What does Revelation 6 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
The first few chapters of Revelation present a certain level of symbolism. Chapter 6 marks something of a change, as the imagery will become more and more elaborate. This reliance on symbolism must be kept in mind when reading and interpreting John's vision. Not all of the descriptions in Revelation are meant to be understood in absolutely literal terms; not all are meant to be understood symbolically. In some cases, it seems John is describing literal events using dramatic, poetic language. Context and caution are useful in knowing which passages fall into which category.

Revelation 6 opens with Jesus—the Lamb (Revelation 5:5–7)—beginning to open the seven seals on a scroll containing God's judgment on sin (Revelation 5:1–2). The first seal is opened, and one of the four living creatures around God's throne (Revelation 4:6–8) shouts out a command. John then sees a rider on a white horse, wearing a crown and carrying a bow. His power is conquering, and this figure is most often associated with the Antichrist (Revelation 13:1–10): some sort of political leader who will drastically oppose God during the tribulation. The chaos which ensues after this rider means that this is not Jesus, who will return separately much later in the end times (Revelation 19:11–16; 20:4), establishing a kingdom of peace. The rider described here has a different role in these prophesied events (Revelation 6:1–2).

The second seal results in another shout from one of the angelic living creatures, and a second rider. This horse is red and is associated with war. This complements the first rider's power of conquering—though the warfare predicted here might be a response to this world leader, rather than the way he rises to power (Revelation 6:3–4).

The third seal again brings a command from one of the living creatures and another horseman. This horse is black, and the rider carries a set of scales: balances meant to carefully weigh things. This immediately suggests scarcity: people typically are careful to make precise measurement of things which are scarce or precious. Another voice, not identified, indicates that what is scarce is food, referring to wheat and barley. The quantities of grain and money are both typical for one day: this suggests famine, where people are struggling to make ends meet. On the other hand, finer things like oil and wine are not "harmed," implying that the rich and powerful are somewhat insulated from this particular disaster (Revelation 6:5–6). The fourth seal and command bring a horse described using the Greek word chlōros. This is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe grass and plants: a yellowish green (Mark 6:39; Revelation 8:7; 9:4). While healthy in plants, in living flesh this is the color of infection and decay. It's translated as "pale" in many English translations to distinguish it from the first, white horse, and to evoke the imagery of the rider: Death. Death is followed by Hades: in this context, a reference to the unseen spiritual world. Whether this horseman's effects are separate from the other three, or coordinated, his impact is horrific. War, famine, disease, wild animals, and so forth kill a fourth of people of earth (Revelation 6:7–8).

The fifth seal brings a contrast to the first four. There is no shout or command. There also seems to be no particular effect on earth at the opening of this particular seal. Rather, John sees martyrs at the altar of heaven; these seem to be those killed during the tribulation, making them believers who came to Christ after the rapture. Chapter 7's description of those "sealed" by God most likely includes this group. These martyrs praise and acknowledge God, while begging Him to avenge their deaths. God's response is for them to wait, since there are others yet to be martyred for proclaiming Christ (Revelation 6:9–11).

The sixth seal describes some colossal series of natural disasters. John's description here evokes earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, meteor showers, pollution or blockage of the sky, and even atmospheric disruptions. These events are so dire that even the rich and powerful cower in fear. Interestingly, the people of earth acknowledge that these events are the result of the wrath of God. The disaster is so terrifying that even those who suppress the truth of God (Romans 1:18–25) are compelled to admit what is really happening (Revelation 6:12–17).

Chapter 7 continues the events which happen after the opening of the sixth seal.
Verse Context:
Revelation 6:1–8 introduces John's vision of Jesus, the Lamb, opening the first four of seven seals. He also heard one of the four living creatures issue the thunderous command, ''Come!'' What John saw next was the first calamity to strike the earth in the tribulation: seven years of judgment following the rapture of the church. There is no way to know whether the four horsemen follow each other sequentially or ride forth simultaneously. If they follow each other sequentially, we cannot know how much time elapses between their rides. The judgments appear to belong to the first half of the tribulation. However, some interpreters believe the sixth seal may be an exception.
Revelation 6:9–11 continues a description of what will happen when Jesus—the Lamb—opens the seven seals. This section relates specifically what happens when the fifth seal is opened. The four horsemen of the first four seals inflict severe pain and turmoil on the earth; verse 9 introduces a group that experience martyrdom for their faith and witness. Although their bodies succumb to death, their souls live on. The apostle John saw their souls under the altar in heaven, and he heard them cry out to God for vengeance. He also heard God's response to their prayer and saw Him give each soul a white robe.
Revelation 6:12–17 continues the episode of Jesus' opening of the seven seals of God's judgment. The first four opened seals brought devastation at the hands of four horsemen. The fifth opened seal revealed a company of martyrs under the altar in heaven. This sixth opened seal launches horrific terrestrial and celestial disturbances that cause earth's mighty men to hide among the rocks of the mountains. These men call upon rocks to fall on them, hiding from the face of God and from the wrath of the Lamb. They know the day of the wrath of God and the Lamb has arrived.
Chapter Summary:
This chapter typifies the dramatic, heavily symbolic description of end-times events for which Revelation is famous. John sees a series of visions corresponding to Jesus opening the first six seals of the scroll He received in chapter 5. The first four seals unleash four horsemen, respectively symbolizing a world leader, war, famine, and death. The fifth seal reveals the prayers of martyrs pleading with God to avenge their deaths. The sixth seal unleashes massive natural disasters. In response, the people of the world cower in fear, admitting that they are suffering under the wrath of God.
Chapter Context:
The largest section of Revelation extends from chapter 4 to the end and describes events ''that are to take place after this'' (Revelation 1:19). Chapter 5 focused on a scroll containing God's judgment on sin and a search for someone to open it. Only Jesus is worthy to open it. When Jesus took the scroll from God, He received praise from every creature in heaven and on earth. Now, in chapter 6 our attention focuses on the events that transpire when Jesus opens six of the seven seals, one at a time. This process will continue through chapter 8.
Book Summary:
The word ''revelation'' means ''an unveiling or disclosure.'' This writing unveils future events such as the rapture, three series of judgments that will fall on the earth during the tribulation, the emergence of the Antichrist, the persecution of Israel and her amazing revival, as well as Jesus' second coming with His saints to the earth, the judgment of Satan and his followers, and finally, the eternal state. This content, combined with the original Greek term apokalypsis, is why we now refer to an end-of-the-world scenario as ''an apocalypse.''
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