Week - 12 The Beginning of the End Revelation 6:1-8
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Authored by Jerry Marshall
Art Linkletter saw a small boy drawing a picture. He inquired, “What are you drawing?” The small boy replied, “A picture of God.” Linkletter told the lad that no one knows what God looks like, to which the boy confidently responded, “They will when I get through.”
Like this little boy, many of us have formulated our concepts of God from our own creative imaginations and our own subjective musings. Some who may venture to put their personal theology in a book form might title it, “What I think God is like.”
There are many people today who view God through the grid of a single attribute. They proclaim, “God is Love!” Certainly, love is a part of the intrinsic nature of God, but it is only one part of the total picture of how God has revealed Himself in nature and the Scriptures.
But those who predominantly think of God as only love cannot imagine that such a loving God would be judgmental - punishing helpless sinners forever in a lake of fire and brimstone. The unfortunate implication in this sort of narrow view of God is that it makes Him morally indifferent.
“The head of the department of evangelism for a major denomination in America said, ‘We don’t need to evangelize the people of this world who have never heard the message of salvation. We only need to announce to them that they’re already saved.’”
This leader reflects the rising tide of universalism, the belief that, because God is too loving and gracious to send anyone to hell, everyone ultimately will go to heaven. The fact of the matter is that God has already proven His willingness to exercise His judgment upon sinful humanity (Note: His past judgment - His present judgment and His future judgment).
Revelation chapter six is a continuation of the vision of heaven experienced by the apostle John which began in the fourth chapter (4:1). In that chapter, John sees God on His throne being worshipped as the Creator (4:11). In chapter five, John beholds the slain Lamb of God who is worshipped as the Redeemer (5:9). He is also acknowledged to be the only one worthy to open a seven sealed scroll which records the future program of divine judgment to be exercised against this sin cursed world (5:3-9).
As each seal is broken by the Lamb, there is an unveiling of the various aspects of end time events. This marks the beginning of the end of the world as we know it. Each of the scroll’s seven seals (cf. 5:1) represents a specific divine judgment that will be poured out sequentially on the earth.
I. The Breaking of the First Seal (verses 1-2)
1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (p. 176). Chicago: Moody Press.
The opening of the first four seals of the scroll by the Lamb of God introduces four horsemen who go forth to spread terror and sufferings of one kind of another. Throughout the Middle Ages, and earlier, the four horsemen were used in pictorial art and in literature to symbolize the ravages of war and pestilence, famine and death, especially in times of terrifying woes such as the Black Plague, when famine and death spread throughout Europe.
A. The Mandate (verse 1)
Some ancient handwritten manuscripts record the creature’s command as “come and see” as if this was a mandate directed to John. However, the best understanding is that the living creature’s command to “Come” is directed to the first horseman which summons him to come galloping across John’s field of vision.
It is interesting to note that as each seal is broken, nothing is read from the scroll - but rather there is this unleashing of the various aspects and forces of God’s divine wrath upon this earth. It should also be noted that although John sees this unfolding of God’s Judgment from the vantage point of heaven, the action takes place on earth.
B. The Manifestation (verse 2)
In response to the command of one of the four living creatures, (cherubim: an exalted order of angelic beings who are in the center and around the throne of
God -4:7-8) the first horseman comes galloping out for John to behold.
A host of different interpretations have been offered in terms of the identity of this rider based upon the color of horse he was riding, the bow he held, the crown that was given to him and the intent of his coming.
C. The Meaning (verses 1-2)
So, who is this rider on the white horse? What is the meaning of this first horseman?
Some scholars believe that this first rider is Christ at the time of His Second Coming based upon seeing a parallel with (Revelation 19:11). One problem with that interpretation is the time frame of this inaugural event of God’s Judgment that this horseman represents.
Judging from the context, the judgments unleashed upon the inhabitants of the earth, as represented by the breaking of the seals, occur during a period called “The Great Tribulation,” which is specifically the last three and a half years of that seventieth week of Daniel, known as the tribulation.
The Second Coming of Christ does not occur at the beginning of the Great Tribulation but rather at the end. That is what Revelation 19:11 is describing.
Others understand this first horseman on the white horse as a reference to the Antichrist who comes to power at this time as the world leader. While this interpretation is more plausible, in the end it requires somewhat of a departure from the context. In interpreting difficult passages such as the one that we have before us, it is very important to allow the context to rule. The context clearly indicates that the riders on each of these horses are not referring to individuals, but rather a personification of forces that are unleashed upon this world as an expression of the Judgment of God.
The particular force associated with the first horseman is that of the spirit of conquest, a lust for victory, a strong appetite for world dominance. What follows, is the unfortunate backwash of such an appetite unleashed - war, famine, pestilence, death and martyrdom.
This spirit is captured in the symbolism of the white horse which in John’s day was ridden by those who have achieved a military victory. Certainly, the bow was the chief instrument of warfare of John’s day. The Crown comes from a translation of the Greek word Stephanos, which refers to a wreath or garland that was given in recognition of an achieved victory.
Note finally the purpose of the unleashing of this force…”and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” The new living Bible translation states: “He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.” It is right to say that ultimately, only the Antichrist will have this appetite fully satisfied - for he will eventually conquer all.
The context would suggest that the question should not focus so much on the identity of the horseman on the white horse as much as what this first rider represents in terms of an aspect of God’s Final Judgment.
II. The Breaking of the Second Seal (verses 3-4)
A. The Mandate (verse 3)
The Lamb of God snaps the second seal. And like the first, this results in the summoning of the second horseman by the living creature.
B. The Manifestation (verse 4)
Whereas the first horseman held a bow and was given a crown - a victor’s wreath - the second horseman is given power to remove peace from the world and a sword, which is apparently used by him in the accomplishment of his assignment.
The fiery red horse symbolizes the slaughter and bloodshed associated with such universal warfare. This ushers in a time on planet earth of murder, assassination, bloodshed and revolution. It reminds me of the words of Jesus in the Olivet discourse…
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars...nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matthew 24:6, 7). The parallel here is unmistakable.
C. The Meaning (verses 3-4)
In terms of the meaning of this second horseman and the fiery red horse that he rides upon, there exists much agreement. It is a symbol of universal warfare and a sort of battle lust which prompts people to slay one another.
And those who will experience this trying time of warfare are the inhabitants of the earth who find themselves in the midst of the Great Tribulation, which Jesus described as a totally unique period in the history of the world.
For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Matthew 24:21-22).
III. The Breaking of the Third Seal (vs.5-6)
Next, the Lamb of God snaps the third seal which issued forth in a mandate from the third living creature for the third horseman to come on the scene.
A. The Mandate (verse 5a)
5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!”
B. The Manifestation (verses 5b-6)
Following close behind universal warfare is its logical consequence - famine. We have all witnessed this sort of thing on a smaller scale in places like Bosnia, Zaire and Somalia. Most of Europe was plunged into famine following the Second World War. In those days, even in our country, people were issued food stamps for the rationing of food supplies.
The portrayal of the shortage of food during this time of judgment is depicted in the “pair of scales” held in the hand of the rider. This is a translation of the Greek word Zygon. “It refers to a bar with scales at both ends of it or else with a weight at one end and a pan suspended from the other. The idea of weighing food shows it to be in short supply.” Eating food by weight denotes conditions of famine.
John next hears a special announcement. The price of food will be excessive in terms of inflation. A quart of wheat can feed only one person for one day. During this time of judgment, this small quantity of food will cost a full day’s wages. Barley is low in nutritional value and is normally fed to livestock; yet that will cost a full day’s wages.
And there will be a need to protect and ration precious commodities such as oil and wine. This is not a reference to crude oil. It refers the kind of oil used for making bread like olive oil.
C. The Meaning (verses 5-6)
Here again the meaning is obvious. The spirit of conquest is released upon this world, which in turn produces warfare, which in turn produces a dreadful famine worldwide. So, we have God’s Judgment expressed in conquest, warfare and famine.
IV. The Breaking of the Fourth Seal (verses 7-8)
The Lamb of God now breaks the fourth seal resulting in the fourth living creature issuing the mandate for the fourth horsemen to come on the world scene.
A. The Mandate (verse 7)
7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”
B. The Manifestation (verse 8)
Pale is a translation of the Greek word “chloros,” which refers to a kind of a yellowish green. It depicts the pale-green face of death which is characteristic of the decomposition of a corpse.
They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. At the world’s current population of six billion people, that would amount to 1.5 billion deaths.
The wild beasts of the earth are probably a reference to those wild animals who themselves become deceased by the conditions of war, sickness and death (much like the bubonic plague which wiped out one fourth to one third of Europe’s population. This was a rat-borne disease).
C. The Meaning (verses 7-8)
This horseman and the color of the horse he rides represent death and its destruction.
1. The future Judgment of God on this sin cursed world is certain to come. The gracious invitation of God for the salvation of the soul is certain to end. Now is the time to get your theology straight regarding God’s formula for salvation.
2. We are never to assume that the gracious delay of God’s Judgment on this fallen world somehow indicates reluctance on His part to judge.
3. Faulty views of God will always be produced in the mind of those who do not view the attributes of God as being equal in their perfection.
4. Under the rule of the god of this world and the fallen people of this world, worldwide utopia, with universal peace and prosperity, will never become a reality. (My apologies to all the “Miss Americas” who stated that such a noble goal would be the theme of their reign).
V. The Breaking of the Fifth Seal (Verses 9-11)
I’ve explained that the snapping of each seal releases forces that are experienced by this world as an expression of God’s wrath, and the consequences of world domination by the Antichrist. The particular force unleashed by the fifth seal, involves the righteous prayers of the Tribulation martyrs petitioning God to enact His vengeance upon those who were responsible for shedding their blood. Their prayers for God’s vengeance are heard and certain vindication against their slayers is certain.
During the Great Tribulation things are bad enough with the unleashing of the spirit of conquest, warfare, famine and death - let alone having righteous martyred saints petitioning God to exercise His righteous vengeance in their behalf. He will answer their prayers, making a bad situation even worse; particularly under the seventh seal and the seven trumpet judgments yet to come.
“From a human standpoint, these prayers serve to make a dismal future even more frightening because of the intercession of those especially precious in God’s sight.”
Dr. Robert L. Thomas.
Who are these martyrs? We are clearly informed as to why these believers were martyred. The text also informs us as to who was responsible for the unjust shedding of their blood. And by identifying those culpable for the death of these saints, we are able to gain some insight as to when such martyrdom’s took place.
It is important to remember that John’s vision at this time is of what the risen and ascended Lord said is “after these things” (Revelation 4:1). He was commanded to write of the things which will take place after these things (Revelation 1:19). It is also important to keep in mind, that the slayers of the saints are still alive on earth at the time of this petitioning.
The text clearly states that the ones responsible for shedding the blood of these martyrs are .... Those who dwell on the earth, or as the N.I.V. translates it...The inhabitants of the earth.
Consistently, in the book of Revelation, this descriptive designation is used for those people who are openly hostile to God, and the servants of God, and whose loyalty, love and religious devotion is given to the Antichrist, during the time of the Great tribulation. They are committed unbelievers.
They are ungodly people who have no home but earth and want no home but earth. Lenski
In (Revelation 11:7-10), they are described as those who rejoice and celebrate the death of the Lord’s two witnesses, sent as prophets during the last three and a half years of the seventieth week of Daniel known as the Great Tribulation. In (Revelation 13:8), they are described as those who worship the Antichrist.
(Revelation 17:8) informs us that their names are not written in the book of life, and (Revelation 3:10) indicates that they are subject to the coming hour of trial that comes upon the whole earth. (Revelation 8:13), declares that the inhabitants of the earth, or those who dwell upon the earth, are the targets of God’s wrath to come expressed in what is called the Trumpet judgments.
It is my understanding then, that those martyred saints whose souls are underneath the altar in heaven, surrendered their lives because of the Word of God and their testimony at the hands of the inhabitants of the earth during the time of the Great Tribulation (cf. Revelation 20:4).
Let’s take note of points of information that emerge from the (Revelation 6:9-11).
A. The Cause of Their Martyrdom (9)
There has been much debate about identifying this altar. Is it the golden altar which stands before the throne of God (8:3)?
John beheld their souls (psuche), that immaterial part which in this life is encased in the tent of our physical bodies, which is the seat of our intellect, emotions and will. It is an essence of our existence, which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death.
John saw only their souls because their bodies had not yet been resurrected. The presence of these disembodied believers serves to verify what Paul had declared to the Corinthians - To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
The passage tells us that they were slain (by those who dwell upon the earth) because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.
The reference to the Word of God may be specifically referring to the Gospel message, or in general, to the revelation of God given to us. In either case, these slain saints suffered death because they referenced God’s Word as the final arbiter of truth regarding the salvation of the soul or all issues of life. They apparently refused to submit to the relativism, subjectivism, experimentalism or the neopaganism as the source reference for what they believed and how they lived.
Their martyrdom was also the result of the testimony which they had maintained, or literally, the testimony which they had. This is not speaking of their testimony as to how they came to Christ, but the testimony that was passed on to them which they maintained. It is the word of testimony regarding the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, the testimony of His substitutionary death and His victorious resurrection and His glorious ascension. It was these two things and their uncompromising commitment to them that cost them their lives.
B. The Cry of the Martyrs (10)
They petition God for judgment and justice. They cried out to the one who is Lord despotes, the one who is the ultimate master of all things, who possesses all power, majesty and authority; the one who is capable and able to avenge their blood.
Their petition is rooted in their trust in the character of God. He is holy and therefore, set apart from all that is sinful and evil. He is true in His person, (He is the only true God), and what He promises and reveals, which speaks of His veracity.
The slain saints knew that such a God as this would not tolerate such an injustice forever. The petition was made not because they never thought He would make things right - they just wondered when He would. It is certainly a question on the minds of all who love justice and hate sin and the perversion it brings.
It should be noted that these martyred saints are not asking to exercise personal vengeance. Nor are they asking that their brethren who are yet alive avenge their blood. No, they are appealing to the one who judges justly to act in their behalf. It seems to be driven by a passion for justice.
C. The Comfort of the Martyrs (11)
Although there are many white clothed beings in the book of Revelation, it seems that only those who have been martyred during the Great Tribulation have the honor of wearing white robes (Revelation 7:9,13-17).
The word for “Robes” in the original language of the N.T. is stole, which is descriptive of a long flowing robe of a stately nature. Since it is only those who have surrendered their earthly lives for the cause of the Word of God who have received such robes, it is safe to assume that this long flowing garment serves to distinguish them from everyone else. It is sort of a badge of honor.
The martyrs were each given a "white robe" as an evidence of their righteousness and victory before the Judge of all the earth, who will speedily avenge their deaths.
It was given to them no doubt, in recognition of their willingness to pay the ultimate price for the cause of the Gospel. Their white robes then are a sign of blessedness and purity.
Words of Reassurance
God does everything on time that is in terms of His time schedule. God does all things in accordance with His perfect will and in accordance with His ultimate divine program. So, these slain saints are told to rest for just a little while longer - and when all of the brethren who were to be slain as martyrs was complete, their petition for justice would be sufficiently answer. There were more souls to come who would soon be beneath this altar in Heaven.
1. God will make all things right in His time and in accordance with His perfect holiness expressed in perfect justice. Not even the plea for vengeance from His martyred children could get Him to deviate from His perfect plan and His perfect timing.
2. A passion for personal revenge is spiritually destructive, and will push us beyond the scope of true justice, and beyond the loving boundaries of God’s commands (1 Peter 2:21-25).
3. The judgment of God, as He avenges the shed blood of His servants, is always an expression of perfect justice. The judgments of God are altogether righteous (Psalm 19:9).