 6:12. An earthquake shakes the earth, but when the shaking is over things return, no doubt with some exceptions, to their old positions. Here all things are ‘moved out of their places;’ the confusion and overthrow are complete.


Verses 15-17

Revelation 6:15-17. (4) These verses contain the fourth and last member of the description. Of the persons on whom the terror of God’s judgments falls prominence seems to be given to the first, the kings. The words of the earth are associated with them, and the other appellations follow for the purpose of enlarging and completing the idea. The word ‘earth’ must again be understood in its usual acceptation, not the neutral earth, but the earth as opposed to heaven, the seat of ungodliness and sin. The righteous have thus no place in the enumeration which follows; but the ungodly without exception, whatever their rank or station, are divided into seven groups in order to indicate that none escape. In alarm at the awful judgments which they behold immediately impending, they rush into the caves of the mountains and into the rents of their rocks, in order to seek not safety but destruction. The crushing of the rocks is nothing compared with appearing before Him who sitteth upon the throne, and before the wrath of the Lamb. The question has been asked, how it happens that these ‘kings,’ etc., use the language of Christians in speaking as they do of Him that sitteth upon the throne and of the Lamb. But the answer is not to be found in the idea that we have in them the Church in its Laodicean state. The use of the word ‘earth’ would alone forbid such an interpretation. We have rather here one of the most striking lessons both of the Apocalypse and of the Fourth Gospel,—that those who reject Jesus shall have in this their chief element of condemnation, that they shall fully know what they have done. They shall believe, but believe to their destruction, not to their salvation. They have loved the darkness. At last they shall have light, but of what a kind! They shall see, as do the redeemed, Christ’s glory, but with this tremendous difference that, along with that sight, their eyes shall be opened to behold their own sin and folly in having rejected Him. The very fact that they are now compelled to use Christian language, to confess in trembling to the truths which they have hitherto scorned, is the most fearful element in their woe.

There remains still one question regarding the sixth seal which must be briefly noticed. Does it bring us down to the end of the world, to the final judgment; or does it not? One answer only can be given,—that we reach here the beginning of the end. The use of the word great before day forbids the thought of judgments exhibited in phenomena of the world’s history which are either simply local or preparatory to the final issue. Nor, when the structure of the Apocalypse is taken into account, does it militate against this view that, when we come to the Trumpets and the Bowls, we shall have to go back to a point of time much earlier than that at which we stand, and that any thought of a continuous progression of the events of the book will thus be destroyed. To look for continuous progression is forbidden by the Apocalypse itself (see Introduction). With the sixth seal we reach the end, but the end is not yet described.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 6:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-6.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 6th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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