Read: Revelation 6
Chapter 6 gets us into some of the really fantastic and dramatic imagery for which the book of the Revelation is so famous. At this point people often give up and say, “I can’t make sense of any of this.”
Don’t give up so quickly.
If there are details that you can’t cifer out, just let them lie, and try to get the gist of the larger picture. I’ll try to help.
The Lamb begins the unfastening of the seals that unlock the view of human history to which we will be treated.
Figures begin immediately jumping off of the pages. The four horsemen are first. The rider on the white horse is sent forth to conquer. Sometimes there is confusion as to whether he is a benevolent character or not. The confusion arises out of the fact that he rides a white horse. As we all know from t.v. westerns, the good guys always wear a white hat and ride a white horse. This time that formula is wrong. White is also the color that you would wear if you wanted to appear benevolent, though you’re not. The four horsemen–none of them–are your friend. The guy on the white horse is fascinating in that he is susceptible to being seen in a positive light. He goes forth to conquer. To conquer whom or what we are not told. I take him to be a crusader in the right and just cause…or at least so he sees himself and portrays himself. But is conquest, even in the just cause, the right method? The rider carries a bow; a weapon of violence. Can violence bring about good? Maybe violence can stay a great evil; but that is distinct from achieving a positive end.
After the white rider comes the red. There is nothing unclear or ambiguous about him. He brings war.
Next comes the black horse, a curious representation of economic injustice as described so wonderfully by folk-singer Woody Guthrie: “Some men will rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen.”
Fourth comes the pale-green horse. Death needs no further explanation.
All four horsemen are fearful apparitions, even if their menace is not immediately identifiable. That’s part of their menace.
The fifth seal unlocks not a subsequent scene to the horsemen, but one that is ‘in the meantime’; simply a different viewpoint. In other words, throughout the book of the Revelation the visions are typically not sequential. It’s not this and then, next, this. It’s more a matter of all of these things going on at the same time. It’s just a matter of where you focus your attention.
So, while the horsemen are riding around whooping it up, the saints who have had to endure a lot of this nonsense are shown in repose and praying for the correction of these travails.
The sixth seal brings us back into the action; although, again, it’s not that which follows after earlier scenes. It’s simply another perspective on the same. The kings, the nobles, the leaders, the wealthy and strong are shown cowering in caves. Unlike the saints who wait resolutely in prayer and repose, these guys are filled with a sense of dread and panic, which causes them to appear a little less formidable than the way that they would like to present themselves to us. Whether one responds with panic or repose is dependent upon wherein one’s confidence lies.
It should be noted that amongst the big-shots turned chicken are included ‘slaves’. Why are slaves lumped in with those who are on top of the world, and who, therefore, are so much more devastated by the reversals that they experience? What does a slave have to lose when things go wrong?
I think that we are meant to think of these slaves not simply as those who are bodily held captive in service of labor. I think we are meant to think of those who are enslaved in their manner of thinking. They have bought into the world-view of the master class. They are not on top themselves, but they still give legitimacy to the system in which they suffer. They validate the world not by possessing it, but by wanting it. The poor man, for example, by regarding himself as poor, in a way, validates the values of the rich man and of the system that they inhabit.
It may sound a little harsh to hold the slave accountable for his position. But I think the idea is that it is a worse injustice to deny him and everyone else responsibility for what they choose. You can’t pick your circumstances. But you are responsible for who you are and what you do with them. To deny you that responsibility would be to rob you of your dignity as a human being.