This is a new, literal translation and commentary of Revelation 6. This chapter unfolds the early part of the tribulation period, as foretold in the book of Daniel and other prophetic literature.
In order to begin this commentary we need to first describe the content of the first five chapters of Revelation. Daniel the prophet was given a vision of all the world empires to come when he was taken captive by Babylon hundreds of years before the time of Christ. The Holy Spirit showed him that Babylon would be followed by Medo-Persia, then by Alexander's Greece, and then by Rome. The Roman Empire was to be the ruling authority when the Messiah would come and destroy it. The Kingdom of God would thus triumph forever.
Everything appeared to be going according to plan. Babylon came and went, as did Medo-Persia and Greece. Rome became the dominate world empire--and indeed, the one and only Messiah did come, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, instead of defeating Rome he was seemingly defeated himself. He was killed on a cross for insurrection against the ruling classes. Of course, this was all a part of God's complex and brilliant plan. Through the demise of the God-man Jesus Christ, death (and the ultimate extension of death, which is everlasting hellfire) was defeated, that all who might call upon his name in repentance and faith might be born again, receiving everlasting forgiveness from their sins and being imputed with everlasting, flawless righteousness. Right, but what about Daniel's prophesy? What about Rome?
The Messiah did not raise a sword against the empire, and in the second half of the first century the empire began to raise swords against the church. John was the last remaining apostle at the close of this century. According to church tradition, all the others were martyred. John was sent to an island off the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey) named Patmos. He was to live in a rough and tumble penal colony. It was at this incredible low-point that Jesus Christ appeared to him and gave him the book of Revelation. This appearance and commission can be found in chapter 1.
Chapters 2-3 consist of descriptions of seven churches near to Patmos in Asia Minor that were to receive messages from Jesus Christ (they probably each received a copy of the entire book of Revelation as well).
Then in chapters 4 and 5 John is taken up to heaven spiritually and shown the future scene of God's throne/war room just before the appointed time of global tribulation. You see, not only was Daniel given a description of the Messiah's coming, but he was also given a specific timetable.
There were to be seventy sets of seven years between the announcement to restore Jerusalem (which had been decimated by Babylon) until the time of the Messiah. However, the last set of seven years was detached from the other 483. This has famously been called "the seventieth week of Daniel." From the time of the Messiah's ascension until now we have been waiting for this final period of seven years to come to pass. It is during this time that the Antichrist, the false Messiah, will sign a covenant of protection with Israel. The end times will never officially start until that happens.
Many treat this whole concept as rather contrived, but one cannot mistake the emphasis on several three-and-a-half year periods referenced time and again throughout Daniel and Revelation. The concept of a seventieth week is very solid exegetically.
In chapters 4 and 5 the scroll which unfolds this seventieth week is presented to the Messiah, and then in chapter 6 the Messiah begins to unroll it. So all preliminaries aside, let's discuss what is going on here with these first two verses from Revelation 6...
The Lamb has been given this special scroll and has just cracked opened its first seal. This scroll has often been called by conservative commentators,the Title Deed to the Earth. I don't have a problem with that, as I think for all intents and purposes such a description captures the quintessential thrust of the document. However, it's worth noting that this scroll perhaps has other appearances in Revelation. (Not to be confusing, but it might be the book of Revelation itself.)