Revelation 6
Pulpit Commentary
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
Verse 1. - And I saw. A new departure in the series of visions is marked (see on Revelation 4:1). We have here the commencement of the Revelation proper, to which the first five chapters have formed an introduction (cf. Tabular analysis). The vision of the seals, which, although related first, exhibits events concurrent with those symbolized by the trumpets and vials, is contained chiefly in Revelation 6. Revelation 7 is occupied with an account of an episodal character, similar to that which occurs in Revelation 10:1-11:14 after the sixth trumpet; and the vision is completed by the opening of the seventh seal, described in Revelation 8:1. The opening of the first seal pictures the triumph of Christ and his Church, for the comfort and hopeful assurance of those to whom St. John was writing, and for the edification of struggling Christians of all time. To this theme, touched upon here proleptically, the apostle returns at the conclusion of the trumpets; the first six of which bear a general likeness to the last six of the seals. When the Lamb opened one of the seals; one of the seven seals (Revised Version). The insertion of "seven" (ἑπτά) is supported by A, B, C, א, and others; Vulgate, De Dieu's Syriac, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius, Victorinus, AEthiopic. (On the right of the Lamb to open the seals, see on Revelation 5.) And I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts; the voice of thunder... four living creatures (Revised Version). (For the four living beings, see on Revelation 4:6.) Here each living being invites attention to the revelation of the future of that creation of which they are all representative. The thunder is the usual accompaniment of a special revelation of the Divine will, and indicative of the majesty of him whose will is declared (see Revelation 10:3 and Revelation 14:2; also Exodus 19:16; Acts 2:2). Nothing in the text warrants us in particularizing the four living creatures in these four invitations uttered by them, though many writers have endeavoured to do so. Thus, adopting the order in Revelation 4:7, they have supposed that the first voice was uttered by the lion, since the revelation of the first seal is distinguished by the prophecy of victory. The sacrificial nature of the second living being - the steer - is thought to be connected with the slaughter predicted under the second seal by the vision of war and persecution. The man is considered typical of the heresy which it is believed the third seal predicts, and especially of the false opinions concerning the Incarnation; while the eagle is regarded as a symbol of resurrection and the harbinger of the final victory of the just over the death and Hades of the fourth seal. Saying, Come and see. The Revised Version omits "and see." The Textus Receptus, without any apparent authority, reads Αρχου καὶ βλέπε, "Come and see." Αρχου, "Come," simply, is read in A, C, P, fourteen cursives, several versions, two manuscripts of Andreas, etc.; while Αρχου καὶ ἴδε, "Come and behold," is found in א, B, thirty-four cursives, various versions (including the Coptic), two manuscripts of Andreas, etc.; and the Syriac omits Αρχου, "Come." The authorities are thus very evenly balanced; but the addition of καὶ ἴδε, even if not warranted, seems to indicate that the sentence was generally considered to be addressed to St. John; and was intended as an invitation to him to witness the appearances which accompanied the breaking of the seals. Alford contends that the cry, "Come," is addressed, on behalf of creation, to the Lord Jesus, and is a petition to him to speedily bring these things to pass, that his own advent may follow. In support of this, Alford remarks that there is no example of the use by St. John of Αρχου in the sense of "Come and see," "Come hither," without ῶδε, or some qualifying particle; but, on the contrary, it is exactly the expression used of our Lord's advent in Revelation 22:17, 20, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come," etc. Though there is much reason in this contention, yet, on the whole, the weight of evidence, as stated above, makes it probable that the sentence is addressed to St. John.
And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
Verse 2. - And I saw. The usual introduction to a new vision, or a special feature of a vision (see on Revelation 4:1). And behold a white horse. The whole vision appears to be founded on that of Zechariah 1:8-12. White is always typical in the Revelation of heavenly things (cf. Revelation 1:14, "His hairs were white;" Revelation 2:17, "a white stone;" Revelation 3:4, 5, 18; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 6:11, and Revelation 7:9, 13, "white garments;" Revelation 14:14, "white cloud;" Revelation 19:11, 14, "white horses;" Revelation 20:11, "white throne"), and indeed in the whole of the New Testament (cf. Matthew 17:2; Matthew 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10), the only exceptions being Matthew 5:36 and John 4:35. The horse, throughout the Old Testament, is emblematic of war. Among the Romans a white horse was the symbol of victory. And he that sat on him. On a consideration of the whole of the visions attending the opening of the seals, it seems best to interpret this vision as a symbolic representation of the abstract idea of the Church as a victorious body. In a similar way the following appearances are typical of war, famine, and death. Some interpret the rider to mean Christ himself a sense not materially different from that given above, since by the victory of Christ the Church collectively and Christians individually are enabled to triumph; and in his body, the Church, Christ triumphs. This appearance is repeated, with additions, at Revelation 19:11. The revelation thus begins and closes with an assurance of victory. God's end is attained in a mysterious way. Many trials and afflictions are to trouble the earth, but through all God is working to bring his Church triumphantly through the struggle. And what is true of the Church as a whole is true of each individual soul. Those to whom St. John wrote could not understand, as many now do not understand, for what purpose God permitted them to suffer. For such St. John's message is intended to be a support; not, indeed, by removing present troubles, but by declaring the final victory of those who endure to the end. Thus, then, as a preparation for the woes to be revealed, and as an encouragement after disclosing the prospect of prolonged trial, the vision of the Church triumphant is vouchsafed, both at the beginning and the end of the Revelation. Bisping and others understand the vision ass personification of war; Bengel and Reuss consider that it means conquest, or a particular conqueror (Vespasian and Trajan being denominated), just as in Jeremiah 21:7 and Jeremiah 32:36 the King of Babylon is connected with war, famine, and pestilence. Elliott, with others, interpret the rider as meaning the Roman empire, just as the ram (Daniel 8:3) signified the Persian, and the goat (Daniel 8:5) the Grecian empires. Todd sees in this appearance a particular aspect of Christ's second coming. Victorinus, following Matthew 24 in his exposition of the seals, sees in the first seal the Word of the Lord, which is like an arrow (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Andreas sees in the first seal a vision of the Church's triumph over Satan in apostolic times; and similarly, in the second, the martyrdom of Christians in the age immediately following. Bode believes the seals to foreshadow the future history of the Church. Wordsworth, after St. Augustine, expounds the first seal as the advent of Christ and the Gospel, and the following ones as depicting subsequent troubles of the Church, which are specified. Had a bow. The bow and arrows are used as signs of power by Old Testament writers. In Zechariah 9:13 we have, "When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim;" in Habakkuk 3:8, 9, "Thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation; thy bow was made quite naked;" in Psalm 45:5, "Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies." The general idea of the vision is perhaps taken from Zechariah 1:7-12 and 6. And a crown was given unto him, In Zechariah 6:11, quoted above, we have a parallel passage, "Make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; and speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the Man whose name is The Branch." The crown is στέφανος, as in Revelation 2:10 - the crown of life, the crown of victory. And he went forth conquering, and to conquer; came forth conquering, and that he may conquer. This is the key to the whole vision. Only of Christ and his kingdom can it be said that it is to conquer. All earthly empires are more or less temporary in character; only of Christ's kingdom shall there be no end. A strife there must be between the powers of earth and the powers of heaven; the gospel did not inaugurate a reign of earthly peace, but the end is not doubtful; Christ and his Church came forth conquering, and that they may conquer finally, whatever earthly trials may intervene.
And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
Verse 3. - And when he had opened the second seal; he opened (Revised Version). The tense is aorist. The circumstances described accompanied the act of opening, as in the case of the other seals. I heard the second beast say, Come and see; I heard the second living being say, Come. (On the four living beings as representing creation, see on Revelation 4:6.) For the omission of "and see," and the discussion of the question to whom the words are addressed, see above, on ver. 1. As there stated, some believe the second living being here specified to be the ox, which, on account of its sacrificial character invites the prophet to behold the result of the war which is personified by this vision. Wordsworth, interpreting the living beings to mean the Gospels, here sees a reference to St. Luke's Gospel, which depicts the sufferings of Christ, and considers that the ox here summons St. John to witness the persecution of the martyrs.
And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
Verse 4. - And there went out another horse that was red. There is a very general agreement that the red horse signifies war - slaughter by the sword which was given to "him that sat thereon." Slight variations of the application occur. Wordsworth, following the more ancient expositors, thinks that only that aspect of war is intended which consists in the persecution of the saints; while Alford and others would not restrict the meaning, but consider that war in general is meant, relying upon the following words, "that they should kill one another," and quoting our Lord's prophecy, "I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). Both views may be correct. Though there had never been persecution, war would be one of the great afflictions from which Christians in various ages suffer, and in which they need consolation; but we may well believe that St. John, in writing to Christians who were themselves being grievously persecuted, should refer especially to the slaughter of the saints, as one of the trials inflicted upon them with God's knowledge and permission. The Revelation, intended as a support to those to whom St. John wrote, and applying directly and specially to their situation, has vet a wider application, and foreshadows the fate of each individual Christian and the Church in general throughout all ages. And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth; and to him that sat upon him it was given him to take peace out of the earth. The pronoun is redundant; it has no special signification (see Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:12, 21). "The peace" (τὴν εἰρήνην); that is, peace in general, not the peace left by the first appearance. "Power" (cf. Revelation 4:11; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 7:12). A few authorities omit ἐκ, "out." "The earth" has been erroneously restricted to the Roman empire or to Judaea. The whole world is meant. Here is a repetition of our Lord's prophecy, "I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The sword directed against the saints of God is, by God's providence, converted into an instrument for the refining and conversion of his kingdom. As in the death of Christ, Satan was foiled with his own weapon, and by death came life, so what is intended by the enemies of God to be the extermination of Christianity is the means of increasing and strengthening his Church. And that they should kill one another; that is, that among the inhabitants of the earth some should kill others. As explained above, this includes both the slaughter of the saints and war in general. The verb σφάττω, "to sacrifice," is peculiar to St. John, being found only in the Revelation and in 1 John 3:12. The use of this verb seems to imply that the vision more immediately contemplates the death of the martyrs. And there was given unto him a great sword. Here, again, μάχαιρα, though used also in a wider sense, signifies strictly the sacrificial knife, the natural instrument of the slaughter mentioned. It is the LXX. word used in Genesis 22:6, 10, in the account of the sacrifice of Isaac, where it is also closely connected with σφάττω, "to sacrifice," the verb used in this passage.
And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
Verse 5. - And when he had opened the third seal; when he opened, as in the case of the other seals (see on ver. 3). I heard the third beast say; the third living being saying. (On the living beings, see Revelation 4:6.) Wordsworth takes the third living being to be that with the human face, and considers it to be typical of the whole vision of the third seal, by symbolizing the source of the next trial of the Church; namely, the rise of heresy, which he thinks is depicted by this appearance. But probably the four living beings represent all creation, and thus invite St. John to witness the troubles in store for mankind in general. (For a full consideration of this point, see on Revelation 4:6.) Come and see. The majority of authorities emit "and see" (see the corresponding passage in vers. 1 and 3, where also is discussed the question as to whom the sentence is addressed). And I beheld, and lo a black horse. The black is typical of woe and mourning - the result of the scarcity foretold in the following words. This vision is typical of famine; it is the second of the three trials foretold - war, famine, death (cf. Ezekiel 14, where the "four sore plagues" are wild beasts, the sword, famine, and pestilence). St. John seems to foretell the recurrence of three of these troubles to try mankind in general, and Christians in particular. Those who interpret the vision to mean scarcity of faith, or in other words the prevalence of heresy, do so on the supposition that the events denoted at the opening of the seals follow each other in historical order. They therefore assign these events to the period subsequent to A.D. , when persecution had ceased, and the rise of heresies took place. Others, accepting the historical view, yet consider the vision to foretell famine; and Grotius and Wetstein point to the famine in the reign of Claudius as the fulfilment. But it is not probable that the meaning of the book is so limited in extent; but rather that its prophecies point to events which have happened, and are recurring, and will continue to recur until the end of the world. We therefore understand that this vision denotes famine in the ordinary sense, as one of the trials awaiting the members of the Church of God at various times during the existence of the Church on earth. This affliction may happen concurrently with, or antecedent to, or subsequent to, any of those trials denoted by the other visions, and even the victorious career of the Church as foretold under the first seal; for by suffering the Church conquers and is made perfect. And he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. Ζυγός is rightly rendered "a balance," as in Ezekiel 45:10; not (as it primarily meant) a "yoke." The idea intended to be conveyed is that of scarcity so great that food is weighed carefully as something very rare and precious, though there is not yet a complete absence of food.
And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
Verse 6. - And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say; I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying (Revised Version). The speaker is not perceived by St. John; the words proceed from somewhere near the throne (but the exact situation is left doubtful), which is surrounded by the four living creatures (see on Revelation 4:6 for the consideration both of the position and of the nature of the four living creatures). Alford points out the appropriateness of the voice proceeding from the midst of the representatives of creation, when the intent of the words is to mitigate the woes denounced against creation. Those who consider the living creatures to be symbolical of the Gospels, and who interpret this vision as a prophecy of heresy (see on ver. 5), also see an appropriateness in the fact of the voice issuing from amidst the living creatures, since by the power and influence of the Gospels heresy is dispelled. Wordsworth recalls the custom of placing the Gospels in the midst of the Synod in the ancient Councils of the Church. A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; a choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three choenixes of barley for a denarius. The choenix appears to have been the food allotted to one man for a day; while the denarius was the pay of a soldier or of a common labourer for one day (Matthew 20:2, "He agreed with the labourers for a penny a day," and Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 1:17, 26, "Ut denarius diurnum stipendium foret." Cf. Tobit 5:14, where drachma is equivalent to denarius). The choenix was the eighth part of the modius, and a denarius would usually purchase a modius of wheat. The price given, therefore, denotes great scarcity, though not an entire absence of food, since a man's wages would barely suffice to obtain him food. Barley, which was the coarser food, was obtainable at one third of the price, which would allow a man to feed a family, though with difficulty. A season of great scarcity is therefore predicted, though in his wrath God remembers mercy (cf. the judgments threatened in Leviticus 26:23-26, viz. the sword, pestilence, and famine; also the expression, "They shall deliver you your bread again by weight"). And see thou hurt net the oil and the wine. The corollary to the preceding sentence, with the same signification. It expresses a limit set to the power of the rider on the black horse. These were typical articles of food (cf. Psalm 104:14, 15, "That he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart;" and Joel 1:10, "The corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth"). Wordsworth interprets, "The prohibition to the rider, 'Hurt not thou the oil and the wine,' is a restraint on the evil design of the rider, who would injure the spiritual oil and wine, that is, the means of grace, which had been typified under those symbols in ancient prophecy (Psalm 23:4, 5), and also by the words and acts of Christ, the good Samaritan, pouring in oil and wine into the wounds of the traveller, representing human nature, lying in the road." 'Αδικήσῃς ἀδικεῖν in the Revelation invariably signifies "to injure," and, except in one case, takes the direct accusative after it (see Revelation 2:11; Revelation 7:2, 3; Revelation 9:4, 10, 19; Revelation 11:5). Nevertheless, Heinrich and Elliott render, "Do not commit injustice in the matter of the oil and wine." Rinek renders, "waste not." The vision is a general prophecy of the future for all time (see on ver. 5); but many writers have striven to identify the fulfilment of the vision with some one particular famine. Grotius and Wetstein refer it to the scarcity in the days of Claudius; Renan, to that in the time of Nero; Bishop Newton, to the end of the second century. Those who interpret the vision as a forewarning of the spread of heresy, especially single out that of Arius.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
Verse 7. - And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say; when he opened, as in vers. l, 3, and 5. The events narrated accompany the action of opening the seal. Of the fourth living being (see on Revelation 4:6). The individual is not specified (see on ver. 1); but Wordsworth specifies the living being like a flying eagle, by which he understands the Gospel of St. John (but see on Revelation 4:6). Saying. Though λέγουσαν, the feminine accusative, to agree with φωνήν, "voice," is adopted in the Textus Receptus, and supported by the sole authority of 1, yet א, A, B, C, P, and others read λέγοντος, the masculine genitive, agreeing with ζώου, "living being." Come and see. The Revised Version omits "and see" (see on ver. 1). "Come" is probably addressed to St. John (see on ver. 1).
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
Verse 8. - And I looked; I saw. The usual expression drawing attention to a new sight or fresh phase of the vision (see on Revelation 4:1; ver. 2, etc.). And behold a pale horse. Pale (χλωρός, "greenish-white, livid"); the colour of one stricken with disease or death, or moved with emotions of terror. The same word is used of the green grass in Revelation 8:7 and in Mark 6:39, and of the vegetation in Revelation 9:4; but, applied to man, it is generally connected with terror, disease, or death. The Greek poets use it as an epithet of fear, and Thucydides thus describes the colour of persons affected by the plague. And his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. The preposition differs from that used in the preceding verses: it is here ἐπάνω,"above," not ἐπί, "upon." And he who was sitting above him, his name [was] Death. Here we have it plainly stated that the vision is a personification of Death - death in general, death in any and every way, as indicated in the latter part of the verse. This supports the view taken of the first three visions of the seals (see on ver. 2). Hades follows with Death, not as a separate infliction, but as the necessary complement of Death in the completion of the vision, swallowing up and guarding, as it were, those seized by the latter. Death is personified in a similar way in Psalm 49:14, "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them;" and Hades in Isaiah 14:9, "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming." The two are also conjoined in Revelation 1:18, "The keys of hell and of death;" and in Revelation 20:13, 14, "Death and hell delivered up the dead." Hades cannot signify the place of torment, as Hengstenberg thinks, since these trials are to be inflicted on Christians, not on the wicked merely. Nor is it consonant with the context to suppose (as Ebrard) that Hades signifies "the dwellers in Hades." And power was given unto them. The reading "them" is supported by A, C, [P], א, n 17, 49 (1.40 e sil) Andreas; while B and the Vulgate read αὺτῷ, "him." The context shows that both are intended. Over the fourth part of the earth. There is a general consensus of opinion that this expression betokens a part of mankind. Why the fourth part is selected is difficult to say. Alford suggests that a reference is intended to the four first seals, each one of which embraces in its action a portion of mankind. But the first seal can hardly be interpreted in this way. Probably the intention is to denote that a part of mankind must be afflicted in this particular way, though no definite proportion is signified. In other words, the second, third, and fourth seals depict troubles which Christians and all mankind will have to undergo; some being afflicted more especially in one way, others in another. The troubles mentioned are not an exhaustive catalogue, but are typical of all sorrows; the selection being probably prompted by the Old Testament passages quoted below, viz. Leviticus 26:23-26; 2 Samuel 24:13; and Ezekiel 14:21. "The fourth part" is an expression found only in this passage. Zullig agrees with Alford in the explanation given above; Hengstenberg, and somewhat similarly Volkmar, think it denotes the partial character of this judgment. Elliott, with very little reason, follows the Vulgate reading, "over the four parts of the earth;" Isaac Williams also thinks the judgment is universal, since that is the idea that the number four signifies, which, however, is a different thing from a fourth part. To kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. The passage is another example of the influence of the prophecy of Ezekiel upon the composition of the Apocalypse. In Ezekiel 14:21 the "four sore judgments" are "the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence? This indicates the signification of θανάτῳ in this place; viz. death by pestilence, not, as in the preceding passage, death in any form (comp. Leviticus 26:23-26, where the judgments threatened are the sword, pestilence, and famine. Cf. also the alternative punishments of David (2 Samuel 24:13); also 2 Esdras 15:5 4 Esdr. 15:5, "the sword, and hunger, and death, and destruction"). The wild beasts of the earth (θηρίων) is very probably a reference to the death of many Christians in the pagan amphitheatres; though the meaning is not necessarily restricted to this form of death. Those to whom the Apocalypse was first addressed would irresistibly be reminded of our Lord's words in Matthew 24:7, 13, "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places... But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." It is as though St. John echoed the words of our Lord, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44); and would say, "I am commissioned to relate these visions of the present and future trials of all in the world, which, however, have been already foretold you by our blessed Lord himself." While, therefore, this passage may be understood literally, since doubtless the Church has suffered all these afflictions at different times, in different members of her body, yet we must understand these four typical judgments to be representative of trouble in all its forms; the fourfold character pointing to its universal nature (see on Revelation 5:9). This has led many writers to see in these inflictions trials of a spiritual nature - a view which may well be included in the proper application, but must not be pressed to the exclusion of any other more literal interpretation. We may thus sum up the results of our investigation of these eight verses. They relate the circumstances attending the opening of the first four seals, and doubtless typify various phases of the trials which are permitted by God to afflict Christians on earth in common with all mankind. Each of the four visions is preceded by the invitation of one of the four living beings, which are representative of creation; and a second feature common to these four visions is the appearance of a rider as the personification of the idea set forth.

(1) The visions open with a personification of Christianity, and an assurance of the ultimate victory which it will gain over the powers of the world.

(2) Then appears a vision of war, as one of the typical troubles of mankind, which will ultimately be overcome by the triumph of Christianity.

(3) Next follows famine with all its attendant evils, though it is not permitted to extend to the extremity of the extirpation of mankind.

(4) Fourthly comes death in every form - a trial of which every one feels the weight at some time. These four do not picture consecutive events; they may be successive or concurrent; the first is certainly being fulfilled side by side with the others. We may, therefore, be able to point to a particular period or event as a fulfilment of any one of these, but we cannot assign definite times to each as the complete and ultimate fulfilment, since the trials which are signified must extend to the end of time. And, in conclusion, while the first application was doubtless intended for the support of the Christians of St. John's age in their temporal difficulties, we must consider the visions equally intended to console Christians of every age, and even to portray the spiritual conflict, destitution, and apostasy which must and will continually arise while the Church remains in part in the world.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Verse 9. - And when he had opened the fifth seal; and when he opened, as in vers. l, 3, 5, 7, which see. The second group of visions connected with the opening of the seals now commences. The first group deals with events more immediately attached to this life. By the visions of the first four seals St. John has shown that it is with God's knowledge and consent that afflictions and persecutions are allowed to try the faith of his servants on earth; while yet the ultimate triumph of those who endure is certain. In the last three appearances he goes a step further - he gives his readers a glimpse of events more immediately connected with the life in the world to come. He shows them

(1) the faithful, resting from their labours, though longing, in sympathy with those left on earth, for the completion of Christ's triumph;

(2) the circumstances attendant upon our Lord's final coming, which he describes in language which is almost a repetition of Christ's words on the same subject;

(3) the inexplicable life with God in heaven, which is denoted by the silence following the opening of the last seal. I saw under the altar. This representation is doubtless suggested by the arrangements of the temple. Victims were sacrificed on the brazen altar which stood at the door of the tabernacle (Exodus 39:39 and Exodus 40:29), and the blood was poured out at the foot of this altar (Leviticus 4:7). The martyrs are therefore regarded as having offered themselves as sacrifices upon the altar of God by yielding up their lives for him. St. Paul uses a similar figure concerning himself. In 2 Timothy 4:6 he says, "For I am now ready to be offered ['to pour out as a libation,' σπένδω], and the time of any departure is at hand;" and in Philippians 2:17, "If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith." Bleek and De Wette understand the golden altar of incense (Exodus 30:1), and consider that the figure is representative of the hearing of the martyrs' prayers. Bossuet says the altar is Christ. The souls of them that wore slain; them that had been slain. An "aesthetical difficulty" (see on Revelation 4:6). How could St. John see the souls? Of course, he did not see them with his bodily vision, nor indeed did he thus see any part of the revelation. He "sees" them while "in the Spirit," i.e. he is somehow made conscious of the existence of the souls. Slain; σφάττω, "sacrificed;" the same word used of the Lamb in Revelation 5:6. The word is in harmony with the use of the word" altar," with which it is naturally connected. It fixes the signification of the altar, which therefore cannot bear the meaning ascribed by Block and De Wette, as mentioned above. St. John sees the souls only of the martyrs, since their bodies will not be reunited with their souls until the judgment day. Meanwhile, the souls rest (see ver. 11) in peace, yet in expectation of the final accomplishment of their perfect bliss, which the words used in ver. 10 show them to desire. Wordsworth quotes (as illustrating this passage) Tertullian, "The souls of martyrs repose in peace under the altar, and cherish a spirit of patience until others are admitted to fill up their communion of glow;" and Irenaeus, "The souls of the departed go to the place assigned them by God, and there abide until the resurrection, when they will be reunited to their bodies; and then the saints, both in soul and body, will come into the presence of God." For the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held. B, Syriac, add, "and of the Lamb." On account of the word, etc. Exactly the same expression which St. John uses in Revelation 1:9 in describing the cause of his own exile at Patmos. The language is peculiarly St. John's (cf. Revelation 1:2, "John: who bare record of the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw;" also Revelation 12:17, "The dragon... went to make war with... them which have the testimony of Jesus Christ;" also Revelation 19:10, "I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' The "Word of God" is of course the truth which God has declared, not the Word as in John 1. "The testimony which they held" may differ slightly in signification in different places. It may mean

(1) the testimony or truth which Christ has imparted to Christians; or

(2) the active showing forth of the Christian faith by word or deed. The latter is evidently the meaning here, since for this active manifestation of Christianity they whose souls St. John now sees in glory had been slain, which would not have occurred had they merely received the Word of God without showing it outwardly (cf. Revelation 1:2).
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Verse 10. - And they cried with a loud voice, saying; i.e. the souls cried. Ebrard, Dusterdieck, Hengstenberg, make "the slain" nominative, in contradistinction to the "souls," which is both unnecessary and unnatural. Zullig compares Genesis 4:10, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." How long? (comp. Zechariah 1:12, 13, "How long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem? And the Lord answered with good words and comfortable words"). No doubt the souls waiting in Paradise are answered by "comfortable words," yet, not having lost their interest in earthly struggles, nor their longing for the triumphant vindication of God's glory, they cry, "How long?," not as needing the time to be shortened for their own sakes, for they rest, though not yet entered into the fulness of God's glory. O Lord, holy and true; O Master, the holy and true (Revised Version). "Master" (δεσπότης) is the correlative of "servant" (δοῦλος). This is the only instance of its occurrence in the Apocalypse. (On "true," see previous passages.) Deal thou not judge and avenge our blood. The cry is not a petition for personal revenge, but a request for the termination of those ills which for a time afflict man, and the termination of which must, by virtue of God's eternal justice, be accompanied by visible retribution on the wicked. (Cf. Bede, "Those souls which offered themselves a living sacrifice to God pray eternally for his coming to judgment, not from any vindictive feeling against their enemies, but in a spirit of zeal and love for God's glory and justice, mid for the coming of that day when sin, which is rebellion against him, will be destroyed, and their own bodies will be raised. And so in that prayer wherein Christ teaches us to forgive our enemies, we are also taught to say, 'Thy kingdom come.'") The passage has given rise to varying interpretations, which are thought to be more consonant with the spirit of the gospel. Thus I. Williams would understand the souls to represent only the Old Testament saints, especially as it is not explicitly said that they died for the witness of Jesus, as in Revelation 20:4. On them that dwell on the earth. That is, on the worldly, those who have taken the side of the world in its conflict with Christianity.
And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
Verse 11. - And white robes were given unto every one of them; and there was given to each one a white robe. Στολὴ λευκή, "a white robe," is supported by A, C, [P], N, B, etc. The white robe of righteousness, the wedding garment of Matthew 22:11, 12, is the sign of the blessedness of the saints. White is the colour of heavenly victory in the Apocalypse (see on ver. 2). The vision has recalled the past sufferings of the martyrs and their present expectation of the final consummation of their hopes, which is to be not yet. The other side is now to be shown; though they have not yet reached their final bliss, they have received the white robe, they are free from possibility of defilement, the victory is won, and they have rest. Comfort and encouragement are thus afforded to those still struggling in the world, who have not as yet attained to the white robe of perfect righteousness. And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season. Revelation 14. seems to determine the exact signification ἀναπάυσωνται, viz. "rest in peace," "rest from their labours," rather than specifically "cease from uttering this cry" (ver. 10), as explained by De Wette and others. For a little time (χρόνος); that is, till the second coming of Christ, for the time which is to intervene before that event is frequently spoken of as a little time (see on Revelation 1:1; 20:3; 12:12; comp. Haggai 2:6, 7, "Yet once a little time, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come"). The time of the world is little in comparison with eternity. This little time is depicted and set forth under the six seals; it comes to an end at Revelation 7:17, and merges into eternity in Revelation 8:1. Some expositors (of the historical school) understand a χρόνος to be a definite, arbitrary number; e.g. Bengel considers it to be 1111 1/9 years (see 'Speaker's Commentary,' p. 485). Until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. R, B, P, read πληρώσωσιν, "shall have fulfilled" [i.e. their course]; A, C, read πληρωθῶσιν, "should be completed." "Their fellow servants also and their brethren" may not denote two separate bodies, notwithstanding that καί occurs twice, but, as Alford remarks, it may point out the same persons viewed in two aspects - first, the Christians needed to proceed with and finish Christ's work as his servants; second, the same ones needed to complete the number of his family. But it seems more likely that reference is intended to two classes of Christians - first, their fellow servants, that is, all Christians, who may, however, not suffer martyrdom; and, second, their brethren, the martyrs, who, like them, should yet be killed.
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
Verse 12. - And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal; and I saw when he opened. The events described accompany the opening as in the case of the preceding visions (see on vers. 1, 3, 5, etc.). The sixth seal describes the end of the world - the transition of the saints from earth to heaven, with the accompanying circumstances. It is important to remember that the whole is a vision, and we must therefore guard against expecting a literal interpretation of the language used. Following the manner of the prophets, and the description given by our Lord himself of the judgment day, St. John portrays the wonder and awe and consternation which will then be prevalent under the figure of falling stars. etc. How much, if any, may, in the destruction of the world, literally come to pass, it is impossible to say; but we must be content to receive the general impression which is undoubtedly intended to be conveyed to us, without pressing the individual particulars too far. The symbolism, as usual, bears evidence of its Old Testament origin; and the influence of our Lord's description in Matthew 24. is noticeable. The special revelation of God's presence or of his judgments is usually depicted under the figure of terrestrial commotion (see on Revelation 6:1; also Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 13:12; Isaiah 34:4: Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Hosea 10:8; Joel 2:30; Haggai 2:6). The last three seals seem connected more especially with life in the next world. The fifth seal displays to us the souls of the faithful in peace, but desiring the perfect consummation of their bliss; the sixth announces the certainty of future judgment, when all will be set right, when the righteous will be preserved and the wicked justly recompensed; the seventh typifies the indescribable joy and peace of heaven. It seems reasonable, therefore, to consider the passage Revelation 6:12-7:17 as all contained under the sixth seal; since, although set forth at rather greater length than the other seals, it all follows in natural sequence - the destruction of the earth, the fear of the wicked, the preservation and joy of the righteous; and then follows heaven, portrayed under the opening of the seventh seal. Some have tried to separate Revelation 7. as "an episode," or rather two episodes, commencing at, and marked off by, the μετά τοῦτο of ver. 1 and μετὰ ταῦτα of ver. 9, "after these things." But this expression, though undoubtedly marking, the beginning of a fresh phase of the subject, does not necessarily imply the opening of an entirely new and unconnected discourse. This view of the sixth seal is in harmony with what appears to be the general plan of the visions of the seals. It is important to bear in mind, in our interpretation of the Apocalypse, these two principles - first, the book was addressed to certain Christians for a definite purpose, and its object would be set forth so as to be comprehended by them; second, the truths thus contained must be such as to be applicable to the position of mankind in general in all ages. We have, therefore, to inquire to whom and for what purpose the book was primarily written, and then how the lessons contained can benefit mankind in general. It thus appears that the message was originally intended as an encouragement and a support to those Christians who were being persecuted, and were suffering in various ways, and whose patience might be inadequate to preserve them through trials so severe or so long. The visions of the seals would speak plainly to such as these. The first four would tell them that, though they must not doubt of Christ's final victory, it is yet with God's knowledge and permission that this life is afflicted with troubles of different kinds; it is not because God is weak, forgetful, or unjust Then, lest any should be tempted to ask, "Is it worth while? If Christianity involves all this suffering, would it not be better to be as the world is, and escape?" a picture of the future is given. The fifth seal shows that, immediately upon the completion of this life, the souls of the righteous are at peace; and the sixth seal shows that a day of reckoning will certainly come for the world; while the seventh seal is an assurance of heaven. It is worth while, therefore, to endure and to persevere, both on account of God's reward to the just, and his retribution upon the unjust. Thus would the signification of the visions be easily comprehended by those for whom they were originally intended; and the same lessons are equally valuable for the Church at all time. Grotius considers that this vision refers to the destruction of Jerusalem; Elliott, Faber, and Mede refer its accomplishment to the beginning of the fourth century; Wordsworth sees the "last age" of the Church represented; Stern thinks it indicates the general state of the Church; Wetstein, the commotions in Judaea previous to the destruction of Jerusalem; while Cunninghame and Frere see a reference to the French Revolution of 1789. But these interpretations do not fulfil the conditions mentioned above, since the Christians to whom this book is addressed were ignorant of those events yet in the future. And, lo, there was a great earthquake. Omit "lo." The earthquake is the usual manifestation of God's presence or special dealing with men (vide supra). This is the answer to the question of the saints in the fifth seal - the period of probation is finite. And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair. Thus Isaiah 50:3, "I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering" (cf. Matthew 24:29). And the moon became as blood; the whole moon (cf. Joel 2:31, quoted in Acts 2:20).
And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
Verse 13. - And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth (cf. Matthew 24:29, "The stars shall fall from heaven"). The figure of "stars" is sometimes used to typify "rulers," as in Numbers 24:17, "There shall come a star out of Jacob;" Isaiah 14:13, "I [Lucifer] will exalt my throne above the stars of God." Some have thus been led to find a particular application of this sentence. Stern considers that the falling away of Christian rulers is signified; while many refer it to the overthrew of pagan rulers. Even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind; her unripe figs. Probably the unripe figs of the spring, many of which would be shaken down by a strong wind, or possibly the winter figs, which commonly fall off while unripe. The figure is doubtless suggested by Isaiah 34:4, taken in conjunction with the parable of Matthew 24:32.
And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
Verse 14. - And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up. The scroll - the parchment book or roll, which is spread out to read, and, when read, roiled up and put away. The passage is apparently founded upon Isaiah 34:4. "The host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll," etc. And every mountain and island were moved out of their places (cf. Isaiah 40:4, "Every mountain and hill shall be made low;" also Jeremiah 3:23, "Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains"). The enumeration of seven objects in vers. 12-14 seems to denote the all extending nature of God's judgment.
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
Verse 15. - And the kings of the earth. The first of the seven classes mentioned. The enumeration is again all extensive, embracing all classes, and men of every degree of social distinction. Bishop Newton is probably not correct in seeing an allusion to particular kings. And the great men; princes (Revised Version). Μεγιστᾶνες are the grandees, the courtiers, as distinguished from those who are governors and hold military command, and who are subsequently mentioned as the "chief captains." And the rich men, and the chief captains. The Revised Version reverses the order, and places "chief captains" first. The chief captains (χιλίαρχοι) are those holding military rank (cf. Mark 6:21, "Herod made a supper to his lords, high captains," etc.; John 18, "The captain and officers took Jesus;" Acts 21:31, et seq., "The chief captain of the band "). And the mighty men. Probably those possessing great bodily strength. And every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains. "Every" is omitted before "free man" by A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Andreas, and Arethas. The dens; in Revised Version caves (cf. Isaiah 2:19, "And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth"). Again, as in vers. 12-14, the enumeration is sevenfold; thus denoting the universality and completeness of the extent of the judgment (see Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1, etc.).
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
Verse 16. - And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face (cf. Hosea 10:8, "They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us;" also Luke 23:30, "Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us ") of him that sitteth on the throne. The Triune God (see on Revelation 4:2). And from the wrath of the Lamb. The result of the wroth of the Lamb is depicted in Revelation 21:8. God's wrath with the wicked is the assurance of his mercy and love for the righteous. Thus in Revelation 11:18, we have, "The nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants," etc. Similarly, in Revelation 14:10-13, the wrath of God upon the wicked is associated with the peace of the faithful.
For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
Verse 17. - For the great day of his wrath is come. Of their wrath, which is read in the Revised Version, is found in א, C, 38, Vulgate, Syriae; but αὐτοῦ, "his," is supported by A, B, F, Coptic, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius. The article is repeated, making the term almost a proper name - the day, the great [day]. Alford remarks that this of itself should be sufficient to keep commentators right in confining their interpretation of this seal to the last judgment (cf. Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1, 2; Acts 2:20; Jude 1:6). And who shall be able to stand? Who is able (Revised Version). Thus Malachi 3:2, "Who shall stand when he appeareth?" And Nahum 1:6. Thus, then, the question in ver. 10, "How long?" is answered; not by limiting the length of time, but by a renewed assurance of an awful termination of the course of the world, at the appearance of the Judge. The dread attending that end is vividly portrayed, and the fear of the wicked, with their conscience-stricken inquiry, "Who is able to stand?" an answer to which is required for the edification of the faithful. And, therefore, the seer immediately describes the preservation of the righteous from amidst the destruction of the wicked, and their raptured praises, a joyous contrast with the despairing fate of those whose doom has just been narrated.

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