Chapter 6

Introduction

Chapter 6 describes the opening of the seven-sealed scroll which was introduced in chapter 5. When this scroll is fully opened (i.e. all seven seals have been opened), the objective that was laid out in chapters 4 and 5 shall be fulfilled:

  1. In chapter 4, God the Father is presented as the king of heaven, worthy to receive power, honor, and glory because He created all things (Rev 4:11).
  2. In chapter 5, the king of heaven produces a seven-sealed scroll which needs to be opened by someone who is worthy (Rev 5:1,2).
  3. Then Christ, presented as the Lamb, is found worthy to receive the scroll because His is the root of David and because He purchased His kingdom with His blood (Rev 5:5,6,7,8,9).
  4. Being worthy to receive the scroll signifies that Christ is worthy to receive power, honor, and glory on earth, just as the Father receives these things in heaven. He alone shall have dominion and reign as king on earth (Rev 5:10,12,13).

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the earth shall become one kingdom of God. This is the objective symbolized by the seven-sealed scroll.

In this chapter, Christ brings this objective to its culmination, step by step, as He opens the seven seals of that scroll. As mentioned in Revelation Overview, the time period associated with these seals corresponds directly to the time period commonly known as the 70th Week of Daniel. We will see this as we proceed through the opening of the seals.

The events described later on by the trumpets and bowls will provide even greater detail about some things which are only summarized by these seven seals (in particular, by the fifth and sixth seals).

Why Seals?

Since the seals correspond to the 70th Week of Daniel, it’s possible that the seals refer back to the instructions given to Daniel near the end of his prophecy: Dan 12:4  “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase“.

In other words, this sealed scroll seen in Revelation may actually represent Daniel’s sealed book that was to be reserved until the end of time. After all, Revelation and Daniel are clearly prophesying about the same events at the end of the age. That Daniel was told to seal up the book until the end of time indicates that it will be finally opened in the end times. It is fitting then that the description of the end times here in Revelation is presented by opening a sealed book.

Commentary

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The first four seal events involve horses and riders, and so they are commonly called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first four seals thus form a group unto themselves, with each one being announced by a different member of the “four living creatures”, who we first saw in Rev 4:6-8.

These are not to be understood as actual horses, but as symbols. Why horses? The most relevant attribute of horses, particularly from the perspective of John’s day, is that they are fast. So the symbol of horses may suggest that when these events come to earth, they will come with a sense of suddenness.

What distinguishes the four horses are their color, as well as the accompanying information about their riders, as we shall see.

Seal #1 – White Horse

1Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” 2I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

v1 the Lamb broke one of the seven seals – Referring to the seven-sealed scroll of Rev 5:1, and the Lamb (Christ) who was declared worthy to open it in Rev 5:5-7.

The opening of the seals now begins, and each one is associated with an event. The unfolding of these events take the earth closer to the culmination of the Great Promise.

v1 I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” – A transitional marker that lets us know that, for the sake of this vision, John moves from the throne room to some vantage point from where he will see a symbolic depiction of the first seal event.

v2 behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer – A rider on a white horse. The most significant observation to be made is that this is similar to the depiction of Christ’s return in chapter 19:

  • This first-seal rider is on a white horse, with intent to conquer, armed (with a bow), and given a crown. This is a wreath-style victor’s crown, indicating that he will be given victory. It is like the crown of thorns that was mockingly given to Jesus (Matt 27:29).
  • Christ (in Rev 19:11-15) comes on a white horse, with intent to conquer, armed (the sharp sword of His word and a rod of iron), and wearing a crown. This is a diadem crown indicating absolute authority.

The point is that this “conqueror on a white horse” in Rev 6:2 is someone who comes in the appearance of Christ. Also he comes before the true return of Christ, and the similarity in appearance suggests that a deception is taking place. That is, this rider is a false christ. His victor’s crown tells us that he will be given some measure of victory as he goes to conquer. We shall see his victories later in Rev 11:7 and Rev 13:7. However, he is lightly armed in comparison to Christ, and his victor’s crown lacks the authority of Christ’s diadem crown. This rider is no match for the true Christ.

Side note: Some commentators call attention to the fact that this first rider has a bow but no arrows, and they draw conclusions from this. There may be merit to this idea, but we should note that it doesn’t explicitly say that there are no arrows. The presence of arrows may actually be implied by the bow, e.g. Josh 24:12, 2 Chron 17:17, Neh 4:16, Psalm 44:6.

This idea of a false christ agrees well with other scriptures. Jesus told us that before he returns, there will be false christs (Matt 24:4,11,24). The prophecy of Daniel 7 says that a powerful king shall come and conquer the saints prior to the return of Christ (Dan 7:24,25,26,27).

Furthermore, the idea that the end times period should begin with the advent of a false christ corresponds well with the 70th Week of Daniel prophecy of Daniel 9, where we see that the end times period beginning with a wicked ruler making a covenant with Israel (Dan 9:27). Note that a successful peace treaty in the Middle East would be an enormous diplomatic triumph toward for the goal of world peace. The one who engineers this treaty might even be seen as sort of a world “savior”. With the addition of some “wondrous signs”, he would make an excellent counterfeit christ. We shall see these things later in Revelation 13.

In short, this future wicked ruler on a white horse is Revelation’s first mention of the particular false christ commonly called “Antichrist” (1 John 2:18), and I’ll use that term from now on.

Side Note: Some commentators believe that the rider on this first white horse is the second coming of Christ. However, this cannot be right. That view has Christ coming in glory once at the beginning of the end times and then again at the end. It also suggests that the saints will be martyred after the return of Christ (see the fifth seal). These ideas simply don’t make sense and they conflict with other scripture.

Other commentators say that this first seal represents the first coming of Christ 2000 years ago, but this is problematic for other reasons. John’s vision has two major parts, defined in Rev 1:19:
 [Part 1] the things which are – The church age referenced in chapters 2 and 3.
 [Part 2] the things which will take place after these things
  – The end times starting in chapter 4.

The word after informs us that the second part must follow the first, but this chronology is destroyed if the first seal (presented within Part 2) describes Christ’s first coming (which in fact occurred at the beginning of the Part 1). Furthermore, when Christ came to earth 2000 years ago, he did not come as a conqueror. He will come as a conqueror at his second coming.

Seal #2 – Red Horse

3When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” 4And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

v4 a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him – The second horse is red, which often in scripture conveys the color of blood. This meaning fits well in the context since this horse represents war, people slaying one another, and the rider being given a “great sword”.

Note that when Jesus described the signs of the end times, he said that before his return there would be wars and rumors of war, and so again this agrees with Revelation. So, while the end times may begin with great hopes for peace (indicated by the first seal above), the peace doesn’t last.

Speculation: Why shall the peace fail, and who will to be blamed?  Possibly, Israel will do something (build a temple, perhaps) that will provoke war. If so, Israel will be blamed for the failed peace. This would eventually compel Antichrist to break his covenant with Israel and take sides with Israel’s enemies who want Israel to be annihilated.

Seal #3 – Black Horse

5When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

v5 behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand – The color black is used in scripture to convey calamity, despair, and sorrow. Scales, used with balancing weights, were used to carefully and fairly measure out goods. As a matter of interest, there are some passages concerning the use of proper (or improper) balancing weights (Prov 16:11; Prov 20:23; Mic 6:11).

v6 “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine” – The rider is measuring out dry goods, and the figures tell us that they are expensive. A quart of wheat is just enough for one person to live on, and it costs a denarius, which is the wage for a full day’s work. You can get three quarts of barley for that price, but it’s less nutritious and less desirable. As for the liquid goods, the remark “do not damage the oil and the wine” conveys the same point: All goods necessary for living shall be preciously scarce, and so it would be a grievous thing if even a little oil or wine were spilled.

There shall be food shortages, which is not uncommon during times of war. In this situation, people will be desperate to survive, and they may be willing to do things that they would not do otherwise. For instance, they might give assent to reducing the population by exterminating people considered “undesirable” because of their political or religious views.

Seal #4 – Ashen Horse

7When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” 8I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

v8 behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him – The pale (or greenish) color is used in scripture to convey anguish and dread (e.g. Jer 30:6). This fits the context because this horse is associated with death. Death (physical death) and Hades (the abode of the dead) go hand in hand. Death cuts people down and Hades is where they go.

v8 Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth – Death and Hades are “given authority” over “a fourth” of the earth. There are some open questions about the exact meaning here. Does death being given authority mean that all those people will die, or does it mean that they will be under the threat of death? Also, does the one-fourth refer to one-fourth of the people of earth or to one-fourth of the geographical area? In any case, these “horsemen” seal events seem to be building upon each other, as this final horseman refers to the causes of death as the sword (war, which was the second seal) and famine (which was the third seal).

In addition, the verse says “to kill with … pestilence“, although the word translated as pestilence is the Greek word for “death”. It seems odd to say “to kill with death”, but the intent may simply be to encompass all other ways to die. The most obvious would be diseases, which may be why several translations say pestilence or plague.

The final cause of death mentioned is beasts of the earth. The most striking observation about this is that the Old Testament is full of references to people being devoured by wild animals, and in every case it implies shame and disgrace (e.g. Deut 28:26; 1 Sam 17:46; Ps 79:2; Is 18:6; Jer 15:3; Ezek 29:5). Whether people are killed by wild animals, or their bodies are left out to be ravaged by animals, the greater point here may be that with so much death, there will no “death with dignity”.

It is important to note that the the seal events are numbered to indicate the order in which they begin, but not necessarily when they end. For example, the first seal represents Antichrist, and yet we know that his time doesn’t end when the second seal begins. His activities will continue throughout the seal events. Similarly, the war represented by the second seal and the famine represented by the third seal may also continue to the end. Likewise, the enormous amount of death mentioned in the fourth seal event may include deaths that occurs going forward into the fifth and even sixth seal events. That is, it is not necessary for all of the death indicated by the fourth seal to occur before the fifth seal begins.

Seal #5 – Martyrdom: Summary of the Great Tribulation

9When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

v9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal – Unlike the first four seals, this fifth seal will not involve a rider on a horse. This itself indicates a transition. The period of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has concluded, and we may rightly expect that this fifth seal is moving on to a different period within the seals.

v9 I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained – Instead of seeing things on earth, John now sees something in heaven. There is an altar, and below it are the souls of people who had been martyred for the sake of God’s word.

As discussed in The Heavenly Templethis throne room in heaven has much in common with the earthly temple, and this mention of an altar is the first such similarity. The identity of these martyrs is discussed below.

v10 they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” – This question is not to be viewed as a complaint, but it does convey certain things: (1) It is understood that there is unfinished business with regard to God carrying out justice on behalf of these martyrs. (2) The question is asked in a way that suggests that these martyrs have already been waiting for some time.

This group of martyrs under the altar is best understood to be the Godly people of all generations past, who were killed for faithfully testifying on behalf of God’s word. Now, they are calling for God to judge the wicked on their behalf — and they already know that God intends to do so.

v11 there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer – The white robes acknowledgement their righteousness, and they are told that their justice is coming up after just a “little while longer”. Of course, they are told that in order to inform us about what is coming up in Revelation.

v11 until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also – This gives the reason for why they must wait “a little while longer” — there must first be this period of time in which a new group of martyrs will be killed! The fifth seal represents this period of time, which is commonly known as the great tribulation.

At first, the idea that God intends to let more saints be killed for the word of God may be surprising. On the other hand, it is simply restating what was already said in Dan 7:25 He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.

So, we have a “little while” where more saints will be killed, and Daniel indicated how long it will last: “a time, times, and half a time” — which is a term we understand to mean 3 1/2 years. This agrees with the great tribulation occurring during the second half of the seven-year end times period.

Since the fifth seal marks the start of the great tribulation, we may determine that it also marks the midpoint of the seven-year end times period called the 70th week of Daniel (Dan 9:27) in which a wicked ruler shall turn against God’s people. From this, we may reasonably determine that the first four seal events take place in the first half of the seven-year end times period.

Seal #6 – Wrath: Summary of the Day of the Lord

12I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

v12 when He broke the sixth seal – This introduces the sixth seal, which is the most descriptive seal event. Given our understanding that the fifth seal is a summary of the 42 months of great tribulation, we should understand that the things described by this sixth seal must follow after the great tribulation. Since the great tribulation shall be followed by the bowl events, we should thus expect the sixth seal to be a brief summary of the things that take place during the bowl events. Indeed, that is exactly what we see, as explained in the verses below.

v12-14 there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. – There are some important points to observe here:

First, one must not miss how well these events correlate to the bowl events:

  • Sun and moon going dark – This is the fifth bowl event (Rev 16:10).
  • The great earthquake that moves mountains and islands – This is the seventh bowl event (Rev 16:18,20).

Second, one should recall that Jesus said these things would be signs that immediately precede His return in glory in Matt 24:29-30a: 29But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.”

Third, these things were described by Old Testament prophets concerning the Day of the Lord:

  • Sun and moon going dark (e.g. Joel 3:15, Is 34:4, Amos 5:20, Zeph 1:15).
  • A great earthquake (e.g. Isa 2:19; Isa 24:19-21; Joel 2:10).

What we are seeing is that the description of this sixth seal, the description of the bowls, Christ’s own description of his visible return, and the descriptions of the Day of the Lord spoken by the prophets are just separate descriptions of the same apocalyptic events. Thus, the sixth seal may be seen as a summary of the bowls and the bowls may be seen as an elaboration upon the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord will culminate with the visible return of Christ, just as Jesus described it.

v15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man – This phrase ultimately includes everyone on earth, but the order is interesting. It begins specifically with kings and great men and commanders, who would be the top political and military leaders of that day. This may refer to the military forces of the nations that will be in Israel (described in the sixth bowl event), indicating that they will be the first to see the sign of the Son of Man, and the first to face his wrath. If some people will see the visible return of Christ first, it will likely be people in the land of Israel (Joel 3:16, Zech 9:14,15,16). After all, Christ is coming as king to inherit the throne of David, and fight on behalf His people Israel.

Again, the sixth seal is a summary of the bowls, and so this passage is describing the same events associated with the visible return of Christ that are described at the conclusion of the bowls. Notice how verse 15 matches so closely with the corresponding account of Christ’s return in Rev 19:18 – “that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great“.

This military presence in Israel just before the visible return of Christ is also foretold by the Old Testament prophets concerning the Day of the Lord (Ps 2:1-6; Zech 12:3; Joel 3:12; Is 34:2-4). We will also see this military presence described in the sixth bowl judgment (Rev 16:14,16). Again, the prophets, this sixth seal, and the sixth bowl event, are all describing the same military buildup against Israel in the final moments of the end times.

The kings and great men and commanders mentioned here would certainly include the man who is the most powerful political leader at this time who is involved in this attack on Israel. This man is the Antichrist who was introduced in the first seal, and the wicked king mentioned in the 70th Week of Daniel (Dan 9:27). This also agrees with the bowls, because the destruction of the Antichrist is described at the conclusion of the bowls in Rev 19:20 – “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.

v15 hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains – Something happened that is causing the people on earth to experience sheer terror. This refers to Isa 2:19, where we see what causes this terror: Men will go into caves of the rocks And into holes of the ground Before the terror of the LORD And the splendor of His majesty, When He arises to make the earth tremble.

v16 they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb – Clearly, the people of earth must be experiencing the visible return of Christ in wrath (which occurs at the conclusion of the bowls, Rev 19:11-16) during the great earthquake. This is a continuation of what Isaiah said about the Christ’s return, Isa 2:21.

The terror is unimaginable. On one hand, the earth itself is shaking so madly that the mountains and islands are being removed, quite possibly with explosive force and causing huge rocks to fall. And yet men will prefer (at least figuratively) to run toward the exploding mountains and falling rocks in hopes of being buried and hidden, rather than face the far more terrifying presence of God. As Heb 10:31 says, It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

v17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? – This only echoes what the Old Testament prophets said when they described the coming of the Lord in judgment, which they call the Day of the Lord (e.g. Joel 2:11; Zeph 1:14; Mal 3:2). There should be little doubt that the sixth seal includes the visible return of Christ. All of the things summarized in this sixth seal event correspond to things which are described in greater detail by the bowl events (chapters 16-19).

The wrath seen in the sixth seal also constitutes the Lord fulfilling His promise to avenge the saints in the fifth seal (Rev 6:10-11) after the little while has passed.

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