The opening of the seals, The first, second, third, and fourth. (1-8) The fifth. (9-11) The sixth. (12-17)
Verses 1-8 Christ, the Lamb, opens the first seal: observe what appeared. A rider on a white horse. By the going forth of this white horse, a time of peace, or the early progress of the Christian religion, seems to be intended; its going forth in purity, at the time when its heavenly Founder sent his apostles to teach all nations, adding, Lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the world. The Divine religion goes out crowned, having the Divine favour resting upon it, armed spiritually against its foes, and destined to be victorious in the end. On opening the second seal, a red horse appeared; this signifies desolating judgments. The sword of war and persecution is a dreadful judgment; it takes away peace from the earth, one of the greatest blessings; and men who should love one another, and help one another, are set upon killing one another. Such scenes also followed the pure age of early Christianity, when, neglectful of charity and the bond of peace, the Christian leaders, divided among themselves, appealed to the sword, and entangled themselves in guilt. On opening the third seal, a black horse appeared; a colour denoting mourning and woe, darkness and ignorance. He that sat on it had a yoke in his hand. Attempts were made to put a yoke of superstitious observances on the disciples. As the stream of Christianity flowed further from its pure fountain, it became more and more corrupt. During the progress of this black horse, the necessaries of life should be at excessive prices, and the more costly things should not be hurt. According to prophetic language, these articles signified that food of religious knowledge, by which the souls of men are sustained unto everlasting life; such we are invited to buy, ( Isaiah 55:1 ) . But when the dark clouds of ignorance and superstition, denoted by the black horse, spread over the Christian world, the knowledge and practice of true religion became scarce. When a people loathe their spiritual food, God may justly deprive them of their daily bread. The famine of bread is a terrible judgment; but the famine of the word is more so. Upon opening the fourth seal, another horse appeared, of a pale colour. The rider was Death, the king of terrors. The attendants, or followers of this king of terrors, hell, a state of eternal misery to all who die in their sins; and in times of general destruction, multitudes go down unprepared into the pit. The period of the fourth seal is one of great slaughter and devastation, destroying whatever may tend to make life happy, making ravages on the spiritual lives of men. Thus the mystery of iniquity was completed, and its power extended both over the lives and consciences of men. The exact times of these four seals cannot be ascertained, for the changes were gradual. God gave them power, that is, those instruments of his anger, or those judgments: all public calamities are at his command; they only go forth when God sends them, and no further than he permits.
Verses 9-11 The sight the apostle beheld at the opening the fifth seal was very affecting. He saw the souls of the martyrs under the altar; at the foot of the altar in heaven, at the feet of Christ. Persecutors can only kill the body; after that there is no more they can do; the soul lives. God has provided a good place in the better world, for those who are faithful unto death. It is not their own death, but the sacrifice of Christ, that gives them entrance into heaven. The cause in which they suffered, was for the word of God; the best any man can lay down his life for; faith in God's word, and the unshaken confession of that faith. They commit their cause to Him to whom vengeance belongs. The Lord is the comforter of his afflicted servants, and precious is their blood in his sight. As the measure of the sin of persecutors is filling up, so is the number of the persecuted, martyred servants of Christ. When this is fulfilled, God will send tribulation to those who trouble them, and unbroken happiness and rest to those that are troubled.
Verses 12-17 When the sixth seal was opened, there was a great earthquake. The foundations of churches and states would be terribly shaken. Such bold figurative descriptions of great changes abound in the prophecies of Scripture; for these events are emblems, and declare the end of the world and the day of judgment. Dread and terror would seize on all sorts of men. Neither grandeur, riches, valour, nor strength, can support men at that time. They would be glad to be no more seen; yea, to have no longer any being. Though Christ be a Lamb, he can be angry, and the wrath of the Lamb is exceedingly dreadful; for if the Redeemer himself, who appeases the wrath of God, be our enemy, where shall we find a friend to plead for us? As men have their day of opportunity, and their seasons of grace, so God has his day of righteous wrath. It seems that the overthrow of the paganism of the Roman empire is here meant. The idolaters are described as hiding themselves in their dens and secret caves, and vainly seeking to escape ruin. In such a day, when the signs of the times show those who believe in God's word, that the King of kings is approaching, Christians are called to a decided course, and to a bold confession of Christ and his truth before their fellowmen. Whatever they may have to endure, the short contempt of man is to be borne, rather than that shame which is everlasting.
Revelation 6:1-17 . THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SIX OF THE SEVEN SEALS.
Compare Note, Many (MEDE, FLEMING, NEWTON, &c.). hold that all these seals have been fulfilled, the sixth having been so by the overthrow of paganism and establishment of Christianity under Constantine's edict, A.D. 312. There can, however, be no doubt that at least the sixth seal is future, and is to be at the coming again of Christ. The great objection to supposing the seals to be finally and exhaustively fulfilled (though, probably, particular events may be partial fulfilments typical of the final and fullest one), is that, if so, they ought to furnish (as the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Christ's prophecy, does) a strong external evidence of Revelation. But it is clear they cannot be used for this, as hardly any two interpreters of this school are agreed on what events constitute the fulfilment of each seal. Probably not isolated facts, but classes of events preparing the way for Christ's coming kingdom, are intended by the opening of the seals. The four living creatures severally cry at the opening of the first four seals, "Come," which fact marks the division of the seven, as often occurs in this sacred number, into four and three.
1. one of the seals--The oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, Vulgate, and Syriac read, "one of the seven seals."
noise--The three oldest manuscripts read this in the nominative or dative, not the genitive, as English Version, "I heard one from among the four living creatures saying, as (it were) the voice (or, 'as with the voice') of thunder." The first living creature was like a lion ( Revelation 4:7 ): his voice is in consonance. Implying the lion-like boldness with which, in the successive great revivals, the faithful have testified for Christ, and especially a little before His coming shall testify. Or, rather, their earnestness in praying for Christ's coming.
Come and see--One oldest manuscript, B, has "And see." But A, C, and Vulgate reject it. ALFORD rightly objects to English Version reading: "Whither was John to come? Separated as he was by the glassy sea from the throne, was he to cross it?" Contrast the form of expression, Revelation 10:8 . It is much more likely to be the cry of the redeemed to the Redeemer, "Come" and deliver the groaning creature from the bondage of corruption. Thus, Revelation 6:2 is an answer to the cry, went (literally, "came") forth corresponding to "Come." "Come," says GROTIUS, is the living creature's address to John, calling his earnest attention. But it seems hard to see how "Come" by itself can mean this. Compare the only other places in Revelation where it is used, Revelation 4:1 , 22:17 . If the four living creatures represent the four Gospels, the "Come" will be their invitation to everyone (for it is not written that they addressed John) to accept Christ's salvation while there is time, as the opening of the seals marks a progressive step towards the end (compare Revelation 22:17 ). Judgments are foretold as accompanying the preaching of the Gospel as a witness to all nations ( Revelation 14:6-11 , Matthew 24:6-14 ). Thus the invitation, "Come," here, is aptly parallel to Matthew 24:14 . The opening of the first four seals is followed by judgments preparatory for His coming. At the opening of the fifth seal, the martyrs above express the same ( Revelation 6:9 Revelation 6:10 ; compare Zechariah 1:10 ). At the opening of the sixth seal, the Lord's coming is ushered in with terrors to the ungodly. At the seventh, the consummation is fully attained ( Revelation 11:15 ).
2. Evidently Christ, whether in person, or by His angel, preparatory to His coming again, as appears from Revelation 19:11 Revelation 19:12 .
bow--( Psalms 45:4 Psalms 45:5 ).
crown--Greek, "stephanos," the garland or wreath of a conqueror, which is also implied by His white horse, white being the emblem of victory. In Revelation 19:11 Revelation 19:12 the last step in His victorious progress is represented; accordingly there He wears many diadems (Greek, "diademata"; not merely Greek, "stephanoi," "crowns" or "wreaths"), and is personally attended by the hosts of heaven. Compare Zechariah 1:7-17 , 6:1-8 ; especially Revelation 6:10 below, with Zechariah 1:12 ; also compare the colors of the four horses.
and to conquer--that is, so as to gain a lasting victory. All four seals usher in judgments on the earth, as the power which opposes the reign of Himself and His Church. This, rather than the work of conversion and conviction, is primarily meant, though doubtless, secondarily, the elect will be gathered out through His word and His judgments.
3. and see--omitted in the three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, and Vulgate.
4. red--the color of blood. The color of the horse in each case answers to the mission of the rider. Compare Matthew 10:24-36 , "Think not I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword." The white horse of Christ's bloodless victories is soon followed, through man's perversion of the Gospel, by the red horse of bloodshed; but this is overruled to the clearing away of the obstacles to Christ's coming kingdom. The patient ox is the emblem of the second living creature who, at the opening of this seal, saith, "Come." The saints amidst judgments on the earth in patience "endure to the end."
that they should kill--The Greek is indicative future, "that they may, as they also shall, kill one another."
5. Come and see--The two oldest manuscripts, A, C, and Vulgate omit "and see." B retains the words.
black--implying sadness and want.
a pair of balances--the symbol of scarcity of provisions, the bread being doled out by weight.
6. a voice--Two oldest manuscripts, A, C, read, "as it were a voice." B reads as English Version. The voice is heard "in the midst of the four living creatures" (as Jehovah in the Shekinah-cloud manifested His presence between the cherubim); because it is only for the sake of, and in connection with, His redeemed, that God mitigates His judgments on the earth.
A measure--"A chænix." While making food scarce, do not make it so much so that a chænix (about a day's provision of wheat, variously estimated at two or three pints) shall not be obtainable "for a penny" (denarius, about twenty cents, probably the day's wages of a laborer). Famine generally follows the sword. Ordinarily, from sixteen to twenty measures were given for a denarius. The sword, famine, noisome beasts, and the pestilence, are God's four judgments on the earth. A spiritual famine, too, may be included in the judgment. The "Come," in the case of this third seal, is said by the third of the four living creatures, whose likeness is a man indicative of sympathy and human compassion for the sufferers. God in it tempers judgment with mercy. Compare Matthew 24:7 , which indicates the very calamities foretold in these seals, nation rising against nation (the sword), famines, pestilences ( Revelation 6:8 ), and earthquakes ( Revelation 6:12 ).
three measures of barley for a penny--the cheaper and less nutritious grain, bought by the laborer who could not buy enough wheat for his family with his day's wages, a denarius, and, therefore, buys barley.
see thou hurt not the oil, and the wine--the luxuries of life, rather than necessaries; the oil and wine were to be spared for the refreshment of the sufferers.
7. and see--supported by B; omitted by A, C, and Vulgate. The fourth living creature, who was "like a flying eagle," introduces this seal; implying high-soaring intelligence, and judgment descending from on high fatally on the ungodly, as the king of birds on his prey.
8. pale--"livid" [ALFORD].
unto them--Death and Hades. So A, C read. But B and Vulgate read, "to him."
fourth part of the earth--answering to the first four seals; his portion as one of the four, being a fourth part.
death--pestilence; compare Ezekiel 14:21 with the four judgments here, the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts; the famine the consequence of the sword; pestilence, that of famine; and beasts multiplying by the consequent depopulation.
with the beasts--Greek, "by"; more direct agency. These four seals are marked off from the three last, by the four living creatures introducing them with "Come." The calamities indicated are not restricted to one time, but extend through the whole period of Church history to the coming of Christ, before which last great and terrible day of the Lord they shall reach highest aggravation. The first seal is the summary, Christ going forth conquering till all enemies are subdued under Him, with a view to which the judgments subsequently specified accompany the preaching of the Gospel for a witness to all nations.
9. The three last seals relate to the invisible, as the first four to the visible world; the fifth, to the martyrs who have died as believers; the sixth, to those who have died, or who shall be found at Christ's coming, unbelievers, namely, "the kings . . . great men . . . bondman . . . freeman"; the seventh, to the silence in heaven. The scene changes from earth to heaven; so that interpretations which make these three last consecutive to the first four seals, are very doubtful.
I saw--in spirit. For souls are not naturally visible.
under the altar--As the blood of sacrificial victims slain on the altar was poured at the bottom of the altar, so the souls of those sacrificed for Christ's testimony are symbolically represented as under the altar, in heaven; for the life or animal soul is in the blood, and blood is often represented as crying for vengeance ( Genesis 4:10 ). The altar in heaven, antitypical to the altar of sacrifice, is Christ crucified. As it is the altar that sanctifies the gift, so it is Christ alone who makes our obedience, and even our sacrifice of life for the truth, acceptable to God. The sacrificial altar was not in the sanctuary, but outside; so Christ's literal sacrifice and the figurative sacrifice of the martyrs took place, not in the heavenly sanctuary, but outside, here on earth. The only altar in heaven is that antitypical to the temple altar of incense. The blood of the martyrs cries from the earth under Christ's cross, whereon they may be considered virtually to have been sacrificed; their souls cry from under the altar of incense, which is Christ in heaven, by whom alone the incense of praise is accepted before God. They are under Christ, in His immediate presence, shut up unto Him in joyful eager expectancy until He shall come to raise the sleeping dead. Compare the language of 2 Maccabees 7:36 as indicating Jewish opinion on the subject. Our brethren who have now suffered a short pain are dead under (Greek) God's covenant of everlasting life.
testimony which they held--that is, which they bore, as committed to them to bear. Compare Revelation 12:17 , "Have (same Greek as here) the testimony of Jesus."
10. How long--Greek, "Until when?" As in the parable the woman (symbol of the Church) cries day and night to the unjust judge for justice against her adversary who is always oppressing her (compare below, Revelation 12:10 ); so the elect (not only on earth, but under Christ's covering, and in His presence in Paradise) cry day and night to God, who will assuredly, in His own time, avenge His and their cause, "though He bear long with them." These passages need not be restricted to some particular martyrdoms, but have been, and are receiving, and shall receive partial fulfilments, until their last exhaustive fulfilment before Christ's coming. So as to the other events foretold here. The glory even of those in Paradise will only be complete when Christ's and the Church's foes are cast out, and the earth will become Christ's kingdom at His coming to raise the sleeping saints.
Lord--Greek, "Master"; implying that He has them and their foes and all His creatures as absolutely at His disposal, as a master has his slaves; hence, in Revelation 6:11 , "fellow servants," or fellow slaves follows.
holy--Greek, "the Holy one."
avenge--"exact vengeance for our blood."
on--Greek, "from them."
that dwell on the earth--the ungodly, of earth, earthly, as distinguished from the Church, whose home and heart are even now in heavenly places.
11. white robes--The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, read, "A white robe was given."
every one of--One oldest manuscript, B, omits this. A and C read, "unto them, unto each," that is, unto them severally. Though their joint cry for the riddance of the earth from the ungodly is not yet granted, it is intimated that it will be so in due time; meanwhile, individually they receive the white robe, indicative of light, joy, and triumphant victory over their foes; even as the Captain of their salvation goes forth on a white horse conquering and to conquer; also of purity and sanctity through Christ. MAIMONIDES says that the Jews used to array priests, when approved of, in white robes; thus the sense is, they are admitted among the blessed ones, who, as spotless priests, minister unto God and the Lamb.
should--So C reads. But A and B, "shall rest."
a little season--One oldest manuscript, B, omits "little." A and C support it. Even if it be omitted, is it to be inferred that the "season" is short as compared with eternity? BENGEL fancifully made a season (Greek, "chronus," the word here used) to be one thousand one hundred and eleven one-ninth years, and a time ( Revelation 12:12 Revelation 12:14 , Greek, "kairos") to be a fifth of a season, that is, two hundred and twenty-two two-ninths years. The only distinction in the Greek is, a season (Greek, "chronus") is a sort of aggregate of times. Greek, "kairos," a specific time, and so of short duration. As to their rest, compare Revelation 14:13 (the same Greek, "anapauomai"); Isaiah 57:2 , Daniel 12:13 .
until their . . . brethren . . . be fulfilled--in number. Until their full number shall have been completed. The number of the elect is definitely fixed: perhaps to fill up that of the fallen angels. But this is mere conjecture. The full blessedness and glory of all the saints shall be simultaneous. The earlier shall not anticipate the later saints. A and C read, "shall have been accomplished"; B and Aleph read, "shall have accomplished (their course)."
12. As Revelation 6:4 Revelation 6:6-8 , the sword, famine, and pestilence, answer to Matthew 24:6 Matthew 24:7 , Revelation 6:9 Revelation 6:10 , as to martyrdoms, answer to Matthew 24:9 Matthew 24:10 ; so this passage, Revelation 6:12 Revelation 6:17 , answers to Matthew 24:29 Matthew 24:30 , "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven; . . . then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming"; imagery describing the portents of the immediate coming of the day of the Lord; but not the coming itself until the elect are sealed, and the judgments invoked by the martyrs descend on the earth, the sea, and the trees ( Revelation 7:1-3 ).
and, lo--So A reads. But B and C omit "lo."
earthquake--Greek, "shaking" of the heavens, the sea, and the dry land; the shaking of these mutable things being the necessary preliminary to the setting up of those things which cannot be shaken. This is one of the catchwords [WORDSWORTH] connecting the sixth seal with the sixth trumpet ( Revelation 11:13 ) and the seventh vial ( Revelation 16:17-21 ); also the seventh seal ( Revelation 8:5 ).
sackcloth--One kind, made of the "hair" of Cilician goats, was called "cilicium," or Cilician cloth, and was used for tents, &c. Paul, a Cilician, made such tents ( Acts 18:3 ).
moon--A, B, C, and oldest versions read, "the whole moon"; the full moon; not merely the crescent moon.
as blood--( Joel 2:31 ).
13. stars . . . fell . . . as a fig tree casteth her . . . figs--( Isaiah 34:4 , Nahum 3:12 ). The Church shall be then ripe for glorification, the Antichristian world for destruction, which shall be accompanied with mighty phenomena in nature. As to the stars falling to the earth, Scripture describes natural phenomena as they would appear to the spectator, not in the language of scientific accuracy; and yet, while thus adapting itself to ordinary men, it drops hints which show that it anticipates the discoveries of modern science.
14. departed--Greek, "was separated from" its place; "was made to depart." Not as ALFORD, "parted asunder"; for, on the contrary, it was rolled together as a scroll which had been open is rolled up and laid aside. There is no "asunder one from another" here in the Greek, as in Acts 15:39 , which ALFORD copies.
mountain . . . moved out of . . . places--( Psalms 121:1 , Margin; Jeremiah 3:23 , 4:24 , Nahum 1:5 ). This total disruption shall be the precursor of the new earth, just as the pre-Adamic convulsions prepared it for its present occupants.
15. kings . . . hid themselves--Where was now the spirit of those whom the world has so greatly feared? [BENGEL].
great men--statesmen and high civil officers.
rich men . . . chief captains--The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, transpose thus, "chief captains . . . rich men."
mighty--The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, and C read, "strong" physically ( Psalms 33:16 ).
in--literally "into"; ran into, so as to hide themselves in.
16. from the face--( Psalms 34:16 ). On the whole verse, compare Hosea 10:8 , Luke 23:30 .
17. Literally, "the day, the great (day)," which can only mean the last great day. After the Lord has exhausted all His ordinary judgments, the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts, and still sinners are impenitent, the great day of the Lord itself' shall come. Matthew 24:6-29 plainly forms a perfect parallelism to the six seals, not only in the events, but also in the order of their occurrence: Matthew 24:3 , the first seal; Matthew 24:6 , the second seal; Matthew 24:7 , the third seal; Matthew 24:7 , end, the fourth seal; Matthew 24:9 , the fifth seal, the persecutions and abounding iniquity under which, as well as consequent judgments accompanied with gospel preaching to all nations as a witness, are particularly detailed, Matthew 24:9-28 ; Matthew 24:29 , the sixth seal.
to stand--to stand justified, and not condemned before the Judge. Thus the sixth seal brings us to the verge of the Lord's coming. The ungodly "tribes of the earth" tremble at the signs of His immediate approach. But before He actually inflicts the blow in person, "the elect" must be "gathered "out.