Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation
'The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.”' ( Isaiah 29:11 )
We read in the last study how none was found worthy to loose the seven seals of the book of God's judgment: harking back to a similar circumstance in Isaiah's day, we can see, in the passage prior to the one above, that the reason that no one was able to read the book was that the Almighty had 'poured out'( Hebrew נסך ) on them 'the spirit of deep sleep'. ( Let me emphasize, once again the significance of the 'seven' seals ( as the 'seven' churches ): the idea of a completeness ( Revelation 15:1 ), a finality of God's judgment upon His covenant people )
The first part of John's vision of the Revelation of Jesus the Christ was seen to be in 'Heaven' itself, and the worship that is continually offered there because of the righteous judgments of God. In our previous study we noted at the beginning that a book was revealed in the hand of Him who sat on the throne ( God ) , that John wept because no one was found worth to open the book and to read, and set loose, it's judgments, and that 'heaven and earth' exulted because the Lamb ( Son of God ) prevailed to loose it's seals. As we begin the third part of this study, we see John's witness of the loosing of these judgments.
Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals;[a] and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.
It is interesting to note here, as we have noted before, the circumstances of John's vision. Taking place in 'Heaven', or the presence of God, one of the four 'living creatures', significant, I believe, of God's children, 'from every nation under heaven' ( Acts 2:5 ), when the Lamb had prevailed to open the book and read it's judgments, called to John, 'in the Spirit', to come and witness the vision. As this first seal is opened; John 'sees' a man on a white horse, armed as it were for battle. Zechariah, in chapter 1 of the book of his prophecy reports 'seeing several different sorts of horses in a vision sent him by God.
'On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet: I saw by night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees in the hollow; and behind him were horses: red, sorrel, and white. Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” So the angel who talked with me said to me, “I will show you what they are.' ( Zechariah 1:7-9 ) The angel goes on to tell the prophet that these were 'ones whom the LORD has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth.' Just as these horses represented God's judgment on 'the nations at ease', though they were but the instruments of His righteous indignation, so this horse in John's vision, among other things, represents 'the sent one', the instrument of God's righteous judgment, sent to punish ( and destroy ) the enemies of God's people. as we've discussed before, the 'bow' is significant of strength, whether it be of an individual or a corporate body of people, a nation. Referring to his former glory, before God tested his patience, Job said, in Job 29:20, 'My glory is fresh within me, and my bow is renewed in my hand'. In Psalm 37:15, David prophesies of God's judgment on the wicked, taking away their strength; 'Their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken', while in Isaiah 13:18, we read of the prowess of the Babylonians in their evil deeds. 'Also their bows will dash the young men to pieces, and they will have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye will not spare children'. In Genesis 49, when Jacob, or Israel, gathered his sons together for a final time to prophesy how God would treat their descendants 'in the last days'; he spoke these words concerning his son Joseph, a type of the Christ, in verse 24; 'The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him, but his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).' ( Daniel 2:1-45, I Peter 2:4-6 )
When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.”[b] Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.
When Jesus revealed the second seal of judgment; John again heard one of the 'living creatures' telling him to witness this judgment. He saw a vision, again, not unlike that of Ezekiel's, this time of a red horse, the rider of which was given a 'great sword' with which he was to 'turn brother against brother' ( Matthew 10:21 ( Mark 13:12 ), I John 3:15 ), not to 'bring peace, but a sword' ( Matthew 10:34 ). Before we go much further, my readers may take not that these first two 'seal' judgments are very similar, in effect, at least: might this be yet another example of a 'biblical parallelism', revealing to 'His servant' that these things that he 'saw' were sure and certain, 'soon to be revealed' ( I Peter 1:5 )?
When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart;[c] of wheat for a denarius,[d] and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.”
Along the same lines; a similar circumstance occurred in the days of Elisha the prophet, recorded in II Kings 7, when the armies of Syria threatened God's children. We see that God's righteous judgment on the Syrian army resulted in the children of Israel being able to buy a 'seah of fine flour' and 'two seahs of barley' for a shekel ( Deuteronomy 28:51 ), and in John's vision of the third 'woe' pronounced upon the enemies of God's people is portrayed a like circumstance, known traditionally as the plague of 'Famine', in which, once again, goods are sold at a higher price than normal, and not as readily available as usual. The rider with the scales in his hand brings to mind the occurrence in Daniel 5, in which Belshazzar, a successor of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, one of the enemies of God's people, is apprised of imminent disaster pronounced upon him for his evil deeds. In verse 27, Daniel prophesied to the king 'You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting'. Reminding us, in advance, of God's 'good news' ( Isaiah 49:6 ); I Kings 17:8-16 tells us a story typical of the Gospel message. In verse 9; God told Elisha, 'Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there', and in verse 16 we read that 'the bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry'. In the Old Testament Scriptures, abundance of 'wine and oil' refer most often to blessings of the Lord. In passages like Exodus 29:40 and Leviticus 23:13; we can see that both wine and oil were to be used in offering sacrifices to God. Reminding God's children of Israel of the blessings of obedience to His covenant, in Deuteronomy 7:13, Moses prophesies, 'And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you' ( see also Deuteronomy 11:14 ). Most familiar are David's words in Psalm 104:14 & 15, 'He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart', while in Jeremiah 31:12, the prophet speaks of the goodness of God in these terms, 'Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, streaming to the goodness of the LORD— for wheat and new wine and oil, for the young of the flock and the herd; their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all'. Haggai 1:11 records that God withheld His covenant blessings because of the disobedience of His children; 'I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands', and in the parable of 'the Good Samaritan', as recorded in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus used 'wine and oil' as a healing salve. 'So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him'. When Jesus pronounced this third woe upon His disobedient children; He used the Greek verb ἀδικέω ( which has a meaning, more of 'to act unjustly or wickedly', than of to hurt, or harm ) to allay the fears of His people, telling His servant, as He told Job's 'Satan' in Job 1:12, 'Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person' , in other words, 'thus far you may come ( or go ), but no farther ( Job 38:11 )!
When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.
The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with examples of the Angel of the Lord acting as a messenger of death, executing God's judgment on the wicked, and even threatening His own people when they required chastening. Most notable of all, of course, were the events of the first Passover, recorded in Exodus 12, where the obedient children of God were divided from the wicked, being saved from death by the significant sacrifice of a lamb, and the sign of blood. 'For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt'. ( verse 12 ) Earlier, in Exodus 4:24; we see that God threatened Moses own 'flesh and blood' when Moses had neglected to give his son the sign of circumcision. 'And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the LORD met him and sought to kill him'. After David had sinned in numbering Israel, in II Samuel 24:16, we read 'And when the angel[b] stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah[c] the Jebusite.' ( see also I Chronicles 21:15 & 16 ) Isaiah 37:6 records that 'Then the angel[a] of the LORD went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead'. These are the primary examples ( that I could find ) that show God Himself, or His Angel ( usually indicative of the Son of God ) taking an adversarial position, whether it be against His own people, in chastisement, or as the Angel of Death to their enemies. When John saw this fourth 'seal' judgment; he used the Greek ᾅδης , or Hades to describe what 'followed' after this rider. Without getting into a lengthy discussion of what this Hell, or Hades, might be referring to; just suffice it to say that, aside from Greek mythology ( where it referred to the underworld, or the abode of the dead ), it most often, except for Luke 16:19-31, refers to 'the grave', or what naturally follows after physical death ( Matthew 8:22, Luke 9:60 ) My readers may be interested to note, as well, the multiplicity of 'four' in this passage: the rider, in this 'fourth' seal of judgment,was given power over the earth ( Greek γῆ ,or 'land' ), to kill and destroy by four different means. Death by 'beasts of the earth' came in fulfillment of God's promise of adverse judgment upon His disobedient children, as found in passages such as Deuteronomy 28:26, Jeremiah 7:33 ( 15:3 ), and Jeremiah 34:20.
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
Acts 7:54-60 records the stoning of Stephen at the hands of an angry and unrepentant Jewish mob. 'When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.' Paul himself suffered persecution and nearly was stoned to death by this same sort of angry Jewish mob, as recorded in Acts 14:19, 'Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead'. Acts 12:2 records that Herod, the false king of the Jews, during his persecution of some from the church, 'killed James the brother of John with the sword'. The whole book of Acts, of course, is a record of these 'birth pangs' ( Micah 4:10, Romans 8:22, Revelation 12:4-6 ) of the church, and gives us somewhat of an idea who these 'souls under the altar' might be, but we might think also of these words in Hebrews 11:13, speaking of those that we call 'Old Testament saints'; 'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them,[c] embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth'. Although we many not have many examples from the Old Testament Scriptures of these 'saints' being persecuted for their faith; we can see, from Genesis 39:7-20, that Joseph was put in prison as a result of not succumbing to the 'lusts of the flesh', while farther back, in Genesis 4:1-15, we read of the first murder in Scripture, committed because 'By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain' ( Hebrews 11:4 ). The best example that we have, though, is found in Jesus' own words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:34 & 35; 'Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.' ( especially note verse 36 )
The prophet Habakkuk, in the 1st chapter of his prophecy, and verse 2, uttered much the same words as the 'souls under the altar', in John's vision, when he asked, 'O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save'? In Numbers 14:11, which circumstance led up to the Revelation of Jesus Christ; God first asked this familiar question of Moses: 'How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?' Again, through David, in Psalm 4:2, He asks 'How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood? Selah' Psalm 79:5, a psalm of Asaph, asks this question regarding the desolation of Jerusalem, 'How long, LORD? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire?' ( See also Psalm 80:4 ) In Psalm 89:46 and 90:13, we see the psalmists asking the very same question. The prophet Isaiah asked this of our Lord, in Isaiah 6:11, concerning the purposed desolations of His people, 'Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered:“ Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without a man, the land is utterly desolate', and finally, after his vision of the horses ( which we mentioned earlier ), in Zechariah 1:12, the prophet recorded that 'Then the Angel of the LORD answered and said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will You not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which You were angry these seventy years?”''. Having discussed the 'white robes' before; we will not dwell long on them, except to remind my readers that they are indicative of being clothed, or covered ( Psalm 132:9 ) with the righteousness of Christ ( Philippians 3:9, Revelation 3:5 )
I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold,[e] there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon[f] became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.
Prophesying of imminent judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, Isaiah warned his people, 'You will be punished by the LORD of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with storm and tempest and the flame of devouring fire.' ( Isaiah 29:6 ) Jesus spoke of the 'beginning' of the prophesied 'last days' with similar words, in Matthew 24:7; 'For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences,[b] and earthquakes in various places.' ( see also Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11 ) In a kind of typological preview, or physical picture of this event; Acts 16:26 records that 'Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.' ( Zechariah 9:11, Isaiah 42:7 ) Speaking of the destruction of the adversaries of God people in the coming 'day of the Lord'; the prophet Joel wrote 'The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.' ( Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20 ) Isaiah used similar language in prophesying of the fall of Babylon ( typical of the enemies of His people ), when he wrote 'For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine.' ( Isaiah 13:10 ) In language reminiscent of the 'Creation Account' in Genesis 1, God reveals to the Pharaoh his 'last days', by saying 'When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light' ( Ezekiel 32:7 ) Again, from Matthew 24, verse 29, Jesus told His disciples, 'Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.' Again from Isaiah's prophesy, in chapter 34; we read, in verse 4, speaking of God's righteous judgment on the enemies of His people, 'All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; all their host shall fall down as the leaf falls from the vine, and as fruit falling from a fig tree' ( see also II Peter 3:10-12 ) When God revealed to the prophet Jeremiah what He was about to accomplish upon the disobedient children of His people; He used very physical language to refer to the chastisement of His children: 'I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled, and all the hills moved back and forth.' ( Jeremiah 4:24 ) When the prophet Habakkuk made his prayer to God, pleading, 'In wrath remember mercy' he noted that 'He stood and measured the earth; He looked and startled the nations. And the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed' ( 4:6 ), and 'The mountains saw You and trembled' ( 4:10 ).
As we continue this study of the book of Revelation; my wish is that God may be glorified through it and that the minds of many of my readers will be strengthened and encouraged, put at ease, so to speak, with the realization that Jesus' Revelation was not, is not, about the end, or destruction of our physical universe; but was, and is, about the revealing of the Son of God, in judgment, proving beyond all shadow of doubt that He was, and is, Who He said He was!
May God bless you through this study,
In His Kingdom,
and for His glory,