I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. (NIV)
The First Six Seals
Each of the first four seals explicitly states that the Lamb opens the seals. For the last three seals it only says He. By that time we know it is the Lamb that opens the seals. The importance of repeating who opens the seals is that we must recognize that God is in control. These things are not happening because of Satan’s power. They are not happening from man’s will. They occur because Jesus wills it.
Some people don’t like to consider the book of Revelation in a sequential manner and with good reason. There are some parts that flash back in time to give a perspective of the past. There are others that race ahead to give an overview of the future. Therefore, some see the first six seals representing the course of history of the world while others see them representing the future. At first glance, we really don’t know if we should be looking back in time to see if this started after John wrote it down or if it is referring to events that are in our future. On the other hand, it could represent both the past and the future in the same way we saw churches of today, church history in general, and churches of John’s time in the first three chapters.
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Mark 13:7-8 NASU)
To some degree, the first six seals represent the continuing cycles of life that Jesus referred to and can be seen repeated throughout history. We can see cycles of peace, war, famine, and reoccurring earthquakes. We need to remember that the end is still to come. In the fourth seal, we will see that a fourth of the mankind will be killed. This has come close to happening only once in history since the flood. But the end didn’t come at that time. Jesus didn’t tell us when the end would come but went on to tell of the persecutions that would occur before the end.
And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. (Mark 13:10 NKJV)
One thing that must occur before the end is that the Gospel must be preached to all nations. This is one reason I expect that the end could come very soon. There has been no other generation in which this has come closer than it has today. If the passages we have studied in Revelation had said that the Gospel had already been preached to all nations before the seals were opened, then we wouldn’t have any doubt that the seals are opened at the very end of the age.
The first six seals may also represent a preview of the tribulation. As we read casually through them, we see a time of peace under a strong ruler. This time of peace is ended with one who makes war, followed by great economic trouble. As can be expected, famine and disease follow the war and economic trouble. Persecution of the saints is also promised. Lastly we see the culmination of the ages as the Lord brings destruction on the earth, part of which includes a huge earthquake. Rev 16:18 also mentions an earthquake that is worse than any other in history. This makes the preview theory more plausible and if it is true, then we can look upon the events of the seventh seal to expand upon this outline. If not, then we must look at the remaining seal as a continuation of what has already happened.
One way or another, the first six seals represent a time on earth of immense problems. It is possible that these events occur so that the stage will be set for people to accept the leadership of the Antichrist or occur because he takes control.
Four Seals - Four Horses
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." (Zech 1:8-10 NLT)
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." (Zech 6:2-5 NLT)
These are each references to four horses or teams of various colors. The connection is not that the colors mean anything special, but that the groupings of four are used to represent an action initiated by the Lord to go out into the entire world. In the first case, the action is a survey to determine the condition of the world. The second is sending God’s Spirit. Drawing from these two examples, the use of four horses of different colors in Revelation 6 is a confirmation that the events depicted will befall mankind including all the world and not isolated parts. They are going at God’s command to do His will. If there is any significance to the colors, we will have to draw that from the passage as we study it.
First Seal - White Horse
There are very few references to a white horse in Scripture. One is Rev 19:11, 14. The rider in this case is clearly described as Jesus and He is coming as a conquering King. His conquest will be quick and final. The others are in Zechariah above, none of which represent a conquering king. However, in extra-biblical symbolism, a white horse has been the symbol of a conqueror. This would be the most likely symbol.
They lay hold on bow and spear, they are cruel and have no mercy, the sound of them is like the roaring sea; they ride upon horses, set in array as a man for battle, against you, O daughter of Zion!" We have heard the report of it, our hands fall helpless; anguish has taken hold of us, pain as of a woman in travail. Go not forth into the field, nor walk on the road; for the enemy has a sword, terror is on every side. (Jer 6:23-25 RSV)
The bow has also been a symbol of warfare as in this case where the enemy is coming armed to attack Zion. I think the description of fear in this passage is appropriate to describe what will occur when the first horse and his rider is sent to the earth. As in Jeremiah, there isn’t any attempt to fight back. This is the image that I see in Rev 6:1-2. There is no mention made of fighting, but the rider is equipped so that others do nothing other than cave in to his control.
This indicates that he receives the leadership without a fight. The phrase bent on conquest indicates that this person is not a beneficial leader. His motive is conquest itself, not establishing peace.
You are my King, O God; ordain salvation for Jacob! Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down those who rise up against us. For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes and have put to shame those who hate us. In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever. (Ps 44:4-8 ESV)
The Psalmist expressed the thoughts of a conqueror who did so at the bidding and guidance of the Lord. Rather than being bent on conquest, he recognized that the Sovereign Lord decrees any victory and he gives God the glory. Even though the white horse is sent from the Lord – signifying that it is His will that the rider is victorious, his attitude doesn’t honor the Lord.
Even though He is bent on conquest, this rider appears to usher in a time of peace because the next rider is given the power to take peace away from the earth.
Some suggest that the rider of this horse represents Jesus in His victorious conquest over sin or His enemies. They base this entirely on the fact that he is riding a white horse as in Rev 19:11. He is given a crown, but it simply doesn’t fit Jesus because he has an attitude that is bent on conquest. Another problem with this view is that it doesn’t fit the context. All the other seals are times of problems, a period when difficulties are set up and people are judged and even killed. We also know that when Jesus came the first time to conquer sin, it was humbly, on a donkey. We know that He will come in the air to take the church. We haven’t established when this will occur. He will come to restore His kingdom but not before the wars and famine.
Everyone who comes in the name of peace or justice is not peaceful or just. It is easy to be deceived by outward appearances of lofty language and demonstrations of power.
And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.” (Matt 24:4-5 NASB)
These are the words Jesus spoke in answer to the disciple who asked Him when the end of the age would come. It is possible that the first rider represents all the false christs, the ones whose motives are personal power and who use religion as a basis for power.
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: (Dan 9:27a KJV)
The week is commonly recognized as a period of seven years. This first rider appears to bring peace even if it is out of fear. This rider has the qualities of the Antichrist. He is bent on conquest.
This probably represents the beginning of the tribulation when the Antichrist takes control in a peaceful manner but with evidence of great power. If so, then chapter six is a quick overview of the rest of the book. There are many places in the book of Revelation that flash back in time, giving us a different perspective of the events of the end times as well as things that have happened even in our own past.
Second Seal - Fiery Red Horse
From the context of this passage, it is apparent that the red horse and rider symbolize war. I read one book that said a red horse represents war and quoted Zech 6:1-8 to back it up. Apparently the author was familiar with Rev 6 but not Zech 6. In the Zechariah passage, the red horses represents the Holy Spirit sent into the world but not in a specific direction, as were the other horses. This points out the need to be careful about applying symbols inappropriately once they have been found and identified. As discussed before, there are very few references to red horses.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isa 1:18 NIV)
Red by itself symbolizes many things including sin. There are also times when it is associated with God’s vengeance.
Who is this who comes from Edom, With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah, This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? "It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save." Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? "I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment. "For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come. "I looked, and there was no one to help, And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; So My own arm brought salvation to Me, And My wrath upheld Me. "I trod down the peoples in My anger And made them drunk in My wrath, And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth." (Isa 63:1-6 NASU)
This is an interesting picture of God. Even when the Lord is bringing about His vengeance, He is robed in splendor. Many have criticized our God because of the way He has eliminated sinful nations in the Old Testament, yet He is able to do this and retain His splendor. It is because of His great righteousness and His motivation is to save, not destroy. We can also see that when this vengeance takes place, God is alone. At the end of time, there will not be any nation standing for what is right. In the past, God has used other nations to discipline those that needed it, but not now. Finally, there is this curious mixture of both vengeance and redemption. Clearly, our final redemption can’t be completed until God’s vengeance has been completed in order to remove sin.
This last rider has power over peace and to make people slay each other. As we look at the way the U.S. is going, this phrase about making men slay each other makes more sense than ever before. Think about the number of times we hear in news that someone has walked into an office, school, restaurant, or other public place and has opened fire, killing many. It is increasing in our country despite the campaigns to stop bullying.
What makes people slay each other with such little regard for another’s life? Sin, of course is the ultimate reason. However, the ever-increasing glorification of solving problems with violence in movies and video games contribute to this. Abortion even contributes because at the heart of it is the degradation of human life. The media and proponents of “women’s rights” promote this concept over and over. Any person who believes it is OK to have an abortion for any reason has degraded human life in his own eyes. Deep down, people do know that an unborn baby is a person. If it’s OK to kill them, the only difference between killing the baby and any other person who inconveniences your life is a matter of what is “socially acceptable.” Perhaps in the future, the Supreme Court will change the laws against murder so that it will be legal to kill others if you can prove that they potentially have an adverse affect on your life style. It will become justified homicide, just like self-defense. Hitler managed to do this.
Whoever this person is or whatever his methods, he has the ability to cause people to kill each other. This is the reason it is primarily thought that this horse and rider represent war. The large sword indicates the ease with which he slays people. The sword is also metaphor of constant strife and suffering through violence and war (2 Sam 12:10).
Then Abner called to Joab and said, "Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that it will be bitter in the latter end? How long will it be then until you tell the people to return from pursuing their brethren?" (2 Sam 2:26 NKJV)
"At the end of their rule, when their sin is at its height, a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people. He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. He will even take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power. (Dan 8:23-25 NLT)
The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him. (Dan 9:27 NLT)
In this description of the Antichrist from Daniel, it is evident that his power will be supernatural. This seems to fit the brief description of the second rider and his ability to get people to kill each other and the devastation that will come upon the world. The most striking comparison to the Antichrist is that after the time of peace that the first rider established, peace will be taken away. It then appears that the rider of the first and second horses could be the same person – the Antichrist.
Third Seal - Black Horse
With the last two horses, we have gained the most insight for what the horse, rider, and other objects in the scene represented directly from the verses in which they appeared. Again, this will be the case with the black horse. Looking at how scales are used in the Bible only reveals that they are used as tools to measure things.
So again, by simply reading the passage we see can discern that the balances are being used to weigh out basic food stuff. The price is exorbitant. Yet the implication is that the price of wine and oil is left alone. These are the areas where people who have written end-times books have a hay day. They can extrapolate for hours on the economy and trends and all sorts of things. These are fine, but the irony of this situation shouldn’t be missed. Food will be scarce, but it will be easy to get drunk and try to escape reality with alcohol. It reminds me of Prov 31:6-7:
Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more. (RSV)
Oil will be plentiful and is needed to keep our modern war machines operating and running. It will be a strange time of terrible injustice as the rich have what they want and the poor will only be able to get drunk. Perhaps it isn’t all that strange since this is the situation in Russia for the last eighty years if not even longer. The common people have always had a plentiful supply of vodka while the elite (even under communism) have no problems. In the mean time, they manage to maintain an armed force with awesome destructive powers. However, if the scope of the first two seals is maintained, this condition will engulf the whole earth.
Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:34-36 NASB)
When we are stressed by the cares of making a living in times of great inflation, or when many are out of work, the temptation is to escape. It is as if Jesus is saying that a sign of the times will be great numbers of people turning to alcohol and other drugs as never before. Many studies have shown that kids are turning to alcohol and drugs at an earlier age every year. These kids may not get any more money than to buy their lunch, but they have an almost unlimited access to booze and drugs.
Fourth Seal - Pale Horse
In the fourth seal we see the affects of the first three seals multiplied. The wars cause economic problems and famine. In turn these problems cause plagues. If you study the famines and disease in the Sudan, you will find that they are not caused by natural disasters. They are caused by the war that went on for years. The war has been very one sided and an attempt by the government to eradicate Christianity. They purposefully restricted aid in order to kill as many as possible. The only way to get aid is to reject Christ and accept the Muslim faith. If this is how governments behave now, how much more will these tactics be used when these seals are opened?
To add to this, the Lord increases the problem by allowing wild animals to kill more than they do now. Most animals naturally do not attack people. They usually have to be provoked. Perhaps this will result because of an increase of diseases like rabies or maybe the Lord will remove that natural restriction that now inhibits them. Another possibility is that the Lord will produce more animals like the killer bees, which have steadily increased and moved across many parts of the world. In the last few years, we’ve seen bands of monkeys attacking people when they run out of forest areas. The same thing has been happening with herds of elephants.
Another possibility has reared its ugly head in the last few years. Perhaps some genetically engineered animals have gotten out of control or had some unexpected side effects. We could also see plagues started from genetically altered viruses and bacteria.
With the different methods of death, the problem on the earth will have increased to the point where a fourth of the population will die. Not even in WW1 or WW2 did this many people die. When the black plague swept through Europe in the 14th century, the population was reduced dramatically. It is estimated that 30 to 60% of the population died. But that only affected a small portion of the world. The total world population was reduced from 450 to a possible low of 350 million people, about 22%.
As of March 12, 2012, the world population exceeded seven billion people. If a quarter of the people of the world were to die today, that would be over 1.75 billion people. Most of them would face an eternity without Christ.
While the plague may have killed nearly a quarter of earth’s population, this rider can’t be associated with that event because the events of the previous two seals didn’t occur and the following ones did not come afterward. It is evident by now that this death being released on the earth isn’t just history repeating itself or a recap of our past, but part of the end times.
The use of the terms Death and Hades lets us know that the power given to them is more than the removal of life. Since Hades is following death, my conclusion is that this is a description of the death of unbelievers and their ultimate destruction in hell.
The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. (Rev 20:5 ESV)
And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. (Rev 20:13 ESV)
These verses link the death of unbelievers to Hades. The first resurrection is for believers. Hades does not hold them captive for a thousand years. Paul makes it clear that when a believer dies, he does not go to a place of unconsciousness, but to be with Jesus (Phil 1:21-25).
In contrast, Job 18:5-21, describes the death of the wicked, the person that does not know God. Look at just a few of these verses to get flavor for the whole text.
The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out; the flame of his fire stops burning. (Job 18:5 NIV)
He is torn from the security of his tent and marched off to the king of terrors. Fire resides in his tent; burning sulfur is scattered over his dwelling. (Job 18:14-15NIV)
Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who knows not God. (Job 18:21NIV)
The last verse is a good definition of those who are evil. It isn’t just the fact that they have done something deserving of punishment (we are all in this category), but they don’t know God.
Later the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open up for us.” But he answered, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matt 25:11-13 NASU)
How true are the words of Jesus. The door will be closed for those who don’t know God. Their dwelling will not be with God, but eternal torment.
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Matt 11:27 NKJV)
There is only one way to know God. You have to know Jesus. Jesus isn’t going to reveal the Father to anyone who denies that Jesus is who He said He is (God) and who rejects His sacrificial death on the cross for his sins. It’s just as the bumper sticker says, “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know peace.”
If you can’t say, “I know Jesus and He knows me,” then by all means, make the effort to get to know Him now. Once the lamp is snuffed out, it will be too late.
Whether Christians will be caught up to heaven before or after these events start, still hasn’t been made clear. One thing is clear and that is people will still be coming to Christ after these events. This will be made evident later in the book. What is abundantly clear is that God is in control and permits these things to happen. Whether we are facing global cataclysmic events as depicted here, national disasters, or personal disasters, we can face them with the confidence that our loving heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus (our Friend) know exactly what is happening to us. We don’t need to fear these things. He will either take us out of the storm or enable us to ride out the storm. Either way He gets the glory.
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. (2 Cor 1:2-4 KJV)