It was Jeanne Guyon who once said “The Cross is sweet fruit, yet not sweet to our flesh but to our spirit.” Her quote is very fitting for the shift that takes place here in Revelation 6 and actually continues all the way through to Revelation 19. I fully understand why many preachers and ministries don’t like to talk about these chapters within the Revelation. In fact, after a close pastor friend of mine heard about my passion for the Revelation he said that “I really enjoy Revelation chapters 1-5.” To which I replied “most everybody loves those chapters.” Our conversation is done in tongue and cheek, but in all reality this is how many people in fulltime ministry feel about this glorious book. And if I was being totally honest, I have no personal friends in ministry that I can talk openly about this book with, let alone Revelation 6-19.
But we need not base our passion for this book on who does or doesn’t read it, study it and preach it. We must love it simply because the Holy Spirit gave it to us and even though there are bitter sweet sections, they all reveal Jesus!
The previous 5 chapters (Revelation 1-5) have created the stage for the continued drama of God’s eschatological plan to begin unfolding in real time. In Revelation 1 we were able to see the Revelation of Jesus and different facets of His glory. In Revelation 2-3 we seen His fierce commitment to the body of Christ and the Church that is called by His name. In those chapters His jealous passion to protect it from false doctrine and immorality is crystal clear. In Revelation 4 we get a quick glimpse of the Father, the security of His throne, the angelic activity taking place around Him and the worship is reserved for God alone. And then in Revelation 5 we see the worthy Son who is the only One qualified to take over the leadership of every nation. In this chapter we see that not only is God the Father worshiped, but so also is the Lamb.
These chapters have been strategically placed in a specific order to create great stability in the Person who is going to begin breaking the seals on the scroll to reveal its contents here in Revelation 6. Without those previous 5 chapters the people of God are ill prepared to move forward though this great drama, but with them we are armed with all that we need to face to coming hour of glory and crisis.
If you remember, in the 4th chapter (The Structure And Overview Of The Revelation) I covered the various sections within the Revelation. For a quick review of that chapter the structure of the Revelation is as follows; The first part is Revelation 1. The second part is Revelation 2-3. The third part is Revelation 4-5. And then the fourth part is Revelation 6-22. But within the fourth part (6-22) there are two groups that both have five sections apiece. Those five sections are broken up into five chronological/storyline sections and five parenthetical/explanation sections.
Revelation 6 is the first chronological section within the fourth part (6-22) of the Revelation. Within this chapter we see the chronological storyline of God begin as He starts loosing judgments preparing the earth for His return. These judgments are very destructive as they begin to answer the growing crisis on the earth, but they are also redemptive in nature. It’s important that we understand a little bit more about the judgments mentioned in Revelation 6.
Overview Of The Seven Seals
Before we get into the actual text of Revelation 6 I want to give some simple framework for understanding the seal judgments that are mentioned within this chapter. It’s my belief that the seven seals are LITERAL (not symbolic), FUTURE (there greatest fulfillment is yet ahead), PROGRESSIVE (increasing in intensity) and their NUMBERED (released in numeric order). It was David Pawson who said “nobody takes everything in the Revelation as only literal, or only symbolic. Most people take the Revelation as mainly literal with some symbolism.” For instance, I don’t believe that the four horsemen of Revelation 6:2-8 are literal horses and riders but the devastation that follows them I believe to be real and literal. I believe that those riders represent real, literal devastation that will follow.
When it comes to the overall events of Revelation 5:7-19 I believe that those are prophetic events that have not taken place yet. I do not believe that Jesus has taken the scroll from the Father’s right hand in Revelation 5:7 nor has He broken the seals of Revelation 6:1-17;8:1. Though some of these things might have partially happened in history or even in the present, I do not believe that any of those possible events speak of the fullness of what these verses and chapters speak of. This means that events in the present and in the past are foreshadowing a greater coming day of trouble.
It’s common all throughout the Revelation that prophetic statements are made prior to them even happening in the overall storyline of the Revelation itself let alone in real time on the earth. For instance in Revelation 11:15 we hear this “Then the seventh angel sounded: and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The Kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” This doesn’t actually begin until half way through Revelation 19 and the fullness isn’t really until the start of Revelation 21. And again in Revelation 14:8 we hear “And another angel followed, saying Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” We know from reading the Revelation that the fall of Babylon doesn’t take place until Revelation 18 and it’s not officially celebrated until the start of Revelation 19.
And above all in Revelation 22:19 it’s said “…if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy…” The Holy Spirit referred to the book of Revelation, not just here but in several other places, as a prophecy. It’s a book filled with unfulfilled prophetic activity and it’s important that we continue to approach it that way. What I am saying is that the events in the past and even in the present have only foreshadowed greater events that are reserved for the final generation of human history. The events in the past and in the present have merely been a partial fulfillment, or a down payment of much greater trouble and glory that’s still ahead of the human race.
After reading through the various judgments that are loosed throughout Revelation 6-19 and specifically the seven seals, it’s clear to see it’s Jesus who’s releasing the trouble (Revelation 5:5;6:1,3,5,7,9,12; 8:1). We must have clarity about Who’s really leading the charge which isn’t an earthly person (antichrist) but a heavenly One (Jesus Christ). The reason for this is because it helps us calibrate our minds and hearts to approach the trouble with Jesus as the Captain of our salvation. If we do this we won’t shrink back in fear but we will advance in faith.
The purpose of these seals is to release judgment on the kingdom of darkness to hinder the Antichrists empire from spreading evil and from persecuting the saints all the while causing unbelievers to cry out for salvation. This means that these judgments are redemptive in nature. I have come to believe that God doesn’t mind inflicting pain on our present for the sake of changing our eternity. As a good Father He knows better than we do and these judgments, however severe will be far less than eternity in the lake of fire for those heed them and repent. It’s also clear that these judgments aren’t being directed at the saints of God. His judgments are an answer to both the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8;8:3-5) and the increasing wickedness in the nations (Revelation 13:7).
The Church is pictured as standing in the Moses position throughout the Revelation. What this means is that they (the Church) are the ones releasing the trouble on an end-time Pharaoh. This is countercultural to most people’s approach to the judgments and the trouble within the Revelation. Most people that I come in contact with see the trouble as something that the devil is releasing upon the helpless people of God, and not the other way around. Throughout the Revelation the Bible pictures the Church in victory releasing the end-time judgments of God upon the antichrist and his global system of evil. The Revelation is filled with martyrdom but it’s not the primary theme of the book. Just like martyrdom isn’t the primary theme of the book of Acts, although it’s surly in there. The primary theme of the Revelation is Jesus, not the antichrist.
The Church throughout the Revelation is pictured as being in unity with the Holy Spirit, in the place of worship and prayer, in global fellowship with one another and committed to preaching, teaching and disciplining (disciple-ing) the nations in the power of the Holy Spirit during the darkest hour of human history. We are not to shrink back from the trouble that’s coming, but rather we are called to be prepared, equipped and fearless in the face of global crisis. We don’t tribulation now or the great tribulation then as cowards but as ambassadors of Christ living not from this present evil age, but from the age which is yet to come.
The Breaking Of The Six Seals (Revelation 6:1-17)
Now we are able to begin the journey walking through the first 6 seals that Jesus breaks off the scroll that He received from the Father in the previous chapter (Revelation 5:7). Revelation 6:1-2 opens with John back in the visionary position saying “Now I saw when the Lamb open one of the seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a loud voice like thunder, come and see. And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” Because Jesus is the only qualified One, He alone possess the scroll of God (title deed) and He’s pictured now as breaking the seals in order to reveal the contents of this two sided scroll. Some falsely state that the seals themselves reveal the contents of the scroll. This simply isn’t true. When looking at the natural processes of how scrolls operate, the seals are protective measures to conceal what’s inside. The seals are simply the protective measures that must be removed in order to reveal what’s written on this two-sided scroll.
The judgments of God breaking in upon the earth are a direct result of the prayers of the saints over the past 2,000 years (Matthew 6:9-13; Revelation 5:8;8:3-5;22:17,20). The prayer that Jesus told His disciples to prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 has most likely been prayed by someone around the clock, every day for the past 2,000 years. The request for God’s kingdom to come to the earth as it is in heaven is going to be answered at some point. This request won’t go unanswered. One of the other things that’s revealed about the Man who’s opening the seals is that John sees that it’s a Lamb. The Man with the nail pierced hands from Revelation 5:6 is the same tender Man who’s meting out the judgments of God upon the earth. Beloved, this Man is tender, though He’s fierce, uncreated and eternal. He’s the perfect combination of the Lion and the Lamb.
The first seal that Jesus breaks open is speaking about Antichrist and not Jesus. The word Antichrist in the Greek has a dual meaning. Firstly it means to be opposed to or in conflict with. And secondly it means an imitation of or a pseudo Christ, a mock messiah (a counterfeit). This white horse that the Antichrist is symbolically pictured on is a counterfeit to the white horse that Jesus will be ridding in Revelation 19:11-12 when He returns back to the earth to make war with the Antichrist and the false prophet. The Antichrist is to be pictured as riding a war horse representing deceptive political aggression while during his first 3 ½ years in the tribulation as a mock, or counterfeit messiah.
John sees that there is an arrowless bow in his hand which speaks of his bloodless victories. During this season the antichrist is going to appear on the world stage, moving through the nations with smooth words and flattering speech as he breaths threats of war and punishment bringing about allegiance in the people but never shedding any blood yet (Dan. 11:21; Hab. 2:5; 1st Thess. 5:3; 2nd Thess. 2:9-10). This will be political advancements through great charisma, diplomacy and unity among the nations. He will be the peoples champion.
And lastly John sees that he is also wearing a crown. This crown on his head speaks of authority, power and his position given to him by both God the Father and his father the devil. He will also be empowered by the people as the kings of the earth along with their nations give him their allegiance to advance his global message of peace and prosperity (Rev. 13:1,2).
John continues to the 2nd seal in Revelation 6:3-4 “When He (the Lamb) 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 the one who sat on it to take peace from earth, that people should kill one another and there was given to him a great sword.” Here again some have falsely stated that the removal of peace from the earth is the removal of the Holy Spirit which many in the pre-tribulation use as a reference to the rapture. But this removal of peace from the earth is God taking the restraint off the human heart and allowing man to pursue the deep, sinful passions of his heart. Another reference to a similar event and maybe even speaking of the same event is mentioned by Paul in 2nd Thessalonians 2:7. God is the One who keeps peace in the earth, but there is coming a day when He is going to give the people of the earth over to strong delusion (2nd Thess. 2:11-12) and this also include the removal of that restraining peace in the earth. The governor on the human heart will be removed allowing people to chase their dark, depraved hearts passion.
This second seal speaks of world war and mass bloodshed. The bloodshed is symbolized by the red horse that the rider is riding (Dan. 8:24-25; Rev. 13:7;17:1,6). What this means is that the peace and political safety of the white horse from the first seal is eventually going to give way to the reality of the red horse. This peace treaty that the antichrist will set up with the nations specifically the Jewish people is established to be broken. The sword that John seen in the rider’s hand is symbolizing war, death, destruction and global conflict that is going to come about through a real sword (military conquest).
After the second seal is broken John continues to looks and see more in Revelation 6:5-6. John wrote “When He (the Lamb of God) 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 pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” Here the third seal is broken loose by Jesus and trouble continues to ensue.
This third seal speaks of famine and economic crisis which always follows war. The black horse that the rider is on is symbolizing sorrow, sadness, scarcity, starved flesh and mourning. In the rider’s hands there is seen what looked like a pair of scales. These scales speak of economic crisis. In ancient times scales were used to weigh out and calculate money as seen in Hosea 12:7. The third thing that John see’s is that a quart of wheat is being sold for a denarius and three quarts of barley for a denarius. The high cost of food mentioned here is a direct result of the second seal.
A denarius was a silver coin worth about 16 cents which was equivalent to a day’s work. Both wheat and grain were the staple food of the ancient world and the barley that’s mentioned was the food of the lower class. This is why you can buy more barley than wheat with the same about of money, one denarius. The only time that you started measuring out food was when you were getting to the bottom of the surplus which tells us that John is foreseeing a time of both famine and economic crisis. What’s so terrible about this whole scenario is that people are working only to feed their families and not even feeding them that well. But after the money has been spent for food, there’s nothing left over at the end of the day.
The last thing that John hears from the opening of the third seal is that nobody should touch the oil and the wine. Oil and wine were luxuries that the upper class enjoyed as the wealthy few and not the needy majority. This speaks of class wars and the division between lower and upper class communities. This is most defiantly something that we are seeing take place right here in United States of America. The gap between the upper class and the lower class is widening greatly. The current middle class status seems to be continually eroding which will continue to drive a wedge between these two people groups. The city life and prosperity of this coming global Babylonian city will make many very wealthy while prostituting the poverty of the majority (Revelation 18).
In Revelation 6:7-8 Jesus continues the breaking of seals as He looses the fourth seal. It says “When He (the Lamb of God) 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 Death and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” Through the fourth seal we see that physical death will be released upon the earth as a result of the past three progressive seal judgments. Beloved, we are only at the fourth seal in a set of seven, not including the other two sets of judgments including the seven trumpets and seven bowls. This is only the beginning of sorrows and the beginnings of trouble!
David Pawson in his book “Come With Me Through Revelation” lays out this idea very clearly about the natural progression of the past three seals and now including the fourth seal. In the first seal we see political aggression which is followed by world war in the second seal. In the third seal we see economic crisis and famine which typically follow war. And then here in the forth seal we see physical death with always follows both economic crisis and famine. With no money and no food people die. This is why in the beginning of this chapter I stated that these seal judgments are progressive. They increase with each one, including what happens here in the fourth seal. This is a devastating blow that the earth will experience.
As already stated the fourth seal speaks of death and separation from God eternally in the lake of fire. I will explain this more detail shortly. The pale horse is actually named death in John’s vision. The idea of the horse being pale is better understand as the pale/green horse. This actually represents or is likened to the bloodless color of a deceased human. What’s true about this seal is that death will reach a level in the final generation of human history that has never been seen prior nor will it ever be seen again.
It’s said that death and Hades are following behind this pale green horse and it’s rider. What this means is that though death will increase in the final generation, death itself isn’t the worst thing; the fact that hell follows behind it is what’s most tragic. That word Hades that’s used in the Greek speaks of the grave, or hell, which is the intermediate holding place of the unrighteous dead until they are resurrected and sentenced to the lake of fire eternally (Dan. 12:1-2; Rev. 20:11-15). It’s not just that people are dying that makes this so terrible it’s that the majority of those dying are actually going to eternal separation from Jesus. Beloved, the only thing worse than death is being sentenced to the lake of fire to be eternally separated from Christ.
John also hears that in this fourth seal, that ¼ of the earth is swept up in death. If you look at population growth estimates from various governmental websites you can see the projected increase in our global population in whatever year you want to go to. So, I picked a random date and looked into the projected population around that time. According to a governmental website, they suggest that by 2025 there will be around 8 billion people on the planet. Currently there is around 6 billion. That’s an increase of 2 billion people in just 13 years (from 2012). And if you do the math, ¼ of 8 billion is 2 billion. And let’s just say that this fourth seal takes place during the last 3 ½ years of the tribulation which is called the great tribulation which would be a time period of 1,278 days (3 ½ years). So if you divided 2 billion people dying over 1,278 days it would equal 1,564,945 people dying a day for those 1,278 days. Beloved, that’s 48,513,295 people theoretically dying every month for 216 months. Remember, this is only the fourth seal with 17 more judgments still to come (3 more seals, 7 trumpets and 7 bowls).
Jesus talked about this season in the Olivet Discourse. He said in Matthew 24:21 “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no nor ever shall be.” And we can also see some of the direct destruction from the beast in Revelation 13:7 when it says “It was granted to him (the Antichrist) to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him (the Antichrist) over every tribe, tongue, and nation.” What I gather from Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:21 is that there is no possible way to comprehend that dark hour that’s looming over human history. The imminence of this hour is inescapable. It’s as sure as the sunrise and the sunset. It’s coming and there isn’t anything we can do to stop it, or remove, but only prepare for it.
And lastly John hears that the death from the fourth seal was brought about by sword, hunger, death and beasts. Each of these words represent something related to the way that people will be dying during this season. Death by the sword speaks of people dying by the hands of other humans, whether that be military conflict or civil unrest. Death by hunger speaks of people starving to death as a result of the global famine and economic crisis. The word death that John uses is translated as either pestilence or disease. And lastly, John states that people were dying by the beasts of the field. With all this carnage filling the earth the beasts of the field, along with widespread disease will result in gross infections and viruses being transferred like no time in history. Even today many diseases are carried by the various insects in the world and they seem to grow more deadly all the time. With great abject poverty it will be virtually impossible to keep things sterile, clean and disinfected.
As John continues in his vision he sees more trouble as the Lamb opens the fifth seal in Revelation 6:9-11. The passage says “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 the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, how long O Lord, Holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? Then a white robe was given to them and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would killed as they were, was completed.” This passage along with the fifth seal lets us know that the greatest hour of martyrdom is still yet ahead of us. There have been untold martyrs throughout Church history but in the final generation that number is going to go to heights that the body of Christ could never imagine. But what’s powerful is that the bloodshed of these saints will actually fuel the global prayer movement and stir up Jesus’ zeal towards the demonic trinity (satan, Antichrist, the false prophet) and the harlot Babylon.
As Babylon falls within Revelation 18 we see in Revelation 19:2 that it’s fall is celebrated with these words “For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” It’s clear from this passage and various other ones that upon death for the believer we don’t receive the fullness of our consummation until our bodies are resurrected at the catching away of the Church when Jesus appears in the sky coming for us. Paul makes it clear that until the physical resurrection of our bodies, we are in the presence of the Lord, in rest, but still awaiting the fullness of our salvation (2nd Cor. 5:8; 1st Thess. 4:16-17).
The other thing about this verse (Revelation 6:9-11) is that is causes us to reconcile a Savior who stands by, consenting to the death of His beloved ones. It clearly tells me that I need less fellowship with the God of western culture and more understanding of the God of the scriptures. At times they seem to be such a contradiction. Physical suffering, sacrifice and overcoming through martyrdom are realities we must gain revelation of in order to personally overcome in the days ahead. I can remember times being out in the Bearing Sea reading the Revelation and weeping as the coming crisis touched my heart and caused sobriety to arise. My problem isn’t experiencing sobriety from time to time, it’s living in a constant state of sobriety that so struggle to do.
With the fifth seal opened John looks once more and sees two more seals concealing the scroll of God in Jesus’ hand. John says in Revelation 6:12-17 “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun become black like sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops it’s late figs when it’s shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it’s rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, 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 Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
The sixth seal that John sees is global, geophysical upheaval and it’s a direct result of the prayers of the martyrs from the fifth seal. It’s clear that God is answering their prayers by deconstructing the Antichrist’s throne and the operating base of Babylon. The specific signs listed in Joel 2, Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and 1st and 2nd Thessalonians give us confidence that when we see these things taking place we will know we are in that hour without any doubts. I remember hearing David Sliker at the International House Of Prayer Northwest in 2009 saying “if you have to guess if it was a sign and a wonder, it wasn’t a sign or a wonder. Signs and wonders are clear, they need no speculation.” I think his statement is true. We will continue to speculate about when this day is, but when that day comes there will be no speculation needed, it will be clear, crystal clear according to Matthew 24, at least for those that are watching.
I consider the Day of the Lord to be the great equalizer as it will put all of humanity on an equal playing felid before a holy God. On that day, this passage above (Revelation 6:12-17) says that Kings (presidents), great men (World Leaders), rich men (financial leaders), commanders (military leaders), mighty men (civil leaders), slaves (lower class) and free men (working class) will all be touched by Him who is seated upon the throne. The Day of the Lord is an equal opportunity employer as it will exclude nobody. It’s not that every dies during this season, but it means that the implications of this Day, the Day of the Lord will touch every single person across the globe in one way or another, Christian and non-Christian.
Throughout the Bible the Day of the Lord always includes what I call the “both and of God.” Here in Revelation 6:17 it’s called “…for the great day of His wrath…” It’s a great and terrible Day because it always includes both positives (glory) and negatives (crisis) (Song of Songs 4:16; Joel 2:11). This isn’t speaking about a 24 hour day, but rather a season or a period of time.
Now that we have made it through Revelation 6 we get a chance to take a deep breath as we move into Revelation 7 and see God’s plan to protect His beloved ones during this great global crisis. Our answer to becoming equipped for this hour isn’t so much about storing up guns, food and water (although that’s not so stupid) as it is gaining an understanding of the beauty and glory of this Man who’s seated upon the throne and His plan of world redemption. Through a life of intimate encounter with Him we become filled with the Holy Spirit, impacted with the knowledge of God, brought up into the conversation of the Godhead and filled with faith to approach the coming hour from the place of victory and not defeat. If these chapters and verse are confusing, don’t stop there. Be tenacious in your pursuit of gaining understanding of what’s living inside God’s heart and how it relates to our life in this age.