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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 6 - Verse 4

Verse 4. And there went out another horse. In this symbol there were, as in the others, several particulars which it is proper to explain in order that we may be able to understand its application. The particular things in the symbol are the following:

(a) The horse. See Barnes "Re 6:2".

 

(b) The colour of the horse: another horse that was red. This symbol cannot be mistaken. As the white horse denoted prosperity, triumph, and happiness, so this would denote carnage, discord, bloodshed. This is clear, not only from the nature of the emblem, but from the explanation immediately added: "And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another," On the colour, compare Bochart, Hieroz. P. i. lib. ii. c. vii. p. 104. See also Zec 1:8. There is no possibility of mistaking this, that a time of slaughter is denoted by this emblem.

(c) The power given to him that sat on the horse: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. This would seem to indicate that the condition immediately preceding this was a condition of tranquillity, and that this was now disturbed by some cause producing discord and bloodshed. This idea is confirmed by the original words—thn eirhnhn —"the peace;" that is, the previously existing peace. When peace in general is referred to, the word is used without the article: Mt 10:34, "Think not that I came to send peace—balein eirhnhn the earth." Compare Lu 1:79; 2:14; 19:38; Mr 5:34; Joh 14:27; 16:33

Ac 7:26; 9:31, et al. in the Greek. In these cases, the word peace is without the article. The characteristics of the period referred to by this, are

(a) that peace and tranquillity existed before;

(b) that such peace and tranquillity were now taken away, and were succeeded by confusion and bloodshed; and

(c) that the particular form of that confusion was civil discord, producing mutual slaughter: "that they should kill one another."

(d) The presentation of a sword: and there was given unto him a great sword. As an emblem of what he was to do, or of the period that was referred to by the opening of the seal. The sword is an emblem of war, of slaughter, of authority, (Ro 13:4) and is here used as signifying that that period would be characterized by carnage. Compare Isa 34:5 Re 19:17-18; Le 26:25; Ge 27:40; Mt 10:34; 26:52.

It is not said by whom the sword was presented, but the fact is merely referred to, that the rider was presented with a sword as a symbol of what would occur.

In inquiring now into the period referred to by this symbol, we naturally look to that which immediately succeeded the one which was represented by the opening of the first seal; that is, the period which followed the accession of Commodus, A.D. 180. We shall find, in the events which succeeded his accession to the empire, a state of things which remarkably accords with the account given by John in this emblem—so much so, that if it were supposed that the book was written after these events had occurred, and that John had designed to represent them by this symbol, he could not have selected a more appropriate emblem. The only authority which it is necessary to refer to here is Mr. Gibbon; who, as before remarked, seems to have been raised up by a special Providence to make a record of those events which were referred to by some of the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible. As he had the highest qualifications for an historian, his statements may be relied on as accurate; and as he had no belief in the inspiration of the prophetic records, his testimony will not be charged with partiality in their favour. The following particulars, therefore, will furnish a full illustration of the opening of the second seal:

(a) The previous state of peace. This is implied in the expression, "and power was given to him to take peace from the earth." Of this we have had a full confirmation in the peaceful reign of Hadrian and the Antonines. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the accession of Commodus to the imperial throne, says that he "had nothing to wish, and everything to enjoy. The beloved son of Marcus [Commodus] succeeded his father amidst the acclamations of the senate and armies; and when he ascended the throne, the happy youth saw around him neither competitor to remove, nor enemies to punish. In this calm elevated station, it was surely natural that he should prefer the love of mankind to their detestation; the mild glories of his five predecessors to the ignominious fate of Nero and Domitian," i. 51. So again, on the same page, he says of Commodus, "His graceful person, popular address, and undisputed virtues, attracted the public favour; the honourable peace which he had recently granted to the barbarians diffused an universal joy." No one can doubt that the accession of Commodus was preceded by a remarkable prevalence of peace and prosperity.

(b) Civil war and bloodshed: to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. Of the applicability of this to the time supposed to be represented by this seal, we have the fullest confirmation in the series of civil wars commencing with the assassination of the emperor Commodus, A.D. 193, and continued with scarcely any intervals of intermission for eighty or ninety years. So Sismondi, on the fall of the Roman empire, (i. 36,) says, "With Commodus' death commenced the third and most calamitous period. It lasted ninety-two years, from 193 to 284. During that time, thirty-two emperors, and twenty-seven pretenders to the empire, alternately hurried each other from the throne, by incessant civil warfare. Ninety-two years of almost incessant civil warfare taught the world on what a frail foundation the virtue of the Antonines had reared the felicity of the empire." The full history of this period may be seen in Gibbon, i. pp. 50—197. Of course, it is impossible in these Notes to present anything like a complete account of the characteristics of those times. Yet the briefest summary may well show the general condition of the Roman empire then, and the propriety of representing it by the symbol of a red horse, as a period when peace would be taken from the earth, and when men would kill one another. Commodus himself is represented by Mr. Gibbon in the following words: "Commodus was not, as he has been represented, a tiger borne with an insatiate thirst of human blood, and capable, from his infancy, of the most inhuman actions. Nature had formed him of a weak rather than a wicked disposition. His simplicity and timidity rendered him the slave of his attendants, who gradually corrupted his mind. His cruelty, which at first obeyed the dictates of others, degenerated into habit, and at length became the ruling passion of his soul," i. 51. During the first three years of his reign, "his hands were yet unstained with blood," (ibid.,) but he soon degenerated into a most severe and bloody tyrant, and "when Commodus had once tasted human blood, he was incapable of pity or remorse," i. 52. "The tyrant's rage," says Mr. Gibbon, (i. 62,) "after having shed the noblest blood of the senate, at length recoiled on the principal instrument of his cruelty. While Commodus was immersed in blood and luxury he devolved the detail of public business on Perennis, a servile and ambitious minister, who had obtained his post by the murder of his predecessors," etc. "Every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct in the mind of Commodus," i. 55. After detailing the history of his crimes, his follies, and his cruelties, Mr. Gibbon remarks of him: "His cruelty proved at last fatal to himself. He had shed with impunity the best blood of Rome: he perished as soon as he was dreaded by his own domestics. Marcia, his favourite concubine, Eclectus, his chamberlain, and Laetus, his pretorian prefect, alarmed by the fate of their companions and predecessors, resolved to prevent the destruction which every hour hung over their heads, either from the mad caprice of the tyrant, or the sudden indignation of the people. Marcia seized the occasion of presenting a draught of wine to her lover, after he had fatigued himself with hunting some wild beasts. Commodus retired to sleep; but while he was labouring with the effects of poison and drunkenness, a robust youth, by profession a wrestler, entered his chamber, and strangled him without resistance," i. 57. The immediate consequence of the assassination of Commodus was the elevation of Pertinax to the throne, and his murder eighty-six days after.—Decline and Fall, i. 60. Then followed the public setting-up of the empire to sale by the pretorian guards, and its purchase by a wealthy Roman senator, Didius Julianus, or Julian, who, "on the throne of the world, found himself without a friend and without an adherent," i. 63. "The streets and public places in Rome resounded with clamours and imprecations." "The public discontent was soon diffused from the centre to the frontiers of the empire," i. 63. In the midst of this universal indignation, Septimius Severus, who then commanded the army in the neighbourhood of the Danube, resolved to avenge the death of Pertinax, and to seize upon the imperial crown. He marched to Rome, overcame the feeble Julian, and placed himself on the throne. Julian, after having reigned sixty-six days, was beheaded in a private apartment of the baths of the palace, i. 67. "In less than four years, Severus subdued the riches of the East, and the valour of the West. He vanquished two competitors of reputation and ability, and defeated numerous armies provided with weapons and discipline equal to his own," i. 68. Mr. Gibbon then enters into a detail of "the two civil wars against Niger and Albinus"—rival competitors for the empire, (i. 68-70,) both of whom were vanquished, and both of whom were put to death "in their flight from the field of battle." Yet he says, "Although the wounds of civil war were apparently healed, its mortal poison still lurked in the vitals of the constitution," i. 71. After the death of Severus, then follows an account of the contentions between his sons, Geta and Caracalla, and of the death of the former by the instigation of the latter, (i. 77;) then of the remorse of Caracalla, in which it is said that "his disordered fancy often beheld the angry forms of his father and his brother rising into life to threaten and upbraid him," (i. 77;) then of the cruelties which Caracalla inflicted on the friends of Geta, in which "it was computed that, under the vague appellation of the friends of Get, above twenty thousand persons of both sexes suffered death," (i. 78;) then of the departure of Caracalla from the capital, and his cruelties in other parts of the empire, concerning which Mr. Gibbon remarks, (i. 78, 79;) that "Caracalla was the common enemy of mankind. Every province was by turns the scene of his rapine and cruelty. In the midst of peace and repose, upon the slightest provocation, he issued his commands at Alexandria in Egypt for a general massacre. From a secure post in the temple of Serapis, he viewed and directed the slaughter of many thousand citizens, as well as strangers, without distinguishing either the number or the crime of the sufferers," etc. Then follows the account of the assassination of Caracalla, (i. 80;) then, and in consequence of that, of the civil war which crushed Macrinus, and raised Elagabalus to the throne, (i. 83;) then of the life and follies of that wretched voluptuary, and of his massacre by the pretorian guards, (i. 86;) then, after an interval of thirteen years, of the murder of his successor, the second Severus, on the Rhine; then of the civil wars excited against his murderer and successor, Maximin, in which the two emperors of a day—the Gordians, father and son—perished in Africa, and Maximin himself, and his son, in the siege of Aquileia; then of the murder at Rome of the two joint emperors, Maximus and Balbinus; and quickly after that an account of the murder of their successor in the empire, the third and youngest Gordian, on the banks of the river Aboras; then of the slaughter of the next emperor Philip, together with his son and associate in the empire, in the battle near Verona:—and this state of things may be said to have continued until the accession of Diocletian to the empire, A. D. 284. See Decline and Fall, i. 110-197. Does any portion of the history of the world present a similar period of connected history that would be so striking a fulfilment of the symbols used here of "peace being taken from the earth," and "men killing one another?" In regard to this whole period it is sufficient, after reading Mr. Gibbon's account, to ask two questions:

(1.) If it were supposed that John lived after this period, and designed to represent this by an expressive symbol, could he have found one that would have characterized it better than this does?

(2.) And if it should be supposed that Mr. Gibbon designed to write a commentary on this "seal," and to show the exact fulfilment of the symbol, could he have selected a better portion of history to do it, or could he have better described facts that would be a complete fulfilment? It is only necessary to observe further,

(c) that this is a marked and definite period. It has such a beginning, and such a continuance and ending, as to show that this symbol was applicable to this as a period of the world. For it was not only preceded by a state of peace, as is supposed in the symbol, but no one can deny that the condition of things in the empire, from Commodus onward through many years, was such as to be appropriately designated by the symbol here used.

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