Opening of the Seals
The Lamb now possesses the scroll and in this chapter the seals are broken, and they are they are divided into two groups, the first group is four and the second is a group of three. The first set contains what we have come to know as the four-horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are among some of the most recognized symbols in the book of Revelation and they have a wide variety of ways they have being interpreted. Most likely they represent God’s judgment and the imagery is closely related to Zechariah’s vision in Ch.1:8 -17 and 6:1- 8. In Revelation the judgment corresponds with the rider and symbolize conquest, slaughter, shortage, and death. In Zechariah the riders patrol the earth and in Revelation they release disaster on the earth.
All of the scenes depicted by the seals take place on earth with the exception of the fifth seal.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Vs 1: The Lamb (Jesus) is the one who is worthy to open the scroll and to bring about set in motion the conclusion of human history. Upon opening the first seal one of the four creatures around the throne of God calls out to the first of four riders of the apocalypse. The call to “Come” is intended for the horsemen, but some translations may read “come and see” and this is interpreted by those who believe the invitation to come is for John.
Vs 2: First rider – riding a white horse with a bow and a crown. Some interpret this rider as Jesus since the rider in chapter 19 is on a white horse and is described as Jesus. However, the rider of ch. 6 and the rider of ch. 19 as the two riders have little in common with the exception that they are both riding a white horse. The rider in Ch. 6 carries a bow and wears a crown (victor’s wreath) and the rider in Ch. 19 wears many crowns and carries a sharp sword. The rider of Ch. 6 is a conqueror and the rider of Ch. 19 is in the context of righteous reckoning or judgment.
The more prominent and common interpretation of the rider identifies him as a conqueror and of military. In the OT the bow usually symbolizes military power. There has been some speculation that this rider represents a feared invasion from beyond the boundaries of the Roman empire. Some compare them to the Parthians as they were the most renown archers of ancient times and they were known for riding white horses. In A.D. 62 Vologeses (the king of Parthia) defeated the Roman army and this caused the West to fear an all-out invasion. Regardless the white horse and rider most likely refers to military conquest in general.
Vs 3 – 4: Second seal – Red (some versions say fiery red) horse and a rider who is given a great sword and given permission to take peace from the earth and slay one another. The color red corresponds with the mission of the rider and that is to bring carnage and slaughter. According to Mounce, “His mission is to remove peace from the earth and allow people to turn their destructive instincts upon one another… (it ) would be quickly understood in John’s day, well acquainted as it was with rebellion and civil disorder. In a single year, a.d. 68–69, Rome had been ruled by four different emperors. It is reported that in the thirty-year period prior to the reign of Herod the Great (67–37 b.c.), more than one hundred thousand insurgents died in revolutions and rebellions in Palestine alone. Anarchy and bloodshed are harbingers of the end.”
Vs 5 – 6: Third seal – Black horse and a rider with a pair of scales in his hands. The voice from the midst of the living creatures announces prices of scarcity or famine. These common items, wheat and barley, will sell at inflated prices.
Denarius = A Roman silver coin equivalent to a day’s wages of a working person. One has to work a full day in order to pay for barely enough for himself. The price will be inflated 10 to 12 times what it should be.
The rider on the black horse is commonly symbolizes famine. Famine was normal in ancient times when after warfare as invading armies would live off of the lands they conquered.
“Do not harm the oil and the wine!”: There are varying interpretations of this statement.
Vs 7 – 8: Fourth seal – Pale horse and it’s rider’s name was Death and Hades followed him. Power is given to this rider over a fourth of the earth, thus giving them the power to bring about death to one quarter of humanity. He will kill based on the four disastrous acts of Ezekiel 14:21: sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence/plague.
Mounce sums up the meaning behind the actual Four horsemen of the Apocalypse and their deeds as, “Reviewing the various interpretations assigned to the Four Horsemen tends to rob the contemporary reader of the dramatic nature of the vision itself. It is good to place oneself back in one of the seven churches and listen to the visions as they are being read. Instead of discussing the probable significance of each of the four colored horses those first listeners would undoubtedly have recoiled in terror as war, bloodshed, famine, and death galloped furiously across the stage of their imagination. Visions at best are to be experienced rather than analyzed. Those who approach Revelation with a sympathetic imagination are most apt to understand its true meaning.”
The Martyred Saints
Vs 9 – 11: This is the second part of the division of the seals. The first division comes with the four horsemen as they are released to ride forth and now the scene changes.
Fifth Seal – reveals an altar and under it are the souls of those who were martyred for their faith in Christ or trust in Jesus Christ. They ask how long until their blood is avenged and the answer seems to be, things will get worse before they get better. In God’s time He will pour out his wrath
The altar – Probably refers to both the altar of burnt offerings (sacrifice) and the altar of incense (prayer) and is most likely a culmination of both.
In OT testament sacrifices the blood was poured out at the base of the altar of the burnt offering. The blood contained the life, or souls, of the flesh. The martyrs were under the altar is a way of saying that their premature deaths on earth are from the perspective of God a sacrifice on the altar in heaven. It may also suggest that the altar is the place where the martyrs receive safety.
These faithful individuals gave their lives for the glory of God. They ascend to heaven through suffering and death. This should show to us that there is no guarantee that our lives will be any different. Christians are promised eternal life for their faith in Jesus Christ, but we are not promised protection from pain, suffering, and death. I hear people often say that they wish that Jesus would just take them away (maybe rapture) from troubled times to escape difficulty, suffering, pain, and even piddly inconveniences. Contrary to popular thought and teaching God is not concerned with our modern comforts and easy living. If anything, Jesus promised the opposite in life. As believers we should expect persecution, suffering, and tribulation in this life.
Vs 10: “How long before you judge and avenge our blood…” This is not a request of revenge from a personal perspective, but out of concern for the reputation or glory of God. The martyrs do not have the attitude of many who relish in knowing that one day that those who reject Jesus will be punished in eternal hellfire. It is not based in vindictiveness like Tertullian who writes of how he will laugh and exult at the last judgment as he sees the proud monarchs groaning and weeping in the lowest abyss of darkness, and the magistrates liquifying in fiercer flames than ever kindled against Christians.
Vs 11: Each of the martyrs is given a white robe. Some interpret this to mean spiritual or glorified bodies. However, in Revelation white robes are symbols of blessedness and purity.
There are still others who will be joining them as the persecution continues on earth.
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