Rev. 6:3 – When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its horseman was empowered to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him (HCSB).
The words associated with the second seal end with, “And a large sword was given to him.” Actually, this is the small Roman sword called the machaira. Roman soldiers use it for the capital punishment of Roman citizens, as Paul notes in Rom. 13:4: “But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it [government] does not carry the sword [machaira] for no reason.” This small sword – more like a large knife that may be concealed – is in contrast to the romphaia, the sword a soldier carries marching into battle. W.A. Criswell believes the distinction is important: “A machaira was the kind of a knife with which to cut the throat of an animal or of a man. The red horseman represents not only nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, but, more nearly, the terrible slaughter of class fighting class and party fighting party, as in civil war. The fighters ambush in the night; they assassinate in the day; they murder at twilight and at noontime, and everyone lives in the fear of his life. There is murder and bloodshed everywhere” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, p. 99).
But why is this small sword called “large” or “great” if it is little more than a dagger? Perhaps because the impact of this murderous evil is widespread. Just as “a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal. 5:9), and just as Jesus taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that adultery and murder begin in the human heart, perhaps the widespread bloodshed begins because of multiplied pettiness in sinful hearts, unrestrained by the departed Holy Spirit. Whatever the reason for the depiction of this small sword as large, we should beware that hidden evil thoughts, if left unconfessed to God, may manifest in the greatest kinds of wickedness. We should always be alert because our adversary, the Devil, “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
One final thought: “The phrase ‘to make men slaughter one another’ is interesting because in the OT this is one of the means YHWH used to judge His enemies (cf. Judg. 7:22; I Sam. 14:20; II Chr. 20:22)” (R.J.D. Utley, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Study Guide Commentary Series, Vol. 12, p. 61). It is good for us to remember that God is sovereign over all human activity, even to the point that He sometimes uses our evil as an instrument of His judgment. The ways of the Lord are mysterious, deep and wonderful.
Next: The third seal (Rev. 6:5-6)