First Four Seals - Aftermath

The first four seal openings occur under the watchful eye of the “Lamb” and the “four living creatures” around the “throne”Revelation 6:8

Four Horses - Photo by Christine Mendoza on Unsplash
Collectively, the four “
riders” are authorized to kill “a fourth of the earth.” Each seal is “opened” by the “Lamb,” and each respective “rider” is commanded to ride by one of the “four living creatures” that surrounded the “throne.” The forces unleashed by the first four seals result from the “Lamb” breaking open the seven “seals” of the scroll - [Four Horses - Photo by Christine Mendoza on Unsplash].

The first four seals are distinct from the final three. For example, the involvement of the “four living creatures” with the former. While the “Lamb” opens each seal, the “four living creatures” are only involved with the first four. On some level, there is a connection between the first four seals and the “four living creatures.”

BEFORE THE THRONE

The “Lamb” began to open the “seven seals” upon his arrival at the “throne,” where he immediately took it from the “right hand of the One Who was sitting” on it. As he did so, the “four living creatures” and the “twenty-four elders” declared him “worthy” to open the scroll, for, by his shed blood, he had “redeemed for God men from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation.”

By his sacrifice, the redeemed men of the earth have been made a “kingdom, priests for our God, and they are reigning on the earth,” and presumably, they now reign in conjunction with the “Lamb” who rules over all things from the “throne” – (Revelation 5:5-14).

Redemption is at the heart of what the “Lamb” did. Next, all creation declares him “worthy” to receive all power and sovereignty, once again, because of his sacrificial act. To this, the “four living creatures” give their assent, shouting “Amen!” It is at this juncture that the “Lamb” begins to act in concert with the “four living creatures” as he opens the first seal.

Previously, the “four living creatures” were seen “in the midst of the throne, and around the throne.” They were integral parts of the “throne,” and therefore, were intimately aligned with the “One sitting” on it. Without ceasing, they gave glory and praise to the “One on the throne,” and in their worship, they were virtually inseparable from the “twenty-four elders” - (Revelation 4:6-11, 7:11, 14:3, 19:4).

On some level, the “twenty-four elders” represent victorious Christians. When John first saw them, they were wearing “white garments,” the same clothing granted to “overcoming” believers in the city of Sardis, as well as sphephanoi, “victory wreaths.”

The closeness of the “four living creatures” to the throne and their connection with the “twenty-four elders” explains the note of intimate concern when one of the four cries out from the very center of the “throne” - “A measure of wheat for a shilling, and three measures of barley for a shilling; and the oil and the wine do not harm!”

The image of the “four living creatures” is derived from Ezekiel’s vision of four living beings that move in concert with the glorious throne of Yahweh. In Ezekiel, they are identified as “Cherubim,” and are closely connected to the prophet’s mission to the “sons of Israel…in captivity” in Babylon – (Ezekiel 1:5-28, 10:1-14, 11:22-25).

The background activity of the “four living creatures,” and their close relationship to the “throne,” must be kept in view when determining the “victims” of the four riders.
  • (Revelation 6:8) – “And there was given to them authority over a fourth of the earth to slay with the sword, and with famine, and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

ALL FOUR RIDERS

The plural pronoun “them” refers to all four “riders,” not just to the last one. The entire group is “granted” the license to kill a “fourth of the earth,” whether by sword, famine, death, or “wild beasts.” The same verb was applied previously to each of the four “riders”; each was “granted” authority to carry out its task.

The four causes of death, sword, famine, death, and “wild beasts,” correspond to the four colored horses, but in reverse order – “wild beasts” (white horse), “sword” (red horse), hunger (black horse), and “plague” (“livid” horse).

To kill with the sword.” The second rider causes men to “slay one another,” and the clause uses the Greek verb applied elsewhere to the “slaying” of the “Lamb” and his followers (sphazô). But in verse 8, the generic Greek verb for “kill” or apokteinô is found, a term that refers to any death caused by the four “riders.”

Likewise, also in verse 8, a different noun is used for “sword” than in the second seal opening. The “rider” on the red horse was given a “great sword” or machaira, the term for the Roman short sword. Here, “sword” translates the noun rhomphaia, a more general term for a “sword” or “javelin.”

The final clause borrows imagery from Ezekiel. The Greek Septuagint version uses the same Greek words found here for three of the four forms of death listed in Ezekiel, hunger (limos), “wild beasts” (thérion), and “death” (thanatos):
  • For thus says Yahweh: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four sore acts of judgment, sword, hunger (limos), wild beasts (thérion) and death (thanatos), to cut off from it man and beast.” – (Ezekiel 14:13-21).

The Greek noun that is translated as “plague” in many English versions is thanatos, a noun that means “death” - (Strong’s – #G2288). It does NOT mean “plague” or “pestilence.”

Elsewhere, Revelation uses an entirely different word for “plague,” namely, plégé - (#G4127). The Greek noun rendered “famine” more correctly means “hunger,” and it does not necessarily indicate starvation - (#G3042). Already, several of the seven churches of Asia are experiencing economic difficulties and impoverishment.

The introduction of “wild beasts” at this point appears out of place. However, the same Greek term is applied later to the two earthly agents of the “Dragon” - The “wild beast” from the sea and the “wild beast” from the earth.

Both “beasts” attacked the “saints” with deception and persecution. The “rider” on the white horse represents deceivers and false prophets, most likely, forerunners of the “false prophet” also called the “wild beast of the earth” - (Revelation 13:11-18).

In Ezekiel, the “acts of judgment, sword, hunger, wild beasts, and death,” are sent against Jerusalem, not against the cities of the nations or Babylon.

LIMITS

The “four riders” are only authorized to destroy a “fourth of the earth,” for the “Lamb” set boundaries beyond which no force could go. Numbers in Revelation are figurative.

The point is not the number of the dead, but the limits placed on the riders’ ability to cause harm. The term “fourth” provides a link to the “four living creatures” that summon the four “riders,” and to the “four winds of the earth” that are held back until the “servants of God are sealed.” These events are related - (Revelation 7:1).

Verse 8 also transitions the narrative to the “fifth seal” when John will see the martyrs “underneath the altar.”  No explanation is given regarding how or when they were slain. The literary context answers that question. They were among the victims of the first four seal openings.

The martyrs plead with God to vindicate them against the “inhabitants of the earth” who killed them. However, they must wait for vindication until the full number of martyrs is assembled. According to the literary order of the “seven seals,” this means the forces released by the four “riders” are not part of the vengeance sought by the “souls underneath the altar.”

In the narrative, the effects of the first four seals are not called “wrath,” and their victims are not explicitly identified, other than by the ambiguous “fourth of the earth.” Elsewhere, when the “wrath of God” is unleashed, its targets are identified. For example, the “three woes” pronounced against the “inhabitants of the earth,” and the “seven bowls of wrath” that “completed” God’s fury against the “inhabitants of the earth,” the “kingdom of the beast,” and the “great city, Babylon.”

Storm - Photo by Justin Leniger on Unsplash
[Photo by Justin Leniger on Unsplash]

In the series of seven seals, the “
wrath” of God is not unleashed until the “sixth seal” is opened, which introduces the “wrath of the Lamb.” The targets of the “wrath” are men from every walk of life, essentially, all humanity. But the purpose at this point is not the actual destruction of mankind, but to raise the question, “Who is able to stand” before the “wrath of the Lamb?

TARGETING THE SAINTS

The question is answered in the next chapter by the “sealing of God’s servants” before the “four winds of the earth” are unleashed, which refers to the first four seals and their respective riders. At the end of chapter 7, the vast “innumerable multitude” redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb” is seen exiting the “great tribulation” and standing before the “Lamb.” That “multitude” is identical to the “servants” sealed with the “seal of God.”

The harm done by the four “riders” is primarily against the people of God, and the imagery and descriptive language - Deception, economic deprivation, persecution, violent death - are all experienced by the seven churches. The martyrs “underneath the altar” in the fifth seal are from the “fourth part of the earth” that was “slain” by “wild beasts, sword, hunger, and plague.”

None of this means Jesus delights in inflicting his “brethren.” But in the book’s prologue, John introduced himself as a “fellow participant in the tribulation and the kingdom and the endurance.” And his sufferings were due to his “testimony.”

In Revelation, perseverance through tribulation, including economic deprivation, imprisonment, and even martyrdom, is what it means to be an “overcoming saint,” it is how Christians “overcome” the “Dragon” and qualify to reign with Jesus on “his Father’s throne.”



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