The Second Seal of Revelation 6

Thursday, June 30, 2022

3 When he broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!”

4 And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it (= the rider), it was granted to take peace from the earth/the land, and that [people] would kill one another; and a large/mighty sword was given to him.

Revelation 6:3-4
The Land, Not The Earth
No, Don’t Imagine The Planet Earth in Revelation 6:4!

To do justice to these two verses I need to walk my readers through multiple Old Testament passages. Yes really, I do. But to start, I want to focus your attention on just one word in verse 4. That would be the word earth (from the original Koiné Greek word γῆς), which I would vigorously insist should be translated as land in this present context. It matters because of what probably pops to mind when Bible students nowadays encounter the word earth. Most will immediately imagine our brilliant blue marble hanging in space: Planet Earth. But no, no, no… that is entirely misleading, an errant assumption, the wrong image. Instead, imagine the rolling, rocky hills of Israel. The correct word and most accurate image for this verse is land. Imagine a Middle Eastern landscape, not a globe. On this point, I must be emphatic because what a Revelation reader imagines will determine how these verses are interpreted. More on this point soon; but please take a brief glance at the fiery red stallion and its menacing rider. 

Notice that the rider on the red horse carries a sword. While the archer on the white horse in verse 2 carries a bow, the Red Rider receives another weapon: a sword — a large sword, a great sword, or perhaps, a mighty sword. At first glance the adjective large might seem superfluous, but it matters because the word serves as a subtle hint. It points readers back to a passage in the Old Testament: Isaiah 27:1, where the “mighty sword” is the LORD’s own sword with which he slays the serpent Leviathan, the monster of the sea. But discussion of that particular passage I will postpone for now. At present our focus is on the blade presented to the Red Rider. Not just any regular sword, this one is mighty. And now, with mighty sword in hand the Red Riding Swordsman has been given license to take peace from the… what? He takes away peace from the land. No, the swordsman on the fiery red horse was not granted permission to take peace from the entire planet. The Crimson Riding Swordsman was only granted permission to take peace from the land of Israel. ’Tis a big, big difference, a crucial difference, actually.

The relevant entry from a Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG, Third Edition): This shows the potential variations of γῆ/γῆς.

But you’re not yet convinced that I’m right about changing the word earth to land; are you? Granted, most, if not all, of the current English translations render the Greek word γῆς as earth, so your reluctance to cede the point is to be expected. You might well wonder on what basis or authority I make the claim — the rather audacious claim — that almost all Bible translators got this particular word wrong. That is a good question. That is indeed the right question to ask here. And so, with trepidation I now cautiously submit my response: I do so on basis of carefully-studied biblical theology. I am a (wanna be) theologian, while they are translators. Their gig is primarily linguistics; mine is primarily in-depth Bible study. Linguistically, the translators made a predictable decision, a decision perhaps by default, because it has a long-standing precedent, even a four-hundred year precedent. Furthermore, they’re not wrong, per se. Yes, the word γῆς does mean earth. Notice though that in both English and Greek the word earth can have several different connotations, one of which is land. Moreover, most of the translators were probably not considering the implicit Old Testament references when they made their translation decision. But if an interpreter does carefully consider the implicit Old Testament references in this passage, it conclusively tips the scales in favor of the translation land (implying something local) and against earth (implying something global), as I aspire to convince you now. 

Let’s look at the relevant Old Testament passages. We will need to figuratively walk through the following passages: Leviticus 26:31-35; Daniel 9:2; 2 Chronicles 36:15-21; and eventually, Zechariah 1:7-13.

To start, here is Leviticus 26:31-35:

31 I will reduce your cities to ruins and devastate your sanctuaries. I will not smell the pleasing aroma of your sacrifices. 32 I also will devastate the land, so that your enemies who come to live there will be appalled by it. 33 But I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw a sword to chase after you. So your land will become desolate, and your cities will become ruins.

34 Then the land will make up for its Sabbath years during the time it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies. At that time the land will rest and make up for its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate, it will have the rest it did not have during your Sabbaths when you lived there.

God, in Leviticus 26:31-35

If I have counted correctly, there are a total of one, two, three, four references to “the land” or “your land” in these verses, or, more accurately, seven references — should the pronoun “it” also be counted (as it ought to be). Now, if Revelation 6:3-4 does indeed allude to (or point back to) this particular Levitical passage, then which geographical domain does the passage have in view? Is it Planet Earth in its global entirety or just the Land of Israel? The correct answer is, ding, ding, just the Land of Israel. Therefore “land” might be the better translation in Revelation 6:4. But hang on… does the Revelation passage actually point back to Leviticus 26:31-35? Or am I just jumping to conclusions because it happens to suit my argument? Perhaps we should revisit and contemplate more closely what this Leviticus passage says.

In Leviticus 26:31-35 God is speaking to, or more exactly, threatening someone. God threatens to “devastate the land,” (which land?) and to “draw a sword to chase after you” (which you?); in so doing, God will give the land a period of much-needed rest. By the way, later in Israel’s history, God carries through on this threat, as we shall see. 

Oh my, I almost forgot to mention the sword! As with Revelation 6:3-4, there just happens to be a sword in Leviticus 26:33! What a coincidence! But it is not a coincidence. References back to a combination of recurring key words is how Revelation works, and how Revelation provides crucial hints for its own interpretation. Admittedly, the mere mention of a sword in Leviticus 26: 33 does not clinch this as a definite, intentional intertextual connection; but it does serve to make it more likely. What makes for an even stronger case is the combination of the word land and the word sword together in both passages.

Eventually, the glue that will bring this all cohesively together is the historical identity of the Red Rider with the mighty sword (who, like his brother Israel, was first an individual person and then a nation). And with regard to my overall thesis (i.e., that the Red Rider/Crimson Swordsman represents one particular eponymous historical person-nation), the most convincing passage of all is found in the Book of Zechariah. For now, please just be aware of the desolation and exile foretold in this present Levitical passage regarding the land and people of Israel.

The second passage to consider is Daniel 9:2:

2 In the first year of his [Darius of Persia’s] reign, I, Daniel, understood from the books according to the word of the Lord to the Prophet Jeremiah that the number of years for the desolation of Jerusalem would be seventy.

Daniel, in the Book of Daniel 9:2

Based on a prophecy in the writings of the Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 29:10), Daniel realized that the designated time of Babylonian exile (that is, 70 years) had been fulfilled. Daniel, a Jewish exile working as a government official in several foreign administrations, realized that it was time for his own Jewish people to potentially return to their ancestral homeland. Thus Daniel turned to the LORD in prayer, requesting that God would forgive the Jewish people for their obstinate disobedience. Daniel also prayed for God to restore the desolate City of Jerusalem. In his plea for their forgiveness, Daniel either knowingly or unknowingly fulfills a key stipulation for the return and restoration of Israel, a stipulation that is laid out immediately after our previously discussed passage: that is, in Leviticus 26:40-45. God then answered Daniel’s prayer by giving him what he requested and even more. God gave Daniel several symbolic visions of future events pertinent to the land and people of Israel. The Book of Revelation noticeably makes use of much of the imagery from Daniel’s symbolic visions. I provide all this information to provide feasible “Land of Israel” narrative links from Leviticus 26 through Jeremiah 29 and Daniel 9 to Revelation 6.    

As for the Crimson Swordsman, Daniel may have just barely missed him. While still young, Daniel was one of the Jewish captives that had been sent off to Babylon. Daniel was probably taken away to captivity before the final devastating destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. During that final devastating destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian conquerers had some enthusiastic supporters. Those enthusiastic fans (or rather, allies) of Babylon were a neighboring nation of Israel, the Edomites, the descendants of Israel’s twin brother Esau (cf. Genesis 36:8). Not for nothing, scripture makes a point of this Edom and Babylon tag-team connection at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction around 586BC/E (cf. Psalm 137:7). In my view, the nation of Edom best qualifies as Revelation’s own Red Rider, the Crimson Swordsman. But I need to tighten up my proposed connection of three words from Revelation 6: red, land, sword.

Screen Shot from Haaretz Newspaper, featuring an article published on June 13, 2021 about Edom’s likely role in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Etymologically, in Hebrew the words for red and Edom derive from the same root. For all practical purposes, we can think of red and Edom as virtual equivalents. Therefore, I want to suggest that whenever Edom appears in the Old Testament, we just might be reading about Revelation’s Red Rider.      

Now we turn to 2 Chronicles 36:15-21:

15 But the LORD, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of his messengers, sending them time and time again, for he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against his people that there was no remedy. 17 So he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their fit young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary. He had no pity on young men or young women, elderly or aged; he handed them all over to him. 18 He took everything to Babylon—all the articles of God’s temple, large and small, the treasures of the Lord’s temple, and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19 Then the Chaldeans burned God’s temple. They tore down Jerusalem’s wall, burned all its palaces, and destroyed all its valuable articles.

20 He deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. 21 This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah, and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until seventy years were fulfilled.

The Chronicler, in 2 Chronicles 36:15-21

Although there is no specific mention of Edom in this important summary passage regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, from other biblical sources we know that Edom played some memorable antagonistic role. Like a bad neighbor, Edom left a very negative impression upon the few Jews who survived the destruction of Jerusalem. In passages like Psalm 83:1-8, Psalm 137:7, Isaiah 34:5-10, Ezekiel 35, Amos 1:6-12, and the entire Book of Obadiah we read that the people of Edom enthusiastically allied themselves with the enemies of Israel and Judah. Therefore, God promised to judge Edom severely. In fact, God pronounced an edict of utter destruction against the nation of Edom, specifically because they had betrayed his people in Israel and Judah.

Nevertheless, although this passage from 2 Chronicles 36 does not mention Edom, it still matters theologically. It matters because it shows that destruction of Jerusalem was not merely another tragic historical event. Rather, it was God’s own decree and God’s act of judgment against his own people. Babylon and its allies may have been the human instruments, but God takes responsibility for what happened. This needs to be kept in mind as we consider the Red Rider and the other horsemen of the apocalypse in Revelation 6. 

Very importantly, Edom played the role of God’s means of judgment (i.e., the sword of God) at least four times in Israel’s history. 

For example, in Numbers 20:14-20 Edom denied the sojourning people of Israel permission to pass through their land. Significantly, in Numbers 20:18 Edom threatened to attack Israel with a particular weapon: “with the sword.” This refusal-of-passage occurred immediately after Moses the man of God sinned. And it is noteworthy that unlike other times, God did not come to Israel’s aid. Edom withstood Israel on this occasion.

Centuries later, after King Solomon sinned by allowing his pagan foreign wives to coax him into idolatry, God raised up an active adversary against him. That adversary was Hadad the Edomite (cf. 1 Kings 11:14). The text is crystal clear that it was God’s own doing: “God raised up against Solomon an adversary.” 

Later, in 2 Kings 8:16-22 Edom successfully rebelled against Judah during the reign of Jehoram, the wayward son of the good King Jehoshaphat.

And finally, as we have already noted, Edom allied itself with Babylon during the siege and destruction Jerusalem around 586BC/E. Babylon was God’s own prophesied means of judgment.    

From the Book of Amos

So we see that over and over in its history, Israel and Judah found Edom to be a problematic neighbor — a neighbor that sometimes became an outright enemy. And yet, God takes at least partial responsibility for Edom’s periodic belligerence. Edom served as the instrument of divine judgment — “the sword of God” — at key times in Israel’s history. And Revelation 6:3-4 symbolizes Edom in that historical role as the Red Rider, the Crimson Swordsman.

To be continued…

The First Seal of Revelation 6

Monday, June 27, 2022

1 Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures (one of the cherubim, per Ezekiel 10:20) saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!”

I looked, and behold, a white horse (cf. Revelation 19:11), and the one who sat on it (= the rider) had a bow (ergo, was a mounted archer); and a crown was given to him (note the passive tense here), and he went out conquering and to conquer (cf. Psalm 45:4-5? Habakkuk 3:3-18?).

Revelation 6:1-2
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/466572

In Revelation 6:1, John the Narrator watches as the uniquely worthy Lamb breaks open the first of the seven seals to the scroll (but which scroll?). Presumably, the attentive reader/listener realizes that the Lion-Lamb is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Throughout most of Chapter Five and continuing into Chapter Six, our narrator John refers to Christ simply as “the Lamb,” thus placing his metaphorical emphasis on the crucified Jesus. This is actually an allusion to a statement by John the Baptist, who introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (cf. John 1:29, 36). In Revelation 6:1, Christ, by virtue of being the Lamb, is worthy to “take the scroll and open its seals.” What specifically and exactly qualifies him to be worthy of such an honor? His own shed blood. He is said to be worthy because he was slain (as a sacrifice for sin), and by means of his shed blood he ransomed people for God. The Church of Christ is purchased with blood, the precious blood of the Lamb. 

But what is Christ the Lamb worthy of? What is he worthy to receive? Backtracking ever-so briefly here, according to Revelation 5:9, by virtue of his self-sacrifice the Lamb is worthy to “take the scroll and open its seals.” But whatever might that mean? What is this scroll exactly? And why was it sealed that it now needs to be unsealed? We can presume that the answers to these questions may be a prerequisite to correctly interpreting the imagery and the apocalyptic events of Chapter Six. 

Here I want to suggest that the scroll is simply the Torah itself, which served at Mount Sinai as a ketubah (that is, a covenantal pre-nuptial agreement) between the LORD and the nation of Israel. I owe the ketubah/scroll connection to the late, great (and very eccentric) Bible teacher Chuck Missler. But I take Missler’s insight a step further by identifying the ketubah/scroll as the Torah itself (a quick online search confirms that at least one other blogger has taken exactly the same step of identifying the Torah as a sealed ketubah scroll). If this interpretation is correct, then the slain, now triumphant Lamb unseals the Torah. And according to Revelation Chapter Five, the fact that the Lamb is worthy to unseal the Torah scroll gives occasion in Heaven for celebration, even worship.

Chapter Five ends in heavenly worship directed towards the Lamb. What else can Heaven’s celebration be called other than worship? Selah. Selah means pause. Pause and consider that! Not only is the Lamb worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, he is also worthy of Heaven’s adulation and worship. He is worthy to receive what God alone is worthy to receive. The Lamb is worthy to receive 1) power, and 2) wealth, and 3) wisdom, and 4) might, and 5) honor, and 6) glory, and 7) blessing. Which, as enumerated, elicits a couple of questions: Why a list of seven? Why this sevenfold benediction? What significance might be implicit in a sevenfold benediction? Because it is sevenfold, this benediction signifies something complete, something in its entirety. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy to receive our utter devotion, and all of our worship, even all of Heaven’s worship. Ergo, Jesus must be divine.     

On we go to Chapter Six, and the progressive unsealing of the (Torah) scroll. The passage says that when the Lamb opened the first one of the seven Torah seals, one of the living creatures/cherubim called out, “Come!” with a voice like thunder, whereupon John the Narrator beheld a white horse, with its rider holding a bow and wearing a crown — a crown which had been given to him. The archer on the white horse heeds the cherub’s summons and comes out conquering and to conquer. 

So, who is this mounted archer on a white horse? Is this Jesus Christ himself or someone else? Is this perhaps an imposter? From the immediate context, we cannot determine the answer to that question. We don’t have enough information from these two brief verses alone. We will need to press further and glean additional data. For now, we can only note that this mounted archer seems in some ways to resemble Christ (given the white stallion and the crown), and thus might potentially be Christ. Alternatively, if this mounted archer is an imposter and a fraud, he might very well be an antichrist. A decisive answer will have to wait until we have more information. 

Personally, I used to think that the mounted archer must be an antichrist figure. Back then, I reasoned that the author would simply identify the archer as Jesus if he is indeed Jesus. But further study of Chapter Six as a whole has convinced me that the mounted archer is in fact Christ Jesus himself — more specifically, the pre-incarnate Old Testament Christ. Why then, doesn’t the author simply say that the archer is Christ? There is a sound scriptural reason for why the mounted archer is not immediately identified as Jesus. And that is because the Old Testament itself keeps the identity of Christ a veiled mystery. But I am getting somewhat ahead of myself by divulging that I believe Revelation chapter six represents the unfolding of the Old Testament, and its scary curses upon the disobedient.      

Verse 2 does not say who gave the crown to the mounted archer. It avoids identifying the crown-giver by using what grammarians call the passive voice. Who, then, gave a crown to the mounted archer? Is the crown-giver God? Is the crown-giver Satan? Could the crown-giver be anyone other than God or Satan? If the crown-giver is in fact God, then the passive voice has a technical theological term. It is called the divine passive. A working assumption I employ is that whenever the passive voice appears in the Book of Revelation, it is always (or at least almost always) the divine passive. If that assumption is correct, then the crown-giver must necessarily be God. If I were asked why I think the passive voice in Revelation is (almost) always the divine passive, my response is because the Book of Revelation everywhere asserts the ultimate, supreme sovereignty of God; and because the passive voice deliberately obscures the actor behind an action, the divine passive alludes indirectly to the unrecognized and yet absolute sovereignty of God. Ultimately, if something — if anything occurs — it occurs because God allows it. Nothing occurs except that which God allows. Some find this claim disturbing, others comforting. 

Having said that, humility requires that I admit on this particular point I stand opposed to one of the very best New Testament interpreters, that is, Dr. Gordon D. Fee. When it comes to biblical interpretation, Dr. Fee would be a very formidable somebody indeed. Among many other writings, Fee co-authored the best-selling guide How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. Fee believes that the mounted archer on the white horse cannot be Christ, because the Lamb opening the scrolls is already Christ. How then could Christ the Lamb be releasing himself as a mounted archer? 

Dr. Gordon D. Fee – Screenshot

To quote Fee: 

Christ is the Lamb who opens the seals, and therefore even in apocalyptic literature cannot at the same time be this horseman. Moreover, this horseman belongs to a sequence that finally ends in death and leads to the martyrs’ cry in verses 9-10. But if not Christ, who then? The best answer seems to be that John intends this figure to be a demonic parody of Christ, just as the beast in chapter 12 is presented as a parody of the Lamb. 

From p. 93 of Gordon D. Fee’s Revelation, in the New Covenant Commentary Series

In response to the esteemed Dr. Fee (my esteem is sincere; this is not meant to sound sarcastic), I want to observe that he does not actually take issue with my divine-passive claim, per se. In fact, I think he would probably admit that it is an interpretive point in my favor. Rather than address the divine-passive question, Fee rejects the idea that the mounted archer is Christ on a jumbled-and-blended symbolic basis. Fee thinks the notion of Christ the Lamb unveiling an image of Christ the Mounted Archer stretches and confuses the passage’s symbolism too much; and on that basis just doesn’t work. Okay, I understand, Dr. Fee, but what if you’re making an erroneous assumption about the timing of the two depictions? For example, I can show you a photo of myself as a small child dressed in a costume; and I can still be myself, even if the photo of little costumed me only vaguely resembles the middle-aged me of today. The same exact idea may be in play here. In Chapter Six, the New Testament Jesus presents John our Narrator with an image of himself from back in his Old Testament days.

Here are the scriptural references to God as an archer.

Moreover, it is not at all a problem that the seals sequence ends in death, because that is exactly what the Torah itself foretold would happen. At the end of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are told in very exacting and terrifying terms what the result of covenant disobedience would be. Christ’s opening of the seals in Revelation Chapter Six just graphically portrays what once Deuteronomy foretold. Dr. Fee’s primary mistake, in my estimation, is that he does not realize that the unsealing of the seals refers backward in time to the Old Testament. But it does, as I shall attempt to continue to prove.

Opus Alienum Dei

Monday, July 19, 2021

Opus Alienum Dei – Audio Version

Opus Alienum Dei translates from Latin as the “alien works of God” or the “strange works of God.” Here I use the phrase in an interpretive sense, where and when it is applied to five pivotal historcial events which, at first glance, hardly seem like God’s own doing, but mysteriously are claimed by God. Since these events were altogether horrifying, they qualify precisely as Opus Alienum Dei. If the Bible were to be set aside or left out of consideration, these five horrifying historical events might not be obviously attributable to God. However, the Bible says otherwise. In the Bible, God unexpectedly assumes at least some degree of responsibility for these terrible events Himself. And that comes as something of a surprise.

The five events to which I refer include 1) the recurring conflict between two neighboring nations that descended from twin brothers named Jacob and Esau, 2) the Assyrian invasion and dismemberment of the Kingdom of Israel, 3) the Babylonian invasion and decimation of Kingdom of Judah, 4) the perpetually unheeded pleas and warnings of genuine prophets, and 5) the brutal and total destruction of the temple complex in Jerusalem by the Romans. Although this is a blog post and not an academic paper, I have a thesis regarding these five historical events: These five events constitute five of the Seven Seals described in the Book of Revelation.

Two of the Seven Seals are non-horrifying exceptions, maybe, probably. The two Seals that might not qualify as Opus Alienum Dei, as strange works of God, are the First Seal and the last, the Seventh Seal, because they are not altogether horrifying in character. They are awe-inspiring, certainly, but not horrifying. So let’s consider all of the Seven Seals in order, except for the last one, which deserves its own (future) post.

With the opening of the First Seal in Revelation 6:2 comes a Conquering Archer on a White Stallion, otherwise and more simply known as the Rider on the White Horse. Whereas once I thought that the Rider on the White Horse might be any of the many false messiahs — yet another political pretender — now I think that the Rider on the White Horse must be the pre-incarnate, occasionally-appearing, Old Testament Divine Warrior. However, I only came to that conclusion in retrospect, by considering the Seven Seals in a mostly-reversed order, from the penultimate Sixth Seal backwards to the first.

On what exact basis did I come to flip my previously held conclusion? On basis of subtle scriptural allusions, and short, yet specifically-worded biblical references, that’s how. In nearly every single one of its verses, the Book of Revelation drops interpretive hints in the form of scriptural allusions, and/or brief inter-textual references, and/or partial quotes. The Book of Revelation itself provides hints as how to interpret it.

As for the relevant allusions and references to the Rider on the White Horse, I counterintuitively start towards the end of the Old Testament, in the short, obscure Prophecy of Habakkuk. There you will find a retrospective historical poem or sonnet in the third chapter, in Habakkuk 3:3-15. Verses 8, 9, and 11 are especially telling and relevant. This passage recalls God as an equestrian, a horse rider — an archer armed with a bow and with arrows of light — who battles the wicked on behalf of God’s people. In verse 3, Habakkuk’s Sonnet specifically recalls the time of Israel’s Exodus sojourn. That matters because if, as I claim, the Seven Seals do indeed recount the entire biblical history of the ancient Nation of Israel, then the First Seal would necessarily occur about the time when Israel was first constituted as One Nation Under Yahweh. This inaugural constitutional event is otherwise sometimes known as the Theophany at Mount Sinai, which coincided with the Revelation of the Law/Torah. Habakkuk’s Divine Archer-Rider is thus situated on the biblical timeline exactly where my interpretation would anticipate — near the begining, at the founding of the ancient Nation of Israel.

With its archer imagery, this passage in Habakkuk also points directly back to the Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 32, which is a Second Song of Moses (or, perhaps, the Swan Song of Moses, since it occurs immediately before his death). In this final Song of Moses, God is portrayed as an invincible, avenging warrior with a flashing, devouring sword, and, notably, with arrows. Where we see arrows, we might think archer. For those inclined to double-check my reading here, the citation is the entirety of Deuteronomy Chapter 32, but especially verse 23, and verses 39-43.  

As far as my suggested interpretation of the Seven Seals is concerned, this close connection to the closing chapters of Deuteronomy carries an immense amount of weight and importance, since Deuteronomy speaks of all the curses that will come upon the fledgling Nation of Israel if it fails to keep the Covenant made at Mount Sinai. I am arguing that the ensuing five Seals are a symbolic portrayal of the historical outworking of Deuteronomy’s Threatened Curses. That is worth rephrasing and repeating: Five of the Seven Seals of Revelation are a symbolic portrayal of the historical fulfillment and outworking of Deuteronomy’s horrifying, contingent curses.    

The two Old Testament passages cited above are enough to establish that God was depicted as an archer at the time of Deuteronomy. In addition, and for what it is worth, God is also depicted as shooting arrows of lightning in a Psalm of David recorded in both 2 Samuel 22:15 and Psalm 18:14 (incidentally, another Swan Song, as it occurs immediately before King David’s death). Thus the Divine Archer motif is known and established within the historical, Holy Writ of Israel.  

As for Revelation 6:3-4 and the Second Seal, the Swordsman on a Red Horse, I am proposing that the Crimson Swordsman represents the neighboring nation of Edom. As the story of Esau and the red stew in Genesis 25:30 establishes, the name Edom means red; and Edom was a name thereafter applied to both Esau and his descendants, the nation of Edom. The fact that Esau’s descendants became the nation of Edom is repeatedly and emphatically stated in Genesis Chapter 36. 

More pertinently, though, the nation of Edom stood against the nation of Israel on multiple occasions, with the first and defining time in Numbers Chapter 20. Notice that in Numbers 20:18 the Edomites specifically threaten to come against the People of Israel with… what? With, and I quote the hostile people of Edom themselves here: with “the sword.” Therefore, the words the sword have an explicit textual connection in Edom’s first and defining confrontation with Israel. I believe that the Book of Revelation deliberately references and uses this initial, defining neighboring-nation confrontation. 

Edom is mentioned another very significant time in 1 Kings 11:14, when God is affirmed to have raised up Hadad the Edomite against wayward, apostate King Solomon. Solomon had failed to keep the monotheistic covenant and had drifted into idolatry. Thus the curses of Deuteronomy began to befall the Kingdom of Israel, which would soon split in two. Do not miss that God Himself is said to have raised up Hadad the Edomite as an adversary to Solomon. God used the nation of Edom as an instrument to judge Solomon and Israel. This Second Seal, then, is a first obvious instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. Here God uses Israel’s historical adversaries as His means of judgment. The curses of Deuteronomy are beginning to occur through hard historical events.

If we were to super fast-forward through time, we would find that the nation of Edom eventually reappears as adversary to the beleaguered Jewish people much later in their history, in the Babylonian conquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC/BCE. In Psalm 137:7 the Edomites are said to have enthusiastically encouraged (and perhaps, even assisted) the invading Babylonians in their demolition of the City of Jerusalem. However, this fratricide met with God’s definite disapproval. In response to their role in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Prophecy of Obadiah foretold certain doom upon the Edomites for their unneighborly, unbrotherly treatment of their cousins, the descendants of Jacob.

As for Revelation 6:5-6 and the Third Seal, the Scale-Holding Rider on the Black Horse, I suggest that Sir Skewed Scales represents the imbalanced, oppressive economic situation immediately before the Assyrian invasion of Israel. I make that inference and connection through study of the scriptural occurrences of the word scales, a word which “happens” to often appear alongside the altogether-telling adjectives deceptive and wicked, as in deceptive and wicked scales. Some key occurrences of the word scales appear in three of the minor prophets: Amos, Micah, and Hosea. In particular, see Amos 8:5, Micah 6:11, and Hosea 12:7. These three “minor” prophets were active in denouncing the economic imbalances and oppression present in both Israel and Judah, while they were still allied neighboring nations, and before the Northern Kingdom of Israel was completely destroyed by the fearsome Assyrians.

The most important and pertinent passage, in my judgment, is Micah Chapter Six, where God foretells of the impending devastation and desolation of Israel. And that is indeed what happened historically. It happened when Assyria invaded, besieged, looted, tortured, and systematically depopulated most of the immediate geographic region. According to the Prophets Micah, Amos, and Hosea this invasion was God’s doing, a judgment against the increase of idolatry and the rampant economic pilfering practiced throughout Israel and Judah. This Third Seal, Sir Skewed Scales, is thus a second instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used the merciless, brutal Assyrians to judge both lapsed covenant kingdoms — both Judah and Israel, but especially Israel, which met its end.

As for Revelation 6:7-8 and the Fourth Seal, the Ghastly, Ghostly Tandem Riders on the Pale Horse, I believe that Grim Duo of Death and Hades symbolize catastrophic judgment in the form of the impending invasion of the Babylonians, who did in fact bring death, mass deportation, and nearly total destruction upon the remaining “Covenant Kingdom” of Judah, and its capital city, Jerusalem. I see a clear scriptural connection here to Isaiah Chapter 28, where God says that he will cancel Jerusalem’s corrupt covenant with… death, and overturn their perverse pact with… Sheol. Sheol is otherwise known in Greek as Hades, and in English as Hell. In other words, God asserts that He alone controls the arrival of death and the entrance to hell, regardless of Judah’s attempted confederations, preparations, and arrangements. God insisted that, try though they may, the idolatrous people of Jerusalem cannot “make a deal with the devil” that will protect them and prolong their lives. This Fourth Seal, the Ghostly, Ghastly Duo, is a third instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used Babylonia to judge unfaithful Judah.

As for Revelation 6:9-11 and the Fifth Seal, the Sacrificed Souls Under the Altar, I would say that they represent all the true prophets throughout the entire Old Testament. I get this notion from the account of the stoning death of Zechariah, the priestly prophet, in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, in combination with Jesus’ denunciation of the Jewish religious leaders in Luke 11:49-51. The Old Testament prophets were always rejected and were sometimes killed for telling the people the truth. The Death of Zechariah the Priest stands as a particularly graphic instance of the kind of violent rejection that met the prophets. Another Zechariah, Zechariah the Prophet, was also one of the last, if not the last of Old Testament prophets. He also may have died as a martyr. Thus, given what Luke 11:49-51 says, and on the assumption that the same passage is alluded to in Revelation 6:9-11, the Fifth Seal encompasses all the (rejected) prophets and their writings throughout the Old Testament. This Fifth Seal is thus a fourth instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used the Prophets to bring judgment upon the People of the Promised Land.   

Finally, as for Revelation 6:12-17 and the Sixth Seal, it speaks both literally and metaphorically of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and its utter destruction. The passage that makes this very clear is Luke 23:26-31, which is when a soon-to-be-crucified Jesus tells the people of Jerusalem to mourn not for him but instead for themselves and their own children. He foretells them that they will call on the mountains to fall on them and plea for the hills to cover (or hide) them. Jesus is foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem within a generation of his death by crucifixion. And so it happened. Revelation 6:16 very clearly echoes Jesus’ Via Dolorosa Prophecy. This Sixth Seal is thus a fifth instance of an Opus Alienum Dei. God used the Roman Legions to climatically judge the unresponsive, unbelieving People of Judæa.      

So there you have it, then: a list of (almost) all the supporting, Revelation-referenced scriptural passages I have found (thus far) to establish my interpretation of the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse. I hope you find it altogether convincing and entirely worthwhile. Look for a future post on how I understand the Seventh Seal.

Six Seals of the Apocalypse

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Six Seals – Audio Version

About 95AD/CE on the small Aegean Island of Patmos, Jesus Christ appeared in a vision to a man named Johan, an exiled political prisoner. Not long before, the Roman Emperor Domitian had ordered that Johan be exiled from the City of Ephesus to the Island of Patmos. Johan had been deemed a public menace. Johan was suspected of sedition, or at least insubordination. He had instructed his growing Christian community to engage in civil disobedience. They refused to show the expected, requisite reverence to Domitian and to his divine, deceased predecessors, as well as his divine, deceased infant son. Naturally, Emperor Domitian was hardly pleased with such brazen disloyalty and impiety. As far as Domitian was concerned, the stubborn, foolish Johan could erode the allegiance of the Ephesian populace with his defiance. The imperial authorities ought be considered very lenient then, as they spared this rebellious Johan his life and merely sent him into exile on nearby Patmos.

Notably, as a much younger man, Johan had been closely associated with a fellow Jew who had also been deemed a threat to the stability of the Roman Empire. Johan was an early disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, who had been tried and crucified 62 years earlier under the charge of sedition. In his trial before the Roman Procurator, Jesus had testified that he was a long-expected king, the Jewish Messiah. Yet in spite of his brutal crucifixion, true believers like Johan continued to spread the rumor that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long-expected Messiah of Israel. They claimed that he had been resurrected to life from the realm of the dead.

While exiled Johan was unquestionably a historical person, there is some debate about which one of the biblical Johans this Johan was, as his was a very common Jewish name back in the first century AD/CE. Reputable New Testament scholars bat around the question of whether exiled Johan was Johan, son of Zebedee, a Galilean Fisherman (that is, one of Jesus’ original Twelve Disciples), or Johan the Beloved (who was also a close confidant of Jesus, but not one of the original Twelve). Based on some recent scholarship, I personally think it fishy to identify him as Johan bar Zebedee (bad pun intended). Instead, I think it more likely that he was Johan the Beloved, an inconspicuous, unassuming character occasionally glimpsed in the Gospel of John. However, whichever and whomever: I am not heavily invested in the Which Johan? identity debate. It just seems to me that Johan the Elder would have been readily identified and widely celebrated within the Christian community in Ephesus as one of the original Twelve Apostles. But that was never so. 

But why do I keep calling him Johan?    

In English-speaking lands, Johan is almost always translated as John. For some reason unbeknownst to me, in English we pronounce the first letter of his name as a j and drop the second vowel, the letter a; and thus Johan morphs into John. Consequently, in almost all of the relevant literature, Jewish Johan sounds like a Puritan from early Colonial America. He now has the dignified epithet, John the Elder, or John the Presbyter, which is a difference without any real distinction, since elder and presbyter mean the same thing. All of which is to say, if you encounter the name John the Elder, or John the Presbyter, the reference is probably to the Johan, the early Jewish-Christian leader, who received a vision of Jesus Christ on the Island of Patmos, and subsequently (or simultaneously) wrote the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation.  

In an effort to be both literal and accurate, I usually call Johan the Elder John the Narrator, because of his first-person reports in the Book of Revelation. Johan/John serves as the inconspicuous, unassuming Narrator. Throughout the Book of Revelation John diligently testifies regarding whatever he has seen and heard in his vision from Jesus Christ.

A pertinent point: John was also a highly organized word smith. Either that, or the vision itself was presented in a highly organized manner. In any event, John was not a sloppy writer. His material is organized very carefully. It is organized into four easily-identifiable heptads, four series of seven sets. In interpreting the Book of Revelation, my own operating assumption is that the second, third, and fourth heptads represent chronologically sequential periods of time. I contend that the second heptad focuses upon a millennium-long period in the distant past, the third heptad upon the “nearer” past continuing into the present day, and the fourth heptad upon a brief future time period. Do recognize that my operating assumption, while nicely clean, logical, and coherent, nonetheless invites considerable skepticism from some scholars. Not everyone agrees with me. And that would be an understatement.

Therefore, I ought to address the scholars’ skepticism with a careful response. It is incumbent upon me to explain why I believe a chronologically sequential interpretation of the second, third, and fourth Apocalyptic heptads works best and is most faithful to the text.

Incidentally, if heptad is a meaningless word to you, and if my references to sequential heptads sounds like bizarre, pseudo-academic gibberish, please go read or listen to my previous post, entitled Heptads of History. That post should clear up any confusion, hopefully.

And if anyone wonders why I do not give explanatory time to the first heptad, the Messages to the Seven Churches, please stop wondering. I simply don’t see the need. I do not bother with the first heptad because interpreters find little of substance to quibble about. For the most part, others expositors have done a comprehensive and exemplary job of interpreting the first heptad of the Book of Revelation (that is, the first three chapters), so I do not feel the need to revisit it in this post. All you need to know is that (almost) everyone agrees to its original intended time-frame. It was written to seven specific churches just before the turn of the second century AD/CE. If, from henceforth, you recall 95AD/CE as the approximate date for the first heptad, that’s good enough for this present discussion.   

Now, as for the time-frame of the second heptad of the Book of Revelation, I hereby assert and argue that it begins at the Theophany to Moses on Mount Sinai — yes, when he famously received the Ten Commandments — and extends slightly past the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD/CE. An even easier way to characterize that period might be as The Old Testament Age. To claim that the first heptad covers the Old Testament Age might initially seem immensely reasonable proposal, if you operate in a vacuum of Apocalyptic unfamiliarity, and provided you do not open a Bible and go read the relevant passage, Revelation 6:1-17. But if you do actually do read the chapter, you might quickly side with the skeptics. You might even begin to think that I have taken a headlong fall. “How on earth does that overly-confident blogger claim and conjure the majority of the Old Testament into these seventeen violent and bizarre verses?” That is the question I expect to get from those who are familiar with the Book of Revelation.

Okay, a fair question it is. And I am glad you asked, my inquiring friends. Please allow me to explain. Do you mind if I walk backwards while I do?       

Yes, I want to walk backwards while I attempt to explain how the second heptad and the Old Testament Age merge into one picture. I want to figuratively walk you through the passage backwards, because that is the way it all first began to make sense to me.

Let me start with the Sixth Seal (see Revelation 6:12-17), and not the seventh (see Revelation 8:1-5). If you read through Revelation, you will find a considerable gap between the Sixth Seal and the Seventh Seal, indeed an entire chapter — Chapter Seven. The textual gap between these two seals is so wide that readers often forget that the Sixth Seal is not the final seal. In terms of its content, it sure does seem like the final seal. With all the cosmic unraveling and terrestrial displacement depicted, it certainly reads like the very End of the World. But no, it is not the final seal, nor is it actually the End of the World. The event depicted is merely a foreshadowing of the end, the Eschaton. The event depicted is instead the End of an Age, the Old Testament Age. And the event so frighteningly depicted is actually the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70AD/CE. 

How do I know that? How can I be so sure?  

I know that because Jesus of Nazareth is ever-so-briefly quoted in verse 16. And the original quote tells us everything we need to know. The original quote comes from the Gospel of Luke 23:30, spoken as an exhausted Jesus staggers en route to be crucified on Golgotha hill. He is a dead man walking, walking to his death along the Via Doloroso. And he says:

“Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘cover us.’”

In context, Jesus is telling his pre-mortem mourners to instead mourn for themselves and their own children. He is clearly prophesying the coming destruction of Jerusalem. And Revelation 6:16 references a few key words from that very prophecy — mountains, fall, hide/cover. That is our big, tell-tale hint. That is how we can discern that the Sixth Seal of Revelation represents the destruction of Jerusalem.

Not convinced?

If anyone thinks that I am grasping for a connection or stretching things based on a few words, I would counter that you just don’t adequately understand how Revelation gives away its hints. It constantly uses scriptural allusions and references, usually with just a few key words in combination or short phrases. Revelation counts on an interpreter’s biblical literacy. Only the biblically literate will catch the subtle references. Once someone discovers those few key words and phrases, though, they invariably point the interpretive direction needed. If you doubt this, you just need to see more examples. 

Incidentally, having computer technology to do key word searches makes this immensely faster and easier. The precision surprises this scriptural sleuth. Textual triangulation with only a few key words yields helpful and telling results. Try it on your smart phone or computer.     

But what about all the cosmic unraveling in verses 12-17, though? That did not happen during the destruction of Jerusalem; did it? Umm, actually, yes it did, to some extent. Go read Josephus’ first hand account, entitled The Jewish War. He reports baffling occurrences, cosmic curiosities, and supernatural wonders in the days and months preceding the siege on Jerusalem. And Josephus was there personally to witness and record it all for posterity.

One last important point, here: Some of what we see depicted in Revelation 6:12-17 can be characterized as bifocal insight. We have a prophetic view of a literal, historical event; and we have elaboration upon its figurative, spiritual significance. This is simultaneously a freeze frame of the event and its importance. For about a million Jewish inhabitants, doomsday had come, their dread Day of the Lord. It was the end of their world, the end of an entire era.

Now let’s take another step backwards to the Fifth Seal (see Revelation 6:9-11). As with the Sixth Seal, a few key words provide the necessary referential clues. Altar, in particular, stands out to me. As depicted, we behold a macabre scene of deceased martyrs somehow beneath an altar, crying out to God for vindication. So here we have slain holy people (as opposed to sacrificial animals) within close proximity of an altar. Which altar, though? It is probably the huge altar of animal sacrifice in the Temple courtyard, but maybe the much smaller altar of incense within the Temple proper. Okay, that may be something a start. Do we know of any accounts of holy people being slain near one of those two altars? We sure do. At least, the biblically literate do. According to 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, Zechariah the priest was stoned to death at King Joash’s command within the temple courtyard (hence near the altar of sacrifice). The last line of the passage is chilling: 

And when he [Zechariah the priest] was dying, he said, “May the LORD see, and avenge!”

Okay, I think we may be on to something now. Here we have someone slain within proximity to a temple altar and a cry for vengeance. But it would be helpful if we had some additional evidence. Ah, we do. We have Jesus’ harsh denunciation of the Jewish religious leaders in Luke 11:49-51. Jesus informed the religious leaders of his day that they and their generation would be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets, from first to last, A to Z, from Abel to Zechariah. Incidentally, here Jesus is probably referring to another, later Zechariah, who was considered one of the last Old Testament prophets. Very significantly, in verse 51, Jesus mentions both the sanctuary (that is, the Temple proper) and the altar. So here we see the convergence of innocent spilled blood, the altar, the sanctuary, and the threat of divine judgment/vengeance portrayed in this one predictive passage. Yes, now I definitely think we are on to something.

So then, as far as the Fifth Seal is concerned, I am going to conclude that it is referring to the ministry of the Old Testament prophets, which concluded with the close of the Old Testament. Thus far, walking backwards has worked. We are going backwards in time. 

How about the Fourth Seal? Will we take another step backward in time? Let’s see.

With the Fourth Seal we encounter the fourth of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, two riders on a pale horse. In Revelation 6:7-8, we learn that Death and Hades ride on the pale horse, and that they kill with sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. What are a few possible key referential words here? How about death and hades? Oh, but we ought to remember that hades may need to be translated to the English word hell or the Hebrew word Sheol. So let’s just try death and Sheol. When I do a computer word search with those two words in combination, seven biblical passages result. Two of those passages look particularly promising; and both of those passages are in Isaiah Chapter 28, specifically verses 15 and 18, which speak of a covenant with Death and an agreement with Sheol.

Realize that I selected two out of seven possible passages, not seventy, nor seven hundred — only seven. And based on the judgment-of-Israel theme that we have encountered thus far, I selected Isaiah, because I know from prior reading that Isaiah often prophesies judgment. And guess what? It works again. Isaiah 28 is a prophecy of judgment against the rulers of Jerusalem. And that prophecy was fulfilled when Babylon invaded the Nation of Judah and attacked its capital city, Jerusalem.

Are we still walking backwards in time? Yes, we are. We went backwards from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, to the prophetic close of the Old Testament, to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. I suspect that our next Seal will take another step back in time. Let’s look at the Third Seal and find out.

In Revelation 6:5-6 we hear a voice announce the approach of a third horse, a black horse. The rider of the black horse carries scales. There is talk about the disproportional cost of wheat, barley, oil, and wine. What are our key referential words this time? I tried scales, oil, and wine; but then I tried just scales. Again, I focused my search on the judgment-on-Israel theme. And again, I found what I was looking for: indictment passages from the Prophets Amos, Micah, and Hosea. Micah 6:9-16, in particular, fits extremely well. God rebukes Israel’s wealthy, and informs them that they will face depravation and desolation. And it happened. Assyrian troops came through and desolated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. 

Yes, we have another step back in time. Our backward progression has gone from a Roman invasion, to the End of the Prophets, to the Babylonian invasion, and now to the Assyrian invasion.  

In Revelation 6:3-4 we are presented with a red horse. Its rider carries a great sword. He is permitted to take peace from the earth/land (probably the land of Israel). Our suggested key referential words this time will be red, sword, and fire. In Hebrew, the word for red is edom. Edom was also an ancient nation, a nation that was an early and recurring adversary of Israel (see Numbers 20:14-21; Isaiah 34:5; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Obadiah). God used Edom to judge the wandering tribes of Israel immediately following a major moral failure at the Waters of Meribah (see Numbers 20:2-13). God also appointed Hadad of Edom to punish wayward King Solomon (see 1 Kings 11:14).

Of all the seven seals, this one stands as most difficult to establish, according to my own criteria. All the same, Edom does mean red; and there are numerous biblical passages referencing both Edom and the sword. And it certainly works chronologically.

And finally, in Revelation 6:1-2 we are presented with the first horseman, the rider on a white horse. He carries a bow, is given a crown, and comes out conquering, and to conquer. The suggested key word is bow, to which arrow seemed a logical addition. Habakkuk 3:1-16 was what I found to be the best fit. This is the Holy One Himself, the ultimate Judge. See also Deuteronomy 32:39-43.

Although I could say a lot more about the Seven Seals, this post does a thorough job of presenting my rationale for interpreting them as some of the most significant, sequential historical judgments of God against unfaithful Israel.