Lesson 10 (Revelation 6:1-8): The Four Horsemen (III)
- Introductory a. Thus far we discussed the individual horsemen and their significance
- The question still remains: what is their mutual relation and why do they pursue their course in the earth? Especially does the question present itself: why do the last three horsemen follow the first, or, in other words: what is the relation between the cause of Christ on the one hand, and war, social and economic strife, and death on the other hand?
- War versus the cause of Christ in the world: a. The second horseman represents was as sent by God into the world. It follows the white horse and its rider, suggesting that somehow it must serve the latter. Hence: what relation is there according to Scripture between the cause of Christ and war? b. Scripture teaches that the wars in the world are all more or less directly related to the one great war between Christ and Antichrist. (See Daniel 7:8). The following elements must be borne in mind: (1) Man was created to have dominion over the whole earthy world. (2) After the fall, when man became a rebel against God and servant of the devil, this urge still remains in him. He naturally strives for the realization of a world-empire. (3) At Babel we see an early attempt to realize the ambition, but God separated the human race into nations and scattered them over the earth. (4) The result is that now each nation for itself seeks world-dominion. (5) God, however, anointed His King over all things, the Christ. He is heir of all things and is destined to have dominion over all things. (6) Hence, the striving of the world to establish a world-empire assumes an antichristian character. The ideal is to establish an empire that is universal in scope and from which Christ is excluded. Hence, the wars of this world are presented in Scripture is always culminating in Antichrist. c. This antichristian world power will, according to Scripture, ultimately be realized for a short time. During the reign of Antichrist there will be no room for the Church on earth. (Rev. 13:15, 17). Hence, he may be revealed only “in his time”. (II Thess. 2:6). War is one of the chief means whereby God prevents the premature realization of the antichristian world-dominion. As long as the world is divided against itself the “man of sin” cannot be revealed. Hence, the red horse follows the white.
- Social conflict and cause of Christ: a. the third horseman (on the black horse) represents the sharp contrast between the concentrated wealth of the few and the masses that live by the day. He follows the red horse and the white. The question therefore, arises: what is the relation between (1) the third horseman and the second, and (2) between the third horseman and the first? b. We may observe here that it is very evident from actual conditions in the world, that the third horseman always pursues his course through the earth: (1) Always the wealth of the earth is in the hands of comparatively few men, while the masses live by the day and consume their wages as they earn them. This is so true that as soon as the latter are unemployed they need “relief”. (2) And this situation develops no matter what form of society prevails: slavery, the feudal system, capitalism. c. This social contrast is wrought by God as we have seen. But He works this immediately: (1) On the one hand by bestowing upon men different talents, gifts, powers and means. (2) On the other hand through the sin of covetousness in man’s heart. d. The result is: (1) Internal strife, strikes, boycotts, revolutions. (2) And often war. while war (the red horse) is often the forerunner of depression, the economic strife (the black horse) is often the forerunner of war. e. Thus also the third horseman prevents the premature establishment of that antichristian setup that will leave no room in society for the Church. (Rev. 13:17)
- Death and the cause of Christ: a. the third horseman is Death, physical death, not in the form of special visitations, but as it always operates in the earth. (One fourth represents the number of men that normally die). b. The effect of this last horseman is manifold. But it also prevent the premature realization on the “man of sin”, that he may be revealed in his own time, because (1) It gives each generation but a short time to work. (2) It delays the time that the earth shall be filled. (3) It removes each man from the scene when he has served God’s purpose also the Alexander’s, Caesars, Napoleons, Hitler. c. Lastly, it also directly affects the Church. (1) It facilitates apostasy (Judges 2:8-10). (2) It gathers the elect into the Church triumphant.
Lesson 11 (Revelation 6:9-11): The Cry of the Souls under the Altar
- Verse 9: And when he had opened the fifth seal. It is evident that that fifth seal
differs radically from the four preceding ones. It does not affect anything on the earth as did those. When it is opened something occurs in heaven, with the saints in glory. This is denied by those would follow the church-historical method of interpretation. According to them, the realization of this seal must be found in the persecution of the church under Diocletian, or in the persecution of the Wildness, etc. But it is evident that not these persecutions, but the prayer of those that had died for Christ’s sake constitutes the contents of this seal. b. This prayer is here presented as proceeding from God’s decree (the book), and being sent under the direction of Christ (who opens the book). And it stands in connection with the things that must shortly come to pass, especially with the opening of the sixth seal. (1) The glorified saints partake in the judgment of the world. (2) They reign with Christ, ch.20:4. (3) Their prayers rise as incense before the throne of God, ch. 8:4. (4) And the answer to their prayer is judgment upon the world. ch. 6:12-17; 8:5.
- Verse 9: The souls under the altar: John beholds the “souls of them that had been
slain”. They were, therefore, disembodied souls. And their earthly life had been cut off violently by their enemies. b. They were martyred saints; they had died for Christ’s sake. This is evident: (1) From the fact that they were seen underneath the altar. The altar is here evidently that of burnt offering. The blood of the sacrificial victims was poured out at the foot (underneath) this altar. That the souls are under the altar symbolizes, not that they sought the refuge of the blood of atonement, but that their earthly lives had been sacrificed upon the altar of God’s cause in the world. (2) From the fact that it is said of them that they were slain “for the word of God and for the testimony which they held”. They had witnessed of the Word of God in word and walk, and they had been faithful to the testimony of Jesus which they had received. For this the world had hated them, persecuted them, and killed them.
Note: 1. These saints do not represent a particular group, but the whole church of Christ, which is always presented as being in tribulation. 2. Incidentally we learn here that the saints after death are consciously in glory, and that with the saints in the world they long and pray for the “day of the Lord”.
- Verse 10: The prayer of the saints: “And they cried with a loud (great) voice.
This indicates that there was a countless throng; and that their prayer is urgent. b. They address God as (1) Lord; that is “master, sovereign, and ruler:” The word that is used here despotes. (2) Holy and true: holy with reference to the contents of the prayer; He must surely avenge His elect; true here has the meaning of real. God is the only real sovereign in heaven and earth. c. And they pray for judgment and the avenging of their blood on them that dwell on the earth, i.e. on the enemies of the Lord and His cause that persecuted them. The final judgment is meant. The avenging of their blood is the result of this judgment, the righteous punishment inflicted for their having persecuted Christ and His Church. d. And notice the urgency of the prayer: “How long… does thou not”. It appears to the saints that the time is long. Their prayer is urgent.
Note: This prayer is not in conflict with the injunction of the Lord that we much love our enemies and pray for them. We must remember that this prayer concerns the enemies of God and His Church as such, as they shall appear in the final judgment. And it is concerned about the holiness and righteousness and sovereignty of God. They are at stake. In order that God many be justified the blood of Christ and of the saints must be avenged. See Luke 18”1-8. Netherland Confession, Art.37.
- Verse 11. The answer to this prayer: each of these saints receives a white robe.
This is symbolic of perfect righteousness, glory and victory. They are, therefore, justified and glorified. God has judged their cause to be a righteous cause. b. And they are told: (1) “That they should rest yet for a little season.” They must not be impatient, but rest satisfied with their present glory. The time is short, for the Lord will come quickly, “though He is longsuffering over His elect”. (2) Their “fellow servants and their brethren that should be killed as they were”, must also be fulfilled” (not: have fulfilled their course, as the Revised Version has it). This means not only that the number of the elect is determined and must be full before the Lord can come, but especially that the measure of their suffering must be made full. There is a measure of suffering for Christ and His Church in the world determined by God. And this measure must be “fulfilled”, before the measure of iniquity is full and the final judgment can take place.
Lesson 13 (Revelation 6:12-17): The Shakeup of the Physical World
- General meaning of the sixth seal: “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth
seal”. (1) The connection between the fifth and the sixth seals is as indicated in Matt.24:29; “Immediately after the tribulation of those days (i.e. the final tribulation of God’s people which, according to the fifth seal, must be accomplished before the day of vengeance can come) the sun shall be darkened”, etc. (this we see in the vision of the sixth seal). (2) Notice that we have here a vision of the end of the physical universe: everything is shaken. This shows that succeeding visions in the book of Revelation (trumpets, vials, etc.) must be considered as running parallel to an extent with the first six seals. b. The allegorical interpretation of this seal: (1) Many interpreters, especially those that follow the church-historical method of interpretation explain this sixth seal allegorically, so that all the different elements receive a meaning other than their literal denotation: the earthquake signifies political or ecclesiastical upheaval, the stars are princes or leaders in the church, sun and moon are the law and the prophets, or their darkening indicates some great calamity, etc. Among these interpreters there is a wide difference of opinion with respect to the question as to what period of history is represented by this seal, ranging all the way from the destruction of Jerusalem to the French Revolution and the present day. (2) This interpretation must be rejected, because (a) There is no indication in the text that it must be understood as referring to anything else than the physical universe (the stars are in the firmament, not in the right hand of Christ; sun and moon are in the heavens, not on the head and under the feet of a woman, ch. 12). (b) The literal interpretation harmonizes with other parts of the Bible: Joel 2:28-32; Matt. 24: 29ff.; Mark 13:24ff.; Luke 21:25ff.
- The signs in the physical universe vss. 12-14: On the earth: “and, lo, there was a
great earthquake; (vs.12)…and every mountain and island were moved out of the places” (vs. 14). The signs on the earth, therefore, are: (1) The great earthquake. There have been hundreds of earthquakes and always an earthquake is a sign of the end of the world. But this earthquake is “great” because it affects the whole earth. (2) And the removal of every mountain and island; this is the effect of the great earthquake. Nothing remains in its place. b. And in the heaven: (1) “The sun became black as sackcloth of hair” (vs.12). A coarse cloth made of hair, black, and often used in mourning. Darkened, therefore, yet so that there still is some weird light, for (2) “the moon became as blood”, giving a strange, sickening light (vs. 12). (3) “And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind”, vs. 13, (winter figs that do not ripen and easily fall to the ground). This does not refer to one of those showers of falling stars or meteors that may be observed some times, but to the shaking of the heavens, the destruction of the heavenly luminaries. The objection that many of these stars are larger than the earth and, therefore, could not fall to the earth forget that we deal with a vision. (4) “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together”, vs.14. The heaven is the firmament, in which the stars are fixed in their orbs. When it is moved the stars fall.
- The effect: universal consternation: Unbelievers of all stations in life, with
emphasis, however, on the great and mighty (1) Kings, the rulers of this world. (2) Great men: courtiers. (3) Chief captains: men of war. (4) Rich and strong. (5) And, in general without distinction: freemen and slaves. b. All are now equally amazed and filled with terror (vss. 15, 16): (1) they seek to hide themselves. (2) They call on mountains and rocks to kill them. (3) All because of the dreadful face of “Him that sitteth on the throne” (see ch. 4), and because of the “wrath of the Lamb”. c. All realize that “the great day of his wrath is come”, the day of final judgment; and that none “shall be able to stand”. God will overcome in judgment. They know their guilt and damnableness! (vs. 17).
Note 1. What is pictured here in one vision may very well be spread over a certain period, the signs coming gradually, and striking consternation into the hearts of the wicked.
Note 2. Believers are not in the picture. This may simply mean that they are left out of view because the day of the Lord is presented as a day of wrath only. We know that at the beginning of this period they are still on the earth, Luke 21:28. For them it means that their redemption is near.