III. THE THIRD SEAL—THE BLACK HORSE
"And when He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and behold, a black horse; and he who sits on it had a balance in his hand. And I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying: A choenix of wheat for a denarius and three choenixes of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine."
"Black" is the color for famine (Jer. 14:1-3; Lam. 4:8-9; 5:10). In the Bible, wheat is measured and not weighed. Balances are used to weigh precious things, but here a balance is used for measuring wheat. Hence, not a single grain is missed. "A choenix of wheat for a denarius." A denarius is a person’s wages for one day’s labor. It is only one person’s wage because in Matthew 20:2 the pay for a laborer is a denarius a day. "Three choenixes of barley for a denarius." Normally, the ratio of the value of barley to wheat is one to two, but here it becomes a ratio of one to three (2 Kings 7:16 and 18 record a ratio of one to two). "Do not harm the oil and the wine." This shows that at other times they were not considered food and were "harmed." But now, even the oil and the wine should not be harmed. During the time of famine, even oil and wine cannot be wasted. At the same time, grape vines and olive trees are preserved by God. In the past two thousand years, wars, famine, earthquakes, and so forth have occurred more frequently as the time draws nearer. They come in greater numbers as the days go by.
IV. THE FOURTH SEAL—THE PALE HORSE
"And when He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and he who sits upon it, his name is Death; and Hades followed with him. And authority was given to them over the fourth part of the earth to kill with the sword and with famine and with death and by the beasts of the earth."
The word "pale" here is the same as the word "green" in Mark 6:39 and Revelation 8:7 and 9:4. Green is the color of vegetables. A green complexion indicates either sickness or death. This is why the name of the one riding on the pale horse is "Death." The word "death" in the second part of the verse can be translated "pestilence." Therefore, we interpret it as "pestilence" here also. "Hades" in the original language means the unseen world. Hades here is like a trash can (the dead people are like garbage). One fourth of the people on the earth are killed by the sword of the red horse, by the famine of the black horse, by the death of the pale horse, and by the beasts. "The beasts" indicate a very serious judgment of God (Num. 21:6; Exo. 23:28; Josh. 24:12; 2 Kings 2:24; 17:25).
V. THE FIFTH SEAL—THE CRY FROM
UNDERNEATH THE ALTAR
The Bible divides the number seven into four plus three or three plus four. Many times it is also made up of six plus one. Three is the number of God, and four is the number of man. Four followed by three means man’s progression in drawing near to God. Three followed by four means a falling from a desirable condition in God into the condition of man. Since the seven churches are arranged into two groups of three and four, they are declining. But the seven seals are composed of four followed by three. Therefore, their significance is different. Six is the number of man because man was created on the sixth day. One is the number of God because God rested on the seventh day. The seven seals are divided into four and three, as well as into six and one.
Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of the persecutions of the church during the past two thousand years.
A. Revelation 6:9
"And when He opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they had."
"The word of God" is all of God’s commands. "And because of the testimony which they had" in the original text reads "and for the testimony which they always held." "Always" means to be accustomed to; to always hold a testimony means to be accustomed to testifying. This testimony testifies of the Lord Jesus (Rev. 1:2; 6:9; 12:17). Some have said that this portion does not refer to the persecution of the church because it does not mention the testimony of Jesus. Instead, they say it refers to the saints in the Old Testament who were persecuted. But if one goes along with this, the preceding four seals would then become conditions in the tribulation. Mr. Govett said that just by the word "always" we know that this is the condition of the persecutions of the church. The purpose of this book is to testify for Jesus. Therefore, those people who testify always are the children of the Lord.
"The altar." The Bible mentions two altars: (1) the altar for sacrifices and (2) the golden incense altar. A very famous writer has said that all the altars in the book of Revelation should be translated as incense altars, but there are not enough reasons to support this statement. The altar here must be the altar of sacrifices. The reasons are as follows:
(1) According to the type in the Old Testament, all who go up by steps unto the altar should not let their nakedness be discovered (Exo. 20:26). By this we see that all who are naked cannot see God. All those who are not resurrected are naked. One who has a soul but whose body is not resurrected is naked; he cannot go to where God is. For this reason 2 Corinthians 5:4 speaks of being "clothed upon," that is, of having a new body. (When a man dies, his soul does not go to God right away.) Without resurrection, one cannot draw close to the golden incense altar.
(2) When the Bible mentions the altar, it means the altar of sacrifice. When it refers to the golden incense altar, special adjectives such as "golden," "incense," and so forth are used to differentiate it from the altar in the outer court.
(3) All the blood of the animals that are killed is poured underneath the altar (Exo. 29:12; Lev. 4:7; 5:9).
(4) There is life in the blood. The word "life" in the original text is "soul" (Lev. 17:11, 14). To be under the altar is to be under the earth. The altar signifies the cross. Beneath the cross is the earth. Therefore, to be under the altar is to be in the Paradise of Hades in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40). Acts 2:27 says, "Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades." Numbers 16:31-32 says, "The ground under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up,...all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods." (Not only can no man see God without a body, but he cannot even go down to Hades without a body.) Hence, these martyrs are crying for avenging in Paradise in Hades.
"Had been slain." During the age of the Roman Empire, Christians were persecuted and many were slain. John, who wrote this book, was one of those who were persecuted. Even in modern times, Russia has killed innumerable Christians.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 16: Study on Revelation, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)