Revelation 6:1-8 NLTse As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then I heard one of the four living beings say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” (2) I looked up and saw a white horse standing there. Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory. (3) When the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second living being say, “Come!” (4) Then another horse appeared, a red one. Its rider was given a mighty sword and the authority to take peace from the earth. And there was war and slaughter everywhere. (5) When the Lamb broke the third seal, I heard the third living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. (6) And I heard a voice from among the four living beings say, “A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley will cost a day’s pay. And don’t waste the olive oil and wine.” (7) When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living being say, “Come!” (8) I looked up and saw a horse whose color was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave. These two were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease and wild animals.
John saw this vision in Heaven. He saw God on His throne, twenty-four elders in their thrones, and Jesus as a Lamb that was slaughtered and brought back to life. Everyone agrees, Revelation is a book using symbolism to tell a story. It is a story derived in Heaven, given to John, and delivered to this world. Interpretations have to come from Heaven.
We have seven spirits, seven churches, a Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. Now we have a story about seven seals. What those seals represent has to be revealed by scripture. The four living beings send us back to the previous chapter.
In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal. In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty– the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.” Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” (Revelation 4:6-11 NLTse).
Sometimes it is better to advance in a story before going back to take a closer look at some of the details. Here we have four rather strange beasts. Are they physical beasts, or is their appearance used as a series of symbols?
Each of the four beasts were covered with eyes. The seven eyes Jesus showed as a Lamb represented the seven spirits who delivered the seven letters John wrote to seven churches. Eyes are a type of symbol in this story showing open lines of communication, as well as reminding us, nothing escapes God’s eyes.
The beings have eyes on their front and back. Nothing goes on without them seeing it. Those beings took on different appearances. One was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Why four different creatures? Will one message be understood by everyone? Highly unlikely. Some messages have to be introduced one way for some people to understand, and another way for other people to understand. Four beasts have the ability to deliver the same message different ways to different people.
People try to take those creatures, look at them as symbols, then try to figure out what each animal represents. The only reliable method is to allow the story to provide the interpretations. Is there a human form in the story? Jesus is one of them. Was there I lion in the story? But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5 NLTse). What about an ox and an eagle? There is no other mention of an ox in Revelation, but we do have other stories with an eagle.
Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and one-third of the sun was struck, and one-third of the moon, and one-third of the stars, and they became dark. And one-third of the day was dark, and also one-third of the night. Then I looked, and I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, “Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets.”
(Revelation 8:12-13 NLTse)
When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time.
(Revelation 12:13-14 NLTse)
In one story an eagle cries out a warning. In another story and eagle takes up a woman, saving her from the dragon. The eagle has a connection to Jesus, both providing warnings, and providing protection from the dragon.
Three of the four creatures point to Jesus, as well as the eyes. What about that ox? Do we look at other books to figure out the interpretation for this story, or do we look at the physical aspects of the creatures to see of those reveal anything?
The first was a lion, a direct connection to Christ established by the book John wrote. Lions are looked at by this world as the king of beasts. Kings use lions as royal symbols to show their strength. We have to be careful because a lion is also used to identify Satan and the way he ambushes people. The second was like an ox, the creature in question. Oxen as working animals, strong and dependable, something that ties in with the lion. Oxen work long hard hours without complaint. Oxen are known for doing tedious work. The third had a human face, another connection with Christ, but not defined as a direct connection in this part of the story. This human is covered with eyes front and back, and has six wings. The face may be that of a human, but the being is much more. The fourth was like an eagle in flight. Eagles are mentioned in other stories in Revelation, and do serve a purpose. The eagle in flight may be another clue tying this eagle in with the others. Eagles are also used by kings as symbols. Eagles are a sign of power and flight in this world.
We can take the physical aspects of those creatures and see how they are all tied together. We have to ask, what do they all have in common? Work. They all work in one way together.
Each of those creatures had wings covered with eyes. Wings gave flight, directions, and a view of everything. The lion could fly, so could the ox, human, and of course, eagle. Flight and eyes are other features those creatures shared. If they have the power of flight, they must have somewhere to go. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty– the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.” The creatures spend all their time in front of God’s throne. We are not told about any other place those creatures go.
One of the four beings called John. When John moved, he saw another vision with four horses. The first horse was white. Its rider was armed for war, wore a crown, and won a series of victories. Strange as it may seem, we are not told where the victories were won, in Heaven or earth? The second horse was red. There was a sequence of events to follow. John was called again, and another seal was broken by the Lamb. The second rider was armed for war with a sword. He took peace away from the world. There is no doubt where that second horse and rider was sent. Still, we are looking at symbols. A lot has been written about those horses and what they represent. Most of what has been written are nothing more than guesses. All we know for sure is, the white horse has a rider with a crown, bow, and victories. The red horse has a rider with a sword and takes peace away from this world.
John had to repeat and record the same process for the third seal. Things are really orderly in Heaven. The third horse was black. The rider had a set of scales or balances in his hand. Not much of a weapon at all, but quite a symbol. If I had a dime for every book written about that black horse and scales, I could retire.
With four horses out of the gate all we can see is, this world is in trouble. Wasn’t that part of the message in those letters? This time we are given a clue with the third horse. That rider seems to have something to do with the economy, or that is one of the most popular guesses. What does bread, oil and wine represent? They are major physical foods, and major spiritual symbols. According to the context we have so far, what could they point to? We have two horses reeking havoc on the world, and the next horse with a message to watch the food? Just because the bread comes with a cost, doesn’t automatically reject it from the possibility of a symbol. Bread was a major symbol in Jesus’ ministry.
The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.” Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:33-35 NLTse).
Maybe that gold Jesus told the Laodiceans to buy will get more expensive as time marches on. Didn’t Jesus tell them that would happen? If we looked back at those letters, the price was high for most of those churches. People had to risk their lives for the word. Some gave up their lives. A day’s pay for a loaf of wisdom and security is not a very high price. When we look back to find an interpretation is there anything else we can find? Where else could we look for an interpretation for that bread?
Things got worse after the forth seal was opened. Death and the grave were on the next horse. Those never seem to point to anything good. They brought with them famine and disease. They spread over a quarter of the world. They were given control over this world. Now we can see the urgency in those letters to the churches.
What is the timing sequence between those horses? John saw one after another seal open. A process was followed to open each of those seals. John followed the process. Now that we have death and the grave roaming a quarter of the world, we should see something happening. But when is it going to happen? So far we’ve been given a sequence, but no starting point, or any reference to good old earthly timing.
The Fifth and Sixth Seals
Revelation 6:9-17 NLTse (9) When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. (10) They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” (11) Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters–their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred–had joined them. (12) I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. (13) Then the stars of the sky fell to the earth like green figs falling from a tree shaken by a strong wind. (14) The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places. (15) Then everyone–the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person–all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. (16) And they cried 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 is able to survive?”
The fifth seal didn’t bring any horses or riders. It did bring a view of martyrs under the altar. That is a rather strange place to keep a group of martyrs. Those martyrs must be a symbol. When we look at symbols here, we don’t see a lot of explanations, which makes it easy for people to speculate. But let’s stick to the study routine and see how the Bible interprets each of those symbols.
Martyrs are people who followed Jesus to the death. We saw those white robes in other parts of this series of stories.
“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. (Revelation 3:4-5 NLTse)
You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me–gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. (Revelation 3:17-19 NLTse)
As we progress, we see how scripture is designed to interpret scripture by sending us back to particular stories or sections of the same story. When we go back and read those sections, the Spirit opens a new door of understanding. We see statements and details in a new light. Those white robes are pointing out how those white roles symbolize victory over this world. Not in terms the world understands, but the way Heaven sees victory. Look at all of this in simple terms. There is a spiritual battle going on. There are two sides, two leaders, Christ and Satan. We follow either one or the other. Simple, okay. In the end only one side will win, the other is the looser. Christ has already won. What happens when we win? There are two places to go, Heaven and hell. Where are the martyrs dressed in white? In Heaven. At this point they are a symbol, but one of a collection of symbols pointing to victory.
Jesus told Laodicea to buy white robes, and also gold refined in the fire. Most Christians know what that refined gold symbolizes, and what those white robes point to. The last horse dwelt with a few other symbols pointing to basically the same thing. What are we going to buy? We have a choice. We can either invest in the garbage this world offers that will eventually bury us, or we can buy into the promises Jesus offered. Is that junk from the world going to lead to victory or defeat?
The sixth seal is not the last seal but in the very least indicated a transition or change. At the beginning of this story we saw thunder and lightening in Heaven. At the end of this section of the story we see the earth falling apart. When we look at the horses and riders, were they physical horses and riders on the earth or spiritual? Of course they are spiritual symbols.
When looking at theses stories, it’s important to look at where the message came from and where the events take place. The message of course began in Heaven and came from Heaven. The events take place on earth, except for the scene with the martyrs. They symbolized victory, the rest of the symbols showed the war and struggles here in earth where battle lines are draw.
When we dissect each of the seals what do we see? We see wars, conquests, peace is taken from this world, people are tested, the economy plays a role, choices have to be made, victory is secured for those who endure, and the earth is still under God’s control. The devil didn’t make the earth shake. Satan and his angels fell to this world like stars, but can we apply that symbolism here?
Up to the sixth seal, everything that happened is a quick overview that reinforces a portion of the messages given to the seven churches. Each was warned about evil influences creeping in. They were also given a promise of protection and a view of Heaven. The Bible thrives on patterns. Each book and chapter contains an introduction and summation. Between those are details pertaining to the story at hand. Revelation is a stung out version of introductions and summations. The beginning of Revelation introduced the purpose of the book and its author. A vision of Jesus and Heaven are vital to understanding the book. We have seven letters representing the communication Jesus wants with everyone of us and the guidance He offers. Then we get John’s vision of Heaven, which reinforces the vision given in each letter. After that, John gives us a vision of earth, a short introduction, which reinforced the warnings given in each of the seven letters. The opposing force in this world was described with a series of symbols. The description doesn’t contain any time references, dates, or information pointing to any particular physical aspects in this world like people or organizations. The symbols point to the enemy, Satan. What do we get when we look at a rider with a bow, crown, sword, taking away peace, controlling a large portion of this world, death, and the grave? They point to the obvious.
Because each of those descriptions and symbols are so vague, people cut out one or two, then use their imaginations and a few elements from earth to interpret their meaning. Is that Biblical? When we followed the pattern John recorded for Jesus’ description in one chapter, then found it in other chapters, we can use that same pattern, or study method to identify the devil. The method is explained and used in the Bible, and in this book. But no where does John tell us to use the world or any part of this world to interpret symbols. On the other hand, Jesus warned about bad influences creeping in, and we are supposed to see them. At least the people with those white robes will see those bad influences.
Will we see physical signs in this world like earthquakes, the sun disappearing, the moon turning to blood, and stars falling from the sky? Some people believe we have to have each of those symbols physically fulfilled before they can be spiritually fulfilled. Is that true? God can and will use physical acts to warn us, get our attention, and send us back to scripture. How we go back to scripture is the important factor. We can go back to scripture armed with a whole lot of jink from this world in an attempt to beat God’s words into something we want it to say, or we can look at God’s Word as the teaching aid it is designed to be.
The part about this sixth seal that really gets me is the mountains and rocks covering people. Why would people call on mountains and rocks, elements of this world to save them? If we looked at other stories in scripture, mountains and rocks are often used as symbols to represent man made governments and religions. In general, Revelation up to this point has been establishing a choice between turning to Christ, or the world. This series of introductions outlines, but does not define that choice, nor does it define the threats in detail.
The sixth seal of course does point out this world has its own kings and rulers. They are hiding among the rocks and caves of what, this world, or Heaven? It’s as easy as that. Look at the facts John recorded, take your time, look at the details from Heaven, and let the story explain each of the symbols. John didn’t identify any particular king or ruler. John did tell us, they fled to the rocks and caves of this world. John was shown where Jesus’ martyrs are. We have a choice. Where do we go to identify symbols? Where do we flee for protection? Which ruler will we choose to follow?