B.—EARTH-PICTURE. UNSEALING OF THE SEVEN SEALS. (THE OPENED SEVEN SEALS IN HEAVEN AND THE SEVEN FUNDAMENTAL FORMS OF THE WORLD’S COURSE ON EARTH.)
THE DARK EARTHLY WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF THE HEAVENLY WORLD
1. Predominantly Human History of the World
1And I saw when the Lamb opened one of [from among] the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder [om., as it were the noise of thunder], one of the four beasts [living-beings] saying [ins. as a voice of thunder], Come and see [om. and see].2And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had [having] a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went [came] forth conquering, and to[om. to—ins. that he might] conquer.
3And when he had [om. had] opened the second seal, I heard the second beast 4[living-being] say [saying], Come and see [om. and see]. And there went out [came forth] another horse that was red: and power was given [om. power was given] to him that sat thereon [upon him] [ins. it was given to him] to take peace from the earth, and [ins. in order] that they should [shall] kill [slay] one another: and there was given unto him a great sword [
5And when he had [om. had] opened the third seal, I heard the third beast [living-being] say [saying], Come and see [om. and see]. And I beheld [saw], and lo [behold] a black horse; and he that sat on him had [having] a pair of balances [balance] in his hand. 6And I heard [ins. as it were] a voice in the midst of the four beasts [living-beings] say [saying], A measure [chœnix] of wheat for a penny [denarius], and three measures [chœnixes] of barley for a penny [denarius]; and see thou hurt not [om. see thou hurt not] the oil and the wine [ins. injure thou not].
7And when he had [om. had] opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast [living-being] say [saying], Come and see [om. and see]. 8And I looked [saw], and behold a pale horse: [,] and his name that sat on him was Death [and the one sitting upon him, his name Death], and Hell [Hades] followed [was following] with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword [
], and with hunger, and with death, and with the [ins. wild] beasts of the earth.
2. World-history in its Predominantly Spiritual Aspect, or the Martyr-history of the Kingdom of God as the core of World-history
9And when he had [om. had] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were [have been] slain for [on account of] the word of God, and for 10[on account of] the testimony which they held [had]: and they cried with a loud [great] voice, saying, How long [Until when] O Lord [Ruler], [ins. the] holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11And white robes were [a white robe was] given unto every one of [om. every one of] them [ins. to each]; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for [om. for] a little season [time], until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should [who are about to] be killed as [ins. also] they were, should be fulfilled [fulfill it (the time),—or have been completed (as to number)].
3. The Sixth Seal. An Earthquake as a Presage of the End of the World
12And I beheld [saw] when he had [om. had] opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was [om. lo, there was] a great earthquake [ins. took place]; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the [ins. whole] moon became as blood. 13And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even [om. even] as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is [om. when she is—ins. being] shaken of [by] a mighty 14[great] wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is [om. when it is] rolled together [up]; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15And the kings of the earth, [ins. and the chief captains,] and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains [om. and the chief captains], and the mighty [strong] men, and every bond man, [om.,] and every [om. every] free man, 16om.,] hid themselves in the dens [caves] and in the rocks of the mountains; and said [they say] to the mountains and [ins. to the] rocks, Fall on [upon] us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17For the great day of his [or their] wrath is come; and who shall be [is] able to stand?
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
This second eschatologico-cyclical world-picture is as simple, clear, and intelligible in its fundamental features as the first, the world-picture of the Seven Churches. It seems to be the special prerogative of a chronological Church-historical exegesis to close it up again with seven seals and to involve it in the obscurity of night.
Through the Lamb’s opening of the seals, the darkest book has become most clear—the book of the world’s history, in its enigmatical, fearful and gloomy phenomena. The very fact that the book is sealed is a ray of light for us; the highest hand has shut it up, intending that it shall presently be opened. Another hopeful fact is that the Seals are seven, i. e., the riddle is a holy one, and when it reaches its final term it shall meet with a festal solution. The loosing of the very first seal sheds a joyful light over the whole dark history of the world. The Rider upon the white horse rides at the head of all the others. The mere fact that the train is one of horsemen calms our apprehensions; the horses denote the rapid movement of great phenomena of life or death; no one of these phenomena hangs stationary over the world. They all, in their riders, have their governors. Wild though the course of some may seem on earth, their management, their direction, their career, and their limit are fixed in Heaven. But at the head of all is the Rider on the white horse. He is the Prince; the rest are esquires. Thus, all apparently fatal events must serve His purposes, and those purposes are still redemption and its diffusion through the world—not yet judgment, as at His forthgoing in Rev_19:11. The horse of the first Rider is white; holy and pure as heavenly light is the dynamical fundamental movement which governs all other and more conspicuous movements. The Rider is Christ [see p. 178]; to Him, therefore, to His power, His rule, all subsequent facts are subject; not only the three riders, His servants, but also the facts of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seals, the latter of which embraces all items subsequent to its opening. His bow is the bow with the sure arrows of the word; His wreath or crown is the diadem of His principial victory over all the power of the world and of darkness, and when He, notwithstanding, again goes forth to conquer, it is in order to the necessary development and consummation of His principial conflict and victory in a grand succession of world-historical conflicts and victories. He has no need of many attributes; a leading attribute is this: that the three other riders are not before, but behind Him.
The figures of the following three symbolical riders are, manifestly, so general in their conception, that it seems altogether arbitrary to limit War, Dearth, or the Power of Death, to particular times. Manifestly, we have here before us dark forms that traverse the whole stage of the world’s history. From this running back into pre-Christian times, it results that Christ also, the Rider on the white horse, surmounted all historical bounds in the dynamical operation of His Coming, even in those pre-Christian times. A further sequence is that these powers [War, Dearth, Death] have been possessed of the eschatological bent from the very beginning, and have been gravitating toward the end—the judgment. And how could it be otherwise, when the final judgment must adjust the difference between the doing of wrong and the suffering of it in war; when, further, it must strike the balance between those who have revelled in wine and oil and those who have starved on the scanty measure of wheat and barley in dearth? Death is eschatological from the outset. Still, the complete appearance of Christ at the head of the horses proves that we are dealing pre-eminently with forms of the Christian time, and that, too, as the last time.
The second horse is of the color of blood. His rider is War; War as a totality, in its most fearful form—not merely the war of self-defence, of the vindication of rights, but rather that dark power to which it is granted to take peace from the earth, to set on foot a reciprocal slaughtering on countless battle-fields, and in pride and wantonness to flaunt the great sword, the symbol of all deadly instruments down to the present day. It does not say, to take away peace from time to time, for the intervening times of peace are so problematical, so penetrated with warlike commotions and apprehensions, that perfect peace is in reality taken away until the advent of eternal peace.
The black color of the third horse is that of mourning, here especially of hunger and anxiety; of that scarcity of bread which forms a part of the world’s dark history in all times and places. Pauperism, moreover, is inclined to see and to paint all the circumstances of life black—far blacker, indeed, than they are in reality. Dearth, however, is scarcely half a direct dispensation of God, to be referred purely to the failure of crops; it is no more so to be regarded than war or death is to be classed under the head of purely natural phenomena. Dearth is at least half a result of the social exaggeration of the distinction between the rich and the poor. For the most indispensable necessaries of life, wheat and barley, must pass through the scales of the rider and through a rigorous valuation. According to this valuation, a denarius, the entire day’s wages of a man, suffices only for his own support, if he buy wheat (one chœnix of wheat, the eighth part of a Scheffel or German bushel [nearly a quart, English measure.—E. R. C.], for a denarius); whilst even if he buy barley, there remains but a little, over and above his own allowance, for a very small family (three chœnixes of barley for a denarius). This rigor is all the more noticeable since the means of enjoyment and adornment, oil and wine, principally used by the rich, remain untouched. Certainly then, this human exaggeration of a divinely appointed contrast is an act which will have to be accounted for equally with violent war, and only the subordination of the third horseman to the power of the first makes, primarily, an ideal compensation (“to the poor the gospel is preached”—it is not ordained that apostasy should be preached to them, however), which toward the end becomes real. Comp. Mat_24:7.
In connection with this dispensation of Dearth it is especially remarkable that it is announced by a voice out of the midst of the four beasts [Living-beings]. This, doubtless, denotes that all four beasts [Living-beings] are particularly concerned in it [see p. 179 ]. That which the lion, on the one hand, as the mighty power, institutes, is compensated by the ox, on the other hand—self-sacrificing and devoted love. And the eagle like soarings of the spirit above earthly circumstances, are supplemented by the human figure of humanity.
The fourth horse is of a pale color, light yellow, and its rider, whose name is expressly declared, is Death. The whole kingdom of the dead, Hades itself, is in his train. As he himself is an esquire of Christ, so he also, in accordance with his mighty power, has himself an esquire, namely, Hades. This is expressive of the fact that the power of historical Death, as a consequence of sin, reaches down into the realm of the dead, in its dark compartment; and light is also thereby shed upon the Old Testament doctrine of Sheol. Whilst, in accordance with other passages, the gates of the Kingdom of the Dead open wide and covetously towards the actors upon this stage of life (Mat_16:18), here their effect appears in the midst of the stage of the world itself. Thus much there is no difficulty in understanding, namely, that the human idea of the domain of the dead does preach repentance, on the one hand, but that it also is indirectly productive, on the other hand, of a fatal effect of great power and extent (1Co_15:32; Heb_2:15). If it be true that every epidemic draws countless victims into its whirlpool by the mere workings of sympathetic fear, the like is true of the power of Death as a totality. The exhalation of shadowy, terrific and spectral images rising from Sheol goes like the breath of sickness and death over the earth, carrying contagion with it; and this entirely irrespective of real retro-actions of the other world. The pale, yellow color of the horse (pallida mors) points to the element of fear as well as to the hue of a dead body.
And yet to the united action of Death and Hades, power is given over only the fourth part of the earth. Pure mortality in the abstract almost seems to be distinguished from this doom of death; at least there is also a euthanasia; a blessed dying with Christ and according to Christ.
Four is the number of the world; the fourth part, therefore, we believe to be the specifically worldly part, which is given over to the world [see p. 174], as, on the other hand, the third part (Rev_8:7), as a part bearing the number of spirit, is indicative of spiritual circumstances, of events transpiring in the spirit-world.
The worldly powers of Death are also four in number: the sword, hunger, death, beasts. The import of the sword here manifestly passes beyond that of the great war-sword; it embraces all forms of violent death. Hunger, likewise, as a particular power of death, passes beyond Dearth. And no less does specific Death, in the shape of great pestilences desolating the world (
, Mat_24:7), exceed the ordinary forms of death. Whether rapacious animals, simply, are meant by the beasts of the earth, or whether there is at the same time a reference to those mysterious and hurtful animal powers which are being discovered in these modern times in the form of parasites of all kinds, we do not venture to decide. The point of departure for clearer glimpses was certainly already in existence; together with a knowledge of the noxious herb, men possessed a knowledge of the worm and its destructiveness (Hos_5:12).
Another point which we wish clearly to bring out is this: that the four horsemen are successively announced by one of the four beasts [Living-beings]. The first beast [Living-being] is signalized by its announcement of the First Horseman, Christ, in a voice like thunder. This fact decides the whole sequence. Understanding, as we do, by the four beasts [Living-beings] the four Fundamental Forms of God’s rule over the world, we claim that their task is completed with the presentation of the four more general fundamental forms of worldly history itself as comprised in the four horsemen [see p. 179]. We cannot, therefore, with Schleiermacher, conjecture that the Seer lacked beasts [Living-beings] for the following seals. Manifestly, a turning-point occurs just here; the forms of the cosmical course of the world are succeeded by the forms of cosmical spiritual history.
First comes the history of the Martyrs in its whole extent, though predominantly New Testamental and eschatological. The Seer beholds them as souls under the altar. The world would fain have sacrificed them as curse-offerings to Moloch, as Caiaphas desired to do with the Prince of Martyrs Himself (Joh_11:50); they themselves, however, have with their faithful testimony sacrificed themselves to God. In this generalness, their sacrifice comes under the head of the burnt offering; the altar is the centre of the sacrificial system, as the altar of burnt sacrifices; here, in respect of its ideal import as appearing in the vision, the symbol of all voluntary sacrifice of life under the hand of hostile powers, in faithful testimony to, and confession of, the truth. They appear as souls, for the world has violently deprived them of bodily appearance; it must be evident from their appearance that they have been slain on account of their faithful confession. In their confession they have been faithful at once to the Logos of God and to the subjective witness in their own breasts. And thus they are united, a congregation of souls, belonging to the other world, yet far removed from Sheol, which meanwhile is careering over the earth.
Now though the spirit of the Martyrs is shown in Stephen’s prayer: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” the instinct of justice which lies enwrapped in the suffering of wrong, in shed blood (that of Abel, for instance, Heb_12:24), in the full perception of the terrible calumnies perpetrated on just men, of the darkenings of the truth, of the caricatures of the gospel of love and mercy on the part of persecutors, is not in the slightest degree done away with by this prayer. And in this sense, with the ghostly severity of truth, they cry with a loud voice, saying: Lord, the holy and true. As the Holy One, God owes it to Himself to repay; as the True One, having given them His word as the word of life, He has put Himself under obligations to them to repay. [See foot-note, p. 175 sq.—E. R. C.]
The terms employed have other and primary bearings, however. The Martyrs address God (not Christ; Grot, and others) by the unusual name of
, because they must needs bleed under the sword of earthly despots or tyrants, and in contradistinction to their unholy despotism, exercised under cover of lying and arrogant pretensions, they call Him the holy and true (genuine) Despot.
Thus a mighty pressure and urgency of grief, a cry for heavenly justice, rises ever stronger from the depths of worldly and psychical life up to the Throne of righteousness, though mitigated and pacified by the spirit of the Atonement, the blood that speaketh better things than that of Abel. How long dost Thou not judge? Though God’s judgment goes on incessantly through the depths of life, the great wrong-suffering of the Martyrs requires a restitutory final judgment before the whole world. And in hungering after this justice, the great interval may seem a right long one, a hard trial of patience (
, Luk_18:7) to all human perception. The fact that they anticipate the avenging of their blood as a consequence of the Divine judgment, and hence call upon God as the Avenger of blood, has nothing in common with a malignant and hateful animosity. The avenging of blood is the religious and moral popular fountain of criminal justice; criminal justice, therefore, in its true shape, is the form into which the avenging of blood has ever developed under the influence of civilization. Where criminal justice is so perverted into its opposite, as to appear as a system of judicial murder of the worst kind, in demonic hostility to Divine justice, in the sufferings and executions of the Martyrs, there the cry for God’s avengement of blood as the Divine Fountain of Justice which men have utterly denied, follows almost as a logical consequence.
But why should vengeance for former blood guiltiness be taken upon those “that dwell on the earth?” Those who now, as inhabitants of earth, belong to and are attached to earth, the old blood-stained tragical order of things, are, as accessories in guilt, placed under the consequences and further development of guilt (Mat_23:32 sqq.).
This holy instinct of justice, however, is appeased in a two-fold manner. First, a white robe is given to each one. In the other world, therefore, they are clothed with the adornment of innocence and righteousness. And so bright are these white robes that even in the history of this world they constantly become more distinctly visible, more admired and more honored; think of the white robes of a Justin, a Polycarp, a Huss, a Savonarola, and many thousand other faithful witnesses. Again, the Martyrs are further comforted by the assurance that their period of waiting is nearing its end, while, as a period of waiting, it is itself under a holy decree, in accordance with which the Martyr-history must attain its completion, the number of Martyrs must be filled up. Herein is the indirect announcement that the season of martyrdom is not yet at an end; that martyr sufferings assume diverse forms throughout the ages, yet continue to be even to the end a fundamental condition of the healthful development of the world’s history, as the history of the Kingdom. The great company of their fellow-servants and brethren, the necessity of suffering in this world and of patience in the other, the glorious aim of a suffering together with Christ (Rom_6:4; 2Ti_2:12), elevate them to an exalted standpoint, from which the perspective of the great and glorious retributive judgment momentarily becomes clearer and more complete. So far as His perfect rehabilitation before the world is concerned, even Christ in His glory must wait until His great Epiphany.
In the grandest contrast, the history of the Martyrs is immediately confronted with the beginning catastrophe of the final judgment in the opening of the sixth seal [see p. 179]. It is as certain that a cosmical change is here indicated as it is that such is the case in the Eschatological Discourse of the Lord, Mat_24:29 sqq., though the figures may have their spiritual back-ground as well. With the great earthquake, the first final convulsion of terrestricosmical things is announced. The sun, wrapped in obscurity as in a penitential garment, is the actual sun; the moon, red as blood, is the literal moon; for what we have here is not a predominantly spiritual history, like Rev_8:7 sqq., but the—ghostly, it is true—finale of this world’s history, and to the theatre of this history our sun belongs. As a matter of course, the occurrences in the sun and moon are to be understood phenomenally. Even now there is no man that dies, to whom the sun is not at the last clothed in the garb of mourning, whilst his senses sigh for “more light.” The same remark applies to the falling of the stars from Heaven. Like every genuine catastrophe, this final catastrophe, above all, seems to make its appearance quite abruptly; hence the stars fall from Heaven as the unripe figs of a fig-tree, suddenly shaken by a storm, fall to the earth. The figure recalls that of “the thief in the night,” the “days of Noah,” and “the coming of the flood.” The Holy Scriptures are thoroughly at home in the law of catastrophes. The fall of the stars also can primarily be understood only phenomenally, for there would not be found room on the earth for them all. But a cosmical change in the astral region belonging to the earth is, doubtless, also indicated. Nay, in reference to the condition of this earth, the metamorphosis is as total as if the old Heavens vanished like the contents of a scroll that is rolled together (Isa_34:4); and this on the basis of the earthquake,—in consequence of a crisis in which the entire old form of the solid land, with the mountains, and the entire old form of the sea, with the islands, pass away.
But the spiritual back-ground of the changes set forth in the picture of the convulsed earth and star-world also becomes manifest. This spiritual back-ground consists in a convulsion of the old order of things: in a darkening of the old sun, the time of grace of the economy of salvation; in a transformation of the ancient luminary of night, whose silver radiance filled the night with peace, into a bloody, fiery phenomenon, for a sign that slumber is at an end (Mat_26:45); in a perfect confusion of those earthly relations and spirit-constellations which have hitherto subsisted; and in the wreck of all views of the world conditioned upon the senses. All this is still more prominent in the effects of the great convulsion of things. A general terror at the presages of judgment seizes men of all ranks and conditions. Kings first; they have most to lose. Then princes [great men] and chief captains [principal men of war] are specified in their contrast [civil and military eminence]. Then the rich and the mighty. Finally, together with; the freemen, the slaves. The range of view, therefore, extends far beyond an absolute democracy. In the perspective of the day of wrath, slaves, equally with freemen, appear loaded with guilt and convulsed with apprehension, for it stands to reason that without the servilism of the laity there could be no hierarchs, and without the servilism of political slaves no despots could subsist. When all are said to hide themselves in the clefts and in the rocks of the mountains, we are reminded of the overthrow or removal of the mountains, spoken of before. That, however, all slavish souls would fain find refuge in the ruins of the old order of things; nay, that they would rather share in their destruction than step into the bright presence of the great day, lies in the nature of the grand contrast between their worldly life and the judgment of which they are on the eve. The convulsion described will, however, as a mighty convulsion of souls, be universal (Luk_21:25-26); ay, a holy trembling (as set forth in the Dies Iræ), shall pass over even the servants of God, for whom the day of judgment is the day of final redemption (Luk_21:28). Hence the appeal of the unprepared to the mountains and rocks: Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. The economies of the Godhead seem to have changed, in accordance with the great change of the times. The face of God the Father, the perfect light of His revelation, acts like a judgment of the Spirit, similarly to the face of Christ in His earthly pilgrimage. The wrath of the just and righteous God is now committed to the Lamb, i. e., He is to execute the actual judgment of separation. It is a judgment under the sign of wrath, because it comes as the final decision, after the days of forbearance and long-suffering (Rom_2:5), upon an infinite accumulation of guilt. Wrath, as the synthesis of love and righteousness—the latter having the leadership—is manifested in positive inflictions of death (Exo_4:14; Exo_4:24; Psa_90:6). With the wrath of the Lamb, the danger of the second death is revealed (Mat_25:41). For the great day of His wrath is come (see Zephaniah), and who is able to stand? Here we perceive the tone of worldly mindedness, which sees only wrath in judgment, not judgment in wrath. The day of wrath is characterized as a super-human death-doom. Of a distinction between the blessed and the damned, these exclamations know nothing. For the fact that the words that we are examining have a bearing not upon the dogmatical deliverances of Augustinian theologians, nor upon the terrors of conscience with which all human spirits may be smitten at the dawning of the great day, but upon the outbreaks of a mere slavish anguish of men of the world—an anguish that knows of no blessed existences—is evident from the expressions of despair which precede the final saying. It is the worldliness of the old world in its death-thought.
[Abstracts of Views of Leading Modern English and American Commentators. By the Am. Ed.—It was pertinently remarked by Barnes at the beginning of his comments on this chapter: “It is at this point that interpreters begin to differ, … here commences the divergence towards those various, discordant, and many of them wild and fantastic theories, which have been proposed in the exposition of this wonderful Book.” The Am. Ed. deems it expedient at this point to introduce abstracts of some of the views which have been put forth by leading English and American divines in recent times. His own view will be presented in an Additional Note at the close of the Explanations in Detail, on p. 178. sq.
Elliott.—This author is the most distinguished (English) advocate of what Lange styles the Chronological Church-historical school of interpreters. He has favored the Church with four large volumes on the interpretation of the Apocalypse, replete with extended, rich and varied learning on the subject of which it treats. (Horæ Apocalypticæ, 5th Ed., London, 1862.) One of the chief excellencies of his work, is his constant citation of the infidel historian Gibbon, thus striving to elucidate prophecy, by a historical record prepared by an opponent of the truth of the inspiration of Scripture. He identifies the Horses of the first four seals with the Roman Empire, under different appearances in different times, and the Riders with the Emperors of those times. He regards the period of the first six seals as extending from the date of the Apocalypse (which he fixes at a. d. 95 or 96) to a. d. 395, the year in which Augustine was elevated to the See of Hippo. The character of this period he describes as from the stand-point of the Seer: “The coming temporary prosperity and the decline and fall of the Empire of heathen Rome.” He divides the period as follows: First Seal: From the accession of Nerva to the incipient deterioration of the government under Commodus (a. d. 96–183). Second Seal: From the close of the preceding to the accession of Diocletian (a. d. 183–284). Third Seal: The time of distress from excessive taxation following the Edict of Caracalla. (This æra overlaps the preceding, as Caracalla was assassinated a. d. 217; Elliott assigns no date of its close.) Fourth Seal: The period of fearful mortality from War, Famine, Pestilence, and Wild Beasts (a. d. 248–268). Fifth Seal: The “Æra of Martyrs,”—the Diocletian persecutions (a. d. 303–312). Sixth seal: (Part I.; Rev_6:12-17).—The politico-religious revolution of the time of Constantine, which involved the destruction of the political supremacy of heathenism (a. d. 323); (Part II.; Revelation 7).—The æra of general religious deadness, and special religious life (that of the 144,000 sealed ones), extending from the time of Constantine to that of Augustine.
Barnes, the distinguished American commentator, is mentioned in connection with Elliott, from the fact that he agrees with him in his general principles of interpretation. The scheme he adopts is precisely similar to that of Elliott, so far as the first five seals are concerned. In reference to the Sixth, however, he presents the following as descriptive of its events. “It is, in one word, the impending judgments from the invasions of the Northern hordes of Goths and Vandals threatening the breaking up of the Roman Empire; … the tempest of wrath that was, as it were, suspended yet on the frontiers, until the events recorded in the next chapter (7) should occur, then bursting forth in wrath in successive blasts, as denoted by the first four trumpets of the seventh seal (Revelation 8.), when the Empire was entirely overthrown by the Goths and Vandals. The precise point of time which, I suppose, this seal occupies, is that succeeding the last persecution.”
Moses Stuart, the eminent Professor in the Theological Seminary at Andover, held, as is well known, the view that the Apocalypse was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the prophecies of the greater portion thereof (to the close of Revelation 19) had special and immediate reference to the period closing with that event. He entitles his special Introduction to chapters 6–11. (Vol. I., 138 sqq.) “First Catastrophe, or Overthrow of the Jewish Persecuting Power;” declaring therein, “Nothing, in my apprehension, can be further from a correct mode of interpretation than a mere historical and literal application of any of the symbolic part of the Apocalypse. The prophetic portion is all symbolical picture; but not such a picture as to constitute a regular history of wars and calamities. In its very nature, most of it is generic, and not individual and specific.” He continues, in reference to the Seals (p. 151), “The first four seals indicate the assembling and preparing of an awful array commissioned against the enemies of the Church. … A mighty conqueror bedecked with the emblems of victory leads on the hosts of destruction. These hosts, armed with deadly weapons, follow him. Then, in the train comes famine, commissioned against the enemy, and, in the rear of famine, march Death and Hades, the allied tyrants of the under world; while the ravenous beasts of the earth, waiting to devour the corpses of the slain, close the terrific procession.” Concerning the Fifth Seal he continues (p. 159), “The awful array, symbols of the work of destruction about to be accomplished, have been summoned, have taken their places, and formed the ranks of the army. Before marching into the battle their ardor is now to be excited. In accordance with the design of rousing up powerful sympathies on such an occasion, the persecuted and slaughtered Martyrs are presented, lying covered with blood at the foot of the altar where they have been sacrificed, and crying aloud to the God of Justice to take cognizance of their wrongs and vindicate their cause.” And, again (p. 163), “On the opening of the sixth seal, the sun and moon are darkened; the stars fall from heaven; the heavens themselves are rolled away with a mighty wind; and all the people of the land to be smitten are filled with terror and amazement, and fly to the rocks and mountains for refuge from the dreaded invasion which is about to be made.” He explains the celestial phenomena foretold as portending, according to the ideas of those addressed, merely “calamitous events.”
Wordsworth regards the Seals as representing “a prophetic view of the history of the Christian Church, from the first Advent of Christ to the end of the world;” not however in successive eras, the one closing as the other begins. The Rider on the white horse he identifies with Christ, and He “is followed in the second, third, and fourth seals by another (hostile) Power, riding on three horses in succession.” This Power is Death (Satan), who, in the second seal makes an assault by persecution; in the third, by heresy, producing spiritual famine; in the fourth, by various workings: (1) barbarian incursions (
, the barbarian sword), (2)heresies and schisms producing spiritual famine and death (
), (3) heathen Rome, Papal Rome, the Romish hierarchy—
ôὰ èçñßá ôῆò ãῆò
. The opening of the fifth seal unveils the condition of the faithful departed, in the intermediate state, in Paradise. “The sixth seal reveals the crisis of greatest suffering for the Church; it is the Friday of her Passion Week. But it is also the eve of the Sabbath of her rest.”
Alford regards the openings of these seals as corresponding “to the various arrangements of God’s Providence, by which the way is prepared for the final opening of the closed book of His purposes to His glorified Church.” He classes together the first four, viewing “these four visions as the four solemn preparations for the Coming of the Lord, as regards the visible Creation, which the four Living-beings symbolize.” In his own language, “The whole Creation demands His coming.
is the cry of all its tribes. This cry is answered first by the vision of the great Conqueror (not Christ Himself, but only a symbol of His victorious power) Whose arrows are in the hearts of His enemies, and Whose career is the world’s history. The breaking of this first seal is the great opening of the mystery of God. This, in some sense, includes and brings in the others. The others … hold a place subordinate to this. They are, in fact, but exponents of the mysteries enwrapt within this conquering career: visions of the method of its being carried out to the end in its operations on the outward world.” The Second Seal he regards as representing “the reign of the sword (War) as one of the destined concomitants of the growing and conquering power of Christ, and one of the world-long and worldwide preparations for His Coming.” The third, as Famine, limited, however, “in his desolating action, by the command given, that enough is to be reserved for sustenance,” i. e., (as Lange) Dearth. The fourth, as destroying influences,—sword, famine, pestilence, wild beasts. These seals he believes “to be contemporaneous, and each of them to extend through the whole lifetime of the Church,” although he admits “that they may receive continually recurring, or even ultimate fulfillments, as the ages of the world go on, in distinct periods of time, and by distinctly assignable events.” The opening of the fifth seal brings to view the souls of the martyred saints, and the cry for the Coming of the Lord is now from them. The opening of the Sixth Seal he regards as intimating “(Rev_6:12-17) Immediate approach of the great day of the Lord, Mat_24:29, (7:1–8); gathering of the elect out of the four winds, Mat_24:31, (7:9–17); vision of the whole glorified Church, Matthew 25.”
Lord (An Exposition of the Apocalypse, New York, 1847) identifies the Riders with different classes of Ministers: I. “The pure teachers of Christianity at large.” II. “Diocesan Bishops,” by whom, as he alleges, there was “a usurpation of powers which Christ has not authorized, an interception thereby of religious peace from the earth, and, finally, a compulsion of men to apostasy, in order to confirm and perpetuate that usurpation.” III. Philosophic, mystic, and ritualistic teachers, who “reduced the Church to a destitution of the means of spiritual life, analogous to the dearth of bread produced by oppressive exactions in the Empire.” IV. “Metropolitans, Archbishops, and other superior prelates of the fourth and subsequent ages, and especially the Patriarchs of the Greek and the Popes of the Latin Church. … It wag at this period, and under the promptings and guidance of those great Prelates, that the Church first formally apostatized from the faith and worship enjoined in the Gospel, and embraced a false religion.” Hence followed, he contends, spiritual pestilence and death. In respect of the other seals: he regards the V. As a Heaven scene, symbolizing the appearance of the martyrs in the presence of God, and their reception by Him. “It contains no note either of the commencement or close of the period to which it belongs. The whole representation, however, indicates that it is late in the reign of Antichrist. … Its period is doubtless during the ravages of the fourth horseman,” etc. He represents as follows the VI.: “The events denoted by the symbol are such as must naturally occupy a long period. A political convulsion subverting one form of government and instituting another is itself the work of years. The change of the sun to black, and the moon to blood, denote, not their extinction and disappearance, but their conversion from an agreeable and salutary to a dreaded and disastrous agency; and the change of the new rulers, which it denotes, from justice to oppression, and exercise of a tyrannical sway, requires quite a considerable period. It is subsequently that the fall of the stars takes place, by which their dejection from their stations is symbolized. And the final disappearance of the heavens, the removal of the mountains and islands, and the promiscuous flight of rulers and subjects from the presence of the Lamb, are to follow at a still later period. The first three of these great events have undoubtedly already taken place” (the French revolution, the conversion of the Republic into despotism, the overthrow of that despotism). Then a period, during which the sealing of Revelation 7 takes place; then “the annihilation of the civil governments, the Advent of the Son of God, and a resurrection of the saints.”—E. R. C.]
EXPLANATIONS IN DETAIL
VISION OF THE FIRST SEAL
Rev_6:1. The literal system is at much trouble to settle upon an adequate conception of the opening of the single Seals and the succession of the single visions. The individual leaves of the book are, manifestly, books in themselves; and the individual books open not into leaves with dead figures, but into living pictures. Each new leaf is a new world-scene, illuminated by a light from the open Heaven. Heinrich’s idea, according to which the six pictures are found upon the unsealed sides of the book, see in Düsterdieck. According to Düsterdieck, the opening of each separate Seal denotes a separate vision; this view is in opposition to the vital connection of the different items. According to Bengel, the two groups of four and three are so divided that the first four refer to visible things, and the last three to invisible things. On Alcasar’s wonderful allegory, see Düsterdieck. There is no reason for referring the four beasts [Living-beings] or Life-forms by name to the four Seals. The general relation between the Life-forms and the Seal-pictures is expressed, not thus: the creation, on the one hand, and the Seal-visions on the other; but thus: the Fundamental Forms of the Divine governance, on the one hand, and on the other, the fundamental forms of worldly history. From
êáὶ åἶäïí ὅôå
, Düsterdieck draws the inference that the opening of the Seals was not itself the subject of vision. It is merely necessary, however, to distinguish between the emphasis falling upon the new and leading fact, the forth-coming figure, and that which after the foregoing narrative is more a matter of course, viz.: the acts of opening. Düsterdieck likewise maintains that the hearing of the voice forms no part of the
. In regard to this, we would remark that the visions in general branch into voices and visible appearances. According to this, the
of Rev_6:1 will be universal, branching subsequently into a manifestation for the ear, Rev_6:1, and one for the eye, Rev_6:2 (
). According to Düsterdieck, the thunder-tone of the voice is to be taken for granted in the case of all four voices after its mention in connection with the first voice; Hengstenberg, on the other hand, justly insists upon the peculiar significance of the first voice.
Düsterdieck cannot positively deny that the formula come and see is not only rabbinic but also specifically Johannean. His declaration that John’s nearer approach is required is void of meaning, since a visional appearance is referred to. For the reasons here intimated, we regard the reading which omits the see as an improper correction.
[The weight of evidence of the Codd. is about equally divided as to the reading (see Textual and Grammatical). Unless, therefore, some new uncial MS. be discovered, having special claims to confidence, we must form our conclusions as to the genuine text from collateral considerations. The fact that “Come and see” is more Johannean than the simple “Come” (if it be a fact), has no bearing on the question at issue, which is, What did John hear? and not, How was John in the habit of expressing himself? If it has any weight, it is rather in support of the hypothesis of interpolation, since a copyist would be more likely to insert a word, that he might bring a sentence into accordance with the style of his author, than to omit a word when the omission would involve a departure from that style.
[If the address of the Living-beings was to the Seer, nothing can be gathered as to its form, since, manifestly, it might have been either Come and see, or the abbreviated Come; if, however, it was to the Symbols, or to Christ, then it must have been simply Come. That it was not to John, Alford thus argues: “Whither was he to come? Separated as he was by the glassy sea from the Throne, was he to cross it? And where shall we find the simple verb
used absolutely in such a sense, ‘Draw near,’ without
or some such particle? Compare also the place where the Seer is to go and take the little book (Rev_10:8), and see how different is the whole form of expression.” To this it may be added, Was not the Seer already at the point of vision? Why then was he called to draw nearer? Why the repeated call? Are we to suppose that he went back to his former position after the breaking of each Seal? Why the voice of thunder?
The view of Alford, however, as to the object of the call is liable to serious objections. He writes: “In interpreting so unusual a term of address, surely we should begin by inquiring whether we have not the key to it in the Book itself. And in this inquiry, are we justified in leaving out of consideration such a verse as Rev_22:17,
ôὸ Ðíåῦìá êáὶ ἡ íýìöç ëÝãïõóéí Ἔñ÷ïõ ê
., and the following
, ib.Rev_22:20? This seems to show, in my mind, beyond a doubt, what, in the mind of the Seer, the remarkable and insulated exclamation
imported. It was a cry addressed, not to himself, but to the Lord Jesus; and as each of these four first Seals is accompanied by a similar cry from one of the four living beings, I see represented in this four-fold
the groaning and travailing together of creation for the manifestation of the sons of God, expressed in each case in a prayer for Christ’s coming.” This view, it must be admitted, is beautifully consistent with Alford’s hypothesis, that the
symbolize the different classes of animated beings, and could it be sustained by independent considerations (indeed, were it consistent with other considerations), would give great support to that hypothesis. The objections to it are: 1. In that it lacks any express reference to Jesus, it is altogether unexampled and unnatural as an address to Him. 2. The comparison of Rev_22:17 with Rev_22:20, does not in the least support it; the call of Rev_22:17 is manifestly to the water of life mentioned in the last clause; and Rev_22:17; Rev_22:20 belong to entirely distinct divisions of the Book, the object of the
of the latter being fixed by the immediately preceding
Íáὶ ἔñ÷ïìáé ôá÷ý
(see in loc.). 3. A voice of thunder is a voice of command, and not of prayer. Far better does it seem to the Am. Ed. to regard these voices as commands issuing from the ministers of God in nature (or, on the hypothesis of Lange as to the nature of the
, from the Forms of God’s Governance in nature). This view, of course, involves a special hypothesis as to the meaning of the four Riders, for which see Additional Note on p. 178 sq.—E. R. C.]
Rev_6:2. And I saw, and behold, a white horse.—“The horses of the heroes of Roman triumphs were white” (Düsterdieck, p. 253). The single triumph of Christ, as set forth here, has in Rev_19:14 extended through the Church Triumphant; it appears as an array of victorious hosts on white horses.
The horses [of the Seals] may not be specially identical with those of Zec_1:8; yet they are in general related to them, as Divine sendings which proceed over the earth (Zec_1:10). The chariots (Zec_6:1 sqq.) seem to denote the same sendings in involved forms of destiny.
The Rider is here characterized by the bow—not the sword. This distinction, according to Düsterdieck, has no symbolical significance. Such an inference, however, should not be drawn from the abortive interpretations offered, as especially the absurd one of Wetstein, who makes the bow indicative of a Parthian king. Doubtless the bow’s property of being effective at a distance (as is the case in modern times with fire-arms of every description) is the true ground-idea of the picture. Düsterdieck’s remark, that possibly the arrows spoken of in Psa_45:6 were present to the mind of the Seer, excuses the interpretation of Vitringa and others, according to whom the arrows that have to be supplied denote Christ’s numerous Apostles and Evangelists. Here, however, the unity of the Rider and the unity of His bow are the main thing; and inasmuch as arrows are to be taken for granted as accompanying the bow, we are to understand them as signifying, not persons, but the lightning-like spiritual operations issuing from Christ Himself, and traversing the whole earth (Zec_9:14). Thus the weapons which Satan employs are fiery darts, Eph_6:16.
In opposition to Züllig and Hengstenberg, Düsterdieck maintains that
here (as 1Co_9:25) denotes only the wreath of a warrior—not the crown of a king. But there is a peculiar meaning in the wreath which adorns the brow of Him who is described as victorious over the whole earth. And though a wreath might be given to the Warrior in advance, as a promise of victory, as Düsterdieck maintains, the white horse would scarcely be given Him in advance also. That He, therefore, “already goes forth as a
,” does not mean simply that His purpose
will assuredly be attained; it denotes, rather, that He is the Victor absolutely, that He has conquered and will conquer. The principial victory of Christ through His death and resurrection, and the development of that victory into universal victory, could not be more pertinently represented. Düsterdieck himself comes to a similar conclusion a little further on.
The upholders of the Church-historical and world-historical interpretation necessarily make a special chapter out of the first Rider.
Ebrard: “We pass over those purely allegoristic interpretations according to which this rider is Caligula or Trajan (Bengel and others; consult, however, Düsterdieck’s note on this, p. 255), or war (Herder, De Wette), or the victory of evangelical preaching (Cyr. and others), or the word concerning Christ (Hofm.), or the fall (Berengaud.), and more of the same sort.”
De Wette, without any foundation, even contrasts the mounted figure of Christ in Rev_19:11 with the horseman in this passage.
Hengstenberg recognizes the figure as that of Christ. But what a Christ! Here also He goes forth only to execute judgment upon a godless world. Judgment and ever judgment! Here Christ rides forth for the development of the triumphs of salvation. In Revelation 19. He goes forth in order to the triumph of judgment. Ebrard also remarks here: Christ is a warrior on horseback in reference to the hostile world. According to Ebrard, John has a view of earth from his station in Heaven, having been previously transported to Heaven. But the book of destiny with its earth-pictures is opened in Heaven.
VISION OF THE SECOND SEAL
Come [Lange: and see]. From this it appears, it is claimed, that after the disappearance of the first Rider, John drew back and resumed his original place (Düsterdieck). According to Ebrard, he retired from the book during the interim. And this proceeding must necessarily be repeated yet two more times. Then, however, according to this literal apprehension of the passage, in which it is forgotten that we are in the midst of the whole vision, John would remain standing before the book after the opening of the fourth and fifth Seals. Neither can we regard the second figure as the form of “personified bloodshed” [Düsterdieck]. There are yet other forms of bloodshed (see Rev_6:8); here its warlike form is intended. Concerning the bloody hue itself there can be no doubt (2Ki_3:22).
Special references: To the Jewish war (Grotius, Wetstein, Herder, etc.); to the persecutions of the Christians (De Lyra and others); to Antichristianity, its rider being the Devil (Calov.); to the Roman empire (Vitringa); or the world-powers (Stern). The figure is correctly apprehended as general by some others (Hengstenb., Ebrard, Düsterd.).
VISION OF THE THIRD SEAL
The black color of the third horse does not, according to Düsterdieck, indicate the mourning occasioned by the dearth, but trouble and vexation in general. It is not to be expected, however, that among colors of specific meaning, white, red, and pale-yellow, we should find one so general in its import, embracing all troubles. In Job_30:30 the blackness of the skin is connected with the drying up of the bones. The following passage in Lamentations, however, Rev_4:8-9, is particularly significant: “But now their visage is dark with blackness [A. V.: blacker than a coal; marg. read.: darker than blackness], so that they are not known in the streets; their skin cleaveth to their bones, and they are as dry as a stick. It fared better with those that were slain by the sword than with those whom hunger slew, etc.” Nothing can be plainer than that the black color spoken of in the third Seal-vision is likewise that of hunger. [“The color is indicative of the mournful nature of the employment of the rider.” Alford.—E. R. C.]
Rev_6:5. A balance.—Hengstenberg: “The balance comes into consideration merely as a symbol of dearth or scarcity. For according to the subsequent verse the fruits of the earth are not weighed out, but measured.” Where there is a superabundance, there is no counting and measuring, Gen_41:49; but where a thing is weighed out, there is none too much of it. Fundamental passages are Eze_4:10 : “And thy food which thou shalt eat (shall be) by weight, twenty shekels a day;” and Rev_6:16 : “Moreover, He said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; and they shall eat bread by weight and with care.” These passages rest upon Lev_26:26. [So also Elliott, Alford, etc. The last-named continues: “Some, as, e. g., Woodhouse, have defended the meaning ‘yoke’ for
. But surely the question is here decided for us by Eze_45:10 [LXX.]:
., where the same words occur in juxtaposition. The assertion of Mr. Barker, in his strictures on Elliott’s Hor. Ap., that
in the sense of balance absolutely is very rare, is sufficiently answered by the proverb
, by Diog. Laert. viii. 18. … Where a word can thus be used figuratively, in common sayings, its literal sense cannot be so very rare.”—E. R. C.]
Rev_6:6. And I heard as it were a voice.—[See Text. Notes]. Gloomy cry, gloomy dispensation! It resounds in the midst of the four Life-forms. That is, all four participate in it. [This is not, by any means, a necessary conclusion; the voice more probably proceeded from one, but which one is not specified.—E. R. C.] It is not, however (as Hengstenberg maintains), a piece of intelligence which concerns the representatives of the living beings on earth (in which category Hengstenberg places the Cherubim).
“The first half of the cry,” says Düsterdieck, “sounds as when something is offered for sale” (Winer). But during a scarcity, produce is not cried for sale. On the other hand, a dearth is limited by a taxation of bread. The taxation here indicated issues from the midst of the four Living-forms.
Hengstenberg: “A measure, chœnix, of wheat is designated by Suidas as the daily maintenance of a man (
). A denarius was the usual day’s wages of a man, according to Mat_20:2.” The dearth fixed by this taxation is certainly no famine as yet; moreover, as a permanent and universal suffering is denoted, the figure of famine would be an exaggeration. Hengstenberg thinks that “if a man should eat barley bread, the usual food of the common people (comp. Joh_6:9; Joh_6:13), which is three times as cheap as wheat bread, he and his family might make shift to live.” Possibly they might, if the family was a very small one. [So also Elliott, Alford, Barnes, etc.—E. R. C.]
An unmeaning remark is that of Bengel, who observes that barley and wheat (see on the contrary, Exo_9:31-32) ripen earlier than oil and wine. Hence there would be only a moderate dearth, because the later productions would succeed better. Still less should the contrast be obliterated by the declaration that the greatest economy should be observed in regard to oil and wine likewise (Rinck). The most utter misinterpretation is found in Ewald’s assumption that the oil and wine remained uninjured in a sort of mockery. Though oil and wine are not, in the strictest sense, articles of sustenance, they are—even in the East, where they are more common—articles of luxury and enjoyment, and the oppressiveness of the contrast lies in the fact that the rich, who can also easily pay for the dear wheat, have their special luxuries at a proportionably cheap rate. Similar contrasts run through social life down to the present day.
SPECIAL DOCTRINO-ETHICAL AND HOMILETICAL NOTES (ADDENDUM)
Earth-picture of the Seven Seals. Their opening. (Ch. 6)
General.—The course of the world in its totality—considered with reference to its predominantly external and predominantly internal phases. Sublime picture of the Four Riders. The cry, as with a voice of thunder, Come and see! Come and see that Christ, upon the white horse, precedes the three dark riders, that He has dominion over them, and that He has brought them into His service, into the service of His Kingdom. Come and see: the bright fundamental thought of world-history, so dark in respect of its predominant visible aspect. The four Horses, or world-history a course, in eternal onward motion. Each horse has its rider, i. e., its idea; its conduct and tendency, regulated by that idea; its goal and purpose. The main tendency of all, however, is regulated and defined by the tendency of Christ. The group of four Riders may be classified under two heads, viz., Christ or personal Victory, contrasted with impersonal War, the desolator of personal life. For as Christ constitutes the three dark Riders His followers and presses them into His service, so the second Rider may regard the third and fourth as his esquires, War being attended by Dearth, in the first place, and secondly by Pestilence.
1. History of the world in its predominantly human aspect. First Seal. Christ, as the Logos, also the dynamic Force, the fundamental and leading Power of worldly history—a Power victorious in holy suffering. The great Victor in all the wars of worldly history—(1) He has conquered, (2) He is conquering, (3) He will conquer.—Second Seal. War. Its dark side or abnormity. Its light side in the train of Christ. Comp. the author’s pamphlet: Vom Krieg und vom Sieg.—Third Seal. Dearth. Terrestrial sufferings. Social sufferings. Wealth and poverty. Usury and pauperism. Care of the poor. Socialistic projects. Infinite increase of pauperism through the luxury of those that are at ease; infinite decrease of it through the plainness and simplicity of Christian sentiment and classical culture.—Fourth Seal. Death. Circumstances of mortality. Pestilences. Poisons. Wild beasts. Suicides. Lust and cruelty in their reciprocal action. Death of children. Offerings to Moloch. Macrobiotic counter-agencies.—2. History of the world in its predominantly spiritual aspect. Fifth Seal. The Martyr-history of the Kingdom, as the kernel of the history of the world: the suffering Christ. The martyrs, beginning with Abel. In respect of human wickedness, slain on the field of the curse, without the sacred camp, on the Place of a Skull; in respect of the Divine counsel, sacrificed on God’s altar, buried beneath the altar. Connection of all martyr-sufferings with the holy sacrifice and expiatory sufferings of Christ in the centre. All martyr-sufferings for the sake of God’s Word (or for the sake of truth, in the heathen world), cleansed from sin, purified and perfected through the sufferings of Christ. The blood of the heavenly-minded, shed by the earthly-minded, animated by the spirit of intercession, and yet a real historic impulse after justice, demanding recompense. Old Testament martyrologies (Matthew 23). Apostolic martyrologies. Old-Catholic martyrologies. Mediæval Protestant martyrologies. Evangelic martyrologies. The grand history of spiritual martyrdoms. Even John and all like-minded with him, though they died a natural death, are true martyrs. True martyrdom, faithfulness in confession, enduring unto death. Witness as confession. There are none save persecuted confessions—no persecuting ones. Christianity itself a confession. Consolation concerning all martyr suffering, and pacification of all martyrs. Pacification in view of the whole matter: a. The great company of sufferers; b. The Divine counsel concerning the completion of their number; c. Rest in patience and in the hope of perfect retribution; d. The white robes beyond this life, glistening ever clearer in historic lustre even in this present world. The memory of martyrs is revived even through the canonization of their murderers. The terrors of the Inquisition are, from the fact of their becoming more and more an object of detestation to mankind, also a precursory rehabilitation of the slain.—Sixth Seal. The triumphant Christ. Symbolic presages of the Coming of Christ, spiritual and cosmical: the great earthquake. Darkening of the sun and moon (Matthew 24). The sun of the spiritual life veils itself in black; the moon of the natural life becomes as red as blood. The stars of Heaven fall, i. e., our old cosmical system is dissolved. The old Heaven and the old earth-phase (mountains, islands) vanish in the process of metamorphosis. Dissolution of the old social order of things: the kings, etc., are afraid (Rev_6:15). The Coming of the Lord to judgment; a coming to the terror of all the earthly-minded (Rev_6:16). The great Day of Wrath (see Zeph.). Its convulsing effect. The great Day of Wrath also, however, the great Day of final Redemption. The Seventh Seal, yet to be opened, the envelope of all those Trumpets calling to conflict and repentance which, as judgments of God, complement and transrupt the course of the world.
Special.—[Rev_6:2.] Attributes of the First Rider, or the individual traits in His appearance.—[Rev_6:4.] Symbolic traits of the Second Rider; [Rev_6:5] of the third; [Rev_6:8] the fourth.—[Rev_6:4]. War as a Divine ordinance; to him it was given to take peace from the earth. To him a great sword was given.—[Rev_6:5.] Famine or Dearth on earth, a distressful state with which the celestial ones are acquainted (Rev_6:6), which they modify, limit, and direct.—[Rev_6:8.] Death as a judgment; as a judgment transformed into a blessing. The Death of Christ, the death of Death.—Hades also in the service of Christ.—[Rev_6:9-11.] The souls of the martyrs: they are all in existence still, and visible to the eye of the Seer.—How their faithfulness to the Word of God and their witness of Jesus were imputed to them as a crime.—Their common character.—As the avengement of blood contains a germ of righteous retribution, so the judgment of God is a great and holy analogue of unholy avengement of blood.—White robes: a favorite image of John; a favorite adornment of the Church.—Wait a little while. Sadness and peace in the consolatory assurance that the sufferers for Christ’s sake constitute a great company.—The anxious question of the weak human heart as to how God the All-Ruler, in His holiness which hates evil and in His truth whereby He is the Covenant-God of the pious, can suffer His children, servants, and witnesses to be slain by His enemies—suffer them to be slain for His name’s sake, and even make them wait so long for His retribution.—The heavenly answer to this question.—[Rev_6:17.] The Day of Wrath, in relation to its appearances in the Scriptures (or as predicted) and in the history of the world (or as presaged).—The Day of Wrath in its effects.
Starke: The Rider on the white horse is Christ; this is clearly manifest from Rev_19:11-16. A white horse was held in particular esteem by the heathen; when the kings of Persia wished to sacrifice to the sun, they offered up a white horse to that luminary. It gave prestige to generals to ride before their armies on white horses; victors used white horses in celebrating their triumphs, and the Romans had their triumphal chariots drawn by white horses.—Red is a sign of war; hence the Persians and Lacedemonians wore red garments when they went to war.—The color of the horse in Rev_6:5 is indicative of hunger, which makes people look black and parched (Lam_4:2; Lam_4:7-8).—A balance in his hand. Such as spices were weighed with. Indicative of want is the fact that provisions are not measured, as usual, by the bushel, but weighed by the scale (Lev_26:26); not the greatest want and famine are indicated, however, for where it is necessary to weigh out grain, there is, indeed, scarcity, but not yet famine.—
, pale, sallow, betokens the pale yellow hue of dry and withering herbs and leaves of trees; thus Constantius was called Chlorus, on account of his paleness. Because Death is commonly called pale, and makes men of a clayey hue, yea, turns them to clay, this figure of a pale horse is most appropriate.—On the Fifth Seal. Quesnel: The saints pray for the second Coming of Christ just as patriarchs and righteous men of old sighed for His first Coming (Psa_14:7; Luk_10:24).—The expressions relative to the occurrences under this Sixth Seal are taken from Isa_2:19-21; Isa_13:9-10; Isa_24:23; Isa_34:2; Isa_34:4; Eze_32:7-8; Joe_3:15-16; Mat_24:29; Luk_21:25.
The exposition of the Seals is placed by Starke on the Church-historical platform, and the alternative is discussed as to whether the first five Seals are already fulfilled, or whether the fulfillment of all the Seals is still future. Starke gives the grounds for (and therefore, relatively against) each hypothesis.
Graeber, Versuch einer historischen Erklärung, etc. (see p. 73): First Seal. A white, shining horse, and he that sat upon it had a bow, and there was given unto him a crown [Kranz=wreath], and he went forth conquering, and that he might (or should) conquer. This first image exhibits to our view not a pagan, but a Christian Victory—to this effect is the superscription which we must give to this picture. The Rider is himself first described, and then his work is set forth. His work is victory. He went forth conquering and to conquer, i.e., he went from one victory to another. His victory was a triumphal procession through the world. How sublime and how comfortable is it that the first thing revealed to us concerning the government and dominion of Christ on earth, is His victory. His first procedure is victory, and He goes from one victory to another, and ends with victory! According to this, all that He does is victory. He cannot do otherwise than triumph. Fortune changes not under His government, as it does in the wars of earthly kings, nor are His victories purchased at great expense, like those of earthly sovereigns, but He conquers always—absolutely. Whoso in these wars will not suffer himself to be gained over to Christ’s side as His friend, is judged as His foe. Every one is conquered—these to enjoy everlasting felicity, those to suffer the penalty of eternal damnation.—The bow (Psa_7:12-13). He is armed, not with the sword, but with the bow, because the short sword puts the combatant in great danger of being wounded himself, whilst the bow, on the other hand, strikes from afar. (What relation does the “sword in His mouth” bear to the “bow in His hand ?” The sword is, assuredly, His word; the bow, doubtless, is the operation of His Spirit, in its awakening as well as its judging power.)
Pollock, [The Course of Time]. Der Lauf der Zeit, ein Gedicht in zehn Gesängen, übersetzt von Hey. Hamburg, Perthes, 1830. On the Sixth Seal. An attempt to depict the cosmical crisis. [”Meantime the earth gave symptoms of her end; and all the scenery above proclaimed that the great last catastrophe was near. The sun at rising staggered and fell back, etc.”] (The idea that in decaying cosmical nature extremes constantly become more sharply prominent, is suggested, but not worked out with sufficient clearness. According to Scripture, moreover, the cosmical convulsion is first perceptible in earthly life.)
Van Oosterzee, De Oorlogsbode (the messenger of war): Tijdpreek in Augustus 1870, ’s Gravenhage. On Rev_6:1-8. The theme: De Oorlog en zijne ellenden, beschouwd in het licht der christelijke Heilsopenbaring. “Op de tweede vraag, wie hem beschikt, dezen rustverstoorder, antwoordt onze tekst veelbeteekenend, dat hem deze macht is gegeven.
On the seven Seals, and particularly the four Riders, there is a variety of special literature. See Lilienthal, Archivarius, p. 822. See Introduction, p. 74.—L. Hofacker, Ueber das weisse Pferd, etc. Tubingen, 1830.—Cunningham, Dissertation on the Seals, etc. London.
[From M. Henry: Rev_6:16. The wrath of the Lamb. Though Christ be a Lamb, yet He can be angry, even to wrath, and the wrath of the Lamb is exceeding dreadful; for if the Redeemer, that appeases the wrath of God, Himself be our wrathful enemy, (“through our rejection of His atonement,”) where shall we have a friend to plead for us? They perish without remedy, who perish by the wrath of the Redeemer.
Rev_6:17. As men have their day of opportunity, and their seasons of grace, so God has His day of righteous wrath; and when that day comes, the most stout-hearted sinners will not be able to stand before Him.—From Bonar: Rev_6:10. How long? These words occur frequently in Scripture, and are spoken in various ways: 1. As from man to man; 2. As from man to God; 3. As from God to man. Passing by the first mode of their usage—comp. Job_8:2; Job_19:2; Psa_4:2; Psa_62:3—we come to the other two. 1. The Words as from man to God; comp. Psa_6:3; Psa_13:1; Psa_35:17; Psa_74:10; Psa_79:5; Psa_89:46; Psa_90:13; Psa_94:3-4; Hab_1:2; Rev_6:10. In these passages they are the language, (1) Of complaint. Not murmuring or fretting, but what the Psalmist calls “complaining,” an expression of weariness under burdens. (2) Submission. (3) Inquiry. (4) Expectation. 2. The words as from God to man; comp. Exo_10:3; Exo_16:28; Jos_18:3; 1Ki_18:21; Psa_82:2; Pro_1:22; Pro_6:9; Jer_4:14. Taking up these words of God as spoken to different classes, we would dwell on the following points: (1). Long-suffering. It is this that is expressed in the passage in Jeremiah. (2.) Expostulation. How long halt ye between two opinions ? (3) Entreaty. God beseeches man. (4) Earnestness. (5) Sorrow. (6) Upbraiding. (7) Warning.]