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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Revelation 6



Other Authors
Verse 1

And I saw (και ειδονkai eidon). As in Revelation 4:1; Revelation 5:1. The vision unfolds without anything being said about opening the book and reading from it. In a more vivid and dramatic fashion the Lamb breaks the seals one by one and reveals the contents and the symbolism. The first four seals have a common note from one of the four ζωαzōa and the appearance of a horse. No effort will be made here to interpret these seals as referring to persons or historical events in the past, present, or future, but simply to relate the symbolism to the other symbols in the book. It is possible that there is some allusion here to the symbolism in the so-called “Little Apocalypse” of Mark 13; Matt 24 and the following chapters; and Luke 21. The imagery of the four horses is similar to that in Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8 (cf. Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 42:17). In the Old Testament the horse is often the emblem of war (Job 39:25; Psalm 76:6; Proverbs 21:31; Ezekiel 26:10). “Homer pictures the horses of Rhesus as whiter than snow, and swift as the wind” (Vincent).

When the Lamb opened (οτε ηνοιχεν το αρνιονhote ēnoixen to arnion). First aorist active indicative of ανοιγωanoigō This same phrase recurs in rhythmical order at the opening of each seal (Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3, Revelation 6:5, Revelation 6:7, Revelation 6:9, Revelation 6:12) till the last (Revelation 8:1), where we have οταν ηνοιχενhotan ēnoixen (οτανhotan rather than οτεhote calling particular attention to it).

One (μιανmian). Probably used here as an ordinal (the first) as in Matthew 28:1. See Robertson, Grammar, p. 671f.

Of (εκek). This use of εκek with the ablative in the partitive sense is common in the Apocalypse, as twice in this verse (εκ τωνek tōn etc.). So ενος εκ τωνhenos ek tōn (one of the four living creatures) is “the first of,” etc.

In a voice of thunder (εν πωνηι βροντηςen phōnēi brontēs). Old word used of John and James (Mark 3:17) and elsewhere in N.T. only John 12:29 and a dozen times in the Apocalypse.

Come (ΕρχουErchou). Present middle imperative of ερχομαιerchomai but with exclamatory force (not strictly linear). The command is not addressed to the Lamb nor to John (the correct text omits και ιδεkai ide “and see”) as in Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9, but to one of the four horsemen each time. Swete takes it as a call to Christ because ερχουerchou is so used in Revelation 22:17, Revelation 22:20, but that is not conclusive.

Verse 2

And I saw and behold (και ειδον και ιδουkai eidon kai idou). This combination is frequent in the Apocalypse (Revelation 4:1; Revelation 6:2, Revelation 6:5, Revelation 6:8; Revelation 14:1, Revelation 14:14; Revelation 19:11).

A white horse (ιππος λευκοςhippos leukos). In Zechariah 6:1-8 we have red, black, white, and grizzled bay horses like the four winds of heaven, ministers to do God‘s will. White seems to be the colour of victory (cf. the white horse of the Persian Kings) like the white horse ridden by the Roman conqueror in a triumphant procession.

Had (εχωνechōn). Agreeing in gender and case with ο κατημενοςho kathēmenos bow (τοχονtoxon). Old word (Zechariah 9:13. of a great bow), here only in N.T.

Was given (εδοτηedothē). First aorist passive indicative of διδωμιdidōmi crown (στεπανοςstephanos). See note on Revelation 4:4 for this word.

He came forth (exēlthen). Second aorist active indicative of exerchomai either to come out or to go out (went forth).

Conquering (εχηλτενnikōn). Present active participle of εχερχομαιnikaō to conquer (νικωνkai hina nikēsēi). Purpose clause with νικαωhina and the first aorist active subjunctive of και ινα νικησηιnikaō Here ιναhōs nikēsōn (future active participle with νικαωhōs) could have been used. The aorist tense here points to ultimate victory. Commentators have been busy identifying the rider of the white horse according to their various theories. “It is tempting to identify him with the Rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:11., whose name is ‹the Word of God‘” (Swete). Tempting, “but the two riders have nothing in common beyond the white horse.”


Verse 3

The second seal (την σπραγιδα την δευτερανtēn sphragida tēn deuteran). “The seal the second.” The white horse with his rider vanished from the scene bent on his conquering career.

Verse 4

A red horse (ιππος πυρροςhippos purros). Old adjective from πυρpur (fire), flame-coloured, blood-red (2 Kings 3:22), in N.T. only here and Revelation 12:3, like Zechariah 1:8; Zechariah 6:2 (roan horse).

To take peace from the earth (λαβειν την ειρηνην εκ της γηςlabein tēn eirēnēn ek tēs gēs). Second aorist active infinitive of λαμβανωlambanō and here the nominative case, the subject of εδοτηedothē (see Revelation 6:2), “to take peace out of the earth.” Alas, how many red horses have been ridden through the ages.

And that they should slay one another (και ινα αλληλους σπαχουσινkai hina allēlous sphaxousin). Epexegetical explanatory purpose clause with ιναhina and the future active of σπαζωsphazō (Revelation 5:6) instead of the more usual subjunctive (Revelation 6:2). Cf. Robertson, Grammar, p. 998f. This is what war does to perfection, makes cannon fodder (cf. John 14:27) of men.

A great sword (μαχαιρα μεγαληmachaira megalē). ΜαχαιραMachaira may be a knife carried in a sheath at the girdle (John 18:10) or a long sword in battle as here. ομπαιαRomphaia also a large sword, is the only other word for sword in the N.T. (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:16; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 19:15, Revelation 19:21).

Verse 5

A black horse (ιππος μελαςhippos melas). Lust of conquest brings bloodshed, but also famine and hunger. “The colour of mourning and famine. See Jeremiah 4:28; Jeremiah 8:21; Malachi 3:14, where mournfully is, literally, in black” (Vincent).

Had (εχωνechōn) as in Revelation 6:2.

A balance (ζυγονzugon). Literally, a yoke (old word from ζευγνυμιzeugnumi to join), of slavery (Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1), of teaching (Matthew 11:29), of weight or measure like a pair of scales evenly balancing as here (Ezekiel 5:1; Ezekiel 45:10). The rider of this black horse, like the spectral figure of hunger, carries in his hand a pair of scales. This is also one of the fruits of war.

Verse 6

As it were a voice (ως πωνηνhōs phōnēn). “This use of ωςhōs giving a certain vagueness or mysteriousness to a phrase, is one of the characteristics of the writer‘s style, e.g., Revelation 8:1; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 19:1, Revelation 19:6 ” (Beckwith). This voice comes from the midst of the four living creatures, “the protest of nature against the horrors of famine” (Swete).

A measure (χοινιχchoinix). Old word for less than a quart with us, here only in N.T.

Of wheat (σιτουsitou). Old word for wheat, a number of times in N.T., in Rev only here and Revelation 18:13. This was enough wheat to keep a man of moderate appetite alive for a day.

For a penny (δηναριουdēnariou). Genitive of price, the wages of a day laborer (Matthew 20:2), about eighteen cents in our money today.

Of barley (κριτωνkrithōn). Old word κριτηkrithē usually in plural as here. Barley was the food of the poor and it was cheaper even in the famine and it took more of it to support life. Here the proportion is three to one (cf. 2 Kings 7:18). The proclamation forbids famine prices for food (solid and liquid).

Hurt thou not (μη αδικησηιςmē adikēsēis). Prohibition with μηmē and the ingressive first aorist active subjunctive of αδικεωadikeō See Revelation 7:3; Revelation 9:4 for αδικεωadikeō for injury to vegetable life. “The prohibition is addressed to the nameless rider who represents Dearth” (Swete). Wheat and barley, oil and the vine, were the staple foods in Palestine and Asia Minor.

Verse 8

A pale horse (ιππος χλωροςhippos chlōros). Old adjective. Contracted from χλοεροςchloeros (from χλοηchloē tender green grass) used of green grass (Mark 6:39; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 9:4), here for yellowish, common in both senses in old Greek, though here only in N.T. in this sense, greenish yellow. We speak of a sorrel horse, never of a green horse. Zechariah (Zechariah 6:3) uses ποικιλοςpoikilos (grizzled or variegated). Homer used χλωροςchlōros of the ashen colour of a face blanched by fear (pallid) and so the pale horse is a symbol of death and of terror.

His name was Death (ονομα αυτωι ο τανατοςonoma autōi ho thanatos). Anacoluthon in grammatical structure like that in John 3:1 (cf. Revelation 2:26) and common enough. Death is the name of this fourth rider (so personified) and there is with Death “his inseparable comrade, Hades (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 20:13.)” (Swete). Hades (αιδηςhāidēs alpha privative, and ιδεινidein to see, the unseen) is the abode of the dead, the keys of which Christ holds (Revelation 1:18).

Followed (ηκολουτειēkolouthei). Imperfect active of ακολουτεωakoloutheō kept step with death, whether on the same horse or on another horse by his side or on foot John does not say.

Over the fourth part of the earth (επι το τεταρτον της γηςepi to tetarton tēs gēs). Partitive genitive γηςgēs after τεταρτονtetarton Wider authority (εχουσιαexousia) was given to this rider than to the others, though what part of the earth is included in the fourth part is not indicated.

To kill (αποκτειναιapokteinai). First aorist active infinitive of αποκτεινωapokteinō explanation of the εχουσιαexousia (authority). The four scourges of Ezekiel 14:21 are here reproduced with instrumental ενen with the inanimate things (ρομπαιαι λιμωι τανατωιromphaiāiυποlimōi thanatōi) and τηριωνhupo for the beasts (τανατωιthēriōn). Death here (λοιμοςthanatōi) seems to mean pestilence as the Hebrew does (λιμοςloimos - cf. limos famine). Cf. the “black death” for a plague.

Verse 9

Under the altar (υποκατω του τυσιαστηριουhupokatō tou thusiastēriou). “Under” (υποκατωhupokatō), for the blood of the sacrifices was poured at the bottom of the altar (Leviticus 4:7). The altar of sacrifice (Exodus 39:39; Exodus 40:29), not of incense. The imagery, as in Hebrews, is from the tabernacle. For the word see Matthew 5:23., often in Rev (Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:5; Revelation 9:13; Revelation 11:1; Revelation 14:18; Revelation 16:7). This altar in heaven is symbolic, of course, the antitype for the tabernacle altar (Hebrews 8:5). The Lamb was slain (Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:9, Revelation 5:12) and these martyrs have followed the example of their Lord.

The souls (τας πσυχαςtas psuchas). The lives, for the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), were given for Christ (Philemon 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6).

Of the slain (των εσπαγμενωνtōn esphagmenōn). See Revelation 5:6. Christians were slain during the Neronian persecution and now again under Domitian. A long line of martyrs has followed.

For the word of God (δια τον λογον του τεουdia ton logon tou theou). As in Revelation 1:9, the confession of loyalty to Christ as opposed to emperor-worship.

And for the testimony which they held (και δια την μαρτυριαν ην ειχονkai dia tēn marturian hēn eichon). See also Revelation 1:9. Probably καιkai equals “even” here, explaining the preceding. The imperfect tense ειχονeichon suits the repetition of the witness to Christ and the consequent death.

Verse 10

How long (εως ποτεheōs pote). “Until when.” Cf. Matthew 7:17; John 10:24.

O Master (ο δεσποτηςho despotēs). Nominative articular form, but used as vocative (δεσποταdespota) as in Revelation 4:11 (John 20:28). On δεσποτηςdespotēs (correlative of δουλοςdoulos) see Luke 2:29. Here (alone in the Apocalypse) it is applied to God as in Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24, but to Christ in Judges 1:4; 2 Peter 2:1.

The holy and true (ο αγιος και αλητινοςho hagios kai alēthinos). See Revelation 3:7 for these attributes of God.

Avenge our blood on them that dwell upon the earth (εκδικεις το αιμα ημων εκ των κατοικουντων επι της γηςekdikeis to haima hēmōn ek tōn katoikountōn epi tēs gēs). This same idiom in Revelation 19:2 and see it also in Luke 18:7., “a passage which goes far to answer many questions in theodicy” (Swete). We find εκδικεωekdikeō late compound, used with εκek as here in Deuteronomy 18:19; 1 Samuel 24:13, but with αποapo in Luke 18:3. For επι της γηςepi tēs gēs (upon the earth) see Revelation 3:10.

Verse 11

A white robe (στολη λευκηstolē leukē). Old word from στελλωstellō to equip, an equipment in clothes, a flowing robe (Mark 12:38). For the white robe for martyrs see Revelation 3:4.; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13; Revelation 19:14.

That they should rest (ινα αναπαυσονταιhina anapausontai). Sub-final clause with ιναhina and the future indicative (as in Revelation 3:9; Revelation 6:4) middle rather than the aorist middle subjunctive αναπαυσωνταιanapausōntai of Aleph C.

Yet for a little time (ετι χρονον μικρονeti chronon mikron). Accusative of extension of time as in Revelation 20:3. Perhaps rest from their cry for vengeance and also rest in peace (Revelation 14:13). For the verb αναπαυωanapauō see note on Matthew 11:28.

Until should be fulfilled (εως πληρωτωσινheōs plērōthōsin). Future indefinite temporal clause with εωςheōs and the first aorist passive subjunctive of πληροωplēroō to fill full (Matthew 23:32; Colossians 2:10), “until be filled full” (the number of), regular Greek idiom.

Which should be killed (οι μελλοντες αποκτεννεσταιhoi mellontes apoktennesthai). Regular construction of articular present active participle of μελλωmellō (about to be, going to be) with the present passive infinitive of αποκτεννωapoktennō Aeolic and late form for αποκτεινωapokteinō to kill (also in Mark 12:5). John foresees more persecution coming (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:10).

Verse 12

There was a great earthquake (σεισμος μεγας εγενετοseismos megas egeneto). “There came a great earthquake.” Jesus spoke of earthquakes in his great eschatological discourse (Mark 13:8). In Matthew 24:29 the powers of the heavens will be shaken. ΣεισμοςSeismos is from σειωseiō to shake, and occurs also in Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:13, Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18. The reference is not a local earthquake like those so common in Asia Minor.

As sackcloth of hair (ως σακκος τριχινοςhōs sakkos trichinos). ΣακκοςSakkos (Attic σακοςsakos), Latin saccus, English sack, originally a bag for holding things (Genesis 42:25, Genesis 42:35), then coarse garment of hair (τριχινοςtrichinos old word from τριχthrix here only in N.T.) clinging to one like a sack, of mourners, suppliants, prophets leading austere lives (Matthew 3:4; Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). Here the hair is that of the black goat (Isaiah 50:3). Cf. Joel 2:10; Ezekiel 32:7.; Isaiah 13:10; Mark 13:24. See Ecclesiastes 12:2 for eclipses treated as symbols of old age. Apocalyptic pictures all have celestial phenomena following earthquakes.

As blood (ως αιμαhōs haima). In Acts 2:20 we find Peter interpreting the apocalyptic eschatological language of Joel 2:31 about the sun being turned into darkness and the moon into blood as pointing to the events of the day of Pentecost as also “the great day of the Lord.” Peter‘s interpretation of Joel should make us cautious about too literal an exegesis of these grand symbols.

Verse 13

Her unripe figs (τους ολυντους αυτηςtous olunthous autēs). An old word (Latin grossi) for figs that grow in winter and fall off in the spring without getting ripe (So Revelation 2:11.), here only in N.T. Jesus used the fig tree (Mark 13:28) as a sign of the “end of the world‘s long winter” (Swete). Cf. Isaiah 34:4; Nahum 3:12.

When she is shaken of a great wind (υπο ανεμου μεγαλου σειομενηhupo anemou megalou seiomenē). Present passive participle of σειωseiō “being shaken by a great wind.” See Matthew 11:7 for the reed so shaken.

Verse 14

Was removed (απεχωριστηapechōristhē). First aorist passive indicative of αποχωριζωapochōrizō to separate, to part (Acts 15:39). “The heaven was parted.”

As a scroll when it is rolled up (ως βιβλιον ελισσομενονhōs biblion helissomenon). Present passive participle of ελισσωhelissō old verb, to roll up, in N.T. only here (from Isaiah 34:4) and Hebrews 1:12 (from Psalm 102:27). Vivid picture of the expanse of the sky rolled up and away as a papyrus roll (Luke 4:17).

Were moved (εκινητησανekinēthēsan). First aorist passive indicative of κινεωkineō to move.

Out of their places (εκ των τοπων αυτωνek tōn topōn autōn). See also Revelation 16:20 for these violent displacements in the earth‘s crust. Cf. Nahum 1:5; Jeremiah 4:24. Jesus spoke of faith removing mountains (of difficulty) as in Mark 11:23 (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:2).

Verse 15

The princes (οι μεγιστανεςhoi megistānes). Late word from the superlative μεγιστοςmegistos in lxx, Josephus, papyri, in N.T. only in Mark 6:21; Revelation 6:15; Revelation 18:23, for the grandees, the persecuting proconsuls (Swete).

The chief captains (οι χιλιαρχοιhoi chiliarchoi). The commanders of thousands, the military tribunes (Mark 6:21; Revelation 19:18).

The rich (οι πλουσιοιhoi plousioi). Not merely those in civil and military authority will be terror-stricken, but the self-satisfied and complacent rich (James 5:4.).

The strong (οι ισχυροιhoi ischuroi). Who usually scoff at fear. See the list in Revelation 13:16; Revelation 19:18. Cf. Luke 21:26.

Every bondman (πας δουλοςpās doulos) and freeman (και ελευτεροςkai eleutheros). The two extremes of society.

Hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains (εκρυπσαν εαυτους εις τα σπηλαια και εις τας πετρας των ορεωνekrupsan heautous eis ta spēlaia kai eis tas petras tōn oreōn). Based on Isaiah 2:10, Isaiah 2:18. First aorist active indicative of κρυπτωkruptō with the reflexive pronoun. For the old word σπηλαιονspēlaion see Matthew 21:13; Hebrews 11:38. ΟρεωνOreōn is the uncontracted Ionic form (for ορωνorōn) of the genitive plural of οροςoros (mountain).

Verse 16

They say (λεγουσινlegousin). Vivid dramatic present active indicative, as is natural here.

Fall on us (Πεσατε επ ημαςPesate eph' hēmās). Second aorist (first aorist ending) imperative of πιπτωpiptō tense of urgency, do it now.

And hide us (και κρυπσατε ημαςkai krupsate hēmās). Same tense of urgency again from κρυπτωkruptō (verb in Revelation 6:15). Both imperatives come in inverted order from Hosea 10:8 with καλυπσατεkalupsate (cover) in place of κρυπσατεkrupsate (hide), quoted by Jesus on the way to the Cross (Luke 23:30) in the order here, but with καλυπσατεkalupsate not κρυπσατεkrupsate the face of him that (απο προσωπου τουapo prosōpou tou etc.). “What sinners dread most is not death, but the revealed Presence of God” (Swete). Cf. Genesis 3:8.

And from the wrath of the Lamb (και απο της οργης του αρνιουkai apo tēs orgēs tou arniou). Repetition of “the grave irony” (Swete) of Revelation 5:5. The Lamb is the Lion again in the terribleness of his wrath. Recall the mourning in Revelation 1:7. See Matthew 25:41. where Jesus pronounces the woes on the wicked.

Verse 17

The great day (η ημερα η μεγαληhē hēmera hē megalē). The phrase occurs in the O.T. prophets (Joel 2:11, Joel 2:31; Zephaniah 1:14. Cf. Judges 1:6) and is here combined with “of their wrath” (της οργης αυτωνtēs orgēs autōn) as in Zephaniah 1:15, Zephaniah 1:18; Zephaniah 2:3; Romans 2:5. “Their” (αυτωνautōn) means the wrath of God and of the Lamb put here on an equality as in Revelation 1:17., Revelation 22:3, Revelation 22:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16. Beckwith holds that this language about the great day having come “is the mistaken cry of men in terror caused by the portents which are bursting upon them.” There is something, to be sure, to be said for this view which denies that John commits himself to the position that this is the end of the ages.

And who is able to stand? (και τις δυναται στατηναιkai tis dunatai stathēnai̇). Very much like the words in Nahum 1:6; Malachi 3:2. First aorist passive infinitive of ιστημιhistēmi It is a rhetorical question, apparently by the frightened crowds of Revelation 6:15. Swete observes that the only possible answer to that cry is the command of Jesus in Luke 21:36: “Keep awake on every occasion, praying that ye may get strength to stand (στατηναιstathēnai the very form) before the Son of Man.”


Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Revelation 6:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

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