The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
1. The judgment of the seven seals, 6:1-8:5
i] The opening of the first four seals.Synopsis
John now sees the Lamb open the first four seals, and as they are opened, the four horsemen of the apocalypse set forth in judgment upon the earth.
Christ is Lord, the kingdom is come, judgment is underway. The powers of darkness (Satan and his minions) stand condemned, as do those who align with them.
i] Context: See 1:1-8. In Chapter 4, John describes his vision of God the creator, and then in chapter 5 his vision of God the Son - the Lamb, the Redeemer. From the splendor of the heavenly throne, John confronts us with The Messianic Judgments, chapters 6-16 - visions of the agony of the universe in the face of judgment; "the divine plan for ending human history and beginning the eternal age", Osborne. This he does in the visions of the three sevens of judgment: the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls / plagues. These visions outline the chaos of the last day, the Great Day of the Lord. Each series of judgments reveal the unfolding of the eschaton, the day of judgment. The seventh judgment leads into the next series of seven which rework the previous series from a different perspective, but at the same time intensifying it, eg., the seals bring judgment on a quarter of the earth, the trumpets a third of the earth, and the bowls the whole earth. "Hearers and readers watch three different versions of the end time unfold simultaneously at three different places in the narrative-set", Blount. So, in the three series of seven we witness the now of the kingdom of God. Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes his seat beside the Ancient of Days - Christ has come, judgment begun.
Inserted into John's realized eschatology, his heavenly view of the now reality of the kingdom of God, the day of judgment, is his inaugurated eschatology, his earthly view of the not yet reality of the kingdom of God. In the two sets of interludes, 7:1-17, and 10:1-11:14, John's perspective is from the church looking out into a world troubled by darkness, and pressed in by the coming day. John fully develops this perspective in The Battle with the Beasts, 11:19-15:4. Osborne calls these visions "illustrative vignettes" of the last days as experienced by the church, the days between Jesus' ascension and his coming. The not yet reality of the kingdom of God makes for troubled times, the Red Dragon and his beastly friends present as masters of our domain, but there is another reality, a kingdom realized, a kingdom now - Christ enthroned, and the setting right of all things. The image below illustrates the not yet, and a mouse-over the now
The Judgment of the Seven Seals, 6:1-8:5. The first series of judgments commence the unfolding of "God's righteous judgement on unfaithfulness of any kind in the world, together with the ideal establishment within it of his divine will", Smalley. The seven seals fall into two parts with one / two interludes, the first four seals are focused on the earth and the next three are cosmic. The last leads into the next series of seven, The judgments of the seven trumpets, which in a sense, "constitute the seventh seal", Murphy.
i] The opening of the first four seals, 6:1-8
ii] The opening of the fifth seal, 6:9-11
iii] The opening of the sixth seal, 6:12-17
iv] Interlude #1. The sealing of God's servants, 7:1-8
v] Interlude # 2. The Lamb is the shepherd, 7:9-17
vi] The opening of the seventh seal, 8:1-5
The books of Daniel and Zechariah serve to shape the imagery used in the judgments of the seven seals. Beasley-Murray notes that John follows the pattern of judgment that is found in Mark 13, although Osborne argues that literary dependance is unlikely.
When it comes to interpreting the seals, attempts to align them to future events faced by the readers today have always been unsuccessful; any attempt to specify John's apocalyptic imagery produces widely divergent interpretations. Even trying to align the visions with historical events of John's own day have similarly proved unfruitful. The Revelation "is far from being a simple allegory which simply encodes events and generalizes about them", Murphy. What we have in the series of seven judgments is the unfolding of the eschaton; "there shall be a time of anguish such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence", Dan.12:1. For the church, facing the uncertainties of an inaugurated kingdom, the not yet, we are privileged to witness, through John, the enthronement of the risen Christ, the now of a realized kingdom, 4:1-5:14. With Christ on his throne, judgment ensues. As each seal is broken so the words of woe flow forth under the command of God - "Go!" Mounce argues that the scroll is not opened until the last seal is broken, but he is probably pushing the imagery too far.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8
iii] Structure: The opening of the first four seals:
The four horsemen of the apocalypse, v1-8:
The first horseman - white, v1-2;
"he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest."
The second horseman - red, v3-4;
he had the "power to take peace from the earth."
The third horseman - black, v5-6;
"two pounds of wheat for a day's wage."
The fourth horseman - pale green, v7-8;
"sword, famine and plague."
The one who is worthy breaks the first seal and John witnesses the unfolding purposes of God's judgment - Smalley adds "and love" to judgment, although with little textual support at this point in the drama!! Then from the throne of God comes the command to begin the day of judgment, and to this end the horsemen of the apocalypse go forth. John draws on the imagery of Zech.1:8-17, 6:1-8 (see also Jer.15:2, Ezk.5:12), but with his own take - note that Zechariah has chariots attached to the horses and the color order is different. In Zechariah they go forth and discover a world at peace and rest, but it's what they bring with them that matters - "the opening of the seals takes peace away from the earth", Koester. In the Revelation, the horsemen bring with them a judgment, a judgment "which proceeds from the lust for conquest to civil war to famine to pestilence and death", Osborne. The horsemen proceed in sequence, but it is possible that they move together to the four corners of the earth, rather than proceed one after the other. Beale is one commentator who argues for a single event summarized in the actions of the fourth horseman. The significance of the colors is unclear; they probably reflect Zechariah's prophecy, but it is possible that John is also drawing on the colors of the imperial games. John does seem to intertwine Biblical imagery with the people, places and events of his own age. Whatever the source of the imagery, the four horsemen simply represent conquest, war, famine, and death
Divine judgment: There has always been some hesitancy with the imagery in the Revelation; how could God impose such ruthless punishment on his world? We note this with the textual variant for "come / go", cf., v1. We are always looking for a second party to take the blame for divine judgment - they brought it on ourselves, Satan is to blame, ...... Those who have taught young children the wonderful story of Joshua leading the Israelites against the city of Jericho, always play up God's mighty hand in bringing down the walls, but tend to play down his instruction that every inhabitant should be put to the sword. Yet, there are plenty of hints in the Old Testament that divine justice is not without mercy. Sodom and Gomorrah would be spared for a righteous man. The Babylonians were God's instrument of chastisement against Israel, but faced judgment themselves because they ruthlessly harassed God people, ie., they went too far.
The approach taken by most commentators to the horror of divine judgment (anger, wrath ??) enacted in the Revelation, is that God hands humanity over to its own devices: so Aune, Mounce, Osborne, Beasley-Murray, Swete, Morris, ... So, the horsemen represent the human lust of violence for gain let loose, ie., God revokes his providential care over humanity (God is responsible for folding up the Monopoly board, but only when the arguments get out of hand after parental supervision is removed!).
It is probably true to say that human society is a miracle. It is a tall ask to throw together a gaggle of corrupted selfish humans with the expectation that they will live happily with each other. Even a married couple find it hard to live with each other after their Hollywood romance fades into reality. A dictator with a strong army can keep a semblance of peace. Western democracies have shown resilience, thanks to their grounding in the teachings of Jesus, but a close look at our political masters reminds us that it's all held together by God's providential care.
From the throne, John hears the call, "Come!" = "You're on your own boys!" Cry 'Havoc', and let slip the dogs of war.
Text - 6:1
The opening of the first four seals, v1-8: i] The first horseman - white, v1-2. John first witnesses a white horseman released to ravage the earth; he carries a bow of war and wears an imperial crown. Cavalry in full regalia may look glorious, but they brings death and destruction - this cavalryman represents human lust for war let loose. The white horseman may be a version of the legendary Minos who rode on a white horse and carried a javelin, along with bow and arrows, but John's imagery is more Biblical than secular. Attempts at identifying the white horseman (as also with the other three) are fruitless: Hendriksen, Bachmann, .... argue for Christ; Sweet for the word of the gospel; Thomas for the Antichrist. Attempts at specifying exactly what the white horseman is up to is also fruitless: Beale argues that the white horseman's task is to deceive and oppress believers, but this seems unlikely. We are best not to overly specify. The white horseman is the first sign of the last judgment, of God handing humanity over to its lust for war.
kai "-" - and. Standing in for de to introduce a step in the argument / narrative.
oJte "as [the Lamb opened]" - [i saw] when, while [the lamb opened]. The temporal conjunction introduces a temporal clause; "Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals", ESV.
ek + gen. "[the first] of [the seven seals]" - [one] of [the seven seals and I heard one] of [the four living beings. The preposition, as for "one of the four living beings", is partitive, standing in for a partitive genitive.
enoV (eJiV enoV) gen. adj. "[then I heard] one" - Genitive of direct object after the verb "to hear"
legontoV (legw) "say" - saying. Technically the genitive complement of the genitive object "one ....." standing in a double genitive construction; "I heard one ...... saying." Semitic idiom, cf., legwn 1:17.
wJV "in [a voice] like [thunder]" - as [a voice, sound of thunder]. Here adverbial, modal, expressing manner; "in / with a voice of thunder." The genitive noun bronthV, "of thunder", is adjectival, attributive, "in a thunderous / loud voice."
ercou (ercomai) pres. imp. "Come!" - come, go. A variant exists where it is John who is commanded to come rather than the horses, ie., "come and see", rather than "come" = "come out", Phillips, possibly "go forth." This, of course, may be the sense, but the copyist is most likely reacting to the idea of divine association with the four horsemen of the apocalypse, ie., the command comes from the throne of God. Swete thinks the command here is for Jesus to come, but this is unlikely. A durative sense for the present imperative is not applicable as the action is obviously punctiliar. Mathewson suggests the present tense is used for a specific command.
kai "-" - and. As in v1; "then I looked ..."
oJ kaqhmenoV (kaqhmai) pres. mid. part. "its rider" - [and behold, a white horse and] the one sitting [on it]. The participle serves as a substantive. The fact that the first horse is white has prompted some commentators to view the horseman in a positive light (white is good, black is evil thinking!!). Yet, "white" in color can mean "pale", "ashen", the color of death, the color of a corpse.
ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "held [a bow]" - having [a bow]. Again we have a participle serving as a finite verb, technically a periphrastic construction where the verb to-be is assumed, possibly serving to emphasize durative aspect; "its rider had a bow" = "carried a bow", Phillips; cf., 1:16. In shaping the image of the first horseman, John may have had in mind Parthian cavalry. They could ride and fire arrows at the same time, and twice they defeated a Roman army.
autw/ dat. pro. "he [was given a crown]" - [a crown was given] to him. Dative of indirect object.
nikwn (nikaw) pres. part. "[he rode out] as a conqueror" - [he came out, went out] conquering. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing manner, as NIV.
iJna + subj. "bent on [conquest]" - [and] that [he may conquer]. Here serving to introduce a final clause expressing purpose; "and this he does in order to conquer" = "he went on his way, a conqueror intent on conquering." "He had already won some victories and he went out to win more", CEV.
ii] The second horseman - red, v3-4. Just as the first horseman represented human lust for war let loose, now the second horseman follows on with the consequences of conquest, namely civil war. Again, we are witnessing the product of sinful humanity out of control, a humanity devoid of God's providential care. Aune argues that John is describing the persecution of Christians, but general civil war seems more likely. Commentators tend to link the color red with bloodshed and slaughter, but the white horseman was also into bloodshed and slaughter, so it is unclear whether the colors are significant. John was probably well aware of the civil wars that plagued Rome, particularly after the murder of Caesar, or between AD.68-69 when there were four different emperors. He also actually experienced the Pax Romana, AD.27-180, when the Roman Empire was at peace. Devoid of divine restraint, civil war is inevitable; peace is at an end - "I have taken away my peace from this people", Jer.16:5, cf., Zech.1-7-12.
oJte "when" - when [he opened the second seal]. Temporal conjunction introducing a temporal clause, although since it introduces the opening of each seal it may be intended as a structural indicator; "The Lamb broke the second seal and I heard the second creature say ...", REB.
tou ... zwou (on) gen. "[I heard] the [second] living creature" - Genitive of direct object after the verb "to hear."
legontoV (legw) gen. pres. part. "saying" - As in v1.
Numerous variants exist in this verse due to the awkward syntax; lit., "and there came out another horse, a red one, and it was granted to the one sitting upon it, to him it was granted to take (that he take) peace from the earth, that is, that they will slay one another, and so a great sword was given to him."
purroV adj. "a fiery red one" - [and another horse went out] a red one. The adjective serves as a substantive, as NIV.
autw/ dat. pro. "its" - [it was given to the one sitting upon it, to take peace from the earth was given] to him. Resumptive use of the pronoun, the dative antecedent being "to the one sitting."
tw/ kaqhmenw/ (kaqhmai) dat. pres. mid. part. "rider" - to the one sitting. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object.
labein (lambanw) aor. inf. "to take [peace from the earth]" - The infinitive serves as the subject of the impersonal verb "it was given"; "to take peace from the earth was given to him." The preposition ek, "from", expresses separation, "away from." "Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth", TEV.
kai "and" - Variant where kai is left out given that it interferes with the syntax if the following iJna introduces a purpose clause. Possibly epexegetic here, "that is", "ie.,"; "that is, that people should slay one another."
iJna + fut. "to [make people kill each other]" - that [they will slaughter one another was given to him]. If we follow Mathewson, he suggests that hina forms a substantive standing in parallel to the infinitival construction "to take peace from the earth", which serves as the subject of the verb "was given." Beale, so also Smalley, takes it to introduce a final clause expressing purpose, "in order that / so that that [people should slay one another." A subjunctive verb is expected with hina, but in Semitic use a verb in the future tense is sometimes used. John is describing a holocaust.
kai "-" - and [a great sword was given to him]. Leaning toward a consecutive sense; "and so / and to that end he was given a great sword." The dative pronoun autw/, "to him", is a dative of indirect object. The sword serves as a symbol of authority in the performance of his duty to remove peace from the earth. Possibly an allusion to the Roman decree of "the right of the sword" bestowed upon provincial governors.
iii] The third horseman - black, v5-6. The first horseman represented human lust for war let loose, leading to the second horseman, civil war, and to the third horseman, the consequence of the first two, famine. This horseman carries scales, the symbols of commerce. As is typical of a famine, grain is traded at exorbitant prices. Rome efficiently maintained grain supplies throughout the empire, but there were still the inevitable crop failures, or storms at sea destroying the grain cargo from Egypt, and that's when shortages pushed up the price and prompted hoarding, further exacerbating the shortages. Like anyone in the empire, John would have witnessed famine. During these times, the rich were expected to source new supplies and sell at a discount to stabilize the price, and in return receive imperial honors for their efforts. This is not the way it will be in the last day, it will be every man for himself.
oJte "when" - when [he opened the third seal, i heard the third living being]. As in v3.
legontoV (legw) gen. pres. part. "saying" - saying [come]. The participle as in v1.
kai eidon kai idou "I looked, and there before me was" - and i looked and behold. A redundant statement, but repeatedly used by John to indicate a change in scene.
melaV adj. "black [horse]" - There is probably no major significance in the color, black = darkness, Satan, ...!! "black as sackcloth", 6:12, may be implied, given that famine is associated with people wearing rags.
oJ kaqhmenoV (kaqhmai) pres. mid. part. "it's rider" - the one sitting [upon it]. The participle serves as a substantive.
ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "was holding" - having [a pair of scales]. The participle as in v2; "its rider held a pair of scales in his hand."
en + dat. "in [his hand]" - Local, expressing space.
wJV "what sounded like" - [and i heard] as, like [a voice]. Used here as a comparative, but at the same time it leans toward a modal sense expressing manner, "I heard like in the manner of a voice." The purpose of this phraseology is to create mystery - it wasn't just like any voice; there was something strange about it. It tends to be somewhat unnecessary for the modern reader which is why Phillips cuts through it with "I heard a voice which seemed to come from the four living creatures."
twn ... zwwn (on) gen. "[among] the [four] living creatures" - [in the middle] of [four] living beings]. The genitive is adjectival, partitive; "in the middle, midst of the four living creatures." The preposition en is local, expressing space. Naturally, there is debate over whose voice it is - God, the Lamb, an angel, .....?? Given that the first, second and fourth living beings are identified as the source of the voice, does John have in mind the third living being? Whatever the conclusion, the famine comes with divine imprimatur. "From the four living creatures", Phillips, is certainly reasonable, but wouldn't John have used ek, "from", instead of en, "in"?
legousan (legw) pres. part. "saying" - The participle serves as the complement of the object "like a voice / something like a voice", as in v1; cf. legwn, 1:17, for John's use of the participle "saying".
sitou (oV) gen. "[two pounds] of wheat" - [a choenix] of wheat. The genitive, as for "of barley", is adjectival, idiomatic / of measure: "a choenix (a quart measure) full of wheat."
dhnariou (on) gen. "for a day's wages" - of a denarius [and three choenixes of barley] of = for a denarius. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / of price; "it will take a whole day's wage to pay for a quart (a little over a liter. Dry measure = 4 cups) of flower", Barclay. Here the end product is probably not in mind; "wheat" rather than "flower, given that most household grind their own grain (flower is easily adulterated). The measure is by volume; commercial transactions of grain can still be by volume today, although we usually buy flower by weight. Note that the horseman carries scales, but a coinix, "choenix", is a measure - the scales are obviously symbolic of commerce. A choenix of wheat is enough to feed one person, three of barley is enough for a family. Aune has calculated the inflation rate for the wheat at times 5.
mh adikhshV (adikew) aor. subj. "do not damage [the oil and the wine!]" - [and] do not harm [the oil and the wine]. A subjunctive of prohibition which, with an aorist, is usually understood to forbid the initiation of an action. Mathewson notes that when weight is given to the aspect of the aorist the prohibition "forbids the action as a whole." This instruction has prompted numerous interpretations. The most likely interpretation is that proposed by Reddish who suggests that the words are ironic. He argues that the oil and wine represent luxuries used for the feasting of the rich. They can well afford the inflated grain prices and with their luxuries will survive (for a time!!) in their gated communities. "John envisions the final days as a time when the poor are starving while the rich are unaffected by the shortages", Reddish. Many of my friends in Comboyne (a hilltop village in Australia) are influenced by doomsday thinking and so live off the grid and grow their own foods. I enjoy reminding them that when society collapses and we are all starving, the starving mob will know where to come for a feed! And guess what! A fence is not going to keep them out.
iv] The fourth horseman - pale green, v7-8: John now witnesses the sending out of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. His name is Death, most likely with the sense Mr. Pestilence. He is followed by Hades, or simply Mr. Death. They work together to bring the curse of judgment upon humanity, although at this stage of the judgment it is limited to "a fourth of the earth." By the time we get to the judgment of the bowls it will cover the whole earth. John reminds us of the order of the judgments. First, human lust for war, conquest and violence is released. We understand this to mean that God withdraws his providential care over the administration of society, a care which throughout human history has placed some limits on our self-destructive nature, ie., up to this point in time good has generally prevailed over evil, although at great cost. Then follows famine and now pestilence and death. John probably alludes to Ezekiel 14:21 when he adds the wild beasts that consume decaying flesh, animals such as vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, .... all the way through to maggots; so removing all trace.
oJte "when" - [and] when [he opened the fourth seal]. Temporal conjunction, as in v3.
tou ... zw/ou (on) gen. "of the [fourth] living creature" - [i heard the voice] of the [fourth] living being. The genitive is best classified as ablative, source / origin.
legontoV (legw) gen. pres. part. "saying" - saying [come, go]. The participle seems to function as an object complement, as v1, but here the object qwnhn, "voice", is accusative, while the participle is genitive. As Plummer DDG notes, it may be genitive by attraction to "the four living creatures", or even a constructio ad sensum - the verb akouw, "I heard", often takes a genitive, although not here. It could also be treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting the "four living creatures"; "who were saying ..." Again John freely uses a participle to introduce speech in a vision irrespective of grammatical niceties; legwn 1:17.
kai eidon kai idou "I looked and there before me was [a pale horse]" - and i saw and behold [a pale horse]. Introductory construction as in v5. The color is somewhat unclear, but generally taken to be the the color of a corpse, grey-yellow-green.
oJ kaqhmenoV (kaqhmai pres. mid. part. "its rider" - the one sitting [upon it]. The participle serves as a substantive. Note that John uses epanw, "upon", here, whereas in v2, 4, and 5, he uses his favorite spacial preposition epi, "upon, on", the horse. BAGD notes that epanw, when used as an adverb, takes the sense "over", but as a preposition it means "upon, on, on top of." There is probably no significance in the change of preposition here.
autw/ dat. pro. "[was named death]" - [name] to him [death]. The dative may be a dative of interest, "the name for him was death", or reference / respect, "the name, with respect to him, was death", but best treated as a dative of possession, "his name was death",
met (meta) + gen. "[Hades was following] close behind" - [and hades was following] with [him]. Possibly expressing association / accompaniment, "with, in company with", "and with him as his follower came Hades", Barclay, but BAGD argues that when used with the verb "to follow" the sense is "after", "to follow after"; "and Hades followed him", Moffatt. Hades refers to the place of the dead, the grave, and qanatoV, "death", also means "plague". Osborne suggests a double meaning, "death by plague." Hades, Mr. Death, follows the fourth horseman, Mr. Pestilence , see Beasley-Murray.
autoiV dat. pro. "[they were given authority]" - [and authority was given] to them. Dative of indirect object. Again we see the hand of God behind the sending forth of Pestilence and Death in that "they were give authority" to the limit of 25%. If we understand God's hand in this judgment in the terms of the removal of his providential care then what we have is corrupted humanity free to fulfill its lust for war, violence and conquest, with the consequences of such being civil war, famine, pestilence and death.
epi + acc. "over" - Spacial, as NIV.
thV ghV (h) gen. "[a fourth] of the earth" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive. With the seals, the curse is limited to 25%. When we finally reach the judgment of the bowls the curse covers the whole of the earth.
apokteinai (apokteinw) aor. inf. "to kill" - Epexegetic infinitive specifying the "authority", namely, the authority to kill.
en + dat. "by [sword]" - by [sword and] by [famine and] by [death]. Instrumental, expressing the means by which the killing takes place; "by means of." The en qanatw/, "by death", obviously means something like "by disease."
uJpo + gen. "by [the wild beasts]" - through [the wild beasts]. Here expressing agency.
thV ghV (h) gen. "of the earth" - The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / local; "the wild beasts that reside on the earth." The wild beasts in mind are those generally associated with consuming carrion (decaying flesh).