At CrossHope Chapel yesterday we opened to Revelation 6 and talked about John’s vision of the opening of the 7 seals. Only the Lamb — the Resurrected Jesus Christ — was worthy to open the scroll by removing the seven seals, and as He did we got a glimpse of the prophetic unfolding of His church in conflict.
We spent some time discussing the two most popular approaches of interpreting Revelation, that is the Historicist approach and the Futurist approach. We also talked about “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) by knowing when it is to be taken literally or symbolically.
Revelation is a writing of prophecy, which is more symbolic than literal in its visions, just like other prophetic writings like Daniel and Ezekiel. We read Psalms differently than we read the Epistles because poetry is written differently than a letter.
You may not be surprised to learn that we didn’t get very far into the seven seals because of our discussion, so next Sunday, February 6th, we will finish-up the chapter.
Here, I want to share with you some of the highlights of our study in Revelation 6 and next week we’ll get a little deeper, too.
When opening to Revelation 6, it’s important to be reminded of the larger context. Revelation is about the revealing of the work of Jesus Christ and His plan for the redemption of His saints and creation. The foundation of the book of Revelation begins with Jesus among the seven churches and from there that picture expands in the subsequent visions.
Here in chapter 6 we see a close parallel to the seven churches but with an emphasis on the conflict and spiritual warfare it will face.
Revelation 6:2 — The first seal introduces us to the first of four horsemen, and this is a white horse. Some important symbolism is found in the here, the fact that it is white, and that the rider was given a crown and held a bow. The verse says “he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” This is no surprise because horses and horsemen and often depicted in Scripture as leading an army in times of conflict or war.
The fact that the horse is white reminds us that white is the depiction of righteousness (Isaiah 1:8; Revelation 3:4-5) and a horse has been used in prophecy as a symbol for the church (Habakkuk 3:8; Zechariah 10:3), here in its conquest of taking the gospel to the world.
The rider was given a crown, and that is a specific crown — a crown of victory. The rider also has a bow, and a case has been made that a bow and its arrows have a symbolic connection to the Holy Spirit and spiritual warfare in Old Testament poetry.
Revelation 6:4 — The second seal introduces us to a red horse and an era of bloody persecutions that led to an era of compromise. Red not only symbolizes blood or violence but sin or Satanic influence (Isaiah 1:18; Revelation 12:3,9).
The part of the verse that states “there was given unto him a great sword” may very well speak to the power of the state given to the church (Romans 13:4). It was the period of church history that was influenced by Emperor Constantine, which ushered in an era of institutionalized organizational Christianity.
Revelation 6:5-6 — The third seal introduces us to a black horse and an era of apostasy and the period of the Dark Ages in which the papacy ruled Europe as the Holy Roman Empire by threat, force, and coercion.
The significance of a black horse may be that it is not white. All righteousness has been drained out of it. As Paul told Timothy regarding the last days church, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). There is an expression used in Jeremiah 14:2, Jeremiah 8:21, Joel 2:6, Nahum 2:10, and Malachi 3:14 that uses the color black as symbolic for destruction, uselessness, or absence of good.
The scales in the riders hand could indicate famines and rations of food but it may also point toward the famine of God’s Word among the church (Amos 8:11). What might be most interesting is the cry “hurt not the oil and the wine.” Oil is typically symbolic of the Holy Spirit and wine is typically symbolic of the covenant of Christ’s blood in the sacrifice for our sins, indicating that no man or organization can nullify or hurt the going forth of God’s Word.
Revelation 6:7-8 — The fourth seal introduces us to a pale horse and the verse says of the rider, that “his name that sat on him was Death.” This horsemen may denote the deathlike conditions brought on by the Middle Ages prior to the time of the Protestant Reformers.
It seems appropriate to understand these four horsemen as a general depiction of the conflict and spiritual warfare the church will be confronted with in the future of John’s time. The experience of the church seems to correspond with the experience of the Lord in being worthy to open the scroll and claim the title deed of creation.
Revelation 6:9-11 — The fifth seal presents a change from horsemen to souls under the altar “of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” Satan has exhausted his schemes in influencing the organized church and this seal refutes what is likely his smug satisfaction in the martyrdom of the saints.
Of course, these martyrs rest with believers before them in the blessed hope and “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.”
The vision speaks with assurance that our Lord has not forgotten those who have died, and the ultimate vengeance of His justice will be exacted.
As a side note, these martyrs are not stuck in a state of limbo frozen in time. The symbolism of them crying out “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” is similar to Able’s blood crying out (Genesis 4:10), the stones crying out (Habakkuk 2:11), and the wages crying out (James 5:4).
Revelation 6:12-13 — The sixth seal presents great signs and events that take place on earth that the remaining verses of the chapter indicate as turning peoples eyes and thoughts toward the Lord.
Some Bible scholars have suggested that the signs and events referenced in this sixth seal can be identified to signs and events of the 1700’s and the 1800’s during the great Christian revivals known as the Great Awakenings.
I’ve read some interesting reports of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 that killed 30,000 people, the Great Dark Day of May 19, 1780, the falling of the stars on November 13, 1833 and related accounts of revival and people gripped with a fear of the Lord.
It could also be that the sixth seal is simply expounding on the signs Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24, especially since the opening of the seventh seal seems to be the returning of the Lord for His church.
Next Sunday, February 6th we will pick-up with the seven seals, again.