Revelation 6

Prelude to the End of Times: Israel and the Church[a]

Chapter 6

The First Four Seals and the Horsemen.[b]1 Then, in my vision, I saw the Lamb break open the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures shout in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and before my eyes I saw a white horse, and its rider was holding a bow. He was given a crown, and he rode forth as a victor to amass still further conquests.

3 When he broke open the second seal, I heard the second living creature shout, “Come!” 4 And another horse came forth; it was red. Its rider was empowered to take away peace from the earth so that people would slay each other. He was given a large sword.[c]

5 When he broke open the third seal, I heard the third living creature shout, “Come!” I looked, and there was a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales[d] in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice emanating from the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat costs a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley cost a day’s wages. But do not damage the olive oil or the wine.”

7 When he broke open the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature shout, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades[e] followed close behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and plague, and by means of wild beasts.

The Fifth Seal: Vision of the Martyrs.[f] 9 When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain on account of the word of God and for witnessing to it. 10 They shouted in a loud voice, “How long is it to be, holy and true Master, before you judge the inhabitants of the earth[g] and avenge our death?”

11 Each of them was given a white robe,[h] and they were instructed to be patient for a little longer until the roll was completed of their fellow servants and brethren who were still to be killed as they themselves had been.

12 The Sixth Seal: the Universe Disturbed.[i] In my vision, when he broke open the sixth seal, there was a violent earthquake. The sun turned as black as coarse sackcloth, the moon became as red as blood, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth like unripe figs dislodged from a tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens were torn apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was dislodged from its place.

15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, and the commanders, the rich and the powerful, and the whole population, both slaves and free, hid themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They shouted to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can endure it?”

Footnotes

  1. Revelation 6:1 The book of destiny is probably not a scroll in the classical sense. It is a document that is folded and then sealed, folded and sealed, etc., seven times. It resembles a Roman legal document. Thus, as each seal is broken, part of the document becomes legible. When the seventh seal is broken (Rev 8:1), the hour is going to sound; but we are still living in suspense: trumpets will sound, one after another until the seventh one; then the great act will be played out (Rev 11:15).
    Nonetheless, the unfurling of the wrath is not described to frighten believers; the author wants to strengthen them, to announce to them that the destiny of the world has been turned around and God’s plan is on the way to being fulfilled. In accord with the perspectives of the prophecies and the Gospel, a Remnant will be saved, the community of Christ and the true People of God (Rev 7). All the chapters that follow seem to interpret the history of the world in the perspective of the destiny reserved for the Jewish people. Yet the end of Jerusalem and its destruction are not the end of history; they are only a turning point (Rev 10:1—11:13)—then the time of the nations can truly begin (Rev 12:1—19:10).
  2. Revelation 6:1 The first secrets are unveiled. Already the images are terrifying. The colors of the horses suffice to create fright. Three horsemen sow war, famine, and pestilence, those great scourges in which the ancients see God’s judgment on proud and indifferent ages and on unjust people (see, e.g., Lev 26:21-26; Deut 32:34; Ezek 5:17; 6:11f; 7:14f; 12:16; 14:13-21; 33:27; Jer 15:2-4; Mt 24:6f). Hades follows in the wake of the last horseman to swallow the victims into its gloomy abode.
    There is some doubt about the figure of the first horseman, crowned and mounted on a white horse. Is it Christ, or a false Messiah, or simply another scourge, the well-known scourge of the voracious beasts who decimate travelers? The allegory of the four horses and horsemen who ride out into the four quarters of the world is taken from Zechariah (1:8-10; 6:1-8).
  3. Revelation 6:4 A large sword: symbol of war.
  4. Revelation 6:5 Scales: symbol of hunger: food is rationed and sold at very high prices. The rider with the scales probably represents social injustice. A day’s wages: literally, “a denarius.”
  5. Revelation 6:8 Hades: personification of the abode of the dead, i.e., the netherworld (see notes on Rev 1:9-20 and Mt 16:18).
  6. Revelation 6:9 Persecution is unleashed. The victims, as though immolated in sacrifice, are all reunited around God and already clothed in the garment of joy. This presence of the victims attests that oppression has been lifted on earth. For the people of the Bible possess too great a sense of justice to imagine that such violent injustices as persecutions constitute an indifferent thing in the eyes of God and that they can go unpunished forever. They are like a challenge to God (see Lk 18:7). God must intervene, and bloody persecutions are among the signs of the end (see Mk 13:9-13).
  7. Revelation 6:10 Inhabitants of the earth: i.e., humankind in its hostility to God (see Rev 3:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12; 17:2, 8).
  8. Revelation 6:11 White robe: symbol of the joy and triumph of the Resurrection (see Rev 3:5, 18; 11:10; 13:8, 12; 17:2, 8). Until the roll was completed of their fellow servants and brethren who were still to be killed: there was an apocalyptic idea in the air—sparked by noncanonical literature—that God rules the world according to a predetermined time schedule (see 2 Esdras 4:35-37) and that the death of a certain number of the righteous must occur before the end takes place (see 1 Enoch 47:4).
  9. Revelation 6:12 The cosmic destruction announces the Day of the Lord (see Isa 34:4; Mk 13:6, 24f). It is an astonishing spectacle that this firmament will be rolled up like a large scroll. The cosmos enters a phase of distortion and convulsion. The threat hangs over everyone; no one escapes the paralyzing fear. The author uses to great advantage many of the images of the Old Testament (see Isa 2:10, 19; 34:4; Hos 10:8; Joel 2:11; 3:4).

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