The command “do not harm the oil and the wine” in Revelation 6:6 comes during the tribulation period recorded in Revelation 4—19. This period is characterized by God’s wrath being poured out on a sinful world. In fact, there are three sets of judgments that will occur during the tribulation: 1) seven seal judgments, 2) seven trumpet judgments, and 3) seven bowl judgments.
The heavenly command “do not harm the oil and the wine” is issued after the third seal judgment (famine) begins. This judgment is pictured as a rider on a black horse, and it follows the second seal, widespread warfare. During the famine that follows the war, food prices are inflated beyond all reason: “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages” (Revelation 6:5). At the same time, the heavenly voice proclaims, “Do not damage the oil and the wine!” (verse 6). So, food staples are scarce—one quart of wheat will cost an entire day’s wages—but other food items, secondary sources of nutrition, are still available.
The prophecy concerns the time when the Antichrist, symbolized by the first horseman (Revelation 6:1–2), is rising to power. The famine and hyper-inflation resulting from the war will force people into a minimum-sustenance diet—they will barely have enough food to survive. But why would the oil and wine be preserved? This could be an example of God extending mercy in judgment. The famine would be much worse but for God’s limiting of the judgment; God confines the scarcity and limits its impact.
Or we could view Revelation 6:6 this way: oil and wine are less crucial supplies than wheat and barley and could be considered minor luxuries. The command “do not harm the oil and the wine” might indicate that wealthy people will not suffer as much as the poor in the future economic catastrophe. The lack of grain during the third seal judgment is accompanied by an abundance of oil and wine, scarcity amid plenty.
Any study of the tribulation should cause us to make sure we are part of God’s family and “live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12–13).