Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
OPENING OF THE
SIX OF THE
Compare Note, see on
Many (MEDE, FLEMING,
NEWTON, &c.) hold that all these seals have been
fulfilled, the sixth having been so by the overthrow of paganism and
establishment of Christianity under Constantine's edict,
A.D. 312. There can, however, be no doubt that at
least the sixth seal is future, and is to be at the coming again of
Christ. The great objection to supposing the seals to be finally and
exhaustively fulfilled (though, probably, particular events may be
partial fulfilments typical of the final and fullest one), is that, if
so, they ought to furnish (as the destruction of Jerusalem, according
to Christ's prophecy, does) a strong external evidence of Revelation.
But it is clear they cannot be used for this, as hardly any two
interpreters of this school are agreed on what events constitute the
fulfilment of each seal. Probably not isolated facts, but
classes of events preparing the way for Christ's coming kingdom,
are intended by the opening of the seals. The four living creatures
severally cry at the opening of the first four seals, "Come," which
fact marks the division of the seven, as often occurs in this
sacred number, into four and three.
1. one of the seals--The oldest manuscripts, A, B, C,
Vulgate, and Syriac read, "one of the seven
noise--The three oldest manuscripts read this in the nominative
or dative, not the genitive, as English Version, "I heard one
from among the four living creatures saying, as (it were) the
voice (or, 'as with the voice') of thunder." The first
living creature was like a lion
his voice is in consonance. Implying the lion-like boldness with which,
in the successive great revivals, the faithful have testified for
Christ, and especially a little before His coming shall testify.
Or, rather, their earnestness in praying for Christ's coming.
Come and see--One oldest manuscript, B, has "And see." But A, C,
and Vulgate reject it. ALFORD rightly
objects to English Version reading: "Whither was John to come?
Separated as he was by the glassy sea from the throne, was he to cross
it?" Contrast the form of expression,
It is much more likely to be the cry of the redeemed to the Redeemer,
"Come" and deliver the groaning creature from the bondage of
is an answer to the cry, went (literally, "came") forth
corresponding to "Come." "Come," says GROTIUS, is
the living creature's address to John, calling his earnest
attention. But it seems hard to see how "Come" by itself can mean
this. Compare the only other places in Revelation where it is used,
Re 4:1; 22:17.
If the four living creatures represent the four Gospels, the "Come"
will be their invitation to everyone (for it is not written that they
addressed John) to accept Christ's salvation while there
is time, as the opening of the seals marks a progressive step towards
the end (compare
Judgments are foretold as accompanying the preaching of the Gospel
as a witness to all nations
Thus the invitation, "Come," here, is aptly parallel to
The opening of the first four seals is followed by judgments
preparatory for His coming. At the opening of the fifth seal, the
martyrs above express the same
(Re 6:9, 10;
At the opening of the sixth seal, the Lord's coming is ushered in with
terrors to the ungodly. At the seventh, the consummation is fully
2. Evidently Christ, whether in person, or by His angel,
preparatory to His coming again, as appears from
Re 19:11, 12.
(Ps 45:4, 5).
crown--Greek, "stephanos," the garland or wreath
of a conqueror, which is also implied by His white horse,
white being the emblem of victory. In
Re 19:11, 12
the last step in His victorious progress is represented; accordingly
there He wears many diadems (Greek, "diademata";
not merely Greek, "stephanoi," "crowns" or "wreaths"),
and is personally attended by the hosts of heaven. Compare
Zec 1:7-17; 6:1-8;
also compare the colors of the four horses.
and to conquer--that is, so as to gain a lasting victory. All
four seals usher in judgments on the earth, as the power which
opposes the reign of Himself and His Church. This, rather than the work
of conversion and conviction, is primarily meant, though doubtless,
secondarily, the elect will be gathered out through His word and His
3. and see--omitted in the three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C,
4. red--the color of blood. The color of the horse in
each case answers to the mission of the rider. Compare
"Think not I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send
peace, but a sword." The white horse of Christ's
bloodless victories is soon followed, through man's perversion of the
Gospel, by the red horse of bloodshed; but this is overruled to
the clearing away of the obstacles to Christ's coming kingdom. The
patient ox is the emblem of the second living creature
who, at the opening of this seal, saith, "Come." The saints amidst
judgments on the earth in patience "endure to the end."
that they should kill--The Greek is indicative future,
"that they may, as they also shall, kill one another."
5. Come and see--The two oldest manuscripts, A, C, and
Vulgate omit "and see." B retains the words.
black--implying sadness and want.
a pair of balances--the symbol of scarcity of provisions, the
bread being doled out by weight.
6. a voice--Two oldest manuscripts, A, C, read, "as it
were a voice." B reads as English Version. The voice is
heard "in the midst of the four living creatures" (as Jehovah in the
Shekinah-cloud manifested His presence between the cherubim); because
it is only for the sake of, and in connection with, His redeemed, that
God mitigates His judgments on the earth.
A measure--"A chœnix." While making food scarce, do not
make it so much so that a chœnix (about a day's provision of
wheat, variously estimated at two or three pints) shall not be
obtainable "for a penny" (denarius, eight and a half pence of
our money, probably the day's wages of a laborer). Famine
generally follows the sword. Ordinarily, from sixteen to twenty
measures were given for a denarius. The sword, famine, noisome
beasts, and the pestilence, are God's four judgments on the
earth. A spiritual famine, too, may be included in the judgment. The
"Come," in the case of this third seal, is said by the third of the
four living creatures, whose likeness is a man indicative of
sympathy and human compassion for the sufferers. God in it tempers
judgment with mercy. Compare
which indicates the very calamities foretold in these seals, nation
rising against nation (the sword), famines, pestilences
three measures of barley for a penny--the cheaper and less
nutritious grain, bought by the laborer who could not buy enough wheat
for his family with his day's wages, a denarius, and, therefore, buys
see thou hurt not the oil, and the wine--the luxuries of life,
rather than necessaries; the oil and wine were to be spared for the
refreshment of the sufferers.
7. and see--supported by B; omitted by A, C, and Vulgate.
The fourth living creature, who was "like a flying eagle,"
introduces this seal; implying high-soaring intelligence, and judgment
descending from on high fatally on the ungodly, as the king of birds on
8. pale--"livid" [ALFORD].
unto them--Death and Hades. So A, C read. But B
and Vulgate read, "to him."
fourth part of the earth--answering to the first four seals; his
portion as one of the four, being a fourth part.
with the four judgments here, the sword, famine, pestilence, and
wild beasts; the famine the consequence of the sword;
pestilence, that of famine; and beasts multiplying by
the consequent depopulation.
with the beasts--Greek, "by"; more direct agency. These
four seals are marked off from the three last, by the four living
creatures introducing them with "Come." The calamities indicated are
not restricted to one time, but extend through the whole period of
Church history to the coming of Christ, before which last great and
terrible day of the Lord they shall reach highest aggravation. The
first seal is the summary, Christ going forth conquering till
all enemies are subdued under Him, with a view to which the judgments
subsequently specified accompany the preaching of the Gospel for a
witness to all nations.
9. The three last seals relate to the invisible, as the first
four to the visible world; the fifth, to the martyrs who have died as
believers; the sixth, to those who have died, or who shall be found at
Christ's coming, unbelievers, namely, "the kings . . . great
men . . . bondman . . . freeman"; the seventh, to
the silence in heaven. The scene changes from earth to heaven; so that
interpretations which make these three last consecutive to the first
four seals, are very doubtful.
I saw--in spirit. For souls are not naturally visible.
under the altar--As the blood of sacrificial victims slain on
the altar was poured at the bottom of the altar, so the souls of
those sacrificed for Christ's testimony are symbolically represented as
under the altar, in heaven; for the life or animal soul
is in the blood, and blood is often represented as crying for
The altar in heaven, antitypical to the altar of sacrifice, is Christ
crucified. As it is the altar that sanctifies the gift, so it is Christ
alone who makes our obedience, and even our sacrifice of life for the
truth, acceptable to God. The sacrificial altar was not in the
sanctuary, but outside; so Christ's literal sacrifice and the
figurative sacrifice of the martyrs took place, not in the heavenly
sanctuary, but outside, here on earth. The only altar in heaven is that
antitypical to the temple altar of incense. The blood of the martyrs
cries from the earth under Christ's cross, whereon they may be
considered virtually to have been sacrificed; their souls cry from
under the altar of incense, which is Christ in heaven, by whom alone
the incense of praise is accepted before God. They are under
Christ, in His immediate presence, shut up unto Him in joyful eager
expectancy until He shall come to raise the sleeping dead. Compare the
2 Maccabees 7:36
as indicating Jewish opinion on the subject. Our brethren who have now
suffered a short pain are dead under (Greek) God's
covenant of everlasting life.
testimony which they held--that is, which they bore, as
committed to them to bear. Compare
"Have (same Greek as here) the testimony of Jesus."
10. How long--Greek, "Until when?" As in the parable the
woman (symbol of the Church) cries day and night to the unjust
judge for justice against her adversary who is always oppressing her
so the elect (not only on earth, but under Christ's covering,
and in His presence in Paradise) cry day and night to God, who
will assuredly, in His own time, avenge His and their cause, "though He
bear long with them." These passages need not be
restricted to some particular martyrdoms, but have been, and are
receiving, and shall receive partial fulfilments, until their last
exhaustive fulfilment before Christ's coming. So as to the other events
foretold here. The glory even of those in Paradise will only be
complete when Christ's and the Church's foes are cast out, and the
earth will become Christ's kingdom at His coming to raise the sleeping
Lord--Greek, "Master"; implying that He has them and
their foes and all His creatures as absolutely at His disposal, as a
master has his slaves; hence, in
"fellow servants," or fellow slaves follows.
holy--Greek, "the Holy one."
avenge--"exact vengeance for our blood."
on--Greek, "from them."
that dwell on the earth--the ungodly, of earth, earthly, as
distinguished from the Church, whose home and heart are even now in
11. white robes--The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, read, "A
white robe was given."
every one of--One oldest manuscript, B, omits this. A and C
read, "unto them, unto each," that is, unto them severally. Though
their joint cry for the riddance of the earth from the ungodly is not
yet granted, it is intimated that it will be so in due time; meanwhile,
individually they receive the white robe, indicative of light,
joy, and triumphant victory over their foes; even as the Captain of
their salvation goes forth on a white horse conquering and to
conquer; also of purity and sanctity through Christ. MAIMONIDES says that the Jews used to array priests, when
approved of, in white robes; thus the sense is, they are
admitted among the blessed ones, who, as spotless priests, minister
unto God and the Lamb.
should--So C reads. But A and B, "shall rest."
a little season--One oldest manuscript, B, omits "little." A and
C support it. Even if it be omitted, is it to be inferred that the
"season" is short as compared with eternity? BENGEL fancifully made a season (Greek,
"chronus," the word here used) to be one thousand one hundred
and eleven one-ninth years, and a time
(Re 12:12, 14,
Greek, "kairos") to be a fifth of a season, that
is, two hundred and twenty-two two-ninths years. The only distinction
in the Greek is, a season (Greek,
"chronus") is a sort of aggregate of times. Greek,
"kairos," a specific time, and so of short duration. As to their
(the same Greek, "anapauomai");
until their . . . brethren . . . be
fulfilled--in number. Until their full number shall have been
completed. The number of the elect is definitely fixed: perhaps to fill
up that of the fallen angels. But this is mere conjecture. The
full blessedness and glory of all the saints shall be
simultaneous. The earlier shall not anticipate the later saints. A and
C read, "shall have been accomplished"; B and Aleph read, "shall
have accomplished (their course)."
Re 6:4, 6-8,
the sword, famine, and pestilence, answer to
Mt 24:6, 7;
Re 6:9, 10,
as to martyrdoms, answer to
Mt 24:9, 10;
so this passage,
Re 6:12, 17,
Mt 24:29, 30,
"the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and
the stars shall fall from heaven; . . . then shall all the
tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming";
imagery describing the portents of the immediate coming of the
day of the Lord; but not the coming itself until the elect are
sealed, and the judgments invoked by the martyrs descend on the earth,
the sea, and the trees
and, lo--So A reads. But B and C omit "lo."
earthquake--Greek, "shaking" of the heavens, the
sea, and the dry land; the shaking of these mutable things being the
necessary preliminary to the setting up of those things which cannot
be shaken. This is one of the catchwords
[WORDSWORTH] connecting the sixth seal with the
and the seventh vial
also the seventh seal
sackcloth--One kind, made of the "hair" of Cilician goats, was
called "cilicium," or Cilician cloth, and was used for tents, &c. Paul,
a Cilician, made such tents
moon--A, B, C, and oldest versions read, "the whole moon"; the
full moon; not merely the crescent moon.
13. stars . . . fell . . . as a fig tree casteth
her . . . figs--
The Church shall be then ripe for glorification, the Antichristian
world for destruction, which shall be accompanied with mighty phenomena
in nature. As to the stars falling to the earth, Scripture describes
natural phenomena as they would appear to the spectator, not in the
language of scientific accuracy; and yet, while thus adapting itself to
ordinary men, it drops hints which show that it anticipates the
discoveries of modern science.
14. departed--Greek, "was separated from" its
place; "was made to depart." Not as ALFORD,
"parted asunder"; for, on the contrary, it was rolled
together as a scroll which had been open is rolled up and laid
aside. There is no "asunder one from another" here in the Greek,
which ALFORD copies.
mountain . . . moved out of . . . places--
Jer 3:23; 4:24;
This total disruption shall be the precursor of the new earth, just as
the pre-Adamic convulsions prepared it for its present occupants.
15. kings . . . hid themselves--Where was now the
spirit of those whom the world has so greatly feared? [BENGEL].
great men--statesmen and high civil officers.
rich men . . . chief captains--The three oldest
manuscripts, A, B, C, transpose thus, "chief captains . . .
mighty--The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, and C read, "strong"
in--literally "into"; ran into, so as to hide
16. from the face--
On the whole verse, compare
17. Literally, "the day, the great (day)," which can only mean
the last great day. After the Lord has exhausted all His ordinary
judgments, the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts, and still
sinners are impenitent, the great day of the Lord itself' shall come.
plainly forms a perfect parallelism to the six seals, not only in the
events, but also in the order of their occurrence:
the first seal;
the second seal;
the third seal;
end, the fourth seal;
the fifth seal, the persecutions and abounding iniquity under which, as
well as consequent judgments accompanied with gospel preaching to all
nations as a witness, are particularly detailed,
the sixth seal.
to stand--to stand justified, and not condemned before the
Judge. Thus the sixth seal brings us to the verge of the Lord's
coming. The ungodly "tribes of the earth" tremble at the signs of His
immediate approach. But before He actually inflicts the blow in person,
"the elect" must be "gathered "out.