Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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APOCALYPSE - Chapter 6

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Apocalypse 6

Supplemental Commentary:

II.  THE SEVEN SEALS  4, 1 -- 8, 1 (continued)

2.  The Breaking of the First Six Seals  6, 1-17

The seven seals are but a prelude to the seven trumpets of 8-11.  The visions of the seals reveal things that will take place at the time of the sounding of these trumpets.  They are, therefore, preparatory visions, revealing summarily the divine plan.  Christ will make use of these natural plagues to punish His enemies.  But when or how, or under what circumstances, will not be known until the angels sound the trumpets.  Therefore, when John beholds these plagues, he beholds the preparations of heaven to chastise the world at a time and in a manner already decreed by God.

6, 1-8:  The First Four Seals.  The rupture of each seal is accompanied by a vision and by a command "Come!"  This cry is answered by the appearance of a horseman whose role is signified by the color of his horse.  The vision is based on the vision of Zach. 1, 8; 6, 1-8.  The functions of the riders, however, are changed.

1 f.  War.  The horses used in Roman triumphs were white.  Who is the horseman?  Tradition answers that he is Christ, or the Word of God (19, 13).

3 f.  Strife.  Red naturally corresponds to the sword.  This is a declaration to the Church that it must look for wars and rumors of wars, although the Prince of Peace has come.  Cf. Matt. 24, 7; Mark 13, 8; Luke 21, 10.

5 f.  Famine.  Black symbolizes famine.  The extent and seriousness of the famine is described in 6.  The whole of a man's pay goes for food which is held at a very high price.  Do not harm, etc.: probably, men will have oil and wine in abundance, but suffer from lack of bread.  Such a condition existed in the time of Domitian.

7 f.  Pestilence.  There is only one horse and its rider, yet it denotes both death and hell.  This is the darkest and most terrible of the plagues.  The pale-green, pallid and livid, is the color of death.  Over the four parts, etc.: the Greek reads, "over the fourth part of the earth."

6, 9-11:  The Martyrs.  The fifth seal reveals the Christian martyrs.  Persecution and martyrdom are foretold in the Gospels (cf. Mark 13, 9-13 and parallels); here the predictions are partially accomplished.  The persecution referred to here is perhaps that of Nero, but other persecutions are to follow.  Under the altar: the type of an earthly altar, the altar of sacrifice or burnt offering.  The martyrs are holocausts offered to God.  Cf. Phil. 2, 17; 2 Tim. 4, 6.  They are under the altar because, according to a Jewish tradition, God does not leave the souls of the martyrs in sheol.

6, 12-17:  Signs on Earth and in Heaven.  The effects that follow upon the breaking of the sixth seal are, in part, in answer to the prayers of the martyrs.  It manifests the great conflict between the two "cities" which are the foundation of this Book.  It has reference to the Second Coming of the Son of Man, and will find its ultimate and perfect fulfillment on the Day of Judgment.  On that day the elect need have no fear, but the others, even the great of the earth, will seek protection from the rocks and in caves, but to no avail.

Confraternity Bible:

War 1 And I saw that the Lamb had opened the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying, as with a voice of thunder, "Come!"  2* And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he who was sitting on it had a bow, and there was given him a crown, and he went forth as a conqueror to conquer.

Strife  3 And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come!"  4* And there went forth another horse, a red one; and to him who was sitting on it, it was given to take peace from the earth, and that men should kill one another, and there was given him a great sword.

Famine  5* And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, "Come!"  And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and he who was sitting on it had a balance in his hand.  6* And I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, "A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the wine and the oil."

Pestilence  7 And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come!"  And I saw, 8* and behold, a pale-green horse, and he who was sitting on it---his name is Death, and hell was following him.  And there was given him power over the four parts of the earth, to kill with sword, with famine, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

The Martyrs  9 And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, and for the witness that they bore.  10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord (holy and true), dost thou refrain from judging and from avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"  11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number of their fellow-servants and their brethren who are to be slain, even as they had been, should be complete.

Signs on Earth and in Heaven  12 And I saw, when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair; and the whole moon became as blood.  13 And the stars of heaven fell upon the earth, as the fig tree sheds its unripe figs when it is shaken by a great wind.  14 And heaven passed away as a scroll that is rolled up; and every mountain and the islands were moved out of their places.  15 And the kings of the earth, and the princes, and the tribunes, and the rich, and the strong, and everyone, bond and free, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.  16* And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of him who sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"


2: White horse: this horseman with the bow symbolizes Christ and the victory of His word.  Cf. 19, 11-13.

4: Red one: this horse symbolizes war.

5: Black horse: symbolizing famine.

6: A measure of wheat for a denarius: a famine price.  Perhaps "twenty-five cents for a five-cent loaf of bread" might indicate the prices signified.  Do not harm the wine and the oil: these are not, like bread, necessary for life.

8: Pale-green horse: this horseman symbolizes death, or rather pestilence.  There was given him power, etc.: the Greek text reads, "power was given them over a fourth part of the earth.

16: Wrath of the Lamb: the Lamb has again become the Lion.