All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
(Rev 6:1-2) – 1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, Come. 2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon had a bow; and there was given unto him a crown: and he came forth conquering, and to conquer.
First seal — white horse
(Matt 24:14; Mark 13:10)
For the most part, a literal interpretation of these seven seals is required. The same cannot be said about the trumpets and plagues.
A common interpretation of this white horse is that it refers to the Antichrist, but one can only come to such an interpretation if one has a position to support — in this case, Premillennialism. If one looks at all the references given in the New Testament where white is mentioned, the idea that this could refer to such a one as an antichrist or evil of any kind, is completely out of harmony with what white is shown to represent. In the book of Revelation alone, white is mentioned several times in the context of salvation and Heaven, not of evil (Rev 2:17; 3:4-5,18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13,14;). Jesus Himself is shown to return on a white horse, along with those with Him (Rev 19:11,14). Other references to white in association with Jesus is Rev 1:14; 14:14; 20:11; Matt 17:2; Mark 9:3. (Also see Matt 28:3; Acts 1:10)
Following the pattern of the NT, particularly of this book, the only reasonable and consistent interpretation one can come to is that the rider of this white horse has to be the Lord Jesus Christ. Mention of the “crown,” refers to His authority as “King of kings and Lord of lords.” This title is even named in the context of Christ returning on His white horse in Rev 19:11-16).
However, the “white horse” of this first seal is not about the return of Christ. That doesn’t happen till He comes to defeat His enemies prior to the beginning of the Eternal Kingdom. Given that this book covers the entire Church age, I believe this has to be about the one thing that “conquers” all, and that’s the truth of Christ. Jesus referred to Himself as “the truth” (Jn 14:6). Thus the “crown” represents not only His authority as Ruler of the universe, but also the authority of truth. The truth of Christ reigns supreme over all the false religions and philosophies of the world.
Therefore, I believe what’s primarily in view here is the gospel of Jesus Christ that goes throughout the world conquering all that opposes the truth. Reference to the “bow” without an arrow, even suggests that this is not a physical weapon one uses to win battles between men and nations. If an arrow had been included in this description, then perhaps that would indicate that type of warfare (which is what the second seal is about). However, the absence of an arrow gets us to thinking of a different type of warfare, and in this case, it has to be the warfare between the truth of Christ and the false teachings of the world.
(Rev 6:3-4) – 3 And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, Come. 4 And another horse came forth, a red horse: and to him that sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
Second seal — red horse
(Matt 24:6-7; Mark 13:7-8; Luke 21:9-10)
As opposed to the warfare between the truth of Christ and the false teachings of the world that’s represented by the rider on the white horse, the rider on this horse represents the warfare between men and nations (“a great sword”). Warfare of this type has always been throughout history. Thus what’s revealed by the rider on this horse is that warfare between men and nations will continue until the end of the world, up to the time of Christ’s return.
(Rev 6:5-6) – 5 And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and behold, a black horse; and he that sat thereon had a balance in his hand. 6 And I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, A measure of wheat for a shilling, and three measures of barley for a shilling; and the oil and the wine hurt thou not.
Third seal — black horse
(Matt 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11)
The rider on this black horse represents poverty or famine. Along with warfare, this is something else that has always been and will continue to the very end of the world.
“and the oil and the wine hurt thou not”
The oil and wine hurt thou not … There are two ways of construing these words. Some have seen in them an indication that while wheat and barley are priced almost out of the reach of the poor, the rich still have their oil and wine. As Hendriksen put it, “The rich enjoy their abundance, but the poor have hardly enough to hold body and soul together.” The other view, that of Beckwith, is that the words are “merely intended as a limitation on the severity of the famine.” It is believed that the latter interpretation is correct. (1) It corresponds with the limitation placed upon the pale horse. (2) It is hard to understand why an order from the living creatures should have promulgated an edict favoring the rich. (3) The identification of “oil and wine” as pertaining to the rich only is unsound. “Oil and wine were not luxuries, but part of the basic commodities of life.
(Rev 6:7) – 7 And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, Come. 8 And I saw, and behold, a pale horse: and he that sat upon him, his name was Death; and Hades followed with him. And there was given unto them authority over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with famine, and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Fourth seal — pale horse
(Matt 24:22; Mark 13:20)
We see “sword” and “death” in the second seal, and “famine” in the third seal. We see here the addition of “wild beasts of the earth,” which should probably be taken literally, since the others are obviously, literal. The difference between this seal and the other two, may be found in the “authority” that was given over the “fourth part of the earth” — the fourth part, probably being symbolic of God’s limiting of the extent of these things. Therefore, the focus of this seal may actually be on this “authority” that was granted within the limits that God allowed (fourth part of the earth), and not on the events themselves. So then, what this seal reveals is that God won’t allow mankind to annihilate themselves.
Seals two, three, and four should not be seen as judgments from God, but simply as revelations of the way things shall be throughout history.
(Rev 6:9-11) – 9 And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 and they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And there was given them to each one a white robe; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course.
Fifth seal — Martyrs for Christ (Christian persecution)
(Matt 24:9-10; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19)
As I’ve talked about all along, Revelation is, in large part, a book about the persecution and death of Christians, and here is a clear passage that reveals that. The idea that these are martyrs from a seven year period of tribulation prior to the return of Christ, is contrary to the evidence. There would be nothing special about the martyrs of a so-called tribulation period that does not apply to all Christian martyrs throughout the Church age. All followers of Christ who are “slain for the word of God and for their testimony,” die honorably. Therefore, I think it’s unreasonable that one group of martyrs would be singled out and elevated above all others who have suffered and died for the name of Christ over the past 2000 years — up to this present time, and still counting. This is one of the strongest evidences that this book covers the entire Church period.
“underneath the altar”
Quite obviously, all the martyrs of Christ throughout history could not fit “underneath the altar.” Therefore, this altar and those underneath it, is merely symbolic or representative of all those who die for their faith in Christ. This altar has the OT sacrifices in view. Thus, this altar symbolizes those who give their lives for the name of Christ.
“And there was given them to each one a white robe”
Revelation is meant to bring comfort for all Christians, of what we have to look forward to in eternity. This is especially true of those who are martyred for their faith. This “white robe” identifies us with Christ (vs. 2). It symbolizes both our purity in Christ (salvation) and of faithfulness — referring to those who “conquer” (Rev 2:17; Rev 3:4,18). A true faith will endure. A true faith will be “proved” to be genuine.
“How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
This is a cry for justice, not revenge.
“rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course.”
These martyrs are instructed to “rest yet for a little time,” until all others who are likewise killed for their faith in Christ, should be “fulfilled.” Again, the idea that this only refers to a select group of people during a short, seven year period out of hundreds and hundreds of years of martyrdom, simply doesn’t make any sense. No, the “brethren who should be killed even as they were,” will not be “fulfilled” or completed until every martyred saint throughout the Christian era is in the presence of the Lord — which occurs at the time of the resurrection.
To be clear, as I already discussed, the “altar” is symbolic, which indicates that those “underneath” are also symbolic (representing all Christian martyrs). Therefore, we should not assume that this is a revelation of those in Heaven now. Heaven (the Eternal Kingdom of Rev 21 & 22) awaits our resurrection. The resurrection of God’s people is a central theme in the Bible, especially in the NT. The resurrection of Christ guarantees our own resurrection, which occurs at the time of Christ’s return (1 Cor 15). To “rest” is to await our resurrection.
The fact that John uses the phrase “a little time,” does not prove the premillennial position of a short “seven year” period. It’s all a matter of perspective. For those who rest in Christ, whether it be for 2000 years or 2 days, it’s all the same: “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pe 3:8). It will seem but a short time for all who die in the Lord — at any point of the Church era.
Considering that all the events of these first five revelations (seals) have been going on throughout history – and will continue – it’s unreasonable that they refer to a mere “seven year period.”
(Rev 6:12-17) – 12 And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; 13 and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs when she is shaken of a great wind. 14 And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.15 And the kings of the earth, and the princes, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 for the great day of their wrath is come; and who is able to stand?
sixth seal — Judgment
(Matt 24:29-31,35; Mark 13:24-27,31; Luke 21:24-36)
This is the same event that’s described in the following passages, except from a different viewpoint:
Rev 11:15-19; 14:7-20; 16:17-21; Rev 18; Rev 19:11-21; Rev 20:7-10
This describes the judgment of the world when Christ returns. This describes the end of the world when Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords, and defeats His enemies. They will then stand before Him at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15). He will destroy this present universe and create a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness,” as described in 2 Peter 3:10-13 and Rev 21:1.
When Jesus returns in judgment, He will rain down fire upon the unbelievers of the world (Rev 16; Rev 20:7-10), perhaps in the form of meteors, as verse 13 suggests. Or perhaps via nuclear explosions, using mankind against themselves (believers will already be resurrected, both the dead and the living). Considering the fact that the world is full of nuclear weapons, and considering the description of verse 14 and Rev 16, I think it’s quite possible that when Jesus rains down fire upon the earth, it will result in the explosions of these weapons all around the world. Or perhaps the fire that He rains upon the earth is the nuclear explosions themselves. Therefore, God’s judgment may be both direct and indirect.
The earth at this point will be completely covered in smoke, which would give the sun the appearance of being “black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon as blood” (vs. 12).
As described in verses 15-17, when judgment begins, all the people of the world will try to run for safety, seeking protection wherever they can find it — but finding none. Verses 16 and 17 indicate that they’re made aware of what’s happening to the world. That is, God makes them aware that this is His (and “the Lamb”) judgment upon them for their sins and rejection of His Son. Apparently, they’re made aware that Jesus is who He said He was — the Son of God and Savior of the world.