April 25, 2008

Revelation - Week 7

Now that God has been praised for Creating (ch.4) and Redeeming (ch.5), it is now time to begin implementing the royal decree that the Lamb's death has allowed Him to put into effect. The opening of the 7 seals begins the 1st of three cycles of 7 judgments (later we will see 7 trumpets and 7 bowls). It is important to note a crucial detail that often gets overlooked...it is the Lamb who is opening the seals and releasing the judgments contained within the scroll. Despite the horrors experienced throughout the world, John's readers are to take comfort in the fact that it is all part of God's sovereign plan and that the Lamb, not Caesar, not Satan, not even death, is the ultimate orchestrator of this universal symphony called history.

6:1 I looked when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a thunderous voice, "Come!"

2 So I looked, and behold, a white horse! The one who rode it had a bow, and he was given a crown, and as a conqueror he rode out to conquer.

3 Then when the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come!"

4 And another horse, fiery red, came out, and the one who rode it was granted permission to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another, and he was given a huge sword.

5 Then when the Lamb opened the third seal I heard the third living creature saying, "Come!"

So I looked, and here came a black horse! The one who rode it was holding balance scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard something like a voice from among the four living creatures saying,

"A quart of wheat for a day's pay [denarius]
and three quarts of barley for a day's pay [denarius].
But do not damage the olive oil and the wine!"

7 Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come!"

8 So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.

The first 4 seals are opened and result in 4 riders on horses being allowed to ride throughout the earth. These are known in popular terminology as the "4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse." Each horse has a different color and each rider a different function.

The Rider on the White Horse (who is not to be mistaken with the later Rider on a White Horse in ch.19 for obvious reasons!) is allowed to conquer in power. The image of a mighty archer on a white horse conquering would have immediately, in the mind of a reader in 1st century Rome, been associated with the dreaded enemies of Rome, the Parthians. Part of the royal decree involves the coming reality of conquest throughout the world. John's readers should not be surprised at the rise and fall of various empires in which they may find themselves living.

The second horseman is riding a Bright Red Horse. His coming brings with it massive bloodshed. The White horse rider signified political conquests and warfare. This Red horse's rider signifies violence and bloodshed on the individual or personal level--which is often what follows political upheaval. The reader is again reminded that suffering and violence will characterize the world under God's judgment so that they will not be caught unawares.

Next comes a Rider on a Black horse. This rider's release brings with it a massive shift in the economic landscape. The price of basic staples of daily life (wheat and barley) soar in price (a denarius was approximately the daily wage of the average worker in the 1st century). However, oil and wine remain the same. There have been many attempts to explain the significance of this statement. In light of the previous two Riders, it is not unlikely that this rider signifies the economic turmoil that results from the political and civil chaos brought on by the first two Riders.

The final horseman appears riding on a Pale Green horse. This rider is actually named--Death. The personified abode of the dead, Hades, is pictured as following right behind him, signifying the massive death that comes on the heels of political, civil, and economic chaos.

So, what do these first 4 judgments mean? Are they predictions of a future event that is still waiting to happen and that modern Christians should try to "decode", as the John Hagees and Hal Lindsey's of the world make a living doing? Hardly. As we've seen from the beginning of this study, Revelation was speaking first and foremost to John's fellow Christians in the 1st century.

Should we, therefore, try to comb through history and identify the events to which these Horsemen referred, as many Preterist interpretors have attempted to do? No. This would mean that the vision given to John was exhausted by historical events nearly 2 millennia ago, and therefore has little, if anything, to say to the modern reader.

Before attempting to pinpoint the meaning of the Riders precisely, we should be aware of the source of such imagery in the first place. Like many images we encounter in Revelation, the 4 horsemen find their origin in the Hebrew Prophets, particularly the visionary prophet Zechariah. In Zechariah chs. 1 and 6, we find 4 horses of varying colors going throughout the earth. In the original setting of Zechariah's vision, these horses represent God's sovereign rule over the nations of the world (ch.1) and His omnipresent Spirit which brings peace after conquest (ch.6).

Taking all of this into account, it is likely that John's readers would have seen in these first 4 seal judgments that despite the upheaval in the world around them (which has continued throughout the entire history of the church), nothing is happening that is not already somehow a part of God's plan of rescuing the redeemed creation from this evil and corruption in which it continues to find itself immersed. And just as the outcome of the horses in Zechariah's vision was the peace and safety of God's People, so too God's People who have been redeemed by the Lamb will ultimately dwell in peace and safety--but not without having to first endure extreme suffering and hardships, perhaps even death.

And this is exactly what the 5th seal's opening will ensure!



Anonymous said...

Have you looked at this web site?

JMS said...

Yes, I've checked it out and it is disturbing. For instance, the site claims that the earth opening its mouth to help the woman in the wilderness (Rev. 12:17) was fulfilled at the founding of the United States in 1776. That is borderline absurd. It betrays a reading of Revelation that is completely outside of the Hebrew and Greco-Roman context of the letter's 1st century setting. (The chart that makes this claim is viewable at http://www.wake-up.org/Charts/DandR_v3.pdf)

This website teaches a form of Premillennial Dispensationalism that is modified slightly. For example, they claim that the first 3 seals have been opened and we are awaiting the 4th; whereas most classical Dispensationalists teach that none of the seals will be opened until after the Rapture, which they say occurs with Rev. 4:1.

I'm afraid that this website is precisely the type of interpretation of Revelation (and Daniel and Ezekiel) that was invented by Darby in the 1850s and popularized by those such as C.I. Scofield, Charles Ryrie and D.L. Moody in the late 19th-early 20th century and reinvigorated by Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye in the late 20th century.

The Church as a whole, however, has rejected these types of sensationalist and selectively literal interpretations in favor of more historical/contextual readings of Revelation. For more on this, I recommend Ben Witherington's "The Problem with Evangelical Theology" (2007).

Thanks for pointing me to the site. It's good to know what all is out there.


JM's Audio Teaching Archive

Check out sermon.net/jmsmith for some of my messages and teaching sessions:

Bruce Lee quote of the day...