The Overall Purpose for Opening the Seals
Revelation 6
r 06a
A Finding keys to interpretation
   To interpret the prophecy of the seals, we need to recognize a principle. All through the book of Revelation, we look at symbols and draw conclusions about the literal situations they describe. It's a little like solving puzzles. For good understanding, we need to pray for guidance, develop an idea from careful reading, test the idea against the other Bible passages, examine other opinions, ask other godly people who know their Bibles to evaluate our idea, and be willing to scrap the idea if flaws are seen.
   Principles for understanding the seven churches may be applied to other prophecies.  In the general introduction to the book of Revelation, John was told to write what he saw in a book to be sent to the seven churches re0111. At the end the "book" as a whole unit is mentioned again re2210, re2218. In reading through the book which we call Revelation, we discover that it includes end-time situations, many still future (for example, re0614, re2101). So, although the seven literal churches no doubt received John's whole book, (perhaps in segments), the message is for God's people from the apostle's time and down through the ages.
...The seals, as I see them, are not a description of successive time periods. However, situations in Bible history are used, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to give them meaning. Prophetic symbols are often built on stories or situations which are themselves symbolic. To understand, let's examine Jesus' prophecy in Matt. 24. There we find a clear example in verses 35 to 39. You may want to read mt2435-39.
   In saying that no stone would be left on another, Jesus was describing the destruction of Jerusalem. The disciples, thinking that this would be the end of the world, asked when this would happen and, I believe prompted by the Holy Spirit, added another question: "what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" You may recall that, in verse 14, He said that the end would come after the gospel had been preached everywhere. Then he described the surrounding of Jerusalem to describe that end, although this is not immediately obvious. The attack on Jerusalem became the "sign," or symbol, of His coming! He used the situation as a model for what would happen later. This may be seen more precisely in a chart, mt24.

   To be ready for what follows, please read in your Bible from this chapter through the beginning of chapter 8. Chapter 7 does not seem to discuss seals but it may be understood as an expansion or extension of events under the sixth seal. The seventh opens in chapter 8.

B Four-part judgment
   We have been studying the seals. Let's lay a little more groundwork to make sense about what we read. I could tell you my ideas, but it's not right for me to make assertions that you are not prepared to see as coming from the Bible.
   To get an idea of what is involved in the opening of all the seals, read 6:1 to 8:1 in your Bible (unless you recently have). Chapter 7 may be understood as an extension of the events of the sixth seal because the seventh seal doesn't appear until 8:1. After reading, return here to consider the ideas of this commentary. . Image © Corel.

   In looking through the scenes presented as the seals are broken, you may have noticed that the first four form a unique group. Each is introduced in the same way and described in corresponding terms. From the previous chapter, we realize that the seals here are opened by the Lamb that was found worthy to do so re0505. This leads us to think of judgment. In fact, such was our conclusion. (See re0501).
   Might the four similar scenes reveal four groups being judged? Let's look for how the Bible classifies people. We expect to find the righteous and the wicked ge1823 but that makes two groups not four. Let's hold that problem for now. When is this judgment? Notice, in the following passages, that Jesus brings His reward when He comes re2212, mt1627. Often passages linked to, include more than one verse.

The time of the preadvent judgment
    These verses describe the end of the time for changing character. Since the reward is decided according to works or behavior, judgment must happen before Jesus leaves heaven to come to the earth. Indeed, the Lamb is in heaven when He takes the scroll re0401. Jesus' parable about the wedding feast for the king's son confirms the idea. One of the guests, in the garment of his own works, was called but not chosen to partake of the feast. The reward of each guest was either to enjoy the feast or to be consigned to outer darkness. The selection process of inspecting the garments was a judgment. See mt2214.
    This judgment also happens after the cross when the Lamb is seen to be worthy to open the scroll re0505. And it happens after the little horn power of Daniel 7 has demonstrated its character in trying to change the law of God and in persecuting the saints for 3½ "times" (1260 literal years) da0725, da1208. Remember that the horn power began after the fall of Imperial Rome da0707,8. Thus it's reasonable to see the judgment as in our time. More on this in discussing the fifth seal opening.
    In summary, this judgment happens:
After the time of Imperial Rome.
While Jesus is in heaven with the Father.
After He has been found worthy to break the seals.
Before He comes with rewards for righteous and wicked.

    The judgment of the thousand years while reigning with Christ, follows His coming and is obviously still future re1118, re2004.

But does Jesus need to judge us before He comes?
   Some have spoken against the idea of a pre-advent judgment explaining that God already knows our hearts. He certainly does he0413. His purpose is not for finding out, but for vindication of the Lamb and His followers to clarify that these ex-sinners were ready re1402c. Before Jesus comes with His reward, He is found worthy, in the eyes of the universe, to judge re0507, and the chosen ones are found to have the robe of His righteousness. is6110, mt2210. Let's return to our question:

Are there four groups in the pre-advent judgment, represented by the first four seals?
   Consider that some are judged before others. The announcement of the beginning of the final judgment is a warning to prepare. Thus the judgment begins before everyone on earth has made a final choice re1407d. Those who are dead have no further opportunity to change and are ready for judgment. (Choosing not to choose would have been a choice to retain the natural, sinful nature.) It is logical to expect that the review of our lives which decides our destiny would come after we have chosen the way of evil or of righteousness and before the reward it determines is granted. So we can see that the dead could be judged first because they are ready first he0927.
    Paul spoke of only the "dead in Christ" being raised at His coming. Thus among the dead, some will be found "in Christ" (righteous) and will be resurrected. Others obviously will be found to be not in Christ (wicked) and left dead (da1202, re2005wh). Among the living, some will be righteous and taken to heaven while the wicked around them are left on the earth to be killed (re1911, 21; re0615-17, re1921). That makes four groups good and bad dead, and good and bad living. Do the scenes with the opening of these seals appear in the order in which the four classes are judged? If so, this would be evidence that we are probably on the right track.

C Four classes
   So the first four seal openings may involve four classes of people who are subject to the preadvent judgment. Earlier we saw that the scroll which the Lamb received to read appears to be evidence for judgment, and that opening (or breaking) the seals would be Christ's work of redemption His work in and for His repentant people to save them from the wages of sin which Satan was determined that they should receive. Before the idea of the four seals being associated with classes in the judgment can be moved from someone's opinion to a reasonable explanation, we have to see if it fits the picture as we read.
   "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. 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. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 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." (Rev. 6:1-4). We will look at the description of the horses shortly.

Other interpretations
    Most commentators tend to see the four horses along with their riders as picturing woe and human suffering through the ages. Only minor distinctions are seen among the four horse and rider sets, raising the question of why there are four instead of one. Earl Palmer's view is a clearly stated example:
    "The relentless approach of power, of war, of famine, of death each is an enemy of humanity and is seen as such in John's vision of the opening of the first four seals. Each dread is both ancient and contemporary." (Earl F. Palmer, The Communicator's Commentary, 1, 2, 3 John, Revelation, Lloyd J. Ogilvie, General Ed., p. 177, World Books, Waco, TX, 1982)
    Palmer and other commentators with the same conclusion also reject the idea that Christ is the rider of the first horse. These include Fred D. Howard, Layman's Bible Book Commentary, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, Revelation, vol. 24, pp. 75, 76., Broadman Press, Nashville, 1982.,
    Also, David E. Aune, Bruce M Metzger, Ed., Revelation, p.392., Thomas Nelson, 1998.
    And, Kendell H. Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, p. 106. Groadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, 1998.
    Christopher A. Davis sees the same picture but does not bring up the argument against Christ being on the first horse. The College Press NIV Commentary, Revelation, pp. 182, 183, College Press Publishing Company, Joplin MO, 2000.
    Mitchell G. Reddish covered Revelation in Mercer Commentary on the Bible, Mercer University Press, Macon, BA 31210, 1995. See p. 1333. He writes: "The first rider, on a white horse, symbolizes warfare and conquering. ". . . Victorious military commanders often rode a white horse in triumphant procession."
    M. Eugene Boring, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Revelation. James Luther Mays, Ed., John Knox, Press, Louisville, 1989, pp. 122, 123. Boring writes: "The four horsemen portray the judgment of God on human arrogance and rebellion as manifest in the persecuting Roman power." Boring sees the source for the white horse imagery as the Parthians, mounted archers on white horses. He points out that "The first rider was often understood to be Christ by interpreters from Ireaneus in the second century through the Middle Ages. . . ."

   In general, it is argued that Christ cannot be the rider of the first horse because all of the riders and horses are thought to represent disasters on the earth. Is the rider of the white horse in chapter 6 also the rider of the white horse in Revelation 19:11? Most scholars say No because the rider in chapter 19 does not fit their disaster pattern for chapter 6 and because they don't believe Christ as the lamb who opens the seals can also be Christ, the rider of the horse seen when the first seal is opened in 6:1, 2.
    I don't find these arguments convincing so was pleased to discover that The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. xii agrees with my idea of the first rider being Christ although not in quite the same role. Quoting The New Interreter's Bible, vol. xii. p. 611, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1998. "The rider has a crown like those of the elders (4:4), the woman, (12:1), and, most important, like that of the Christ-like angel in 14:14 [I see the One on the cloud in 14:14 as Christ]. The use of the word "bow" here is unique in Revelation. . . .
    "The other images associated with the first rider are more common in Revelation.
    . . .
    "The first horseman goes forth to 'conquer.' Nothing explicitly is said about death and destruction. As we have seen, 'conquer' is used throughout the seven churches. Here and there, the verb is used intransitively (cf. 11:7, where the beast is said to conquer and kill God's two witnesses: 13:7, where the beast is permitted to conquer the saints). This activity is closely related to that of the Lamb, who 'conquers' and is able to open the scroll. To 'conquer,' therefore, is to be like the Lamb, to do the Lamb's works and to be faithful like the Lamb."
    Seventh-day Adventists generally understand the scenes described as the seals are opened to represent conditions during a succession of time periods between the cross and the return of Christ. They see the rider of the first horse as Christ leading the new church. The red horse is understood to represent persecution under pagan Rome, the black horse as the dark ages, the pale horse as the worsening conditions and the souls under the altar as martyrs waiting for resurrection. Under the sixth seal they see signs and events heralding the coming of Christ, and under the seventh, the exodus from heaven as all attend Christ who comes in glory. (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary vol. 7, Francis D. Nichol, Ed., Review and Herald Publishing Assn., Hagerstown, MD, 1957, 1980. pp. 775-780, 787.)
    Although I see the horse scenes as representing phenomena during the NT era, my interpretations differ from the traditional Adventist position just described as well as from the conclusions of most Bible scholars.

Horses as symbols
    We return to continue developing the understanding proposed in this commentary. What is the basis for seeing horses as people groups? The picture of the four groups in judgment is not immediately apparent. First we see historical groups who, in turn, become symbols for the classes in judgment.
   ". . . for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle." (Zech. 10:3). zc1003.
   Following this concept we may see the horses of the first four seals as religious peoples and the riders as their leaders or guiding forces. Indeed they are horses in battle the struggle between good and evil. We may see Jesus Himself as the first rider and head of the early church. We see Him again on the white horse in Chapter 19 identified by several attributes including "King of kings" and conclude that the scene is of His final victory after the prostitute (false religious system) has been judged and found guilty. re1911. The two appearances mark the beginning and end of the New Testament conquest for righteousness.
    Those seeking entry into the kingdom are judged before they are rewarded. They are seen in these four groups: (1) the righteous dead, (2) the wicked dead, (3) the righteous living at the end, (4) the wicked living then. Those who have clearly chosen not to follow Christ have already refused their reward and are not among the four groups being judged (jn0318, compare re1101f).

Symbols of symbols
    As rider of the first horse, Jesus initiated His church in purity. This group and three others who claim His name through the ages until He returns again riding the white horse form the four groups in the preadvent judgment. They are: (1) the first pure believers, (2) their antagonists who pretend to believe, (3) the final believers, and (4) their antagonists who pretend to believe. When the preadvent judgment ends (that is, when the bride of Rev. 19:7 has been found ready re1907), the time of punishment begins re1911. The false woman (here, the red horse) is likewise judged re1902 (explained more at re1908). The final white horse with the armies of heaven follows the four horses who experience the judgment. Thus four historical groups represent the four classes in judgment. Jesus reads the records of all the good and evil. He judges with justice and mercy acquitting the righteous.
   Our classification is confirmed in Chapters 13 and 14 where we see the same four groups under different symbols and in a different order in the text, 2,1,4,3: (2) the beast worshipers, re1308, (1) the patient saints, re1310, (4) the worshipers of the revived beast and its image, 13:11-15, and (3) the patient saints of its era, re1412. Groups 2 and 4 (the wicked horses) are also represented in the second and third plagues, re1603.

   The evidence is still in reading the word itself, and in communion with God through His Spirit. The interpretations I have shared are largely my own. I pray that you might find them exciting as I have and that we might, together, bring glory to our rider and King. (I heard the idea relating the four horses to groups in the preadvent judgment from Kraid Ashbaugh, Studies on Daniel and Revelation, pp.27-30, TEACH Services, 1988.)

Groups in the Preadvent Judgment
Identified at the end of the judgment which is the time of the resurrection.
Read the whole page above for better understanding
Group judged
Historical representative
Group in Chapter 13
white righteous dead since sin entered Eden pure church of the early ages patient saints, 13:10
wicked dead since Eden corrupt church which began in the early ages beast worshipers, 13:8
black righteous living at end pure end-time church patient saints, 14:12
wicked living at end corrupt end-time worshippers worshippers of beast and image, 13:11-15
The last 3 of the 7 seals cover the events of the preadvent judgment re0713go.
For the time of the preadvent judgment see above.

    On the next page, we begin looking at the text and understanding what it means.

Previous Chap. 5
Chap. 6 home
Revelation home
Commentary home