"The Day of the Lord"
From the whole of the first Vision "in Heaven" (H1, 6:1 - 7:8) for the putting forth of power "on Earth" in the completion of the redemption of the purchased inheritance. The price has been paid in the shedding of the precious blood of the Lamb; and now, the necessary power is to be exercised so as to secure all its wondrous results, in wresting the inheritance from the hand of the enemy by ejecting the present usurper, and forcibly taking possession. We see this power put forth in the Seals, Trumpets, and Vials which fill up the active judgments of God in accomplishing this: and which end with the coming of the Lord Himself (19).
This is the great object set forth in the preceding Vision "in Heaven"; and now we are to see the result of it all as consequent on it "on Earth."
John sees it all, of course, "in Heaven," but what he saw (6:1 - 7:8) "in Heaven" will take place "on Earth," just as what he sees (chaps. 4 and 5) as taking place "in Heaven," does and will take place there.
This is the first Vision of what will take place "on Earth" in "the day of the Lord." The great subject is
THE OPENING OF THE SIX SEALS.
For the Six Seals are separated off from the seventh in a remarkable manner; as though to point out to us that the seventh is not immediately consecutive on the sixth, as the other seals are consecutive one on the other.
The sixth seal evidently carries us forward to the time of the end; for it speaks of the signs in the sun and moon and stars (6:12, 13), which the Lord associates with His personal appearance (Matt. 24:29. See Joel 2:28, 31, where it is called "the great and terrible day of the Lord," as though it were the climax of the whole period known as "the day of the Lord"). It is called in the sixth seal "the great day of His wrath" (6:17), and the signs in heaven are the great final scene (6:14) as described in 2 Pet. 3:10.
If this be so, then these first six seals are separated, very definitely, from the seventh; and the silence in heaven which follows the opening of the seventh indicates a pause.
The six seals present us with a preliminary summary of the judgments, which cover the whole period; the sixth leading up to and ending in the actual coming of Christ; or, at any rate, to the end of chapter 18.
There is every reason to believe that "the day of the Lord" will be a prolonged period. It must not be confined to "seven years," as is so often done. The time between the coming forth of the Lord into the air to meet His Church, and His coming unto the Earth with His Church, in power and great glory, may correspond to the thirty-three years between His coming forth at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and His coming unto Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9). All the events between those two we speak of as constituting His "first coming." In like manner, all the events described in this Book, which take place between His coming "for" and His coming "with" His Church, we may speak of as "His second coming" or "the day of the Lord." [See THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST'S ADVENT]
These events may occupy a similar period of thirty-three years for aught we know; and if to these we add the seven yeas of the last week of Daniel we have a period of forty years. We do know that in Matt. 24:4-6, in answer to the first question of the disciples, "When shall these things be," i.e., when the temple should be destroyed, the Lord at once adds, "not yet is the end (telos)."
He then goes on to answer the second question, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the Sunteleia of the age?" (verse 3). He describes four of those seals (verse 7), and adds "all these are a beginning of sorrows." This fixes these earlier seals as the "beginning" of the Sunteleia of "the day of the Lord" this "beginning" may be spread over some years before the Great Tribulation, proper, comes on. Thus these first six seals are again separated off from the seventh.
We now give the first vision, E1, 6:1- 7:8, showing the events on Earth, as a whole. It will be seen that they are divided between two subjects the persecutors and the persecuted: Those who are on the side of Antichrist (B1 and B2); and those who suffer (A2), or have immunity from suffering (A3), for refusing to worship him, etc. It will be noted also how perfectly Matt. 24 corresponds with this first scene on earth the whole summary of the Sunteleia and the Telos. [See THE PROMISES TO THE SEVEN ASSEMBLIES]
We want our readers to understand clearly our suggestion as to these Seals. We separate them off from the Trumpets and Vials, which are continuous once they begin. This is shown from the fact, as will be seen below, that, the last two Trumpets and the first Vial are linked together as being the "three woes." They are thus marked as consecutive.
The Seals, however, we feel compelled, by the events under the sixth, to regard as a summary of ALL the Divine judgments which will usher in the Day of the Lord: including the whole of the Sunteleia, "the Tribulation," and leading up to the Telos or end, the last "seven years," and "the great day of His wrath." Thus they cover the whole period in broad outline. After the last Seal there is a break, shown by the "silence in heaven," and we are turned aside to see some further details as to these judgments beginning, may we say de novo, with the Trumpets. After the last Trumpet there is no such break, no "silence in heaven" or on earth, but the last Trumpet at once ushers in and contains and developes the final judgments of the seven Vials, which finish up the mystery or secret purpose of God; for, we read in Rev. 10:7 that "in the days of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished as he hath declared to his servants the prophets." The seventh Trumpet expands into the seven Vials, and these end with the final destruction of Babylon, which closes up these earthly judgment scenes.
We will now give a summary of the first four Seals, A1 and B1, 6:1-8:
6:1. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven* seals, and I heard one of the four Zoa saying, as with a voice of thunder Go!**
2. And I saw and lo! a white horse, and he that was sitting upon it, having a bow, and there was given unto him a crown ((...) stephanos), a triumphal crown), and he went forth conquering, and in order that he might conquer or overcome] If we interpret these Seals by the words of Christ in Matt. 24., where He is describing this very time in answer to the disciples' questions, there can be no doubt as to their meaning and reality. His very first words relate to the false Christs who shall appear as the sign when these things should be (i.e., when the Temple should be destroyed). And so it was; but these were only the prelude to what should mark "the beginning of sorrows." These should begin, not by many "false Christs," but by one, who should give it out and say:
"I am the Messiah,
(Matt. 24:5). This first Seal, therefore, must mark the first rising of this False Christ. This is the silent secret preliminary intimation of his going forth. Further details of this are given in Rev. 13., where it is expressly said that "it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and there was given to him authority over every tribe and people*, and tongue and nation, and all who dwell on the earth shall do homage to him whose names have not been written (in the book of life of the Lamb slain) from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:7,8). It seems impossible to separate this from the rider on the white horse (in 6:1, 2), for we read of him in like manner that "it was given to him" to wear a crown, and to go forth and overcome. How the Lamb who opens the seal can be the effect of the opening, and at the same time be the rider on a white horse, we cannot understand. If, on the other hand, we see in this rider an imitation of the "faithful and true" Messiah when He comes forth on a white horse to really conquer, as described in Rev. 19:11, then, how natural for the false and deceiving Messiah to go forth in a manner that will be most calculated to "deceive many." It is one of the curiosities of interpretation, first to understand the Zoa of the Church, and then make the rider of the first Seal to be Christ; thus making one member of the Church give the order to Christ to go forth in His judgment power! How much more simple, taking Christ's words in Matt. 24 as the key, to leave the Zoa alone, and regard them as spiritual or heavenly beings specially interested in the judgments about to come on the earth, and giving the authority to the False Christ to go forth and be "revealed in his time," just as Christ said to Judas, "That thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:27). All the other horses are judgment horses: why inconsistently break up this uniformity and single out one Rider as Divine and take the others as human? Why understand one as going forth in grace, and the others in judgment?
The descriptions of Antichrist's career in other Scriptures coincide entirely with this. He rises unrecognised by the dwellers on the earth. His beginning is "Peace," but his aim is universal dominion, which he finally acquires. When his downfall comes, the reflection of beholders will be: "Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; that made the world a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof" (Isa. 14:16, 17). In Daniel it is said that "his power shall be might... that he shall destroy wonderfully" (Dan. 8:24) and that "he shall stretch forth his hand upon the countries" (Dan. 11:36, 42).
As to the Command, the obedience to it "and he went forth," shows that the verb (...) (erchomai) to come, or go, must be taken in the latter sense, "Go!" Or else the second occurrence of the verb would be "and he came forth." The commission "given to him" concerned war, as the second seal goes on to explain. Horses are specially associated with war. See Job. 39:19, 25; Prov. 21:31 ("the horse is prepared against the day of battle"). So Ps. 76:6; Zech. 9:10; 10:3; Jer. 6:23; Isa. 43:17. But because the rider on the white horse in Rev. 19 is Christ, that is no reason why the rider on the white horse, chap. 6., should be Christ also, especially as in this very same verse we have Him already represented as a Lamb, who opens this seal in order that the white horse may be sent forth.
We need not trouble ourselves to show that this white horse is not the Roman Empire, as some hold; or Rome itself, as Mr. Elliott believes. Nor can we ask our readers to believe that the "Bow" in the rider's hand symbolises the island of Crete. We do not need a knowledge of the Classics or of History in order to understand this Book; but we do need a knowledge of Scripture; not to say common sense.
6:3. And when He opened the second seal I heard the second Zoon saying, Go!* 4. And there went forth another horse, fiery coloured; and to him who sat upon it was given power to take away peace from the earth, and that men should slay one another: and there was given to him a great sword] That this relates to the whole earth, and not merely to the Land, seems to be determined by our Lord's reference to the subject of the second seal, in Matt. 24:6,7: "And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars... and nations shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." These words, coupled with the second seal, point to a general break up of the nations in the process of their absorption into Antichrist's universal kingdom. In Ezekiel 38:21, it is written: "I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith Jehovah Adonai: Every man's sword shall be against his brother." Jer. 25 tells of this second seal; when God has His controversy with the nations. Read from verse 15-33, and note verse 29: "I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the Lord of hosts... for the Lord hath a controversy with the nations; He will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the Lord" (verse 31). Against Israel also comes the sword, "I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant" (Lev. 26:25-33). The "sword" is one of God's "four sore judgments" sent upon the earth (Ezek. 14:13-21).
"There was given unto him." We must note well these significant words. They are spoken of the first rider on the white horse; and similarly of all the judgments. All are initiated from the throne. It will be again, as it was in another period of Israel's history in the days of Asa, "In those times there was no peace to him that went out, nor to him that came in, but great vexations were upon all the inhabitants of the countries, and nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city; for God did vex them with all adversity" (2 Chron. 15:5, 6). Such another time is described by Josephus (Wars, Bk. 2:18:2, 1, 5). No new thing is referred to in this second seal. The whole of Micah 7 should be read. It is too long to be quoted here. But we may quote Dan. 11:33, "and they that understand among the people shall instruct many; yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days." Surely we have in these scriptures that which explains, sufficiently, the second seal; and shall not be likely to accept such an interpretation as Mr. Elliott offers when he says that this second rider symbolises the praetorian prefects of Rome. Upon this it will be sufficient to remark that the sword was "given" by the Roman Emperor with the view of preserving peace in the earth and not with the object of taking peace away from the earth, as here stated!
It may be well to add that up to the third century this was not considered
to have been fulfilled by any historical events. So Origen says in his
Commentary on St. Matthew (Cap. 24.).
6:5. And when he opened the third seal I heard the third Zoon saying, Go!* And I beheld, and lo! a black horse, and he who was sitting upon it having a pair of balances in his hand. 6. And I heard as** it were a voice in the midst of the four Zoa, saying,
"A choenix of wheat for a denarius,
This is the next judgment mentioned by the Lord in Matt. 24:-7-, "and there shall be famine: for this is what "black" denotes. (See Lam. 4:4-8; 5:10; Jer. 14:1, 2). In former times it was God who called for a famine. See 2 Kings 8:1. So in prophecy. Hag. 1:11; 2:16, 17; Jer. 16:4.
The "balances" some would translate "yoke"; and because yokes are generally worn by oxen, and not carried in a horseman's hand, commentators make it a spiritual yoke and a spiritual famine! though they leave us to wonder what a spiritual famine has to do with weights and measures and the price of wheat and barley. We prefer what is so evidently the simple meaning of the words. Bread "by weight" always denotes scarcity. When God describes, through Ezekiel, the famine during the siege of Jerusalem, He says, "Thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight... and drink water by measure." (Read Ezek. 4:10, 16, 17). This is exactly what the mysterious voice (in the midst of the four Zoa) declares. Famines may occur from secondary causes, but the first cause of this Famine is from "the throne." The extent is fore-known "A choenix of wheat for a denarius." We know from Matt. 20:2, 9 that a denarius (the value of which was about 7 1/4d.) was a day's wage; and we know also that a choenix of corn (about 2 pints) was the daily ration for a slave (Odyss. 19:27, 28; Athen. 3:20; Herod. 6:57; 7:187, 231; Xen. Anab. 1:5, 6; Thucyd. 4:16).
The usual price of a choenix was 1/8th of a denarius; so that corn, here, in this famine, is eight times its usual price. We are told that a denarius would buy 16 choenixes of wheat in the time of Cicero, and 20 in the time of Trajan. There will be great scarcity, therefore, when a denarius will buy only one.
Literal famines have been so often foretold, and have come to pass, from Genesis onward (2 Kings 6:25; 7:1; Acts 11:28). Why should not this famine in Revelation be literal also? And yet interpreters seem determined to make this anything except a literal famine. Some, as we have said, make it spiritual wrongly applying Amos 8:11, 12. "Injure not the oil and wine" is literal; and the Lord Himself, speaking of the beginning of these very sorrows, says, "there shall be famines." Corn, oil, and wine are three words often linked together to give the idea of plenty. (See Deut. 11:14; 28:51).
Mr. Elliott, in his Horae Apocalypticae, has to make it accord with the requirements of history, and says "there is nothing correspondent with such era of famine" (vol. 1., p. 149). One would have thought, therefore, that the best plan would be to abandon the historical interpretation. But no! history must stand, and the Scripture (the voice from the Throne) must be accommodated to it. So Mr. Elliott first insists on a larger choenix; but afterwards, finding this could not be sustained, he changes his ground in a third edition of his commentary, and takes refuge in a smaller or "adulterated denarius"! He actually says, "I was not aware of this adulteration when printing my two former editions; and so resorted to a larger and more uncommon choenix, in order to answer the statement of price in the prophecy." We admire the candour of this confession, but we must condemn the principle of interpretation which requires it. We prefer our Lord's own clear, but simple, words, "there shall be famines" (Matt. 24:7)! This position we shall never have to relinquish in order to resort to another.
6:7. And when he opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth Zoon, saying Go!* 8. And I saw, and behold, a livid horse, and he who was sitting upon it, his name was Death; and the Grave (Gr. Hades) followed after him: And authority was given to them over the fourth part of the earth to kill with the sword, and with famine and with pestilence, and by the wild beasts of the earth] This is the result of opening the Fourth Seal; and it is the fourth judgment mentioned by our Lord in Matt. 24:7, "pestilences."
Though the word in the Greek here is (...) (thanatos) death, it is put, by Metonymy, as the effect for the cause producing it, which is pestilence. In the O.T. it is the Septuagint rendering of (...) (dever) destruction, i.e., plague and pestilence, which causes death. It occurs some thirty times, as in 1 Kings 8:37; Jer. 14:12; 21:7. We call the oriental plague which raged in Europe in the 14th century the "black death" by the same Figure.
"Pestilence," thus personified, is followed by the grave (Gr. Hades), also personified. The two words occur together because the latter depends on the former. See 1:18; 6:8; 20:13; 1 Cor. 15:55; and Isa. 27:15, 18. Hades follows in the train of Death, because Death ends in the Grave. Hence the authority is given to them jointly.
Tradition has thrown obscurity over what is otherwise so clear. What is it that always follows death? Surely it is the grave. In chap. 20:13 we read "Death and the grave (Gr. Hades) gave up the dead which were in them," i.e., the dead held by them were raised to life. Hades is the place which holds the dead; and Christ, who raises the dead, is therefore said to hold the keys of Hades, or the grave. The word Hades occurs eleven times in the New Testament, and there is no place where the rendering grave would not be appropriate.* Grave being generally put (by Metonymy) not for one single grave; but for all graves viewed as a whole; or, as we might call it Grave-dom. The commission of "Death" has relation to "the beginning of sorrows" in Matt. 24:8, which are there, and here, said to be "wars, famines and pestilences." These are the agencies used by "Death" (personified); and these are naturally followed by the common result the grave.
"Wild beasts" are added as another agency, because they consume the wounded and dying, and seize on those who are left defenceless (Num. 21:6; Ez. 33:27; Lev. 26:22; Deut. 32:24; Josh. 24:12; 2 Kings 17:25; 2:24; Ezek. 14:21; Jer. 5:6; Is. 30:6*). These three "sword, famine and pestilence," are frequently found together (Jer. 14:12; 21:7; 24:10; 44:13; Ezek. 6:11, 12; 5:12, &c.); and joined, as here, with wild beasts, as in Ezek. 14:21. Three of these were offered to David in 1 Chron. 21:12.
The meaning of these three Seals seems to be simple and clear. They are the expansion of our Lord's own brief statement in Matt. 24:7, which shows that we have here, "the beginning of sorrows." In other words, wars with their usual accompaniments, famine and plague, and ravenous beasts will be commissioned to commence the assault on the earthy portion of Satan's gathering forces.
When these three judgments fail, then the Lord will bring up others from His reserved forces. Not until the sixth seal, which, as we have seen, carries us forward to the time of the end of sorrows, do the men of the earth own these judgments as proceeding from God as their author.
We must repeat here that not one of these Seals has yet been opened. Nor can any period of history be pointed out in which these "four sore judgments" have been in operation simultaneously over the extent here named, "the fourth part of the earth."
Gibbon's description* of the reign of Justinian, about 550 A.D., shows how possible it will be to have such a wide-spread scene of judgment.
The fifth Seal is marked off and separated from all the others. It stands alone, giving us another side of the picture. The first Seal shows the mighty agency employed by Satan as the earthly leader of the earthly portion of his gathering host. The action of these Satanic forces is assumed by the next three Seals (the second, third, and fourth), inasmuch as they are directed against Satan's opposing forces.
In this earthly conflict there can be only suffering and martyrdom for those on the earth who hold and maintain the testimony of the Word of God, i.e., who adhere to the special truth communicated in this book and its contents, as defined in 1:2, 9; 12:17. In chap. 20:4, this is further explained as not worshipping the Beast or receiving his mark upon their foreheads.
The two mighty forces have joined in hostilities; the opposing hosts have met; and those who are on the Lord's side suffer in consequence. Hence, in the fifth Seal, we have this episode introduced to make the whole complete, and give all sides of the great conflict.
The first four Seals are connected together by each commencing with a cry from one of the four Zoa, and the going forth of a horseman. The remaining three are thus marked off as a separate series. The first series of four has to do with men as such. In the first of the second series we have the saints of the Most High.
The order of our Lord's great prophecy (Matt. 24.) is still closely followed. In verses 6-8 He had spoken of (1) war, (2) famine and (3) pestilences "the beginning of sorrows"; and then in verse 9 He immediately goes on to say "THEN shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all the Gentiles for my name's sake." These words of our Lord (verses 9-28) are the key to the fifth seal.
c. 6:9. The Martyrs under the Altar. Their Description.
6:9. And when he opened the fifth seal I saw under the altar the persons(souls being put by Synecdoche for persons. See notes below) of those who had been slain on account of the word of God, and on account of the testimony which they held] All mystery is removed if we simply take the word "souls" here as being put, by the figure Synecdoche for persons. By this figure a part is put for the whole. This is called "Synecdoche of the part." By it, the head is put for the man himself (2 Kings 2:3; Ps. 3:3; 7:16; 66:12; Prov. 10:6; Is. 35:10). The face is put the for whole person, Gen. 3:19; 19:21; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kings 2:16; 10:24, &c. The eye is put for the whole person (Matt. 13:16; 1 Cor. 2:9). So the mouth (Prov. 8:13). The belly (Rom. 16:18; Phil. 3:19). The heart also (Gen. 31:20; Luke 21:34, &c.). The feet (Prov. 1:16; 6:18; Is. 53:7; Rom. 3:15). In like manner the hand; we put the "hand" for the whole person when we speak of so many hands being employed. "Body" is put for person, especially in the case of slaves, Ex. 21:3; Rev. 18:13. We believe that this same figure is used here in Rev. 6:9. "Soul" is often put for person. When we say that the population consists of so many souls, we do not mean "soul" as distinct from body, but we mean so many persons. In Gen. 12:5 we read of "the souls that they had gotten in Haran." In Gen. 14:21, the King of Sodom says "give me the souls (i.e., the captives), and take the goods." In Gen. 17:14, "that soul (i.e., that person) shall be cut off from his people." And so, very frequently, we have "the soul that sinneth it shall die." The word "soul" is frequently used of a person,* and is so translated.
The word (...) (psuche) has no such fixed meaning as is put upon it by theology and tradition. It occurs in the New Testament 105 times, and is rendered life, 40 times; soul, 58 times; mind, 3 times; heart, once; with (...) heartily, once (Col. 3:23); with (...) (humon) you, once (2 Cor. 12:15 marg.); and with (...) (hemon) us, once (John 10:24).
So there is no reason whatever for adhering to the traditional rendering, "soul," in this passage as denoting a part of man. The words simply mean "I saw those who had been slain." John also hears what they say. Speaking requires the organs of speech. Tongues are necessary. Vocal organs are indispensable for the utterance of words. These were the martyred saints personified and represented as waiting. They themselves were dead; for in Rev. 20:4, John sees them again, and it says "they lived again" in the first resurrection. "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (Rev. 20:5). Why say "lived not again" if, all the time, they were alive in some other place. Moreover, how could "souls" wear white robes. We might as well speak of the eye, or the tongue, or the face, or any other part of the body wearing a white robe. If souls here are put for persons, then all is clear. John could see them, and hear them, and see what was given to them, and what was done to them as individuals. Even according to popular belief, "souls," as such, cannot be seen. There are no such things as material souls, able to talk without the bodily organs of speech.
What John sees is a vision for the purpose of instructing him; just as Jotham's parable instructed the men of Israel when he represented trees as speaking.
Moreover, the words "of them" give a wrong emphasis. The Greek is not so definite as that. John sees the martyred saints at the foot of the altar of burnt offering. He sees not animal victims, but human beings. Like sacrifices, they had been slain for their testimony. Not sacrifices of atonement, but of devotion. These were called "drink-offerings"; and the verb (...) (spendomai) is used of the pouring out of a drink offering. See Phil. 2:17; and 2 Tim. 4:6.
Their condition here as dead is set in definite contrast to their condition when afterwards raised. Rev. 20:4 shows that in 6:9 they could not be reigning with Christ till they "lived again." Till then they must wait, as the answer to their cry declares. This brings us to
d. 6:10 Their Cry.
6:10. And they cried with a loud voice (as Abel's blood was said to cry Gen. 4:10), saying,
"How long, O Sovereign-Lord,
(3:7; 1 John 5:20). The word here rendered "Lord" in AV. and "Master" in RV. is a remarkable word. It is never used in the Church Epistles. The Greek is (...) (Despotes), from which we have our word Despot.* We could hardly use this word here; and prefer "Sovereign-Lord" as meaning more than merely "Master" of the RV., and denoting the great and sovereign disposer of the whole earth. A careful study of the passages where the Title occurs will not only throw light upon those passages; but will also serve to show that we have not here anything to do with the Church, or with any truly Christian martyr; but, with a special class of martyrs, who, in the days of the great tribulation, shall give a peculiar Testimony and suffer a peculiar Martyrdom. The other title, "Holy and True," is used in 3:7, and belongs specially to God in relation to His covenant people. (Ps. 89:28, 34, 35; Isa. 55:3).
The Church of God in this day of grace does not, and cannot, cry for vengeance. Indeed, it is expressly taught not to do so (Rom. 12:19). It is evident that these words are not appropriate to this present dispensation in which we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and not to cry for vengeance upon them. But these martyrs are in quite another dispensation; and in one to which this cry is altogether appropriate and in harmony. By the use of the title Sovereign-Lord, they own His right to dispose of them as He will, and to do whatsoever He pleases in the heaven above and on the earth beneath.
dost thou not judge and exact vengeance
(Hos. 4:1). This cry is, as we have said, appropriate to the coming Dispensation, as it was to the former. (See Ps. 13:1, 2; 79:5, and many other Psalms). Indeed, the Song of Moses concludes with this blessed assurance on which this cry of faith is based (Deut. 32:43):
just as He avenged the blood of his "servants the prophets" on Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kings. 9:7). When this present day of grace is over, then this cry will be consistent with the standing of those who utter it. We need to remember this great principle, and to rightly divide the Dispensations as to their nature and character.
In Luke 18:1-8 we have a prophetic parable which cannot be understood if interpreted of the Church of God; but which is not only perfectly clear, if rightly divided as to its dispensational character, but most helpful in making us to understand better this fifth seal.
It is the cry of Israel represented as a "widow." This cannot be the Church! But is specially the title applicable to Israel in a certain condition (Is. 54:4, 5. Lam. 1:1). The cry, "Avenge me of mine adversary," cannot be used by any child of God, now.
The break in our chapters severs the close connection between Luke 17 and 18:and separates the parable in Luke 18:1-8 from the coming of the kingdom treated of in Luke 17:20-end. The section commences with the question of the Pharisees as to "when the kingdom of God should come?" The Lord answers, "The kingdom of God cometh not with (hostile) watching (such as you practise. See the use of the verb, Luke 6:7. Mark 3:2. Luke 14:1. Acts 9:24). Neither (he adds) shall they say, Lo here, or Lo there, for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of (RV. marg.) you (in the person of the king. It could not be within the hearts of his enemies who were seeking his life!).
The Lord goes on to speak of the coming of the Son of Man to the end of the chapter, comparing it with the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, and connecting it with the very end of the Tribulation, as in Matt. 24:27, "as the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together." (See job 39:30.)
Then the Lord goes on, in Luke 18:1-8, to describe the position of His servants during those terrible days, as one of waiting and prayer. Their cry for vengeance is almost identical with that which we hear under this fifth seal. He says, with reference to those days, that "they ought always to pray and not to faint" because their desire is not at once fulfilled (Luke 17:22).
But now look at the Parable itself. "There was in a certain city (Jerusalem, Rev. 11 (cf. Is. 1:10). Ezek. 16:26, 46; 20:7), a judge, who feared not God, neither regarded man; and there was a widow in that city." Widowhood is the condition of Israel. Though the mass of the nation may say, like Babylon, "I sit a queen, I am no widow" (Rev. 18:7), God speaks of her in her really desolate condition. The widow's "Adversary" can be none other than Antichrist, who persecutes this remnant in Jerusalem. We have the cry in Ps. 79:1-3:
This plainly refers to Rev. 11. And then comes the plaintive appeal verse 5.
The whole of this Psalm (79.) should be read in this connection as well as other Psalms, such as 10 and 11.; 54:5; 55:9; 94.; 143:12, &c. See also Is. 63:15, &c., and 64. It is beautiful to notice, how, after the Lord calls attention to the action of the unjust judge, He exultingly declares of Him that is Holy and True "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, and he is longsuffering over them? I say unto you that he will avenge them speedily" (RV.).
But he has to add, and to ask "Howbeit, when the Son of Man cometh shall he find faith (marg. the faith) on the earth?" (RV.) or, it may be in the Land, the Jewish Land, as at the first Advent.
If we rightly divide the word of truth, as to its Dispensations, then we see that the imprecations and invocations for vengeance, while entirely opposed to the spirit of the present dispensation of grace, are quite appropriate to the past dispensation of works, and the future dispensation of judgment.
Romanism, not rightly dividing the Dispensations, presses such Scriptures as these into her service now; using them to justify her persecutions. While Protestant interpreters, failing also in this important duty, have to explain such passages away, or endeavour in vain to reconcile them with our standing in grace.
c. 6:11-. The Martyrs under the Altar. What was given them.
6:11-. And there was* given to each a white robe] Even thus was the promise made in Rev. 3:4, marking them as righteous, and as the servants of God. Robes of honour ever formed part of rewards. (See Gen. 41:42; 45:22. Est. 6:8, 9. Isa. 3:7. Zech. 3:5). The action implies that their request will be granted; and the words announce that there must be some delay before their desire can be accomplished.
d. 6:-11. The Answer to their Cry.
6:-11. And it was said to them that they should rest (not merely desist from their cry; but wait) yet a little while (i.e., for a short delay, as in 10:6 and 20:3) until both their fellow-servants (here we have the correlative of Despotes, as well as their own standing as "servants") and their brethren that were about to be killed, as they also had been, should fill up* the appointed number] "Fellow servants and brethren" is the Figure Hendiadys, denoting not two separate classes of persons, but one class, viz., their fellow servants even those who were their brethren. This is to define who the fellow servants were; for angels can be called such (19:10; 22:9), but not "brethren." They will have been killed during the Tribulation for refusing to have the mark of the Beast or to worship him. This killing is afterwards seen in 13:7, 15; 17:6 by John in vision. Here it is revealed prophetically; for, as we have said, the Seals cover the whole period in brief, and in outline, the details being afterwards filled in by the Trumpets, and Vials.
Surely this ought to be sufficient to convince all Christians to-day that the gospel is not intended to convert the world, or to bring in universal peace and blessing. This dispensation of grace (rejected) is to be followed by a dispensation of judgment.
Not until after that shall Jerusalem be the centre of God's presence and government, and glory dwell in the Land (Ps. 85:9). Then shall Judah "dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion" (Joel 3:20, 21. See also Isa. 4:4 and Deut. 32:43). When the appointed number is accomplished, judgment will be executed and be followed by the dispensation of glory.
In this sixth Seal we are carried right forward to the time of the end. The Seals, as we have said, are a summary, in brief, of the whole period of the Tribulation; and, as the former Seals correspond exactly with the last great prophecy of Christ in Matt. 24., so this sixth Seal also has its place in that chapter. We may thus exhibit the parallel:
From this it will be seen how exactly Matt. 24 covers the whole period of the six Seals; and shows that this sixth Seal takes us up to the signs immediately preceding the Advent of the Lord in Glory, as seen in Rev. 19.
This being so, it proves that any interpretation of this Seal which regards it as relating to any past historical event is condemned by this very fact.
This sixth Seal is the crucial test of all Apocalyptic interpretation.
No one can read Matt. 24:30 with Rev. 6:12-17 without seeing that they speak of the same event. The actual Advent of Christ is deferred, in Rev. 6., because it is to form a separate and special description by itself in chap. 19. The sixth Seal does not therefore include the visible appearing of the Son of man, though it is remarkable that, while (in A3) in Rev. 6:13 we have the simile of a Fig Tree, and the sealing of the elect of Israel (7:1-8); so, in Matt. 24:31 we have the gathering of the elect of Israel, and in verses 32, 33 we have the simile of the Fig Tree again. The Lord concludes this special prophecy of the Tribulation by adding "Verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things begin to take place." Not "fulfilled." The word is (...) (genetai) from (...) (ginomai) to begin to be, to come to be,* and is quite different from (...) (pleroo), to fulfil. In Luke 21:32, which is the parallel passage, we have the former word, fulfilled. What the Lord really said was "this generation shall not pass till all these things begin to happen." And they did begin to take place during that very generation; for the period immediately following the Lord's death was marked by many coming and saying "I am Christ." But in order that we might clearly understand, Christ immediately adds, "The end is not yet" (Matt. 24:6).
But now, to turn to the sixth Seal itself; we note first its Structure, which is as follows:
TRANSLATION OF B2 6:12-17.
6:12. And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and* a great convulsion took place, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the full** moon became as blood; (13) and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, as the fig tree casteth her untimely (or winter) figs when shaken by a mighty wind]
Here we have the great convulsion of Nature, and its effects in the heavens. It is impossible for us to take this as symbolical; or as other than what it literally says. The difficulties of the symbolical interpretation are insuperable, while no difficulties whatever attend the literal interpretation. For according to some historicist interpreters* this Seal was fulfilled at the Conversion of Constantine. Heaven is taken as the symbol of the invented term "Political heaven"; but it ought to be called "Religious Heaven," as the events are supposed to be Christian. According to others** it was fulfilled in the French Revolution of 1798. As both of these cannot be right, Is it not better for us to believe what God says? In Hag. 2:6, 7, He has foretold the events of this seal, and has connected them as in Matt. 24. with the immediate Advent of the Son of Man:
Here the great convulsion of the sixth Seal is clearly foretold. We say "convulsion," because the word (...) (seismos) means much more than a mere earthquake, as the context clearly shows. There is to be a convulsion of the nations, which is spoken of as distinct from that of the heavens, and is to immediately precede the Revelation of Christ, and the glory of the Temple. Haggai again foretells it in chap. 2:21, 22 and again distinguishes between the heavens and the earth.
Having spoken of the great convulsion and its effects in the heavens, the prophecy again speaks of the convulsion and its effects on the earth.
14. And the* heaven parted asunder as a scroll rolling itself up;** and every mountain and island were moved out of their places] This is referred to in Matt. 24:35, and is foretold in Isa. 34:4 (read verses 1-5 and Isa. 13. 6-13), where we have exactly the same phenomena described. If the sixth Seal means the conversion of Constantine, so must these passages in Isaiah.
15. And the kings of the earth, and the great men (the civil officers of State), and the chief captains (the military officers), and the rich men,* and the mighty** men, and every bondman and*** free man, hid themselves (running for shelter) into the caves and into the rocks of the mountains. (16) And they say to the mountains and to the 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) Because the day the great day of His wrath is come, and who is able to stand?] In connection with this we must read Ps. 2:2; 68:4; 97:5. Isa. 24:19-23; 34:12; 2:10-22. Nahum 1:5. Heb. 12:26. The Lord also refers to this in Luke 23:30, quoting the very words of Hosea 10:8. Similar phenomena are again mentioned under the fourth Trumpet, and the seventh Vial (16:20), showing that we have in the sixth Seal the preliminary announcement of that which will take place "immediately after the tribulation of those days" (Matt. 24:29) and "immediately" before the personal Advent of Christ. To this agree the words of Joel 2:31.
In Rev. 19:19 we have the marshalling of the forces which are here detailed.
If the words describing the awful judgments of "the great day of His wrath" are to be interpreted of any past event in the history of the present dispensation, then what words are to describe the future judgments which the Old Testament foretells. Language seems useless for the purposes of revelation and instruction if, as we are told, "this Seal exhibits the overthrow of paganism" at the conversion of Constantine. Eusebius pictures that scene (lib. 10) as one of joy and gladness, and he likens it to the coming of the promised kingdom. There was no convulsion of nature in heaven or on earth; no fleeing to the mountains and the rocks; no cry of terror. The sun was bright and the sky was cloudless, instead of being "black as sackcloth of hair."
We thus come to the end of the first six Seals. It is a summary of the judgments distributed over the whole book; a brief summary of what will occur in "the day of the Lord," up to the time of His actual Apocalypse or Unveiling in chap. 19.
They are thus set here, in order to show us that these judgments do not arise from chance, but are all under Divine control. The great False Messiah of the first Seal cannot be revealed until the appointed moment shall have come and the voice from the throne gives the permissive command "Go!" The judgments cannot fall until the same command is given. Here we note the important connection between "the Throne" of chaps. 4 and 5 see in "in Heaven" and the consequent summary (in the Seals) of all that takes place afterward "on earth."
They lead up to "the great day of His wrath"; and the chapter ends with the solemn question, "Who is able to stand?"
That question is answered in chap. 7 where we are shew first the sealing of 144,000 "of all the tribes of the children of Israel," who are to pass unscathed through that great tribulation; and the rapture of the great multitude which no man can number who are saved through it and out of it. These are not the Church of God, for they stand before the throne. They are not seated upon it. They are saved, of course, through the merits of the same precious blood of the Lamb. They are referred to in Isa. 26:9, "when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." Where are these afterwards seen if not in the great multitude of Rev. 7.? (Read also Psa. 64:7-10; 110.). The question, "Who shall be able to stand?" is now to be answered.