Revelation Chapter 6: the "beginning of sorrows" - the events of the first six seals: Antimessiah goes forth to conquer; aftermath of havoc and death; martyrdom of the redeemed; prelude to the Day of the Lord and the Wrath of Yahuah ("God")
6:1-2 (a) Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with (b) a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, (c) a white horse. (d) He who sat on it had (e) a bow; and (f) a crown was given to him, and he went out (g) conquering and to conquer.
a. “Now I saw” or “Then I saw” (KJV) is a common phrase in Revelation that introduces a shift in what is seen, not necessarily a change in time period. Now that the stage has been set on Earth (Chapters 2 and 3) and in Heaven (Chapters 4 and 5), what will happen in the future (“which will take place after this” - 1:19; 4:1) begins to be revealed to John with the breaking of the first seal.
b. Thunder” indicates something radically different and ominous about to happen.
c. “White horse” is the symbol of a conqueror. When the Messiah returns as King of Kings to defeat His foes and establish His kingdom on Earth, He is depicted as riding on a white horse (19:11). This, however, is not the Messiah, because (1) the Lamb is the one opening the seal, not the one revealed in the opening of the seal; (2) it occurs at the beginning rather than at the end of the Final Seven Years; (3) his weapon is a bow - a worldly weapon; the Lord will destroy His enemies with a “sword” that comes from His mouth (His Word - cf. Ephesians 6:17); and (4) after the Messiah returns at the end of the seven years and defeats His enemies, He will establish peace on Earth, rather than His victory being followed by all the terrible events portrayed in the breaking of the succeeding six seals, especially the martyrdom of His People (6:9-10).
d. The rider of this white horse represents the spirit of the anti-messiah, who will control the rulers of the earth during the first half of the Final Seven Years (cf. 1 John 2:18). At the midpoint of the Final Seven Years, the literal anti-messiah - the evil “prince who is to come” (Daniel 9:26), the “man of sin,” the “son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), the “lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:9), “Antimessiah” (1 John 2:18), and the “beast” who rises out of the sea (13:1)—will establish his global kingdom on earth (cf. the commentary on 17:17). Antimessiah’s role as world conqueror during the Final Seven Years, until the plagues of the judgments of Yahuah destroy his global kingdom (cf. Daniel 11:36), will become clear as we proceed through the Revelation.
e. The bow is the most common biblical symbol of war. But notice that there is no mention of this conqueror having arrows. Both Daniel and Revelation indicate that the evil prince who is to come will conquer not by brute force but primarily by sinister intrigue - by deceiving the world into following him (cf Daniel 8:23, 25; Revelation 13:3, 4).
f. His authority to rule is given to him by Satan (13:4). This is another indication that this conqueror is not Yahushua. The true Messiah has no need to be given the authority to rule the world, which He, as Yahuah the Son, created (John 1:1-3). The “crown” he wears is actually a wreath (Greek: stephanos), as worn by Greek or Roman conquerors - not the same as the “crowns” (Greek: diadema) that will be worn by the King of Kings when He returns with the armies of Heaven to restore His kingdom on Earth (19:12, 14, 16).
g. Antimessiah’s obsession is to conquer the world and fully establish it as his kingdom in the place of the rightful King of Kings, as Satan wanted to supplant Yahuah in Heaven (cf. Isaiah 14:13-14). “Antimessiah” (1 John 4:3) in the Greek does not just mean “against the Messiah,” it also means “in the place of the Messiah.” He is the false messiah. The white horse and "crown" also seem to indicate that this is not some dark, sinister-appearing figure, but is the counterfeit messiah whom the whole world will follow and worship (13:3, 4).
6:3-4 When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to (a) the one who sat on it to (b) take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him (c) a great sword.
a. The rider of the red horse may be a fallen archangel. There is a hierarchy of fallen angels, just as there is a hierarchy of heavenly angels. And just as Satan will give Antimessiah authority to rule Earth (13:4, 5), he gives fallen archangels authority over large realms and activity on Earth (cf. the “Prince of Persia” - Daniel 10:13).
b. Rather than resulting in “peace on Earth,” as during the coming reign of the Messiah, the reign of Antimessiah will result in widespread violence, bloodshed, and war.
c. The sword is a symbol of violence and bloodshed in general.
6:5-6 When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had (a) a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard (b) a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, (c) “A quart of wheat for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.”
a. Balance scales were used by merchants in the ancient world to weigh out portions of grain.
b. The only One seen in the midst of the living creatures is the Lord (cf. 4:6, 9; 5:6). Although He does not directly cause the terrible events of the first four seals to occur, the Lord is ultimately in control of everything that happens on Earth and allows Satan, who has come to “steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10), to bring them about, for several possible reasons, including: (1) setting Satan up to think that he is in total control of what happens on Earth, (2) sifting and refining His chosen People (cf. Psalm 66:10-12), and (3) partially executing His judgment - allowing those who refuse to repent to reap the consequences of their wickedness.
c. A denarius represented a day’s wage. A quart of wheat or three quarts of barley provided barely enough food for a family to subsist on for a day or two. Oil and wine were luxury items, which, in times of famine (which inevitably follow wars), only the wealthy could afford. Therefore, what the Lord seems to be telling the rider of the black horse is, “Let the poor suffer, but do not harm the food of the wealthy,” which could, ironically, be a curse on the wealthy because those who are poor and who suffer are much more likely to repent and accept the Lord’s salvation than are those who prosper (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26; James 2:5).
6:7-8 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was (a) Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over (b) a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with (c) death, and by (d) the beasts of the earth.
a. Some think that Death and Hades are personified places or conditions, but they may also be fallen angels: Death the angel that separates the soul from the body and Hades the angel that carries the unsaved soul to its waiting place until the Final Judgment. Death is not cessation of existence; it is a separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body, and spiritual death is the separation of the soul from Yahuah. As power is given to the riders of the first three horses, power is given to Death and Hades to kill (separate from life) and consign to Hades. Then, after the resurrection of the unsaved, Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire (the final “Hell”) (20:14).
b. The population of the earth at the present time (2013) is about seven billion people. That means that if the events of the fourth seal occurred today, about 1.75 billion people would die. At the present time, there are widespread wars, famines, diseases, natural catastrophes, and other causes of death on the earth, but, as is apparent, during the few years of the opening of the seals of Revelation, the suffering and carnage will increase exponentially and there will be no mistaking that we are at the “End of the Age” and the “beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:3, 8).
c. As was explained in the commentary on 2:23, “kill with death” is a Hebrew idiom that means to die a horrible, miserable death.
d. “Beasts of the earth” may refer not only to hungry animals seeking whom they may devour due to the famine, but to pestilence: disease-causing agents which result from unsanitary conditions and conditions of malnourishment, which are caused by wars and famine. So, the events of one seal lead to those of the next, indicating that they are in chronological order.
The events that occur as the first four seals are broken, terrible as they are, are not manifestations of the judgments and Wrath of Yahuah, which will be plagues sent forth from “heaven” (outside our solar system) ominously announced by natural cataclysms when the sixth seal is broken (cf. 6:16, 17) and beginning when the seventh seal is broken (cf. 8:1, 7). The events revealed by the breaking of the first four seals are pointed out to John by the living creatures which apparently represent Yahuah’s natural creation and His power over it. They are natural manifestations and consequences of the wrath of Satan (cf. 12:12), released on the earth as his incarnation, the anti-messiah, goes forth conquering and to conquer. Notice also that the seals are on the outside of the scroll. So, they reveal events that are categorically different from the events that are revealed on the inside of the scroll. They must be opened first, therefore are precursors to the events of the judgments and Wrath of Yahuah - the plagues of the trumpet/bowl judgments (chapters 8, 9, 11, 15 and 16).
6:9-11 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw (a) under the altar the souls of those who had been slain (b) for the word of [Yahuah] and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until (c) You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then (d) a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, (e) until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
a. John’s attention is shifted back to Heaven where the souls of the martyrs are seen under the altar. This may be an allusion to the fact that the blood of sacrifices was poured at the base of the altar in the Tabernacle and the Temple on Earth (cf. Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 4:7), although Yahushua ("Jesus") is the Renewed Covenant sacrifice for sin (cf. Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 5:2) and it is the blood of the Lamb of God that is poured out for the Redeemed (1 Peter 1:19). However, there were two altars in the Temple on Earth - the Altar of Sacrifice, also called the altar of burnt offering or the table of the Lord, and the Altar of Incense. The Altar of Sacrifice was located outside the Temple in the Court of the Gentiles. The Altar of Incense, also called the golden altar (8:3), was in the Temple proper in front of the curtain into the Holy of Holies. In 11:1 John is told to measure the Temple and the altar, but to omit the court outside the Temple because it was given to the Gentiles (had apparently served its purpose as a place of sacrifice and has no place in the New Jerusalem). So, it is apparently under the Altar of Incense (because incense represents the prayers of the Saints [5:8] and it is at that altar where incense, with the prayers of the Saints, is offered to the Lord [8:3; 8:4]) that these souls are located. According to rabbinic tradition, the souls of all the Saints throughout history are stored under the altar. So, just because the souls of the martyrs are seen by John does not mean that the souls of all the Redeemed who have died, martyrs and non-martyrs, are not there. And there is even less reason to think that these are the souls of only those who are martyred during the Final Seven Years, as many propose.
b. The martyrs were slain for the “word of [Yahuah],” that is, for speaking the Truth, and for the “testimony which they held,” that is, for testifying that Yahushua is the Lord (Yehovah). Not in the USA (yet) but in other parts of the world, there are more being martyred today for speaking the Truth and holding to the Testimony of the the Messiah than at any other time in history, including the first and second centuries CE when the Revelation was written. For example, in Somalia, which is 98% Muslim, Jews and Believers in Yahushua are aggressively sought out and slain.
c. This is another indication, even after the first four seals have been broken, that the Wrath of Yahuah has not yet begun to be poured out. That is what these souls are appealing to Yahuah to happen. As with the blood of Abel crying out to the Lord against his murderer, Cain (Genesis 4:10), the souls of the martyred Saints cry out to Yahuah for vengeance against their persecutors - "those who dwell on the earth."³ Some may object, “Well, that is not very "Christian" of them. Are we not supposed to forgive our persecutors?” But these souls are in Heaven - the purely spiritual realm - where the secrets of people’s hearts and their ultimate destiny is known. Of course, these martyrs are not crying out against those who will repent and be saved.
d. The martyrs are not yet resurrected. Although a white robe, a symbol of righteousness (19:8) worn by many of the Heavenly beings (overcomers - 3:4-5, 18; the elders - 4:4; the innumerable multitude - 7:9; the armies of Heaven - 19:14; the Lord Yahushua Himself - Luke 9:29; and angels - Mark 16:5, 20:12), is given to each of them, they are told to “rest a little while longer.” “Rest” or “sleep,” also called “Abraham’s bosom“ (Luke 16:22) or “Paradise” (Luke 23:43), is a term in Scripture for the state of the Redeemed after they have died physically (cf. John 11:11-13). The souls of the unredeemed are in Hades, which is not a place of rest, but of torment (cf. Luke 16:23).
e. The Greek grammar is a little confusing here, but apparently, “fellow servants” and “brethren” are two different groups of the Redeemed. Otherwise, why would the Lord use the term, “both”? And apparently, the difference between the two groups is that “fellow servants” refers to those Believers who are not martyred, and “brethren who would killed as they were” refers to those who will be martyred. In other words, what the Word seems to be saying here is that the number of both those who are saved but not martyred and those who are martyred is limited. And the time of the persecution of the Believers, whether or not they are martyred, is limited. In fact, this period of “great tribulation” (7:14) is limited to a short period of time (“a little while longer,” or, in the KJV, “a little season”), which will be seen, as we continue through Revelation, is limited to the last half of the Final Seven Years. No doubt, this was also included in the Revelation to encourage those first century Believers and Believers who are persecuted throughout history to know that their time of suffering is limited to a very short period of time (compared to eternity).
6:12-14 And I looked (a) when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, (b) there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of (c)heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. (b continued) Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.
a. And the next event on Yahuah’s seven-year agenda, after the Great Tribulation of the Saints, is that the martyrs begin to see their prayers answered with the sudden beginning of the often- and long-prophesied Day of the Lord (cf. especially Joel 2:1-2, 10; 3:15-16; Matthew 24:29).
b. And what awful, cataclysmic events occur! There are hundreds of “stars” that fall from the sky, impacting the earth and causing an earthquake so powerful that every mountain and island is moved out of its place, the sun is darkened to almost total darkness and the moon is darkened by a dark red haze by the smoke and debris from the explosions, and the sky seems to disappear like a scroll being rolled up as the heat from the impact explosions evaporate the water in the atmosphere. Note that every one of the above phenomena occur when a nuclear bomb explodes: a large nuclear explosion can cause earthquakes, darkening of the sun and moon by the cloud of smoke and ash it produces, and the blue sky to disappear, revealing the blackness beyond. But scientific studies have shown that a comet or comet fragments impacting the earth will produce exactly the same results.⁴
c. “Heaven” in Scripture may refer to the visible, blue sky (the atmosphere surrounding the earth), space beyond Earth’s atmosphere, far outer space beyond Earth’s solar system, or Heaven where the Lord Yahuah dwells, depending on the context. In this context, it would appear to refer to outer space beyond Earth’s solar system where there is a cloud of billions of comets, called the Oort Cloud, surrounding our solar system. It is apparently this cloud of comets to which Job 38:22-23 refers where it speaks of the treasuries or storehouses of snow and ice (comets are giant balls of snow, ice, dirt and other substances).
6:15-17 (a) And (b) the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, (c) hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of (d) Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For (e) the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
a. These three verses are key verses in the Revelation and give us some very important insights into the correct interpretation of the whole book.
b. After the breaking of the sixth seal, every person on the earth - great or common, slave or free - reacts in terror to the events that occur, knowing that they are caused by the Lord.
c. And the people on the earth (the “earth dwellers”) would rather be crushed by rocks or in the flattened caves of mountains than to face the Wrath of Yahuah. It is interesting to note that, although the catastrophes that occur at the breaking of the sixth seal are natural occurrences, the earth dwellers know that it is ultimately the Lord who is causing these events. Every person, even the most hardened “atheist,” knows, somewhere deep in his soul, that there is a God and that if he is not saved, he is going to have to face the Wrath of Yahuah someday. Also, the fact that they would rather be crushed by the mountains and the rocks than face the wrath of the Father and the Son may indicate that the earthdwellers’ terror is anticipatory of the ultimate judgment and wrath of the Lord, when they will be cast into the lake of fire (cf. 20:15).
d. Here is another key to fully understanding the Revelation: the Wrath of Yahuah is not just the Wrath of Yahuah the Father, but of Yahuah the Son (the Lamb). As we will see, the Son is fully involved, in Heaven and on Earth, in the orchestration and execution of the Wrath of Yahuah. He is in Heaven and on Earth(as we will see) and traveling back and forth between Heaven and Earth participating in all the events that affect His creation during the Final Seven Years, and afterwards.
e. As has already been explained, the events of the sixth seal are not the manifestations of the judgments and wrath of Yahuah, which are the events on the inside of the scroll and begin with the opening of the seventh seal (cf. 8:1, 7). This recognition by the earth dwellers of the coming Wrath of Yahuah is anticipatory. The events of the six seals are an overview of the entire seven years. So, the sixth seal is a preview of the Day of Yahuah—the pouring out of the final plagues of His wrath, which will occur at the end of the seven years, following the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet (cf. 10:7; 11:15, 18; 15:1).
In addition to the “last plagues”—the plagues of the “Wrath of [Yahuah]” (15:1)—the Day of Yahuah will include the resurrection of the righteous; the return of the Lord Yahushua for His Bride; the catching away of the His Bride (the “Rapture”); the return of the Lord Yahushua with the armies of Heaven; the Battle of “Armageddon”; the establishment of the Lord’s millennial kingdom on Earth; the Final Judgment; and the destruction of the heavens and the earth (cf. 2 Peter 3:10).
Some may object that the “Day of [Yahuah]” is one day, but the term “day” in scripture frequently refers to longer periods of time which include a series of related events (cf. Genesis 2:4; Psalm 50:15, 95:8; et al.). Others may object that the “second coming” of the Lord is a single event, but when we speak of His “first coming,” are we not talking about His entire thirty or so years on Earth? Why could His “second coming” not likewise include all the events from His return to catch away the Redeemed until His return with the armies of Heaven to destroy His enemies and to establish His kingdom on Earth?
At this point, by comparing Scripture with Scripture, we can fill in more details included in the events that are revealed when the six seals are broken. Some of those details are given to us through the prophet Daniel who told us of the coming of the anti-messiah who will sign a “srong covenant” (Hebrew: gabar beriyth) with Israel for seven years (the Final Seven Years) but treacherously break that treaty at the midpoint of the seven years (Daniel 9:27). He will then persecute Yahuah’s People (the Great Tribulation), martyring most of them (except those specially protected by Yahuah) during the last half of the seven years (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5). Yahushua also previewed the events of the six seals for his Disciples by outlining them exactly as described in the Revelation, including the same details that Daniel foretold, with special emphasis on the Great Tribulation (which will begin with the “abomination of desolation”) and the cataclysmic sixth seal events that preview the bowls of the Wrath of Yahuah being poured out (cf. Matthew 24:5-29).
³The term "earth dwellers" as used in this commentary refers to either Jews or Gentiles who do not believe in their hearts either in the coming Messiah or that Yahushua is the Messiah, Yahuah incarnate (although they may say with their mouths that they do).
⁴There is much disagreement and confusion among Bible expositors concerning the disasters and plagues of the Day and the Wrath of the Lord Yahuah. The causes of these terrible, soon-coming events have been attributed variously to nuclear explosions, extraordinary natural catastrophes, attacks by demonic creatures, human warfare and direct action of the Lord.
However, ancient civilizations, including those of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hebrews and Greeks, in recognition that a supernatural power ultimately controls celestial objects, attributed catastrophes like those prophesied in the Revelation to the gods who they believed used the “stars” (comets and meteors) as “messengers” of their wrath against Earth’s inhabitants with whom they were displeased.
Although such beliefs have been largely dismissed by modern “rational” and scientific “authorities,” there are many indications in Scripture that the Lord Yahuah has used comets or comet fragments as His “weapons of indignation” to execute His judgments (e.g., Job 38:22-23; Isaiah 13:3-5). The descriptions of many of the disasters brought on those opposed to the Lord and the enemies of His People (the destructions of Babylon and of Sodom and Gomorrah, some of the “plagues” brought on Egypt, and so forth) exactly match what scientists have learned during just the past half century about the effects of comets and comet fragments exploding in Earth’s atmosphere or impacting the ground. And scientist Jeffrey Goodman’s recently published, thoroughly researched and documented book The Comets of God (Tucson, AZ: Archaeological Research Books, LLC, 2011) convincingly explains that every one of the Revelation’s descriptions of the preliminary catastrophes of this chapter (verses 12-17), the trumpet (chapters 8 and 9) and bowl (chapter 16) catastrophes of the judgments of Yahuah, as well as the annihilation of Babylon the Great (chapters 17 and 18), may indicate the results of the impact of one or more comets, comet fragments, meteorites or asteroids with the earth or exploding in the atmosphere above the earth.
Therefore, although this writer will not be dogmatic about the causes of the catastrophes of the judgments of Yahuah and recognizes that other factors (e.g., demonic activity or nuclear holocaust) may be involved, in this commentary, just for the sake of consistency, the descriptions and explanations of those terrible events are based on Dr. Goodman’s research as presented in The Comets of God. For fascinating details about how any of the catastrophes of the Wrath of the Lord, as presented in the Revelation, may very well be caused by cometary impact, read about them in The Comets of God or visit www.thecometsofgod.com.
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