REVELATION CHAPTER 6.
The Opening of Six Seals of the Scroll. Rev. 6, 1-17.
The opening of the first three seals: V.1. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts, saying, Come and see. V.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. V.3. And when He had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. V.4. And there went out another horse that was red; and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another; and there was given unto him a great sword. V.5. And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and, lo, a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. V.6. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. Here begins the narration of some of the happenings which would strike the Christian Church, the Church Militant, beginning with the time at which John wrote, and ending with the great Day of Judgment. Whenever a seal of the scroll was opened, the special event with which it was connected came forth from the roll and was presented to the seer in a picture or symbol. Of the first seal he relates: And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living beings saying as the voice of thunder, Come and see. The Lamb, Christ, alone was worthy and able to open the seals of the scroll on God's hand, and He opened them one by one. With the voice of thunder John was here called to be a witness of future things, for the lion-faced cherub, one, or the first, of the four living beings, chap. 4, 7, shouted to him to come and see. His attention having thus been arrested, John writes: And I saw, and, behold, a white horse, and him that sat upon him having a bow, and there was given to him a crown, and he went forth conquering and that he might conquer. Since the prophet does not explain the meaning of this symbol, nothing definite may be said about it. Some Lutheran commentators believe the hero to be Christ, who goes forth in triumph to overcome with the power of His Gospel. Others believe that the passage refers to the government, which may, under circumstances, become tyrannical and afflict the Christians with persecutions and other tribulations.
The opening of the second seal: And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living being saying, Come. Here it was the oxfaced cherub that invited John to be a witness of the things that should come to pass. This picture is one of terrible aspect: And there went forth another red horse, and to him that sat upon him there was given to take peace from the earth and that men might slap one another, and to him was given a great sword. In this picture everything points to war and bloodshed, the red color of the horse, the fact that men received power to slay one another after peace was taken away from the earth, the fact that this rider was given a merciless weapon. The history of the world, also in the so-called Christian era, is an account of wars and rumors of wars, and the Church of Christ has also suffered the tribulation which come upon men through war and the shedding of blood.
The opening of the third seal: And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living being saying, Come and see. Here it was the man-faced cherub that called upon John to be a witness of the things which were to come upon men in the future. The outlook in this case is still more fearsome: And I saw, and, behold, a black horse, and him that sat upon him holding a pair of scales in his hand; and I heard like a voice in the midst of the four living beings saying, A measure of wheat for a denarion, and three measures of barley for a denarion; but the oil and the wine do not harm. A denarion, the dayís wages for a laboring man, Matt. 20, 2, was equal to about seventeen cents in normal times; and a measure was a little more than two pints. The description points to a state of famine, when provisions become cruelly expensive, when times are black and dark. At such times, which, as the prophecy shows, were sure to come, it would be a matter of careful measuring and planning to make the small daily income cover all expenses. In such days a man may well be obliged to dispense with the more costly wheat and to be satisfied with the cheaper barley. Only one fact tends to relieve the dreary outlook, namely, this, that some articles of food at least are excepted from the soaring prices. Thus the Church has also been made a sufferer on account of famine and extremely high prices, when the Lord laid His chastening hand upon the world.
The opening of the fourth and fifth seals: V.7. And when He had opened the fourth seal, I Heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. V.8. And I looked, and, behold, a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. V.9. And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held; v.10. and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? V.11. And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season until their fellow-servants also and their brethren that should be killed as they were should be fulfilled. The prophetical types of the coming tribulations became more and more of a nature to strike terror into the heart of man: And when He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living being saying, Come and see. In this case the eagle-faced cherub called to John to be a careful witness of the action of the Lamb and of its results. The prophet gives this description: And I saw, and, behold, a livid horse; and he that sat upon him, his name was Death, and Hell followed after him, and to them was given power over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword and with hunger and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth. Here is a gruesome picture, the horse of a pale green, livid color, and his rider Death, with Hell at his heels, with pestilence and mortality, death in all its various forms, as their instruments of punishment. Everything that will bring death upon mankind in extraordinary and unusual forms is here mentioned. Truly, these words and their type have been fulfilled in the many devastating wars and famines and pestilences of which history tells, of which the majority of people living to-day have been witnesses. But hell, although it accompanies death and threatens to devour all men that die, has no power over those that are in Godís hands It is true, on the one hand, that in the midst of life we are in death; but it is also true, on the other, that in the midst of death we are in life, for we are in the hands of our Redeemer.
The opening of the fifth seal: And when He opened the fifth seal. I beheld beneath the altar the souls of those that were slain on account, of the Word of God and on account of the testimony which they bore The scene is here transferred from earth to heaven, the latter being conceived of as a splendid temple with its altar of burnt offering When the Lamb opened the fifth seal of the scroll, there mere disclosed before the eyes of John all the souls of those that had been martyred on account of their confession of the Word of God, of the Gospel of their salvation, on account of the testimony which they bore to their Redeemer. Since the time of Stephen, who was murdered for his confession of Christ, the number of martyrs for the cause of Christ has steadily increased, until their number is beyond calculation. But their souls are in a safe place, in the care of God, where no plague or anguish can touch them.
The martyred souls are represented as being conscious: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Sovereign holy and true, wilt Thou delay in charging and avenging our blood upon those that dwell upon the earth? The martyred souls are here shown in the act of crying to God for vengeance, for a vindication of His holiness and truth. The enemies of Christ and the Gospel, who have shed the blood of the Christians as water, not only in the great persecutions of the early Church, but also in the Inquisition of the Middle Ages and since, will be found by the righteousness and the avenging justice of God, for the blood of their victims cries to the Lord from the earth. Godís patience seems to delay unduly in punishing the crimes against His children, but in due time He will vindicate His holiness and truth.
This is indicated even in the manner in which the martyred souls were treated: And there was given to them, to every one, a white robe, and it was told them that they should remain quiet yet a little while, until there were added to them also their fellow-servants and their brethren that were sure to be killed as they were. White garments, the symbol of sanctity, purity, righteousness, and innocence, were given to the perfected saints in token of the righteousness of Christ which had been imputed to them by faith, by virtue of which all their sin was covered. The number of martyrs was not yet complete; as the enmity of the heathen increased, others would surely be added, just as history has shown and is showing this to us. But only a little while it would last, as Godís time is reckoned, and then Godís day of wrath would surprise the enemies of His Word, then Godís holiness and justice would be vindicated in all eternity. Patience, therefore, is one of the greatest Christian virtues, patience and a certain trust in the government of God.
The opening of the sixth seal: V.12. And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; v.13. and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind. V.14. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. V.15. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the rich men and the chief captains and the mighty men and every bondman and every free man hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, v.16. and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; v.17. for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand? There is an obvious agreement here with Matt. 24, where the Lord speaks of the signs and wonders which would precede the Judgment and the end of the world. For although not all the scenes of Judgment are here included, yet the most important ones stand out plainly: And I saw when He opened the sixth seal, and a great earthquake happened, and the sun became black as sackcloth, and the full moon became like blood, and the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig-tree casts her figs when shaken by a mighty wind. With the opening of the sixth seal by the Lamb the special signs which should usher in the last day were enacted before the eyes of John. There was a great and terrible earthquake, Luke 21, 11; the sun and the moon were darkened, Joel 2, 31; Matt. 24, 29; the stars fell down from the firmament, Matt. 24, 29; all nature was in an uproar, the universe was disintegrating. And still more: And the heaven was removed like a rolled-up scroll, and every mountain and island was displaced from its location. The firmament of the heavens, apparently secure for eternity, will not escape in the last great disturbances of the universe. Just as a roll of parchment is rolled up and laid aside, so the firmament will be removed. And at the same time the solid mountains that have withstood the storms of centuries, and the islands that have defied the billows of untold hurricanes, will be displaced, set aside, as no longer needed.
What effect this would have on the people of the world is also shown: And the kings of the earth and the mighty ones and the generals and the wealthy and the strong ones and every slave and freeman hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and the rocks, Fall upon us and hide us from the face of Him that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? Here the terror and despair of the enemies of the Lord, of which He Himself has prophesied, is delineated. On the last great day the defiant authority of the proud rulers of the world, of kings and mighty ones and generals, will sink into the dust, and they will seek respite and deliverance like the lowest of their subjects. Then all the wealth of the earth will not buy salvation, and the strength of a thousand oxen will not effect escape. Then the slaves and the freemen will be on the same level, and no man will think of social distinctions. And they all, filled with unspeakable dread, will cower in abject terror and fly to the crags and caves of the mountains, vainly hoping to find a spot where the angry glances of the holy God will not strike them, where the wrath of the Lamb, whose sacrifice they rejected in their unbelief, will not find them. That is what the breaking of the sixth seal uncovered: the terrors of the godless world on the day of the Judgment of God. Only the Christians, certain of the atonement of Christ which they have accepted by faith, will rejoice on that day, knowing that their redemption is nigh.
Summary. As the Lamb opens six of the seven seals on the scroll in. the hand of God, some of the tribulations and persecutions of the last days of the world are exhibited, culminating in the terrors of the last day, but also the deliverance of the martyrs, with the promise that God would vindicate his holiness.