Not good news
First seal cues rider on white horse—war1 I watched the Lamb break open the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four beings say in a thundering voice, “Come!” 2 Suddenly a white horse appeared. The horse’s rider carried a bow. He was given a crown and then he rode off to conquer in war.
Second seal cues rider on red horse—killing peace3 When the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second being say, “Come!” 4 Suddenly a red horse appeared. Its rider was given a huge sword—along with permission to goad people into killing each other and to decimate peace on earth.
Third seal cues rider on black horse—famine5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third being say, “Come!” Suddenly a black horse appeared. The rider held a pair of weight scales in his hand. 6 I heard what sounded like someone else’s voice coming from among the four beings. It said, “For a day’s salary you can buy a quart sack of wheat or three one-quart sacks of barley. But don’t even think about buying any olive oil or wine.”
Fourth seal cues rider on pale horse—death7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the fourth being say, “Come!” 8 Suddenly I saw a pale horse. Death sat mounted on him. Grave followed behind him. The two of them got permission to kill a fourth of humanity. They could kill them with war, famine, diseases, and wild animals.
Fifth seal cues the martyrs9 When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of people killed as martyrs because they trusted God and believed in him. 10 With one loud voice they said, “Lord, you are everyone’s ruler. You’re holy and honest. How much longer do we have to wait for justice? When will you hold the people on earth accountable for killing us?" 11 Every one of them received a white robe. They were told to wait a little longer because more of their fellow believers would die as martyrs before this was all over.
Sixth seal cues the sky to fall12 When the Lamb opened the sixth seal, a massive earthquake erupted. The sun went dark as cloth woven from the hair of a black goat. The moon glowed blood red. 13 Stars fell from the sky like a fig tree throws off the last of its winter fruit in a fierce windstorm. 14 The sky disappeared, like someone rolling up a scroll. Every mountain and island disappeared, too. 15 Terrified, everyone hid in caves and among the mountain rocks. Even the kings hid. So did princes, generals, along with the rich and powerful, the slaves and the free. 16 Then the people started pleading with the mountain that hid them. They said, “Crush us in a rockslide if you have to. Just somehow hide us from the one sitting on the throne and from the angry Lamb. 17 We can see that the Day of Anger has finally come. Who can possibly survive it?”
Ironically, the Lion from the tribe of Judah—Jesus—becomes the Lamb. The implication is that the battle he won wasn’t through military warfare. It was through a sacrificial death and resurrection. Jews observed Passover by sacrificing a lamb. Jewish leaders orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus the same day the Passover holiday began.
More literally, “Don’t harm the oil and the wine.” Scholars debate the meaning of this phrase. Some say it could mean that olive oil and wine were reserved for the rich, or perhaps the oil and wine were reserved for worship rituals. One intriguing link to history is that Emperor Domitian in AD 92 ordered half the vineyards plowed up so farmers could use the land to grow grain. He did this because there was a grain shortage in the Empire. His order generated so much pushback that he had to cancel it.
Literally “Hades.” The word picture this seems to paint is of Grave walking behind Death and picking up the corpses that Death kills.
The white robe might represent the promise of victory, some scholars say, since Roman generals often wore white after winning a battle. Others say it may represent the fact that God has declared them spiritually pure. Some say the robe is a symbol that God is giving these souls their new celestial body ahead of time, before Judgment Day. White, on the other hand, may simply be the preferred color in God’s kingdom.
Scholars call this a storm theophany. A theophany is a visible manifestation of God or God’s power. This manifestation is just a sample of what’s coming in humanity’s unwilling march to Judgment Day. Bible scholars refer to this as the eschaton (ESS kah tawn), the end of God’s plan for this world—and the end of the world as we now know it.
Peter said this would happen when he preached his famous sermon that launched the Christian movement. Peter quoted an earlier prophet, Joel 2:31, when he told people gathered around him in Jerusalem, “‘Here’s what will happen in the end,’ God says….I’m going to show the world remarkable sights in the sky…The sun will go dark, the moon blood red’” (Acts 2:17, 19-20).
This is not the description of a meteor shower, some scholars say. In the context of what else John is saying, this reads like a reference to something the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The sun, moon, and stars will dissolve, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll. The stars will fall like dead leaves from a vine or dried-up figs from a fig tree” (Isaiah 34:4 New Century Version).
The Greek word describing what happens to the mountains and islands can mean either “removed” or “moved,” as in jostled by the earthquake. But given what else John is describing here, the context might fit better with the mountains and islands disappearing, like the sky does.
The Middle East is a rocky place with lots of caves. David and his men hid from King Saul in the caves of En Gedi, along the west shore of the Dead Sea (1 Samuel 24).
This is more literally “the great day of their wrath.” Many Bible experts link this phrase to the common Old Testament warning that prophets gave about the coming “day of the Lord,” which the prophet Joel described as a “great and terrible day” (Joel 2:31 New Living Translation). Great for God’s devoted people, bad for everyone else.
For the answer to this last question, see Revelation 7:9.
As the Lamb breaks the first four seals on the scroll, each snapping seal calls forward a rider on a horse. Together, the riders are known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (6:1-8). They generate wars, get people killed, and they produce famine and disease. Some scholars say the horsemen represent what happened to Jerusalem when Roman soldiers destroyed the city in AD 70. Others say this is what will happen during a future time of trouble called the Tribulation, before the end of the world. Still others say this has been going on all along. What do you think about this part of John’s vision?
When the Lamb snapped the fifth seal, John “saw under the altar the souls of people killed as martyrs because they trusted God and believed in him” (6:9). Christians in John’s generation were martyred in horrifying ways, according to early church historians. They were beaten to death, burned alive, drowned, beheaded, crucified and left there until they starved to death. With that in mind how do you react to advice Jesus gave his followers: “People who try to save themselves will die because of it. People who lose their lives for my sake will live” (Matthew 10:39)?
When the sixth seal snaps, Creation starts to break apart. The ground shakes. “Stars fell from the sky like a fig tree throws off the last of its winter fruit in a fierce windstorm” (6:13). The sky disappears. So do mountains and islands. People resort to hiding in caves, during what sounds like a new Stone Age. They say they realize that Judgment Day has come, the “Day of Anger” (6:17). Really? Is God truly that angry with humanity?
LIFE APPLICATION. The book of Revelation gets people thinking about the end of the world. Even scholars who say much of the book is about Roman persecution of Christians will admit that John is talking about the future some of the time. We humans probably have everything we need to wipe out most of our species, if not all of us. Then there are natural disasters: meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes. Do you think we’ll be able to keep from killing off our own species, or do you think one crazy trigger finger will set off a chain reaction that will annihilate humanity?