In chapters 4 and 5 we have a description of the enthronement of Jesus, which occurred at his ascension to heaven. At his enthronement he was given a scroll sealed with seven seals. The scroll cannot be opened until the seven seals are removed.
In chapter 6, Jesus takes the seals of the book. As he opens each one, he releases a power that will help bring about the opening of the book of life. What are these powers that are in the hand of Jesus the king that he will use to accomplish his own purposes?
The first four seals concern the well-known four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first seal describes a king on a white horse riding out to battle (6:1-2). Some people think this refers to Christ riding forth with the gospel, because he is described in this way in 19:11. However, I think the list in chapter 6 is made up of sources of trouble for Christ’s people. I would suggest that this rider depicts tyrants or oppressive rulers. The second seal is a red horse, and it is evident that he represents those who make war (6:3-4). The third seal is a black horse, and he depicts famine (6:5-6). The fourth seal is a pale horse, and he represents death in all its forms (6:7-8).
As we think of this description of human history, we see it is a very accurate picture, for even today, with all our advances, we still have tyranny, war, famines and death. We only have to watch the news programmes to see that they occur.
What are we to make of this description of human history? First, we must get rid of the idea that Jesus only does comforting things and the devil does all the bad things. History is not about a battle between two equal forces. Also we have to move from focussing on secondary causes and see that there is only one primary cause for all events. Jesus either initiates an action for a specific purpose or directs an action to overrule it for a specific purpose.
This chapter tells us that these distressing situations are brought about because Jesus is determined to open the scroll that he has been given, which is to gather his people to himself. So why does Jesus send these judgments?
One answer is that they are samples of divine judgement before the time of the final judgement, as well as samples of the variety of divine judgements within time. They tell us that Jesus does something about our sinful behaviour. In his providential control of human actions, Jesus brings foretastes of judgment into our lives. They are sent to urge us to prepare for eternity.
They are also sent to give opportunities for his church to act as agents of mercy. Through them, the Lord enables his people to give both practical and spiritual help to those in need. So, in many cases the trouble they went through becomes a means of spiritual good. These judgements are limited to some in order that the many will listen. We cannot say that those who suffer because of wars and famines are worse sinners than others. The point is that the Lord Jesus is the judge of all.