Revelation now moves into a description of what will be, from John’s visionary viewpoint in AD 90. The following chapters show a series of judgements, leading up to the return of Christ, from different perspectives. I don’t believe that they are a linear timeline, each of the passages ends with a final judgement and then a statement like “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake” – 8:5. The Returning King by Vern Poythress goes into more detail and the animated videos on the Bible Project are also very helpful.
The first four seals are four horsemen – conquest, slaughter, famine and death – common in the days of the Roman Empire; common now – as one writer put it, an average day in human history.
White horse of conquest
White symbolises purity, but also, in the 1st Century, victory. Conquests have happened throughout the last 20 centuries and will intensify in the final crisis leading up to the second coming.
Red horse of slaughter
Conquest usually includes war and slaughter, the red symbolising blood and judgement.
Black horse of famine
The third horse brings famine. An average labourer would earn a denarius, enough for a day’s wheat for bread. Barley, of less quality, was cheaper and eaten by the poor. Oil and wine in plenty show the partial nature of famine and how the rich often seem to be unaffected.
Pale horse of death
This symbolises terror and is the most terrible of the four so far. Calamities are intensifying but still not global, they are limited.
All these four categories echo those in Ezekiel 14:21; they grow in intensity leading towards the final judgement of the second coming.
The fifth seal is the cry of the martyrs. What will happen during the calamities? The partial answer is the cry of the martyred saints looking for justice. The earth is populated with the people of God and those in opposition to God. The cry goes out, waiting to be answered.
The sixth seal is the second coming of Christ – announced by an earthquake, as the very foundations of creation respond to Christ’s presence. The old earth is shaken, in preparation for the new creation that we will read about in Revelation 21-22.
Those outside Christ fear judgement, as a day of terror, thinking only of fleeing and hiding from God; while we, the saints, await with anticipation the ‘well done good and faithful servant’ and our inheritance on the new earth.
Revelation is an encouragement to keep pressing on in the faith awaiting the day when Jesus’ final victory comes.