Tag Archives: Rev 6

Ellen White and Revelation 6 (EWB 13)

There is a paucity of statements by Ellen White associated with the seals of Revelation 6. Most of her scriptural allusions to the seals have to do with the souls under the altar in the fifth seal and the heavenly signs mentioned in the sixth seal. There is, however, one most interesting reference to the horsemen of Rev 6:1-8. “The same spirit is seen today that is represented in Rev 6:6-8. History is to be reenacted. That which has been will be again. This spirit works to confuse and to perplex. Dissension will be seen in every nation, kindred, tongue and people, and those who have not had a spirit to follow the light that God has given through His living oracles, through His appointed agencies, will become confused. Their judgment will reveal weakness. Disorder and strife and confusion will be seen in the church. Ellen G. White, Letter 65, 1898; Manuscript Release #667.

This statement in its context is unquestionably a citation of the biblical text of the seven seals. The first two sentences imply that the third and fourth seals (Rev 6:6-8) refer to historical realities that are past, but the spirit of which continues in Ellen White’s present and future. Her statement as a whole implies that the third and fourth seal represent spiritual confusion and perplexity in the church. In the standard Adventist view of the seals, they have their primary historical fulfillment in the corrupted church of the Middle Ages, but the principle of confusion and apostasy is not limited to that period of history. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the text of Revelation 6-7 points to an end-time consummation of the four horsemen in the four destroying winds of Rev 7:1-3.

In Testimonies for the Church, vol.6, p. 614 she appears to allude to the third seal of Revelation 6:5-6: “In view of the infinite price paid for man’s redemption, how dare any professing the name of Christ treat with indifference one of His little ones? How carefully should brethren and sisters in the church guard every word and action lest they hurt the oil and the wine! How patiently, kindly, and affectionately should they deal with the purchase of the blood of Christ!” This echo of biblical language suggests that the oil and wine represent those who believe in Jesus. If so, the command of Rev 6:6 not to hurt the oil and the wine symbolizes God’s protecting care for His faithful ones.

Of the roughly half-dozen statements alluding to the souls under the altar in the fifth seal, one applies the cry of the martyrs to the persecutions of the Old Testament era! RH July 17, 1900. Two apply the cry of the martyrs in a general sense. “The voices of those under the altar . . . are still saying, . . .” RH May 2, 1893, see also COL 179-180. The cry represents God’s continuing awareness of the injustice in the world. Other statements clearly imply an end-time setting, although even here (with the possible exception of MS 39, 1906) the usage is primarily in a general sense rather than as a specific exegetical interpretation. See 6BC 1081 (= RH Dec 21, 1897); 7BC 968 (= MS 39, 1906); 5T 451; RH June 15, 1897.

Ellen White’s multiple focus and application is supported by exegesis of the passage itself. The souls under the altar are the product of persecution throughout history leading up to the time of their cry. That cry is prior to the pre-advent judgment (cf. Rev 6:10). The fact that the cry receives a partial response implies that the judgment has begun within the seal subsequent to the time of the cry. The last part of the seal has entered into the time of judgment and anticipates the final persecution of earth’s history. So an end-time focus is not inappropriate within a broad historical perspective, but the seal as a whole covers a broader scope than just the end-time.

It is evident, then, that Ellen White understands the fifth seal to be figurative. When she discusses the sixth seal, however, she sees it in literal terms. The earthquake of Rev 6:12 is identified with the Lisbon quake of 1755. The signs in the sun, moon, and stars are tied to those predicted by Christ (Rev 6:12,13; cf. Matt 24:29; Luke 21:25). These are identified with the Dark Day, May 19, 1780, and the meteoric shower of November 13, 1833, both occurring in North America. GC 37, 304-308, 333-334. The dramatic events of Rev 6:14, on the other hand, are associated with the return of Christ. See ST April 22, 1913; SR 411; PP 340; RH Sept 22, 1891; RH Jan 12, 1886. The despairing cry of the wicked to be hidden from the wrath of God and the Lamb is likewise understood to take place at Christ’s Second Advent. TM 444; PP 340-341; SR 411; RH Mar 18, 1880; RH Jan 12, 1886; RH April 28, 1891; RH June 18, 1901 (6BC 1070); 2T 41-42, etc.

While many statements by Ellen White that utilize language reminiscent of Revelation 6 are fairly ambiguous, her clearest, most exegetical statements are supportive of the exegesis of the text itself and also of Adventist interpretation of the text. Adventist interpreters must be careful not to twist off-hand comments about the seven seals in such a way that they undermine the clear implications of the biblical text itself.

Ranko Stefanovic on the Editorial Changes in the Main Lesson for This Week (Rev 6)

Some editorial changes in Lesson #5 made the text looks better. The changes were not numerous.

Some devotional questions were changed.

In the Sunday lesson, the change is made from “This whole scene is symbolic” to “Although symbolic, Revelation 6:1,2 is about conquest too.” This implies that there is a literal conquest in view in the vision. I do not believe that this is what the editor wished to say.

In the Tuesday lesson, the second paragraph is unnecessarily taken out: “The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.” So also, “Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically.”

In the Wednesday lesson, two sentences are added to the first paragraph, which clarify the point. Not bad.

Here’s my original manuscript before the editorial changes.


Lesson 5 * January 26-February 1

The Seven Seals

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 6.
Memory Verse: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us unto kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NKJV).
Revelation 6 continues the scene of chapters 4-5 describing Christ who, by taking the sealed scroll and sitting on the heavenly throne, regained what was lost through Adam. The destiny of all humanity was put into His hands. He is now ready to open the seals on the scroll and carry out the plan of salvation to its ultimate realization.
Pentecost marked the beginning of the spread of the gospel, by which Christ expands His kingdom by winning human hearts to himself. However, He has to rule in the midst of His enemies (1 Cor. 15:25). There are still many who do not accept his authority. Yet, He wants to bring them under his rule, for He does want anyone to perish but all to come to salvation.
Thus, the breaking of the seals refers to the preaching of the gospel, which started at Pentecost, and the consequences of rejecting it. The opening of the seventh and last seal brings us to the conclusion of this world’s history.
Revelation 3:21 gives us the key to the meaning of the of the seven seals: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne (NKJV).” Chapters 4-5 tell us of Christ’s overcoming and His exaltation to His Father’s throne, and chapter 7 of the overcomers before Christ’s throne. Thus, chapter 6 is about God’s people in the process of overcoming so that they might share Jesus’ throne.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 3.
Sunday January 27
The Opening of the First Seal
Read Revelation 6:1-8 along with Leviticus 26:21-26 and Matthew 24:1-14. Note the common key words in these texts? What do you learn about the meaning of the first four seals on the basis of these parallels?
The events of the seven seals must be understood in the context of the Old Testament covenant curses specified in terms of sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts (Lev. 26:21-26). Ezekiel calls them God’s “four severe judgements” (Ezek. 14:21). They were the disciplinary judgments by which God chastised His people when they became unfaithful to the covenant in order to awaken them from their condition. In a similar way, the four horsemen are the means God uses to keep His people awake as they await Jesus’ return.
There are also close parallels between the first four seals and Matthew 24:4-14 where Jesus explained what would happen in the world throughout history up until His return. The four horsemen are the means by which God keeps His people on the right track by reminding them that this world is not their home and of the reality of Christ’s return.
Read Revelation 6:1-2. The scene points to a conquest situation. On the basis of the color of the horse and the description of the horseman, what does this scene point to?
This whole scene is symbolic. It brings to mind Revelation 19:11-16, which portrays Christ as riding a white horse and leading the heavenly armies into the final battle of earth’s history. As a symbol of purity, the white color is regularly associated with Christ and His followers. The rider on the horse holds a bow and is given a crown, which evokes the image of God in the Old Testament riding a horse with a bow in His hand conquering His people’s enemies (Hab. 3:8-13; Ps. 45:4-5). The Greek word for the crown worn by the rider is stephanos, which is the crown of victory (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). This rider is a conqueror going forward conquering and to conquer.
The scene of the first seal describes the spreading of the gospel, which started powerfully at Pentecost, by which Christ began expanding His kingdom. There were many territories to conquer and many people to win. This conquest of the gospel will continue all until the ultimate conquest is realized with Christ’s coming in glory.
Prophetically, the scene of the first seal corresponds to the message to the church in Ephesus; it describes the apostolic period during which the gospel spread rapidly throughout the world (Col. 1:23).

Monday January 28
The Second and Third Seals
Read Revelation 6:3-4. On the basis of the description of the red horse and the rider, to what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel does it refer?
Red is the color of blood and corresponds to the mission of this horse. The rider has a great sword and is allowed to take peace from the earth, so that people may kill one another.
The second seal describes the consequences of the rejection of the gospel. As Christ is waging spiritual warfare through the preaching of the gospel, the forces of evil render strong resistance. Inevitably, persecution follows. The rider does not do the killing. Instead, he takes peace from the earth and inevitably, as a result, persecution follows. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus said. “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34, NKJV).
Read Revelation 6:5-6 along with Lev. 26:26 and Ezek. 4:16. On the basis of the description of the black horse and the rider, what reality associated with the preaching of the gospel is referred to?
The rider on the black horse holds a scale for weighing food. An announcement is made: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius (Rev. 6:6, NKJV).” In Palestine, grain, oil and wine were the basic necessities of life (Deut. 11:14). To eat bread by carefully weighing the grain denoted great scarcity or famine (Lev. 26:26; Ezek. 4:16). In John’s day, a denarius was a daily wage (Mat. 20:2). In normal circumstances, a daily wage would buy all the necessities for the family. However, a famine would enormously inflate the normal price. In the scene of the third seal, it would take a whole day’s work to buy just enough food for only one person. In order to feed a small family, a day’s wage would be used to buy three quarts of barley, a cheaper, coarser food for the poor.
The scene of the third seal points to the further consequences of rejecting the gospel. If the white horse represents the preaching of the gospel, the black horse denotes the absence of the gospel. Grain in the Bible symbolizes the word of God (Luke 8:11). The rejection of the gospel inevitably results in a famine of the word of God similar to the one prophesied by Amos (8:11-13).
What lessons does the scene of the third seal speak to you? Does merely possessing the Bible mean that a person is safe from the spiritual famine?

Tuesday January 29
The Scene of the Fourth Seal
Read Revelation 6:3-4. What scene is here portrayed? How is this scene related to the previous one?
The color of the horse in the fourth seal is expressed with the Greek word chloros, which is the ashen-grey color of a decomposing corpse. The rider’s name is Death and Hades, the place of the dead, accompanies him. These two are allowed to destroy people by sword, hunger, death, and wild beasts over one-fourth of the earth.
The fourth seal calls forth pestilence and death. The graphic portrayal of the scene conveys the perennial truth that spiritual famine of the Word of God as a result of rejecting the gospel inevitably leads to spiritual death.
The good news is that the power of Death and Hades is very limited; they are given authority only over a part (one-fourth) of the earth. Jesus assures us that he has the keys of Death and Hades (see Rev. 1:18). Death does not have power over those who accept the gospel.
Review once again the contents of the messages to the churches in Ephesus, Sardis, Pergamum, and Thyatira in Revelation 2. Compare the situation in those churches with the scenes of the opening of the first four seals. What parallels do you observe between them?
Beside their general application, the scenes of the seven seals also apply historically. As was the case with the seven churches, the seals also correlate to the different periods in Christian history. During the apostolic times, the gospel rapidly spread throughout the world. This was followed by the period of persecution in the Roman Empire from the end of the first to the beginning of the fourth century, as portrayed in the scene of the second seal. The third seal points to the period of compromise of the fourth and fifth centuries, which were characterized by a spiritual famine of the Bible, which led to the Dark Ages or the medieval period. The fourth seal aptly describes the spiritual death that characterized Christianity during the dark, Middle Ages when the Bible was unavailable to people and tradition replaced and overruled the teaching of the Bible.
Go overs again Revelation 6:6, which states that “the oil and the wine” will not be affected by the famine of the third seal’s plague. Oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and wine salvation in Jesus Christ. Even when the word of God is scarce, the Holy Spirit is still at work and salvation is still available to all who want it. What lesson does this speak to you?

Wednesday January 30
The Opening of the Fifth Seal
Read Revelation 6:9-10. What two groups of people are in view in this scene? Why do the souls underneath the altar cry out to God? Why are they martyred? Who are those referred to as “those who dwell on the earth” (e.g., 8:13; 13:8; 17:2)?
The word “soul” in the Bible denotes the whole person (Gen. 2:7). The death of God’s faithful and persecuted people is here portrayed in terms of the sacrificial blood poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice of the earthly sanctuary (Exod. 29:12; Lev. 4:7). Here are God’s people suffering injustice for their faithfulness to the gospel. They are crying to God asking Him to step in and vindicate them.
Read Revelation 6:11 along with Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 79:10. What was heaven’s response to the prayers of God’s martyred people? How long were they told to wait until God vindicates them?
The martyred saints were given white robes representing Christ’s righteousness as Christ’s free gift to those who accept His offer of grace (Rev. 3:5; 19:8). Then, they were told that they would have to rest until their brothers who would go through a similar experience are made complete. It is important to notice that the Greek text does not have the word “number.” Revelation does not talk of a number of the martyred saints to be reached before Christ’s return, but of the completeness regarding their character. God’s people are made complete by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, not their own merit (Rev. 7:10). The martyred saints will not be resurrected and vindicated until the second coming of Christ and the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 20:4).
Although the scene of the fifth seal applied historically to the period of the Middle Ages during which millions were martyred because of their faithfulness to the teaching of the Bible, it also denotes the experience of God’s suffering people throughout history, from the time of Abel (Gen. 4:10) until the time when God will finally avenge “the blood of His servants” (Rev. 19:2). The day is coming when Christ will come in judgment against the enemies of His people and bring “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9, NKJV).
“How long, O Lord?” has been the cry of God’s suffering people throughout history. Have you ever struggled with an apparent lack of God’s intervention as you suffered injustice in your life? What comfort do you find in the scene of the fifth seal?

Thursday January 31
The Opening of the Sixth Seal
In the fifth seal, we saw God’s people suffering injustice in a hostile world, crying for God’s intervention on their behalf. The time has come for God to intervene in answer to the prayers of His people.
Read Revelation 6:12-14 along with Matthew 24:29-30 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
The cosmic signs of the sixth seal are those foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-30 that were to occur at the conclusion of the tribulation of the Middle Ages as the harbingers of the Second Coming. The sun, the moon, the stars, and the sky are literal here. The use of the words “as” or “like” points to a symbolic analogy to an actual thing or event—the sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became like blood, the stars fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its late figs, and the sky receded as a scroll. The Christians in the western world recognized in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the dark day of May 19, 1780 experienced in eastern New York and southern New England, and the spectacular meteor shower over the Atlantic Ocean on November 13, 1833 the fulfillment of the prophecy with reference to Christ’s coming. This in turn led to a series of revivals known as the Second Great Awakening.
Read Revelation 6:15-17 along with 19:11-21. Also read Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30.
The scene portrays people of all walks of life in a panic trying to hide from the terror of the upheaval at the coming of Christ. They are asking rocks and mountains to cover them in order to protect them from the “face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (NKJV).” The time has arrived for justice to be dispersed as Christ comes “to be glorified in His saints” (2 Thess. 1:10). Their end is described in Revelation 19:17-21.
The scene concludes with the rhetorical question by the terror-stricken wicked: “The great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (NKJV)” (see also Nah. 1:6; Mal. 3:2). The answer to that question is given in Revelation 7; those who will be able to stand in that day are the sealed people of God.
Reflect on the scene of the opening of the sixth seal. Do you feel that you would be able to stand before God on the day of His wrath? If you knew that Jesus would come in a matter of days, what changes would you make in your life?

Friday February 1
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The World’s Need,” pp. 457-460, in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers.
The vision of the opening of the seven seals points symbolically to God’s care for His people on earth. As Kenneth A. Strand pointed out:
“In Scripture there is assurance that God has always cared for His people: that in history itself He is ever present to sustain them, and that in the great eschatological denouement He will give the full vindication and an incomprehensibly generous reward in life everlasting. The Book of Revelation picks up and expands beautifully this same theme, and thus Revelation is not by any means some sort of offbeat apocalypse that is out of tune with biblical literature in general; it conveys the very heart and substance of the biblical message. Indeed, as Revelation emphatically points out, the ‘Living One’—the One who conquered death and the grave (1:18)—will never forsake His faithful followers and that even when they suffer martyrdom they are victorious (12:11), with the ‘crown of life’ awaiting them (see 2:10; 21:1-4; and 22:4)”—Kenneth A. Strand, “The Seven Heads: Do They Represent Roman Emperors?” in Symposium on Revelation—Book 2, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series 7 (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 1992), 206.
Discussion Questions:
After studying this week’s lesson, what valuable lessons have you learned from the scene of the opening of the seven seals? How has it provided you with the assurance that God is in charge of the events in the world? Does this fill you with the assurance that you can trust him when you face trials in your life? How does it impact your attitude toward the surrounding world? What changes have you decided to make?
Reflect on the following statement: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world.” Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9. Think of your local church. Is it faithful in spreading the gospel in order to reach people with the gospel message? If it is not, what can be done to reach the surrounding world?

Revelation Teacher’s Quarterly, Week 5, January 27 – February 2 Analysis of Changes Made in the Editorial Process for the Teacher’s Edition

Basic theme: The Seven Seals of Revelation 6

The changes to the Teacher’s Edition of the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide (known popularly as the Sabbath School Quarterly) for January to March 2019 were more significant than average this week. I will review the changes that were interesting or substantive.

Under Life Application in the Overview part the phrase “Adventist reading” of Revelation was replaced with “historicist interpretation.” Since Seventh-day Adventists are the only major denomination that holds to historicist interpretation, the two phrases are really saying the same thing. But this change was made consistently, so the editors wanted to imply that historicism is more than just an Adventist approach out of several options. As a believer, I agree with that, but again thinking that non-SDAs are likely to be reading the lesson or attending classes I felt the phrase “Adventist reading” would play better with them. This underlines an Adventist trend from a focus on mission to a focus on apologetics (defending the faith to our own). Both tasks are needed, but if we turn our focus away from mission our reason for existence is harder to defend.

In the Commentary section (Main Themes II) the editors removed references to the throne as the main theme of the narrative (based on 14 references to the throne in chapter 4 and 5 more in chapter 5) and replaced that with “worship of God the Creator and the worthiness of the Lamb to apply His heavenly mediation to counter the threats on earth to God’s kingdom.” I don’t particularly disagree with that statement, but it is certainly less obviously on the actual data of Revelation 4 and 5 itself. This illustrates a trend in the church away from serious exegesis toward the assertion of “biblical” conclusions without much evidence given. Both conclusions can be argued from the text, but the first has the advantage of repeated language in the text itself.

In Main Themes V the editors removed my phrase “understood to be” in the sentence “The first earthquake was understood to be fulfilled by the Lisbon earthquake. . .” In my phrase you see the caution of the scholar and the missionary leaving space for those who disagree with a particular point to stay engaged with the text anyway. I like leaving readers the freedom to think and sometimes to disagree. But that may not be what major elements of the church need or at least think they need. At the end of the same section, the editors changed my “fourfold” use of “as” in Revelation 6:12-14 to “threefold.” I assume the editors were working from an English translation where the Greek “hôs” can be variously translated “like” or “as,” which masks the original. In the Greek, my “fourfold” was correct and the editors are wrong. The King James Version is consistent in translating all four “as.” I have noticed through the years an editorial preference for the New King James Version and in the NKJV the Greek “hôs” is translated “as” three times and “like” once. So it seems dependence on a single translation led to the editorial error in this section.

The first section of the Life Application has numerous small changes to strengthen the apologetic assertion of the historicist method over against a more measured scholarly and missional approach. The previous generation of Adventist leaders (1980s) was eager that everything be as accurate to the text of the Bible as possible and to be more tentative when the Bible was not crystal clear. The current generation seems more threatened by that kind of openness, so maybe these changes are the right thing to do, at least for some. But I am sure others will be disappointed at this shift in emphasis.

Again, for those who don’t have access to the standard printed edition of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide or the Teacher’s Edition for this quarter, you can access them online week by week at https://www.absg.adventist.org/. My original pre-edited Teacher’s Edition manuscript for this week is provided in the previous blog. You can also download audio of me teaching the lesson ahead of time each week at http://pineknoll.org/sabbath-school-lessons.

Original Teachers’ Notes for Rev 6 (Week 5)

I share here in blog form my original manuscript of this week’s (January 27 – February 2) Sabbath School Adult Teacher’s Edition for people to use or compare with the edited version. The changes were not massive or disruptive in most cases. I share my analysis of the changes in the next blog. These comments were made in response to the standard quarterly written primarily by my friend Ranko Stefanovic.


Part I: Overview

Key Text: Rev. 5:5-6.

Study Focus: Chapter six describes the events that occur as the Lamb breaks the first six of the seven seals (Rev. 6:1-17).

Introduction: Chapter six portrays the first six of the seven seals. This scene follows directly on the vision of the heavenly throne room in chapter five.

Lesson Themes: The lesson and the focus passage introduce the following themes:

1. The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8) Portray the Progress of the Gospel and the Consequences of Its Rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2—see Theme 1 below).
2. The Main OT Background of the Four Horses Involves the Curses of the Covenant. The OT covenant, with its blessings and curses, is adopted in chapter six as a metaphor of the gospel.
3. The Judgments Portrayed in Rev. 6 Affect the People of God. This builds on the covenant promises and threats made to Israel in Lev. 26 and Deut. 32.
4. The “Souls Under the Altar” Passage Does Not Address the State of the Dead. The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) has often been misused to argue consciousness after death.
5. The Adventist Reading of the Sixth Seal Is Supported by the Text. Close reading of Rev. 6:12-14 indicates both a movement in time and a literal meaning of sun, moon and stars.

Life Application. Participants are invited to explore the relevance of the traditional Adventist reading of Rev. 6:12-14 and the answer to Jesus’ question in 6:17.

Part II. Commentary

Chapter six is clearly based on chapter five. The chapter opens with “and” (Greek: kai), indicating a connection to what precedes. At the close of chapter five, the Lamb is holding the scroll (5:7-8) and receiving the worship of the heavenly host (5:12-14). As John continues looking (both chapters begin with John saying “and I saw”—5:1; 6:1), he sees the Lamb open seal after seal (6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12).
The events that occur as each seal is opened are not the content of the scroll. All seven seals need to be broken before the scroll can be unrolled and its contents seen (see 6:14).

Main Themes of Lesson 5 Elaborated:
1. The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8) Portray the Progress of the Gospel and the Consequences of Its Rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2). All the horses but this one produce afflictions. White in Revelation always represents Christ or His people. The crown (Greek: stephanos) worn by the rider is the victory crown. With only one exception (Rev. 9:7), this kind of crown is always associated with Christ and/or His people in the New Testament. In the first five chapters of Revelation the word for conquering (Greek: nikôn, nikêsêi) also refers consistently to Christ and His people (see, for example, Rev. 3:21 and 5:6). The rider on the white horse in Rev. 19 is clearly Christ, and that rider is parallel to this one.
Clearly counterfeit is a major theme in Revelation, but when counterfeits occur they are always clearly exposed as such to the reader. In Rev. 6:1-2, on the other hand, there is no hint of evil. While the rider on the white horse in Rev. 19 wears the royal crown (Greek: diadêma) rather than the victory crown, the difference is explainable in terms of different stages of the conflict. Rev. 6 represents the church militant while Rev. 19 represents the church triumphant. The focus of the four horsemen seems to be the victory of Christ and the progress of both the gospel and resistance to the gospel.

2. The Main OT Background of the Four Horses Involves the Curses of the Covenant. The main theme of Rev. 4-5 is the throne and the threat to the throne. The theme of Rev. 6 is the curses of the covenant. The word “curse” here is not profanity, it expresses the consequences of disobedience (Lev. 26:21-26, Deut. 32:23-25, 41-43, and Ezek. 14:12-21). In the Old Testament these curses were sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals. The curses were often seven-fold (Lev. 26:21, 24) and executed by four horses of different colors (Zech. 1:8-17; 6:1-8).
In the Old Testament the covenant was between God and Israel. The blessings and curses of the covenant there occurred in a literal fashion on the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, faithfulness to Israel’s covenant is determined in relation to Christ. Those faithful to Christ are blessed (John 12:32; Acts 13:32-33; 2 Cor. 1:20) and those who reject Him are under the curse (Rom 8:3; Gal. 3:13).

3. The Judgments Portrayed in Rev. 6 Affect the People of God. While the judgments of the seven trumpets fall on the wicked (Rev. 9:4, 20-21), the judgments of the seven seals fall on the unfaithful people of God. Satan’s kingdom has three parts in Rev. (16:13, 19) and the judgments of the trumpets fall on thirds of the earth (Rev. 8:7-12). But the seven seals concern “fourths” of the earth (Rev. 6:8). The fourth part would be the people of God. The difference is that Israel in the New Testament is determined in relation to Jesus Christ.

4. The “Souls Under the Altar” Passage (Rev. 6:9-11) Does Not Address the State of the Dead. Some readers assume that the “souls under the altar” represent bodiless consciousness after death. If taken literally, this would be contrary bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 53), to Gen. 2:7 which sees the soul as the whole person, and Eccl. 9:5, which indicates no consciousness after death. But this text is clearly symbolic, echoing the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:10-11) and the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Hebrew sanctuary, which is the only object in the sanctuary where anything happens at the base (Lev. 5:9).
The “souls” under the altar are not in a disembodied state in heaven. The Altar of Burnt Offering represents the cross of Christ and the persecution of believers, things that happen on earth. And the martyrs only come to life again at the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 20:4). As was the case with the blood of Abel, the martyrs are depicted as on earth, not in heaven. The crying out of the blood is a metaphorical way of saying that the things done to them are held in remembrance by God until their resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus (1 Thess. 4:16).

5. The Adventist Reading of the Sixth Seal Is Supported by the Text. In the book The Great Controversy and other pioneer SDA works, Rev. 6:12-14 is applied to events in the relatively recent past. The text describes two earthquakes separated by a series of heavenly signs. The first earthquake was understood to be fulfilled by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. This was followed by the darkening of the sun and redness of the moon in 1780, and the falling of the stars in 1833. The complete disruption of both the sky and the surface of the planet was seen as still future.
Two reasonable questions have arisen about this way of reading Rev. 6:12-14. 1) The entire passage is governed by the opening phrase, “when he opened the sixth seal.” So the most natural grammatical reading is that all the events in the passage occur at the same time, not separated by decades. 2) Are the earthquakes, sun, moon and stars to be taken literally or are they symbols of some sort of spiritual malady? Both of these objections can be met by close observation of the Greek text.
First, the earthquake in verse 12 is not at the same time as the one in verse 14. The earthquake in verse 12 (“great earthquake,” Greek: seismos megas) is paralleled to the earthquake in Rev. 11:13 (“great earthquake,” Greek: seismos megas). That earthquake is prior to the close of probation (which happens at the beginning of the seventh trumpet, see Rev. 10:7). On the other hand, the moving of every mountain and island (6:14) is parallel to Rev. 16:20, well after the close of probation. So if the two earthquakes are separated by an undetermined period of time, it is reasonable that the other events of Rev. 6:12-14 could also be fulfilled at different times.
Second, there is a fourfold “as” (Greek: hôs) in verses 12 and 13. In Greek this conjunction regularly introduces symbolism, which works best when what comes before the hôs is literal. So the actual sun became black “like” sackcloth and the moon became “like” blood. The descriptions are symbolic but the heavenly bodies are real.

Part III: Life Application

1. The Seventh-day Adventist pioneers understood Rev. 6:12-14 as involving the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the Dark Day of 1780, and the falling of the stars in 1833, almost a hundred years of history. How does a comparison with Matthew 24 help or hurt that interpretation? What is the spiritual payoff of a historicist reading of the sixth seal?
English translations of Matt. 24:30, like the NIV (“at that time”), do appear to associate all the heavenly signs with the Second Coming of Jesus, which is still future. But the Greek simply has “and” (kai), so the original text is as open-ended as Rev. 6:12-14 turned out to be. Matthew 24 does not settle the issue against the Adventist reading of Rev. 6.
Adventist readings of prophecy assure us that 1) God is in control of history, 2) His mission for the end-time and for His end-time people is clear, and 3) He cares deeply about His people, vindicating the martyrs (6:11) and protecting as many as possible in the satanic chaos just before Jesus’ return (7:1-3).

2. Does it matter if earthquakes, forest fires, and repetitive astronomical events produce prophetic fulfillments? Adventists have never required anyone to believe that the mighty acts of God violate the laws of nature that God Himself set up.

3. The conclusion of chapter six asks the question, “Who shall be able to stand?” (KJV) What is the biblical answer to that question and what relevance does that answer have for today? That single question has a double answer in Rev. 7. The 144,000 and the Great Multitude will be able to stand. Does God have one people at the end of time or two separate groups? Use this question and group discussion about it to build interest in next week’s lesson, which will address the issue.