Verses 7, 8: The opening of the fourth seal shows us the scope of the antichrists empire. When the fourth creature gives the final command to come, the antichrist, with death and the grave in his wake, extends his empire to one-fourth of the earth. It is sobering to think of an empire that covers half of a hemisphere. The list of ways he will kill his opponents has logic to it. The sword is his military, famine is the starvation which results from his military assaults on cities and regions, pestilence is the contagious disease which spreads where there is an accumulation of dead bodies, or when water and food supplies are contaminated. After the carnage of war, wild beasts roam the battlefields and ruined cities feeding on dead bodies. Verse 9: The fifth seal reveals widespread martyrdom. Many will be killed because they had believed and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ (Word of God) and had fearlessly refused to deny Him as their Savior (the testimony which they had maintained). We should note here that John was a prisoner on the island of Patmos for the same two reasons (Rev 1:9)
Verse 9 (continued): Their position underneath the altar may mean their blood had been symbolically poured out at the base of heavens altar of sacrifice just as was done with the blood of sacrificial animals on the bronze altar in front of the Tabernacle (Ex 29:12; Lev 4:7). I doubt the altar to which John refers is the altar of sacrifice because the function of that altar was for the atonement of sins. The animal sacrifices made there prophetically looked forward to Jesus sacrifice on the cross and it would be quite inappropriate to suggest the blood of the martyrs had any atoning power. Instead, I think the altar John sees is the altar of incense (Ex 30:1-10). This small altar placed just outside the Holy of Holies was where incense was burned morning and evening as a symbol of prayer rising before God. These martyred believers are pictured as waiting beneath this altar with their prayers rising like incense before Him.
Verse 10: Just as Abels blood cried to the Lord from the ground (Ge 4:10) following his murder by his brother Cain, the souls of these believers who have been martyred cry out to God for justice on those who took their lives. Their cry for justice does not indicate that they are unforgiving. Some have charged that these souls should have forgiven their oppressors rather than called for Gods judgment, but this line of thinking loses sight of the fact that this is a prophetic vision. Whats crying out for justice is the injustice that has happened to them. And there will come a moment when Gods wrath will fall on those who persecute His people. In Romans 12:19, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35 saying, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Hopefully, persecutors will repent and be saved, but if not, then God promises the day will come when He will deal out brutal justice to those who brutalize His people (Ps 94:1-11; Is 35:4; Na 1:2-8). As more and more believers are martyred by the antichrist, their blood moves Gods heart to action (Lk 18:7, 8).
Revelation 6:10, 11
Verse 10 (continued): The phrase those who dwell upon the earth (also Rev 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14) is defined in 17:8 as those whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world... meaning those who love this world and have made it their home. By contrast, believers have become strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb 11:13) and are even now seated... with Him in the heavenly places... (Eph 2:6). Verse 11: The martyrdom of Christians begins early in the antichrists kingdom, but once he commits the abomination of desolation (Mt 24:15) ...there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. With these words, Jesus explains that a genocidal persecution will erupt which will wipe out all believers unless God miraculously steps in to protect them (Mt 24:22). The growing number of souls under the altar (v 9) calls for justice, but there are still a huge number of martyrs yet to die (Rev 7:9-17). In spite of the antichrists best effort, many people will turn to Christ knowing they will be executed for their faith. So God tells these early martyrs to wait patiently because many more have yet to be saved (2Pe 3:9).
Verses 12-17: When Jesus breaks the sixth seal, the first in a series of natural disasters takes place. Its important to note that at this seal, a significant change takes place. Each of the previous five seals had to do with hardships caused by the antichrist as he expanded his empire, but now God begins to oppose the antichrist. At the breaking of this seal, God goes on the offensive. He physically shakes the earth until people are hiding in caves terrified that the end of the world has come. As we will see, this is the beginning of a whole series of catastrophes by which God is warning the world the final judgment is fast approaching. And these catastrophes serve another purpose as well. They also effectively slow the antichrists persecution of believers.
Verses 12-17 (continued): This seal unleashes a series of natural disasters. The first is a great earthquake. This is not the only earthquake in the book of Revelation. Three more are recorded (Rev 8:5; 11:13; 16:18), with the last described as the worst in human history (16:18). But this is a massive earthquake. Were not told what causes it but when all the phenomena listed in these verses (12-17) are taken together there is one possible explanation that might result in the type of scene pictured here. Not only is there an earthquake but the earths atmosphere will also be severely polluted by smoke or dust or volcanic ash. In fact, the pollution will be so bad, the sun will only appear as a dark orb and the moon will be barely visible as a red object in the night sky. The prophets Isaiah (Isa 13:9, 10), Jeremiah (Jer 4:23-28) and Joel (Joel 2:30, 31) all saw this same polluted atmosphere and identified it as one of the judgments of God in the last days. Verse 13: The cause of this great earthquake may well be found here in this verse. It says, The stars of the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree casts its unripe figs... Again we cant be certain of the precise phenomena to which this refers, but it would accurately describe an asteroid or asteroid shower coming into the earths atmosphere. It would look like the stars were falling to earth. The impact of a sizeable asteroid or comet would produce a huge earthquake and throw tons of debris into the air. And it might well trigger volcanic eruptions which would further darken the sky with great columns of smoke and ash.
Verse 14: The blue sky and clouds that we see in the daytime and the stars we see at night will disappear in that murky atmosphere. It will seem like the sky has been rolled up like a great scroll and set aside. The earthquake itself will be so strong, the shapes of mountain ranges will change and islands will be reshaped or submerged. Verses 15, 16: You can imagine the terror that will grip the human race at the anticipation of objects from space hitting the earth. Whoever can will seek shelter. Kings, presidents, military commanders and the wealthy will retreat to high security bunkers, but everyone else will hide in nearby mountains or even in the shadow of large rocks. Verses 16, 17: By this point in time, unbelievers will recognize that its God who is bringing this calamity upon them. They will understand that these events mean they will soon face God and be judged for their sins. And as we will soon see, many people will turn to Christ.