A few months ago, I realized I wanted to become friends with the book of Revelation. It’s not a thought that ever occurred to me before that end-of-summer day. Over decades, I have mulled Revelation’s passages. I have facilitated year-long small-group meetings that primarily used only the Bible, lexicons, concordances, histories, and biblical dictionaries. We wanted to become Berean: “to examine the Scriptures every day to see if what” the teachers tell us is true (Acts 17:11). Last year, I realized I want to hear Revelation for the pure joy and hunger to know it more deeply and personally. In six months of morning walks, I’ve heard it at least eighteen times. In December, I began to jot WhatsApp notes to my friend Anja in the Netherlands. Then Wendy asked me to write one of the commentaries for Spectrum. My thoughts on Chapter Six will be informed by both my earlier type of study and what is, hopefully, my deepening personal experience with this message.

Revelation 6 opens as a continuation of the vision in Chapter 5: a concerned discussion of a scroll with seven seals and the qualities of one who might be authorized to open it. In first-century CE Rome, this type of scroll was usually considered to be a will. Wills delineated the legacy of the person receiving them. The number of seals could designate the importance of the document or the need for its security. Emperors Vespasian and Caesar Augustus both had wills, written on a scroll and sealed. The number seven in biblical writings usually designates completeness or perfection; therefore, the scroll in the vision is completely sealed. Of all the names, qualities, and roles of Jesus, the one that signified his authority to open the will was that of the Lamb, the Redeemer, the ultimate example of self-sacrificing love. I think it is essential, as we read Revelation, that our twenty-first-century minds understand that this authority is not only about power but about love and saving grace.

And so, it is the Lamb who opens the first seal of a document that I believe tells us about the legacy of this tiny little planet. “I looked and before me was a white horse! His rider held a bow, and he was given a crown and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (Revelation 6:1, 2). When I see the rider of the white horse, I see the One who had led the first battle against evil and cast the adversary out of Heaven. Coming to Earth as a conqueror, he became our Creator, the beginning of our legacy. At the end of time, there is another vision of the “white horse whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges…” (Revelation 19:11) and leads the final battle against the evil that wished to destroy His creation. I appreciate these parallel pictures of the same white horse at the beginning and at the end of The Great Controversy. Because the white horse carries One who is also the Lamb, I continue to have faith that love for us and all creation is Heaven’s driving force in the battle.

And then “the Lamb opened the second seal….and another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people slay each other” (Revelation 6:3). It took me a while, but I finally heard, in this text, the story of power being given to the evil one by humanity ourselves, when we couldn’t trust God in the Garden of Eden. We were the ones who ceded our heritage of love for catastrophe upon ourselves and upon our vulnerable planet.

The third seal opens with the results of our decision: “Before me was a black horse. Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice from the four living creatures saying, ‘a quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil or the wine.’”

This is quite the phrase to unpack. For millennia, scales have represented judgment. “Tekel: You are weighed in the balances and found wanting.” (Daniel 5:27) They are also used to describe our interactions with each other. “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Enough, you princes of Israel: put away violence and destruction and practice justice and righteousness…you shall have just balances.’” (Ezekiel 45:9-10). What I have read of first-century CE economy indicates that the amount of food given for a day’s wages described above was a starvation diet at extortion prices.

In a literal historical sense, the results of sin have been that we descendants of Adam and Eve “do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling… and in striking each other with wicked fists” (Isaiah 58:3-4). We have blamed others for our actions, we have murdered, we have taken advantage of the fragile in countless ways, we have abused the earth and refused to care for it as it deserves. Famine and extortion are inevitable outcomes of humanity’s choices. Israel was warned against these behaviors, more times than I can count, with the promise of disaster if they did not begin to treat both each other, and the “alien within their gates” (Exodus 20:11), better. The judgment is an acknowledgement of the result of choices freely made.

From another perspective, Hebrew writings often use the concrete to express the spiritual. Pestilence or famine took place in Bible times when there was a “famine of the word of God” (Amos 8:11). The famine in the time of Elijah and Ahab was a direct result of apostasy…famine of the word of God. When our ancestors gave power to the rider of the red horse, there began a spiritual famine, moving away from God’s principles; spiritual starvation as well as physical hunger followed.

I see the phrase “do not damage the oil and the wine” primarily on a spiritual level. The phrase adikeses (do not damage) is second person, singular, imperative mood. A representative of Heaven is speaking to the rider on the black horse, protecting the oil and the wine, setting limits to the destruction. Oil is commonly used to represent the work of the Spirit or being set aside to do the work of the Spirit of God. Jesus, in a story told by Luke (4:18) said “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” There are lots of similar illustrations in both the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus, himself, used wine to represent His blood and therefore His sacrifice. In the midst of the carnage of the black horse, there is the unmitigated promise that the results of sin will not stop the love or the mission of God.

“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come’! Before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death (Thanatos) and Hades was following close behind him” (Revelation 6:7).

Thanatos was the Greek god of death. Hades is the grave, the place of the grave or the place of darkness. As horrific as it is, this part of our legacy appears to be only the natural consequence of the actions that were described in the second and third seals.

This ends the seals that are introduced by the four creatures around the throne, after being opened by the Lamb. I see these seals as a progressive encapsulation of our downfall and great need.

Seals 5 and 6 deal with two different groups of people who have responded to the fall of our planet in two very different ways. It is not the voice of heavenly beings we hear but the voices of those descendants of Eden who are on opposite sides of God’s battle with evil.

“When He opened the fifth seal I saw, under the altar, the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice ‘How long sovereign Lord, holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”

Clearly, this group has chosen to be on the side of God. Clearly, they have paid a temporarily high price for their choice. Clearly, they know that Heaven’s justice will be in their favor. They ask, with all the rights of their relationship with the Lamb, when that justice will come. I have always thought of these people as being only those who had been physically killed because of their beliefs and life choices. As I write this, I am remembering what Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). There are different ways to “kill people,” and I wonder if this group of the fifth seal could also include those who have been denigrated for their beliefs, not necessarily physically murdered.

The group portrayed in the next vignette have a different perspective:

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:12-17).

Here is the answer to the questioners of the fifth seal. It seems the judgments have begun. As there was no caste for the people of the fifth seal, there is no caste for those who have chosen a very different relationship with the Lamb. Kings and slaves both hide from a judgment so complete that the earth and the sky are in upheaval. The people represented here have chosen such little knowledge of Heaven that their prayer is to be hidden from the face of the One who sits on the throne of Heaven, yearning to save them, and from the wrath of the Lamb, who gave all and more to bring them back to His flock. These voices cannot imagine that anyone could be saved. They have believed the lie of the serpent in Eden. They stand accused, like Joshua in Zechariah’s vision – but have declined the Mediator. Their question is, “The great day of their wrath has come; who can withstand it?”

The parenthesis that is Chapter 7 will be a glorious answer to this faithless question. Yes… countless millions will withstand and, because of the Lamb, will be saved.

The seventh seal will be the story of the last terrible effort to show those who believe the lie the results of their choice and to give them a final chance to change that choice.

Catherine Taylor is a family therapist who specializes in the development of benevolent systems. She has been a Sabbath School teacher, sermon presenter, Bible study facilitator, camp meeting speaker, and writer on various Bible topics.

Photo by Jamie McInall from Pexels

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9380
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Good to hear from you.
Enjoyed those studies with the group.

This is interesting. Good to see individuals talking these issues personally, not leaving it up to a handful ideologues to do it for us. It does remind me, though, of all the news flashes about the latest findings about nutrition - the best diet for preventing heart disease, diabetes, bunions, this, that, and another. The upshot is to eat a healthy diet - work your body - work your mind - and get rest. That’s the Rx for all our ailments when given separately, and as it turns out, together. In this case, we can wring our minds about each of our 28+ beliefs (good exercise and most revealing); or, we can go the one source - the concepts of the Gospel - and get it in a nutshell.

This study, above, is at least making an attempt at referencing the connections to the other 65 books of the Bible. Our usual method of study conveniently compartmentalizes topics within a book or two, and puts a hedge around them, whether or not the concepts square with anything else in the Bible.

Having said that… I have a serious question to those who know more about this than I - Why is the “small scroll” in Revelation, the book of Daniel and not Ezekiel? The only reason I can come up with is that “we want it to be Daniel”. There is a correlation (by wording alone) between Ez. 3 and 40 is identical to Rev.10 and 11. Has anybody delved into that connection in more detail?


Thanks for the the well thought out article.

When we speak about our choices it raises red flags as to the psychology of choice. How much free will does humanity have? Maybe not as much as we would think. So many factors affect our ability to make good decisions–our diets, drugs, culture, family values, educational level, access to privilege, reading levels, head injuries, poverty and where and when we were born. For instance one can see many begging children in India!

I have a hard time with theology that places human destiny all on the shoulders of our choices and our ability to discern truth from a lie. It is just too simplistic. We humans are not very good at that. Never have been, ask perfect Eve.


YES! Everybody has baggage - their own, and all their ancestors’. Even some of the Adventist positions could be considered baggage in some circles - grace for us all!


Hi Frank,

I may not be understanding you. My response to what I think you said is that I see human choice as a spiritual issue. I believe it is the only gift given to us in Eden for which Jesus was willing to die. I am the opposite of a predestination based Calvinist. I am coming to believe that God has poured out millennia of love and that the final judgment is a formal acknowledgement of decisions we have made. I appreciate your thoughts. They help me think.

I am sorry, I have never heard of this idea before. In Eden was not Eve deceived (2 Tim 2:14-she was not in rebellion)? Deceived people make poor choices and we have the decency to let the inexperienced often be excused.

I have never thought of God’s greatest gift is free will. There are so many, physical, emotional, social influences that science has shown narrows free will. It is not clear cut to assume that everyone has an equal amount of choice as to what they believe and thus practice. What if you are raised in Sudan, as a Muslim woman, subject to the whims and wishes of men? What if you have sustained a serious brain injury?



But then?

Well, there is the not small matter of the judgement.

Now, is the Western concept of judging as deciding who inherently will live and who will die, who inherently will remain free and who will be incarcerated, who inherently will possess and who will be fined–are these humanly construed acts made necessary by the presence of, spiritually speaking, sin? And are these not stop-gap measures not something temporal, something required only because of the impossibility of humanity to self-eradicate sin individually and collectively?

Human judgement is about living with sin. Divine judgement is about eradicating sin. Right?

Paul seems to be confirming just such a distinction: "8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (1 Cor 13)

What is in part will not be made whole, but will be replaced by the perfect, it seems.

Until there were kings, there were judges, one a woman, in OT Israel. The role of judge was to restore justice to the community as a whole, by restoring unity to the community.

The great and memorable OT acts of judging (whose the mother of this child?) restored wholeness by eliminating division.

Might we not take hope on this basis and the basis of the Gospels, and the basis of Revelation that the execution of restoring justice does not require the execution of great swaths of created humanity, but rather restores wholeness for the whole of the creation?

It is no small thing that Eve and Adam were created in the words of the Creator as ‘very good’–and in that created state Adam preferred Eve to life itself and Eve was beguiled by the Serpent. Now, what if neither Adam nor Eve were making a rational choice? What if pure created-good instinct is involved?

And thus neither Adam nor Eve garnered condemnation by the Creator in Genesis.

And now we sense that in Jesus, the second Adam who loves the creation more than life itself, we of the World are destined to be restored by reason of the World being made whole, no longer divided, no longer atomized.

Let me paraphrase and plagiarize …

The great controversy will come to be ended. Sin and sinners–the whole of the creation–will no longer be filled with the dust of sin, the dust to which we return when we die. The entire universe will be clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness will beat through the vast creation as surely as one pulse of sin since Adam has been beating through the creation. From Him who created all will flow life and light and gladness throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, will declare that God is love.

Such purity as surely as such impurity owes nothing to the the creation itself or the eradication of impurity will existentially doom us to follow into oblivion the divisiveness that is sin.

Simply put, no sinner has to die for sin to be eradicated from the universe, or we are all dead.

It seems.


Notice the Writer of Genesis 1 after each of the 5 days say, GOOD [not perfect].
Notice the Writer of Genesis 1 at the end of the story of Day 6, says VERY GOOD [not perfect either]
To be “Perfect” the writer would have had to say in Hebrew – Good, Good, Good.

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Love the way you think, Bill Garber.

Thanks Cassie. The feeling is mutual. And has been for a long time. Thinking is inherently lonely, because it is of a necessity heretical in the literal sense of heresy. My apology for not having saluted yours sooner and more frequently.

All fine as long as we don’t take bit in teeth and run off on our own, becoming a “gospel” unto ourselves, which is an occupational hazard of being an Adventist type, speaking for myself and my friend David Koresh.

Better lonely than being in a position to pull others off the path of their own walk with God.

We have a very mixed heritage in this church. We walk the razor’s edge.

Hi Frank,

I appreciate your care for those who are often not enfranchised. I believe God’s care for them is even greater than ours. I think we are responsible for what we are able to do. I do not think God will capriciously allow some people in Heaven and some people not.

Everything I read in the Bible is about God giving humanity in different historical periods enormous amount of time to see His love, to choose to be an example of it or not. What I read in the Bible says each person will be given the chance to follow God as best they can in their circumstances and be allowed that choice, no matter what it has and does cost God. Our God is gracious. Heaven will take into account life circumstances.

Thank you for bringing it up.

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HI Bill,
; ,
I am on my way to work so might not have read carefully enough; but I think I agree with you in some respects. Sin will be eradicated. No one has to be eradicated with sin. That said, we have the choice to continue to sinful actions (selfishness, meanness, neglect, causing harm etc) or to have God lead us away from them. If we chose to wrap our hearts around that which causes harm, then we will get destroyed when it is destroyed. I think understanding the difficulty and reluctance of God to have people be destroyed when sin is destroyed is to understand God’s character.

Bill, who says God delights in the destruction of evil/wickedness?
There is something Indeed mysterious about the mystery of iniquity.
It is the pride of the owner! Jn 3:16-21 says it all for the judged/condemned. If they accept not Christ they are condemned. Sin doesn’t choose light because it isn’t alive apart from an active player.Thats why sinners die. The sinner that doesn’t want to accept light/ Christ also doesn’t want to repent…because ones deeds are evil.
Judgment and destruction of “the wicked” players is necessary. Sin will not rise again.

I think my answer to you, I mistakenly sent to Catherine…if interested.
PS. EGW’S quote there almost smacks with Some of Kellogg’s regarding pantheism.
PS. Yes, I am yet a sinner but reckoned righteous in Christ…all “sinners” dont receive judgment. Jn.3:16.

Your objection to “Calvinist Presestination” may be more objecting to “double predestination.”
This is not a Reformed doctrine but is often portrayed as one. All Calvinist do not say God before the fall chooses who the reprobate are. He does have a knowledge of them however.
Informed Arminians recognize predestination as a biblical term.
Rom 8:29.
Once humankind fell into sin, God doesn’t have to do anything for them to remain in a lost position.Eph.2:1-8.
We were dead.
So, along the same vein, they remain dead to receiving the light unless called of God’s Spirit. When called, then and only then can humankind accept or reject the light. Many objections to Calvinism stems from not accepting "mankind’s free will as sinners " to accept Christ without a call. Such as Erasmus.
Just a quick primer I would offer having taken a class from the late RC Sproal at RTS.
May I also point out that is why humanism and naturalism also block out the creation story. It destroys the plan of redemption. Humankind can save itself.

R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) related “I wrote a note to myself that I kept on my desk in a place where I could always see it. - YOU ARE REQUIRED TO BELIEVE, TO PREACH, AND TO TEACH WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS IS TRUE, NOT WHAT YOU WANT THE BIBLE TO SAY IS TRUE.


Some people may think I was cursed to go to RTS. :grin: I was blessed to hear and study under some “heavies” in evangelical circles.
Roger Nicole, John Piper, DA Carson, Sinclair Ferguson, Farrel- Christianity Today former Editor. Bruce Walke. Ronald Nash. RCSproul.Not as well known, Richard Pratt. Brilliant.
BLESSED! Ps. All humble and not full of themselves.


I just saw this:

Image may contain: text that says '...we will never be moving on toward Christian perfection until we stop spending our time arguing over who to exclude from Grace... a southern pastor'