By William R. Newell
Part One: Judgment
Let us now consider the seals of chapter 6. They cover the whole book to the new creation; for the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet the seven bowls of wrath of chapter 16 (which chapter really ends the revelation of the judgments preceding the Lord’s second coming; chapters 17 and 18 being a detailed description of the judgment of Babylon the Great of 16:19).
Let us remember, as we have already directed, that the Lamb opens all the seals while still inn heaven in the midst of the throne.
It should be noticed also that the four living beings have directly to do with the first four seals. They are connected with the execution of divine judgment, being full of intelligence concerning the divine will.
The First Seal
This horse and rider are plainly connected with the holy hosts and armies that are in heaven. Heaven is no longer engaged in grace but in judgment. “White horse”—this is holiness in exhibition and in warfare, for thus do white horses appear in Scripture. The rider has a bow, the weapon of long distance conflict. The Lord and the heavenly host are not yet coming (for the rider symbolises not only Christ but the whole heavenly host now exhibited as antagonistic to earth). “Thine arrows are sharp; … in the heart of the king’s enemies” is written in Psalm 45:5 of our Lord’s coming.
“And there was given unto him a crown” denotes the fact that the Lord and the powers of heaven are to take the kingdom away from men, and rule for God!
“He came forth conquering, and to conquer.” Some have amazingly conceived this white horse to represent the Antichrist! Not only would this be absolutely out of time (for the career of the Antichrist constitutes a woe under the seventh trumpet of the seventh seal) but how impossible to conceive of the Antichrist as conquering and to conquer—that is, to get the final victory. This is what the phrase, “conquering and to conquer” means— to achieve final and decisive conquest. And only Christ will ever do that. This first seal then indicates the Lord and the hosts of heaven turned against the earth: a most solemn thought! It is a public change from the day of grace.
The Second Seal
If coming events cast their shadows before them, as goes the proverb, surely we have today, in the frantic and ceaseless efforts of the statesmen and economists of earth to secure even the stability that existed a few years ago, a suggestion of the awful time indicated by this “red horse.”
We are sure that the peace of the earth has not yet judicially been taken away, for there is still quietness and order for the most part—despite increasing sin. But when the Lord opens this second seal, universal distrust, plotting, and carnage will follow.
It should be remembered that any ordered, peaceful life on earth is purely the result of God’s gracious intervention. The “hinderer” of 2 Thessalonians 2 is holding back human passions. But there will come a day when all the murderous evil of the human heart will be unleashed, and “they will slay one another.”
Also, I am inclined to think that the “giving” to this second rider of “a great sword” may indicate such participation in human battles by angelic intervention as is frequently noted in the Old Testament. The Lord set “liers-in-wait” from His angelic hosts more than once: for example, 2 Chronicles 20:22; 14:13; 2 Samuel 5:24; 2 Kings 7:6.
The Third Seal
The choenix measure was about a quart, and a denarius is shown in Matthew 20:2 to be a common day’s wage. What its money value was as compared with our day, has nothing to do with the subject. The denarius was evidently, from the New Testament, a day’s wage. The laborers “agreed” to work for a denarius a day. Therefore we read, “a quart of wheat for a day’s wage” showing a desperate condition!
That the oil and wine are to be spared indicates, it seems, that the rich have their luxuries despite the terrible scarcity among the poor. This would agree with the description in James 5:l-5 of the self-indulgence of the rich in the last days, for we must read in the R. V. “Ye have laid up your treasure in the last days.”
On the other hand, James warns the rich of “their miseries that are coming upon them,” in this world, as it seems to mean. Before the tribulation is over, yea, even now, the rich cry out. For the whole movement of “government” is to appropriate private property. See Russia, Italy, Germany, and the “New Deal” in America. But the very rich are seen here as still having their luxuries, under this third seal, and the great mass ground to poverty.
We noticed not long ago in a Chicago newspaper a paragraph reading about as follows: “By modern methods of agriculture we have solved the question of famine. We can produce any amount of grain we decide to produce. Science has triumphed over the constant dread of less enlightened communities,” etc., etc.
How baleful statements so contrary to the predictions of Scripture become when dealt out to people that are ignorant enough to believe them! The most fearful days of famine this world has ever seen lie, we believe, net very far ahead.
The Fourth Seal
Now death takes the body, and Hades the spirit, of lost men. Death is so spoken of in Scripture as often almost to compel us to regard it as a personality. Mark, I do not say it is such, nor can I fully believe it to be. Nevertheless Scripture, the narration of others, and personal experience have taught me profoundly to believe that death is more than simple dissolution. When death seizes upon the body of an unbeliever, something happens vastly beyond the departure of the spirit and the cessation of the breath of life. A terrible seizure (said by Paul to have been the result of Adam’s sin—Romans 5:12) occurs to those dying. Of the death of our Lord, Peter said (Acts 2:24) “God … loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (for He was not personally a sinner).
Death in connection with Hades is mentioned in three places in The Revelation. In 1:18, our Lord “has the keys of death and of Hades.” In 20:13 death and Hades give up the dead which were in them, death holding the body and Hades the spirit. (Those given up by the sea are not, in my judgment, human dead.)
Finally, death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire. Now, we know that the lake of fire is literal. (Isaiah 30:33 describes it and its antiquity, as well as its kindling to receive the Beast, the last “king” of the Gentiles, Revelation 19:20.) Whatever that power is that holds the bodies of men, it will be cast finally into the lake of fire, and will lose forever its power of dissolution. For the bodies of the damned will be indestructible. Hades also, now located in the center of this earth (Matthew 12:40 with Acts 2:31 and Ephesians 4:9) will be cast into the lake of fire.
But under the fourth seal we see death and Hades given authority over the fourth part of the earth to kill; and that with God’s four sore judgments of Ezekiel 14:21, “sword,” “famine,” “pestilence” and “wild beasts.” People say, “Peace,” but the sword is coming. People cry, “Prosperity and plenty,” but famine is coming. People boast of conquering disease by medical science, but pestilence is coming. Hunters complain of the disappearance of beasts to hunt, of game to pursue; but wild beasts will (by and by) multiply again, even in America, to the slaying of thousands upon thousands! We must remember that a fourth of the population of the earth is given over to these four judgments alone. And let us also remember that the plagues hurled directly from heaven, as in chapter 16, have not yet begun, under the four seals, not even the locust plague of chapter 9, nor the career of the wild beast of chapter 13. These come later. But the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts, take a quarter of earth’s population.
The Fifth Seal
To Moses was given a pattern of the things in the heavens (Hebrews 9:23). Therefore, there was an altar in heaven, or rather there is an altar. It was possibly thither that our Lord was going in John 20:17 to present Himself, according to Hebrews 9:12, as the Great High Priest. Underneath this altar in heaven are seen the souls (yet disembodied) of God’s martyrs, evidently from Abel on. Their martyrdom has cried to heaven, as did Abel’s blood, for vengeance. These souls give expression now to the change of dispensation from grace to judgment: “How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The answer is, that God is delaying judgment— not for salvation purposes, but that the rest of the martyrs may join their fellows!
“There was given them to each one a white robe (manifested righteousness) and it was said unto them, that they should rest (note this—they are at rest, personally) yet for a little time, until (1) their fellow-servants also and (2) their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course”—(keep these two classes in mind).
This fifth seal exhibits especially three things: First, the patience of God—“He proceeds slowly and reluctantly from mercy to judgment.” Second, the change of dispensation evidenced in the character of the prayers of these martyrs for vengeance. Third, the utter wickedness of the earth which is plainly expected to go on martyring the full complement of God’s saints.
The Sixth Seal
1. The earthquake. These are on the increase today. This will be a great one, for God is arising to “shake terribly the earth,” for man’s sin. It shook thus when Christ bare our guilt; and at His resurrection (Matthew 27:51; 28:2).
2. The first darkening of the sun and moon, “before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20 quoting Joel 2:31). The second will be “immediately after the tribulation” (Matthew 24:29). But men in terror believe the end has come! When it does not, they grow hardened like Pharaoh, and we see them in Revelation 19:19 boldly gather to war against the Lamb whom here they dread!
3. Such a “removing” of the stars and of material “heaven” as probably to render visible thereafter what cannot now be seen.
4. Unlimited terror upon all the earth, at the world-wide dreaded wrath of Him upon the throne and of the Lamb: for the Bible has gone everywhere; and the Throne seems at this moment to be seen by all the earth!
But the particulars remain to be filled in (chapters 8 to 16) of those preliminary visitations from heaven which we find only result in men’s refusing repentance and becoming hardened (except in the one instance in Jerusalem when the two witnesses are killed—chapter 11).
Meanwhile, we shall find God giving, in chapter 7, a vision of His election and salvation; and in the following chapters particulars of judgment under the seventh seal.