The Lamb is worthy to open the seals because He is worthy to execute judgment, and the opening of the seals is the revealing of judgments against the enemies of God's people. (See notes on 5:9.) What takes place as the seals are opened is a picture of progressive judgments rendered against them that dwell on the earth (the enemies of God's people), interrupted for the sealing of the elect (the 144,000), and then resumed until the judgments culminate in the vindication and victory of God's kingdom.
With the opening of each of the first four seals comes a horseman. These four horsemen bring to mind the 4 chariots of Zech. 6:1-8. Those were drawn by red, black, white, and "dappled", or "grizzled", teams respectively. They represented the 4 winds of heaven (6:5) and they appeased the Lord's wrath (6:8, NASB) by bringing the Lord's judgment against the land of the north, i.e. Babylon. So also the horsemen of Rev. 6 bring the Lord's judgment against the new Babylon, i.e., Rome.
COME The Lamb opens the first seal and one of the four living creatures says, "Come." The KJV has the additional words, "and see," which make it seem as if John is being addressed. However, the manuscript evidence seems to weigh against the authenticity of the words "and see". Therefore, we understand the "Come" to be addressed to the rider upon the horse.
A WHITE HORSE, AND HE THAT SAT THEREON... Some suppose the rider upon the white horse is Jesus Christ himself, on account of the fact that in Rev. 19:llff, he does appear riding to victory on a white horse. However, assuming we are correct in understanding the "Come" to be addressed to the rider, and not to John (see above on vs. 1), the horseman in 6:2 is a messenger who receives orders, just as the other riders do (6:3, 5, 7), and is thus seen to be on a level with the other horsemen. He comes forth to carry out a part of the scheme. Christ is the Lamb who is opening the seals and thereby executing the whole scheme.
The bow, the crown, and the conquering all point to military conquest. But who is the conqueror? Is it Rome? Or the enemies of Rome? The latter would be more parallel to the message of Zech. 6, for there, Babylon is brought down by God through the agency of other armies, namely, the Medes and the Persians. So here in Rev. 6:2 also, we would expect this conqueror to be one of God's agents in bringing about the fall of the new Babylon, i.e., Rome.
Is there anything in the description of the horse and horseman which might provide a clue? Here we introduce the comments of William Ramsay concerning the bow and white horse:
Similarly, in vi. 2 the bowman sitting on a white horse, to whom a crown was given, is the Parthian king. The bow was not a Roman weapon: it was not used in Roman armies except by a few auxiliaries levied among outlying tribes, who carried their national weapon. The Parthian weapon was the bow; the warriors were all horsemen; and they could use the bow - as well when they were fleeing as when they were charging. The writers of that period often mention the Parthian terror on the East, and their devastating incursions were so much dreaded at that time that Trajan undertook a Parthian war in 115. Virgil foretells a Roman victory: the bow and the horse have been useless:-
With backward bows the Parthians shall be there,
And, spurring from the fight, confess their fear.
Colour was also an important and significant detail. The Parthian king in vi. 2 rides on a white horse. White had been the sacred colour among the old Persians, for whom the Parthians stood in later times; and sacred white horses accompanied every Persian army. The commentators who try to force a Roman meaning on this figure say that the Roman general, when celebrating a Triumph, rode on a white horse. This is a mistake; the general in a Triumph wore the purple and gold-embroidered robes of Jupiter, and was borne like the god in a four-horse car. (The Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 58)
If, however, the Parthians are indeed represented by the 1st horseman, the conquests must be viewed as limited conquests, only part of a long series of events which would bring about the fall of Rome, for although the Parthians were strong, they were defeated by Trajan (Gibbon, vol. 1, p. 7), then regained territory during Hadrian's tenure (Gibbon, vol. 1, p. 8), but later were defeated by Marcus, and Severus (Gibbon, vol. 1, p. 240-242). And indeed, the picture we see as the seals are opened is not of one devastating blow, but of a series of events which culminate in fall of the "kingdom of the world".
RED HORSE When the Moabites saw water this color, they thought it was blood (2 Ki. 3:22-23). The other side of the conquest which the first horse symbolized by the second.
A BALANCE IN HIS HAND Such a balance would be used for measuring out the proper amount of food to be sold (Prov. 16:11, Ezek. 45:10).
MEASURE OF WHEAT FOR A SHILLING The measure (xoi=nic) here referred to was "almost equivalent to a quart; a choenix of grain was a daily ration for one man" - (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, & Danker). (The LXX rendering of the Hebrew bath by xoi=nic in Ezek. 45:10f is inaccurate - "absurd", according to Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 913.) A shilling (dhna/rion) represented the daily earnings of a common laborer (Mt. 20:2).
THREE MEASURES OF BARLEY FOR A SHILLING These prices were high, but they represent conditions far more tolerable than such as might exist during a severe famine due to siege. See, for example, 2 Kings 6:25. While food would be scarce and prices high, the Lord insures that the staples are not entirely out of reach.
THE OIL AND THE WINE HURT THOU NOT These are not representative of luxuries which were beyond the common man's reach even in times of plenty, as many commentators suppose. Although wine was indeed highly valued (Prov, 21:17, Hos. 2:8) so also were bread and water (Hos. 2:5). Oil and wine are to be taken with the wheat and barley as examples of staples (cf. Ex. 29:38-40). These are the common blessings which come forth from the earth (Ps. 104:14-15). The key to Rev. 6:6 is in seeing God's blessing as being associated with an abundance of these things (Ps. 104:14-25, Dt. 7:13, Hos. 2:8, 21), and conversely, God's judgment as being associated with the removal of these things (Mic. 6:15, Dt. 28:38-40, Joel 1:9-11). In that the oil and wine were not hurt, and the grain was available, although scarce, the point seems to be that in one more realm, God would bring about hardship, but not yet devastating hardship. His hand is partially stayed.
HE THAT SAT UPON HIM, HIS NAME WAS DEATH; AND HADES FOLLOWED AFTER HIM The rider of the fourth horse brings further distress. Hades (corresponding to the Hebrew Sheol) is the hopeless plight of mortal man (Ps. 89:48, Is. 14:9-10). But the hope of the saints has always been deliverance from Hades (Ps. 16:10, 49:15); and in Christ, who has the keys of Death and Hades (Rev, 1:18), the saints' hope is realized (Acts 2:27, 31, Mt. 16:18, I Cor. 15:22-23).
AUTHORITY OVER THE FOURTH PART OF THE EARTH Though the fourth horseman's authority, or power, is limited, as was the case with the third horseman, it is nonetheless extensive.
TO KILL WITH SWORD, AND WITH FAMINE, AND WITH DEATH, AND BY THE WILD BEASTS ON THE EARTH These are the Lord's "four sore judgments" (Ezek. 14:21). The "death" in Rev, 6:8b = "pestilence" in Ezek. 14:21. "Death" appears in Rev. 6:8 rather than "pestilence" on the basis of the LXX. (Cf. Lev. 26:25, Jer. 21:6-7, Ezek. 5:12, 19:5, 33:27, & 34:28).
The four horsemen have made their appearance bringing limited judgments upon the earth, and yet no judgment has yet come such as was prophesied in Daniel 7:11-14, 26-27. Hence, the saints who have been slain cry out for judgment to be rendered.
UNDERNEATH THE ALTAR The blood of a sacrificed bull,was poured out at the base of the altar (Ex. 29:12, Lev. 4:7). So the blood of these saints, who have been slain, cries out from underneath the altar (Cf. Gen. 4:10, Job 16:18, 2 Sam. 21:1-6).
SLAIN FOR THE WORD OF GOD, AND FOR THE TESTIMONY Cf. Rev. 1:9.
HOW LONG.. DOST THOU NOT JUDGE AND AVENGE OUR BLOOD Cf. Rev. 18:20, Dan. 7:26-27, Ps. 58:10-11.
WHO SHOULD BE KILLED EVEN AS THEY WERE There is yet more persecution to come before the saints are vindicated.
HE OPENED THE SIXTH SEAL After seeing limited judgments corresponding to the first four seals, John now sees the signs which anticipate a full-scale Day of the Lord (cf. Ezek. 30:3, Is. 13:6, 9, Joel 2:1, 11).
Much of the imagery is patterned after Mt. 24:1-31. Although the phrase "Day of the Lord" is not found there, Mt. 24 is itself patterned after the descriptions of the Days of the Lord described in Ezek. 30, 32, Is. 13, and Joel 2.
GREAT EARTHQUAKE Cf. Mt. 24:7.
SUN BECAME BLACK Cf. Mt. 24:29, Is. 13:10, Ezek. 32:7.
MOON BECAME AS BLOOD Cf. Mt. 24:29, Is. 13:10, Ezek. 32:7.
STARS OF THE HEAVEN FELL Cf. Mt. 24:29, Is. 13:10, Ezek. 32:7.
HEAVEN WAS REMOVED AS A SCROLL WHEN IT IS ROLLED UP Cf. Is. 34:4.
HID THEMSELVES IN CAVES AND THE ROCKS OF THE MOUNTAINS Cf. Is. 2:19-21
THE GREAT DAY (Cf. Joel 2:11, 31, Zeph. 1:14) It would be a day of wrath (Rev. 6:16; cf. Zeph. 1:15) upon the unrighteous.
IS COME i.e., it is imminent. However, before the 7th seal can be opened and the consummation of the great day of the Lord be accomplished, the saints who are yet upon the earth must be sealed to protect them from what is about to come.
FOUR ANGELS corresponding to the four corners.
FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH This represents the whole earth. Cf. Is. 11:12.
HOLDING THE FOUR WINDS winds of God's judgments.
HAVING THE SEAL OF THE LIVING GOD Compare with this Mordecai's permission to use King Ahasuerus' signet ring (Esther 8:2) to affix the king's seal (Esther 8:8) to any decree Mordecai might issue, and Jezebel's use of Ahab's seal (1 Kings 21:8). In addition to indicating its owner's authority, a seal was used to indicate ownership. For examples of figurative uses of the word in this sense, see Haggai 2:23 (LXX) and 2 Tim. 2:19.
SEALED THE SERVANTS ON THEIR FOREHEADS Cf. Ezek. 9:1-11, esp. 9:4. These are sealed with "the seal of the living God" (7:2) so as to be identified as his and spared from the Lord's wrath (6:17).
A parallel to the plagues brought against Egypt is seen in this sealing of the 144,000 just prior to the opening of the final seal. Remember that, just prior to the final plague, God's people were identified and protected by the blood on their lintels and doorposts.
A HUNDRED AND FORTY AND FOUR THOUSAND, SEALED OUT OF EVERY TRIBE OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL The twelve tribes are named in verses 5-8 with "Joseph" in place of Ephraim. Furthermore, Levi is included while Dan is omitted. This, as well as the fact that precisely 1000 are counted from each tribe, makes it obvious that the tribes are symbolic and representative rather than literal. Moreover, it is not fleshly Israel that is in view, for in 14:1, the 144,000 are standing with the Lamb, "having his name, and the name of his Father written on their foreheads."
The 144,000 are upon the earth, else there would have been no reason to delay the four winds of the earth till after they were sealed. On the number itself, compare the comments on 4:4. Again here, we see the combination of 12 and 12, this time multiplied together, and by 1000, thus denoting the body of living saints, a body comprised of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph. 2:11-18).
A GREAT MULTITUDE WHICH NO MAN COULD NUMBER in contrast to the definite number assigned to the saints on earth.
STANDING BEFORE THE THRONE AND BEFORE THE LAMB Having passed out of earthly existence, these stand in the heavenly realm.
ARRAYED IN WHITE ROBES as were those in 6:9-11 who had been slain, and as will be all those who overcome (3:5).
PALM BRANCHES cf. Lev. 23:40, Jn. 12:13.
THESE ARE THEY THAT COME OUT OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION "Come" is translated from a present participle, and should probably be translated "coming".
1. Is there any reason to assume that Rev. 6:12-17 is a description of the Last Day? Have various days been described in similar ways?
2. Does each phrase in Rev. 6:12-17 represent some specific historical event?
3. Why did The 144,000 need to he sealed?
4. Are these 144,000 on the earth at the time of the sealing?
5. Where is the great multitude?
6. What two tribes are omitted from the list of tribes in Rev. 7:5-8?
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