A. Past Lessons
John’s Introduction and Vision of the Son of Man
Letters to the Seven Churches
John Taken to Heaven to See the 24 Elders (Rev 4:1-6a)
John Take to Heaven to See 4 Living Beings (Rev 4:6b-11)
The One Worthy to Open the Scroll (Rev 5:1-7)
Why the Lamb Is Worthy to Open the Scroll (Rev 5:8-14)
B. Text of Rev 6:1-8
“1Then I saw the Lamb as he opened the first of the seven seals. I heard one of the four living beings saying like the noise of thunder: ‘Come!’ 2Then I looked and behold: a white horse. The one riding the horse was holding a bow, a crown was given to him, and as a conquerer he went out in order to conquer. 3When the Lamb opened the second seal I heard the second living being say: ‘Come!’ 4Another horse came which was fiery red. The rider was given ability to take peace from the earth so that people will kill each other, so he was given a large sword. 5When the Lamb opened the third seal I heard the third living being say, ‘Come.’ Then I looked and behold: a black horse! The rider was holding a scale in his hand. 6Then I heard something like a voice in the midst of the third living being saying: ‘A quart of grain will be a day’s pay. Three quarts of barely will be a day’s pay. But olive oil and wine must not be affected.’ 7When the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard a voice from the fourth living beings saying: ‘Come!’ 8Then I looked and behold: a pale green horse! The rider was named ‘Death,’ and ‘Hades’ was following him. Power was given to them to kill one-fourth of the earth with sword, famine, disease, and by beasts of the earth.” (Rev 6:1-8)[ref]Unless otherwise note, all English translations are my own[/ref]
Photo Credit: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” Matthais Gerung (1500-1570)
C. General Remarks
“From this introduction to the judgments portrayed in Revelation, it should be evident that the world is facing a time of trouble never known before. The dream of the optimist for a world becoming increasingly better scientifically, intellectually, morally, and religiously does not fit the pattern of God’s prophetic Word. The ultimate triumph of God is assured, as Revelation makes plain, Christ will reign over the earth and bring in a kingdom of peace and righteousness after the time of trouble has run its course. First, however, there must be the awful time of the great tribulation” (Walvoord, Revelation, 130).
“In books, in newspapers, in magazine articles, and in radio broadcasts, we read and hear about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are riding across the earth today” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 59).
“Any exposition of Revelation must have presuppositions based upon a study of the entire Word of God and consider the question of whether prophecy should be interpreted with the same degree of literalness as other portions of Scripture. Though Revelation abounds in signs and symbols, it was intended to be interpreted with far greater literalness than has been commonly applied. Such an approach yields a remarkable picture of the end of the age that coincides with other prophetic revelation” (Walvoord, Revelation, 121).
II. THE FIRST SEAL’S WHITE HORSE (6:1-2)
A. The First Seal (v. 1)
Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὸ ἀρνίον μίαν ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ σφραγίδων, καὶ ἤκουσα ἑνὸς ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων λέγοντος ὡς φωνὴ βροντῆς· ἔρχου.[ref]Greek text is from NA28[/ref]
“Then I saw the Lamb as he opened the first of the seven seals. I heard one of the four living beings saying like the noise of thunder: ‘Come!’” (Rev 6:1)
1. The Lamb
The Lamb who was deemed worthy to open the scroll in Rev 4-5 is now the one who opens the seals.
2. Who Comes?
There have been three proposals for the direct object of the imperative “come.”
This interpretation needs a variant to be included which NA28 does not include in its manuscript. The phrase, “και ιδε / and behold” needs to be included after “ἐρχου / come” for this to be John. This variant is supported by א046. 1006. 1611. 1841. 2053. 2329. 2344 ????k it vgcl syph.h**; Vic Prim Bea. Another variant reading is even less supported to show John was the direct object of come. The words “και βλεπε / and see” is supported by 296, 2049, and the Textus Receptus. Neither of these variants are likely original, but instead additions by scribes to make sense of who the direct object of the imperative is.
Christ is addressed with the same summons in Rev 22:17, 20. However, this is unlikely the phrase is repeated in Rev 6:3, 5, 7. In this view, Christ would have to come four separate times, which is odd.
c) First Horseman
Lastly and most likely, this command is given to the the first horseman. This is because the first horseman is the one that shows up in the very next verse!
B. The White Horse (v. 2)
καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος λευκός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπʼ αὐτὸν ἔχων τόξον καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ στέφανος καὶ ἐξῆλθεν νικῶν καὶ ἵνα νικήσῃ.
“Then I looked and behold: a white horse. The one riding the horse was holding a bow, a crown was given to him, and as a conquerer he went out in order to conquer.” (Rev 6:2)
1. Then I Looked
Several times throughout this study of Revelation I have noted that sometimes the phrase “και εἰδον / then I looked” signals a new vision in a new area, while other times it simply indicates something new entering John’s eyesight. Here, John simply turns and sees the white horse or perhaps the white horse emerges from his place to a point where John can see him.
2. White Horse
A white horse resembled the horse a Roman general would ride into war and was associated with victory.
Homer describes horses this way: “His horses are the finest and strongest that I have ever seen, they are whiter than snow and fleeter than any wind that blows” (Homer, The Iliad, 10:431, emphasis added).
Herodotus describes horses in this way: “Where Mardonius was himself, riding a white horse in the battle and surrounded by a thousand picked men who were the flower of the Persians, there they pressed their adversaries hardest. So long as Mardonius was alive the Persians stood their ground and defended themselves, overthrowing many Lacedaemonians” (Herodotus, The Histories, 9:63, emphasis added).
The white of this horse also symbolizes righteousness and holiness (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 419). This use of white is consistent with the rest of the book of Revelation (1:14; 2:17; 3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 14:14; 19:11, 14; 20:11).
C. Views on the First Seal’s White Horse
1. Parthian Invasion
The “bow” held be the rider on the white horse connects this rider to the warriors of Parthia. Parthia was a well known and strong neighbor of the Roman Empire. Held by Metzger, Breaking the Code, 58.
2. Conquering Kings of the Earth
N.T. Wright proposes that the rider on the white horse represents the kings that have marched to and fro across the earth conquering it. Thereby claiming a “crown” over the sections of the earth which they conquer (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 61). Held by Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 61; Osborne, Revelation, 277.
3. Jesus Christ
While Alan Johnson does not believe this rider on the white horse is Jesus, he lists three reasons that people often say it is Jesus: “(1) the striking similarity of this rider to the portrayal of Christ in 19:11–16, (2) the symbolism of white throughout Revelation always being associated with righteousness and Christ (e.g., 1:14; 2:17; 3:4–5, 18; 4:4; 7:9, 13–14; 20:11), and (3) the references in the Olivet Discourse [Matt 24] to the preaching of the gospel throughout the world before the end” (Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation, 652–653). Additionally, Mulholland says that that the “bow” represents the “bow” of a Rainbow covenant that God made with creation (Mulholland, Revelation , 470). In this view, Christ comes to a fallen creation to bring God’s victory over the rebellion.
Yet, weaknesses to this view are numerous. First, the Lamb is the one opening the scroll so it is not likely that he would also be the one contained in the first seal. Second, the other three riders cause massive evil and havoc around the world so it is unlikely that the Lamb would doing the same things as the other three riders. Third, why would the Lamb be put on the same level as three other riders? Christ is in a category all by himself equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit, not to other riders told to cause havoc on earth. This view is held by Mulholland, Revelation , 470-473.
4. Anti-Christ World Ruler
This view is my view which sees this first horseman as the counterfeit Christ. Parallels to this white horseman are seen in Matt 24:5; Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8. The sequence of events in those Gospel accounts mentions that the first signs of the end times will be a world ruler. Yet, Thomas says that “to idendify him as the world ruler himself is not quite accurate. This rider, like the other three, is not an individual, but a personaification of a growing movement or force that will be at work during this future period” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 422).
It is also supported by Daniel’s “prince who is to come” from Dan 9:26 as well as the beast out of the sea from Rev 13. This Anti-Christ world ruler will be Satan’s mouthpiece. Walvoord provides additional focus on who this person is as the ruler of the revived Roman Empire (Walvoord, Revelation, 124).
This view is held by Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 422; Walvoord, Revelation, 124; Johnson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 653.
5. Mythological “Apollo” of First Century
Allen Kerkeslager proposes that the rider on the white horse who carries a bow and comes out to conquer is a polemic against the backgroup of Asia Minor in the first century. Meaning, John chose figures of speech that matched much of the contempory culture in order to show that this rider is like the mytholocial figure, Apollo, from the first century time. According to Kerkeslager, Apollo is associated with the sun and is said to have a bow.
This view is held by Allen Kerkeslager, “Apollo, Greco-Roman Prophecy, and the Rider on the White Horse in Rev 6:2,” in Journal of Biblical Literature 112, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 116-121.
III. THE SECOND SEAL’S RED HORSE (6:3-4)
A. The Second Seal (v. 3)
Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν δευτέραν, ἤκουσα τοῦ δευτέρου ζῴου λέγοντος· ἔρχου.
“When the Lamb opened the second seal I heard the second living being say: ‘Come!’” (Rev 6:3)
B. The Fiery Red Horse (v. 4)
καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἄλλος ἵππος πυρρός, καὶ τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπʼ αὐτὸν ἐδόθη αὐτῷ λαβεῖν τὴν εἰρήνην ἐκ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἵνα ἀλλήλους σφάξουσιν καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ μάχαιρα μεγάλη.
“Another horse came which was fiery red. The rider was given ability to take peace from the earth so that people will kill each other, so he was given a large sword.” (Rev 6:4)
1. “Another” Horse
The word for “another” here is a translation of ἀλλος. There are two Greek words that can be used for “another.” They are ἀλλος and ἑτερος. ἑτερος is translated for “another” when it means something of a different kind while ἀλλος is used when another means something of the same kind (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 426). The implication here is that this second horse is the same kind of horse as the first. They are similar in appearance, but different horses.
2. Believer’s Peace
While there might not always be peace on earth in the worldly world, there is peace in the spiritual life of every believer.
a) Peace for believers in differing situations
- In times of sickness, pressure and hardships (Job 1:13–22; Job 2:7–10; Pss 41:1-3; Matt 11:28; Acts 16:22–25; 2 Cor 12:7–10; 2 Tim 4:16–18)
- In times of death and grief (Job 19:25–26; 2 Kings 22:18–20; Isa 57:1–2; John 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:13–18)
b) The effects of peace for believers
- Forgiveness (Acts 7:60; Rom 12:17–19)
- Encouragement (2 Cor 1:3–6; Phil 4:11-13)
- Health and healing (Prov 14:30; Isa 57:18-19)
- Security (Prov 1:33; Acts 27:21–26; Rom 8:28, 35–39
- Hope (Rom 5:1-5; 15:13)
c) How believers maintain peace
- Through remaining in Christ (John 15:4-7; 16:33; Rom 5:1-5)
- Through living by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:6; 14:17-19; Gal 5:22)
- Through obedience to God’s word (Josh 1:8–9; Pss 119:165–167)
- Through prayer and meditation (Pss 1:1-3; Isa 26:3; Phil 4:6-9; 1 Tim 2:1-2)
d) Final peace in death for believers (2 Kings 22:19–20; Isa 57:2; Luke 2:29; Rev 14:13)
e) Hope of future peace for believers
- Peace in heaven (John 14:1–3; 1 Thes 4:13–14; 1 Peter 1:4; Rev 7:9–17)
- Peace in God’s new creation (Isa 11:6–9; Rom 8:18–23; Rev 21:1–4; 22:3–5)
3. Same Time or Subsequent Time?
The fact that peace and war cannot occur at the same time seems to imply that the first and second horse are subsequent and not occurring at the same time (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 426).
C. Views on the Second Seal’s Red Horse
1. War and Bloodshed
This has good parallels with the other seals. The rider of the first horse creates a sense of peace by claiming victory, yet this second horse takes peace from the earth. Additionally, this matches the Olivet Discourse in Matt 24 where Jesus says that many “anti-Christs” will come in his name (Matt 24:4-5; cf. Rev 6:1-2). And it matches that peace will be taken from the earth (Matt 24:7-8).
Metzger, Breaking the Code, 58; Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 427; Osborne, Revelation, 278; Johnson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 654.
2. False Prophet
As a false prophet this person works in conjunction with the world ruler—the white horse’s rider—the leader of the revived Roman Empire and the beast from Rev 13.
Walvoord, Revelation, 125.
The Greek word for “red” that is used here is only used one other time in the book of Revelation. That use is in Rev 12:3 to refer to Satan, and therefore this view believes that the rider of the red horse is Satan. If this is Satan, then God gives him a “sword” in these verses as a sign of God’s sovereignty.
Mulholland, Revelation , 470.
IV. THE THIRD SEAL’S BLACK HORSE (6:5-6)
A. The Third Seal’s Black Horse (v. 5)
Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν τρίτην, ἤκουσα τοῦ τρίτου ζῴου λέγοντος· ἔρχου. καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος μέλας, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπʼ αὐτὸν ἔχων ζυγὸν ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ.
“When the Lamb opened the third seal I heard the third living being say, ‘Come.’ Then I looked and behold: a black horse! The rider was holding a scale in his hand.” (Rev 6:5)
The color black occurs for the first time here in 6:5 in Revelation. It also appears after the sixth seal when the sun becomes as dark as black cloth. During the fifth trumpet John sees a star fall (9:1), the bottomless pit is opened in which smoke pours out (9:2), and the result is that there is so much smoke that the sunlight and air turn dark (9:2).
B. The Price of Food (v. 6)
καὶ ἤκουσα ὡς φωνὴν ἐν μέσῳ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων λέγουσαν· χοῖνιξ σίτου δηναρίου καὶ τρεῖς χοίνικες κριθῶν δηναρίου, καὶ τὸ ἔλαιον καὶ τὸν οἶνον μὴ ἀδικήσῃς.
“Then I heard something like a voice in the midst of the third living being saying: ‘A quart of grain will be a day’s pay. Three quarts of barely will be a day’s pay. But olive oil and wine must not be affected.’” (Rev 6:6)
2 Kings 7:1
1. Voice in the Midst
It is the voice of God (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 432).
2. Food and Drink
Grain had the best nutritional value. Barley had less nutritional value but you could get more for your money in order to feed your family. Olive oil was used for lamps, healing, and anointing at feasts. But, it could be used as part of a staple food supply in times of need (Deut 7:13; 11:14; 28:51; 2 Chron 32:28; Neh 5:11; Hosea 2:8, 22; Joel 2:19; Hag 1:11). Wine oil was more in the category of luxury than anything else.
3. Wine and Domitian’s Edict of AD 92
In AD 92 Emperor Domitian of the Roman Empire made an edict that prohibited the planting of new vineyards. This decision was done to protect Italian wine growers because there was so much wine available. However, the reaction of people against this decree was so strong that Domitian cancelled it. This decision would have been vivid in the minds of John’s readers and would have had a direct connection with them.
C. Views on the Third Seal’s Black Horse
Metzger, Breaking the Code, 58.
One of the aftermaths of war is famine and hunger because of the distruption to local economies and agriculture.
Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 430; Walvoord, Revelation, 126; Mulholland, Revelation , 470; Osborne, Revelation, 279; Johnson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 654.
V. THE FOURTH SEAL’S GREEN HORSE (6:7-8)
A. The Fourth Seal (v. 7)
Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν τετάρτην, ἤκουσα φωνὴν τοῦ τετάρτου ζῴου λέγοντος· ἔρχου.
“When the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard a voice from the fourth living beings saying: ‘Come!’” (Rev 6:7)
One view sees this fourth seal as an increase in affliction on the earth and therefore it is the latter half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan 9:26-27). However, this view is incorrect.
Other views try to tie this to periods of history.
The correct view is that this fourth seal is the same time period as the first three seals. This follows the beginning of the birthpains that are described in Matt 24 (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 435).
B. The Pale Green Horse (v. 8)
καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος χλωρός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ ὄνομα αὐτῷ [ὁ] ⸀θάνατος, καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἠκολούθει μετʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἐξουσία ἐπὶ τὸ τέταρτον τῆς γῆς ἀποκτεῖναι ἐν ῥομφαίᾳ καὶ ἐν λιμῷ καὶ ἐν θανάτῳ καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν θηρίων τῆς γῆς.
“Then I looked and behold: a pale green horse! The rider was named ‘Death,’ and ‘Hades’ was following him. Power was given to them to kill one-fourth of the earth with sword, famine, disease, and by beasts of the earth.” (Rev 6:8)
1. Death and Hades
The idea of Death and Hades being proper names is also seen in ““Should I ransom them from the grave? Should I redeem them from death? O death, bring on your terrors! O grave, bring on your plagues! For I will not take pity on them.” (Hosea 13:14, NLT)
αὐτοῦ⸃ ὄνομα αὐτῷ °1[ὁ]* ⸀θάνατος, καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ⸁ἠκολούθει ⸄μετʼ αὐτοῦ⸅ καὶ (Rev 6:8)
ἐκ χειρὸς ᾅδου ῥύσομαι καὶ ἐκ θανάτου λυτρώσομαι αὐτούς· ποῦ ἡ δίκη σου, θάνατε; ποῦ τὸ κέντρον σου, ᾅδη; παράκλησις κέκρυπται ἀπὸ ὀφθαλμῶν μοῦ (Hosea 13:14 in LXX)
According to Metzger, “Hades” is the “ruler of the dead” (Breaking the Code, 58).
According to Wright, “Hades” is the “abode of the dead” as a personified creature (Revelation for Everyone, 62).
According to Thomas “Death” is a “personification of death viewed comprehensively” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 437).
According to Mulholland, “Death” is “ultimate consequence of rebellion against God” and “Hades” is the “realm of the dead” (Mulholland, Revelation , 471).
2. One-Fourth of the Earth
In the past there have been times when a portion of the earth or a porition of cities were destined for desctruction by God. To Judah god says that a third of its people will die from diseage, familine, slaughtered by enemies (Ezek 5:12).
Beasts, war, and the sword of the enemy will go out against Judah (Ezek 5:17). At another point God tells Judahh that war, famine, wild animals, and disease will destroy the people of Judah (Ezek 14:21). God sends wild animals to eat people living in open fields and in caves (Ezek 33:27). Judah has gone so far way from God that he ignores their fasts, burnt offerings, graining offerings. Instead, God will devour Judah will war, famine, and disease (Jer 14:12).
“The woes described here are the result of not taking seriously God’s command to achieve community and justice, God does not will the woes, but as long as we are free agents God allows them” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 58).
One-fourth of the earth is an interesting idea. This could be death of one-fourth of the entire earth, as in one out of four people from every country is killed. Or, it could be limited to one or two continents where everyone on those continents dies, therefore representing one-fourth of the earth’s population is killed.
Whatever and however this occurs, one-forth of the earth killed is the most depressing and severest death event in the history of the world.
3. Wild Beasts
In John Walvoord’s excellent commentary he summaries three possibilities of the wild beasts.
One possibility is that these are literal wild beasts that become ferocious during the tribulation when their food supplies are disrupted. There is natural support for this. Most of my life I have lived in rural areas of California and have heard about how wild animals can wander into downs during times of severe drought or bad weather because they are in search of food. Normally, wild animals do not enter into areas populated by humans, but when they are desperate they will do desperate things. See the Washington Post’s “Wild animals in drought-stricken Western states are dying for a drink.”
Another possibility is that these wild beasts reference a brutal military and political leaders of the end times. Support for this view is that the Greek word, “θηριον / beast” is used thirty-eight times in the book of Revelation and every other time it is used it refers to the Anti-christ or his henchmen.
Another possibility is that this refers to a severe disease or plague such as swine flue, bird flue, AIDS, Ebola, etc. which come from animals.
C. Views on the Fourth Seal’s Pale Green Horse
1. Aftermath of War
Metzger, Breaking the Code, 58.
2. Personification of Death
Support for this view is that only “death” can have “Hades” as its insarable companion.
Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 437.
VI. A CLOSER LOOK AT THE FOUR HORSEMEN
There are two passages in the prophesies of Zachariah that mention horses and chariots. These passages are displayed below:
- “Three months later, on February 15, the LORD sent another message to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah and grandson of Iddo. In a vision during the night, I saw a man sitting on a red horse that was standing among some myrtle trees in a small valley. Behind him were riders on red, brown, and white horses. I asked the angel who was talking with me, “My lord, what do these horses mean?” “I will show you,” the angel replied. The rider standing among the myrtle trees then explained, “They are the ones the LORD has sent out to patrol the earth.” Then the other riders reported to the angel of the LORD, who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have been patrolling the earth, and the whole earth is at peace.”” (Zechariah 1:7–11, NLT)
- “Then I looked up again and saw four chariots coming from between two bronze mountains. The first chariot was pulled by red horses, the second by black horses, the third by white horses, and the fourth by powerful dappled-gray horses. “And what are these, my lord?” I asked the angel who was talking with me. The angel replied, “These are the four spirits of heaven who stand before the Lord of all the earth. They are going out to do his work. The chariot with black horses is going north, the chariot with white horses is going west, and the chariot with dappled-gray horses is going south.” The powerful horses were eager to set out to patrol the earth. And the LORD said, “Go and patrol the earth!” So they left at once on their patrol. Then the LORD summoned me and said, “Look, those who went north have vented the anger of my Spirit there in the land of the north.”” (Zechariah 6:1–8, NLT)
In these two passages thare are a few similarities, however I see them as different horses with different riders than Rev 6:1-8. Additionally, in the OT the horse is a symbol of war (Job 39:25; Ps. 76:6; Prov. 21:31; Ezek. 26:10).
VII. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
This passage about four colored horses and their riders reminds me that the Bible is truth. I once heard a well-known peacher say that if you were going to make up something with the hopes that people would believe it you definitely would not have inserted much of the material that is contained in the Bible. That idea is very true relating to Rev 6:1-8! Colored horses, riders, swords, Death, and Hades, are all confusing and disturbing. Yet, John is recording what our Lord Jesus Christ showed him. John is simply telling what he sees
B. Believers have spiritual peace.
While there is chaos in our world today and these four horsemen will usher in even more chaos in the end times, believers have peace with them now. There is an inner peace that believers have because of their assurance of salvation and because of the future hope they have in Christ. Someone who has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and follows him will receive eternal life in heaven. That is a peace that cannot be taken from believers here on earth.