Now John begins to see important mysteries concerning the past, present, and future events of the Church, and they are revealed to him through various phases that he calls “seals”. In this chapter John sees the Church and Christ as victors, the Devil causing bloodshed among the saints, the Devil being limited of his use of power for a long period of time and God protecting the Church, the danger of heresies and its effects, the saints in Heaven being comforted and told to wait until the Church has all its predestined members, and the Crucifixion of our Lord and the events that took place that day.

1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!”

St. John is about to have revealed to him seven phases of mysteries of the past, present, and future concerning the Church.

2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

The horse is the Church made white by grace, and the rider is Jesus. Christ is the conqueror because of His defeat over the Devil and death, as the apostle says, “that, through death, he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is to say, the Devil (Heb. 2:14).” This horse of the Lord with the bow made ready for war was promised beforehand by Zechariah. “The Lord God will visit his flock, the house of Israel, and he will arrange him as a formidable horse in war, and from him he looked, and from him he arranged the battle order, and from him came the bow in anger, and from him will come out every oppressor(Zec. 10:3-4).”

3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another; and he was given a great sword.

The second seal reveals the mystery of the Church under persecution. The red horse is symbolic of the shedding of blood of those who suffer for Christ, and the rider is Satan. With the Devil’s participation and influence, evil people join together and do not cease to provoke among themselves strife and conflict, even unto death. For the Lord said, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matt. 24:7).” For Christ’s coming did bring peace to divers nations, but every time evil abounds, the love of many grows cold, and many desert the Church and She is persecuted; then wars develop when actions which bring about wars are not hindered by holiness; and when the hostile powers are not restrained by the Saints, and it goes unchecked in the hearts of men, it stirs up nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.

5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; 6 and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine!”

The third seal is concerning the binding of the Devil, as mentioned in Rev. 20:3, where he has been prevented from the exercise of his whole power to seduce the nations, whereas before Christ came, Satan exercised his full power to deceive the nations. Where God’s people were limited to one nation, now God’s people are spread abroad, because Satan has been bound, and a “seal was set upon him (Rev. 20:3)”. The third seal also reveals the woe of the Devil after his defeat because of the righteous judgment of the Lord. But even while Satan has been bound, he still has limited power to bring about persecution to the Church and suppresses the light of the Word of God, but the opened seal reveals that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church and the graces of God will not cease.

The black horse represents judgment (Job 3:5),sorrow and grief (Jeremiah 8:21). On this account the Devil is grieving for his release, which has been postponed for so many ages. The scales are the symbol of the righteous judgment of the Lord on our behalf. (Oecumenius)

A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius: These words symbolize that there was a famine and scarcity among people of that time of teaching both of the gospel of the Lord and of the Law as Scripture says, “I will give them not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.(Am. 8:11)” (Oecumenius) Since then even in the churches, that is, in that congregation of peoples and nations, where the Christian name has widely spread, there was, is, and shall be so great abundance of sinners, in great measure, that famine of the Word here is predicted, who by their sins, are strangling from themselves the light of truth. (Augustine)

but do not harm oil and wine:  That is, those who have been refreshed by wine, i.e. by my blood (Luke 22:20 Lord’s Supper), and anointed with oil, i.e. with the Holy Spirit. (Glossa Ordinaria)

7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

The fourth seal concerns the spread of heresy, which is a spiritual disease, and leads many to spiritual death. The Devil is the author of death and the pains of Hell. The Devil has used heretics to bring disunity to the Church and lead many people astray, and heretics have used not only confusion of doctrine but also material force to do so.

The pale horse represents disease (Leviticus 13:49; 14:37), and heresy is a spiritual disease that spreads and infects many. Death and Hell designates the Devil and the whole company of his angels, for he is the author of death and the pains of Hell. The Devil starts the heresies, and many, who are called heretics, follow the Devil’s schemes that lead people down the road to Hell, because eternal punishment follows those who here are spiritually dead. Just like a visible sword is commonly used against the body, while a spiritual sword is used against the soul, it can mean here both a famine of the Word of God and a famine that affects the body.

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Here he speaks of the glory of the souls of the saints after the punishment of the body. At present the souls of the martyrs are under the altar, that is, less exalted than they will be. Therefore their happiness will be greater after the resurrection when they receive their glorified bodies. Their prayer for vengeance is expressed not in words but in their minds, even as the blood of Abel cried from the earth (Gen. 4). They rejoice in vengeance not for its own sake, but for the sake of Divine justice. The desire of resurrection is not denied, but postponed, that the brethren may be gathered in and multiplied.

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood,

The vision describes for us the miracles that took place at the cross- the earthquake and the turbulence of the earth (Matt. 27:52), the darkness of the sun(Lk. 23:44), and the changing of the whole moon into blood. The prophet Joel, too, predicted that this would happen, saying, “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and wonderful day of the Lord (Joel 2:31).” This no doubt applies to the events of the cross, St. Peter says this is what had already happened, “But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16).” (Oecumenius)

13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; 14 the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

This is reference to Satan and the demons being cast from Heaven, which is mentioned in Rev. 12:3-4, And there was seen another sign in heaven. And behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and on his heads seven diadems. 12:4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. They were cast out of Heaven because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
He calls the division of the proud demons mountains and islands, according to what Scripture says of them: “the mountains were being moved in the heart of the seas(Ps. 45:3).” Again he says of the islands that they are lifted high and raised up(Is. 23:2-6) by the vain madness of their attitude in the unstable and bitter distractions of this life. They were moved out of their places indicates that they fell from the heavenly rank to an earthly rank.

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,

This hiding themselves in caves is simply figurative speech that symbolizes their attempts to escape the guilt of their sins. “But there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known (Lk. 12:3).”

16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?”

This indicates that they will have self-denial and a false hope that the worldly dominions will hide their guilt, or because some in the multitude of their sins, and excess of carelessness, abuse God’s mercy, and say, “There is no hell, no punishment; God remits us all our sins.”


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