The Great Day of Wrath
Jesus opens six of the seven seals. The first four are what has been call “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” Traditionally they are called conquest, war, scarcity/famine, and death. Zechariah 6:1 – 8 includes a similar image of four chariots.
The fifth seal is the martyrs asking God to judge and avenge. The sixth seal is a massive upheaval in creation.
Three ideas have been proposed as to the source of this calamity. It could be caused by humans and could be consequences of war. The second idea is that these are natural events. Finally, the thought is that they are caused by God. Notice they correspond to the four living creatures around the throne. Notice also they are never recalled, meaning there is a very real possibility they continue their destruction through the end of human history on earth. This gives rise to the possibility they are the “birth pangs” Jesus mentioned and may give weight to the “amillennial” nature of Revelation.
“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” (verses 1-2).
The first seal is the white horse. The white horse was a symbol of a victorious conqueror. The text describes this as “a conqueror bent on conquest.” Possibly, we see a picture of arrogance (riding the white horse before the victory). The picture is of someone holding a bow, which is a weapon of war. Notice this is not a sword (like the Lamb of God). The bow is a long-range weapon, and in those days it was not a precise weapon but one used in mass. The image includes a crown which is a symbol of power and authority.
Irenaeus, 2nd century, suggested this was the Christ (see Revelation 19). Others have suggested this is the Holy Spirit and the advancement of the Kingdom of God or evangelism (such as Matthew Henry, Gill). Another way to understand this horseman is “pestilence.” Augustine claimed this was the advent of Jesus. Billy Graham has suggested it is the Anti-Christ or some sort of false prophet. Throughout history it has been suggested this rider is: Trajan (by Wesley), Hitler, Cromwell, Gorbachev, Kennedy, Napoleon, Washington, Lincoln, Stalin, Mao, Queen Victoria, Woodrow Wilson, Nixon, Reagan, Putin (turned 62 on October 7, 2014… Revelation 6:2... He reclaimed Crimea in March 2014), and Hillary Clinton (from Pinky and the Brain).
Who/whatever this is has the ability to force his authority on others, to subject the will of others, and exercise some form of control. His desire is on conquest. Thus opens the violence unleashed in the book of Revelation.
“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 people kill each other. To him was given a large sword” (verse 3).
The opening of the second seal reveals the rider of a red horse. Red symbolizes blood and blood shed. Technically, the word translated “red” is better translated “fire-like.” This is an image of war. It makes sense if one is out to conqueror that bloodshed is the natural consequence. This rider is able to take peace and cause people to kill each other. Notice this can be read on a personal level instead of a national level.
One way to understand this is the collapse of social order. With no moral or absolute restraint (restrainer removed) then anything goes. Another thought is this rider represents mass and indiscriminate slaughter.
”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, ‘Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine’” (verse 6)!
This is the only horsemen to have a spoken announcement. The third rider represents famine (or scarcity). It is interesting this is limited to grains (wheat and barley), while oil and wine are exempt. The price for the grains would be about ten times expected in the ancient world. This is also a picture of inflation. One thought on this is that while the regular person suffers, those that live in luxury do not. Interesting enough, we see a trend for wealth to float up to the smallest percentages while the percentage of poor is growing at an alarming rate.
Basically, we see an image of economic collapse, extreme inflation, and selective targeting.
The scales are a symbol of justice. Some have seen this, as well as the other horsemen, as images of Christ, this being the “Christ the law-giver.”
“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” (verses 7-8).
The rider of the pale horse is identified as “Death.” It is trailed by “Hades” (the grave, hell). There is a massive amount of death that takes place here. The text can read one quarter of the population of the earth dies or one quarter of the earth’s land mass is effected by this rider. If it is the first possibility, then 1.75 Billion die due to this rider (based on today’s population). If it is a quarter of the land, this number could be much higher. The sword described here is a long curved seminar emblematic of Oriental empires (as opposed to the short sword the Roman Empire). The rider of the red horse carries the short sword.
Under the “if it were to happen today” category: One possible explanation of a quarter of the earth (based on the distinctions of the sword) may refer to the “Ten-Forty Window” (most of the Persian Empire).
The 10/40 Window is located from 10 degrees south to 40 degrees north of the equator, which includes Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
- Nearly 4 billion people live here, including 90 percent of the world's poorest of the poor. It is estimated that 1.6 billion of these people have never had the chance to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ - not even once!
- The seat of every major non-Christian religion - Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, Atheism, and Sikhism - is headquartered in the 10/40 Window.
- In many of the 68 countries represented in the 10/40 Window, witnessing the Christian Gospel means death. Truly, the 10/40 Window remains the darkest and most inhospitable territory to the cause of Christ and represents the greatest remaining stronghold of Satan.
- Two-thirds of the world’s population (4 billion) live in the 68 nations of the 10/40 Window.
- 95% of the people are unevangelized.
- 90% of the people are the poorest of the poor, averaging $250 per family annually.
- 43 of the 50 worst countries in the world for persecution of Christians are here.
- Only five pennies out of every $100 spent on missions goes to this desperately needy area of the world.
- Illiteracy is widespread.
- Terrorist organizations and child prostitution run rampant in many of these nations.
- Horrific abuse of women and children remains unchecked.
- Children as young as 18 months old are trained to be Jihad soldiers.
The opening of the violence associated with the Great Tribulation begins with one bent on conquest and the following result of wide spread misery and death. Verses 12 – 15 describe what would be consistent with a nuclear war. I personally doubt this is the Anti-Christ but sets up for the world’s desire for peace, leading to the Anti-Christ.
“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 full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been” (verses 9-11).
It has been suggested that the first four seals are trials on the church, and this is a turning of the tide.
The fifth seal may be more horrifying than the first four. This is the martyrs calling for justice and vengeance. We tend to think of the souls of the faithful as happy, but these are not. One idea is these are specific to a specific time and location [see Luke 18:7]
The word translated “slain” in verse 9 is closer to our word “butcher” (as in animal). This is the same word that is used of the “lamb.” The fact that they were slain because of the word of God and their testimony. The Syriac and Arabic versions read, "For the testimony of the Lamb." Again, this is the point. They are not slaughtered because of some stubbornness or crime. It is because of Jesus!
God’s holiness requires both justice and vengeance, but at this point there is a “full number” yet to be killed. This may possibly could refer to either the church or Israel. Verse 11 is a shift from “slain” to “killed” (two different Greek words).
The white robes represent righteousness. They are also considered wedding clothing. Throughout the book of Revelation, white is the color of victory. The word translated “a little while longer” in verse 11 is the word “chronos” that Wesley claimed was a time period of 1111 years that began in 98 AD and continued to 1209 when the Waldenses (the first of the “protestant” groups) arose.
“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 figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (verses 12-14).
Notice this earthquake (literal or symbolic) is the first devastating event mentioned. The question is if this is the earth shaking, or if it is a local earthquake, or if it is created by weapons John did not understand. Remember war is part of this section of Revelation. The sun turned black, the moon turned blood red, and stars fell from heaven. If it were to happen today, this might be a first century description of a war that includes missiles… possibly nuclear. The reference to the stars may also be a jibe at the Greek and Roman gods who were supposedly depicted in the stars.
“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, 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 withstand it’” (verses 15-17)?
The idea of taking shelter maybe an image of a nuclear war. However, there is a strong acknowledgement that the earthquake and its fall out is attributed to “the wrath of the Lamb.” All judgment is attributed to Jesus in Revelation. The interesting thought here is that those outside a right relationship with God fear God more than death. The mistake is believing that death will save them, or be a mercy, when instead it puts them squarely in God’s court. It lends itself to C.S. Lewis’ idea that the eternal lake of fire may be God’s final mercy to the lost. The presence of God would be worse than any form of eternal punishment.