Revelation Chapter 6, Part 1 of 2 Parts
by Karl Kemp
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This article was taken from the internet version of my paper titled "A Verse-by-Verse Study of Revelation Chapters 1-10," which was taken from the paper by that title which was published in July, 1999. I was able to use bold, italics, underlining, and footnotes in the original paper and the version on my internet site. Sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) to make them more obvious. All quotations from the Bible were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Are you aware that you can click on my name beside any of my articles on this Christian article site and see a listing of all my articles on this site (so too for any author)?
Revelation chapter 6 was discussed in a rather thorough way in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." (The book is available on my website [Google to Karl Kemp Teaching] and at amazon.com and armageddonbooks.com.) On Rev. 6:1-17 see pages 19-24, and see under Rev. 10:2 on pages 168, 169. On Rev. 6:12 see number 9 on pages 14, 15, and see under Joel 2:31 on page 157. On Rev. 6:12-17 see pages 301-303, and see under Joel 2:30, 31 on pages 152, 153. I won't repeat nearly all that was said in "The Mid-Week Rapture," but I'll make some supplementary comments.
Every verse of the book of Revelation is discussed in papers on my internet site, except for Rev. 11:1-14:5, which are discussed in a verse-by-verse manner in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." For a condensed version, see my paper titled "Twenty-Four Articles on the Mid-Week Rapture" that is available on my internet site. Those twenty-four articles are available individually on this Christian article site: "The Mid-Week Rapture, Part 1," and so on. Those twenty-four articles serve as a good introduction for my book and for the mid-week rapture viewpoint (that Christ will return and the rapture will take place right in the middle of the seven-year period that is sometimes called Daniel's 70th week).
OVERVIEW OF REVELATION CHAPTER 6. In Revelation chapter 6 the Lamb removes the first six seals from the scroll that He took from the hand of God the Father in Revelation chapter 5. With the opening of the first four seals the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) ride forth. I believe they have been riding forth since about the time of the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first Rider, who I understand to be Christ Himself or the Word of the Gospel, rides forth throughout this entire Christian age. I believe the second, third, and forth riders ride forth throughout this age until they are superseded by the events of the trumpets during the first half of Daniel's 70th week.
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, John saw the souls of a large group of martyrs; they hadn't been resurrected yet (cf. Rev. 20:4). I believe he saw all the Christians who will have been martyred for Christ before He returns and the resurrection and rapture take place, right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week. He probably saw all the martyrs for God from the Old Testament days too. Each of the martyrs was given a white robe. John was seeing what is yet to happen in the future, as is the case with much of the book of Revelation. As I understand it, these souls have to receive their glorified bodies before they can wear the white robes (cf., e.g., Rev. 3:4; 6:11; 7:14; and 19:8).
At the very time Christ returns, at the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet of the book of Revelation, the resurrection and glorification for all of God's people who will have died before that time - very much including the martyrs - will take place. Then (essentially at the same time) the true Christians who will still be living on the earth will be glorified, and both of them together will be raptured from the earth to meet the Lord Jesus in the air (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16, 17). The verses that deal with the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) also inform us that more Christians will be martyred during the second half of Daniel's 70th week, during the super-evil reign of Antichrist. These believers, who center in the end-time remnant of Israel, will be converted after the mid-week rapture.
When the sixth seal was removed, John saw a great shaking, the darkening of the sun and moon, and other phenomena associated with God's day of judgment. Revelation 6:17 confirms that the day of judgment has come, "for the great day of their [God the Father's and the Lamb's] wrath has come." I believe we can say that the day of judgment will officially begin with the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet, right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week.
It is necessary to understand that we are given this quick look at the arrival of the day of judgment before the scroll is opened. After the seventh seal is broken at Rev. 8:1 and the scroll can be opened, we begin to learn very important end-time details like the facts that the coming of the Lord Jesus will be announced by the seven trumpets of Rev. 8:2-9:21 and by the three and one-half year ministry of the two prophets of Rev. 11:3-12, and that He will return at the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet (Rev. 11:15) right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week (see Revelation chapters 11-13). It is accurate to say that the Lord will return and the day of judgment will begin at the time of the 6th seal (right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week), but it is much more important to understand that He will return at the time of the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet (right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week).
Now we'll start with Rev. 6:1.
"Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals [cf. Rev. 5:1-10], and I heard one of the four living creatures [cf. Rev. 4:6-10] saying as with a voice of thunder [cf. Rev. 14:2; 19:6], 'Come.' [[The KJV (King James Version) and NKJV, following a different Greek reading, have "Come and see," as if the words were spoken to John. There's widespread agreement that the Greek reading followed by the NASB (and the NIV) is the correct reading. This living creature was calling forth the rider on the first horse, the white horse, even as the other three living creatures call forth the next three riders and their horses in the following verses. The first four seals go together as a unit. We learn of the famous four horsemen of the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation) from these verses (Rev. 6:1-8).
As I mentioned, I believe the four horsemen all ride forth at the same time, throughout this entire Christians age. The primary cross-reference that convinces me of this interpretation (which is widely held) is the teaching of Jesus in the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24:3-14; Mark 13:3-13; and Luke 21:5-11). The rider on the white horse corresponds (at least to some significant extent) with the worldwide preaching of the gospel before the end comes that is spoken of in Matt. 24:14. The Rider on the white horse is the Lord Jesus Christ or the Gospel of the Kingdom. This Rider has been riding forth conquering the hearts of all who will submit to the gospel. It's very good to have your heart conquered by this glorious Rider. It's clear that the rider on the white horse in Rev. 19:11 is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the word "white" is always used in the book of Revelation (17 total uses) of the things of God, very much including purity.
The warfare and famine associated with the second and third seals are part of what Jesus called "the beginning of birth pangs" in Matt. 24:8 (see Matt. 24:6-8). The time of transition beyond the beginning of birth pangs will be the abomination of desolation (see Matt. 24:9, 15). (The abomination of desolation centers in the fact that Antichrist will enter the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, stop the sacrifices, and demand that he be worshiped. That abominable activity will lead to great desolation.) As I mentioned, I believe we can say that the riding forth of the second, third, and fourth horsemen will continue until they are superseded by the events associated with the sounding of the trumpets of the book of Revelation. Events clearly go beyond the limits prescribed for the fourth horseman under the sixth trumpet. The abomination of desolation will take place about the time of the sounding of the sixth trumpet, about a month (cf. Dan. 12:11) before the Lord Jesus returns and the rapture takes place. (Matthew chapter 24 is discussed verse-by-verse in a paper on my internet site.)
Many believe the events associated with the first four seals will only come to pass in the last days, during the first half of Daniel's 70th week. Those Christians typically believe that the rider on the first horse is Antichrist. What a difference!
I'll quote a few sentences from George E. Ladd's introduction to Revelation chapter 6 ("Commentary on the Revelation of John" [Eerdmans, 1972], pages 95, 96). "The breaking of the seven seals is preliminary to the actual opening of the book [scroll] and the events of the end time. [I believe the seven seals have been removed and the scroll has been opened (and the contents of the all-important scroll have been revealed to us in the book of Revelation), but that most of the events spoken of in the scroll will not come to pass until the time of the end. The events associated with the fifth and sixth seals will not come to pass until the middle of Daniel's 70th week.] It [the breaking of the seals] PICTURES THE FORCES THAT WILL BE OPERATIVE THROUGHOUT HISTORY BY WHICH THE REDEMPTIVE AND JUDICIAL PURPOSES OF GOD WILL BE FORWARDED [my emphasis]. They are not a part of the great tribulation itself, but are preparatory and preliminary to the great tribulation. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that the breaking of the sixth seal clearly brings to the threshold of the end; the five seals must precede it."]] (2) I looked, and behold, a white horse [cf. Rev. 19:11], and he [or, He] who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him [Compare Zech. 6:9-15 (Zechariah chapters 1-8 are discussed verse-by-verse in a paper on my internet site.); Rev. 14:14; and 19:12; and see under Rev. 5:6 on the authority/reigning (the authority/reigning goes with the crown) of the Lord Jesus Christ from the time of His resurrection and ascension. As I mentioned, I believe Christ, or the Word of the Gospel of Christ, is the Rider on this horse. And as I mentioned, those who believe the events associated with the seals will only come to pass in the last days typically understand the rider to be Antichrist. What a difference!], and he went out conquering and to conquer. [[I'll quote part of what Henry Alford said under this verse ("New Testament for English Readers," Vol. 4 [Baker, 1983 reprint], pages 1830, 1831). "The going forth conquering and in order to conquer can only, it seems to me, point to one interpretation. The conquering might be said of any victorious earthly power whose victories should endure for the time then present, and afterwards pass away: but the "in order that he may conquer" [The words "in order that he may conquer" are a more literal translation of the Greek than the words "to conquer" of the NASB.] can only be said of a power whose victories should last forever. Final and permanent victory then is here imported [stated]. Victory, we may safely say, on the part of that kingdom against which the gates of hell shall not prevail: whose fortunes and whose trials are the great subject of this revelation. Such is the first vision, the opening of the first seal in the mystery of the divine purposes: victory for God's church and people: the great keynote, so to speak, of all the apocalyptic harmonies. ... [Alford doesn't believe the rider is the Lord Jesus Himself. He says the rider is "only a symbol of His victorious power, the embodiment of His advancing kingdom...."] ... In all cases but the last [the fourth rider], these riders are left in the vagueness of their symbolic offices. If we attempt to specify further, as e.g., Victorinus ((I had a footnote here, " 'Victorinius of Pettau (died about AD 304). Bishop and exegete.' Quoting from Michael P. McHugh, "Encyclopedia of Early Christianity" [Garland Publishing, 1990], page 927.")): 'The white horse is the word of preaching with the aid of the Holy Spirit sent forth into the world; for the Lord saith, This gospel shall be preached through all the world, for a testimony before the nations, and then shall the end come [Matt. 24:14],' - while we are sure that we are thus far right, we are but partially right: we do not cover the extent of the symbol, seeing that there are other aspects and instruments of victory of the kingdom of Christ, besides the preaching of the Word. [That is, Alford agrees with what Victorinus said, but he doesn't want to limit the meaning of the first seal to what he said.] The same might be said of any other of the partial interpretations which have been given by those who have taken this view. AND IT WAS TAKEN, WITH DIVERGENCES OF SEPARATE DETAIL, BY ALL EXPOSITORS FROM THE EARLIEST TIMES DOWN TO THE YEAR 1500 [my emphasis]." In other words, according to Alford, the interpretations regarding the first seal all agreed in understanding the first seal to deal with the kingdom of Christ and its expanding victory until about AD 1500. I'm confident that they were right.
I decided at the last minute to see if Irenaeus commented on the identity of the Rider on the white horse in Rev. 6:2. Irenaeus is a well respected Church Father (about AD 115 to about 202; bishop of Lyons); he was well acquainted with Polycarp, who knew the apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation by the inspiration of God. In his "Irenaeus Against Heresies" (Book 4, Chapter 21.3) Irenaeus takes the Rider to be the Lord Jesus Christ.
I'll also quote from George E. Ladd ("Commentary of the Revelation of John" [Eerdmans, 1972], pages 99, 100), "The rider is not Christ himself but symbolizes the proclamation of the gospel of Christ in all the world. ... It will be preached effectively in all the world; and in spite of an evil and hostile environment characterized by human hatred, strife, and opposition, the gospel will make its way victoriously in all the world.
Here is a word of confidence, combined with a realistic note, for the church of the first century and every other age. How can any people be devoted to a cause which they believe will experience only defeat? The first generation of believers suffered, and at the hands of some of the later emperors they met determined efforts to root them out and to destroy them completely. But in spite of every form of opposition, the church effectively and victoriously established the gospel in all the Roman world until the Empire ceased its violent opposition. [There has been plenty of violent aggression by the world against God and His people since that time.] We do not look for the coming of God's Kingdom and the righting of the world's evils short of the return of Christ; but we are, as the modern bearers of the gospel of the kingdom, expectant of seeing victories won by the power of this gospel."]] (3) When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, 'Come.' (4) And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. [Compare Matt. 10:34-36; 24:6, 7; Mark 13:7, 8; and Luke 21:10. Alford ("New Testament for English Readers," Vol. 4, page 1831) quotes Victorinus again here, "The red horse, and he that sat upon him having a sword, are future wars, as we read in the gospel, for nation shall rise against nation...(Matt. 24:7)." The color red undoubtedly goes with the shedding of blood.] (5) When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature [cf. Rev. 4:7] saying, 'Come.' I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand [cf. Ezek. 4:16, 17]. (6) And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures [A voice coming from this location would apparently be the voice of God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all speak in the book of Revelation.] saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.' [[As discussed on page 21 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture," I agree with the widespread viewpoint that these verses picture famine - limited famine. (We obviously couldn't say that there never would be a famine in any part of the world throughout this Christian age more severe than this.)
Based on the information cited in the commentaries, the prices given here for wheat and barley are some eight to fifteen times higher than the normal prices in the Roman Empire of John's day. The oil and the wine are apparently considered to be basic food items, not luxury items (cf., e.g., Deut. 7:13; 11:14; and 28:51). Warfare and strife can lead to famine, but so can a shortage of rain/water (e.g., Deut. 11:14; Hag. 1:11), or many other things, including locusts, for example. As several commentators point out, the roots of the olive tree (for oil) and of grapevines are deeper and less affected by limited drought than those of wheat and barley.]] (7) When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, 'Come.' (8) I looked, and behold, an ashen horse [In the margin the NASB has, "or, sickly pale," which can be considered the color of death.]; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. [[On Death and Hades, compare Rev. 1:18; 20:13. It isn't surprising that Hades would follow Death. Hades is the abode for the dead, excluding true Christians (who go directly to be with the Lord at death; cf. Phil. 1:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 Thess. 4:14; and Heb. 12:22, 23). The departed saints are with God now (but most of them have not yet received their resurrection/glorified bodies [cf. Matt. 27:52, 53]); when Christ returns they will come with Him.]] Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence [including plagues (cf. Luke 21:11)] and by the wild beasts of the earth. [[I understand these words to teach that throughout this age, up until about the time of the sounding of the sixth trumpet, the total number of premature deaths from all causes will be limited to a maximum of a fourth of the population.
Much of the popular end-time teaching of our day understands this verse to teach that at some time during the first half of Daniel's 70th week, within a short period of time, one quarter of the entire population of the earth will be killed. With the present population of the earth, that would be more than one and one-half billion people. For that many people to be killed within a short period of time would, to say the least, be a very big deal. During World War II, which lasted more than five years, the total number of deaths, including civilian deaths, was estimated to be thirty-five to sixty million. Fifty million people are only some 3.3 percent of one and one-half billion.
I expect an increase in birth pangs (an increase in frequency and in intensity) in the last years of the "beginning of birth-pangs" (Matt. 24:8), in the years before the transition beyond the beginning of birth pangs at the abomination of desolation (which will be initiated about a month before the middle of Daniel's 70th week, about the time of the sounding of the sixth trumpet of the book of Revelation). But I don't expect a gigantic number of deaths during the first half of Daniel's 70th week before the abomination of desolation. Even under the sixth trumpet with the short great tribulation, I don't expect the loss of life to be close to one and one-half billion people (because I don't expect the short great tribulation to fully involve mankind worldwide). The loss of life under the sounding of the first five trumpets, which will apparently all sound during the first half of Daniel's 70th week, will apparently be quite limited. No people will die under the fourth and fifth trumpets. We'll discuss the first six trumpets under Rev. 8:1-9:21.]] (9) [On Rev. 6:9-11 see pages 21-23 of "The Mid-Week Rapture."] When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar [On the sacrificial "altar," which is to be distinguished from the golden altar before the throne of Rev. 8:3, see Rev. 8:3, 5; 14:18; and 16:4-7.] the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained [[The emphasis here is undoubtedly on Christian martyrs, but I assume the martyrs for God from Old Testament days (starting with Abel) are included here too. The apostle Paul was one of many saints who ended up being sacrificed on this altar for God (cf. Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6-8). In Rev. 20:4 John saw the souls of Christian martyrs, and he saw them come to life, which includes their receiving glorified bodies. The difference is that the martyrs of Rev. 6:9-11 refers to those martyred in the days preceding Christ's mid-week return, whereas the martyrs of Rev. 20:4 are those (converted and) martyred during the three and one-half year reign of Antichrist, after Christ's mid-week return.]]; (10) and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'How long, O Lord [The Greek noun normally translated "Lord" ("kurios") isn't used here. In the margin the NASB has "or, Master." The NIV has "Sovereign Lord." I assume these words were addressed to God the Father, the Person on the throne in Revelation chapter 4, the Person with the preeminent role in the Trinity.], holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' [As the references cited under Rev. 6:10 on page 22 of "The Mid-Week Rapture" demonstrate, God will avenge the blood of His bondservants. Add Psalm 79:10 to the list.] (11) And there was given to each of them a white robe [at the time they are resurrected, right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week (see the second paragraph under "Overview of Revelation chapter 6" (above in this article).]; and they were told that they should rest [wait] for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. [They would still have to "wait for a little while" before God would avenge their blood and judge and remove those who shed the blood of God's people. The "little while" here of Rev. 6:11 corresponds with the "short time" of Rev. 12:12 which the devil will have left to do his evil work after he is cast down to the earth in the middle of Daniel's 70th week, before he is cast into the abyss. "Their brethren who were to be killed" speaks of those who will be martyred for Christ during the reign of Antichrist, throughout the second half of Daniel's 70th week (cf., e.g., Rev. 13:15; 20:4; see on Rev. 20:4 in my verse-by-verse study on Revelation chapters 20-22 on my internet site).]
We will finish this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapter 6 in Part 2, starting with verse 12.
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