The Opening of the First Six of the Seven
Compare Note, see on Re
5:1. Many (Mede, Fleming, Newton,
&c.) hold that all these seals have been fulfilled, the sixth
having been so by the overthrow of paganism and establishment of
Christianity under Constantine's edict, A.D. 312. There can, however, be no doubt that at
least the sixth seal is future, and is to be at the coming again of
Christ. The great objection to supposing the seals to be finally and
exhaustively fulfilled (though, probably, particular events may be
partial fulfilments typical of the final and fullest one), is that, if
so, they ought to furnish (as the destruction of Jerusalem, according
to Christ's prophecy, does) a strong external evidence of Revelation.
But it is clear they cannot be used for this, as hardly any two
interpreters of this school are agreed on what events constitute the
fulfilment of each seal. Probably not isolated facts, but
classes of events preparing the way for Christ's coming kingdom,
are intended by the opening of the seals. The four living creatures
severally cry at the opening of the first four seals, "Come," which
fact marks the division of the seven, as often occurs in this
sacred number, into four and three.
1. one of the seals—The oldest
manuscripts, A, B, C, Vulgate, and Syriac read, "one of
the seven seals."
noise—The three oldest manuscripts
read this in the nominative or dative, not the genitive, as English
Version, "I heard one from among the four living creatures saying,
as (it were) the voice (or, 'as with the voice') of
thunder." The first living creature was like a lion (Re 4:7): his voice is in consonance. Implying
the lion-like boldness with which, in the successive great revivals,
the faithful have testified for Christ, and especially a little
before His coming shall testify. Or, rather, their earnestness in
praying for Christ's coming.
Come and see—One oldest manuscript, B,
has "And see." But A, C, and Vulgate reject it. Alford rightly objects to English Version
reading: "Whither was John to come? Separated as he was by the glassy
sea from the throne, was he to cross it?" Contrast the form of
expression, Re 10:8. It
is much more likely to be the cry of the redeemed to the Redeemer,
"Come" and deliver the groaning creature from the bondage of
corruption. Thus, Re 6:2 is an
answer to the cry, went (literally, "came") forth corresponding
to "Come." "Come," says Grotius, is the
living creature's address to John, calling his earnest
attention. But it seems hard to see how "Come" by itself can mean
this. Compare the only other places in Revelation where it is used,
22:17. If the four living
creatures represent the four Gospels, the "Come" will be their
invitation to everyone (for it is not written that they addressed
John) to accept Christ's salvation while there is time,
as the opening of the seals marks a progressive step towards the end
22:17). Judgments are
foretold as accompanying the preaching of the Gospel as a witness to
all nations (Re 14:6-11; Mt 24:6-14). Thus the invitation, "Come," here, is
aptly parallel to Mt 24:14.
The opening of the first four seals is followed by judgments
preparatory for His coming. At the opening of the fifth seal, the
martyrs above express the same (Re 6:9, 10; compare Zec 1:10). At the opening of the sixth seal, the
Lord's coming is ushered in with terrors to the ungodly. At the
seventh, the consummation is fully attained (Re 11:15).
2. Evidently Christ, whether in person, or by
His angel, preparatory to His coming again, as appears from Re 19:11,
bow—(Ps 45:4, 5).
"stephanos," the garland or wreath of a conqueror, which
is also implied by His white horse, white being the emblem of
victory. In Re 19:11, 12 the last step in His victorious progress
is represented; accordingly there He wears many diadems
(Greek, "diademata"; not merely Greek,
"stephanoi," "crowns" or "wreaths"), and is personally attended
by the hosts of heaven. Compare Zec 1:7-17; 6:1-8; especially Re 6:10 below, with Zec 1:12; also compare the colors of the four
and to conquer—that is, so as to gain
a lasting victory. All four seals usher in judgments on the
earth, as the power which opposes the reign of Himself and His Church.
This, rather than the work of conversion and conviction, is primarily
meant, though doubtless, secondarily, the elect will be gathered out
through His word and His judgments.
3. and see—omitted in the three oldest
manuscripts, A, B, C, and Vulgate.
4. red—the color of blood. The
color of the horse in each case answers to the mission of the rider.
Compare Mt 10:24-36, "Think not I am come to send
peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a
sword." The white horse of Christ's bloodless victories
is soon followed, through man's perversion of the Gospel, by the
red horse of bloodshed; but this is overruled to the clearing
away of the obstacles to Christ's coming kingdom. The patient ox
is the emblem of the second living creature who, at the opening
of this seal, saith, "Come." The saints amidst judgments on the earth
in patience "endure to the end."
that they should kill—The Greek
is indicative future, "that they may, as they also shall, kill one
5. Come and see—The two oldest
manuscripts, A, C, and Vulgate omit "and see." B retains the
black—implying sadness and
a pair of balances—the symbol of
scarcity of provisions, the bread being doled out by weight.
6. a voice—Two oldest manuscripts, A, C,
read, "as it were a voice." B reads as English Version.
The voice is heard "in the midst of the four living creatures" (as
Jehovah in the Shekinah-cloud manifested His presence between the
cherubim); because it is only for the sake of, and in connection with,
His redeemed, that God mitigates His judgments on the earth.
A measure—"A chœnix." While
making food scarce, do not make it so much so that a chœnix (about
a day's provision of wheat, variously estimated at two or three pints)
shall not be obtainable "for a penny" (denarius, eight and a
half pence of our money, probably the day's wages of a laborer).
Famine generally follows the sword. Ordinarily, from
sixteen to twenty measures were given for a denarius. The sword,
famine, noisome beasts, and the pestilence, are God's four
judgments on the earth. A spiritual famine, too, may be included in the
judgment. The "Come," in the case of this third seal, is said by the
third of the four living creatures, whose likeness is a man
indicative of sympathy and human compassion for the sufferers. God in
it tempers judgment with mercy. Compare Mt 24:7, which indicates the very calamities
foretold in these seals, nation rising against nation (the
sword), famines, pestilences (Re 6:8), and earthquakes (Re 6:12).
three measures of barley for a
penny—the cheaper and less nutritious grain, bought by the
laborer who could not buy enough wheat for his family with his day's
wages, a denarius, and, therefore, buys barley.
see thou hurt not the oil, and the
wine—the luxuries of life, rather than necessaries; the oil
and wine were to be spared for the refreshment of the sufferers.
7. and see—supported by B; omitted by A,
C, and Vulgate. The fourth living creature, who was "like
a flying eagle," introduces this seal; implying high-soaring
intelligence, and judgment descending from on high fatally on the
ungodly, as the king of birds on his prey.
8. pale—"livid" [Alford].
unto them—Death and
Hades. So A, C read. But B and Vulgate read, "to
fourth part of the earth—answering to
the first four seals; his portion as one of the four, being a fourth
death—pestilence; compare Eze 14:21 with the four judgments here, the
sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts; the
famine the consequence of the sword; pestilence, that of
famine; and beasts multiplying by the consequent
with the beasts—Greek, "by";
more direct agency. These four seals are marked off from the three
last, by the four living creatures introducing them with "Come." The
calamities indicated are not restricted to one time, but extend through
the whole period of Church history to the coming of Christ, before
which last great and terrible day of the Lord they shall reach highest
aggravation. The first seal is the summary, Christ going forth
conquering till all enemies are subdued under Him, with a view
to which the judgments subsequently specified accompany the
preaching of the Gospel for a witness to all nations.
9. The three last seals relate to the
invisible, as the first four to the visible world; the fifth, to the
martyrs who have died as believers; the sixth, to those who have died,
or who shall be found at Christ's coming, unbelievers, namely, "the
kings … great men … bondman … freeman"; the seventh,
to the silence in heaven. The scene changes from earth to heaven; so
that interpretations which make these three last consecutive to the
first four seals, are very doubtful.
I saw—in spirit. For souls are not
under the altar—As the blood of
sacrificial victims slain on the altar was poured at the bottom of
the altar, so the souls of those sacrificed for Christ's testimony
are symbolically represented as under the altar, in heaven; for
the life or animal soul is in the blood, and blood is
often represented as crying for vengeance (Ge 4:10). The altar in heaven, antitypical to
the altar of sacrifice, is Christ crucified. As it is the altar that
sanctifies the gift, so it is Christ alone who makes our obedience, and
even our sacrifice of life for the truth, acceptable to God. The
sacrificial altar was not in the sanctuary, but outside; so Christ's
literal sacrifice and the figurative sacrifice of the martyrs took
place, not in the heavenly sanctuary, but outside, here on earth. The
only altar in heaven is that antitypical to the temple altar of
incense. The blood of the martyrs cries from the earth under Christ's
cross, whereon they may be considered virtually to have been
sacrificed; their souls cry from under the altar of incense, which is
Christ in heaven, by whom alone the incense of praise is accepted
before God. They are under Christ, in His immediate presence,
shut up unto Him in joyful eager expectancy until He shall come to
raise the sleeping dead. Compare the language of 2 Maccabees
7:36 as indicating Jewish opinion on the subject. Our brethren who
have now suffered a short pain are dead under (Greek)
God's covenant of everlasting life.
testimony which they held—that is,
which they bore, as committed to them to bear. Compare Re 12:17, "Have (same Greek as
here) the testimony of Jesus."
10. How long—Greek, "Until when?"
As in the parable the woman (symbol of the Church) cries day and
night to the unjust judge for justice against her adversary who is
always oppressing her (compare below, Re 12:10); so the elect (not only on earth, but
under Christ's covering, and in His presence in Paradise) cry
day and night to God, who will assuredly, in His own time, avenge
His and their cause, "though He bear long with them." These
passages need not be restricted to some particular martyrdoms,
but have been, and are receiving, and shall receive partial
fulfilments, until their last exhaustive fulfilment before Christ's
coming. So as to the other events foretold here. The glory even of
those in Paradise will only be complete when Christ's and the Church's
foes are cast out, and the earth will become Christ's kingdom at His
coming to raise the sleeping saints.
Lord—Greek, "Master"; implying
that He has them and their foes and all His creatures as absolutely at
His disposal, as a master has his slaves; hence, in Re 6:11, "fellow servants," or fellow
holy—Greek, "the Holy one."
avenge—"exact vengeance for our
that dwell on the earth—the ungodly,
of earth, earthly, as distinguished from the Church, whose home and
heart are even now in heavenly places.
11. white robes—The three oldest
manuscripts, A, B, C, read, "A white robe was given."
every one of—One oldest manuscript, B,
omits this. A and C read, "unto them, unto each," that is, unto them
severally. Though their joint cry for the riddance of the earth from
the ungodly is not yet granted, it is intimated that it will be so in
due time; meanwhile, individually they receive the white robe,
indicative of light, joy, and triumphant victory over their foes; even
as the Captain of their salvation goes forth on a white horse
conquering and to conquer; also of purity and sanctity through
Christ. Maimonides says that the Jews
used to array priests, when approved of, in white robes; thus
the sense is, they are admitted among the blessed ones, who, as
spotless priests, minister unto God and the Lamb.
should—So C reads. But A and B,
a little season—One oldest manuscript,
B, omits "little." A and C support it. Even if it be omitted, is it to
be inferred that the "season" is short as compared with eternity? Bengel fancifully made a season
(Greek, "chronus," the word here used) to be one thousand
one hundred and eleven one-ninth years, and a time (Re 12:12, 14, Greek, "kairos") to
be a fifth of a season, that is, two hundred and twenty-two
two-ninths years. The only distinction in the Greek is, a
season (Greek, "chronus") is a sort of aggregate
of times. Greek, "kairos," a specific time, and so of
short duration. As to their rest, compare Re 14:13 (the same Greek,
"anapauomai"); Isa 57:2; Da 12:13.
until their … brethren … be
fulfilled—in number. Until their full number shall have been
completed. The number of the elect is definitely fixed: perhaps to fill
up that of the fallen angels. But this is mere conjecture. The
full blessedness and glory of all the saints shall be
simultaneous. The earlier shall not anticipate the later saints. A and
C read, "shall have been accomplished"; B and Aleph read, "shall
have accomplished (their course)."
12. As Re 6:4, 6-8, the sword, famine, and pestilence,
answer to Mt 24:6, 7; Re 6:9, 10, as to martyrdoms, answer to Mt 24:9,
10; so this passage, Re 6:12,
17, answers to Mt 24:29, 30, "the sun shall be darkened, and
the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from
heaven; … then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they
shall see the Son of man coming"; imagery describing the
portents of the immediate coming of the day of the Lord; but not
the coming itself until the elect are sealed, and the judgments
invoked by the martyrs descend on the earth, the sea, and the trees
and, lo—So A reads. But B and C omit
earthquake—Greek, "shaking" of
the heavens, the sea, and the dry land; the shaking of these
mutable things being the necessary preliminary to the setting up of
those things which cannot be shaken. This is one of the
connecting the sixth seal with the sixth trumpet (Re 11:13) and the seventh vial (Re 16:17-21); also the seventh seal (Re 8:5).
sackcloth—One kind, made of the "hair"
of Cilician goats, was called "cilicium," or Cilician cloth, and was
used for tents, &c. Paul, a Cilician, made such tents (Ac 18:3).
moon—A, B, C, and oldest versions
read, "the whole moon"; the full moon; not merely the crescent
as blood—(Joe 2:31).
13. stars … fell … as a fig tree
casteth her … figs—(Isa 34:4; Na 3:12). The Church shall be then ripe for
glorification, the Antichristian world for destruction, which shall be
accompanied with mighty phenomena in nature. As to the stars falling to
the earth, Scripture describes natural phenomena as they would appear
to the spectator, not in the language of scientific accuracy; and yet,
while thus adapting itself to ordinary men, it drops hints which show
that it anticipates the discoveries of modern science.
14. departed—Greek, "was
separated from" its place; "was made to depart." Not as Alford, "parted asunder"; for, on the
contrary, it was rolled together as a scroll which had been open
is rolled up and laid aside. There is no "asunder one from another"
here in the Greek, as in Ac 15:39, which Alford copies.
mountain … moved out of …
Margin; Jer 3:23; 4:24; Na 1:5). This total disruption shall be the
precursor of the new earth, just as the pre-Adamic convulsions prepared
it for its present occupants.
15. kings … hid themselves—Where
was now the spirit of those whom the world has so greatly feared?
great men—statesmen and high civil
rich men … chief captains—The
three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, transpose thus, "chief captains
… rich men."
mighty—The three oldest manuscripts,
A, B, and C read, "strong" physically (Ps 33:16).
in—literally "into"; ran into,
so as to hide themselves in.
16. from the face—(Ps 34:16). On the whole verse, compare Ho 10:8;
17. Literally, "the day, the great (day),"
which can only mean the last great day. After the Lord has exhausted
all His ordinary judgments, the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild
beasts, and still sinners are impenitent, the great day of the Lord
itself' shall come. Mt 24:6-29
plainly forms a perfect parallelism to the six seals, not only in the
events, but also in the order of their occurrence: Mt 24:3, the first seal; Mt 24:6, the second seal; Mt 24:7, the third seal; Mt 24:7, end, the fourth seal; Mt 24:9, the fifth seal, the persecutions and
abounding iniquity under which, as well as consequent judgments
accompanied with gospel preaching to all nations as a witness, are
particularly detailed, Mt 24:9-28; Mt 24:29, the sixth seal.
to stand—to stand justified, and not
condemned before the Judge. Thus the sixth seal brings us to the verge
of the Lord's coming. The ungodly "tribes of the earth" tremble at the
signs of His immediate approach. But before He actually inflicts the
blow in person, "the elect" must be "gathered "out.