Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Seals 1-5 depicts the spiritual warfare between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan, between the Kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between those who belong to Christ and those who belong to the devil. I believe the first seal provides a guide for interpreting seals 2-5. All deal with the same thing, but each with a different emphasis. The sixth seal is about the final judgment of the world.
(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)
A common interpretation of this white horse is that it refers to the Antichrist. However, 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 rider on the white horse (Jesus) who conquers the false religions and philosophies of the world, here the rider on this horse “takes peace from the earth” via the false religions and philosophies of the world, from which they all have a common source. They “slay one another” with the “great sword” of falsehood. They can’t help each other, because they’re all in the same boat. Nothing can give peace but Jesus alone, which refers to the peace of one’s soul, which comes from having peace with God (Jn 14:27; Jn 16:33; Ro 5:1). I believe the rider on this horse has Satan in view, who is the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44). He is the originator and source of all that opposes the truth of Christ. Without knowing it, everyone who follows false religions are slaying one another with a falsehood that comes from a common enemy. Satan will continue to deceive the world until 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, because that’s what “a measure of wheat for a shilling, and three measures of barley for a shilling” represents. However, in harmony with the first two seals, this has to be symbolic for spiritual poverty or famine. This is what false religion creates. Only the truth of Christ can feed a soul.
“and the oil and the wine hurt thou not”
The Holy Spirit is associated with oil (Lu 4:18; Acts 10;38; 1 Sa 16:13; Is 61:1; 1 Jn 2:20). Wine, of course, is associated with the blood of Christ that He shed for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:27-29; 1 Cor 11:25; Eph 1:7). Therefore, I believe “the oil and the wine” refer to those who are of the truth, those who are in Christ (Eph 1:3-4), born of the Spirit (Jn 3:6-8; Jn 7:38-39). Accordingly, I believe the reference not to “hurt” the oil or the wine is a figurative way of saying that the false teaching of the world can’t hurt those who are of the truth.
(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)
The rider on this horse brings “death.” We see the “sword” of false religion of the second horse and the “famine” of the soul of the third seal repeated here. We see the addition of “death” here, which has to refer to spiritual death to stay in harmony with the second and third seals. Everyone is spiritually dead before coming to faith in Christ (Eph 2:1,5), but false religion keeps people there. False religion cannot give life. I believe the “wild beasts of the earth” refers to those who spread the false teachings and philosophies of the world.
“authority over the fourth part of the earth”
I believe this is symbolic of the limitations God has placed on false religion and the resulting consequences of it. In other words, false religion has no “authority” over God’s elect—the other three quarters of mankind. It cannot prevent them from coming to faith in Christ. While the “fourth part” is certainly not an arbitrary number, I cannot explain it except that it represents a portion of humanity that ultimately succumbs to the teachings of the world. I believe that is the most important thing we’re to learn from it.
Seals 2-4 of false religion – which leads to eternal death – are all in opposition to the first seal of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life. Also, while the literal interpretation of seals 2-4 is certainly true, and true throughout history, I believe it’s the symbolism of these things that’s primarily in view—as described in this commentary.
(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. This is one of the strongest pieces of evidence 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 Old Testament sacrifices in view, as a type or a picture. 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 who are awaiting our resurrection. The resurrection of God’s people is a central theme in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. The resurrection of Christ guarantees our own resurrection, which occurs at the time of Christ’s return (1 Cor 15). Therefore, 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.