|Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)|
I've been reading The Book of Revelation: Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass by G. Erik Brandt. (I am reading the Kindle edition, but it is also available in hardback). So I thought I would offer a summary and commentary of some portion of both Brandt's book and the Revelation of John.
Those of you that have read Revelation know that John was given a vision of "things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1) and "things which must be hereafter." (Rev. 4:1). The first portion of the Revelation is actually instruction to John as to specific guidance to the seven churches, discussing particular challenges facing each of the churches, and words of praise or criticism depending on how each congregation had handled its challenges. These particular congregations were chosen probably not only because they exemplified the challenges facing all congregations, but also because they were along the same mail route, allowing a messenger to deliver the letters while circumscribing a route that would allow the messenger to return to John. Although Brandt spends considerable space in his book discussing the letters, I do not so intend. Rather, I would merely point out that through these letters, we see examples of how faith, without good works, is insufficient to bring salvation, but becomes dead in the hearts and minds. Good works are how we feed and nourish our faith. They are also warnings of not allowing our congregations to become tainted with worldly or popular teachings or practices.
Instead, I want to focus on the remainder of John's vision.
Although Revelations is mostly about things to come, the vision is not all in the future--there are several instances where John is shown things in the past to provide context and understanding to what follows. Chapters 4 and 5 of Revelations sees John being taken before the throne of God, and describing what he sees there. From the context, we know that the events describes were from the pre-existence because the sacrifice of the Messiah was already well documented prior to Christ's birth and, therefore, before John's vision.
Among the things John witnesses is a "a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals." (Rev. 5:1). As Brandt notes, "[t]he seal or stamp is an official symbol of authenticity. Anciently, royalty and government officials sealed their documents to prove their origin and ownership. ... The seals carried the mark of the owner, who guaranteed its subject matter and was responsible for carrying out its contents." We know from modern revelation that the book contains "the revealed will, mysteries, and works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence." (D&C 77:6). In other words, as Brandt describes it, "a detailed account of the Father's foreordained plans, works, and ministrations for His children in the second estate"; that is, our mortal time on the Earth. "The length and breadth of mortality was sealed in a book. There it would remain untouched until one who was worthy and capable to open the [book] was found, one who could execute the contents therein." As Chapter 5 of Revelation continues, it is clear that there is only one man fit or worthy to open the seals: "a Lamb as it had been slain," Christ our redeemer. (Rev. 5:5-6).
Beginning in Chapter 6 of Revelation, Christ begins to open the seals of the book. Each of the seals represents a particular epoch of time, each of which is approximately 1,000 years in length. (D&C 77:7). With each of the openings, particular judgments come upon mankind. There is a natural division in John's Revelation because, from his perspective in the meridian of time, four of the seals had already been opened. These periods are, accordingly, only briefly described, while John spends much more time on the opening of the subsequent seals--particularly, the Seventh.
The first four seals are represented by peculiar horsemen, popularly (although erroneously) known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. John describes what he sees upon the opening of the first seal: "And I saw, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given until him; and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." (Rev. 5:2). As Brandt explains, the white horse represents purity; the "crown" is the the Greek word stephanos, meanings a "wreath" or "garland" awarded to the champion of the public games; while the bow represents might of arms. In short, a virtuous warrior that triumphed over the wicked. The most reasonable candidate for this is the ancient prophet Enoch.
The biblical information concern Enoch is scanty. We know he was the father of Methuselah. (Gen. 5:21). Also, that he "walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." (Gen. 5:24). And Jude cites to a prophecy of Enoch (from records that are apparently no longer extant), about the Lord executing judgment upon the wicked and the sinners. (Jude 1:14-15). However, we also know from The Pearl of Great Price that Enoch became the prophet and patriarch of a righteous people, whom he successfully defended against a great confederation of the wicked, causing the wicked to flee the land, and the Giants to dare not approach. (see Moses, Chapter 7). We also know that it was not just Enoch that was taken by God (i.e., translated), but the whole city of Zion over which he ruled. The return of this City of Zion will be one of the key events of the end times.
When the second seal was opened, John saw "another horse that was red; and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace form the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." (Rev. 6:4). The color red represents blood, and connotes death by bloodshed. According to Brandt, the phrase "kill one another" is from the Greek "sfacousin," which "suggests that there was murder rooted in reciprocity both by civil anarchy as well as wars between nations." Brandt suggests that the rider of the red horse was the fallen Lucifer, "whose angry spirit entered into the hearts of men to stir up violence and terrible wars among the people." (See, Moses 7:26) ("And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.") As we know from the scriptures, during this period of the second seal that "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5). And, "they are without affection, and they hate their own blood." (Moses 7:33). The consequence is that God released the Great Flood.
Upon the opening of the third seal, John saw "a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine." (Rev. 5-6). Brandt explains:
... Black often symbolizes famine, pestilence, and the misery and death that commonly accompany these conditions. Balances were the principal tool used for weighing and measuring food and precious metals. In times of famine they provided a precise method for the apportioning of goods and food.
The dark horse and rider signified that the main theme of the third thousand years was drought and famine that scourged earth's inhabitants. People during that period also experienced times of plenty and prosperity, but the scriptures record several accounts of entire regions struggling for their very existence in drought and plagues (Abr. 1:29-30; Gen. 26:1, 41:30, 47:13; 1 Kgs. 18:2).Of course, the "penny" is in reference to the denarius, which represented a common laborer's daily wage, and the "measure" is in reference to the amount of grain to feed a single person per day. Thus, the implication is that a workman would barely be able to feed himself.
As Brandt points out, there were significant droughts and famines that drove Abraham out of Ur, and, subsequently forced Abraham to travel to Egypt. And, of course, we are familiar with the 7 years of drought and famine for which Joseph prepared Egypt. (This was likely how the Hyksos in Lower Egypt came to dominate Upper Egypt). And there is also the climate stressors that are believed to have led to the collapse of the great Bronze Age civilizations around the Mediterranean. Brandt also includes the drought during the time of Elijah (c. 9th century B.C.) as part of these same conditions. (See, 1 Kgs. 17:9-17). The raids of the "Sea Peoples" during this time, and the trade with Western Europe, including the British Isles, suggests that similar disasters were striking Northern and Western Europe, and driving population shifts. We also must not forget that the time of the opening of the third seal would have been at the time the Indus Valley civilization collapsed (c. 2000 B.C.), possibly from disease, as described in David Clark's book, Germs, Genes & Civilization.
The commandment to "see thou hurt not the oil and the wine" likely has reference to the preservation of Israel, which has been likened to an olive tree (the source of oil) (see, e.g., Rom. 11:17; Jacob 5:3-46) or grape vine (the source of wine). (See, e.g., Ps. 80:8; Isa. 5:2; Jer. 2:21; John 15:5).
Upon the opening of the fourth seal, John saw "a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." (Rev. 6:8). Brandt writes:
John uses the Greek chloros ..., meaning a yellow-green color often associated with sickness, misery, and death, as the color of a corpse. The period between b.c. 1,000 and the meridian of time is replete with the campaigns of conquering armies and the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires. During this period, death and misery spread across the whole communities, nations, and even regions. The pale horse depicts a time when the whole region was conquered and dominated by powerful kingdoms, which exercised brute force to gain dominion over lands, riches, and peoples.As noted above, the great Bronze Age civilizations collapsed (or, in the case of Egypt, went into permanent decline) around 1200 B.C. Had Israel obeyed the command of the Lord to enter into Canaan, they may have been able to stay the collapse and decline--at least in the Levant--and alleviated much of the suffering of the period. However, because of their lack of faith, Israel was left to wonder the wastes for 40 years, by which time any government greater than a village or city was non-existent.
In any event, the period of the fourth seal opens about the time of Israel's campaigns into Canaan, and the eventual (albeit, brief) founding of David and Solomon's empire. However, the real emphasis should be on the great empires of the age as is the focus of the visions in Daniel: i.e., the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, succeeded in the Levant by the Persian Empire, which was overthrown by Alexander, and, finally the ascendance of the Roman Empire. (See, Dan. 2:36-40; Dan. 7:3-8). The Roman Empire, at its primacy, "encompassed almost a quarter of the earth's habitable surface and also an estimated quarter of its population," thus fulfilling what was shown John. (Rev. 6:8).
It should also be remembered that Northern and Western Europe would have seen the flowering of the great Celtic kingdoms that so terrorized the early Roman Republic (until finally defeated by Julius Caesar), as well as the rise of the Han dynasty in China (c. 202 B.C.). Brandt notes that, in the Western Hemisphere, this time period also saw the destruction of the Jaredites, with their war of total extermination.
It should be noted that these empires each arose because of the wickedness of the peoples that preceded them, and then were succeeded when their iniquity became ripe. (See, e.g., Jonah 3:2-5 (where it was warned that the Assyrians would be overthrown unless they repented; Isaiah 10:5-6 (noting that Assyria were used as an instrument to punish the wicked Northern Kingdom of Israel); Nahum 3:1 and 4 (describing the wickedness of the people of Nineveh--the capital of the Assyrian Empire), Jer. 27:11-12 (explaining that the Babylonian conquest of Judah was because of the wickedness of the Israelites); Isa. 13:14-19 (prophesying the fall of Babylon to the Persians because of Babylons wickedness); Dan. 5:18-31 (the destruction of Babylon by Darius)).
As Brandt observes:
The natural consequence of the many military conflicts during this thousand year period was death. Millions fell by the sword, famines, sickness and disease, and other plagues tormented the populations. Wild beasts roamed the battlefields and cities, devouring the flesh of mangled bodies. And death for many was followed closely by hell.In short, each of these empires "brought death followed by the punishment of hell to those who were unprepared to meet God." But, these Empires also laid the foundation for Christ's mission and subsequent spread of the early Church.