The Fifth Seal: Cry for Justice! Part 1

Revelation 6:9-11

Etching above from The Illustrated History of the World Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890 


9 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 for the witness they had borne.

Souls under the Altar

I. Although the Four Horseman do not ride to punish Christians, they are “fair game” for persecution in times of upheaval.

In Revelation 6:1-8, the judgment of the ungodly nations is portrayed. The Four Horsemen are not riding against Christians! They are riding in punishment of nations that deliberately forget God. Psalm 9:17 (ESV) states — The wicked shall return to Sheol (hell), all the nations that forget God.

J. A. Alexander writes of this verse —

17. The wicked shall turn back even to hell…all nations forgetful, of God. The enemies of God and of his people shall be not only thwarted and repulsed, but driven to destruction; and that not merely individuals, but nations. (see Alexander below.)

Hell by Gustave-Dore-Ferinata-
Hell” from Dante’s Inferno illustrated by Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

Europe’s rebellious nations rejoiced when Nietzsche proclaimed, “Gott ist tot!” (“God is dead”). Nietzsche thought this could be a good thing for some people, saying: “… at hearing the news that ‘the old god is dead’, we philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel illuminated by a new dawn.” “Nietzsche was an atheist for his adult life and didn’t mean that there was a God who had actually died, rather that our idea of one had.”  (see Hendricks below.)

How has that worked out for them? Are not they dead while God Almighty still lives!

Christians, who still hold to the Scriptures, are caught in the middle between God and His judgment on unbelievers. Unbelievers cannot strike out directly at God, so any true believer nearby often becomes an object for them to lash out at. 

Rarely do unrepentant sinful leaders of nations attribute their sufferings to God’s judgment against them. (See Isaiah 36-37 for an incident where invaders attack God’s people and Hezekiah, King of Judah, humbles himself and repents of sin against God.) Usually godless nations turn upon Christians rather than acknowledge God as Sovereign. 

environmental-science

Modern rejection of God’s judgment.

One modern case is the rejection of God and attribution of climate change to people. (“Green Warriors” usually fly on jet planes to deliver their messages that the common people’s carbon footprint is too large and this is the chief cause of climate change.) I do not recommend wilful misuse of natural resources, but neither do I worship the earth and its ecology.) God brings judgment in the form of climactic calamities. Exodus 9:18 — “Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.”

Compare this with Revelation 8:7 —

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

I cannot predict the Second Coming of Christ based on climate change, and I am not trying to. I am saying God is in control and even if the climate is changing, He is still Creator and Sustainer of this world. (see Christian below for a Creationist perspective on climate change.)

Such judgment does not bring people to repentance, but issues in persecution of believers. Christians are often at the bottom of the social order. When times of unrest and scarcity occur, Christians are caught in the middle. Since the four seals apply during the last days between Christ’s First and Second Coming, we see judgment of God falling on nations and Christians persecuted by the ungodly for their faithful witness to God and His Word. 

II. Martyrs are not necessarily murdered, but they bear faithful testimony to God and the veracity of His Word for this they are persecuted.

Hebrews_4-16

These witnesses are in the very presence of God and are “martyrs.” They carried their faithfulness to God to the point of death. The Jews spoke of the departed righteous as being under the altar.

Similar descriptions of the heavenly altar and throne are found within rabbinic texts —

The Holy One, Blessed be He, took the soul of Moses and stored it under the Throne of Glory … Not only the soul of Moses is stored under the Throne of Glory, but the souls of the righteous are also stored there … Rabbi Akiva used to say … “Whoever is buried under the altar is as though he were buried beneath the Throne of Glory.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 12:4, 26:2). (see Altar of Souls below.)

“Slain” is literally “slaughtered” (sphazô), the same word that is used of the Lamb in Rev. 5. It is perfect tense here. It means “to put to death by violence” or “to deal a mortal wound to.” (see StudyLight below). Note the description of the Confessors at Council of Nicaea —

Some, as confessors, still bore in their body the marks of Christ from the times of persecution… . Patamon of Heraclea in Egypt, had lost one eye in the last persecution; Paphnutius had one eye bored out and his legs cut off during Maximin’s persecution. Another bishop, Paul of Neocaesarea, had had his hands burnt by the red-hot irons. (See Schaff, Chapter 9, pg. 626, below).

These men are martyrs even though they did not die immediately from their torture. Surely their lives were shortened by the persecution of ungodly, unrepentant people. 

More on the fifth seal next post!

Notes

Alexander, J. A. (1850). Commentary on the Psalms. Riverside, CA: E4 Group. Kindle Edition.

Altar of Souls, The. (2011). Accessed 3 February 2020 from http://www.messianicjudaism.me/yinon/2011/07/28/the-altar-of-souls/

Christian, M. (2008). “Global Warming in Perspective”. accessed 8 February 2020 from https://answersingenesis.org/environmental-science/climate-change/global-warming-in-perspective/

Fitzgerald, R. (2015). “African Bishops Sick of West’s ‘Ideological Colonization’”. Accessed 8 February 2020 from https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/african-bishops-sick-of-wests-ideological-colonization

Hendricks, S. (2016).”‘God is dead’: What Nietzsche really meant.” Accessed 8 February 2020 from https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-meant-by-god-is-dead

Longman, T. (2014). Psalms: 15-16 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Schaff, P. (1910). History of the Christian Church. accessed 8 February 2020 from https://ccel.org/s/schaff/history/About.htm

StudyLight. (2020). Accessed 4 February 2020 from https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/4969.html

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Pale Horse and its Rider: Revelation Six, Part 4

Revelation 6:7-8

Image above is from WikiMedia Commons; “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov. 


vs. 7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “[Go!]” (ESV; modification of word “come” to “go” by me.)

I. Death and Hades are under the authority of Christ!

Remember what we read in Chapter 1:17-18 —

17 When I saw Him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

Before each horse makes its appearance, an order comes forth from the throne room of God for it to appear. The Four Horsemen do not ride until later, but that is not introduced here. Two more seals remain in this chapter and one more in a later chapter. The interlude between the six and seventh seals explains a lot about the church’s circumstances during this time. But, that is for a later post. 

We as believers have no fear of death and what lies beyond. We know our destiny is to live forever with the Lord in the place He has prepared for us!


vs. 8a And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him.

Fourth_Rider

From Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov.

The Fourth Rider — The word for “pale green” is chloros (“Clorox” is an English derivative with the idea of killing germs). It is used of grass and greenery in general. Here it is the pale green of a corpse.

If seal one describes conquest, seal two speaks of war, and seal three of economic hardship and scarcity, which follow war; then, the fourth seal speaks of disease, pestilence, etc. that also accompany all the Four Horsemen.

This rider is the grim reaper himself. He is followed by hades — the place where the unrighteous dead go. Hades follows along behind swallowing up the dead.

In the picture above, you can see a hole beneath the fourth rider. This represents hades, swallowing up the dead from conquest, war, and scarcity. The latter part of the verse below describes the means of death that follow the Four Horsemen’s ride.


GoldenKey-1024x768

II. Christ is Sovereign over all disruptive elements in our world.

vs. 8b And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

The “they” refer to all four of the Horsemen and not to the fourth only. 

Authority in Greek is exousia = “the right to take action.” In this case, the riders have the authority over 1/4 of the earth. This is also the second time a limited judgment occurs in the book. The four horsemen are limited precisely to 1/4th of the earth.

Literally, the text says the rider has “authority to kill.” The four judgments mentioned here are drawn from Ezekiel 14:21. They are the means by which the riders kill  their victims.

21 “For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast! [ESV]


III. Modern nations suffer Old Testament calamities if they have known God at one time and later abandon Him.

No doubt Leviticus 26, Ezekiel 14, and the Olivet Discourse of our Lord (Matt. 24) form the background of these four judgments for the nations that stray from God’s commandments and persecute Christ’s Church.

Sword Bearing Barbarian

By the sword — The Greek word is different than the one the second rider had — this is rhomphia. It was the large broad sword of the heathen invaders of Rome. This is invasion by one’s enemies. Rome was afraid of the Parthians (Persians) who were like the rider on the first horse. We today fear terrorists from rogue nations who threaten our way of life. Christians trust in God as enemies attack!

By famine — Seal three was scarcity. This is famine to the point of death — little food if all. It is sad, but aid sent by the UN to Somalia today is often hijacked by thugs and sold for profit at a high price to those in famine. (See Somalia below.) God provides for Christians because he is Lord over the climate and resources needed to grow food.

By pestilence — The Greek word is thanatos “death.” However, the rider is death. “To kill someone with death in Hebrew is an idiom meaning disease. Hans Zinsser drew this conclusion about pestilence and Rome —

Again and again, the forward march of Roman power and world organization was interrupted by the only force against which political genius and military valor were utterly helpless — epidemic disease — and when it came, as though carried by storm clouds, all other things gave way, and men crouched in terror, abandoning all their quarrels, undertakings, and ambitions, until the tempest had blown over. (see Johnson below.)

Christ is Lord even over bacteria and germs. He heals Christians in times of pestilence. God always heals disease except for one. The last malady we have that ushers us into our larger life forever with Him.

Worldwide viral outbreaks 2

This Map illustrates the vast numbers of viruses that exist and can be transmitted more easily since the world is a global community (see Fauci below for source of the map). 

By wild beasts — With the decimation of populations in the civilized world, wild beasts lose their fear of mankind and roam the formerly inhabited world. They kill those who survived the horrors of war and plagues. Wild animals venture into the human population as their habitat shrinks and their food chain is disturbed by war and famine. I have seen a coyote, several bobcats, and one dark panther in our little town in South Carolina. Christ is Lord over nature and can preserve His people from harm.

On to Seal Five next time!

Notes

Fauci, A. S. (2017). “Three Decades of Responding to Infectious Disease Outbreaks.” Accessed 1 February 2020 from https://www.niaid.nih.gov/news-events/three-decades-responding-infectious-disease-outbreaks

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Wilmington, DE: P & R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Somalia. (2009). Corruption eats into Somalia’s food aid accessed 28 January 2020 from https://www.thenational.ae/world/africa/corruption-eats-into-somalia-s-food-aid-1.502144

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Black Horse and its Rider: Revelation Six, Part 3

Revelation 6:5-6

6:5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “[Go]!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand.

Image “Plague, war and famine” by Sadler above from WikiMedia Commons.

As Conquest leads the way in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War follows, and now Economic Hardship. High prices for food that is in short supply always follows war.

I. The Black Rider’s Equipment

The Third Rider’s equipment is a scales (zygos = a balance beam scale; word also translated “yoke”.) which indicates something to do with the economy of the day.

Famine (2)

Beale says, “In the ancient world, a pair of scales stood for a time of [severe economic hardship], as in such times food was rationed out by scales” (see Beale, p. 128, below). 

Very careful measurement is required due to scarcity and high price of food. This clarifies the myth of the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). Rome promised prosperity and peace for all. Yet it delivered it only to the elites of society. (see Keener, below).

The horse’s black color symbolizes scarcity and bad tidings (cf. a “black” day = a day of calamity).

Denarius

Ancient Roman denarius coin of Marcus Junius Brutus (circa 54 BC). Vintage etching circa mid 19th century.

6:6 And I heard what seemed to be 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 wine!”

The source of the voice is not given. The text says the the voice came from the vicinity of (en mesos) the four living creatures. It is obviously a divine decree from Christ himself.  (see Beale, p. 128, below). Christ’s decree limits Caesar then and it still limits governments in modern times!

II. This is the picture of food scarcity and high inflation due to economic hardships following war.

A denarius was the amount paid to a man for one day’s work. A choinix was a measure that was close to a quart. A quart of wheat was the amount one man consumed in one day.

Barley is inferior, and a man would usually feed this to his animals or to his slaves. However, if he could only buy a quart of wheat, he could not feed his family from it. If he wanted to feed his family, he would have to buy the barley. This was less nutritious and would lead to malnutrition.

Pompeii_-_Casa_dei_Casti_Amanti_-_Banquet-640x520

Wall illustration from Pompeii showing a Roman banquet.

“John elaborates on the inevitable outcome of Rome’s greed and exploitation, expressed here with especially poignant imagery: a pair of scales” (see Fee, p. 94, below). God is bringing punishment upon Rome for persecuting His church. Economic hardship reduces the amount of grain (in the far reaches of the Empire) that could be harvested and shipped back to Rome.

Most of the land owning elites in the colonies (i.e. Asia Minor) made the most money by selling oil and wine to the elites of Rome. However, Rome was in need of grain to feed its masses—the hoi polloi—to keep down rebellion.

The Emperor Domitian in A.D. 92 ordered half of the vineyards in Asia Minor to be cutgrape-vines-separated-road-olive-trees-tomaresca-tenuta-bocca-di-lupo-pictured-row-winery-101966722 down and the ground sown with wheat. Rome needed to keep its masses quiet and dependent. However, this order was never carried out. (pictured on the right, olive trees are side-by-side with grape vines.) 

The oil (elion = olive oil) and the wine are considered to be luxuries by some commentators. They reason that these are plentiful in times of scarcity because there is no money with which to buy them. It is all a man can do to just keep his family fed.

Oil and wine were necessities in the Mediterranean area. How could one make bread without oil? Water was possibly polluted and would be dangerous to drink without having wine mixed in it. No person would drink wine undiluted except hard-core alcoholics wanting to get drunk — Bacchus cult members. “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” was their mantra. (see Thomas and Macchia below.)

 

The Jewish practices called for 4:1 ratio of water to wine. Some even diluted it 10:1. The alcohol would have killed the bacteria in the water. So who could afford to drink polluted water without wine? These two are necessities. 

The elites made more money from oil and wine than from wheat. The prohibition against harming these two items are made by Christ Himself.

III. Two Biblical passages important for us today in regard to food supply.

A. Genesis 8:20-22 guarantees regular seasons — after the flood — rainbow

20 …Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (ESV; emphasis mine.)

Verse 22 is most instructive. God swears that the seasons will continue so that crops can be grown. Wars end, killing ceases, and famines come to a close at God’s appointed time! In all circumstances God is sovereign over the food supply! 

B. The small minor prophet, Habakkuk is important for those who seek to do God’s will under the threat of War. 

Note Habakkuk’s Prayer and Paean of Praise in his time of need! 

Habakkuk in chapter one prays for God to deal with injustice that is widespread in Judah at the time. The Northern Kingdom had already been exiled and pagan populations had been settled in the midst of those who were left behind. Judah did not heed the warning God gave through the Assyrian White, Red, and Black horses that rode through their northern neighbors’ territory. However, Habakkuk almost loses heart when he hears about how God is going to answer his prayer for justice in Judah.

1:6 … behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.Habakkuk-title

The White, Red, and Black Horses of the Babylonians are to ride over Judah and punish injustice. 

Habakkuk ends his little book with hope for the ultimate future.

2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

In the meantime, Habakkuk takes his stand and centers his thoughts on God! He doesn’t look to government or the military to help. He looks to God. 

3:17
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19
God, the Lord, is my strength… .

Right response, Habakkuk! Right response for us today!  

In the West, we have plenty. I believe we ought to enjoy the fruits of our labors. However, there is a warning in the black horse for us as well. Billy Graham in Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse warns us that if we do not heed God’s warnings to us “our lifestyle may spread itself out before us in judgment.” We ought always to be mindful of the needs of others. (see Graham below.)

Next time, the pale horse. 

Notes

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

Fee, Gordon D.(2010). Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series) Portland, OR: Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Graham, Billy. (1984). Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. [original publisher: Word Books, later acquired by] Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub.

Keener, C. S. (2000). Revelation in The NIV Application Commentary series. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. Kindle edition.

Thomas and Macchia. (2016). Revelation: Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co. Kindle edition.

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Red Horse and its Rider: Revelation Six, Part 2

Revelation 6:3-4

3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Go!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

I. Christ is sovereign over war and violence. 

The key to discovering the meaning of all the riders is found in what they have in their hands. The rider’s sword is the machaira. In modern Greek the word is used of a knife. In the New Testament it is often used of the Roman short sword (gladius in Latin; from Légionnaire_romain_Ier_siècle_av_JCwhich “gladiator” is derived) The gladius is pictured left with a Legionnaire’s hand on its hilt. From this picture, one can derive an idea of its size and length. It was forged for easy, lethal hand-to-hand combat. It was the standard Roman battle implement. 

This horse is red, fiery red. It speaks of warfare and bloodshed (II Kings 3: 22-23). This rider takes peace from the earth. It makes possible war (civil and international), terrorism, and all kinds of violence.

In each of the cases of the riders, it is said that something was ‘granted’ or ‘given to him’. Horseman with SwordThe word is a past tense passive verb didomi (“I give”). The passive voice indicates an implied divine agency. God gives the permission for the following to take place. 

He opened the second seal. He gave the sword to the rider. This introduces us to the “problem of evil.” A problem that has plagued theologians and philosophers since time immemorial.

II. All evil serves God’s purposes though we do not understand how.

Romans 11:33-36 applies to the problem of evil.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (ESV emphasis mine.)

R. C. Sproul says this about evil and our understanding of it —

“I don’t think God has revealed to us a full and final answer to the problem of evil and suffering. However, that doesn’t mean that He’s been silent on the issue. Scripture does give us some helpful guidelines.

(1) God is not capricious or arbitrary. He does not act irrationally, nor does He show or permit violence to no purpose. That doesn’t mean we always know why a particular evil occurs at a given place or time. (see Sproul below.)

Let me add —

a) Judgment is not God’s preferred work. Isaiah 28:21 (ESV)

21 For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed—strange is his deed! and to work his work—alien is his work!

b) Mercy is God’s preferred work. Psalm 145:9 (KJV).

21 The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.

(2) “…evil is not ultimate. Christianity never denies the horror of evil, but neither does it regard evil as having any power above or equal to God. Scripture’s final word on evil is triumph. Creation groans as it awaits its final redemption, but this groaning is not futile. Over all creation stands the resurrected Christ—Christus Victor [the Victorious Christ]—who has triumphed over the powers of evil and will make all things new. “That means that when inexplicable disasters occur, we must say with Martin Luther, ‘Let God be God.'” (see Sproul below.)

Left: Lady Justice is presented with a blindfold; supposed idea of American courts.
Right: Lady Justice is pictured eyes wide-opened.
God’s justice is always meted out eyes wide-opened! 

III. The Red Horse rides in our world today. 

War, civil and international, is a fact of life in our world. September 11, 2001 brought this Red Horse to America’s doorstep. We had had terrorist incidents before this one. Now we have war—The War on Terror. Wherever we see war, civil or international, the Red Horse is riding.

I have visited Manhattan and have seen the Trade Towers footprint before they built the memorial there. I have been also to Oklahoma City and have seen the memorial there to dead at the Murrah Federal Building bombing. (Both pictured below from WikiMedia.)

 

The Case of Jehu from the past

It is difficult for Christians to deal with such cruelty of the Red Horse sent by God. How can God be sovereign over war and still be holy and just in all He does? Christ opened the second seal and unleashed war and violence to punish those who persecute His Church. Christ holds all accountable who commit injustice.

If you doubt read Jehu’s story, King of Northern Tribes of Israel in 841–814 BC. Jehu was commissioned to deal with Ahab’s idolatry and persecution of believers in the Northern Kingdom of Samaria. (II Kings 9-10) Elisha the prophet sends a proxy to anoint Jehu King of Samaria and charge him to prosecute holy war against Ahab’s dynasty. Jehu engaged in indiscriminate murder shedding innocent blood. (see II Kings 10:12-14.) God punished him for his excesses by allowing his kingdom to suffer war from the outside. (see II Kings 10:32-36). See bas-relief below shows Jehu bowing in submission as a vassal of Assyria.

Jehu bowing to Assyrian King

The king bowing is King Jehu of Israel, a man found in the Bible. This bas-relief of Jehu is the oldest surviving depiction of an Israelite. …Jehu brought his tribute to Shalmaneser III in around 841 BC. The inscription near the panel with Jehu can be translated: “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears”

Don’t forget God’s justice is at work amid war and violence. His delays in meting out justice are not His denials. 

Though the [grist] mills of God grind slowly,
yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
with exactness grinds He all. (see Retribution below.)

We can and must trust in God to bring about justice in all His acts in history! This is the lesson of the second seal and the Red Horse for God’s people.

Next time we will move on to the Black Horse and its Rider.

Notes

Retribution. (n.d.). Poem by Friedrich von Logau (1604–1655) translated by Henry W. Longfellow. Accessed 16 January 2020 from https://www.bartleby.com/360/6/75.html

Sproul, R. C. (2013). “Answering Evil”. Accessed 11 January 2020 from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/answering-evil/

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Rider of the White Horse: Revelation Six, Part 1

Revelation 6
The Scroll Seals Broken

Image above is from Gustave Doré – Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1865.


There are three main images in this chapter:

1. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse vss. 1-8
2. The Souls under the Altar
3. The Day of Wrath 

We deal in this post with the White Horse and its Rider.


Vs. 1 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Go!” (see my explanation below for this translation.) 

The question arises as to the identification of the one who is addressed by the word “come” (in most translations). 

(1) Some think that the command is addressed to the Coming Lord himself. The invitation expresses the desire of creation to be redeemed.
(2) Other commentators think that the invitation is addressed to John. Hence, the addition “and see” by the KJV.
*(3) Most modern commentators see this as an address to the four horsemen. I agree with this 3rd option.

Four Horsemen

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov. Depicted from left to right are Pestilence, Famine, War, and Conquest. The Lamb is visible at the top.

The word [“come” in the ESV] is erchomai, which can mean either “come” or “go” depending upon the context. This is the command from the Living Creatures to the Four Horsemen to begin their ride. If the Creatures were beyond the Horsemen, they would say “come.” If the Living Creatures were behind the Horsemen,  the Living Creatures would say “go.” That is why I opt for translating this as “Go!” These Living Creatures—an Angelic order representing all of creation—never leave their close proximity to the throne of God.

We can draw two lessons from this first horseman’s ride:

I. This command comes from God’s throne room!

There is nothing inconsistent with the justice of God meted out to those who persecute His people. God is not a “divine Barney the Dinosaur” (“I love you; you love me” type). God’s love is true and genuine, but so is his wrath. If one of His people is harmed, God will mete out justice! “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 ESV).

In any case, the angels that represent all creation are eager to see the Horsemen’s program begin and reach its conclusion because it will mean the redemption of the earth as a place of habitation for redeemed humanity. It will mean suffering for the created order, but it will conclude with glory for God’s people and a renewed creation.

Christians will suffer as well since they are a part of the created order. Note Matthew 5:45b “For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” However, we can be sure that the wrath of God will never fall on His people!


vs. 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.

The rider of this horse is much disputed.
(1) Some think that it is Christ himself.
(2) Others think it is Antichrist.
(3) Some see it as military conquest.
*(4) Others think
it symbolizes conquest in general.

white-horse-2I think it is wrong to view this white horseman as a person. All of the other riders symbolize abstracts. This one too is an abstract. It is also wrong to view it as military conquest since the second seal deals with war, etc. It is better to take this rider as symbolic of conquest by whichever means—political, economic, etc. Sun Tsu, in The Art of War, said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”(emphasis mine.) After all, many different interests go into the decision for conquest. The White Horseman leads the other three.

“The rider of the white horse could well be called Conquest. It is appropriate that he lead this terrible cavalry of violence, famine, and death, for the expansionist aspirations of rulers precipitate military conflict and scarcity of such resources sources as food and medicine, leading to malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and death.” (see Johnson below.)

The first rider has a war bow. And he is given a victor’s crown, the twisted laurel stephanposbranches with leaves given in athletic contests (stephanos). In Rev. 19, our Lord wears kingly crowns, many diadems (diadema).

The second verb in the last phrase is the present tense of nikao (Greek for “conquer or victory”; used to name the tennis shoes, by the way, meaning “winners wear these shoes!”). It is used to describe the manner of rider’s going out. The first rider goes forth in a conquering manner in order to make fresh conquests.

triumph-illustration-jacques-grasset-de-saint-sauveur

a “Roman Triumph” given to a victorious general riding on a white-horse-driven chariot; public domain; by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur (1757-1810)

Because of the white color, many see this as an allusion to Rev. 19 where Christ returns on a white horse. The only similarity between the two riders is the color white. It was associated with victory in ancient Rome. (see Roman Triumph pictured above.) This goes along with the other symbols in chapter six. Satanic forces will be unleashed throughout the last days which will lead nations to seek to conquer the world through deception and error and bring suffering upon the earth.

The so-called Pax Romana was a fiction. Rome did not bring peace and prosperity for all. Rome brought enforced peace for the enrichment of the elites in Rome and elites in the captured territories who cooperated with Rome. Poor people sought the patronage of rich men to eke out a living (see Johnson below). 

That Christians are affected by the fallout from the Four Horsemen is true. However, I agree with Johnson’s view that the horsemen are all sent for the purpose primarily to punish and judge the “earth-dweller” persecutors of Christ’s Church. “It seems better to view the primary targets of the destructive forces symbolized by the four horsemen as rebellious, covenant-breaking humanity, ‘those who dwell on the earth,’ rather than the faithful and suffering church.” (see Johnson below). 


II. We need to remember since God sends this horseman, He is sovereign over conquest!

God hears our prayers

When I visited and preached in Romania in the early 1990s, Christians told me of their prayers for deliverance from the repressive communist regime. The secular press in the West reported “they held candle light vigils.” Believers told me they had to carry candles to light their way at night since it was all the artificial light they could afford and there were no street lights. Their real business was not to light candles but to pray. God heard those prayers! 

Nothing can touch us without our heavenly Father’s permission. I don’t understand why He permits evil in His providence, but I would rather have Him sovereign over it, but not the author of it, rather than evil affecting me at random without Him! He will explain it all when we see him face to face. 

Conquest in the World Today

In the Far East there are several regimes that are intent on conquest of their own peoples, economic prosperity, and acquisition of new territory. They are persecuting Christians with a vengeance. Leviathan states must have no rivals for authority! 

“A new video from Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) dramatizes the true story of a North Korean man named Sang-chul whose life was changed when he met a pastor in China. This pastor, Han Chung Ryeol, [who lived in Changbai, China] risked…his life to bring the gospel to people living in what is arguably the most oppressive country in the world. …If someone reports you have even ‘glanced at’ a Bible, you and all your relatives will be arrested and sent to a concentration camp for years. To speak the name of God can lead to soldiers coming in the night, says Sang-chul. And there will be no trial. No journalists will write about you, and no one will ever dare ask where you have gone.

Changbai_China

Note: Changbai, China, and its close proximity to N. Korea. (Google Maps)

“Sang-chul eventually put his trust in God and persuaded Pastor Han to give him a Bible, despite the danger. Over time, Sang-chul even took the risk of sharing his new-found hope with his wife and his best friend.

“Then in the summer of 2016, Sang-chul says he heard that the North Korean government was honoring some assassins for killing a ‘terrorist missionary’ in Changbai. He immediately knew it was Pastor Han who had died. CBN News reports that the pastor was found in the Changbai Mountains with multiple knife and axe wounds. He died at age 49, leaving behind his wife and two children. (see Pastor Han below.)

Pastor_Han_

God will punish those who seek to destroy His Church. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or 5 years from now, but the White Horse will eventually ride over them and this, and other regimes who persecute His people, will be conquered by others and punished.

We can labor for God knowing that Christ has said, “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” — Matthew 16:18 ESV emphasis mine.

Next time the Red Horse and its Rider.

Notes

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Pastor Han Martyred. (2019). “North Korean Man Shares Story of Pastor Killed Because of the Gospel.” Retrieved 9 January 2020 from https://churchleaders.com/pastors/videos-for-pastors/358630-voice-of-the-martyrs-north-korean-man-shares-story-pastor-killed-gospel.html

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

 

The Basic Structure of Revelation 6:1—16:21

Overview of the Four Series of Seven Judgments

G. K. Beale makes the best sense, in my opinion, of the Seals, Trumpets, Thunders, and Bowls of Judgments. (see Beale, below.)

Rather than attempting to restate Beale’s argument, I will quote his conclusion succinctly and then make the argument as we go through each separate set of judgments.

“We begin with the understanding that John is relating what he saw in a series of visions, and he is doing so in the order in which he saw them.

“The order in which he saw things is not necessarily the historical chronological order in which those things will happen. This is clear from the fact the text shows he is speaking of the same events in different visions, but sometimes either not relating them in exactly the same order, or telling of different visions…to express the same reality.

“Part of the reason for this is that, in general, the plagues recur throughout history, rather than being one-time historical events, hence there is not an exact correspondence in every detail.” (see Beale, pp. 24-25, below; emphasis mine.)

I offer the following diagram to illustrate what Beale is saying. Begin at the bottom and work your way up. Each is cyclical and not necessarily chronological. 

Recapulation of Four Series of Sevens

The Seals cover the same judgments as the Trumpets, the Thunders, and the Bowls. Dr. Michael Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary, refers to these visions by way of analogy. He says they are like the different camera angles at an American Football Game. (See Hebrews – Revelation, below.)

Camera Angles Analogy

By the way, the first televised Football game in America was in 1939. They used two cameras. Today, “each game is a major production, with broadcasters deploying 12 to 20 cameras and 150 to 200 employees for regular-season contests.” (see Impact of Television, below.)

“CBS Sports [debuted] new technology in its suite of 70 cameras being used to film the 2016 [SuperBowl]; …only 40 video cameras were used to capture the 2015 Super Bowl. (That’s 75 percent more cameras, if you didn’t want to do the math.) Old favorites—like the SkyCam—are back with some impressive updates, and totally new technology is also readying for its debut. (see Superbowl 2016, below.)

Looking for a Collage of the End Times from Different Angles

So we are not looking for a chronological map of the Revelation. The various visions in Revelation are different “camera angles” on the “Last Days.” We ought not forget the nature of the “last days. They stretch from Jesus first coming to his Second Coming. Chart below.

Note also that one of the series is missing from John’s account. We simply do not have all the pieces of the puzzle! We teach on Revelation, but with humility and respect for those who differ.

eschatology-chart (2)

I know chronology is a popular way of interpreting the book according to futurists. There are elaborate charts showing the “end times” as they will occur. However, I have not found that to be comforting to me, much less to people in the First Century Asia Minor Church. 

My own personal experience

When I was a young teenager, a very famous futurist teacher came to the church I attended. He had a chart that was a painting of the entire history of man — “The Plan of the Ages.” It was more than 30 feet in length and was over 8 feet high. It was anchored to the walls of the church and he preached each night from the chart. 

It bothered me that he preached from his chart rather than doing an exposition of the Scriptures. And, the church had to insure it while it was on display that week. 

What good would a detailed chronological revelation of the end times do for the first twenty centuries of suffering Christians? 

Jesus’s Interests and Ours

Look at Acts 1:6-8.

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

The disciples are interested in when. Jesus is interested in what and how. We ought to rearrange our priorities to line up with His.

7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV emphasis mine). 

Into Chapter 6 next time!

Notes

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

Hebrews – Revelation (n.d.) Podcasts by Dr. Michael Kruger on the Catholic Epistles. Accessed from iTunes. Free to download from https://itunes.apple.com/us/course/hebrews-revelation-dr-michael-kruger/id600863753 [I recommend Dr. Kruger highly.]

Impact of Television. (2019). Accessed 20 December 2019 from https://operations.nfl.com/the-gameimpact-of-television/

Superbowl 2016. (2016). Access 20 December 2019 from https://www.wired.com/2016/01/the-cameras-thatll-make-the-super-bowl-way-more-interesting-this-year/

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Revelation Chapter Five Applied

Revelation 5:1-14

I have spent a great deal of time on Chapters 4 & 5 because they, along with Chapter 12, have pivotal roles in interpreting the entire book of Revelation.

Critical Error of Modern Prophecy Preachers

A critical error today is found in those who interpret the Bible by reading the newspaper accounts of current events. Note the following claim about a book on prophecy —

“In my book [on] Daniel…, by using the key given by God when he unsealed for understanding the eighth chapter of Daniel in 1967, I explain all of the seven chrono-specific predictive prophecies in the Book of Daniel, and I show how everything prophesied in Daniel has now been fulfilled.” (Prophecy Teacher’s book on Daniel.)

Billy Graham is more correct in his assessment of our times —

“These warnings from the Book of Matthew [Chapter 24] are not parables or myths; they are the very headlines of our day. They are the evidence of Christ’s prophecy fulfilled before our eyes” (see Storm Warning, p. 37).

I enjoyed his earlier book The Approaching Hoofbeats: The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He pointed out modern happenings as probable fulfillments of Revelation Chapter Six, but he did not use the headlines to interpret the Bible.

The Prophecy of Daniel can be unsealed by a newspaper account? Really! I think no one would see this as fulfillment in the 1st Century. Rather, we have seen John’s Revelation referring to various Old Testament prophecies as fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Last Days have been inaugurated at his first coming and will be consummated at his second coming. We do not need a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in another to un-seal Daniel or any other prophet in the Old Testament.

We start with the key verse of the chapter — 5:13b.

Application of Chapter Five Vision

Focus on the Symbols in Chapter 5 in Review

Note on the chart, I list the 4 main Symbols in the chapter.

(1) The Scroll — “God’s testament” or “will” signifies that he rules the world for the benefit of his Church and all will result in God’s glory.

(2) The Lamb — Rather than symbolizing innocent submission, the Lamb in Revelation is a ‘mystic, apocalyptic designation (or title) of the glorified Christ, enthroned with God and destined to be victorious over all the opposing forces in the universe, both human and demonic.’

Kings-and-Priests(3) The Kingdom-Priests — God’s kingdom people called to be intercessors in the last days.

(4) God’s Dominion — The ever-expanding throne room of God helps us view all of life as destined to mirror the majesty and glory of God.

How should we view the Symbols in our everyday life?

The Scroll and the Lamb

I combined the first two symbols since they are related. The scroll is taken by the Lamb. We may feel at times we are surrounded by the rubble of a civilization that is in free-fall away from God. We should derive hope from the fact that the Lamb has taken the rule of the world to support his Church and especially those who are persecuted for the Gospel’s sake. We are building for God in our spheres! We are not preoccupied with the rubble around us. We have our families and spheres of influence into which we can speak the truth of God.

Hiroshima

An Example of Doing What One can Where One is

A doctor survived on the outskirts of Hiroshima after the A-Bomb exploded over the city. The city was devastated and few survived the 4000º F heat wave. As the doctor moved out of the building where he was, he began to come to terms with the magnitude of the effect on “survivors.” He wondered,  “Where am I to begin to help with so many injured?” He stumbled on a fallen survivor who moaned in pain. He purposed, “I’ll begin where I am and work outward. I will help as many as I can as far as I can go.” (Old article from Our Daily Bread devotional).

We are in the business of building the Kingdom of God which was inaugurated at Christ’s first coming and will be consummated at his second coming. God uses means to do this, so second causes are valid. He has chosen to use us.

Kingdom-Priests and the Ever-Expanding Throne Room of God

I combined the last two images also since Kingdom Intercessors and the extension God’s dominion are related. A pastor writes —

“One of the most common questions that people have in church is, “If God is sovereign, why should we pray?” The idea seems to be that if God is sovereign, knows everything, is all powerful, and is all wise then surely, he doesn’t need our prayers. Although that is a difficult question, I think the more difficult question is, “If God is not sovereign, why should we pray?” If God is not sovereign, then there’s no need for us to pray because we’re praying to a God who is not able to do something about our situation. He is somehow limited in his power, his knowledge, and his ability to actually intervene in time and space and do something.” (see Richard below).

Since we have the Sovereign God at work in our behalf, we cannot fail. I suggested the throne room of God scene ought to evoke thoughts of Lord of Hosts who fights for us and defends us.

A Modern Example of God using Nature to Protect People

Ethioian Lion Symbol

Ethiopian national crest.

When the Ethiopian police found [a kidnapped girl] a week after her abduction, three black-maned lions surrounded her, guarding her as though she were their own. Seven men had kidnapped the twelve-year-old girl, carried her into the woods and beaten her. Miraculously, however, a small pride of lions heard the girl’s cries, came running and chased off the attackers. “[The lions] stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest,” police Sergeant Wondimu told one reporter. (see ODB below).

Our God is still the Lord of Hosts and he guards people! He has established everlasting ties between us and Him. Indeed nothing that happens here can sever us from our  Great King of Glory!

Next time Chapter Six.

Notes

ODB. (2019). Taken from Our Daily Bread Devotional for 4 November 2019. Accessed 16 December 2019 from https://ourdailybread.ca/no-longer-afraid/

Richard, G. (2018). “If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?” Accessed 16 December 2019 from https://rts.edu/resources/if-god-is-sovereign-why-pray/

Storm Warning. (2010). Book by Billy Graham. Accessed 16 December 2019 from https://epdf.pub/storm-warning-deceptive-evil-looms-on-the-horizon.html

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved