Vernon Howell was born in 1959 in Houston, Texas. He was born to a 15 year old single mom and never knew his father. Vernon?s grandparents took care of him while he was growing up, but the kids at school mocked and made fun of him. You know Vernon as David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, who died in a fiery inferno in Waco, Texas on April 19, 1993 along with 86 of his followers.
As a kid Vernon studied the Bible incessantly. By the time he was 12 he had memorized large sections of God?s Word. While Vernon found comfort in God?s Word he found no sense of belonging in the world. In his late night conversations with FBI agents, during the siege on Mt. Carmel, David Koresh described his childhood as lonely. He said the other kids teased him and called him “Vernie.” He was dyslexic, a bad student, and eventually dropped out of high school.
When he was 20, he turned to the Church of Seventh Day Adventists, his mother’s church. He was dismissed from the church for being a bad influence on the young people. Sometime during the next couple of years he went to Hollywood to try and become a rock star but he was never discovered. Instead, in 1981 he went to Waco, Texas where he joined the Branch Davidians, a religious sect which in 1935 had settled 10 miles outside of Waco. At one time, it had more than 1,400 members.
By 1990 David Koresh had become the leader of the Branch Davidians and legally changed his name, saying on the court document that the change was “for publicity and business purposes.” He said the switch arose from his belief that he was now head of the biblical House of David. (Koresh is a Hebrew transliteration of Cyrus, the name of the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel.) During the last few years of his leadership the Branch Davidians had started calling themselves, ?The Students of the Seven Seals,? referring to the seven seals of Revelation.
David Koresh believed that he was the one chosen by God to unlock the seven seals of Revelation. In an online article describing Koresh?s understanding of the first seal we read,
The first seal (Revelation 6:1-2) according to Koresh, is The Marriage of the Lamb. Koresh said the key to this seal is Psalm 45 and is the same event as Revelation 19. Koresh taught that this seal depicts the marriage of the Lamb to the Holy Spirit (“Eden to Eden,” Seven Seals Manuscript). He derived this concept from the teachings of his predecessors. Lois Roden taught that the woman in Revelation 12:1 was Eve and that she was created in the image of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the woman of Revelation 12:1 also represents the Holy Spirit (By His Spirit… “Behold Thy Mother,” p. 6). She further identified the Holy Spirit as the “bride” of Revelation 19 (Ibid., pp. 7-8). Victor Houteff, founder of the Davidians Seventh-Day Adventist Association, taught that the man on the white horse in Revelation 6:2 was Adam (Tract 15, pp. 39-41). Now Christ is the second Adam. This individual is then wedded to Eve (Revelation 19:7-11). The Marriage of the Lamb, then, is revealing that Koresh is obtaining unity with the Godhead. Those with him in Revelation 19:14 are also on white horses and also dressed in marriage garments. So, they must be about to obtain unity with the Godhead too. Thus the first seal, the marriage of the Lamb, reveals that those who believe that David Koresh is the Christ and accept the Seven Seals will obtain unity with the Godhead. (http://www.watchman.org/cults/seven.htm)
I share this story with you to set the tone for our study for today. You may be wondering, ?How can a man who spends so much time studying God?s Word be so wrong in his understanding?? That is a great question. There are really two answers to the question. First of all, we have to recognize the difference between biblical ?exegesis? and ?eisegesis.? Now, you are probably wondering what in the world I?m talking about. Let me explain these two terms to you. ?Exegesis? comes from a Greek word that means, ?to lead out.? It means to draw the original meaning out of the Scripture we are studying. For us to ?get out? of God?s Word what God intends to teach us we need to analyze the Scripture we are studying, examine the general historical and cultural context in which the Scripture was given, and look at the context of the Scripture. We need to ask the ?who, when, where, what, and why? questions of the Scripture.
Biblical eisegesis on the other hand takes a much more relaxed and subjective approach to the Scriptures. It leads us to ask of the Scriptures the question, ?what does this mean to me?? It allows the reader to read into the Scripture what we think about it without any regard for the historical context of the Scripture. Whereas ?exegesis? asks ?What did God intend when He inspired the writer to write this Scripture?? the ?eisegete? asks, ?How do I interpret this Scripture for my life?? Exegesis seeks to be objective in interpreting God?s Word while eisegesis allows the reader to be much more subjective. If we dismiss the hard work of exegesis and skip to eisegesis then we can get in big trouble. David Koresh failed to do his homework in exegeting the Scriptures and therefore his studies led him to wrong conclusions.
The second answer to the question of how someone who studies the Bible so much can be so wrong is isolation. We must not study the Bible in a vacuum and give no credence to those who have gone before us in their studies. Before we were ever born there were godly Bible students, geniuses like Augustine, Ignatius, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Zwingli, Edwards, Whitefield and others who have labored over the Scriptures to seek to give understanding to those they taught. There are also tremendous Bible scholars today who have spent their lifetimes studying the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures to see what God is saying. We need to listen, humbly listen, and pray about what they have discovered as we go to God?s Word. David Koresh studied Revelation in a vacuum and look where it led him.
I needed to say this to you because the Scripture we are studying today is very difficult. Anyone who says that it is not doesn?t fully understand the complexity of Revelation 6. Let?s take a look at our Scripture and then we will talk some more.
1 I 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!” 2 I 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. 3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then 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. 5 When 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. 6 Then 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 barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” 7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I 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. 9 When 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 had maintained. 10 They 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?” 11 Then 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. 12 I 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, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then 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. 16 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! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:1-17 NIV)
This past week I have read and reread this section of God?s Word so many times. I?ve read the notes of many wonderful Bible teachers as well. I?ve got to tell you that I wish the verdict was unanimous on the interpretation of Revelation 6, but it is not. There are different views held by the best Bible teachers we have to learn from and instead of ending up confused or frustrated by this, I am praying that you and I will be able to focus on the most essential component of this Scripture. I will share that foundational truth with you in a little while, but before I do let me share with you a wonderful insight offered by Robert Mounce in his commentary on Revelation. Dr. Mounce writes,
Reviewing the various interpretations assigned to the Four Horsemen tends to rob the contemporary reader of the dramatic nature of the vision itself. It is good to place oneself back in one of the seven churches and listen to the visions as they are being read. Instead of discussing the probable significance of each of the four colored horses those first listeners would undoubtedly have recoiled in terror as war, bloodshed, famine, and death galloped furiously across the stage of their imagination. Visions at best are to experienced rather than analyzed. Those who approach Revelation with a sympathetic imagination are most apt to understand its true meaning. (Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, p. 145-146.)
Reading Dr. Mounce?s suggestion that I go back and listen to Revelation 6 from the vantage point of those who sat in the pews at Laodicea, Smyrna, Ephesus and the other churches of Revelation has been so helpful to me this week. They were the original audience and we must begin our studies from their vantage point and then work from there. Dr. Bruce Waltke offers us a similar suggestion when he writes about the four views, the Preterist, Futurist, Idealist, and Historicist views of Revelation. Instead of aligning ourselves with one view exclusively, Dr. Waltke writes,
A combination of these views is probably closest to the truth. The imagery in Revelation is multifaceted and is in principle capable of multiple embodiments. Idealists maintain that general principles are expressed. If so, those principles had a particular relevance to the seven churches and their struggles in the first century. The principles also will come to climatic expression in the final crisis of the second coming (22:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Christians today are involved in the same spiritual warfare and so must apply the principles to themselves and this present time. Hence, many passages have at three applications: to the first century, to the final crisis and to whatever time period the readers happen to be living in. (Bruce Waltke, Introduction to Revelation, Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible)
To study this chapter we must begin with the original audience and work from there. Even by doing this there will be differences of opinion. We can see this from the opening verses of Revelation 6. Read along with me.
1 I 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!” 2 I 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 6:1-2 NIV)
The first seal is opened and John heard one of the four living creatures say, ?Come!? A white horse appeared and a nameless rider was on the horse holding a bow. He was given a crown. John tells us that ?He rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.? The number one question asked is, ?Who is the rider? Is the rider Jesus? Is the rider the antichrist? Is the rider a nameless force that goes out to conquer? Who is the rider?? That?s a great question and there are several different answers that Bible teachers have arrived at as a result of their studies. J. Michael Ramsay writes about the details of the scene.
If we recall the white stone promised to the angel of Pergamum (2:17) or the white garments mentioned in the letters to Sardis (3:4-5) and Laodicea (3:18), we might agree that the white horse was something ?sweet, and honorable, and sublime.? Reading the book for a second time, we would have this impression confirmed by recalling the figure on a white horse in 19:11-16, who bears such names as ?Faithful and True? (19:11) and ?the Word of God? (19:13). It is no surprise, therefore, that many have identified the rider on the white horse in chapter 6 either as Jesus himself or as the Christian message being proclaimed throughout the world. But the second, third, and fourth riders are bearers of judgment, not salvation and it is natural to wonder if the same is not true of the first. Because an antichrist figure is by definition a counterfeit of Jesus Christ, any characteristic that identifies this first rider as the one serves equally well to identify him as the other. The phrase as a conqueror bent on conquest (v. 2) could point to Christ (3:20; 5:5), but it could just as easily point to the antichrist, who also ?overpowers? or ?conquers? (11:7; 13:7). Although the term ?antichrist (1 John 2:18; 4:3; 2 John 7) never occurs in the book of Revelation, the idea is conspicuous in chapters 13-20. More broadly, the rider on the white horse could represent false prophets or false messiahs. Other interpretations are that he represents military conquest as a kind of abstraction or the dreaded Parthian empire beyond the eastern borders of Rome?s dominion. (J. Ramsay Michaels, Revelation, p.100-101.)
Do you see how it would be easy to get confused from studying this chapter of Revelation? Forget the whole chapter for a minute. Can you see how it would be easy to get confused by just studying the first two verses of Revelation 6? I would encourage you to listen to our study today, go home and study it for yourself, and then pray that the Lord will give you understanding about this important section of God?s Word. I have done this week and I want to share with you what I have learned.
Let?s take a look at each of the seals and what happens as each one is opened.
The Seven Seals
Seal Reference Description Possible Meanings
1.Rider on the 6:1-2 A rider on a white horse Some believe the rider
white horse . has a bow and a crown symbolizes the spread
and rides out as a of the Good News or that
conqueror bent on the rider is Jesus. Others
conquest. believe that this stands for
man?s lust for conquest.
2.Rider on the 6:3-4 A rider on a red horse This rider symbolizes
red horse. has a great sword and is coming warfare, even
permitted to take peace with great bloodshed.
from the earth so that
people will kill one another.
3.Rider on the 6:5-6 A rider on a black horse This rider symbolizes
black horse. has a pair of scales and famine and pestilence.
brings famine and
pestilence on the earth.
4.Rider on the 6:7-8 A rider on a pale horse is This rider is called Death,
pale horse. called Death and has and Hades (the Grave) is
Hades with him. his inseparable companion
Together they are given
power to kill a fourth of the
5.Souls of the 6:9-11 The souls of the martyrs The breaking of this seal
martyrs under who were killed for being announces God?s plan to
under the altar. faithful in their witness are judge those who
under the altar crying out for persecuted believers
vengeance for their blood.
6. Great earthquake 6:12-17 People on the earth face The wrath and power of
calamities: a huge earth- the Lamb are seen in the
quake and strange cataclysmic earthquakes
occurrences in the sky. and the supernatural
events in the sky.
7. Silence in heaven 8:1 When the last seal is opened The seventh seal either
there is complete silence in begins the next cycle of
heaven. judgments, or it signals
the end and Christ?s
The second, third, and fourth seals announce calamities that are unleashed upon the earth. The calamities consist of violence, a lack of peace, bloodshed, famine, death, plagues, wild beasts, and the like.
When we come to the opening of the fifth seal we hear from the ?souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained.? They ask the Lord, ?How long? How long until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood??
When the sixth seal is opened there is a horrible earthquake. The earthquake blacks out the sky, the stars in the sky fell to earth, and people of the earth are hiding in the rocks of the mountains. They are hiding from the Lord. The last verse of Revelation 6 says, ?For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?? Who can stand? If you and I were sitting in the pew at the 1st Church of Sardis on the Sunday morning when Revelation was read to the church for the first time then there is no doubt that we would be asking the same question, ?Who can stand??
Let me share a couple of important points with you that most all Bible teachers are in agreement about. Hopefully this will clear some things up for us. First of all, it is very evident that the vision of the ?Four Horsement? is rooted in Old Testament visions of Zechariah. The visions are not exactly the same, but there are many similarities. Turn with me to Zechariah 1:8-17 and let?s read together.
8During the night I had a vision?and there before me was a man riding a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses. 9I asked, ?What are these, my lord?? The angel who was talking with me answered, ?I will show you what they are.? 10Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, ?They are the ones the LORD has sent to go throughout the earth.? 11And they reported to the angel of the LORD, who was standing among the myrtle trees, ?We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole world at rest and in peace.? 12Then the angel of the LORD said, ?LORD Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?? 13So the LORD spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. 14Then the angel who was speaking to me said, ?Proclaim this word: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ?I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, 15but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they added to the calamity.? 16?Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ?I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,? declares the LORD Almighty. 17?Proclaim further: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ?My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the LORD will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.?? (Zechariah 1:8-17 NIV)
God?s people had been allowed to go back home after their long exile in Babylon. They were taken from Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and it wasn?t until Cyrus signed an edict allowing them to go home in 539 B.C. that the Jews were able to enter Jerusalem again. When they came back home they began working on rebuilding the Temple, but there was constant pressure from within and without.
Zechariah had another vision in chapter 8 that is helpful for us in trying to understand John?s vision in Revelation. Read along with me.
1I looked up again?and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains?mountains of bronze! 2The first chariot had red horses, the second black, 3the third white, and the fourth dappled?all of them powerful. 4I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ?What are these, my lord?? 5The angel answered me, ?These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. 6The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.? 7When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, ?Go throughout the earth!? So they went throughout the earth. 8Then he called to me, ?Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.? (Zechariah 6:1-8 NIV)
This section of Zechariah shows the heavenly war chariots moving into position to protect God?s people as they had returned from exile and were being threatened by other nations.
Now you may wonder what that has to do with Revelation? I would say everything! God?s people were vulnerable as they moved back home into a run-down Jerusalem. God?s chariots were sent forth to ensure their safety, to communicate to God?s people that they had not been forgotten by their God.
In Revelation, the Roman Empire was an unfriendly place for God?s people. We?ve seen from our study of Revelation 2-3 that there was persecution, economic hardships for those who would not compromise their faith, and even false teachers seeking to lure God?s people away. Revelation 6 tells us that more hard times, more difficult days are to come for God?s people, but they need not fear.
The onslaught of the Day of the Lord and the judgments upon the earth that begin in Revelation 6 continue to unfold until we get to Revelation 19 where we find the final battle take place. Who is victorious in the final battle? I?m so glad you asked! Take a look with me at Revelation 19:11-21.
11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ?He will rule them with an iron scepter.? He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. 17And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ?Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.? 19Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21 NIV)
When the battle begins the Little Lamb, the rider on the white horse is there. When the last battle front is conquered the Little Lamb, the rider on the white horse is still standing! He is victorious my friends!
I mentioned to you earlier that there is a second aspect of this Scripture that most Bible teachers agree upon. It is this: Each of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are sent out from God?He is the Sovereign King of history who has everything under control. These are not renegade calamities that come upon the earth, they galloping under orders from Almighty God. Will we face tough times? You better believe it, but you need not fear because He is the Victor! The battle has been won my friends! This is the truth that I told you we need to focus upon as we study this chapter of Revelation. If you are following the Little Lamb who was slain and raised to life again then you need not fear the days to come. We live in a world where so many are paralyzed by fear and I can understand why, but for the follower of Jesus there is no need to fear. He is our Conquering King! He is our victorious Warrior who has won and will win every battle you will ever face in life.
I want to ask you this morning one final question. Who are you following? Are you making it through life to the best of your ability or are you following Jesus? If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life then won?t you wave the white flag of surrender this morning and ask Him into your heart?