Part 4. The 7 seals (6:1—7:17)
4.1. First 4 seals: the 4 horsemen (6:1-8)
4.2. 5th seal: cry of the martyrs (6:9-11)
4.3. 6th seal: the great earthquake (6:12-17)
† The scroll is not actually open until all 7 seals are removed. The seals divide into 2 groups of four and three (same in the trumpets and the bowls). They are forces of God operating in judgment.
† PICTURE: In the centre of the gigantic court of heaven, the Lamb starts opening the seals covering the scroll containing the destiny of the world. Events happen while the seals are opened. Four horsemen on horses of different colours appear. Each horseman causes widespread troubles on the earth below. On the opening of the 5th seal, loud voices of martyrs plead to God for justice. On the opening of the 6th seal, the first large scale disaster strikes the earth.
6:1 One of the living creatures calls out with a voice like thunder “Come!” commanding the first horseman to ride forth.
6:2 The first horseman rides on a white horse. He has a bow and a crown, as a conqueror bent on conquest. His possible identity: [a] Irenaeus (2nd century) identifies the rider with Christ and the white horse with the victorious progress of the gospel. The reason is that the rider of the white horse in Rev 19 is Christ. However, a comparison of the two shows little in common. [b] He symbolizes the spirit of conquest and militarism. In the OT, the bow was a symbol of military power. The crown is a symbol of victory. [c] He symbolizes imperialism (of the 19th and early 20th century) which is characterized by conquest and victory. In addition, it often represents itself as conquest for a righteous cause, therefore in white.
6:3-4 The second horseman rides on a red horse. He is given a large sword and the power to take peace from the earth, allowing people to slay one another. His possible identity: [a] The red colour symbolizes slaughter and bloodshed. If the first seal suggested invasion from outside, the second seal may refer to internal strife. His mission is to remove peace and allow people to destroy each another. [b] He symbolizes communism (of the early to mid-20th century) which is characterized by conflicts and internal strife (such as internal purging in China) and large number of deaths (large sword). In addition, it often is represented with red colour.
6:5-6 The third horseman is on a black horse. He is given a pair of scales. His possible identity: [a] The balance indicates a time of scarcity when the basic commodities of life are measured out at greated inflated prices. For a day’s work a man could buy only enough wheat for himself or the less nutritious barley for three. The price appears to be 10-12 times what it should have been. [b] He symbolizes the oil crisis (in the 1970s) when the shortage of oil vastly increased the price of oil and consequently everything else. The ever-increasing price of oil still causes economic crisis. In addition, the colour black fits the colour of oil.
6:7-8 The fourth horseman rides on a grey horse, the colour of a corpse. The rider is called Death, followed by his companion Hades. His possible identity: [a] He symbolizes disasters that come from war: sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague which kill one quarter of mankind (Eze 14:21). [b] He symbolizes recent worldwide disasters. Large scale wars have occurred in the past century and continue even now (Middle East, central Africa, South America, Southeast Asia). Famine occurs frequently in many countries, such as Sudan, Ethiopia, North Korea. Plagues include AIDS, SARS and bird flue. Wide animals may symbolize uncontrolled people without reason, such as terrorists.
The fourth seal affects “a fourth of the earth” and the trumpets destroy a third (8:7,8,10,12), and the bowls destroy completely. This shows the increasing intensity of the 3 cycles of judgment.
6:9 The fifth seal reveals an altar in heaven (probably near God’s throne) under which are the souls of the faithful martyrs. The untimely deaths of the martyrs on earth are from God’s perspective a sacrifice on the altar of heaven. Now their souls are kept in safety near the throne of glory.
Their death was for God’s Word and for testimony of their faith. Jesus teaches that to be a disciple, a man must “take up his cross” (Mt 10:38; 16:24) meaning not only that he must bear the burden of persecution but also that he must be willing to die in martyrdom.
6:10 Divine vindication is retribution, not revenge. The difference is important to note. God will not act in revenge which comes out of bitterness. However, God will repay and punish the wicked for their own actions. The term “inhabitants of the earth” in Revelation is a designation for the human race in hostility to God (3:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8,12; 17:2; 17:8).
6:11 White robes are symbols of blessedness and purity. Some believe these are spiritual or glorified bodies that are given to the martyrs ahead of time as a token of special honour.
The martyrs are told to wait a little longer as there are other martyrs who will be killed before the end. God governs the world according to a predetermined time schedule. “Until their number is completed” is another way of saying that “until God’s appointed time has arrived.” It does not mean that God decided on a random number and then wait for the completion of this number.
6:12 The sixth seal is the beginning of the great cosmic disturbance. The earthquake was a regular feature of divine visitation (Ex 19:18; Isa 2:19). The sun turns black like rough cloth made from the hair of a black goat; such cloth was worn in times of mourning. The moon turns red probably as a result of whatever in the atmosphere that caused the sun to be darkened.
6:13 The stars of heaven, perhaps comets, are pictured as falling to the earth.
6:14 The sky, mountains and islands were displaced; these drive people in terror to hide.
6:15 The day of the Lord will be a day of terror for the unrighteous. At God’s judgment, there is no differences between people from different ranks. No money or power can save people from God’s wrath. The 7 groups stress the idea of completeness.
6:16 The people are so terrified that they flee to the mountains and cry for death rather than standing before the judgment of God and the wrath of the Lamb. For the non-unbeliever, the terror of death is for the darkness of the unknown fate and for the awareness of the coming judgment.
6:17 The wrath of God is both a present reality (Ro 1:18) and an eschatological event (Rev 19:15). It is not God’s personal vindictiveness. It is rather the response of God’s holiness to persistent and impenitent wickedness which we see everyday and everywhere in the world.
† Today, in democratic contries, secular people try to expel God from the public square. In Muslim and communist countries, Christians are persecuted and killed. Many Christians ask the same question that the martyrs asked, “How long?” We need to pray that Christ will come back soon but we also need to accept that God has His own optimal timing and He controls human destiny.
† It is possible that some of the events activated by the breaking of the seals are already under way today. We need to feel the urgency of spreading the gospel and serving God in these last days.