As I stated in the previous post, it’s most likely that Christ was deemed worthy and given the scroll right after His ascension, and the judgments revealed upon breaking the seals on the scroll began to take place immediately. If we consider this to be the case, then clearly, they’ve been running intermittently and simultaneously. That can be seen in history. There have been times of war, periods of famine, nations that have collapsed due to economic inflation, and plagues and pestilence throughout the past two millennia affecting different parts of the world at different times.
Note that just as in judgments shown throughout the Old Testament, the goal of these are to bring repentance and to encourage people to turn to God. However, as people continue to ignore God and lead lives as they see fit, the judgments will escalate and eventually afflict men and women directly.
Let’s look at the first four judgments. First is the rider on the white horse who is given a bow and a crown and is released to conquer. What does the act of conquering infer? War between nations. Second is the rider of the red horse who is given a sword and is to take peace from the earth so that people kill each other. This form of killing doesn’t require war. It’s simply homicide for whatever reason. The third rider sits upon a black horse and has a pair of scales. This rider causes economic inflation. And in verse 8 we see the final horseman:
And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. [Rev 6:8 ESV]
Let’s dig into these a bit more.
Many pastors over the years have taught that the rider on the white horse is Christ. However, this is highly unlikely. Clearly, this rider is sent out by God, as shown by a voice that sounds like thunder, a common description for the voice of God. Why would Christ commission Himself to cause war? Plus, it’s the horse that’s white, not the rider’s being clothed in white. There are numerous candidates for whom this rider represents. The Parthians were a formidable foe for the Romans, known for their horsemanship, skills with the bow, and their conquests. Their king sat upon a sacred white horse. Scholars point to other possibilities, but the Parthian king was imagery that John and his audience understood. That said, the real take-home message here is that war between nations would be inevitable and, throughout the millennia, history has shown this to be the case.
The second rider “rules” over homicide. Need I say more? Look at any given weekend in Chicago or St. Louis or New York, and you can see this happening regularly.
Economic inflation is the judgment of the third horseman—a quart of wheat or three quarts of barley for a denarius (a day’s wage). That would be like a loaf of bread for a day’s wage today. While we’re currently in an inflationary stage thanks to the Federal Reserve flooding the economy with dollars in 2021 and 2022—quadrupling the number of dollars in circulation, inflation has been with us for years. It may seem to wax and wane, but prices never come back down. I’m of the age that when I was in college, gas for my car cost $0.25/gallon during my freshman year, up to $0.75/gal my senior year. The national average as I write this is $3.89/gallon. My parents paid 3% of my dad’s income in taxes—federal, state, and local—in the 1970s. What did you pay in taxes last year?
The final rider is Death, followed by Hades. Here, and elsewhere, these two are personified. We’ll see them again when both are ultimately thrown into the lake of fire and vanquished forever. Yet, note that they’re given authority over a quarter of the earth to bring death by the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. The latter—wild beasts—does not literally mean lions, and tigers, and bears. Jewish tradition used “wild beasts” to symbolize persecuting nations.
Also, we probably shouldn’t take the “quarter of the earth” literally either, as we have no way to measure this over the centuries. However, I believe we can use this as a marker of severity. In the next set of judgments, the seven trumpets, we find that a third of the earth is involved. (I’ll talk about this in my next post.)
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we need to understand the Old Testament roots to many of these allusions. As examples, we see the four horses in Zechariah 6:1-8 and in Ezekiel 14:21-23 we see Jerusalem being subjected to judgment:
“For thus says the Lord GOD: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast! [Eze 14:21]
John now generalizes these judgments to the whole world.
It’s also noteworthy that Jesus mentioned similar events in His Olivet Discourse:
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. [Mat 24:6-8 ESV]
And “the beginning of the birth pains” implies that real labor is coming.
With the breaking of the fifth seal, we don’t see judgment. John saw the souls of believers positioned under God’s heavenly altar. They’re given white robes and told they must wait until the foreordained number of “martyrs” is reached. Interestingly, the next time we see these souls (Rev 7:9), they are clothed in white and no longer under the altar but standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Because of this change, I personally believe we see this scene in Rev 6:9-11 as a marker of time—the judgments have started, but there’s more to come.
By the way, although today we define “martyr” as someone who dies or suffers greatly for his beliefs, whether religious or not, the original meaning had nothing to do with such an end. μάρτυς, mártys, simply means a witness in the judicial, historical, or ethical sense. So, the martyrs under the altar are God’s people, witnesses to who He is and to His glory, both before and after Christ’s first advent.
When it comes to the sixth seal, I’ll admit it leaves me a bit perplexed. There are scholars who believe the three sets of judgments are actually all one set of judgments being seen from different perspectives—much like witnesses to an auto accident. The driver will report the accident from one viewpoint, while the driver behind him might report something different. Witnesses on the sidewalks might all have different accounts as well. My take is that we’re seeing God’s judgments from different points in time and that there is an intensification of judgment as we move from the seals to the trumpets to the bowls. (As I said, I’ll talk about this in the next post.)
With the sixth seal, I believe we’re seeing a jump ahead in time to the great day of wrath. Have you ever noticed how references to Christ’s return are always referred to as the day of wrath, the day of the Lord, or the day of His return? Why? Most likely because it’s actually one day in time. If you think about it, when He returns, He’s not going to need a week to clean up this mess.
So, with the sixth seal, are we seeing a foreshadow of His return? I think so. Earthquakes in the Bible were representative of two things: a significant shift in governments and theophanies (God’s physical presence on the earth). A Christophany will result in the same. And while all sorts of teachers keep looking for blood moons as some kind of marker pointing to a pending “rapture” or period of tribulation, the three references to such in the scriptures—Joel 2:31, Acts: 2:20, and Rev 6:12—all point to the day of the Lord. Likewise with the sun turning black. Don’t expect these heavenly signs before Christ’s return. The remaining images in Rev 6:13-16 also refer to Rev 6:17: “for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?“
In the next post (as promised, twice) I’m going to delve into why I see these judgments by God as intensifying and why I believe that John is seeing them at different points in time. Until then . . .