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Revelation 6:1

Having taken the scroll from the Father, the Lamb now begins to open the seals. As each seal is opened, a new judgment comes upon the earth. John is shown the judgments associated with the first six seals.

Now I saw
The chapter break is unfortunate here. Recall that the previous chapter ended with the exaltation of the Lamb and the recognition of His unique worthiness to open the scroll sealed with seven seals (see commentary on Revelation 5:5). The scene of worship and praise which John beheld is an important precursor to the scenes of judgment to follow. Rev. 1:1+; Rev. 4:1+) begin to unfold.”1

when the Lamb opened
The Lamb had been slain to redeem men and the world Revelation 5:9. Having paid the ultimate price, He is now worthy to open the first seal and initiate the steps which will lead to His global rule on earth. “Each time, with the opening of a seal, nothing is read from the scroll (Lenski), but actions occur that unquestionably match the corresponding part of the scroll exposed through each consecutive seal.”2

None of the horrendous judgments about to take place transpire until the Lamb opens a seal. Human history records a litany of wars, natural disasters, famines, and the like, but what is about to come forth upon the earth is completely unique. What has transpired up to now is the routine manifestation of human selfishness, sin, and the fallen world in which man lives. As Jesus explained, “all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Mtt. Mat. 24:6). But with the opening of the seals by the Lamb, a divinely-initiated series of judgments begin which are historically unique in a number of aspects:

  1. Severity - The judgments are more severe than any previously experienced in history. This coming day is unique so there is “none like it” (Jer. Jer. 30:7; Dan. Dan. 12:1; Mtt. Mat. 24:21; Mark Mark 13:19; Rev. Rev. 3:10+). (See Jacob’s Trouble and the Great Tribulation.)
  2. Wrath of the Lamb - Unlike previous times when God the Father has manifested His wrath upon nations, this is the time of the “wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. Rev. 6:16+). It is the Son, the Lamb of God, Who’s wrath is being manifested.
  3. The Final Flowering of Sin - Humanism and Satanism will be at their apex on a global scale. The ascent of man, as humanists view human history, will have reached its apex—which is in reality its lowest point since the ascent is really a descent. At this time, there will be a full flowering of sin unique in all history for its depravity and extent.
  4. Ushering in God’s Kingdom on Earth - The wrath of the Lamb which comes forth is not merely a disconnected judgment of sin. It is part and parcel of the sweeping away of the systems of man to make way for the promised Messianic Kingdom on earth—the only kingdom which will never pass away.

This last point, the ushering in of God’s earthly kingdom, can be seen in the similarities between the events found in this book when compared with the events leading to the establishment of the first Theocratic Kingdom on earth—when Israel was delivered from Egypt.

There is a definite parallel between the supernatural preparation for the kingdom in history under Moses and the supernatural judgments which shall be poured out upon a rebellious world in preparation for the future Millennial Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ at His second advent. There is the same insolent challenge to the true God on the part of the Gentile powers (Ps. Ps. 2:1-3). There will be a similar gracious but infinitely greater preliminary miracle [like Ex. Ex. 7:12]—the Rapture of the Church—warning men of the supremacy of Jehovah and the ultimate defeat of all who rebel against Him. There will be the same swift progression in the severity of the divine judgments which follow, and even a striking parallel in the nature of the judgments (cf. Rev. Rev. 6:1-17+ through 18). There will be the same victorious outcome, the destruction of the antichrist and his armies in the judgment of Armageddon, and deliverance of the people of Israel (Rev. Rev. 19:1-21+). There will be another song of victory, significantly referred to as ‘the song of Moses... and the song of the Lamb’ (Rev. Rev. 15:1-3+).3

Everything which transpires from this point forward is completely within the control of God. For it is the Lamb Who initiates these events and there is no judgment, famine, or plague of demons which does not ultimately serve God’s purpose in what unfolds. This is seen by the frequently found phrase, it was given which attends both good and bad events recorded here (see commentary on Revelation Rev. 6:2+).

Since it is the Lamb Who unleashes the events about to transpire, we are not surprised by the close correlation between the sequence of events here and those which Jesus, the Lamb of God, taught would come (see The Synoptic Gospels).

They include:4

  1. False Messiahs: Mtt. Mat. 24:5, Mat. 24:11; Mark Mark 13:6; Luke Luke 21:8; Rev. Rev. 6:2+.
  2. Wars: Mtt. Mat. 24:6-7; Mark Mark 13:7; Luke Luke 21:9; Rev. Rev. 6:4+.
  3. Famines: Mtt. Mat. 24:7; Mark Mark 13:8; Luke Luke 21:10; Rev. Rev. 6:5-6+, Rev. 6:8+.
  4. Pestilences: Luke Luke 21:11; Rev. Rev. 6:8+.
  5. Persecution: Mtt. Mat. 24:9; Mark Mark 13:9-13; Luke Luke 21:12-17; Rev. Rev. 6:9-11+.
  6. Earthquakes: Mtt. Mat. 24:7; Mark Mark 13:8; Luke Luke 21:11; Rev. Rev. 6:12+.
  7. Cosmic Phenomena: Mtt. Mat. 24:29; Mark Mark 13:24-25; Luke Luke 21:11; Rev. Rev. 6:12-14+.

one of the seals
Concerning the significance of the seals, see commentary on Revelation 5:1.

Each of the scroll’s seven seals (cf. Rev. Rev. 5:1+) represents a specific divine judgment that will be poured out sequentially on the earth. The seals encompass the entire period of the Tribulation (Rev. Rev. 3:10+), culminating with the return of Christ. It seems best to understand the first four seals as taking place during the first half of the Tribulation, the fifth stretching from the first into the second half, (called the “great tribulation” in Rev. Rev. 7:14+ and lasting three and one-half years; Rev. Rev. 11:2+; Rev. 12:6+; Rev. 13:5+) and the sixth and seventh taking place during that “great tribulation.” Apparently the seventh seal contains the seven trumpet judgments (Rev. Rev. 8:1+-Rev. 11:19+) and the seventh trumpet (Rev. Rev. 11:15+) contains the seven bowl judgments (Rev. Rev. 16:1-21+). The seven seals thus contain all the judgments to the end when Jesus Christ returns.5

As the Lamb opens the seals, a sequence of events are initiated which are closely parallel to Matthew Mat. 24:1 (also Mark Mark 13:1 and Luke Luke 21:1). The first four seals are set apart from the final three in their common representation by riders on horses.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 6

Showers equates the birth pangs “beginning of sorrows” of Mtt. Mat. 24:4-8 with the first four seals of Revelation Rev. 6:1-8+ and places them during the first half of the 70th week of Daniel.7 He also observes that the Day of the Lord includes the notion of birth pangs (Isa. Isa. 13:6-10; 1Th. 1Th. 5:3), so the first four seals are probably included within the first half of the 70th week (see The 70th Week of Daniel).

Since the beginning of birth pangs of Matthew Mat. 24:1 and the first four seals of Revelation Rev. 6:1+ are the same thing, and since the broad Day of the Lord will include the beginning of birth pangs, we can conclude that the broad Day of the Lord will also include the first four seals of Revelation Rev. 6:1+. . . . Since the beginning of birth pangs of the first half of the 70th week and the first four seals of Revelation Rev. 6:1+ are the same thing, the divine wrath, anger, and destruction of the Day of the Lord will also be associated with the first four seals.8

living creatures
See commentary on Revelation 4:6.

voice like thunder
Some speculate that the voice like thunder of the living creature may be the source of the seven thunders which John is prevented from recording (Rev. Rev. 10:3+). However, the description of this voice is probably meant to be an indication of its imposing volume to connect its command with the judgment to follow. See commentary on Revelation 4:5.

Come and see.
Ἐρχου καὶ ἴδε [Erchou kai ide] (MT) or Ἐρχου καὶ ἴδου [Erchou kai idou] (TR). This phrase occurs in the TR and MT texts in conjunction with the loosing of each of the first four seals (Rev. Rev. 6:1+, Rev. 6:3+, Rev. 6:5+, Rev. 6:7+). These translations understand the living creature to be speaking to John. The NU text omits καὶ ἴδε [kai ide] , and see, understanding come as a command issued by the living creature to the rider of the horse bringing him forth in judgment. This would accord well with the emphasis found on the judgments being subject to divine control.

The cry itself is very brief—Ἐρχου [Erchou] ! It may be equally rendered Go, or Come! Our translators give it about as often one way as the other. It does not alter the sense here whichever way we take it. It is not an address to John, as many have regarded it, and as the questionable addition to the text—“and see”—would seem to require. John was already on the spot, beholding all that was transpiring, and did not need to be called any nearer, or to remove any further off. And if his nearer approach or further departure had been needed in the case of the first horseman, it could not have been needed for the succeeding ones. But we find the same command repeated in each successive instance. Neither can we explain why it should be such a voice of thundering power, if it was simply to call to the seer.9


Notes

1 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), Rev. 6:1.

2 Ibid.

3 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness Of The Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), 56.

4 Keith H. Essex, “The Rapture and the Book of Revelation,” in Richard L. Mayhue, ed., The Master’s Seminary Journal, vol. 13 no. 1 (Sun Valley, CA: The Master’s Seminary, Spring 2002), 230.

5 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 6:1.

6 Albrecht Durer (1471 - 1528). Image courtesy of the Connecticut College Wetmore Print Collection.

7 “Both passages involve similar descriptions to the approaching end.”—Renald E. Showers, The Pre-Wrath Rapture View (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 11. “The beginning of birth pangs and the first four seals are the same and . . . take place during the first half of the 70th week.”—Renald E. Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), 16. Mat. 24:5-7 with the first four seals of Revelation Rev. 6:1-8+ indicates that the beginning of birth pangs and the first four seals are the same thing.”—Ibid., 25.

8 Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come, 63.

9 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 125.

Read Revelation 6:1