THE book of Revelation is introduced as a "revelation of Jesus Christ"; the first five chapters verify the truthfulness of the name. The sixth chapter opened to John a new phase of the divine character as revealed in the life of the Son, and in His attitude toward the people upon whom His love is bestowed.
The secret history of those on earth, between whom and the Father no being can intervene, is held in the right hand of that Father, and the Lamb alone is able to fulfill what is written within the scroll. The seals, opened, reveal the life of the church, the child of God; and beginning at the birth of Christianity, the seals extend to the end of time. Others may know somewhat of the life; but only the Father knows the environments, the place of birth, the inherited tendencies of His child, He alone is able to appreciate the character, and to form righteous judgment concerning it.
When the first seal was broken by the Lamb, one of the four living creatures, whose voice was like thunder, bade John behold.
Those living creatures, as they surround the throne, reflect the character of God, they are interested in those upon earth, whose lives also reflect the Divine Image. "And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." Zechariah was told that horses symbolized the "spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth." God's Spirit is seeking for those who will give it full control in their lives, and the Apostolic Church was blessed with a double portion of the Spirit. The horse upon which it rode was white, representing the simple faith and trust of those who accepted the baptism of the Spirit in its purity. All the gifts of the Spirit were manifested in the church of the first century. The followers of Christ separated themselves from the midst of the world, from friends and relatives and all that earth counts dear, and God pronounces His richest blessing "On the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren."
A crown denotes victory. A crown was given to him that sat on the horse, and he went forth "conquering, and to conquer." During the first century, it mattered not whether there was an appearance of defeat, or whether triumph was seen in the healing of the sick, and the delivering of the tried and tempted. The name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth was health to the afflicted and life to the dead. Victory was written upon every move of the disciples. In prison, with their backs lacerated, their songs of praise and thanksgiving brought victory and resulted in the conversion of souls. Peter was sentenced to death, shut up in the inner prison; but that last night in prison was a victory; for the angel of the Lord brought deliverance. Truly wonderful was the story of the Gospel during the first century, as it went forth "conquering, and to conquer."
Like the tree planted by the fountain, whose branches grow beyond all bounds, so the church of the first century spread throughout the world. Its very loneliness and spirit of sacrifice was its most attractive feature to those hitherto unacquainted with the power of the Gospel. It was indeed planted by the Fountain of Life, and so long as it remained in connection with that living water, no amount of opposition could retard its growth.
The unparalleled rapidity attending the propagation of the gospel of the Cross, is witnessed to by writers of that age. To the Roman church Paul wrote: "I thank my God ... that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world;" and again, "Your obedience is come abroad unto all men."
When the apostle had been preaching but little more than thirty years, he said to the Colossians that the Gospel had been "preached to every creature which is under heaven." What stronger expression could be used than "it went forth conquering, and to conquer." But it was "not by army, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." This was the soul experience of those children of the living God when they felt the warmth of "their first love."
The Gospel of Christ brings peace on earth, but when men fail to receive the truth, it brings sword and bloodshed. The second beast said, "Come and see." "And there went out another horse that was red, and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another." Peace was taken from the earth; blood was shed upon the right hand and upon the left, and the saints were led as a lamb to the slaughter. Nothing could more vividly describe this period than the "horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth." This carries us through the period known as the triumph of paganism, corresponding to the Smyrna church. In the eyes of the world, the experience of God's people through this age, was one of great defeat, but in the eyes of Him, who has power to give victory in the smallest things of earth, and to bring to naught things that are, by things that are not, this experience was a triumph. The very witness borne by the sacrifice of the lives of the saints became seed that sprang up and bore fruit. God's infinite power is made manifest in every sacrifice made by men upon earth. In their utter helplessness lay their strength.
It was then that the power of Christ rested upon them. Even the smallest act, performed in behalf of Christ, multiplies not only a hundredfold in this life, but its influence, like a stone thrown into a smooth surface of water, extends until it reaches the ocean of eternity.
To live a spiritual life requires a ceaseless climbing, higher and still higher; but humanity is prone to take an easier part. Sad as it may seem, we find the church, which for years sacrificed its life for the sake of the Gospel, beginning to compromise the truth of God. The church turned its eyes from Christ, and was allured by the world into strange paths. What Satan could not do by persecution, he accomplished by flattery. When the third seal was opened, the third beast was heard to say, "Come and see." "And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances." It is strange that, when men lose the Spirit of God, they at once become self-appointed judges of other men. The Spirit of Christ is, "in honor preferring one another." The life of the Saviour exemplifies this; the lives of those who have followed closely in His footsteps show that the same spirit has dwelt in men. The prayer of Moses was that God would blot out his name from the book of life, but save Israel. "Oh, this people have sinned a great sin. ... Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; -- and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written." "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" When, however, men cease to obey the law of God, they at once exalt self above the Lawgiver, and seated on the throne of justice, they attempt to weigh men's deeds. This is the "mystery of iniquity," which "opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." It is the spirit of him who said, "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God ... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High."
But the balances held by man are false balances; and while man is passing judgment, God, from the throne, is watching those who are being weighed, and in His infinite kindness, limits the power of the self-made judge. This judge may say "a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny;" he may, it is true, judge somewhat from outward appearances, he may weigh out the physical actions, but the Divine command is, "See thou hurt not the oil and the wine." The oil of His grace, and the wine, the emblem of the inner spiritual life, must not, and cannot be touched.
The church during the fourth and fifth centuries, began dictating to men what they should believe, and how they should worship. This was the period when Christianity was replaced by the papacy, and man was exalted as vicegerent of God on earth.
The fourth beast bade John come, and see the opening of the fourth seal, which was the culmination of the scenes begun under the third seal. "I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." The pale horse was an indication of still greater departure from the spirit of truth than the black one. Thousands have been put to death by the sword, by starvation, and by wild beasts; and what is worse than killing the body, many more have suffered spiritual death because of the hiding of the Word of Life. Whenever the church is clothed with civil power, it weighs out to mankind Christian experience. If that experience is not according to the prescribed religion, the thumbscrew and other instruments of torture are brought forth to extort confessions from the penitent. But God, even in the midst of the severest persecution, watches over every afflicted soul.
It might seem that God would have prevented such seeming cruelty during the Dark Ages; but the view given to John, shows that Christ suffered in the person of His saints.
At the time of the crucifixion angels were restrained from rescuing the Saviour from His agony. It was suffered to be so for the time, that the greater glory might be seen thereafter. So in the martyrdom of the Middle Ages, and in any form of persecution, Christ identifies Himself with the sufferer, and all heaven stands ready to succor him.
"When He had opened the fifth seal," John "saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held." God does not forget those who have suffered for His name, but their names are written in the Book of Life. The lamb in the tabernacle service was slain on the earth; Christ left the courts of heaven, and the earth became the altar where His blood was shed; the rock-hewn sepulchre became the grave in which His dead body was laid; so the earth has drunk the blood of martyrs, and their bodies lie buried in its bosom. Representatives of all classes of men, from the lowly tradesman to the men of brilliant intellect, fell before the power of him who sat on the pale horse. Such men as Huss and Jerome, Ridley, Cranmer, and Latimer, suffered for the Word of God. But there were others, such as Galileo, who were persecuted because they advocated principles, which, when weighed in the balances of him who sat enthroned, were deemed to be dangerous to the government.
The blood of Abel cried unto God, so the earth bears witness before Jehovah of every life which has been taken in His name.
This witness is true, one that can never be suborned; and it matters not what may be the verdict of him who holds the balance. God knows, and gives righteous judgment. When the history of nations was revealed to Daniel, the angels of heaven cried, "How long, O Lord, how long till the end of these things?" The whole creation suffers because of the curse which sin has brought; and in addition to these voices, which plead for the end of all things, the blood of the martyrs is heard by the sensitive ear of Jehovah.
When asked why there is such long-suffering on the part of God, John saw the white robes of Christ's righteousness, prepared for every one who has given up life for the sake of the truth. They have been despised, rejected, and killed by men; but on the record books of heaven, every sin is covered by the character of their Lord. They were the company who were 'destitute, afflicted, tormented: of whom the world was not worthy:" but heaven has a home for them, and in the restoration of all things, they will be given a place near the throne.
Their numbers will be increased by those who are called to suffer a similar death in the period of time preceding the second coming of Christ. What was done under the cover of darkness in the Middle Ages, will be repeated when the sun is at its zenith. All who are slain for conscience' sake, sleep together in their graves until called forth by the trumpet tones of Him, who is the resurrection and the life. Then will white robes be given them, together with palms of victory. To-day they are seen clothed in white robes; for the world, forgetting the crimes of which they were basely accused, assigns them a martyr's crown.
This inner life history, as revealed by the opening of the seals, was not for the benefit of those who lived during the period in ecclesiastical history, when it was especially applicable; for at those times the prophecies were not understood; but it is for those who live in the time of the end, especially under the sixth seal, that the wondrous love of Him who ruleth in the heavens, may be read in the events which occur.
The sixth seal covers history until the end of time; therefore the generation now living will witness at least some events shown to the prophet when this seal was opened. It differs from the first four seals, by showing events which mark prophetic time, rather than by showing the condition of the church. Those who recognize the signs therein given, as omens of the second coming of the Son of man, will welcome Him under the seventh seal. Those who do not thus read the language of God, as given in signs and wonders, will have the experience recorded in Rev. 6:15-17.
At the beginning of the sixth seal, a mighty earthquake shook the earth. This doubtless refers to the earthquake of 1755, felt with greatest severity at Lisbon, Portugal, and known in history as the Lisbon earthquake. Its influence was felt as far north as Greenland, also in the north of Africa. This was to be followed by the darkening of the sun, and the moon, and the falling of the stars of heaven. There have been many earthquakes in the history of the world, and the sun has often been darkened; but a definite earthquake was to be considered as a sign of the times in which men were living. A definite darkening of the sun and moon would be used by the Lord as a token of His near approach. That men might know which events to accept and which to reject, the Word of God has described with divine minuteness the ones referred to under the sixth seal. Eight writers of the Bible give the signs in the sun, moon, and stars, as heralds of the last day. Four of these, Joel, Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, wrote before the time of Christ; the other four are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, three of whom repeat the words given by the Saviour Himself. The description of the signs in the heavenly bodies, given by these eight writers, points out at least thirteen peculiarities, which unmistakably indicate the time and nature of their occurrence. The time when men might look for signs in the heavens is given by Matthew. He says, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light," etc.
The "tribulation of those days" is the period of darkness and persecution, know as the "abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet." It began with the establishment of the papacy in 538 A.D., and continued twelve hundred and sixty years, or until 1798. But God in mercy shortened the time of persecution; for "except those days be shortened there should no flesh be saved." The persecuting power of the papacy was broken about 1776 A.D. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened and the moon shall not give her light." The prophesied dark day must then be looked for soon after 1776. Mark adds another item which helps in the location of the time. He says, "In those days, after that tribulation," etc. That is, within the period of the twelve hundred and sixty years, or before 1798 and after 1776, "the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light." History records the extraordinarily dark day of May 19, 1870; and the student of prophecy finds that in point of time, this meets the requirements of Matthew and Mark.
Luke, the Gospel writer, who appeals especially to the lover of logic, so states facts that the reader is at once convinced that the signs in the sun, moon, and stars, are consecutive events.
In Luke 21:25-33, the signs are mentioned. The 28th verse says, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." It is not yet nigh, but it draweth nigh. The 31st verse continues, "When ye see these things [Matthew says, 'all these things,'] come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." There is a lapse of time between the first and the last signs. When they begin to appear, redemption draweth nigh; when all have appeared, redemption is nigh, "even at the door." Those who endured the afflictions of the Dark Ages, who had seen friends tortured on the rack, or burned at the stake; or had themselves endured imprisonment or persecution, when the light of the Reformation scattered the darkness, were bidden to look forward; for the morning star was to be seen. A little later came the darkening of the sun. Then they were encouraged to lift up the head, for "redemption draweth nigh." Those living since the fulfillment of all the signs, should rejoice; for "He is even at the door." On characteristic of the darkening of the sun, which is given as a sign of His coming, is found in Joel 3:15. That prophet states that the sun, the moon, and the stars, should all be darkened. "The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining." The accounts of the dark day in 1780 agree with this. It appeared to those who witnessed the phenomenon, that the darkness at its height could not have been more dense, had every luminary been blotted out of existence.
One writer says, "The darkness of the following evening was probably as deep and dense as ever had been observed since the Almighty first gave birth to light. ... A sheet of white paper, held within a few inches of the eyes, was equally invisible with the blackest velvet. ... The denseness of this evening darkness was a fact universally observed and recorded." (Devens, in "Our First Century.")
Amos witnesses to the fact that the night following the darkening of the sun, would be dark also. That is to say, that the darkening of the sun and moon, to which the sixth seal has reference, would be within the same twenty-four hours; one day would be dark, and the night following, the moon would be dark also. The paragraph quoted above shows that the darkening of the sun and moon on May 19, 1780, met these specifications.
The prophet Isaiah gives one point to which none of the other writers refer. He says, "The sun shall be darkened in his going forth," that is in the morning. Amos 8:9 states that the darkest portion of the day would be at noon, and that this would take place on a clear day. Ezekiel states that a cloud would cover the face of the sun. Here are four peculiarities worthy of notice. The sign which the Lord placed in the heavens, could be easily read. Of all the dark days which history records, none, but the one in 1780, meets all these specifications. The morning would be clear, but during the morning a cloud would obscure the face of the sun. The darkness would increase until it reached its greatest density about noon.
On these points "Our First Century," the work before referred to, states: "The time of the commencement of this extraordinary darkness, was between the hours of ten and eleven in the forenoon on Friday, of the date already named [May 19, 1780]. as to the manner of its approach, the darkness seemed to appear first of all in the southwest. The wind came from that quarter, and the darkness seemed to appear first of all in the southwest. The wind came from that quarter, and the darkness appeared to come on with the clouds. ... The sun, rising towards the zenith, gave no increase of light, as usual; but, on the contrary, the darkness continued to increase until between eleven and twelve o'clock, at which time there was the greatest locality the same writer says, "At twelve the darkness was greatest. Lights were seen burning in all the houses; ... the birds in the midst of their blithesome forenoon engagements, stopped suddenly, and singing their evening songs, disappeared and became silent; the fowls retired to their roosts, the cocks were crowing in their accustomed manner at the break of day." The day was not intensely black as if there were no sun, but as stated in Rev. 6:12, "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair." Sackcloth of hair is made of goat hair, and is black mingled with gray. John is the only one who mentions this feature.
Joel and John prophesied that the moon would be turned into blood. Those who witnessed the dark night, say that when the moon appeared, near the morning, it was a blood-red ball in the heavens.
The peculiar features of the special falling of the stars, which God gave as a sign, are given by John.
They should fall from heaven "as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Extensive and magnificent showers of shooting stars have been known to occur at various places in modern times; but the most universal and wonderful which has ever been recorded is that of the 13th of November, 1833, the whole firmament, over all the United States, being then for hours in fiery commotion. As a fig tree covered with green fruit being violently shaken sends the fruit in all directions, so from one center in the sky, the stars fell in showers in every direction.
Since 1755 the inhabitants of the earth have been living under the sixth seal. In the heavens and on the earth, signs have appeared, which show that time is short. This period has been a time of great intellectual light. Men, by their discoveries and inventions, have made rapid transit and speedy communication between different lands possible. Since "the tribulation of those days," the light of truth has been shining in steady rays upon God's people. At no time, save when Christ was born, has greater light shone upon the world. Some will accept a spiritual life, while others will find very soon that should the Lord come, it would be to them a time of darkness and despair. The sixth seal looks forward to the very end, when the heavens depart as a scroll rolled together; and when the mountains and islands are moved out of their places.
When sin entered the world, the course of nature was changed. The atmosphere, once agreeable to the senses of man, now chilled him; the moisture, at first distilled as the dew, finally came in torrents from the sky, and the fountains of the great deep were broken up. The earth itself was turned from its original position, at the time of the flood; vast portions were made uninhabitable on account of the cold and the vast amount of water left on the surface. At the sound of the voice of the Son of man, the elements of the atmosphere will be rearranged, the high places will be brought low, and islands will be moved from their positions.
At that time those who have put their trust in idols of gold rather than in their Maker, and those who have exalted humanity above Divinity, will in terror seek to be hidden by rocks and mountains from the piercing gaze of Him who sits upon the throne. There is now a time of probation. All may know the time of God's visitation, for we are walled about by the signs given by Jehovah. We cannot lose ourselves; for the dates 1755, 1780, and 1833, are as clearly marked as the close of the twelve hundred and sixty years, and the twenty-three hundred years of the book of Daniel.
"Who shall be able to stand?" "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."
Page 109; Rev. 1:1; John 15:13; Eph. 5:23-25; Rev. 2:17; 1Tim. 2:5; Psa. 87:5, 6; John 15:27; Rev. 6:1, 2; Rev. 12:11; Zech. 6:5.
Page 110; 2Chron. 16:9; Gen. 48:22; 1Cor. 1:1-7; Acts 2:1-17; Luke 9:23; Gen. 49:26.
Page 111; 2Tim. 4:7, 8; Rev. 2:10; Acts 5:40, 42; Acts 3:6, 7; Acts 9:36-41; Acts 16:19-39; Acts 12:7; Rom. 1:18; Gen. 49:22; Jer. 17:7, 8; Psa. 1:3.
Page 112; Rom. 1:18; Rom. 16:19; Rom. 1:5; Col. 1:23; Zech. 4:6 [margin.]; John 16:33; Rev. 6:3, 4; Rev. 2:8-11; Rom. 4:17; Heb. 11:4.
Page 113; Rev. 2:10, 11; John 16:33; 2Cor. 12:10; Matt. 10:42; Mark 10:29, 30; Matt. 26:6-13.
Page 114; Heb. 6:6; Rev. 7:14; Prov. 21:16; Rev. 6:5; Rom. 2:1; Ex. 32:30-35; Rom. 9:1-3; Ex. 32:31, 32; Jas. 4:12; Jas. 4:11; 2Thess. 2:4; Isa. 14:13, 14. p. 126, , Page 115; Dan. 5:27; Rev. 6:6; Rev. 6:7.
Page 116; Rev. 6:8; Jer. 2:22; Hos. 13:12; Gen. 4:4-8.
Page 117; John 18:36, 37; Luke 12:4-7; Matt. 25:40; Isa. 41:10-12; Rev. 6:9, 10; Luke 22:44; Num. 35:33, 34; Josh. 24:26, 27; Heb. 11:36-38; Gen. 4:10; Psa. 50:4; Rom. 8:23, 24.
Page 118; Psa. 34:15; Rev. 6:11; Heb. 11:35-38.
Page 119; 2Tim. 2:12; John 3:16-19; Job 14:12-15; Dan. 8:17; Dan. 12:9, 10; Song Sol. 4:7; Mark 13:28-31; Luke 21:29-31; Eccl. 3:1; Eph. 5:26, 27; Col. 1:28, 29; Zeph.1:14.
Page 120; Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5; Ex. 10:21-23; Luke 21:25; Joel 2:31; Amos 8:9; Isa. 13:9, 10; Eze. 32:7, 8; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25; Rev. 6:12, 13; Mark 13:20; Rev. 6:12.
Page 122; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:28, 31; Joel 2:31; Amos 5:8; Isa. 13:10; Amos 8:9; Amos 8:9; Eze. 32:7; Rev. 6:12; Rev. 6:12; Rev. 6:13; Rev. 6:12.
Page 123; Matt. 24:32, 33; Matt. 24:21; Luke 21:28-33; Gen. 1:14; Ex. 10:21, 22; Rev. 16:10; Amos 3:6, 7; Zeph.1:7-9.
Page 124; Zeph. 2:1-3; Joel 2:10, 11; Amos 4:12; Rev. 6:13;
Page 125; Zeph. 1:14; 1John 3:3; Dan. 12:4; Nahum 2:4; Zeph. 1:17, 18; Rev. 6:14.
Page 126; Psa. 82:5; Gen. 2:6; Rev. 6:15-17; 2Pet. 3:10; Isa. 2:19, 20; Isa. 33:15; Psa. 24:4-6.