Rev. 6:5 – When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and there was a black horse. The horseman on it had a balance scale in his hand. Then I heard something like a voice among the four living creatures say, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius – but do not harm the olive oil and the wine” (HCSB).
As the Lamb opens the third seal, one of the living creatures thunders, “Come!” and a horse and rider appear. This horse is black, and the horseman rides onto the scene holding a balance scale. A voice from among the living creatures tells us what is happening: A full day’s wages buy barely enough food to survive – a crisis for working families – but there is no impact on the rich, who have their fill of more expensive olive oil and wine. It appears this horseman brings famine with him, worsening the widespread death and destruction of the previous rider on the fiery red horse.
Let’s take a closer look and see, first of all, if we may determine what this means to a first-century audience. Then we will explore the possibilities for today’s readers.
The third seal
Jesus opens the third seal. Keep in mind that these seals likely are pieces of wax or clay that have been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. They identify the person who has authorized what’s been written, and the seal may be broken only by the designated authority, in this case the Lamb. As each seal is broken, it likely enables another portion of the scroll to be unraveled, until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed.
As the seal is opened, John hears the third living creature say, “Come!” This call probably is not to John but to the horse and rider, who appear immediately after the living creature’s command.
Next: A black horse (Rev. 6:5-6)
Previously – Blessing, honor, glory and dominion (Rev. 5:13-14)
Rev. 6:1 – Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer (HCSB).
The opening of the first seal prompts the widest divergence of interpreters’ viewpoints of Revelation thus far. The preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist now follow their own paths that will not meet again until the final chapters of this apocalyptic text:
- Preterists see the seal, bowl and trumpet judgments as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age, either at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or at both the fall of Jerusalem and later at the fall of Rome in the fifth century.
- Historicists view these events as unfolding throughout the course of history, generally equating the papal system of Reformation times with the Apostle John’s vision of the Antichrist.
- Futurists argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22. More specifically, many see the opening of the first seal as the beginning of a seven-year tribulation period, to be followed by the return of Christ.
- Idealists see these chapters setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – a battle that continues throughout the church age.
- Meanwhile, a fifth group of interpreters, the eclectics, gleans the strengths of the other four views while avoiding their pitfalls.
While this study avoids championing any of these views to the exclusion of the others, or getting bogged down in interpretive squabbles, it does attempt to draw out of the text clear truths that speak to first-century readers as well as to us today. With that in mind, let’s proceed cautiously as we join John in witnessing the opening of the first seal.
The ESV Study Bible sets the stage: “As the vision of the Son of Man introduced edicts to seven churches (chs. 2–3), so the vision of the Lamb’s receiving the scroll (4:1–5:14) introduces a series of seven visions as the scroll’s seals are broken. These visions introduce instruments employed by the Lamb to bring his enemies to justice (seals 1–4), the rationale for his righteous wrath (seals 5 and 7), and the climax of judgment at history’s end (seal 6).”
As Jesus opens the first seal, it’s important to understand what is meant by the word “seal.” In this context, a seal likely is a piece of wax or clay that has been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. It identifies the one who has authorized what’s been written, and the seal may be broken only by the designated authority. Just as the Father is the Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe, the Lamb is worthy to take possession of the earth and exercise both judgment and reward because of His slaughter on our behalf (see Rev. 5:6, 9, 12). Likely, each seal, as it is broken, allows a portion of the scroll to be opened, until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed. Seals of a larger kind are placed on entrances to prevent the unauthorized from entering. There is, for example, a seal on the lion’s den into which Daniel is thrown (Dan. 6:17), and a seal over the sepulcher into which Jesus is laid following His crucifixion (Matt. 27:66). Neither of these seals is successful in fulfilling their purpose. But the breaking of the seals in Revelation 6 is in perfect accordance with the divine will and good pleasure of Almighty God.
Next – A white horse and his rider (Rev. 6:1-2)