Previously: Revelation 6, the pale horseman
So far, we have discussed the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which are not future to us at all! They have long been fulfilled by the events of the decline of the Roman Empire:
seal one: 96 to 180 ad, the white horse, or the five righteous emperors
seal two: 180 to 280 ad, the red horse, or one hundred years of violent civil war
seal three: 200 to 250 ad, the black horse, or economic collapse
seal four: 250 to 300 ad, the pale horse, or population decline by famine, disease, barbarian invasions, and wild animals (Christian persecution).
The fifth seal is different, as it is the first symbol without a horse. All of the horsemen symbols had to do with political and societal aspects of the Roman Empire; with this seal, we can expect a change from that emphasis.
Now when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been violently killed because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had given. They cried out with a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Master, holy and true, before you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” Each of them was given a long white robe and they were told to rest for a little longer, until the full number was reached of both their fellow servants and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been. Revelation 6:9-11
The fifth seal doesn’t even employ symbolism; it is a vision of those who have been martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. They ask the Lord God the key question: “How long until you judge the earth, O God?” That is the question that Revelation answers, by giving a picture of what must take place leading up to that day. The answer, by the way, is not yet: not yet from the vantage point of those fifth seal martyrs. The end of the historical event of the fifth seal is not the end of Christians, or Christian martyrs. More people were to come into the kingdom and become Christians (“the full number was reached of both their fellow servants”) and more people were to become Christian martyrs (“and their brothers who were going to be killed just as they had been.”)
Historicists place the fifth seal immediately following the events of the four horsemen, or from 303 to 313 ad, the time of the tenth, worst, and last official persecution of the Christians by the Roman state. The emperor was Diocletian, who had temporarily stalled the swift collapse of the Roman state, through military reforms and a systematic way of ensuring the succession to emperor. His intent in pursuing the persecution of the Christians was to eliminate them entirely, as most non-Christian Romans blamed them for the troubles of the last century. They believed the Christians committed the sins of atheism (because Christians denied the gods of paganism) and treason (Christians would not sacrifice to the emperor as a god), and those sins had brought the wrath of the gods on their heads.
To be continued …
Update: continued in Christian martyrs of the Roman Empire