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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 6

 

 

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Verse 1

III. OPENING OF THE SEVEN SEALS, Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 8:1.

Four Creational Seals, Revelation 6:1-8.

1. And—By decision of the divine court the seals are now, through the agency of the Lamb, about to be broken. And in each of the three series of sevens, the seals, the trumpets, and the vials—the distinction between the creational four and the divine three is decisively marked; so decisively, indeed, as to be an important aid in the interpretation.

The first four of each seven have to do with external nature; and they so correspond with each other as to show that not so much chronological order, as mutual correlation, is the basis of their succession. This fact discards fatally those methods of interpretation according to which a long consecutive human history, with dates in chronological order, is here sought to be traced. The last three of each seven have to do with more spiritual interests dear to the hearts of the elders—with men rather than physical nature, and with the Church. The six seals, nevertheless, run through a series of successive phases of the entire moral history of the world under the Messianic dispensation. The first four present the world under the aspect of the fall of man; the second, the renovation through the final doom and retribution; which is completed in the picture of the redemption and the glory in chapter 7. We have thus in the six seals the cycle of man’s moral history briefly symbolized, to be more fully evolved under the seven trumpets. The unsealing of chapter vi is a dark and gloomy series, which is gloriously relieved by the pictorial sealing of Revelation 7. Hence chapters sixth and seventh should be read as one great antithetic tableau. It is the great judgment history and contrast; woe to the profane, grace to the holy. However much the Church has misread the Apocalypse, it has ever read this great assuring fact, that with God the finality will be the eternal triumph of the right.

The Lamb opened—So that of this second apocalypse, which draws forth the third, as well as of the first, Christ is the real revealer.

One of the four beasts—Each of the four creational seals is called forth by one of the cherubic beasts. Noise (rather, voice) of thunder—The movement of this great first unsealing thus signally announced.

Come and see—Each of the four beasts utters a Come, and our English version adds, and see, as addressed to John. But the best authorities have only Come. To whom, then, was this Come addressed? Not to John, for the symbol was plainly visible to him without any coming. Clearly it is addressed to the symbol now to be released from detention by the opening of the seal, and ready to be called forth by the cherub. The fancy of Alford, that it is addressed to Jesus, (as in Revelation 22:20,) is very far-fetched.

The first seal—of CONQUEST.


Verse 2

2. Behold—As each seal is opened, the symbol does not remain as a picture on the visible page, but with a visional freedom springs forth a living, moving object, or series of objects.

A white horse—The white horse was, in antiquity, a symbol of victory. The conqueror, in triumphal processions, rode on a white horse. And hence the Messiah, in Revelation 19:11, rides a “white horse.” From this fact many commentators identify the two, and interpret this symbol as the going forth of a conquering gospel. Such a meaning would not allow it to coordinate with the rest of the four, which are all symbols of earthly woe. It would stand alone among all the first four symbols of the entire three serial sevens. Hengstenberg, indeed, replies, that Christ’s going forth would coordinate, because it is a judgment on the profane. But, 1. Hengstenberg emphasizes too strongly the phase of judgment, both in the theophany and this first four seals; and, 2. It would be equally true of the three spiritual seals that they are adverse, and even judgment, for the wicked.

Crown— Not so much the diadem of royalty as the chaplet of victory.

Was given unto him—By the force of events under divine permission. Similarly to the red horse of Revelation 6:4, and the pale horse of Revelation 6:8, power was given.

Conquering—Now.

And to conquer—In the future. Present success is stimulant and surety for a full career of success. This well describes the progress of a Charlemagne or a Napoleon.


Verse 4

Second seal—of CARNAGE, attendant upon conquest, Revelation 6:3-4.

4. Red—Etymologically, the word signifies fire-red, but by use it often signifies blood-red.

Take peace from the earth—Not that the entire earth should be at war at once, but through the centuries, and through the earth, the blood-demon should roam, destroying the peace of the world.


Verse 5

Third seal—of SCARCITY, Revelation 6:5-6.

5. Black horse—Emblem of want of light, midnight, adversity.

Pair of balances—Or scales. Emblem, not of absolute famine, but of “hard times;” of scarcity of provisions, when every thing is strictly weighed or measured.


Verse 6

6. Voice in the midst… beasts—Stuart infers unwisely that this voice came from God, whose throne was in the midst of the four. It would be a strange communication for the divine voice. Rather we think it the common voice of the suffering world, represented by the four, addressed to the rider of the black horse, and cautioning him to exact no higher price, and not to hurt the oil and wine crops. A penny, according to Matthew 20:2; Matthew 20:9, was price of a day’s labour, and a penny would now buy one measure or choenix of wheat, nearly equal to one quart of our measure, or three choenixes of barley. This would probably be very tight living, but we know how prices advance in times of scarcity. The preservation of oil and wine indicates some mitigation of the scarcity, as these, though much used as aliment, were nevertheless rather luxuries.


Verse 8

Fourth seal—of fourfold DEATH, Revelation 6:7-8.

8. A pale horse—Literally, a green horse; or, as Alford, “when used of flesh implies that greenish pallor which we know as livid; the colour of the corpse in incipient decay, or of the complexion extremely pale through disease.” Death, as riding the horse, was, of course, beheld as a personal being. Hell, hades, is supposed by Stuart to be personified here as well as in Revelation 20:14. It certainly is personified in 1 Corinthians 15:55. But that it is in either case so fully personified as to be shaped into form and figure we doubt. We rather conceive hades, here, to be a shadowy vague, a moving nebulous region, a ghostly receptacle for the souls of men slain by death, and for that purpose following in his track.

Fourth part—A limitation divine in its origin, (as indicated by given in previous clause,) yet expressed by the creational fourth as being wrought through creational or secondary causations. Notes on Revelation 9:5; Revelation 9:15.

To kill with—The creational four.

Hunger—Unlike the third symbol, this is deadly famine.

With death—Grotius says, “By the term death, here, according to a Hebraism, we are to understand pestilence. For so death is taken in Jeremiah 9:21; Jeremiah 18:21. So, in the Son of Sirach we read, (Sirach 39:29,) ‘pestilence and death,’ where death undoubtedly signifies pestilence. The Syriac, also, as well here as on Luke, renders the Greek word for pestilence by the Hebrew death; and the Septuagint, as well as the Chaldaic and Latin, translate the Hebrew for pestilence by death.” In Ezekiel 14:21, God says, “I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem—the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence.”

In conclusion, upon the four creational symbols we may note, that while there is nothing chronological, yet the last three are the ordinary sequents of the first; that is, from conquest result carnage, scarcity, and the fourfold destructions above mentioned.


Verse 9

9. Under the altar—The altar of the temple in Revelation 11:1, namely, of the scenic earthly Jerusalem. Note Revelation 4:11. It is not the altar of incense, but the grand altar of sacrifice. The law was, The whole blood of the bullock shall be poured at the bottom of the altar of burnt-offering, which is before the tabernacle of the congregation.

Leviticus 4:7. And as the blood is the animal soul or life, so symbolically the souls of those who had been sacrificed for their faith are represented as lying below the altar, and crying to God for retribution. Not that the blood symbolizes souls, but the souls themselves are seen, shadowy forms, by the seer’s spiritual eye. Hengstenberg maintains that souls here means, not the disembodied spirits of the martyrs, but their blood, which cries for vengeance, poetically, like the blood of Abel. But how could blood speak of avenging our blood? Hengstenberg’s evasion, that it is the slain who thus speak, is inadmissible. Where were the slain, as seen by John, crying, if they were not the souls? Alford and Elliott both interpret this of really disembodied souls whose condition symbolizes the repression of the cause of Christ under power of antichrist. And yet, in Revelation 20:4, where these same souls reappear to reign, as symbol of the triumph of Christ over antichrist, these interpreters maintain the souls of the beheaded martyrs to be their bodies!


Verses 9-11

Three Spiritual Seals, Revelation 6:9 to Revelation 8:6.

Fifth seal—Cry from souls under the altar=PERSECUTION, Revelation 6:9-11.

The four creational seals are past. We have henceforward no Come of the beasts, no symbolic horses, no further secular and earthly troubles. We now rise into a more spiritual region. And the vision represents its meaning less by symbol and more by definite picture. The martyrs, the dissolution of the probationary system, and the passage to the next series of revelation, are revealed by the remaining three seals.


Verse 10

10. How long—Of course there was no literal utterance by martyred souls of these words. It is a dramatic form of expressing the profound thought that murdered innocence has a claim on the divine justice for timely retribution. The words are an inspired assurance that Jehovah holds himself bound to be not only holy and true, but retributively just. And this is strikingly recognised by Jesus himself in the parable of the unjust judge, and his closing words, so wonderfully like the present passage: “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.” Luke 18:7-8, where see our notes.

Judge—An appeal for either temporal retribution or for a speedy final judgment throne.

Them that dwell on the earth—The profane world; omitting all mention of the few saintly exceptions. So our Lord: “Ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” Matthew 24:9.


Verse 11

11. White robes—Best reading, A white robe was given to them each. “The white robe in this book,” says Alford, “is the vestment of acknowledged and glorified righteousness in which the saints reign with Christ. Compare Revelation 3:4; Revelation 17:13.” Note Revelation 3:4. Neither this condition of the saints beneath the altar, nor this now first given robe, is so literal that we may suppose such humiliation and re-dressing to be actually undergone by glorified saints. Both the humiliation and re-dressing are symbol in action; the robes being really not bestowed until the disembodied saint first enters paradise.

It was said unto them—By divine authority, but by unknown speakers. Note on Revelation 1:10.

Should rest— Should wait in repose and full assurance of ultimate justice.

For a little season—As reckoned by God’s chronology. Note 2 Peter 3:10.

Fellow servants—The entire body of the elect.

Brethren… killed—The glorious army of martyrs.

Be fulfilled—Rather, should fulfil, that is, their career; and all gather in at the final glorious resurrection.


Verse 12

Sixth seal—Final earthly DISSOLUTION AND DOOM, Revelation 6:12-17.

12. And—”The interpretation of the sixth seal,” says Alford truly, “is a crucial point in apocalyptic exegesis. We may unhesitatingly set down all interpretations as wrong which view as the fulfilment of this passage any period except the coming of the Lord.” The parallel passages are Matthew 24:29-35; Matthew 25:31-46. Hengstenberg’s objection, that the resurrection and other things are omitted, is equally true of both these passages. No one picture in Scripture of the final day is complete. The completion must be attained by a blending of cognate passages.

A great earthquake—The Greek word for earthquake does not limit the quake to the earth, but implies a concussion which, as here, may include heaven as well as earth.

Sun… moon—On their obscuration by the atmospheric commotions of the day of dissolution, see our note on Matthew 24:29.

Black as sackcloth—The cilicium, on which see note, Acts 18:3.


Verse 13

13. Stars of heaven fell—On the optical falling of the stars by the commotions of the earth and heaven see our note on “the stars shall fall from heaven.” Matthew 24:29.

Untimely figs—Winter figs, which usually drop off in spring.

Shaken of a mighty wind—A vivid figure of the rush of divine power sweeping the earth in the day of doom.


Verse 14

14. Heaven departed as a scroll—Compare our notes on the passing “away with a great noise,” of 2 Peter 3:10; and also on “the earth and the heaven fled away,” of Revelation 20:11. These parallels prove the identity of this dissolution with that of those two passages, as well as with that of Matthew 24:29. This identity of the three is conclusive against a pre-millennial advent.

A scroll—A sheet of parchment, papyrus, or paper, loosely crumpled and vanishing away. To the eye of the spectator, in this scene of rocking terrene convulsion, the apparent sky of clouds and firmament will seem to crumple and rush away.

Mountain… island… moved—As seen from a bird’s-eye view, the prominent geographical points will appear to change their places.


Verse 15

15. Beginning with kings, and courtiers, and millionaires, and descending through all ranks, even to the slaves, our seer pictures the terror of all the profane race. His crown cannot save the king or emperor; the profane great men, whether railway kings, or statesmen, or philosophers, or literati, alike tremble.

Rich men—Whether profane merchant princes, or bank presidents, or stock gamblers, are unable to buy salvation at any price.

Chief captains—Profane military conquerors, great generals, heroic admirals and commodores, are all alike cowards before the wrath of the Lamb.

Hid themselves—In the yawning dens and under the projecting rocks produced by the convulsions, they vainly seek protection from Him who convulses.


Verse 16

16. Fall on us—Begging the boon of death to escape a doom worse than death. Says Stuart: “In like manner Pliny represents some fugitives from the fiery shower of Vesuvius as praying for death that they might escape the igneous deluge of the mountain: Erant qui metu morris mortem precaventur—some, through fear of death, begged for death.” (Epis. 6:20.) The wish expressed in the text may be further illustrated by a reference to the very common cases of suicide in prisons, when persons are under sentence of death, or expect it with certainty. They thus escape a more horrible death, and, in their apprehension, a more disgraceful one, by an exit which is less appalling. Note on Revelation 9:6.

Sitteth on the throne—Not the apocalyptic symbol throne of Revelation 4:1, but the judgment throne of Revelation 20:11.

Wrath of the Lamb—The wrath of him on the throne is the wrath of rectoral justice; the wrath of the Lamb is the still more terrible wrath of abused grace and mercy. No vengeance so awful as divine love transformed to divine wrath.


Verse 17

17. The great day of his wrath—Can be no other than God’s day of judgment doom.

Who—Of the trembling profane world.

To stand—To meet the decision of the judge, without falling into the pit of the second death.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 6:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-6.html. 1874-1909.

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