1. The first seal judgment (Revelation 6:1-2).
6:1 THEN I saw as the Lamb broke open one of the seven seals, and as if in a voice of thunder I heard one of the four living creatures call out, Come!
2 And I looked, and saw there a white horse whose rider carried a bow. And a crown was given him, and he rode forth conquering and to conquer. [Psalms 45:4,5; Zechariah 1:8; 6:1-3.] AMP
The opening of the first seal revealed to John a white horse ridden by one who went forth conquering. In interpreting the Revelation, always begin with what is the clearest. Here, it is quite obvious that the opening months of the Tribulation will see nations conquered by the rider on the horse. Some think this rider is the man of sin, the head of the Western coalition of nations. His method of conquest, however, we would call "cold" war. Clearly, this description coincides exactly with the picture of the beginning of the Tribulation given in 1 Thessalonians 5:3-it will be a day when men are talking about peace and safety.
1 Thessalonians 5:3
3 When people are saying, All is well and secure, and, There is peace and safety, then in a moment unforeseen destruction (ruin and death) will come upon them as suddenly as labor pains come upon a woman with child; and they shall by no means escape, for there will be no escape. AMP
This may indicate that we are living in the days immediately preceding the Tribulation - but, on the other hand, there is nothing in the Word of God that would indicate that there could not be another world war in this present age, then another time of peace before the Lord comes. Other evangelical scholars agree that the first rider simply represents the spirit of conquest - an attitude that has characterized the nations throughout human history. Doubtless this spirit will be intensified as the end approaches.
2. The second seal judgment (Revelation 6:3-4).
3 And when He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, Come!
4 And another horse came out, flaming red. And its rider was empowered to take the peace from the earth, so that men slaughtered one another; and he was given a huge sword. AMP
In the judgment of the second seal, peace will be removed from the earth and men will war with each other. The phrase, "a great sword was given him," confirms this interpretation. The red color of the second horse suggests bloodshed. War has always followed the spirit of conquest.
3. The third seal judgment (Revelation 6:5-6).
5 When He broke open the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, Come and look ! And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and in his hand the rider had a pair of scales (a balance).
6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice from the midst of the four living creatures, saying, A quart of wheat for a denarius [a whole day's wages], and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm the oil and the wine! [2 Kings 6:25.] AMP
The third judgment (still probably in the first year of the Tribulation) brings famine to the world. A black horse pictures this event, and the pair of scales carried by his rider bespeaks a careful rationing of food. The Roman denarius (v. 6) was a day's wages in Palestine in Jesus' day (Matthew 20:2).
2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. AMP
Normally it would buy ten quarts of wheat or thirty of barley. Under the famine conditions of these coming days, a day's wage will buy only one measure of wheat or three of barley - one tenth the normal supply of food. However, there is an ironic twist to this famine. Oil and wine, the very things a majority of people cannot afford, will not be in short supply. The scarcity of basic foods and the availability of luxury items will taunt the common people in their impoverished state.
4. The fourth seal judgment (Revelation 6:7-8).
7 When the Lamb broke open the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living creature call out, Come!
8 So I looked, and behold, an ashy pale horse [black and blue as if made so by bruising], and its rider's name was Death, and Hades (the realm of the dead) followed him closely. And they were given authority and power over a fourth part of the earth to kill with the sword and with famine and with plague (pestilence, disease) and with wild beasts of the earth. [Ezekiel 5:12; Hosea 13:14.] AMP
This horse will be, literally, a yellowish green. He is the only horseman who is named, and he is called Death. Death, of course, claims the physical part of man, and it is accompanied by Hades, the place of the dead (v. 8), which claims the immaterial part. The effect of this judgment will be devastating - one fourth of earth's population will be killed by the sword (war), by hunger (the famine that often accompanies war), by death (perhaps by the plagues and diseases that follow war), and by wild beasts of the earth, which apparently will be unrestrained at this time and will roam about freely, killing men. Man's cleverly devised schemes for bringing in peace, plenty, and longevity will be overturned in the short space of time this judgment will take.
5. The fifth seal judgment (Revelation 6:9-11).
9 When the Lamb broke open the fifth seal, I saw at the foot of the altar the souls of those whose lives had been sacrificed for [adhering to] the Word of God and for the testimony they had borne.
10 They cried in a loud voice, O [Sovereign] Lord, holy and true, how long now before You will sit in judgment and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on the earth? [Genesis 4:10; Psalms 79:5; Zechariah 1:12.]
11 Then they were each given a long and flowing and festive white robe and told to rest and wait patiently a little while longer, until the number should be complete of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed as they themselves had been. AMP
Though the action of the fifth seal is in heaven, it presupposes that certain events have happened on earth. The group of martyrs in heaven (v. 9) implies that these people have already been killed on earth, early in the Tribulation. These people will be witnessing for Christ early in the Tribulation. They will be slain because of their testimony.
6. The sixth seal judgment (Revelation 6:12-17).
12 When He [the Lamb] broke open the sixth seal, I looked, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun grew black as sackcloth of hair, [the full disc of] the moon became like blood. [Joel 2:10,31.]
13 And the stars of the sky dropped to the earth like a fig tree shedding its unripe fruit out of season when shaken by a strong wind. [Isaiah 34:4.]
14 And the sky rolled up like a scroll and vanished, and every mountain and island was dislodged from its place.
15 Then the kings of the earth and their noblemen and their magnates and their military chiefs and the wealthy and the strong and [everyone, whether] slave or free hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, [Isaiah 2:10.]
16 And they called to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on (before) us and hide us from the face of Him Who sits on the throne and from the deep-seated indignation and wrath of the Lamb. [Isaiah 2:19-21; Hosea 10:8.]
17 For the great day of His wrath (vengeance, retribution, indignation) has come, and who is able to stand before it? [Joel 2:11; Malachi 3:2.] AMP
This judgment unleashes universal havoc on the earth. It will include six catastrophic events: (1) A single great earthquake will take place. (2) The sun will be darkened so that it becomes black as sackcloth. The text does not say that the sun will be turned into sackcloth, but that it will be blackened as sackcloth. (3) The moon will become as red as blood. (4) There will be a meteor shower, with all the natural devastating consequences that follow. (5) Apparently heaven will be opened for a moment so that the men on earth can have a glimpse of that awesome scene, with God on His throne. (6) Every mountain and island will be moved.
These judgments will produce terror in the hearts of all living men. Their hearts will be filled with fear - not primarily because of the physical disturbances or the awful wars and pestilences, but because they will see God on His throne. Men will plead to be hidden "from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (v. 16). They will go to any length to avoid facing their Creator and Judge, even to seeking death under the rocks and mountains in which they will try to hide. All classes of people (v. 15) will be affected. As has been true throughout history, there will be no general or mass turning to God in repentance, but only a turning from God's face.
These will be the first judgments of the Tribulation. But these will be only the beginning - the worst is yet to come.