6 Then I saw as the Lamb (Christ) broke one of the seven [a]seals [of the scroll initiating the judgments], and I heard one of the four living creatures call out as with a voice of thunder, “[b]Come.”2 I looked, and behold, a [c]white horse [of victory] whose rider carried a [d]bow; and a crown [of victory] was given to him, and he rode forth conquering and to conquer.
The Second Seal—War
3 When He (the Lamb) broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, “Come.”4 And another, a [e]fiery red horse [of bloodshed], came out; and its rider was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that men would slaughter one another; and a great sword [of war and violent death] was given to him.
The Third Seal—Famine
5 When He (the Lamb) broke open the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse [of famine]; and the rider had in his hand a pair of scales (a balance).6 And I heard something like a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius (a day’s wages), and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not [f]damage the oil and the wine.”
The Fourth Seal—Death
7 When He (the Lamb) broke open the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, “Come.”8 So I looked, and behold, an ashen (pale greenish gray) horse [like a corpse, representing death and pestilence]; and its rider’s name was Death; and Hades (the realm of the dead) was following with him. They were given authority and power over a fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword and with famine and with [g]plague (pestilence, disease) and by the wild beasts of the earth.
The Fifth Seal—Martyrs
9 When He (the Lamb) broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained [out of loyalty to Christ].10 They cried in a loud voice, saying, “O Lord, holy and true, how long now before You will sit in judgment and avenge our blood on those [unregenerate ones] who dwell on the earth?”11 Then they were each given a white robe; and they were told to rest and wait quietly for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers and sisters who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed.
The Sixth Seal—Terror
12 I looked when He (the Lamb) broke open the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as [h]sackcloth [made] of hair, and the whole moon became like blood;13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, like a fig tree shedding its late [summer] figs when shaken by a strong wind.14 The sky was split [separated from the land] and rolled up like a scroll, and every mountain and island were dislodged and moved out of their places.15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the [i]military commanders and the wealthy and the strong and everyone, [whether] slave or free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;16 and they called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne, and from the [righteous] wrath and indignation of the Lamb;17 for the great day of their wrath and vengeance and retribution has come, and who is able to [face God and] stand [before the wrath of the Lamb]?”
Revelation 6:1A seal, sphragis, could only be broken by the one who has authority over it. In breaking the seals and disclosing God’s judgments, Christ demonstrated His own divine authority over creation.
Revelation 6:2Some interpreters note that the rabbis said that if one sees a white horse in a dream, it is a good sign (Talmud). Jewish believers who heard these words being read in their church (see 1:3) probably would think that the vision indicated Israel would soon be freed from foreign domination. In the Roman world a white horse was a symbol of victory in battle. In this case the peace is deceptive because it will not be lasting. Other interpreters argue that the horseman represents the conquering Christ, as in 19:11.
Revelation 6:2Without an arrow (if arrows are not to be assumed) the bow may symbolize a bloodless victory or conquest.
Revelation 6:4In contrast to the white horse, the rabbis said that if one saw a red horse walking gently, it was a good sign, but if the horse was galloping, it was a bad sign. It was also said that the man riding the red horse in Zechariah’s vision (Zech 1:8) was a sign that God intended to turn the whole world into blood (Talmud).
Revelation 6:6This may be a warning to be very careful handling olive oil and wine, which ordinarily are basic commodities, because famine will make them very expensive. The vision indicates that famine and inflation will take such a toll that a laborer will earn only enough to feed himself with wheat, or to provide barley for a small family. He will have almost nothing left for clothing, shelter, and incidentals.
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