In Revelaton 6 Jesus takes a book from the right hand of God and begins to reveal it to John. It consists of seven parts or divisions, and each part is separated by a seal. In this chapter Jesus opens six of these seals and lets John see the contents. The first seal revealed a rider on a white horse going forth as a mighty conqueror, well armed for battle; and a crown was given to him. The second seal was opened and showed a rider on a fiery red horse A great sword was in his hand, and he was permitted to take peace from the earth, and many people would kill one another. The opening of the third seal disclosed a rider on a black horse, and in his hand was a set of scales. with a prediction of food shortages. The fourth seal showed a rider on a pale horse, and the name Death was given to him; and behind him followed Hades. He brought death to a fourth of the earth by the sword, hunger and wild beasts. In the fifth seal John was permitted to see the souls of Christians who had been killed for the word of God and for the things they believed. In prayer they are asking God, “How long will it be until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Each one was given a white robe; and they were informed that others will be killed and were told to rest a while until the terrible persecution would end. The sixth seal describes an earthquake that moved islands and mountains from their places; and the stars fell from heaven. The great and small on earth take cover in rocks and dens to hide from the face of God and the Lamb. They say that the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand.
When we come to Revelation 6, it becomes necessary to make some kind of an interpretation on these symbolical predictions. We must give an explanation to the four horsemen and what is indicated in the opening of the first six seals of the book on God's right hand. The interpretation that I will present is not original with me. I espouse the interpretation of far greater thinkers than I am. It is called, “The Historical Interpretation.” It is the first and the oldest interpretation given to this marvelous book since the time of the Protestant Reformation. It was first accepted by the preachers and Bible scholars associated with the Protestant Reformation in 1500 and 1600. This book had much to do with the separation of Protestantism from Roman Catholicism.
Brother J. W. Roberts, who served many years on he Bible faculty of Abilene Christian University, made this statement about the Historical Interpretation, “This view was set forth in the massive work of Elliott in
his Horae Apocalypticae and has been followed in more concise form by Albert Barnes' “Notes on the New Testament,” and by many of our own brethren(Church of Christ) such as John T. Hinds (Gospel Advocate Commentaries) and B.W. Johnson (People's New Testament with Notes) and E.M. Zerr's Bible Commentary. I could cite other scholars and preachers who espouse this view. I cite these scholars to let you know that this view is not a far-out interpretation of a few radical evangelists. It has been a very popular view for many years, and much Bible wisdom and scholarship supports it. I invite your consideration.
There is almost universal agreement on the four horsemen of Revelation 6 and what they represent. I agree with those who think the white horse rider represents the victorious Church of Christ under the leadership of Christ, the head of the church. Christ went forth conquering from 100 A.D. to about 400 A.D., and during those years the church was successful in defeating the idolatrous religions of the Roman Empire, often referred to as paganism. It included the worship of the entire pantheon of the gods of ancient Greece and Rome. The two hundred years following the first century were years of unbelievable persecution, and we think the seals in this chapter six refer to this persecution. Nevertheless, they were centuries of almost total victory for the Christian religion. The beauty of this interpretation is that it relates true church history, even if my interpretation of the white horse rider should not be correct. There were great numbers of Christian martyrs between 100 A.D. and 400 A.D. I agree with those who think the white horse rider was symbol of Christ victoriously leading His church against the pagan Roman Empire. in the early centuries.
Most all commentors agree that the red horse rider symbolized bloodshed and war, but there is disagreement as to what period of history this refers to. He was to take peace from the earth, but when John wrote, the word “earth” was a synonym for the world Roman Empire. Imperial Rome ruled the earth until 476 A..D. I would suggest the Red Horse rider symbolized the terrible wars that God would allow to fall on the Roman Empire as retribution for the persecution and murder of countless Christians. I agree with those who think all six seals in chapter 6 had something to do with the providential judgments God would bring on the Roman Empire.. I would suggest this rider symbolizes the terrible wars that would afflict the Roman Empire and bring it to an end. in 476 A.D. At least, history testifies that this is exactly what happened to the Western Roman Empire. Ravaging wars would be a partial retribution for the cruel treatment they gave to God's New Testament church.
The Black horse rider in the third seal had in his hands a set of scales. A voice said, “a quart of wheat for a full day's work and a gallon of barley for one day's wages.” Such enormous prices for common every day food implies great scarcity of food. There is general agreement among Bible scholars that the black horse rider symbolized famine that would come to the earth, but there is disagreement on what period of history is referred to. When was this famine to occur and for whom was it intended? For mankind in general or for a specific people in a specific time. . I agree with those who suggest that this famine was connected with the wars that afflicted the Roman empire mentioned in the previous seal. All know that ravaging war brings shortages of food and other necessary supplies. As a result of the wars suffered by the Roman Empire, this could be a prediction of the economic hardship that would fall on the Empire of the Caesars who were persecutors of the Lord's Church. In addition to the powerful preaching of the gospel in the early centuries, war and famine brought Imperial Rome to its knees. The Roman persecutors tasted the horrors of famine.
The fourth horseman of Revelation 6 was on a pale horse and his name was death. He was followed by a colleague named Hades. At death all go to Hades, or the unseen world. A clue to the meaning of this symbol is given in verse 8 that says this rider and his companion were given power over the earth, “to kill with the sword, with hunger, with death and with the beasts of the earth.” I agree with those who think that this seal is connected with the previous ones and speaks of the fall of pagan Rome, the enemy of the early church and persecutor of Christians. By providential judgments, death was to come to the church persecutors in several different sways. They would die by war, famine, disease and wild beasts. By these calamities the world empire of the Roman Caesars which began in 43 B.C. ceased to exist forever in 476 A.D. The most terrible wars occurred between 300 and 476
Edward Gibbon who wrote a history of the downfall of Rome said, “Many thousands of the inhabitants of Rome expired in their houses, .and the miseries of famine were succeeded by and aggravated by the contagion of a pestilential disease.” One thing is certain, the people who lived in the ancient Roman Empire suffered all the terrible calamities mentioned in Revelation 6. Moreover, if these seals refer to someone else, they happened first to the polytheistic Roman Empire, a fierce enemy of the Christian religion. This is a historical fact that cannot be disputed. Since John wrote of events that were to
happen to the church after his time, should we ignore the very first time all these terrible afflictions fell on a race of people? I think not.
In the fifth seal John saw under the Jewish brazen altar of sacrifice the souls of Christians who sacrificed their lives for Christ and His church. This book was written in a code language using Jewish religious symbols with a Christian meaning. Christians did not sacrifice at the Jewish altar of sacrifice. This altar was a symbol of the cross which is the only altar in the Christian religion. In some ways this seal is the most important of all the seals for it helps us determine the time period referred to and the enemy on whom these judgments would fall. The souls seen in this seal were the souls of Christian martyrs who were slain for the word of God and for their testimony about Christ. He did not see their bodies, for they were in the graves. Furthermore, they are praying to God asking, “How long O Lord. do You not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth.” These souls were in paradise and had been faithful to Christ until death. They want to know when God is going to put a stop to all this bloodshed, and God answers that this bloodshed will go for some time longer, and then He will act.
Now this helps us identify the time period. It was a time of martyrdom when many Christians were put to death for their faith in Christ and His religion. This does not refer to ordinary times in Christian history. There have been only two periods of intense church persecution and martyrdom. One was the persecution of Imperial Rome from 100 A.D. to about 400 A. D., and the other one was persecution of the Papal Roman Empire from bout 500 A.D. extending throughout the Dark Ages. Search history and you will find these are the two periods noted for Christian martyrdom. I agree with those who think the souls John saw represented Christians who would die as martyrs under the persecution that started with Nero Caesar in 60 A.D. and continued off and on to some 400 A.D. This is not an opinion but a historical fact. This was the first great period of Christian martyrdom.
Robert Brumback, a gospel preacher and one of the outstanding scholars of church history in the Church of Christ, wrote a book
entitled, History of the Church Through the Ages. He wrote, “In 249 A.D. the Roman Emperor Decius published a bloody edict against the Christians and sent it to the Governors of all the provinces. They were ordered vigilantly to search out Christians and to punish them with the utmost severity by scourging, by burning at the stake, by beheading, by tossing them to wild beasts, by the dungeon, by s eating them in iron chairs heated red hot, by tearing out their eyes with steel pincers.” On February 24, 303 A. D. an edict went out from Diocletian
in all places that deprived Christians of all legal rights, called for the burning of the scriptures, and commanded that all church buildings should be leveled. to the ground. Eusebius, a Christian living in Caesarea about this time made the statement, “We saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations.” He tells of the burning of Bibles, and the torturing and slaying of martyrs. In these early centuries the church was at war. It was a war between Christianity and paganism. It is admitted on all hands that the book of Revelation is a book of prophecy, and I find it difficult to believe that no mention would be made of future traumatic periods of persecution and martyrdom.
Finally, the sixth seal in this chapter is the most difficult of all the seals to understand. We are told the earth reeled in a mighty earthquake. Mountains and islands were hurled from their places. The sun turns black, the moon red, and the stars fall from heaven. The inhabitants of earth hide in caves from the face of God on the throne and the Lamb in this vision. There is very little agreement by commentators on the meaning of this sixth seal. One view is that it refers to the end of the world at the second coming of Christ. If we take these words literally, it seems to give that impression. But it speaks of people of earth hiding in caves. When Christ comes there will be no time to hide in caves, and the end of the world does not come till much later in the book.
The other interpretation is that it symbolically describes the social and political upheavel in society brought about by war and suffering that brought down the government and rule of the greatest world Empire in the history of the human race. It may refer to the devastating effects politically and socially on the entire earth when the Barbarians invaded Europe, the British Isles, and went on to destroy and sack the great city of Rome that ruled the world for several centuries. I incline toward this view and connect it with previous seals in the church's battle with Imperial Rome. It may refer to the confusion and disorder, turmoil and upheaval associated with downfall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D. I can understand how a prediction like this in Revelation 6 would be very comforting to a very persecuted, hurting and troubled church. It would encourage the early Christians to know the church would not die as a result of these awful persecutions but would survive and continue to grow mightly, and that it would finally throw the false religion of paganism and idolatry to the ground in utter defeat. We learn from Revelation 6 that the first part of the Revelation has to with God's judgments Rome.