Home > Revelation 6: A Preterist Commentary
The Names of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Seven Seals Revealed!
A Preterist Commentary on Revelation 6: Summary and Highlights
Who are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; what are their names; and what were the seven seals? In the following preterist Bible commentary on Revelation 6 the reader will be exposed to the answers to these questions in addition to compelling evidence that every verse in this chapter came to pass during the infamous Jewish War in the first century. The four horsemen of the apocalypse appear to be the four living creatures.[i] The earthly counterparts of the four living creatures are the four kings that supplied auxiliary troops during the siege of Jerusalem. Therefore the earthly names of the four horsemen of the apocalypse are Antiochus, Agrippa II, Sohemus and Malchus.[ii] The Midrash says that Vespasian had four generals with him during the Roman assault on Israel. Perhaps these four horsemen are these four generals? Regardless of whether they were four generals or four client kings, these four horsemen did indeed conquer as predicted in Revelation 6:2; “take peace from the earth” according to Revelation 6:4; induce famine as implied in Revelation 6:6; and “kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth” when these four kings supplied auxiliary troops to the Roman legions that besieged Jerusalem in A.D. 70. As a result of this allied assault, Jerusalem was conquered and thousands of Israelites were killed by “sword, famine and plague.” 97,000 Jews were exiled[iii] many of whom were killed in Roman amphitheaters “by sword and wild beasts.”[iv] In A.D. 69, a year before the fall of Jerusalem, an omen of the coming tragedy was seen in the sky–the sun darkened, the moon turned blood red and a star fell in fulfillment of Revelation 6:12-13: “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 the earth.” The earthquake mentioned in v. 12 hit Jerusalem the year before, in A.D. 68. Amidst the fall of Jerusalem, many people fled to caves under the city or to the mountains and caves of the Dead Sea as predicted in Revelation 6:15: then the people “hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.” The last pocket of resistance held out at the mountain fortress of Masada. Realizing that they could not overcome the Romans, 960 Jews took their lives. In this mass suicide, one can see the eerie fulfillment of Revelation 6:16-17: “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 stand?”
The following may seem unbelievable. However, all information is taken from unbiased historical records and is easily verifiable. Sources listed at the end.
The Names of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Seven Seals Revealed!
Revelation 6 Commentary Intro: The Six Seals do not begin to unfold until the Sixth Trumpet.
This portion of John’s vision describes the opening of six of the seven seals. Though the seals are opened before the seven trumpets are blown, the devastation they wreak actually unfolds after the sixth trumpet. The fact that the six seals describe historical events that were fulfilled after the sounding of the sixth trumpet is similar to the way in which the Bible often describes future events in the present or past tense in order to emphasize its imminence and the immutable certainty with which it will occur. For example, in Matthew 23:38 Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple about forty years before its fulfillment in the present tense: “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate.” Also in Revelation 14:8 an angel predicts and warns of the impending fall of Babylon in the past tense: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great[.]”
As is discussed in Revelation 8: A Preterist Commentary and Revelation 9: A Preterist Commentary–Who is Apollyon?, the first four trumpets describe Vespasian’s campaign against Israel. At the sixth trumpet, Titus takes over control of the Roman military and makes preparations to begin his assault on Jerusalem. At the blowing of this trumpet, the sixth angel is told to release the four angels bound at the Euphrates River. I believe these four angels are the four horsemen of the first four seals. At the sounding of the sixth trumpet, these four harbingers of death are set lose; and by the seventh trumpet, they begin their attack and the historical events predicted in the six seals unfold.
Confirmation of the fact that the judgments of the first six seals do not begin to unfold until the sixth trumpet and bowl is found in Revelation 16:20. This verse unfolded amidst the seventh bowl. Revelation 16:20 reads, “Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found.” Revelation 16:20 is almost a word-for-word quote of the consequences of the sixth seal in Revelation 6:14: “[E]very mountain and island was removed from its place.” Here one can see that the seventh bowl of Revelation 16 and the sixth seal of Revelation 6:14 are describing the same event. This event is the conquest of Israel by the Romans at the fall of Israel’s last and most fortified city, Jerusalem, in A.D. 70. The similarities between these two verses show that the first six seals do not begin to unfold until the end or near the end of the seven trumpets and bowls. More evidence in favor of this fact will we discussed in the remainder of the commentary. But before addressing this evidence, let us first term our attention to the earth and sea symbolism in Revelation.
Revelation 6 Commentary Intro: The Earth is Israel; the Sea is Rome.
Before going further, it is important to define what is meant by earth and sea throughout this apocalyptic vision. Daniel 7, Psalm 65:7, Psalm 144:7, Isaiah 8:7-8, Isaiah 17:12, Isaiah 60:5, Jeremiah 51:55-56 and Ezekiel 26:3 are a few clear examples in which sea or waters symbolize nations other than the specific one addressed. In other words, in these verses sea represents foreign nations. For example, in Daniel 7, four beasts are said to arise out of the sea. These four beasts symbolize Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome—all Gentile empires. Echoing this symbolism, the Book of Revelation consistently uses sea as a metaphor for foreign nations. Evidence of this fact can be found in Revelation 17:5. Here the waters or sea are defined as the “peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.” The fact that the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation both symbolize foreign nations as the sea is not surprising since the scroll sealed at the end of the Book of Daniel (Daniel 12:4) is the same scroll opened in this chapter of Revelation. Thus both seers receive their information from the same heavenly scroll.
Sea does not just represent foreign nations in these two books of the Bible alone, this symbolic meaning is also found in the Babylonian Talmud. Here foreign nations are literally called “provinces of the sea.”[v] Thus it appears that sea is a figure of speech denoting foreign nations in the language of the Hebrew Law. Could this figure of speech have also been used in ancient colloquial Hebrew?
If the sea represents foreign nations–i.e. Gentile Rome–what does the earth represent? The earth represents the specific nation addressed in this vision, Israel. This symbolism also has Biblical precedence. The Greek word for earth is ge. This word is sometimes used to denote to an isolated country or nation.[vi] In fact, the NET Bible translates this term five times as country. In both the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, Israel is seen as an island amidst a sea of Gentiles.
1I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
Revelation 6:1-8 Commentary: Are the Four Horsemen Antiochus, Agrippa II, Sohemus and Malchus, the Four Generals that Assisted Vespasian, or Embodied in Part by Vespasian and Titus Themselves?
This is the first of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These four horsemen are also seen by the prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 1. In Zechariah 1, Zechariah sees these four horsemen as four powerful heavenly beings. These four horsemen appear to be the four living creatures themselves.[vii] These four powerful beings seem to take on many forms and are often mentioned in the Bible: They are the four living creatures of Revelation 4, the four seraphs of Isaiah 6, the four cherubim of Ezekiel 10, the four horsemen of Zechariah 1, the four charioteers of Zechariah 6, and the four angels bound at the Euphrates in Revelation 9:14-16.
Given a crown and riding off in conquest, the first of the four horsemen is their king and leader. This horseman riding the white horse into battle is depicted again in Revelation 19:11-16. In Revelation 19:16 He is called the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” In both cases this rider on the white horse is Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God who is often called the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament.
The fact that Jesus is depicted riding a horse while carrying a bow calls to mind Habakkuk 3. In Habakkuk 3 the Lord is depicted coming on the clouds in judgment riding horses (v. 8) and carrying a bow (v. 9).[viii] The bow of the Lord is mentioned in Genesis 9:13-17 and is also seen hanging above the throne of God in Ezekiel 1:26-28 and Revelation 4:3.[viiia] The arrow that flies from God’s divine bow is the lightning that accompanies the presence of God when He rides on the clouds of heaven in the midst of the Glory Cloud (Psalm 18:14).
This horseman is said to be a “conqueror bent on conquest.” The Greek word translated conquest in v. 2 is the same word used in the letters to the seven churches translated overcoming and conquering (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). Revelation 3:21 reads, “He who conquers, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My Throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His Throne.” Jesus is again depicted as a conqueror in Revelation 5:5: “The Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so as to open the Book.”[viiib] This horseman who is said to be a “conqueror bent on conquest” is Jesus Christ.
As is the case in Ezekiel 28:1-19, these heavenly beings appear to have earthly shadows. Though not literally the four heavenly seraphs themselves, these four horsemen may also be represented on earth as a kind of earthly or human shadow or reflection of these four cherubim. In other words, perhaps the earthly refection of these four horsemen are the four kings that supplied auxiliary troops during the siege of Jerusalem: Antiochus, Agrippa II, Sohemus and Malchus?[ix] Interestingly, the Bible often uses the term “angel” to also refer to humans (2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Ezekiel 28; Haggai 1:13; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 11:10; 24:31; Luke 7:24; 9:52; 1 Timothy 3:16; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 9:11; Revelation 21:17). Or perhaps the earthly shadow of these four heavenly horsemen are four generals? The Midrash says that Vespasian was aided by four generals during the Jewish War: “the general of Arabia, of Africa, of Alexandria, and of Palestine.”[ixa] It is also perhaps even more likely that Vespasian and/or Titus are one or two of the four horsemen mentioned in this chapter since as stated in v. 2 the rider on the white horse was “given a crown.” Both Vespasian and Titus, the two Roman generals of the Jewish War, were crowned Caesar in the middle of this war.[ixb] Regardless of whether these four horsemen are the four generals mentioned in the Midrash, the four client kings mentioned by Josephus or are embodied in part by Vespasian and/or Titus, each interpretation completely fulfills all the prophecies in this chapter. The first rider is responsible for the conquest of Jerusalem.
3When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
Revelation 6:4 Commentary: The Civil War in Israel and Israel’s War with Rome . . .
Pointing to Rome, the sword (machaira) of the second horseman was the short sword used by Roman infantry.[ixc] This rider is commanded to take peace from the earth. At the death of Nero, the Jewish War came to a halt. Though the Romans had ceased their attack, there was no peace. In Jerusalem a three-way civil war began headed by John, Simon and Eleazar each fighting for control and leadership over Israel. This fighting was interrupted by Titus’ attack on Jerusalem when, after the ascension of Vespasian to the throne, Rome resumed its attack.
5When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barely for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”
Revelation 6:5-6 Commentary: A Vision LITERALLY Seen in the Sky . . .
The central theme of this commentary on Revelation is to illustrate the fact that the Book of Revelation is NOT a book of empty symbols as is often supposed in preterist circles. For example, the measuring scale in the hand of the angel in v. 5 is a real image that John saw. In fact, it could be argued that this scale is still visible today.
Revelation 6:5-6 Commentary: Though Most of the Symbolism in Revelation is drawn from the Bible, God often also employs the Symbolism of Ancient Babylon to Address the Fate of Spiritual Babylon in a Symbolic Language that was as Familiar to First Century Israel and Rome as Christian Iconography is to People Today.
As will be explained in detail in Revelation 17 and Revelation 18, because of a divinely perceived adulterous affair between Jerusalem and Rome in the first century both Jerusalem and Rome are called Babylon throughout the Book of Revelation: the two, like husband and wife, having become one flesh as a consequence of their adulterous affair. This epithet accounts for much of the symbolism found throughout the Book of Revelation. Most of the symbolism in the Book of Revelation is drawn from the rest of the Bible. However, a significant percentage of symbols in this text has no Biblical precedence.
Much of this symbolism is directly related to the Babylonian epithet. As stated above, both Jerusalem and Rome are called Babylon throughout the Book of Revelation. Ancient Babylon which destroyed Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C. predicted the future using a well-developed system of celestial symbols and omens. The Babylonian system of divining the future through astral omens and symbols of Babylonian origin spread throughout Israel and Rome like wild fire by the first century. Thus first century Rome and first century Jerusalem were as familiar with Babylonian imagery and symbolism as the west is familiar with Judeo-Christian iconography today. In much of the Book of Revelation, God uses the well-known symbolism of ancient Babylon to communicate his judgments on spiritual Babylon in a language that spiritual Babylon, both first century Jerusalem and Rome, could and should have understood. In other words, God doesn’t just call Jerusalem and Rome Babylon in the Book of Revelation. He also uses the language and symbolism of ancient Babylon with its well-recognized repertoire of celestial omens to predict the inevitable fate of spiritual Babylon in the Book of Revelation—a fate that is written in the stars.
This system of foretelling the future by Babylonian celestial symbols is called astrology. And even today these ancient Babylonian symbols found in the zodiac have changed little. In other words, even many of the symbols in the Book of Revelation have a literal image that was not only visible during that time of judgment but is also still visible and recognizable today. Thus in a somewhat surprising twist, God often uses the language and symbolism of ancient Babylon in Revelation to impart his judgments on spiritual Babylon in their own language!
Revelation 6:5 Commentary: The Apocalypse etched in the Sky . . .
In Genesis 1:14, “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs . . .’” Furthermore while discussing the end of the age, Jesus says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars (Luke 21:25).” This prediction is partially fulfilled in vs. 12-13; however, there is much more to these signs in the sky. Before going further, it is important to realize that though it shall be shown in the remainder of this book that John abundantly refers to the astrological constellations of the night sky that originated in ancient Babylon, he does not violate Deuteronomy 4:19. Unshakably Christian, John sees the heavenly bodies as signs and symbols, not as deities.
Surprisingly, much of the imagery in the remainder of this book is forever etched in the night sky.[xa] Revelation’s use of symbolism is ingenious. Each Roman legion was represented by a different constellation or sign of the zodiac. The constellation or sign of the zodiac that signified a particular legion was often selected based on the month in which the legion was formed. Interestingly, in Revelation 9 the Roman army is described in the image of the constellations visible in the night sky during Passover, the holiday in which the Romans began their siege of Jerusalem. In describing the Roman army in this way, John offers the intelligent reader hints to the identity of the locust army in addition to the time in which these events were to be fulfilled. The only constellation of the zodiac not mentioned in Revelation 9 is seen in v. 5. This horseman is holding the scales of Libra in his hand. The fact that he holds the only constellation not alluded to in Revelation 9 is yet another piece of evidence that this horseman, like the other three, does not begin his work until he is finally released in Revelation 9:14.
Revelation 6:6 Commentary: The Famine of v. 6 is caused by the Siege of Jerusalem.
The black color of the horse calls to mind Lamentations 5:10: “Our skin is black as an oven from the scorching heat of famine.”[xi] This horseman will bring famine to Jerusalem in fulfillment of the curse of Leviticus 26:26. The scales in the hand of the rider in v. 5 indicate that the Jews will have to ration out their food, an inevitable consequence of a siege like the one imposed by Titus’ army in A.D. 70. To make matters worse, the people of Jerusalem burned a large part of their own provisions before the arrival of the Roman army.[xii] This resulted in a steep rise in food prices even before the Romans began their siege.
Illustrating the severity of the famine induced by the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Sefer Ha-Aggadah tells a story in which Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai saw men stewing straw in the marketplace in Jerusalem.[xiia] Further emphasizing the severity of the famine, Josephus mentions a woman who ate her own child.[xiib] Sulpitious Severus echoes Josephus and the Sefer Ha-Aggadah:
Moreover, they [the Jews trapped in Jerusalem during the siege of A.D. 70] ventured on eating all things of the most abominable nature, and did not even abstain from human bodies, except those which putrefaction had already laid hold of and thus excluded from use as food.[xiic]
Revelation 6:6 Commentary: “Do Not Damage the Oil and Wine!”
The angel in v. 6 proclaims, “[D]o not damage the oil and wine!” This verse may have found its fulfillment in the actions of the sacrilegious Jewish rebels who under the leadership of John Gischala plundered the oil and wine of the temple:
Accordingly, drawing the sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept for pouring on the burnt offerings, and which was deposited in the inner temple, [John] distributed them among his adherents, who consumed without horror more than a hin in anointing themselves and drinking.[xiii]
7When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Revelation 6:8 Commentary: The Israelites were killed by Sword, Famine and Wild Beasts as predicted in v. 8.
In his history of the Jewish War, Josephus describes the civil war and famine induced by the fourth horseman:
Nor was there any place in the city [of Jerusalem] that had no dead bodies in it, but what was entirely covered with those that were killed either by the famine or the rebellion; and all was full of the dead bodies of such as had perished, either by that sedition or by that famine [emphasis mine].[xiv]
After Israel was conquered, the Roman general Titus exiled 97,000 Jews,[xv] many of whom were killed in Roman amphitheaters “by sword and wild beasts [emphasis mine]”: “Titus also sent a great number into the provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed upon their theatres, by the sword and by the wild beasts [emphasis mine].”[xvi]
9When 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 maintained. 10They 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? 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
Revelation 6:9 Commentary: The Altar in the Sky
Testifying to the message of vs. 9-11 is the constellation Ara, the altar. In these verses, John sees Ara, the altar, barely visible in the southern horizon. The base of the altar is obscured by the earth illustrating the fact that the spirits under this altar are spirits in Sheol, the underworld, awaiting their resurrection to heaven.[xvii]
Revelation 6:9-11 Commentary: The Martyrs under the Altar
The altar mentioned in v. 9 is in heaven, the dwelling place of God. The fact that there is a temple in heaven is indicated in Revelation 11:19, 14:15-17, 15:5-8; and Psalms 18:6-9. The souls beneath this altar in heaven are the saints in Sheol unjustly killed throughout history awaiting the resurrection. Jerusalem was well known for having killed its prophets. Reminding them of this fact, Jesus pointedly declares:
Therefore I am sending you [Jerusalem] prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you all this will come upon this generation (Matthew 23:34-36).
The Jews of that generation were, in fact, punished for these crimes having suffered greatly during the war with Rome. Acts 8:1-3, 12:1-4 and 26:10 record the persecution the early church faced in Jerusalem soon after the death of Jesus. Regarding this persecution, Jesus is recorded to have said the following in Luke 18:7-8: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” God’s response to these pleas for justice mentioned in both Luke 18:7-8 and Revelation 6:10 is addressed in the remaining pages of the Apocalypse.
12I 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, 13and the stars in the sky fell to the earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.[xx] 14The sky receded like a scroll rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Revelation 6:12-14 Commentary: The Destruction of Heaven and Earth
Before discussing the literal fulfillment of these heavenly warnings, it is important to address the crux of what is stated here. John is describing the destruction of heaven and earth. Hebrews 12:26 says, “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain [emphasis mine].” Revelation 6:12-14 records the fulfillment of this verse. The earthquake and the stars falling from the sky are a result of God shaking heaven and earth. Hebrews 12:26 points out that what has been shaken will be removed. Verse 14 records this happening as the sky recedes like a scroll and every mountain and island is removed from its place.[xxi] This may not be the first time that heaven and earth had passed away. Concerning one of these instances, Jeremiah writes:
I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying. I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins (Jeremiah 4:23-26) [.]
In these verses, Jeremiah is describing the destruction of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. Here, like Revelation 6:14 and Genesis 1:1-2, the land is left formless and barren and the stars fail to shine in the sky. After the Babylonians destroyed the cities of Judea, they left the land so desolate that it resembled the earth before it was created—formless and dark. As will be discussed shortly, the darkening of the heavenly lights is a divine warning that God is going to destroy the land.
Revelation 6:14 Commentary: Mountains Represent Kingdoms in the Bible
In v. 14, John states that every mountain will be removed. As is implied in Daniel 9:16, mountain is a Biblical metaphor for a city or kingdom. This is not the only verse in which this meaning is implied. There are a multitude of examples of this implicit meaning throughout scripture of which Psalms 2:6, Psalms 48:1, Isaiah 66:20, Jeremiah 51:25 and Joel 3:17 are a few examples. The removal of these mountains/kingdoms is fulfilled in the war with Rome.
Revelation 6:12-14 Commentary: The Destruction of Israel, the Earth
In A.D. 70 Jerusalem, the Lord’s Holy Mountain (Joel 3:17, Zechariah 8:3), was attacked and conquered under the leadership of the Roman general Titus. After the city was taken, Caesar ordered that the city be demolished. This order was carried out, and Jerusalem was completely destroyed leaving only the western wall and a few towers intact. Concerning the devastation of the city, Josephus writes, “[T]here was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.”[xxiv] Furthermore, the state of Idumea after the war is described in very much the same way: “[T]here was no sign remaining of those places that had been laid waste, that ever they had had a being.”[xxv] The fate of Jerusalem and Idumea reflects the condition of Israel after the Jewish War. Not only did the Romans destroy the cities, they also dug up the earth and stripped the land of trees in order to raise and transport siege engines. As a result, the land was left barren resembling the earth at its creation—depopulated, without form, void and desolate. With the mountains or cities of Israel demolished by the Romans, the reader can appreciate how “every mountain [city] . . . was removed from its place” in Revelation 6:10. Thus the state of Israel, the earth, after the Jewish War mirrors the formless and desolate state of the earth before its creation in Genesis 1:2, a fact which set the stage for the creation of the new heaven and earth in Revelation 21:1.
Revelation 6:12-14 Commentary: Was the Whole World to be destroyed?
The destruction of heaven and earth is often understood to mean that God is going to destroy the whole world and rebuild a perfect one in its place, this not necessarily the case. The destruction of heaven and earth is not a onetime event. Whenever a nation was subjugated or conquered by another, the Bible often poetically portrays this conquest as the destruction of heaven and earth itself. In Ezekiel 32, the prophet addresses Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, with a warning concerning Egypt’s imminent defeat and subjugation to Babylon which soon came to pass in the sixth century B.C. Concerning the military conquest of Egypt by the nation of Babylon, Ezekiel 32:7-9 states:
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will trouble the hearts of many peoples when I bring about your destruction among the nations, among lands you have not known.
Here the destruction of the heavens portrayed by the darkening of the heavenly lights occurs simultaneously with the destruction of Egypt by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. Similar imagery is present in Isaiah 13:9-13 concerning the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.:
See, the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. . . . Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of his burning anger [emphasis mine].
As stated above, Hebrews 12:26 indicates that what has been shaken will be removed. The fact that heaven and earth are shaken in Isaiah 13:13 is a clear indication that heaven and earth were destroyed upon the fulfillment of Isaiah 13:9-13 at the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.
The destruction of heaven and earth is also predicted at the destruction of Edom in Isaiah 34:4-5. This prophecy was fulfilled around the time of the Babylonian conquest of Judah:[xxva]
All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.
Notice how similar the heavenly imagery surrounding the destruction of Babylon, Egypt and Edom is to the destruction of heaven and earth at the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 predicted in Revelation 6:12-14. In Revelation 6:12-13, John foresees the shaking of heaven and earth also seen at the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. according to Isaiah 13:13. In Revelation 6:14 the sky recedes like a scroll and the stars of heaven fall to the earth as it had in Isaiah 34:4 at the destruction of Edom in the sixth century B.C. As has been abundantly shown above, whenever a nation was subjugated or conquered by another, the Bible often poetically portrays this conquest as the destruction of heaven and earth itself.
Revelation 6:12 Commentary: The Earthquake of v. 12 that hit Jerusalem in A.D. 68
Having discussed the main point of Revelation 6:12-14, it is now time to address each verse and its literal fulfillment. Upon the opening of the sixth seal there is an earthquake. This earthquake hit Jerusalem in A.D. 68.[xxvi] See the commentary on Revelation 16:18.
Revelation 6:12 Commentary: According to Joel 2:1-10 Earthquakes are also Caused by a Kingdom Trembling in Fear at the Approach of a Large Army.
Before proceeding further it should be noted that there is more to this earthquake imagery than just the shifting of tectonic plates. According to Joel 2:1-10 the earth is said to shake as a result of the synchronized march of a vast besieging army: “Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble . . . . They march everyone in his path . . . . Before them the earth quakes. . . .”
In Joel 2:8-10 Joel describes an army so vast that its march shakes the earth: “They march everyone in his path . . . . Before them the earth quakes . . .” In other words, earthquakes in apocalyptic literature is often the result of an army so numerous that the synchronized march of its soldiers seems to shake the earth.
Naturally this army causes the people of fortified city to “tremble” or shake in fear (Joel 2:1). Though earth can be used in a global sense, throughout the Bible earth often just represents the people of a particular city or kingdom ( Isaiah 1:1-3, Isaiah 24-27). The shaking of the earth in apocalyptic language seems to poetically describe the trembling fear of the people in the earth or land of God’s wrath at the approach of an unbeatable army. In other words, more than just the literal shaking of the earth due to seismic activity, the shaking of the earth in apocalyptic imagery is a poetic description of the earth or city of God’s wrath (Jerusalem) trembling or shaking in fear at the coming of God’s punishing army (the Romans under Titus in A.D. 70): “They march everyone in his path . . . . Before them the earth [kingdom] quakes [trembles or shakes in fear] . . .” (Joel 2:2-10)
Revelation 6:14 Commentary: How the Sky may have looked as though it LITERALLY rolled up like a Scroll as Predicted in v. 14 during the Earthquake mentioned Above.
Interestingly, the sky may have looked as though it had literally rolled up like a scroll as predicted in v. 14 at the time of the earthquake mentioned above. But before describing how the stars may have appeared to have rolled up like a scroll, it is first necessary to explain what the Bible means when it mentions the Glory Cloud. According to Psalm 18:6-16 and 2 Samuel 22:8-15 whenever God came on the clouds in judgment on a nation, he did so in the midst of the Glory Cloud. What is the Glory Cloud? According to 2 Samuel 22:8-15, Isaiah 66:15-16, Psalm 18:6-16, Psalm 50:3, Psalm 97:1-5, Psalm 144:5, Exodus 40:34-38 and Leviticus 16:2, the presence of God is often marked by dark clouds and fire. This cloud with fire marking the presence of God is called the Glory Cloud. The Glory Cloud is often accompanied by strong winds; lightning, fire from heaven; thunder; invading armies and an earthquake like the one mentioned above in Revelation 6:12. The Glory Cloud is well illustrated in Psalm 18:7-14:
The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. . . . He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
Compare Psalm 18:7-14 with Josephus’ description of the storm that hit Jerusalem in A.D. 68 during the earthquake mentioned above:
There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.[xxvia]
This earthquake and storm occurred at the arrival of the Idumean Army outside of Jerusalem. Remember that as stated above, invading armies are another sign of the presence of God on the Glory Cloud. The Idumeans broke into Jerusalem later that night and slaughtered thousands of people within the city as the storm raged on. Notice that in Psalm 18:7-14 and Josephus’ account quoted above both record a great storm with powerful winds, rain, lightning, thunder and earthquake. Recall that Psalm 18:7-14 is a description of what it looks like when God comes on the clouds in judgment on the Glory Cloud. The fact that all the same signs mentioned in Psalm 18:7-14 are also said to have occurred in A.D. 68 implies that God or Jesus had come on the clouds of heaven in the Glory Cloud at that time. See The Appearance of Christ in A.D. 68?
The reason it is necessary to describe and define the Glory Cloud is because the dark clouds of the Glory Cloud blanket the sky and darken the stars overhead. This point is explicitly stated in Ezekiel 32:7-8:
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Notice that it is cloud cover that darkens the sun, moon and stars in Ezekiel 32:7-8. The storm clouds of the Glory Cloud indicative of the presence of God on the clouds mentioned by Josephus in A.D. 68 above explain how “[t]he sky receded like a scroll rolling up” in v. 14. This apocalyptic expression paints a picture of the dark clouds of the Glory Cloud slowly approaching a city that is the subject of God’s wrath. As is the case in Ezekiel 32:7-8 when these storm clouds approach a city, they blanket the sky and darken the heavenly lights as these dark, opaque clouds approach. As the Glory Cloud spreads across the sky, the remaining stars in the sky are likened to a scroll rolling up as they gradually darken and disappear by the spread and progression of these clouds as they move over the kingdom of God’s wrath. In other words, the receding of the stars of the sky by the expanding black clouds of the Glory Cloud give the illusion of stars printed on a scroll disappearing as the scroll is rolled up. This is precisely what presumably happened in A.D. 68 at the coming of the storm that accompanied the arrival of Idumean Army at Jerusalem in A.D. 68.
The shaking of heaven and earth at the coming of the Lord is also a literal phenomenon: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:26) The shaking of the earth in Hebrews 12:26 is of course fulfilled in an earthquake. The shaking of heaven is the result of reverberating blasts of thunder. Both of these signs were present in the storm marking the arrival of the Idumean Army at Jerusalem mentioned above.
Revelation 6:12-13 Commentary: According to the Midrash, the Sun represents the King, the Moon represents the Sanhedrin and the Stars represent Rabbis.
Next the sun is darkened, the moon turns blood red and the stars fall from the sky. Whenever these signs appeared in the Old Testament–people died. Looking ahead to verses 15 and 16, it is clear that now is no different. The Midrash explains the meaning of the sun, moon and star imagery found in the Bible. According to the Midrash, the sun represents the king. The moon represents the Sanhedrin. And the stars represent the Rabbis. The fact that the Sanhedrin is represented by the moon is illustrated by the fact that the “seating of the Sanhedrin was in the shape of a semi-circular threshing floor [i.e. shaped like a crescent moon].”[xxvib] The fact that the stars represent the priestly class is derived from Daniel 12:3: “They that turn the many to righteousness are as the stars for ever and ever.”[xxvic]
This interpretation seems sound. When the sun fails to shine, this is a celestial sign that a king is about to be overthrown or killed. Psalm 72:5 says, “He [the king] will endure as long as the sun. . . .” Also in Isaiah 24:21-23, God overthrows the kings of Israel and reigns as king in their place to the embarrassment of the sun. In these verses, Isaiah, like John in Revelation 6:12, seems to imply that the state of the sun mirrors that of those in political authority. When the sun is darkened this is an astral omen that a king’s term in office is about to be cut short. Similarly, when the moon is darkened and the stars fall from the sky, the priests of this kingdom are also about to be extinguished. Not surprisingly, after the appearance of these astrological signs, the kings and all the people of the earth are shown fleeing for their lives in caves and mountains in the following verses.
Hebrew prophets were not the only ones to place this interpretation on these heavenly omens. Popular support for this perception can be found in the biography of Apollonius of Tyana, a first century Roman seer. Here it is found that an eclipse of the sun was seen by the Roman populace as an omen foreshadowing the subsequent death of Caesar Domitian.[xxvii] For a comprehensive explanation of the destruction of heaven and earth in the first century see The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained!
Revelation 6:12-13 Commentary: The Sun Darkened, the Moon turned Red and a Star fell in A.D. 69.
In A.D. 69, the year before the destruction of Jerusalem, a peculiar event was witnessed in the sky:
[E]vil omens occurred. A comet was seen, and the moon, contrary to precedent, appeared to suffer two eclipses, being obscured on the fourth and on the seventh day. Also people saw two suns at once, one in the west weak and pale, and one in the east brilliant and powerful.[xxix]
Cassius Dio, among other things, is describing a lunar eclipse. During a lunar eclipse, the moon is eclipsed by the sun. When this happens the moon will turn a deep red color. Above is an image of a lunar eclipse. Here one can see the literal fulfillment of Revelation 6:12-13: Cassius Dio describes the sun darkening, the moon turning blood red and a star falling from the sky. Though there may be nothing miraculous about what Cassius Dio described in the sky, what might be considered miraculous is what transpired in Jerusalem one year later. Confirming the meaning of the symbolism of the sun, moon and stars mentioned above, John describes the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the subsequent fall of Masada in the next few verses:
15Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16They 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! 17For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?
Revelation 6:15-17 Commentary: As stated in v. 15, the People fled to the Mountains and Caves at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the fall of Masada in A.D. 74.
After the Romans breached the walls and entered the city, John and Simon, the two remaining leaders of the Jewish revolt, as well as many other survivors fled to the caves under Jerusalem where they were eventually captured by the Romans.[xxx] Here one can see how the kings, generals and people hid in caves as predicted in v. 15.
The fact that Revelation 6:16 was fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem is strongly implicit in Luke 23:28-30:
But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’
Notice that Jesus tells the people of Jerusalem to weep for themselves for days were soon to come in which these people of Jerusalem would say to the mountains, “‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’” Thus Revelation 6:15-16 must have been fulfilled at least in part in the destruction of Jerusalem as is strongly implied in Luke 23:28-30.[xxxi]
Revelation 6:15-17 also appears to have been fulfilled at the very end of the Jewish War, at the fall of Masada. The remaining Jewish rebels who had not fled underground escaped to the mountains and caves of the Dead Sea. The last pocket of resistance held out at the mountain fortress of Masada. Realizing they could not hold out against the Romans, 960 Jews took their lives. In this mass suicide, one can see the eerie fulfillment of vs. 16 and 17 where the men of the land hid in caves and mountains longing to die to hide themselves from the wrath of God.
In the aftermath of the Jewish War one can appreciate the fulfillment of the astral omens in vs. 12-13. By the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the two remaining leaders of the Jewish revolt represented by the sun were killed and captured; the high priest Ananus, the moon, was killed by the Idumeans; and the priests of the temple, the stars, were killed by Titus and his army.
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Interested in THE PRETERIST VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY, or are you a PRETERIST struggling with a prophecy or verse? It DID happen just like the Bible says! If you liked this essay, see PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY for a detailed explanation of the FULFILLMENT OF ALL MAJOR END TIME PROPHECIES IN THE BIBLE. The more unbelievable the prophecy, the more amazing and miraculous the fulfillment!
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
[i] These four angels are called many things throughout the Bible: They are the four living creatures of Revelation 4, the four seraphs of Isaiah 6, the four cherubim of Ezekiel 10, the four charioteers of Zechariah 6, and the four angels bound at the Euphrates in Revelation 9:14-16.
[ii] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 3.4.2.
[iii] Ibid., 6.9.3.
[vi] Isaiah 1:1-3. In these verses, the people of the earth are told to listen to the coming destruction of Israel. The Israelites are the intended audience here. Isaiah 24-27 describes the invasion of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar; and in several verses, earth is used to refer to Israel.
[vii] Compare this horseman with Jesus in Revelation 19:11-16. The four horsemen are also envisioned by Zechariah in Zechariah 1. In Zechariah 7:7-21 the Angel of the Lord who is well known in evangelical circles to be the preincarnate Christ speaks to Zechariah as one of the four horsemen.
[viii] David Chilton, The Great Tribulation, (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 69.
[viiia] Ibid., 70.
[viiib] Ibid., 71.
[ix] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 3.4.2. However, Wellesley lists potentially up to seven client rulers that united with Titus in A.D. 69. Wellesley, Year of the Four Emperors, 123-124. cited in Duncan W. McKenzie, Ph.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination Volume 2: The Book of Revelation (USA: Xulon Press, 2012), 237.
[ixa] Midrash Rabbah Lamentations 1.31; Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky eds., The Book of Legends Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, trans. William G. Braude (New York: Schocken Books, 1992), 191.
[ixb] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 327.
[ixc] Homer Hailey, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, (Las Vegas: Nevada Publications, 2007), 190.
[xa] Preterist scholar David Chilton notes that the four faces of the cherubim in Revelation 4:7 are the “middle signs of the four quarters of the Zodiac.” (David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Dallas, GA: Dominion Press, 2011), 158.)
[xi] This quote is taken from The New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition.
[xii] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 5.1.4.
[xiia] Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky eds., The Book of Legends Sefer Ha-Aggadah: Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, trans. William G. Braude (New York: Schocken Books, 1992), 190.
[xiib] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.3.3.
[xiic] Sulpitius Severus The Sacred History 2.30.
[xiii] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 5:13:6 cited in Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation: Four Views a Parallel Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 110, 112.
[xiv] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.7.2.
[xv] Ibid., 6.9.3.
[xvi] Ibid., 6.9.2.
[xvii] Jacques M. Chevalier, A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 270.
[xx] The strong wind mentioned here is mentioned again in the first few verses of the next chapter. This wind is the four destructive winds of heaven representing the spiritual army of Revelation 9:16. See Revelation 7: A Preterist Commentary.
[xxiv] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 7.1.1.
[xxv] Ibid., 4.9.7.
[xxva] Charles S. Meek, Christian Hope through Fulfilled Prophecy: Is Your Church Teaching Error about the Last Days and Second Coming?, (Spicewood, TX: Faith Facts Publishing, 2013), 123.
[xxvi] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 4.4.5.
[xxvia] Ibid., 4.4.5.
[xxvib] Midrash Rabbah Lamentations Proems 23.
[xxvii] Kenneth S. Guthrie, Gospel of Apollonius of Tyana: His Life and Deeds According to Philostratos (US: Kessinger Publishing’s, 1900), 70.
[xxix] Cassius Dio Roman History 65.8. “At the same time this happened, Vespasian who was engaged in warfare with the Jews, learned of the rebellion of Vitellius and of Otho and was deliberating what he should do.” (Ibid.) While Vespasian was in Israel, Nero died and Galba, Otho and Vitellius struggled against one another to claim the empty throne. Vespasian and many of his supporters were well acquainted with astral fatalism and would have seen this as a clear omen that Vespasian would soon become emperor. As stated earlier, first century Romans also believed that the sun represented the king; thus the weak sun in the west would seem to represent Vespasian’s western rivals: Vitellius and Otho. Furthermore, the fact that this sun, representing the current self-proclaimed Caesar, was in the west implies that it is about to set. When the sun sets it appears to descend into the earth. This was interpreted by many ancient people as a sign of the descent of a king or god into the underworld, the land of the dead. The bright sun in the east is Vespasian, the general of the Roman forces in Israel to the east. The falling star might be seen as the death of one of Vespasian’s rivals, perhaps Otho? This interpretation proved correct. Vitellius had been killed, and Vespasian soon became emperor in his place.
[xxx] Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.9.4, 7.2.1.
[xxxi] Arthur M. Ogden, The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets: Commentary on Revelation, (Pinson, AL: Ogden Publications, 2006), 206.
Commentary on Revelation 6: Conclusion
In the above commentary on Revelation 6, the seven seals were revealed and the names of the four horsemen of the apocalypse were shown to be Antiochus, Agrippa II, Sohemus and Malchus.[xxx]