This imagery picks right up from chapter 5 and now move into the lamb opening the seals. Take note that the scroll will not open until all of the seals are broken. The seals are broken into two categories: 1. The first four seals have to do with human sin and ambition. Conquering (1st seal) leads to civil war (2nd seal) which leads to famine (3rd seal) which leads to death (4th seal). God allows human sin to unfold. 2. The last three deal with “cosmic” judgements that have nothing to do with humans. They are from God himself and are not caused by humans. Osborne*** (Pgs. 269-275). According to Beale*, all of the imagery comes from Zech. 1:8-15; Ezek. 14:12-23; and the apocalyptic discourses of Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21. (Pgs. 372-374). I find it interesting that Beale would put the apocalyptic discourses in as John didn’t even included the material in his own gospel account. Then again, all scholars do.
The taking of the scroll and breaking of the seals seem to imply a beginning. Jesus made reference to the coming days which would be the beginning of the birth pains that would mark the coming of a new creation.
The opening of the seals seems to set forth and provide the context of the coming judgements.
The trumpets seem to announce the decrees and the arrival of the judgements.
The bowls poured out seem to speak of the implementation of those judgements, enacting the results of and retribution for the rebellion against God that had been accumulating through history.
The divine number three is seen in this progression.
The first four seals are announced and called forth by the living creatures. As pointed out earlier, these seals seem to be connected with fallen man. The consequence of disobedience is revealed.
Horses play a prominent role in this book. Here they bear on their backs riders which portray the degeneration of man without God.
1 And I when the lamb opened one of1 the seven seals, and I heard one of2 the four living creatures say3 like a voice of thunder, “Come forth!”4 2 And I looked and behold, a white horse5 and its rider6 had a bow and a crown7 was given8 to him and he went out conquering and to conquer9.
3 And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say10, “Come forth!”11 4 And another horse, a fiery red one12, came out, and its rider13 was given the ability to take peace from the earth so that they will slaughter each other14. And a great sword was given to him15 .
5 And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say16, “Come forth!”17 And I looked, and behold, a black horse18 and its rider19 had a set of balance scales20 in his hand. 6 And I heard as a voice in the middle of the four living creatures say21, “A measure22 of wheat for a denarius23 and three measures of barley for a denarius24, but do not harm the olive oil and the wine25.”26
7 And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living creature say27, “Come forth!”28 8 And I looked and behold, a green horse29 and the rider on it was named Death and the world of the dead30 was following with him. And authority was given to them to kill one
quarter of the earth with a sword, with famine, with pestilence31, and by the wild beasts of the earth32.33
9 And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the alter the souls who were slain34 because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they held on to35. 10 And they cried out with a great voice saying, “How long36, Master37, holy and true38, do you not judge and avenge39 our blood from the ones who dwell on the earth?” 11 And a white robe40 was given to each of them and it was told to them that they will rest still a little longer41, until their fellow-slaves, namely their brothers and sisters, who are about to be killed as they also were killed, may be fulfilled.42
12 And I saw when he opened the sixth seal43 , a great earthquake came and the sun became black as a sackcloth of hair44 and the whole moon became like blood. 13 And the stars of heaven fell onto the earth like a fig tree throws its figs by a great wind shaking it. 14 And the sky45 was split and rolled up like a scroll46 and all the mountains and islands were removed from their place. 15 And the kings of the earth, the nobility47 , the high ranking officers48, the rich, the mighty49 , every slave and free person50 hid themselves in caves and in the rocks of mountains51 16 and they keep saying52 to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us53 from the face of the one who is sitting on the throne and from the anger of the lamb, 17 because the great day of their anger has come54, and who is able to stand?55”
1 ἐκ (of)
Greek: “from” as in “one from the seven seals”.
2 ἐκ (of)
Greek: “from” as in “one from the four living creatures”.
3 λέγοντος (say)
4 ἔρχου (Come forth!)
Greek: “Come!” The four living creatures call out for the horsemen to come out. The TR/KJV replaces this with Ἔρχου καὶ βλέπε (come and see) which makes “come” directed to John instead of the four horseman. Beale* gives a great summary on how this variant text may have come to be in the TR (Pgs. 374-375).
5 The white horse represents “conquest”. Mounce** (Pg. 152). Beale* (Pgs. 376-377) sees the riders as satanic agents who persecute the church and here as Satan imitating Christ. Osborne and Mounce are closer to the mark. Osborne*** goes go to say that this imagery may have its background in the Parthians. The Parthians were a “warlike federation of tribes” on the outside edge of the Roman Empire across the Euphrates River. They were known for their calvary and had learned to shoot an arrow accurately from a charging horse. They actually defeated the Romans twice in battle; once in 55 B.C. and again in 62 A.D. In this case, the crown would represent their independence from Rome. (Pg. 277).
6 ὁ καθήμενος ἐπ ̓ αὐτὸν (its rider)
Greek: “the one who is sitting on it”. Osborne*** (Pg. 277) sees a parallel here to “the one who is sitting on the throne”. He sees this as humans setting themselves up in place of God.
7 στέφανος (a crown)
“A victory wreath”. It is the same kind of crown that “the conquerors” will get if they endure to the end. In this case, this horseman was given the authority to go out and conquer. He didn’t receive his “conquering crown” as a result of conquering, he was given the crown before the act, thus, it is the authority granted to him to go out and to conquer.
This is not the crown of life, but the crown taken and assumed by
8 The crown was given to him by God. God is in control of all things and it is only by his authority does anything happen.
God raised up Pharaoh for His purpose. Satan was given dominion on earth in this same way.
9 καὶ ἵνα νικήσῃ (and to conquer)
Greek: “and so that he may conquer” or “and in other that he may
10 λέγοντος (say)
11 See note of verse 1.
12 The fiery red horse probably represents the bloodshed and slaughter that is coming upon the world as a result of war. Mounce** (Pg. 152) and Osborne*** (Pg. 278).
13 See note on verse 2.
14 The human “want” to conquer leads to civil war. During war, there is
no peace and the armies slaughter themselves.
15 This horseman is given the ability to kill.
16 λέγοντος (say)
17 See note of verse 1.
18 The black horse probably represents the sorrow and mourning that is a
result the famine which is a result of war. Osborne*** (Pg. 279).
19 See note on verse 2.
20 ζυγὸν (balance scales)
A device for measuring weight. In this case, the weighting of silver and
the weight of the grain.
21 λέγουσαν (say)
22 A measure was about a quart. A quart of wheat was the amount it took to feed a person for a day. Three quarts of barley would barely feed a family for a day. Osborne*** (Pg. 280).
23 A denarius was a Roman silver coin. It was also the amount of money paid to the common laborer for a day’s work.
24 Wheat was the better grain as it was more nutritious and barley was was a lesser grain because is was not as nutritious. The poor ate the barley and the wealthier people ate the wheat. Osborne*** (Pg. 280).
25 Osborne*** (Pg. 281) provides a background where this imagery may come from. He says that there was a famine in 92 A.D. and Domitian, decreed that half of the vineyards in the province be cut down in other to plant more grain. The backlash was so great that he had to rescind the order. If the olive groves and grape vineyards would have been cut down, that would have made the famine worst as it would have taken years to recover those olive groves and vineyards.
26 Famine always follows war. As the men go off to war, resources are needed in the war effort. As the supply goes down and the demand goes up, food prices go up. The imagery here is in the extreme.
War is usually motivated by the desires of men, such as coveting, greed, revenge, lust, etc.. The usual result is “spoils to the victor”. The vanquished lose something, if not their life. It could be said that war is waged against our brother when we gather more than we need or deny a helping hand to a hand that is empty.
27 λέγοντος (say)
28 See note of verse 1.
29 The green color possibly represents the “greenish” color of a corpse.
Osborne*** (Pg. 282) and Mounce** (Pg. 156).
The idea of a pale green, of vitality lost is in view. Some translations use the word ashen, which conjures forth the sense of something burned. This is appropriate for a rider named Death, who brings with him the aroma of smoke and sulfur.
While each horse had a rider, this is the only one named. It is reasonable they all have the same father.
30 ᾅδης (the world of the dead)
“hades” was the place that all of the dead went. As Death kills, the place
of the dead is right there with Death to receive the dead.
The fall caused earth to become the world of the dead. The people walked in darkness, in the grip of death, until a great light shone from heaven. He freed the captives and led them to freedom.
31 ἐν θανάτῳ (with pestilence)
Greek: “with death”. Osborne*** (Pg. 282) states that θάνατος “death” often is used to translate the hebrew word for pestilence in the LXX.
32 This sums up the first of the seals. War, famine, and pestilence. The reference to “wild beast” may be how people weakened from famine, are not able to get away or to fight off wild animals. The whole phrase is an allusion to Ezekiel 14:21. Beale* sees a connection between the “wild beast” here and “the beast” that inflicts persecution of the saints later in the book. He believes this passage may be setting up the fifth seal. This is certainly possible as it is apparent that christian persecution is going on through out the first four seals. (Pg. 386).
This appears to restate what was shown by the four horsemen, except for the white horse and rider which came first. Instead, a reference to wild beasts is given, which may, as stated above, point to the beasts of Satan.
33 In summing up the four horsemen, I think Osborne*** sums it up best. “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 have recoiled in terror as war, bloodshed, famine, and death galloped furiously across the stage of their imagination.” (Pg. 283).
Our understanding of what these words meant to those who first received John’s message will help us hear what these words are saying to us today.
34 Mounce** says (Pg. 157) “In OT ritual sacrifice the blood of the bullock was poured out at the base of the alter of burnt offering (Leviticus. 4:7; Ex. 29:12). The blood contained the life, or soul, of the flesh (Leviticus. 17:11).” This would put the martyrs’ death in a similar light.
Those under the alter are defined as those having the word of God and the testimony of that word. We are told elsewhere Jesus is the word of God. Jesus said He only spoke the words of God. That is His testimony. It might be interpreted here that these martyrs were those who had placed their faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
35 εἶχον (held on to)
Greek: “were having”. The verb is in the imperfect and carries a continual aspect. The martyred saints continually held on to the testimony.
Beale* sees these martyrs as not only the one who were killed or martyred because of their faith, but all christians who have suffered because of their faith. (Pg. 390).
36 ἕως πότε (How long?)
Greek: “Until when?”.
Until the time is fulfilled. Jesus came in the fullness of time, at just the right time.
37 ὁ δεσπότης (Master)
A master who has complete authority over his subjects. A slave owner.
38 It is Christ Who carries the titles of holy and true.
39 οὐ κρίνεις καὶ ἐκδικεῖς (do you not judge and avenge)
The Greek language has two words for “not”. οὐ is used in questions expecting a “yes” answer. μὴ is used in question expecting a “no” answer. Here, the martyrs know that God is going to judge and avenge them. They just want to know “when”.
40 The long white robe signifies high status. It was promised to the conquerers in the Sardis church (3:4-5). It shows that these martyrs were granted their salvation.
It is to the Church that white robes are promised, to those that overcome. These are woven of the good deeds which result from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These are the garments we wear at the wedding feast.
41 ἔτι χρόνον μικρόν (still a little longer)
Greek: “still a little time”.
42 In other words, the martyrs will wait a little longer because the “full number” of their brothers and sister have to be killed (just like they were) before God will take his revenge on the persecutors.
43 The martyrs don’t have long to wait. The wrath of God begins.
44 σάκκος τρίχινος (sack-cloth of hair)
A coarse black coat made of goat hair and is normally worn in a time of mourning. Osborne*** (Pg. 292). Beale* sees an echo of Isaiah 50:3. (Pg. 397).
45 ὁ οὐρανὸς (the sky)
or “heaven”. ὁ οὐρανὸς means both “heaven” or “sky”.
46 ἀπεχωρίσθη ὡς βιβλίον ἑλισσόμενον (was split and rolled up like a scroll)
Greek: “was split like a scroll rolling up”. The imagery depicts the sky splitting in half and both sides rolling up like a cut scroll would roll up after letting it go. Both this passage and the one before it alludes to Isaiah 34:4. The sky also split at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10).
The sky is rolled up like a scroll. It is the opening, or the unrolling of a scroll that causes this to happen. There is also an echo of the tearing of the veil when Jesus was crucified. The expanse of the sky no longer serves to separate heaven and earth.
47 οἱ μεγιστᾶνες (the nobility)
High status people. The king’s court.
48 οἱ χιλίαρχοι (the high ranking officers)
Officers who had command of a thousand troops.
49 οἱ ἰσχυροὶ (the mighty)
or “the strong”.
50 Note the sevenfold list of people. Since seven is the “complete” number in the Apocalypse, then “all” people, outside of the saints, are represented.
51 An allusion to Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21.
52 λέγουσιν (they keep saying)
The verb is in the present tense and carries a continual aspect. They were continually saying to the mountains and rocks to fall on them.
53 An allusion to Hosea 10:8.
54 ἦλθεν (has come)
55 Echos of Nahum 1:6 and Malachi. 3:2.
The only ones who will be able to stand when the Lord returns are those who stand with Him.
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
NASB = New American Standard Bible
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)
Ἀποκάλυψις 6·1 Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὸ ἀρνίον μίαν ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ σφραγίδων, καὶ ἤκουσα ἑνὸς ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων λέγοντος ὡς φωνὴ βροντῆς· ἔρχου. 2 καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος λευκός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπ ̓ αὐτὸν ἔχων τόξον καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ στέφανος καὶ ἐξῆλθεν νικῶν καὶ ἵνα νικήσῃ.
Ἀποκάλυψις 6·3 Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν δευτέραν, ἤκουσα τοῦ δευτέρου ζῴου λέγοντος· ἔρχου. 4 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἄλλος ἵππος πυρρός, καὶ τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπ ̓ αὐτὸν ἐδόθη αὐτῷ λαβεῖν τὴν εἰρήνην ἐκ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἵνα ἀλλήλους σφάξουσιν καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ μάχαιρα μεγάλη. Ἀποκάλυψις 6·5 Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν τρίτην, ἤκουσα τοῦ τρίτου ζῴου λέγοντος· ἔρχου. καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος μέλας, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπ ̓ αὐτὸν ἔχων ζυγὸν ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ. 6 καὶ ἤκουσα ὡς φωνὴν ἐν μέσῳ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων λέγουσαν· χοῖνιξ σίτου δηναρίου καὶ τρεῖς χοίνικες κριθῶν δηναρίου, καὶ τὸ ἔλαιον καὶ τὸν οἶνον μὴ ἀδικήσῃς. Ἀποκάλυψις 6·7 Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν τετάρτην, ἤκουσα φωνὴν τοῦ τετάρτου ζῴου λέγοντος· ἔρχου. 8 καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος χλωρός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ ὄνομα αὐτῷ [ὁ] θάνατος, καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἠκολούθει μετ ̓ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἐξουσία ἐπὶ τὸ τέταρτον τῆς γῆς ἀποκτεῖναι ἐν ῥομφαίᾳ καὶ ἐν λιμῷ καὶ ἐν θανάτῳ καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν θηρίων τῆς γῆς. Ἀποκάλυψις 6·9 Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν πέμπτην σφραγῖδα, εἶδον ὑποκάτω τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐσφαγμένων διὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ διὰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἣν εἶχον. 10 καὶ ἔκραξαν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγοντες· ἕως πότε, ὁ δεσπότης ὁ ἅγιος καὶ ἀληθινός, οὐ κρίνεις καὶ ἐκδικεῖς τὸ αἷμα ἡμῶν ἐκ τῶν κατοικούντων ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς; 11 καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἑκάστῳ στολὴ λευκὴ καὶ ἐρρέθη αὐτοῖς ἵνα ἀναπαύσονται ἔτι χρόνον μικρόν, ἕως πληρωθῶσιν καὶ οἱ σύνδουλοι αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτῶν οἱ μέλλοντες ἀποκτέννεσθαι ὡς καὶ αὐτοί. Ἀποκάλυψις 6·12 Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν ἕκτην, καὶ σεισμὸς μέγας ἐγένετο καὶ ὁ ἥλιος ἐγένετο μέλας ὡς σάκκος τρίχινος καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὅλη ἐγένετο ὡς αἷμα 13 καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἔπεσαν εἰς τὴν γῆν, ὡς συκῆ βάλλει τοὺς ὀλύνθους αὐτῆς ὑπὸ ἀνέμου μεγάλου σειομένη, 14 καὶ ὁ οὐρανὸς ἀπεχωρίσθη ὡς βιβλίον ἑλισσόμενον και
πᾶν ὄρος καὶ νῆσος ἐκ τῶν τόπων αὐτῶν ἐκινήθησαν. 15 Καὶ οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς καὶ οἱ μεγιστᾶνες καὶ οἱ χιλίαρχοι καὶ οἱ πλούσιοι καὶ οἱ ἰσχυροὶ καὶ πᾶς δοῦλος καὶ ἐλεύθερος ἔκρυψαν ἑαυτοὺς εἰς τὰ σπήλαια καὶ εἰς τὰς πέτρας τῶν ὀρέων 16 καὶ λέγουσιν τοῖς ὄρεσιν καὶ ταῖς πέτραις· πέσετε ἐφ ̓ ἡμᾶς καὶ κρύψατε ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ ἀρνίου, 17 ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ μεγάλη τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτῶν, καὶ τίς δύναται σταθῆναι;