Posted by: stpowen | June 13, 2012

Revelation (3). Chapter 6: The Seven seals

 

Psalm 45:3.  ‘Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty.  And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility and righteousness;  and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things.  Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; the peoples fall under You.’

In Chapter Four, we saw John taken up into heaven where he saw the Triune God seated upon His throne.  We saw that worship was given to Him by men and angels as Creator and Ruler of all things.  In Chapter Five, we saw a scroll or book held in God’s hand; it was sealed with seven seals.  This represents God’s decree for the age, particularly as it applies to redemption.  But no one can be found in heaven (an angel) or on earth (living hero) or under the earth (great man of the past) who is worthy to open the seals.  We saw that John ‘wept much’ for unless the seals are opened, the Gospel age cannot take place; sinners cannot be saved.  However, one person is found who can do the job.   Christ alone is worthy because He, the Lamb who was slain, has prevailed over Satan, death and hell.  We saw that all creation breakes out in songs of praise to Christ and that He receives the same worship as God, showing that He is indeed God the Son.

In Chapter Six, the Lamb opens the seven seals that are on the scroll.

6:1. ‘Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.”’

The Lamb opens the first seal.  We must not press the imagery too far here.  Obviously one could not open a scroll if there were six seals still on it.  What we are being shown here is seven aspects of the world between the first and second coming of Christ (1).   When we come to the seven trumpets and the seven plagues later in the book, we shall see that they show different perspectives of the same thing.  John is bidden to observe what happens (2).

6:2. ‘And I looked, and behold! A white horse, and He who sat upon it had a bow, and a crown was given to Him and He went forth conquering and to conquer.’

The horse imagery comes from Zechariah 1:8 and 6:1-6.  There the horses seem to represent God’s judgements going out into the world.  So it is here in Revelation.  So who is the White Rider?  Some have suggested that he represents political power and conquest, others that he is the anti-Christ, still others that he represents the Parthian empire which defeated a Roman army in 62AD.  There is no doubt at all in my mind that this Rider is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we seek help from the Old Testament, we need look no further than Psalm 45:3-5.  This is clearly a messianic Psalm and the reference to arrows corresponds with the bow that is given to the White Rider.   Add to this the fact that white clothing is associated with purity throughout the Bible and particularly in Revelation (eg. 3:5; 6:11; 7:9; 19:14), and that the figure in 19:11 who is clearly Christ rides a white horse, and the case is proved.

So all the time between His first Coming and His second, the Lord Jesus Christ will be building His Church (Matt 16:18), sacking the borders of hell, bringing lost sinners to salvation.  ‘No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house’ (Mark 3:27).  The Lord Jesus has defeated Satan on the cross and has bound the strong man.  The devil cannot prevent sinners coming to Christ and that is what is happening all over the world and has been happening ever since Pentecost.  It may not seem very much like it in Britain at the present time, but in fact we are living through the greatest period of expansion of the Church in its history.  Tens of thousands are being saved every day in China, Africa, South America, often in the teeth of the most bitter and violent persecution.  The strong man struggles hard but he cannot resist the One who is stronger than he and we can rejoice that Christ is conquering even today and His final victory is assured.

However, this continuing victory goes on against a sombre background.  All the time that the Lord is conquering, we are warned that there will be a backdrop of war, violence, scarcity, inequality, disease and death.  Once again, there is an Old Testament reference here of ‘Sword, famine and pestilence’ (Jer 14:12; Ezek 14:21).

6:3-4.  ‘When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.”  And another horse, fiery read, went out.  And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.’

  The second horse and its rider rather clearly symbolize war, but what sort of war?  Is it general war?  War against Christians?  Or war among professing Christians which, sadly, is not unknown?   Those who argue that the war described is against Christians point to the use of the Greek word, sphago for ‘kill’ in verse 4.  Sphago is the word often used for sacrificial slaughter and it is applied to the Lamb in 5:6 and 5:9 and to the martyrs of God in 6:9.  Despite this, I believe that it is general war that is meant here:  ‘…..That people should kill one another.’   We see that it was ‘granted’ to the red rider to bring about these wars.  On whose authority was it granted?  We must be clear that disasters like war and famine are caused by the wickedness and greed on men, and not by God;  yet it is the righteous judgement of God that sinful man shall not live in a perfect world.  ”There is no peace,” says my God, “For the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21).  And so the Lord Jesus Christ prophesied, “And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars.  See to it that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places’ (Matt 24:6-7).  Peace is a gift of God to those who seek Him (2 Chron 15:15, 19; John 14:27).

The third seal (vs 5-6) reveals a black horse.  Its rider has a set of balances in his hand, and John hears ‘what sounded like a voice’ (NIV) speaking from within the midst of the four living creatures.  They are around the throne, so the voice might be God’s.  It speaks of scarcity and injustice.  A quart of wheat costs a day’s wages.  Barley, a less-regarded grain often used for animal feed, is somewhat cheaper.  This is not starvation but it is subsistence level, but ‘do not harm the oil and the wine.’   Luxury products will still be widely available to those who can afford them.  Another backdrop to the Gospel age will be injustice.  The poor struggle to survive, while the rich thrive.  But a change will come (Luke 1:53; 16:25).

The fourth seal (vs 7-8) sends forth a pale horse (the Greek suggests a sickly green colour).  Its rider is named as death and ‘Hades,’ follows close behind him.  Hades is the abode of the wicked awaiting judgement.  Death is the accompaniment of the age.  ‘Wild beasts’ could be enlarged to include accidents, or the term might cover criminal murderers.  The wicked and violent are often referred to in the O.T. as wild beasts or as ‘young lions’  (eg. Nahum 2:13). Power is given to this horse and its rider over one fourth of the earth.  This is a symbolic figure and shows us that the power of evil is limited.  Despite the curse on the world (Gen 3:17), God still reigns, even in the midst of His enemies (Psalm 110:2) and restrains wickedness and violence.  Indeed, such as He permits, He often uses to chasten sinners and to humble them (2 Chron 33:12; Psalm 119:67, 75).

The fifth seal (9-11) reveals a totally different scene.  We see the souls of those who have been martyred and are awaiting the Resurrection.  They are pictured ‘under (or ‘at the foot of’) the altar.’  No altar has been mentioned until now; the imagery is of the altar of sacrifice in the O.T. Temple, where the blood of the victim, symbolizing life (cf. Deut 12:23-24) was poured out.  Here the blood of the martyrs is symbolically poured out at God’s altar in heaven.  They have been faithful unto death, to the word of God committed to them and to the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The cry of the martyrs in verse 10 should not be seen as vindictive.  Both our Lord (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60) prayed for the forgiveness of their murderers.  It is their blood that cries out for justice as Abel’s did (Gen 4:10).  The cry is one of outraged justice and for the vindication of the Church.  Christians should never take revenge, but place such matters in the hand of God (Rom 12:17-21).

The martyrs are given white robes, the ‘garments of salvation’ (7:9; Isaiah 61:10) and of righteousness.  They are clothed in the purity and righteousness of Christ Himself.  Note that they are given these robes; not even martyrs can earn such garments.  Our own righteousness is like ‘filthy rags’ (Isaiah64:6).  They are told to rest ‘a little while longer’– a little while, that is, in comparison with the eternity of bliss that awaits them- for there are yet more martyrs to come who will glorify God in their deaths.  The nearer we come to the end, the fiercer will be the rage of Satan against God’s people.  I am told that there are more than 100,000 martyrs for Christ each year worldwide and there is no sign of the number diminishing.  Yet we know that his time is short (12:12).

The first five seals have symbolized events that occur throughout the Gospel age.  The sixth seal concerns the return of Christ at the end of that age, and the judgement that He will bring with Him.  Chapter 7 deals with the effects of Christ’s return on believers; these verses (12-17) refer to unbelievers as they face the wrath of God and the Lamb.

6:12-14.  ‘I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.  And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.  Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.’

The imagery comes from the O.T., particularly from Joel 2:31 and Isaiah 34:4.  The Lord Jesus also quoted from these verses in Matt 24:29, and there is an allusion to them in Heb 12:26 and 2 Peter 3:10.  Such events are almost impossible to imagine.  They signify the utter destruction of the old world order, and the ruin of those who have put their faith in that order.

Just as there are six parts of God’s creation that are destroyed, so there are six classes of people who face ruin, six being the number of imperfection.  The list starts with the ‘Good and the great’- kings, great men and so forth (cf. Isaiah 24:21)- but in fact God’s judgement will come upon all those who love the world and reject Christ.  ‘On that day, a man will cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which they made, each for himself to worship, to the moles and the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the crags of the rugged rocks, from the terror of the LORD, and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily’  (Isaiah 2:20-21).  ‘The wrath of the Lamb’ may seem like an oxymoron, but we need to understand that Christ is not only the Lamb, but also the Lion (5:5).  Our Lord is full of compassion towards sinners and bids them come to Him to find forgiveness and rest for their souls (Matt 11:28); but to those who reject and scorn Him and count ‘the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified a common thing’ (Heb 10:29), He is filled with righteous anger.  “Serpents, brood of vipers!  How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matt 24:33).  No one should presume upon the compassion of Christ.  ‘God is not mocked’ (Gal 6:7).

So what application can we draw from this chapter?

 Firstly, however it may appear to us, the Lord Jesus Christ is riding to victory.  In the midst of the wars, oppressions and disasters, He is nonetheless establishing His kingdom.  When we are downcast at the state of the world and the ascendancy of the wicked, let us remember Psalm 37:  ‘For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.  For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more.  But the meek shall inherit the earth, and they shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace’ (vs 9-11).

Secondly, where is your heart today?  Is it fixed upon the things of this world?  Who is getting your best efforts?  Is it the Lord, or is it your ambition for wealth and comfort?  This present world is marked for destruction;  a divine demolition order has been placed upon it.  There is nothing that you can earn in this life, however prestigious, that you will be able to hang onto.

‘The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave

Await alike the inevitable hour;

The paths of glory lead but to the grave’  (Thomas Grey).

‘Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless’ (2 Peter 3:14).  Found, that is, clothed in the perfect, spotless righteousness of Christ.

Notes.

(1)  There are three differing views about the timescale depicted by the seals and, indeed, by the whole book of Revelation.  The Preterist view is that Revelation was written before AD 70 and that the seals describe events in the few years between the writing of the book and the Fall of Jerusalem.  The majority Dispensational  position is that after Chapter 3, Revelation is describing events during a seven year period at the end of time after the Church has been ‘raptured.’  I reject both these theories.  Revelation speaks to all Christians of all times.  To suggest that it only had relevance to those living immediately after it was written, or to those living right at the end of the age, diminishes its message to Christians during the two thousand or more years in between.

(2)  The Traditional Text has the living creature commanding John, ‘Come and see.’  Most modern versions follow the Critical text here by shortening the command to ‘Come,’ presumably directed at the white horse and its Rider.  It has to be admitted that the majority of the extant manuscripts support the C.T., but I support the traditional reading for two reasons.  Firstly, I find it unlikely that the living creature would be ordering the Lord Jesus Christ about.  Secondly, the traditional text flows very well:  ‘”Come and see.”  And I saw…’

 

 

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