The Six Seals
Key Verse 6:11
“Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”
In the last chapter (5) John witnessed one of the most moving things he had ever witnessed in his life. He saw a scroll in the right hand of God Almighty, a scroll with seven seals on it, and no one in heaven or on earth worthy enough to take the scroll and to break its seven seals. So he bitterly wept until one was found worthy of breaking the seals. It was Jesus! He was worthy because he was the Lamb who gave his life for the sins of the world, and by his shed blood redeemed God’s people from the grip of sin and death. The scroll which Jesus took from the right hand of God unraveled the events that would bring about the end of time and the judgment God promised to bring upon the unrepentant world. The sixth chapter of Revelation depicts the opening of six of the seven seals. This would be the first of three seven-part judgments that will be coming upon the earth, for after the seven seals we will see seven trumpets, and finally seven bowls as well. But this chapter is devoted to the first six seals. In it we will see four horses called upon to sow destruction upon the world. They are known to some as “the four horsemen of the apocalypse”. Since the language is clear and the images are fairly understandable, its possible to envision along with John what disasters await this corrupt world we live in.
Read verses 1-2. “I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” Only the Lord Jesus was given the authority to begin the breaking of the seals. It was not a pleasant mission to do so, but necessary. God had long ago prophesied judgment on the sinful world. God in his grace doesn’t wish to bring judgment nor disaster upon anyone. For thousands of years, God had been crying out for men to come back to himself. For as old as the Bible is, prophets have come and gone, and their messages have been the same, “turn from your sins, and come back to God in repentance and in faith.” Then in the greatest act of grace and mercy, God sent his Son Jesus to this world as the fulfillment of all priests and prophets. Jesus was not only the Son of God; he was very much God himself and the mouthpiece of God. In Jesus we find the very nature of who God is. God is a loving God who loves his children more than he loves his own life. God loves his children so much, he was willing to teach sinners the way of righteousness. He was willing to them the way of truth and of life. He was willing to teach in Jesus all that they needed to know about the way out of the world’s hells and the way back to heaven. After Jesus taught us so much about God and about God’s kingdom, and the way to get there, Jesus had one last mission on earth to do. He needed to give up his life for our sins. So he was handed over to suffer at the hands of wicked men, who beat him and mocked him and who finally crucified him on the cross. They were vicious animals to do such a thing to a gentle Lamb like Jesus. But it was the Lord’s will to crush him and to cause him to suffer. It was the Lord’s will to nail him on the cross, to shed his blood and to see him die and rise from the dead. It was the Lord’s will that though Jesus’ sacrifice, all men might repent and turn to God and be spared of the judgment that is about to come upon the sinful world.
But ever since Jesus ascended to heaven and sat on the throne of his Father to receive honor and praise, Jesus will not come again to this world as a gentle Lamb to be slaughtered. That was a one time event that neither history nor God will ever allow to happen again. This time Jesus who sits by his Father in heaven has secured the scroll with the seven seals and is about to embark on another mission, an unpleasant one. It would be to unleash the seven disasters that are coming upon the world through the breaking of the seven seals on the scroll. As each seal is opened, Christ the Lamb sets in motion events that will bring about the end of human history. This scroll is not completely opened until the seventh seal is broken in chapter 8:1. But the contents of the scroll reveal humanity’s depravity and God’s prescribed judgment over men and history. It is God who determined the events of human history, how history will eventually come to an end, and has entrusted the opening of these events to his worthy Son, So the opening of the seals will begin the seven fold judgments coming upon this earth. And among them those judgments are four horses with four different colors and each carries a judgment one more devastating than the other. Look again on verse 2. “I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” Who is this who is the rider on this while horse bent on conquest? There’s a controversy regarding the identity of this rider, some claiming that he is the Christ because the Christ is destined for conquest. But in truth this rider on the white horse cannot possibly be the Christ the Messiah, since the Christ is the one unsealing the seals on the scroll. He cannot be in two places at the same time. Who then is this rider on the white horse who represents conquest. Who is he who leads the way to the conquer the earth— the beginning of the catastrophe coming upon the earth? We do not know who he is, but he is not Jesus. He may well be the Antichrist since the antichrist needs permission from God to ride his horse in the conquest of the whole earth. The truth is that this world has not yet been thoroughly conquered by any one man since the beginning of time. But the time will come when the conqueror unleashed by the breaking of the first seal will go out to begin his terrible conquest of the earth. It is not clear in what way he will be a conqueror of the world since the world is a divided place riddled with violence and warring factions and nations. What the world thinks it needs at the moment is a conqueror who would bring peace upon the earth. And that is just what this rider on the white horse may have been sent to bring. Men everywhere are longing for peace. And any politician or system that promises peace for them and their families is a cinch to conquer their hearts and their world as well. The days will come when the world will unite in an effort for peace. The whole world is now working frantically for peace. But the peace they will eventually receive will not be peace at all. It will be a tyranny such that the world had never seen. We Christians love peace and pray for peace, but we do not pray for world peace in the way that the world prays for peace and longs for it. We pray for peace in the hearts of men, peace with God and we do not believe that anyone but the Christ will be able to bring this final peace except in his own time. We must not be deceived by people’s false hopes for peace.
Read verses 3-4 “When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.” What a terrible judgment is coming upon this unrepentant world. This second horse is fiery red and his rider is given the power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. The rider was holding a large sword. He symbolizes bloodshed and war. Jesus once said to his disciples, and to the people who would listen, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mtt,10:34) And indeed that sword has thus far severed many families, many communities, many churches, and many peoples in the world. Jesus came in peace to this world, but he did not come to bring peace, but to shatter the false peace that people live in. he came to bring a sword— a double edged sword— to sever all our sins from our hearts, to sever our idols from our lives, to divide families some for himself and some for the other who is the devil. The gospel he brought was a gospel of peace, but even the gospel of peace divided families and friends, communities and peoples. Those who accepted the message were unable to draw their loved ones who did not accept the message. While those who accepted the message received peace of God in their hearts, the others remained slaves to anxiety and to fear. Jesus did not come to bring peace the first time he came. In fact he warned us that this world will get worse and peace will be shattered when men put their hopes in the wrong things. But who is listening to the Lord of God and to his majestic and prophetic words? Not many for the majority try hard to bring peace to this world through human agencies and agents of peace. When Jesus broke the second seal, peace was about to be taken away from the world. Whatever peace men knew, whatever little peace they had in their hearts, and homes, and jobs and communities and nations, that peace would be soon taken away. If the white rider who came to conquer men and nations had some measure of peace accomplished as the antichrist, that peace was soon to be taken away forever from among men. Peace would be taken away by the bloodshed men would engage in spilling of each other. From the beginning of time, God almighty had forbidden the shedding of human blood since Man is made in the image of God. But in the last days, by the authority of God, the second red horse rider will be given the authority to slay men and have them slay each other at random. The parts of the world that are now free from war, will suddenly find themselves objects of God’s wrath and war would eventually ravage them. Christians must never engage in such warfare, for we are God’s holy people who must respect the life of other men regardless of what situations we may find ourselves in.
Read verses 5-6. “When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” When Jesus opened the third seal, a devastating black horse and rider went out into the earth. He represented famine— the most devastating of plagues in the history of the world. What a terrible judgment would that be upon the people of the earth! In history famines have devastated nations and famines today account for more deaths that all the wars that we are carrying out throughout the nations. Famine is a terrible thing. What peace the third horse rider cannot take away from the people of the world, surely the famine would. What would the people of the world do when famine strikes hard at them? I believe that humanity by that time would be so degraded from the first and second horse riders and their plagues, that the people by now would have become unconscionable in their dealings with one another. Theft would ensue, and even more killing and stealing of food. In the bible there are stories of siege imposed famines that reduced the population to cannibalistic behavior— mothers eating their children. But famine should be to us Christians as any other natural disaster. In such times we ought to learn what God taught our ancestor Abraham. When a famine struck the land, Abraham went down to Egypt to eat and to feed his family, something he should have first consulted with God since God is the originator or all things in heaven and on earth. He should have inquired of God as to what do to in times of famine. But Abraham simply sold his wife Sarah to the Pharaoh in order to fill his stomach and the stomachs of his people. We recognize this as a material problem. And material problems cannot be solved with material solutions. They must be solved in God alone. So God rescued Abraham, and brought him out together with his wife. And Abraham learned at the time that even in times of famine he should consult with the Lord, and his material problem was completely solved, in that he no longer depended on material things to survive. Survival was not the first priority of his life any longer. Another famine happened in the time of Jacob the patriarch. It was when his son Joseph was taken to Egypt as a slave. But later on Jacob and the children of God learned a very good lesson, that God had caused them anguish to save their lives. We do no know if we will be going through any sever famines in our lifetime, or if the rider on the third horse is coming during our time. But we know that Christians ought to trust God and depend on him. Christians ought to believe that God will find a way for us to glorify him even in the most dire of circumstances.
Read verses 7-8. “When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. 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.” The riders described in verses 2-8 are commonly referred to as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The four riders are given power over one-fourth of the earth. This has a special meaning I think. It reveals that God is still limiting his judgment— that his judgment is not yet complete. Therefore, with these judgments at hand, there is still time for unbelievers to turn their hearts to Christ and away from the sins they so tenaciously hold on to as to dear life. It is so foolish for us to hold on to our sins, to do nothing about the sins that have caused us nothing but anguish, that have eroded our hearts and lives away, just for the momentary pleasures that sins give to us. There are sins that give momentary pleasure, and some sins that people enjoy for a longtime. Greed and pride are long time sins that men need to repent of even before the final judgment comes. God is merciful and gracious and in this fourth horse, God demonstrates this clearly. The limited punishment on one fourth of the world not only shows God’s wrath upon the sin that so offends him, but also demonstrates his merciful love in giving all unrepentant people another opportunity to turn to him before he brings final judgment. God is ever so patient. But we must not try his God’s patience nor take advantage of it. According to the image of the fourth horse ridden by death and hell themselves, we can only imagine how terrible death would when it comes upon the earth. Our repentance must be now— quick— visible to all— and mostly genuine from the heart. We must examine our hearts to see if we are taking advantage of God’s mercy. We must ever examine our hearts for secret sins that we need to repent of. We must not wait till the last moment to surrender our lives to Christ and to his Lordship. Otherwise we do know the time when the judgments will begin and it may be too late for some.
Read verses 9-10 “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” The altar represents the altar of sacrifice so familiar to the Jewish people who had to endlessly sacrifice animals to atone for their sins. But here instead of the animals’ blood at the base of the altar, John saw something spectacular. He saw the souls of those who died for preaching the Good News to a violent and unresponsive world— killed for preaching the word of God and maintaining their testimony for Jesus. Jesus had already told us what would happen in the end times. In the face of warfare, and famine, and persecutions and all the other terrible things that would come upon this earth it is hard for worldly people to survive, and even harder for Christians to preach the word of God to a dying world. Yet Jesus prepared us to do just that. Our world isn’t any better now that it will be later. Later it would be much worse. But we too feel the hostilities against Christianity and the faith, against Christians and our beliefs. What do we do? Most people shrink back in fear and keep the faith to themselves in order to avoid the suffering that comes from abusive worldly people. But in the end they too lose their faith. Jesus warned us not to be afraid, not to be offended, but to continue brining the gospel of life to all men. And there will be suffering, for Christian life is a life of suffering. So what do? We must stand firm on the word of God, we must stand firm on the faith we received, we must stand firm on the testimony of Jesus, testifying to Jesus our Lord every opportunity we have. That is the way of faith for us. As for us, perhaps death would not come in the manner that it came to the martyrs whose souls were under the altar in this passage. But we must not let fear overtake us because there are things other than death that also discourage the heart and make it quake. We must prepare ourselves for rejection, for suffering, yes even for poverty for the day will come when this world will not even tolerate success among the children of God and will seek to snuff such Christians out.
The martyrs call out to God, “How long will it be before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” As we see the world’s wickedness, we, too, may cry out to God, “How long?” In the next chapters, the judgment will finally come. We may be anguished and troubled and impatient about the way things are turning out in our lives. But God has his own time in doing things his own way, and we must learn to trust him to know and to do what is best t his own glory. Judgment is coming— let’s be sure of that. We can thank God for the time he has given us then to turn from sin. Time he has given those we love and those who know and all those we must reach out with the gospel to. We need to use what time we have to help others turn their hearts from sin to Jesus. The martyrs are eager for God to bring justice to the earth, but they are told to wait. God is not waiting until a certain number is reached. He is waiting for all his children who are destined for eternal life to come into the fold first. He would have no one left behind. These martyrs were told that still more would lose their lives for their faith in Jesus (11). Only those who endure to the end will be rewarded by God (Mark 13:13).
[12-17] “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red,”  “and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.”  “The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.”  “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.”  “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”  “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
The sixth seal changes the scene back to the physical world. The first five judgments were directed toward specific areas, but this judgment is universal. Everyone will be afraid when the earth itself trembles. There will be Fearful events as Jesus had once told us. At the sight of God sitting on the throne, all human beings, great and small, will be terrified, calling for the mountains to fall on them so that they will not have to face the judgment of the Lamb. great fear had seized them. They will try to die but not succeed— try to hide from Jesus but not succeed. God’s wrath would now come upon them. And no one can stand! This vivid picture was not intended to frighten believers. For them, the Lamb is a gentle Savior. But those kings, rulers, and generals and other powerful people who previously showed no fear of God and arrogantly flaunted their unbelief will find that they were wrong, and in that day they will have to face God’s wrath. No one who has rejected God can survive the day of his wrath, but those who belong to Christ will receive a reward rather than punishment. The question here is “Do you belong to Christ?” “If so, you need not fear these final days.” All people regardless of their rank or standing or human power or powerlessness were afraid—
Many Christians apparently will experience the plagues of the four horses — but when the time of the 7th seal comes, they would have been taken out (7:3; 14)