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THE SECOND SEAL

 

When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword. Revelation 6:3–4

 

The red horse and its rider have been explained among other things as the pagan persecution against the early church. For certain, the picture presented here is a battle in which the rider with his great sword takes peace from the earth to such a degree that people kill one another.

We considered the white horse of the first seal to be the church under the leadership of its Head, the Glorified Christ. In this seal we see the church having changed from white to red and with another rider. It can be argued that THE church always remains true to Christ and this is another horse and not the same as the church. It is a fact that we do not actually see the white horse changing its color. However, with the seal being opened by the second living creature, which we know is the calf of chapter 5, we see the visible church in a state far different from its inception on the Day of Pentecost.

 

Opening the Second Seal

 

We learned that the calf represents the grace of commitment and in the letter to the church at Smyrna Jesus told the church “do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer,” Revelation 2:10. The church at Smyrna was to have tribulation for ten days. When we studied the letter to Smyrna we found that the figure ten days in Scripture represents the fact of testing. Jacob’s wages were changed ten times; the Israelites tested God ten times in the wilderness; Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the king’s food for ten days; etc.

So as this second seal opens we see the church receiving the grace of commitment to stay true to Christ as it enters a time of testing. The test is this: will it stay true to the Glorified Christ, its divinely appointed head, while someone else usurps its earthly leadership?

 

The Horse Changed Color

 

After John hears the voice of the second creature, he immediately sees there has been a change in the appearance of the horse. Its color had changed from white to red and John tells us the horse “went out”.

Most commentators I have read consider the red horse to symbolize the persecutions the early church faced. Adam Clarke briefly says this red horse is “The emblem of war; perhaps also of severe persecution, and the martyrdom of the saints.” In like manner, Albert Barnes writes: “There is no possibility of mistaking this, that a time of slaughter is denoted by this emblem.” Lillie McCutcheon, the Church of God writer, wrote that the rider was Pagan Rome and that “the sword to kill and the color of red are descriptive of the cruelty, murder, and bloodshed by pagan powers”.[1]

None of the commentators I have read ever mention the fact given right at the beginning of verse 4 that the horse “went out”. To me this is significant; otherwise John would not have mentioned it. The words “went out” are one unpronounceable Greek word that means to issue or to depart out. It is the same word as appears in verse 2 where Christ as the rider of the white horse, His church, “went out conquering and to conquer. In the context of these verses, went out signifies where one has gone forth to do something, and it is obvious that he has gone forth from his home, or at least from the place where he had been staying”.[2] The white horse went out conquering and to conquer, and now we see the red horse leaving that position to do something else.

The color red appears only 2 times in the Book of Revelation. Here in verse 4 were it is used to describe the red horse of the second seal, and Revelation 12:3 where it describes the great red dragon. Therefore we are safe in concluding that the red horse and the red dragon have something in common, although they are not the same thing in themselves. We will find in both of these texts that the color red is in some way associated with the Roman Empire.

Having seen the horse changed its color and that it went out from the position it had just held when it was a white horse, John has his attention turned to the one sitting on the horse. The rider is not described in any way; but it is evident that the rider is no longer the Glorified Christ. John sees that the church has left its conquering position and is now under the influence of another rider. This rider has two significant attributes that make him unlike the Glorified Christ: He takes peace from the earth that people should kill one another; and He was given a great sword. These evidences suggest who the rider is and why the church, the horse, has changed its color from white to red.

 

The Rider’s First Attribute

 

As long as the Glorified Christ was at the head of the church, there was peace as seen in Philippians 4:6–7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Christ appoints men and women to serve His church, and when they are led by the Holy Spirit and teach the truth there will be peace in the church. Problems come into the church when people step in without the unction of Christ and usurped the leadership out of the hands of Christ and the people He appoints. This happened at the church in Smyrna. A synagogue of Satan had developed in which some professed to be Jews that were not. We explored what is meant by Jews in this context and found it to mean genuinely converted and Spirit-filled people living holy lives. It was this synagogue of Satan that was the cause of the tribulation this church experienced, and it is a synagogue of Satan that turned the white horse of the Glorified Christ into the red horse that took away the peace of God from Christ’s church.

The Apostle Paul warned his spiritual son Timothy to be aware of certain men that had crept into the church spreading their influence through false teaching in  2 Timothy 2:16–18, “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”

Philip Schaff writes about Ante-Nicene Christianity, A.D 100 to 325: “For the first three centuries Christianity was placed in the most unfavorable circumstances, that it might display its moral power, and gain its victory over the world by spiritual weapons alone. Until the reign of Constantine it had not even a legal existence in the Roman Empire.”[3]

It was after the deaths of those who ministered after the original disciples of Christ that men began gradually to take the leadership of the church out of the hands of the Glorified Christ. First, it was men grabbing control of local churches without being placed by Christ. The humble word bishop, or shepherd, took on the nature of aristocracy. Then, bishops of larger cities began to exert influence and control over bishops of smaller cities. Shaff describes it this way:

 

The same propension to monarchical unity, which created out of the episcopate [office of bishop] a centre, first for each congregation, then for each diocese, pressed on towards a visible centre for the whole church. Primacy and episcopacy grew together. In the present period we already find the faint beginnings of the papacy.[4]

 

These men, referred to in church history as the Ante-Nicene Fathers, did much to disturb the peaceful faith of the church through the power they usurped and the influence of their teachings. We cannot go into details as to who and what, but suffice it to say that they succeeded in taking peace from the earth and causing that people should kill one another, not in the literal sense, but in dismantling the simple teachings of the gospel and substituting their ideas.

 

The Rider’s Second Attribute

 

The second attribute of this rider was that he was given a great sword. We that are familiar with the New Testament normally think of the sword as the word of God, and in a sense, this sword contained some of the word of God, but it was given the status of being a great sword—one that surpassed or displaced the gospel.

The infighting among the bishops across the Roman Empire had become so intense that Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, called a council in Nicea, Turkey, in 325 A.D. to resolve their differences and develop a creed that would satisfy them all. From this council, three things came out that would forever affect the nature of the visible church at large. First, a hierarchy of clergy was established fashioned after the Roman Senate. This determined who was the boss of whom. Second, Emperor Constantine proclaimed himself the head of the church, Pontifex Maximus, literally, the Great Bridge Builder. And, third, the Nicean Creed was developed and set as the standard for the theology of the church-at-large.

This was a great sword in that it was held to overrule any teaching of any minister of the church and to teach anything not affirmed by the Creed was heresy. The Creed itself is relatively harmless when properly understood, but it was used as a weapon in searching out those the church proclaimed to be heretics in the following centuries. Almost paradoxically, at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D., the NT cannon was officially codified as we have it today.

 

Conclusion

 

In the second seal we find the church turning away from the leadership of the Glorified Christ under the direction of men that should have known better. Under their influence the church turned to infighting to such a degree that the peace of God was taken away and the faith of many was overthrown. The Roman Emperor seized ultimate control of the church and forced the church to formulate a Creed that was to rule the church for centuries in spite of the word of God. As the clock of time moves its hands slowly through the centuries, we find the Glorified Christ opening the third seal and a horse of a different and more tragic color.

 



[1] The Symbols Speak, pg. 32.

[2] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament,  #1831,  pg. 223.

[3] Shaff,  History of the Christian Church,  Vol. 2, pg. 14.

[4] Ibid,  pg. 155.