Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Location: Ellis BS 2825.53.O73 2002
III. God in Majesty and Judgment (4:1-16:21) pp. 218-602.
- God’s Sovereignty in Judgment (4:1-11:19) pp. 219-450.
- “Opening the Seals (6:1-8:1)” pp. 269-338.
Osborne observes that the opening of the seals on the scroll, described in 6:1-8:1, may appear as the natural outcome of chapters 4-5, where the scroll is introduced. On the other hand, the central part of Revelation is structured around three events with highly symbolic items: seals, trumpets, and bowls. In other words, the structure of this portion of Revelation defies clear explanation (Osborne 2002, 269). Probably the most coherent way to understand them is tied to the fact that the seventh of each group ushers in the eschaton. They may, then, be parallel or gathered t ogether logically in some other manner. The themes, especially in the narrative of the seals, follow “the same pattern of judgment preceding the parousia that is seen in the eschatological discourse of Mark 13 and parallels” (Osborne 2002, 270). Yet Osborne is uncertain that actual literary dependence can be shown here. Osborne does find in the judgments that they are from God, as He responds to prayers for justice and as He shows His sovereign power. He never commands evil but simply allows the world to go its own way. Humans refuse to repent though God gives opportunity and calls them to repent. Meanwhile, the world is being dismantled at God’s hand (Osborne 2002, 271).
2. a. “First Six Seals (6:1-17)” pp. 272-300.
Osborne takes the reader to Revelation 6:1, where the process of opening the seals on God’s scroll will begin, under the care of the Lamb of God (Osborne 2002, 272). The first four seals allow humanity to spiral out of control, then the final three find saints calling to God for rescue.
In Revelation 6:1-8 there are four horsemen called out in turn, one wthe thre breaking of each of the first four seals of the scroll. Osborne ties this to the image of four chariots found in Zechariah 1:7-11 and 6:1-8 (Osborne 2002, 274). The horsemen progress through captivity, violence, famine, and finally death, which Osborne sees as a natural human progression. All come forth at a command from a living creature near God’s throne. In each case, the experience is very sensory, with seeing and hearing represented (Osborne 2002, 275).
The first horse, a while one, is ridden by someone who bears at least a slight resemblance to Christ. While some have suggested this as a Christ figure, Osborne thinks the antichrist fits the context better due to several elements in which he differs from other pictures of the Christ (Osborne 2002, 276). The rider is given a bow and rides out to conquer. Osborne notes his similarity to a Parthian warrior, the only military force the Romans generally feared (Osborne 2002, 277). In any case, he has a very human power to wage war and take people captive.
The second horseman, on a red horse, likely symbolizes bloody destruction. The horseman inflicts slaughter and bloodshed. Osborne notes again this is a perfectly normal activity among sinful humans and that the world is simply taking its natural course (Osborne 2002, 278).
The third horseman of Revelation 6 is on a black horse, “signifying the sorrow and mourning caused by the famine and suffering that follow war” (Osborne 2002, 279). The symbolism in verses 5-6 is closely related to famine and food rationing. Osborne notes that the prices mentioned for the food are extortionate, possibly ten to twelve times any reasonable price (Osborne 2002, 280). The rather cryptic comment about oil and wine may be related to a time during which Domitian advocated destruction of vineyards and olive trees so as to boost grain production (Osborne 2002, 281).
Revelation 6:7-8 brings out a “pale” horse. The adjective can refer to green a in grass, but here Osborne considers it to refer to a pale and sickly color, such as that of a corpse (Osborne 2002, 282). Here the rider is named “Death” and he has Hades following him. The suggestion is that this would be death caused by the plagues which follow warfare. Here we also have a death toll of sorts, with a fourth of the earth influenced by the combination of the four riders. Osborne again emphasizes that the judgments flow from the sinful world continuing in its sins. The center of the drama is the terror of a real collapse of the world.
The fifth seal in Revelation 6 is opened in verses 9-11. Here, the saints of God who have died for their faith, possibly in the opening of the first four seals, are given white robes (Osborne 2002, 281). The scene shifts from the earth, where the horsmen were, back to heaven, described as a temple. The vision is of “souls,” usually a term indicating whole people, under the altar, the place of sacrifice. Osborne notes that it is not clear whether the altar depicted here is the one of burnt offerings or the altar of incense (Osborne 2002, 285). Both may have applicability to this event. The saints in the vision had been killed in the manner of a sacrifice on account of their testimony about Jesus. They are crying out to God for justice, a prayer which some would find vindictive. Osborne finds it to be a reasonable plea, as their desire is that God would execute justice (Osborne 2002, 286). In response to the prayers, the saints are given white robes, symbolizing purity and salvation (Osborne 2002, 288). They are called to be patient, knowing that God will take care of all in his own time (Osborne 2002, 289). Osborne notes that Chrsitian martyrdom in the first century probably accounted for several hundreds, not thousands. Each is important to God, but he has not chosen to end the process (Osborne 2002, 290).
In Revelation 6, the breaking of the sixth seal, in verses 12-14, results in a cosmic shaking. Osborne considers here that the visions in Revelation act in a concentric manner, with the seals and the later trumpets and bowls recounting similar events which all come togther at the end of the sequence (Osborne 2002, 291).
When the sixth seal is broken there is a great storm also involving a shaking or an earthquake. This is a common element of apocalyptic writing. Here, along with earthly phenomena, the sun, moon, and stars are obscured, and many stars fall to the earth, a terrible catastrophe which signals divine judgment (Osborne 2002, 292). Finally, the mountains and islands, always important in the native religions, are removed (Osborne 2002, 293).
These cosmic signs result in a great terror among people who dwell on earth, recorded in Revelation 6:15-17 (Osborne 2002, 294). God’s judgment has come, which is utterly terrifying. Osborne compares a list of people groups in 6:15 to another in 19:18 and suggests they are the same people, those who have abused and plundered God’s people (Osborne 2002, 294). Those who have opposed God will rise up together against him and together will be defeated. Again, as in the breaking of the earlier seals, much of the destruction is a natural result of actions. For instance, in terror, people hide in caves in the mountains which are destroyed (Osborne 2002, 295). The irony is that death brings the people face to face with the God they were fleeing. Osborne notes an even greater irony as the people are terrified by two judges, the Father and the Lamb. This is especially odd, not only because a lamb is normally considered gentle, but also because a lamb was a typical sacrifice for sin. But here the lamb of God is full of deadly wrath (Osborne 2002, 296). Osborne, with others, observes that God’s love is poured out on those who accept and honor His promises. The wrath of God is nothing more than a corresponding rejection of those who reject God (Osborne 2002, 297).
With this the chapter ends. Six of the seven seals have been opened. We build anticipation as we wonder what the seventh seal will bring.