The Visions of Revelation; visions 3 - 7
Third vision; Opening of the first six seals,
1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. 3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. 5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. 7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. 9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. 12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
John now sees a number of quick short visions; the infamous four horsemen of the apocalypse. Actually these dreaded horsemen compose under half of this vision, but it seems that they have garnered more than their fair share of comment and speculation. Most postulate that the four’s deadly ride heralds the beginning of the Great Tribulation; the events that precede the Day of the Lord, but as we shall see they began their ride a long time ago.
The four horsemen
Let us first identify who or what these four horsemen represent. The first one that John sees is a white horse and John tells us that the rider is given a crown, has a bow and goes out to conquer (vs. 2). Many have voiced the opinion that this is the church, but a closer examination will dispel this. We find later in Revelation a description of the appearance of Jesus Christ when he returns to Earth (19:11-16) so let us compare that description and see if it is the same being.
While the description in chapter 19 provides a little more details than the brief account in chapter 6 there is enough to make a comparison. First off we see that both are riding a white horse, but the similarities end there. The rider in Chapter 6 is said to have a bow however Christ is said to have a sharp sword that goes from his mouth (vs. 19:15). Next the rider in chapter 6 is said to be wearing a crown, singular, however Christ is said to be wearing crowns, plural (vs. 19:12). So it would seem that this is not Christ we see in chapter 6 but an imposter, while John does not say anything more specifically about this rider leaving us to wonder about this being; is he an instrument of good or evil? We shall learn more about this rider shortly.
The second horseman is red and he is given a great sword and he was given power to take peace from the earth. Most believe that this rider represents war and so it would seem. The third horseman is said to be riding a black horse and he is carrying a pair of balances. John hears a voice announcing the cost of food and drink (vs. 6). Most assume this represents famine or severe food shortages. The fourth horseman John now sees is a pale horse and that death and hell (the word rendered as hell here is referring to the grave). John tells us that its rider was given power over a fourth of mankind; to kill with sword, hunger, death and the beasts of the earth. A pretty gruesome quartet. John does not say where these four horsemen go or whatever becomes of them, we shall soon be able to discover what happens to them.
A subtle but important aspect about these four horsemen and that is they are given; the first horseman is given his crown and the other two are given their power, the second to make war and the fourth power over a fourth of mankind. This means there is a higher authority that is allowing them to perform their actions and that there is limits to their power.
The fifth and sixth seals
When the fifth seal is opened John sees the souls of those people that were slain for the word of God (vs. 9). They cry out wanting to know how long until God will avenge their deaths. They are told to rest a little while until their brethren should be killed as they were is fulfilled (vs. 11), indicating a massive and bloody religious persecution.
Finally we come to the opening of the sixth seal and where we can locate in the timeline of events the previous events occurred or will occur. First the sixth seal. John tells us that upon opening the sixth seal there was a great earthquake and the sun became black as sackcloth and the moon blood red (vs. 6:12).
Placing the Four Horsemen in history
When studying prophecy there are locators, specific events that are unique to a certain happening that assist in accurately placing an event and this is the case here when discussing the Day of the Lord. We find these astronomical events mentioned elsewhere in the Bible and they all say that they occur during the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 13:10; Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31, 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) and two of them specifically say before the Day of the Lord this will happen (Joel 2:31; Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20). So these four horsemen are loosed prior to the Day of the Lord, but is their ride, as many claim, confined to the period known as the great tribulation?
To learn the answer we must see if somewhere in the Bible the events leading up to the time known as the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord is discussed. We find that these events are discussed and by Jesus himself. This discussion is found in Matthew 24 (with accounts of the same event in Mark 13 and Luke 21). This account is generally referred to as the Olivet Prophecy and some also refer to it as the second Sermon on the Mount; in a very brief overview Jesus and the disciples were in the temple in Jerusalem and the disciples were awed by the magnificent buildings. They mention their amazement at the impressive structures and Jesus shocks them by saying that in time the buildings would be destroyed and that no stone would be left on top of another (Matt. 24:2). A short time later the disciples came to Jesus and asked him when this would occur and also about the end of the age (Matt. 24:3). Jesus warns his disciples that there shall be great tribulation, such as the world has never seen (vs. 21), he then says that immediately after this great tribulation the above mentioned heavenly signs will occur (Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25).
We must go to the beginning of this prophecy to learn about the four horsemen. Initially the Olivet prophecy is talking about the destruction of the temple (which occurred in 70 AD); Christ tells his listeners about the signs that will indicate the temple’s destruction. He then gives them a brief outline of the events that will precede the destruction. He says that they are to be cautious that no one would deceive them; that many would come in his name (Matt. 24:4-5). In other words there would be counterfeit Christs arising as we saw symbolized by the white horse and its rider. Next he says there will be wars and rumors of wars (vs. 6); as portrayed by the red horse and its rider. He then says that there will be famines and pestilence in diverse places (vs. 7) as symbolized by the third and fourth horsemen. But he tells us that this is just the beginning of the sorrows (vs. 8).
While an in depth study of Matthew 24 is beyond the scope of this piece we still need to examine it briefly. Let us recall because it is important in correctly placing this prophecy in the context of what is being discussed here. Many ascribe the prophecy in Matthew 24 to end time events, but a careful examination will reveal that this is not truly accurate. Remember Christ had told the disciples that the spectacular temple would eventually be razed and they had asked when would this happen and what were the signs indicating it was imminent. The things that we have mentioned and have connected with the four horsemen in Revelation were those warning signs. Yes, Christ did comment about the end times, but the four horsemen, as we have seen, are not directly linked to that but rather to the destruction of the temple which occurred in 70 AD.
This understanding also supports the contention mentioned above about the time of the writing of Revelation. As was stated the traditional view is that Revelation was written about 96 AD while another view is that it was written about 69 AD. A number of points need to be presented here; first, nowhere in the New Testament is the destruction of the Temple talked about as if it had happened and this was a very traumatic event for both the Jewish nation and the new Christian Church. Second, remember that in the opening to the book we are told that the purpose of the book was to show to “his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1). Third, as we shall see in later visions the destruction of the temple is prophesied. Finally recall that upon the opening of the fifth seal John saw the souls of those that had been murdered for the Word of God and they cried out how long until God would avenge them (Rev. 6:9-10). They were told to rest a “little season” until their brethren, who were to die as they had, been killed (vs. 11). Remember also that in Luke’s account of the Olivet prophecy, Christ said that when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies they are to know that its end was near (Luke 21:20). Jerusalem was besieged by a Roman army of 30,000 men and some 600,000 people were killed during this siege that ended with Jerusalem and the temple being razed. While this event was very destructive and traumatic it did cause the new church to disperse since prior to the siege Christianity was primarily centered on Jerusalem. We shall see another vision later that also refers to the coming destruction of the temple, in fact the vision accurately tells how long the siege will last.
So it would appear that these feared Four Horsemen are not waiting to be loosed upon the earth, but they have been riding since early in the first century. While there is no mention of when their rider will be halted it would appear from later visions that they gallop ruthlessly through the Great Tribulation. They also, while not specifically identified, appear to be at work during the Day of the Lord; at least up to the second coming of Jesus. This vision ends dramatically, with the announcement that the Day of the Lord, the “great day of his wrath” has arrived (vs. 17).
The fourth vision; the 144,000,
1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5 Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6 Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7 Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8 Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
As was said the previous vision ends on a dramatic note, with the announcement of the arrival of the Day of the Lord and then, in a great cliffhanger fashion, it briefly interrupts this sequence of events to address something else. We are introduced to a group of people that have generated wide speculation as to who they are or who they represent. The theories as to who they are range from; Jews that convert to Christianity in the end time, that they are the end time church, some specific religious groups claim that they are the group and finally another belief is that they are the martyred souls mentioned in Revelation 6:9. Most claim that this group is only mentioned twice and only in the book of Revelation while this is correct and it also inaccurate. While the number is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, the group is talked about if we know what we are looking for. Again we need to remember that if we allow the Bible to explain itself it will and also that Revelation is couched heavily with symbols.
As was said above, these 144,000 are talked about a second time in Revelation and we shall discuss them in more detail at that point, but there are some things about this group that we shall address here. One misconception about this group is that they are Jews that convert during the end time to Christianity. First off, to claim that this group is Jewish is partly correct. One needs to understand that in today’s vernacular Jew is used to refer to anyone of the Hebrew religion and/or as a reference to the ancient nation of Israel, this is incorrect. First off not all of ancient Israel was Jewish! The term Jew or Jewish was used to refer to someone of the tribe of Judah; in fact the first time the word Jew is used in the Bible they are allied against the nation of Israel (2 Kings 16:1-6). So while all Jews are Israelites not all Israelites are Jewish. Returning to the list of the 144,000 we see that yes some of the group is Jewish yet the entire group is not Jewish.
The exact identity of this group, the nationality, is unknown to us; other then that they are descended from the ancient nation of Israel. While we, humans, do not know what has happened to the other tribes of Israel, primarily the lost ten tribes of Israel, God knows where they are. He tells us that the so-called lost ten tribes have been assimilated into other countries and have forgotten who they are (Amos 9:9; Jeremiah 50:6; Hosea 1-2; Ezek. 11:17). So this group will come from across the world and when we see what their role shall be in the Kingdom of God we see that it is a fulfillment of God’s promise that the nation’s of the Earth would be blessed through Abraham and his descendents (Gen. 18:18; 22:18).
The sealing of this 144,000 is similar to what is described in Ezekiel 9. Prior to the vision recorded in chapter 9 Ezekiel has been shown the abominations of the nation of Judea (Chapter 8), in the last verse God tells Ezekiel that he is going to punish Judah for its abominations, that he will deal in fury and spare not (vs. 18). But before he does this Ezekiel sees a man clothed in linen and having a writer’s inkhorn by his side (9:2). The Lord directs this man to go through the city of Jerusalem and mark “upon the foreheads” all those that “sigh and that cry for all the abominations” (vs. 4). Also with the man dressed in linen were six men holding weapons of slaughter (vs. 2) and the Lord tells them to follow the first man and slay everyone in the city but “but come not near any man upon whom is the mark” (vs. 6). This mark was for protection against God’s wrath and we see the same aspect with the mark in this vision. Notice that the angels are told to not harm “the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees” until the servants of God are sealed. This nullifies the claim that this group represents the raptured church since if the church has been whisked away as the rapture theory claims then there would be no need to identify the servants of God and to mark them so they are shielded from harm.
The fifth vision; The Great Multitude,
9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God,
12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
John now tells of seeing a great multitude; an assemblage of people from all over the world. Many tend to link this short vision with the previous one (i.e. the 144,000); some say they are the same group while others say they exist at the same time. John really does not spend too much time providing the reader with much detail about this vast group in this vision. It would seem that his intent was simply to introduce them; he does expand later on in Revelation. He does, when he discusses them towards the end of the book, allow us to accurately locate this group in the overall flow of the events prophesied to occur.
We shall more fully discuss this group later, but let us just understand that this multitude is separate from the 144,000. Also that this vast multitude comes about well into the future; while they do exist they do not currently exist as they are portrayed in this vision. John, in this short vision is actually providing the reader with a peek at the ending of the whole story and it is a happy ending.
The sixth vision; opening the seventh seal,
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
John now returns to the scroll and the opening of the last seal. But when this last seal is opened we are not exposed to another scene or event, but instead John says there is a silence in heaven for about a half and hour. This silence has a number of explanations, from; a dramatic pause by the heavenly host, an expectant pause about what is about to happen, it was a silence of peace because all was well in the church or it was done so John could collect his thoughts about what he had witnessed so far.
It should be remembered that the scene relating to the previous seal ended with the announcement that the Day of the Lord had arrived (Rev. 6:17). So we must look in the Bible to see if there is any comment relating to the start of the Day of the Lord and also this silence. We find in Zephaniah 1:7 the admonition “Silence in the presence of the Lord GOD! for near is the day of the LORD”. Also we see a similar directive in Zechariah 2:13 to “Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation”. As we shall see God most certainly has risen and will definitely get the attention of the whole Earth.
The seventh vision; the angel with the golden censer,
And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
John does not tell us if the scene involving the seven angels receiving the seven trumpets (vs. 2) and the subsequent action of the other angel taking the golden censer, filling it with the fire from the altar and casting it to earth happens during the half an hour of silence or right after. We have seen that the story flow of the book of Revelation has brought us to the beginning of the Day of the Lord; prior to the opening of the seventh seal we witnessed the sealing of the 144,000 and this incident of the angels receiving their trumpets and the taking of the fire from the altar almost seems like a dramatic pause; a literary action to build suspense, but there is more to it than that.
The golden altar
This taking of the fire and casting it to earth is very important as we shall see. To understand the significance of this act we must first understand what the golden altar is. We need to look at the Old Testament temple to gain this understanding and remember that the temple that was built was a copy of the heavenly one. Briefly speaking of the Tabernacle we find that it was composed of two sections; the outer court and the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was then divided into two sections, the first was known as the Holy Place and it was separated by a thick veil from the second chamber, the Holy of Holies. No one but the High Priest was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies and he was only allowed to enter once a year and that was on the Day of Atonement. Inside of the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. In the first chamber; the Holy Place, there were three pieces of furniture; on the left side was the golden lamp stand, on the right was the table of showbread and at the rear and in front of the veil was the golden altar of incense.
It was upon this golden altar that the priests were to burn incense and not just any incense; God gave very specific instructions to Moses as to the composition of the incense and also directed that it was only to be used on that altar and not by anyone for private use (Ex 30:34-38).
Some have speculated that this vision symbolizes God’s wrath being poured out upon the Earth and others believe it represents the pouring out of God’s spirit, the Bible reveals that these apparently contradictory beliefs are partly correct. But as we shall see there is an even greater aspect to this act. As we have already seen God said he will cause signs to appear in the heavens to announce the onset of the Day of the Lord and this is further confirmed by these additional signs; “And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.” (Joel 2:30).
As we know the Day of the Lord is the time of God’s wrath upon the Earth for mankind’s disobedience. One finds other incidents in the Bible where God has unleashed his wrath, usually it was directed towards the nation of Israel for its improper behavior and it is one of these incidents where we find the explanation of this vision of the angel and the golden altar.
Incense from the altar
While the Israelites were wondering through the wilderness a group of respected men led by a man named Korah decided that, in their opinion, Moses had taken too much upon himself (Num. 16:1-3). Skipping over the details of the incident God caused an earthquake to swallow up Korah and his followers (vs. 31-33). The very next day the people of Israel began to mumble against Moses, claiming “Ye have killed the people of the LORD “(vs. 41). In his anger at the people God tells Moses and Aaron to get away from the people; that he intends to destroy them in a moment (vs. 45). Instead Moses directs Aaron to;
Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun. 47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
So we see that this act of taking the fire mixed with incense and going through the people spared them from the plague that God had sent . It appears that this is what happens in this vision and we find confirmation of this in Peter’s Pentecost address to the crowd. In it he refers to the scripture in Joel mentioned above;
16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…19 And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: 21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
(Acts 2:16, 19-21)
While these people are not part of the 144,000 mentioned earlier they do comprise part of the vast multitude that John mentioned. As we shall see that the plagues and torments that befall the people of Earth fall upon those that refuse to repent and accept the seal of God.
 Not all were saved; the Bible tells us that 14,700 people died (Num. 16: 49).