There’s a key consideration: Revelation is about conflict between good and evil, key players are God (in the person of Jesus Christ), the church, and Satan. Satan knows better than to try attacking God directly, focuses his assaults on that which belongs to God, the church, the body of Christ. At its root, it is a spiritual battle against an unseen enemy; yet it is a battle with physical and visible effects. The bottom-line cause of the battle: sin; conflict is a result of sin and its far-reaching corruption of all creation.
The same declaration that brought the Protevangelion, first Gospel, also brought a declaration of war. (Gen. 3:15) God declared he would cause there to be ongoing hostility between two kingdoms – “I will put enmity between”: that of God and of Satan, populated by children of God and children of Satan. Mankind would be stuck in a battle zone for the duration. How long a duration? Hints are given throughout Scripture; the same for the nature of the battle and its outcome. It’s not until Revelation that God provides comprehensive view from heaven’s perspective how the battle is being waged and what it’s outcome will be.
We can’t see the enemy but we can see and feel the effects of his attacks; the natural created order is also groaning under the curse issued by God in the Garden. Creation cries out to God for deliverance (Rom. 8:22), the saints cry out to God for justice. Revelation is God’s response, revealing from heaven’s perspective how God is dealing with these issues in the present, how he will bring them to a final conclusion.
Three series of judgments shown to John in visionary form: seals (6:1-8:1), trumpets (8:2-11:19), bowls (15:1-16:21). John also sees a presentation in visionary form the main characters involved in combat (12:1-14:20) – counterfeit trinity of dragon, beast and false prophet; protagonists, the woman, the 144,000 and the Son of Man. While not necessarily exactly parallel, generally these visions give perspectives on entire period from John’s day to the consummation.
Rev. 6:1 the opening of 7 seals in response to call for one who is worthy followed by worship of the Lamb; Rev. 8:2-4 the 7 trumpets in response to prayers of the saints; Rev. 15:1-4 the 7 bowls in respone to worship of the saints; first four seals: four living creatures cry “Come”, fifth seal: martyrs cry “How long?”, the answer comes in the sixth seal.
Each series of judgments is more intense, perhaps have greater focus on time closer to the end. Details are not given for purpose of identifying specific events or a particular sequence. Details are given to reveal the nature of the spiritual conflict raging around us throughout the period and throughout the world. They are intended to provide comfort and encouragement (blessing) to all who read from 1st century through 21st century until the end.
Chapter 6 continues throne room scene begun in Chapter 4 – worship of the one on the throne, a call for one worthy to open the scroll, appearance of the Lion-Lamb who takes the scroll, all creation worshipping the Lamb. Now the Lamb begins to open the scroll – he is the only one with authority to do so:
Authority as in fitness for the task, having the necessary credentials: the Redeemer is qualified to put God’s redemptive plan into effect.
Authority as in having the right to do the task: following his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus declared that “all authority in heaven and earth” had been given to him. Opening the scroll, breaking the seals and revealing the contents of the scroll also implies causing the actions described therein to be carried out.
The Lamb can accomplish that in two ways: sending his agents into the world to do his bidding, going to the scene of action personally to carry out the task required by God’s redemptive plan. As we work through the rest of the book, we’ll see that the Lord Jesus does both – working through representatives and then appearing personally to bring God’s plan to a conclusion.
A. white horse v.2
political struggle and conquest – rider on white horse is leader, others follow and accompany him; same is true of what they represent. Political struggle always comes at a cost. In ancient world, horse used in war and rarely signified peace. White horse a further sign of conquest – this one sent as Christ’s agent had as his purpose to show that change would come about by use of force, not through peaceful means.
B. red horse v.4
conflict and war – adding to imagery of conquest, this horseman granted specific permission to remove peace. Perhaps accomplished by lessening of restraint due to work of Holy Spirit through common grace, keeping people back from being as evil as otherwise would be. Natural adjunct to use of force in conquest – loss of life. Violence also tends to promote more violence, whether on a particular battlefield or among bystanders.
C. black horse v.5b-6
limited famine and economic hardship – aggressive armies require much by way of supplies (think North Korea). Leaders bent on conquest amass great resources for personal use (think African country). Those intent on controlling an unruly populace manipulate food supply to serve their own ends. Even during time of “just war” populace can experience food rationing: WWII – rubber, gasoline, sugar, meat, coffee, butter, etc. to support war effort. The picture given: a day’s pay for a day’s food, leaving nothing for anyone else in the family, unless you go with lesser-quality food. Still it’s daily shopping just to have enough to survive.
D. pale horse v.8
unnatural death – mortality rates always higher in areas of conflict whether direct result of hostilities or simply collateral damage. Desperation, hardship, spread of disease, all accompany conflict; appearance of fourth horseman intensifies calamities brought about by previous three horsemen. Even though conditions get worse, God mercifully places a limit on extent of hardship – only “a fourth of the earth” can be touched by the pale green horseman.
E. scope and significance v.1,3,5,7
entails judgment on all the earth as represented by 4 living creatures; in particular, those nations and peoples who resist the rule of Christ and oppress his church. Not absolutely certain to whom the summons “Come” is addressed; probably a call to Christ, calling for his intervention in world affairs to defend his church and bring about justice. The call is to ultimately release creation from its bondage in sin.
Numerous parallels with what Jesus described in Olivet Discourse: “For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matt. 24:7-8) John’s vision of seals along with subsequent visions gives temporal events a heavenly perspective: these hard things happen, have for the last 2000 years, show no signs of stopping; why, and for what purpose?
The world is a small stage, room for only one ultimate sovereign. Satan’s agenda is to establish his kingdom and destroy the church. At times he has accomplished much – Tower of Babel, Alexander the Great, Roman Empire, individuals and entities that have amassed great power over large areas. If not the individual goal, certainly is Satan’s goal to take over the world; if left unchecked, Satan would achieve his objective. Thankfully God intervenes, uses the means signified by four horsemen to check or push back advances made by kingdom of darkness.
Just as eternal life and associated rewards begin in this life, so also does eternal death and its accompanying consequences. God does not wait until Second Coming to begin process of judgment on evildoers. Calamity suffered by rebellious sinners acting as agents of Satan is just foretaste of what awaits them.
Classic example: nation of Israel which had enjoyed God’s marvelous protection and provision for centuries, rejected the One sent to be their Redeemer. Over the next century, estimated 1.1 million died in first Jewish-Roman war, additional 500,000 civilian causalities and almost 1,000 towns destroyed during Bar Kochba revolt. Then followed final stages of Diaspora, end of Jewish nation as God had established it.
But what about Christians who get caught in the middle of all this? These things were revealed to John and then to us so we would understand: an important element of the conflict and hardship is God working his plan, preventing Satan from accomplishing his evil designs. If there were no conflict, since sin is a given after the Fall, the kingdom of darkness would prevail. Instead, these are some of the means God uses to prevent that from occurring; they also warn of the final conflict when Satan and his agents will be eternally confined and punished. That’s the negative; don’t forget the positive: the saints will spend eternity freed from all sin and conflict, enjoying perfections of God and the home he has prepared for us.