Revelation 6:1-8

The First Six Seals.  Then I watched while the Lamb broke open the first of the seven seals, and heard one of the four living creatures cry out in a voice like thunder, “Come forward.”  I looked, and there was a white horse, and its rider had a bow.  He was given a crown, and he rode forth victorious to further his victories.

When he broke open the second seal, I heard the second living creature cry out, “Come forward.”  Another horse came out, a red one.  Its rider was given power to take peace away from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.  And he was given a huge sword.

When he broke open the third seal, I heard the third living creature cry out, “Come forward.”  I looked, and there was a black horse, and its rider held a scale in his hand.  I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures.  It said, “A ration of wheat costs a day’s pay, and three rations of barley cos a day’s pay.  But do not damage the olive oil or the wine.”

When he broke open the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature cry out, “Come forward.”  I looked, and there was a pale green horse.  Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him.  They were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and plague, and by means of the beasts of the earth.

6:1.  The contents of the scroll, which the Lamb received in the previous vision, cannot be revealed until all of its seals are broken.  Thus the cycle of the seven seals is closely connected to the vision of God’s throne and the Lamb.  Scrolls sent by kings or important dignitaries carried the seal of the sender to verify their authenticity.  The seal also ensured that only the intended recipient would have access to the contents of the scroll.  The four living creatures are the ones to announce the opening of the first four seals.  As each seal is broken, John receives yet another revelation.  Although his vantage point for these visions is in the heavenly realm, all the activity associated with the opening of the seals takes place on earth.

6:2-8.  The first four visions associated with the opening of the seals come in rapid succession.  The first, the rider on the white horse, represents victory in war.  Several scholars of the book of Revelation suggest that John has in mind the Parthians, whose equestrian armies were known for their skill with the bow and who were long-standing enemies of the Romans.  John observes that he was given a crown.  The passive verb form does not reveal the giver, but John’s audience would have understood it to be God.  That is, God is responsible for evil.  Rather, John is saying that nothing happens that is outside God’s control; God is sovereign in all things!

The second horse, bright red, represents bloodshed.  Its rider wields his sword by permission, suggesting again that God is firmly in control of these earthly events.  The rider takes peace from the earth, in this case, Rome, and makes people slaughter on another, a reference to the civil strife that often follows war.

When the third seal is opened and the black horse appears, John observes that its rider carries a scale for buying and selling, thus revealing another consequence of war, namely, famine.   Food shortages that require someone to pay a day’s wages for a day’s worth of bread are extreme, to be sure.  The words that announce this famine come from the midst of the four living creatures, perhaps from God or the Lamb, suggesting that God is permitting the famine or at least knows of it.  The command not to damage the oil and the wine many simply mean that God will not allow this famine to end in total annihilation.  However, some scholars have suggested that oil and wine were not principally food but objects for religious ritual, and were excluded from the famine for that reason.

The opening of the fourth seal brings another horse, sickly green the color of death.  Its rider and Hades, the place of the dead, are given power by God to unleash all the consequences of war-killing by sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals-on one-fourth of the earth, suggesting that their effects are comprehensive and yet limited.

John may have borrowed his imagery of four horses and their horsemen from the book of Zechariah.  The prophet describes a vision of four horsemen sent by God to patrol the earth, that is, the nations that were complacent while Jerusalem suffered.  At this point an angel appears and asks God how long Jerusalem must wait for God’s mercy.  The question is one of theodicy.  The angel tells Zechariah to prophesy, declaring to the people that God is moved to compassion for Jerusalem and angry at the nations that did not come to its aid.  The point of the prophecy of Zechariah is this:  God is sovereign, but also just and merciful.   So, too, in the book of Revelation:  the horsemen are sent out, under God’s authority, to take away the peace of Rome.  In the next vision, the opening of the fifth seal, the faithful will ask how long it will be before God avenges their suffering.  As he watches these  quietly gleeful, since, as we discover later, he perceives Rome to be the ultimate foe of the believing community.


What are your thoughts on Revelation 6?