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. When the Lamb opened one of the seals - It is worthy of remark that the opening of the seals is not merely a declaration of what God will do, but is the exhibition of a purpose then accomplished; for whenever the seal is opened, the sentence appears to be executed. It is supposed that, from Revelation 6:1-11, the calamities which should fall on the enemies of Christianity, and particularly the Jews, are pointed out under various images, as well as the preservation of the Christians under those calamities.
One of the four beasts - Probably that with the face of a lion. See Revelation 4:7.
Come and see - Attend to what is about to be exhibited. It is very likely that all was exhibited before his eyes as in a scene, and he saw every act represented which was to take place, and all the persons and things which were to be the chief actors.
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. A white horse - Supposed to represent the Gospel system, and pointing out its excellence, swiftness, and purity.
He that sat on him - Supposed to represent Jesus Christ.
A bow - The preaching of the Gospel, darting conviction into the hearts of sinners.
A crown - The emblem of the kingdom which Christ is to establish on earth.
Conquering, and to conquer - Overcoming and confounding the Jews first, and then the Gentiles; spreading more and more the doctrine and influence of the cross over the face of the earth.
And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. The second beast - That which had the face of an ox.
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. Another horse - red - The emblem of war; perhaps also of severe persecution, and the martyrdom of the saints.
Him that sat thereon - Same say, Christ; others, Vespasian; others, the Roman armies; others, Artabanus, king of the Parthians, etc., etc.
Take peace from the earth - To deprive Judea of all tranquillity.
They should kill one another - This was literally the case with the Jews, while besieged by the Romans.
A great sword - Great influence and success, producing terrible carnage.
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. The third beast - That which had the face of a man.
A pair of balances - To show that the scarcity would be such, that every person must be put under an allowance.
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. A measure of wheat for a penny - The chaenix here mentioned was a measure of dry things; and although the capacity is not exactly known, yet it is generally agreed that it contained as much as one man could consume in a day; and a penny, the Roman denarius, was the ordinary pay of a laborer. So it appears that in this scarcity each might be able to obtain a bare subsistence by his daily labor; but a man could not, in such cases, provide for a family.
Three measures of barley - This seems to have been the proportion of value between the wheat and the barley. Barley was allowed to afford a poor aliment, and was given to the Roman soldiers instead of wheat, by way of punishment.
Hurt not the oil and the wine - Be sparing of these: use them not as delicacies, but for necessity; because neither the vines nor the olives will be productive.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. The fourth beast - That which had the face of an eagle.
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. A pale horse - The symbol of death. Pallida mors, pale death, was a very usual poetic epithet; of this symbol there can be no doubt, because it is immediately said, His name that sat on him was Death.
And hell followed with him - The grave, or state of the dead, received the slain. This is a very elegant prosopopaeia, or personification.
Over the fourth part of the earth - One fourth of mankind was to feel the desolating effects of this seal.
To kill with sword - War; with hunger - Famine; with death - Pestilence; and with the beasts of the earth - lions, tigers, hyenas, etc., which would multiply in consequence of the devastations occasioned by war, famine, and pestilence.
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: The fifth seal - There is no animal nor any other being to introduce this seal, nor does there appear to be any new event predicted; but the whole is intended to comfort the followers of God under their persecutions, and to encourage them to bear up under their distresses.
I saw under the altar - A symbolical vision was exhibited, in which he saw an altar; and under it the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God - martyred for their attachment to Christianity, are represented as being newly slain as victims to idolatry and superstition. The altar is upon earth, not in heaven.
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? And they cried with a loud voice - That is, their blood, like that of Abel, cried for vengeance; for we are not to suppose that there was any thing like a vindictive spirit in those happy and holy souls who had shed their blood for the testimony of Jesus. We sometimes say Blood cries for blood; that is, in the order of Divine justice, every murderer, and every murdering persecutor, shall be punished.
O Lord - Ὁ Δεσποτης· Sovereign Lord, supreme Ruler; one having and exercising unlimited and uncontrolled authority.
Holy - In thy own nature, hating iniquity;
And true - In all thy promises and threatenings;
Dost thou not judge - The persecutors;
And avenge our blood - Inflict signal punishment;
On them that dwell on the earth? - Probably meaning the persecuting Jews; they dwelt επι της γης, upon that land, a form of speech by which Judea is often signified in the New Testament.
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. White robes - The emblems of purity, innocence, and triumph.
They should rest yet for a little season - This is a declaration that, when the cup of the iniquity of the Jews should be full, they should then be punished in a mass. They were determined to proceed farther, and God permits them so to do; reserving the fullness of their punishment till they had filled up the measure of their iniquity. If this book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, as is most likely, then this destruction is that which was to fall upon the Jews; and the little time or season was that which elapsed between their martyrdom, or the date of this book, and the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, under Vespasian and his son Titus, about a.d. 70. What follows may refer to the destruction of the heathen Roman empire.
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; The sixth seal - This seal also is opened and introduced by Jesus Christ alone.
A great earthquake - A most stupendous change in the civil and religious constitution of the world. If it refer to Constantine the Great, the change that was made by his conversion to Christianity might be very properly represented under the emblem of an earthquake, and the other symbols mentioned in this and the following verses.
The sun - the ancient pagan government of the Roman empire, was totally darkened; and, like a black hair sackcloth, was degraded and humbled to the dust.
The moon - the ecclesiastical state of the same empire, became as blood - was totally ruined, their sacred rites abrogated, their priests and religious institutions desecrated, their altars cast down, their temples destroyed, or turned into places for Christian worship.
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. The stars of heaven - The gods and goddesses, demi-gods, and deified heroes, of their poetical and mythological heaven, were prostrated indiscriminately, and lay as useless as the figs or fruit of a tree shaken down before ripe by a tempestuous wind.
And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the heaven departed as a scroll - The whole system of pagan and idolatrous worship, with all its spiritual, secular, and superstitious influence, was blasted, shrivelled up, and rendered null and void, as a parchment scroll when exposed to the action of a strong fire.
And every mountain - All the props, supports, and dependencies of the empire, whether regal allies, tributary kings, dependent colonies, or mercenary troops, were all moved out of their places, so as to stand no longer in the same relation to that empire, and its worship, support, and maintenance, as they formerly did.
And island - The heathen temples, with their precincts and enclosures, cut off from the common people, and into which none could come but the privileged, may be here represented by islands, for the same reasons.
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; The kings of the earth, etc. - All the secular powers who had endeavored to support the pagan worship by authority, influence, riches, political wisdom, and military skill; with every bondman - all slaves, who were in life and limb addicted to their masters or owners.
And every freeman - Those who had been manumitted, commonly called freedmen, and who were attached, through gratitude, to the families of their liberators. All hid themselves - were astonished at the total overthrow of the heathen empire, and the revolution which had then taken place.
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: Said to the mountains and rocks - Expressions which denote the strongest perturbation and alarm. They preferred any kind of death to that which they apprehended from this most awful revolution.
From the face of him that sitteth on the throne - They now saw that all these terrible judgments came from the Almighty; and that Christ, the author of Christianity, was now judging, condemning, and destroying them for their cruel persecutions of his followers.
For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? For the great day of his wrath - The decisive and manifest time in which he will execute judgment on the oppressors of his people.
Who shall be able to stand? - No might can prevail against the might of God. All these things may literally apply to the final destruction of Jerusalem, and to the revolution which took place in the Roman empire under Constantine the Great. Some apply them to the day of judgment; but they do not seem to have that awful event in view. These two events were the greatest that have ever taken place in the world, from the flood to the eighteenth century of the Christian era; and may well justify the strong figurative language used above.
Through I do not pretend to say that my remarks on this chapter point out its true signification, yet I find others have applied it in the same way. Dr. Dodd observes that the fall of Babylon, Idumea, Judah, Egypt, and Jerusalem, has been described by the prophets in language equally pompous, figurative, and strong. See Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4, concerning Babylon and Idumea; Jeremiah 4:23, Jeremiah 4:24, concerning Judah; Ezekiel 32:7, concerning Egypt; Joel 2:10, Joel 2:31, concerning Jerusalem; and our Lord himself, Matthew 24:29, concerning the same city. "Now," says he, "it is certain that the fall of any of these cities or kingdoms was not of greater concern or consequence to the world, nor more deserving to be described in pompous figures, than the fall of the pagan Roman empire, when the great lights of the heathen world, the sun, moon, and stars, the powers civil and ecclesiastical, were all eclipsed and obscured, the heathen emperors and Caesars were slain, the heathen priests and augurs were extirpated, the heathen officers and magistrates were removed, the temples were demolished, and their revenues were devoted to better uses. It is customary with the prophets, after they have described a thing in the most symbolical and figurative manner, to represent the same again in plainer language; and the same method is observed here, Revelation 6:15-17 : And the kings of the earth, etc. That is, Maximin, Galerius, Maxentius, Licinius, etc., with all their adherents and followers, were so routed and dispersed that they hid themselves in dens, etc.; expressions used to denote the utmost terror and confusion. This is, therefore, a triumph of Christ over his heathen enemies, and a triumph after a severe persecution; so that the time and all the circumstances, as well as the series and order of the prophecy, agree perfectly with this interpretation. Galerius, Maximin, and Licinius, made even a public confession of their guilt, recalled their decrees and edicts against the Christians, and acknowledged the just judgments of God and of Christ in their own destruction." See Newton, Lowman, etc., and Dr. Dodd on this chapter, with the works of several more recent authors.
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke .