And I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as a voice of thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold! A white horse, and the one sitting on it had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he went forth overcoming that he might conquer.
And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!” And another horse went forth – bright red – and the one sitting on it was granted to take the peace from the earth and that one another will slay one another, and to him was given a great sword.
And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And the one sitting on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard like a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three chonixes of barley or a denarius. And the oil and the wine you should not damage.”
And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And the one sitting on it, his name was Death, and Hades followed with him, and authority was given to them over the fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and with famine and with death and by the beasts of the earth.
These are the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The perplexing question that is always asked is who they are. We see them represented in Zechariah 6, the four horses having only slightly different colors. However, when we come to this conclusion, we then have another perplexing question: why is the order different, and why do they go in various directions? The order isn’t truly something to get caught up on. What brings my confusion is that they are all heading different directions, and that they are considered the four rauchs of heaven. The Hebrew would say that the black goes north, and the white also goes north, yet the dappled horse goes south and the red horse isn’t even mentioned.
How exactly they fit together, I do not know. It is entirely possible that they don’t, and that the majority of commentators have, like myself, seen the similarity and falsely assumed. How exactly we take such a passage as Zechariah 6 has very little influence upon how we translate Revelations 6.
This first horse is white, and the rider upon it has a bow. He is given a crown and rides off to conquer, bent on conquest. Some have asserted that this is the Antichrist, and others have asserted that it is Jesus. These are two completely different things, so one is wrong, or both are wrong. It is obvious that Jesus rides the white horse, but Jesus has a sword and not a bow. My contention would lie in that where we are in our timeline would suggest that this is the Antichrist. How do we have Jesus riding forth at the beginning of the Tribulation? Even with the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture, this doesn’t fit, because Jesus would be riding forth to conquer, not to rapture.
It has been suggested that this is the eternal Gospel going forth, and so in that way Jesus is the white rider. Once again, while this is symbolism, I don’t think we can rob it of the immediate implications. There is a literal rider upon this horse, and if all of the other horses have literal riders, then why would we symbolize this away as mere Gospel? No, the best way to interpret this, in my own opinion, would be to say it is indeed the Antichrist. However, we’re at the beginning of the Tribulation. I would see this corresponding to the events marked out in Daniel 8:23 and 11:21. This would be when that pact is being made – when the covenant is confirmed (Dan 9:27).
Notice with all of these that one of the four living creatures says, “Come!” Each different horse receives a different living creature. I don’t think there is any way of connecting these living creatures to the horses, but if you could connect them, I would love to see your conclusions.
The second horse is fiery red. Notice the other two places in Revelation where red is used: the judgment in chapter 9:17 and the red dragon in chapter 12. Red in the book of Revelations is negative. It connotes judgment according to many Bible dictionaries. Unlike the first rider, where he already had a bow, this rider is given his weapon. Once again, when we looked at the general overview of Revelation 6, we would see that this lines up with Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:7. First, there is war, then there is international strife. In Daniel 11, we find that this “king of the north” attacks the king of the south. This is probably where we are in our timeline.
The third horse is black, and its rider holds a pair of scales. Now, in case you are like myself, when you read this, it isn’t talking about the scales of a fish or reptile – like a dragon or something. These are scales used to compare weight – a balance. In the ancient times, you would have a certain price for wheat, and you weigh out in one side of the scale your gold, and on the other side they weigh out the certain amount of wheat to balance the scale. This is why the living creature says, “A day’s consumption of wheat for a day’s wages, and a day’s consumption of barley for a day’s wages” (which is the understanding behind the chonix and denarius).
I had said that much of what we see in the Seals corresponds with the book of Ezekiel. The second horseman represents no peace, and we certainly find that as a judgment in Ezekiel 4, where the prophet is prophesying Jerusalem’s siege. At the end of Ezekiel 4, in verses 16-17, we also find this implication of famine and rations given for food and water. This inference would call into question our timeline, for during this time in Daniel and in Jesus’ prophecy we find that Jerusalem will be at “peace” – a false peace, albeit. While I think that there is the correlation, and I do assume that John is also using the progression found in Ezekiel 1-10, I don’t think that we should put it so literally upon Jerusalem and Jerusalem alone. What John is seeing by the Spirit is something altogether different than the prophet Ezekiel, yet at the same time is quite similar – to the point where John even borrows language from Ezekiel to describe it.
Why is it said not to touch the oil and the wine? I believe that we are seeing symbolic language, which very well could be worked out through literal fulfillment. It might be that God will actually have plenty of oil and wine, while everything else is dearth. Wine symbolizes the New Covenant (Matthew 26:27-28, Luke 5:39). Oil can be debated, but most likely it is a symbol of the “anointing”. In both cases God is making physical manifestations of spiritual truth. While everything else is bankrupt, the hope is still found in the blood of the New Covenant and the Spirit of God. It is when we are in complete keeping with the command of God, the covenant made between God and Israel, the land itself is affected and produces abundantly (see Leviticus 26:3-5, 10, Deuteronomy 28:8, 12, Psalm 37:19). It is that very thing that will bring the Jew to jealousy. When they see the covenant enacted through Gentiles and formerly-known-as-Jews (for anyone who knows a Jewish believer has probably heard the stories of being cast out of the Jewish society because of that belief) they will have nothing but jealousy. Who wouldn’t be jealous? The very people you thought were insignificant and outside of God’s will are the ones being blessed by God.
This fourth horseman is Death, and Hades follows close behind. Notice Revelation 1:18 and 20:13-14. Death and Hades are personified in those two places as well. The Greek word θανατος is like the Hebrew word daber: it can mean either death or pestilence. The Greek word Hades seems to come from the word ειδον, which is to see, and the alpha to negate it. It would literally then mean “unseen” or “not seeing”. So, we see in the secondary meaning of thanatos that this could indeed parallel Jesus’ words in Luke 21, that there will be pestilence.
In Ezekiel 5:16-17, the same plagues are promised. Also see Ezekiel 14:21 and Jeremiah 9:21. In Ezekiel 5:16-17, we find that added to these plagues are daber and dam (death/pestilence and blood) to pass through the land. We can be sure that John is not thinking of only Ezekiel 5 or 14, but the whole context of Ezekiel 1-10 (and possibly 1-14). This same symbology and judgment is repeated throughout this whole section of Ezekiel, and Jon has been making references to this section up to this point. In Revelaiton 4 we saw similar language describing the throne room in heaven as Ezekiel 1, in 5 we saw the same scroll as in Ezekiel 2, and in 6:6 we saw the same sort of language of famine and rations as in Ezekiel 4:16-17. We’ll see as we continue that this pattern doesn’t stop all the way through the seventh seal in Revelation 8.
In 2 Samuel 22:6, thanatos is used in the Greek Septuagint as the translation for sheol. In this, is it possible that John is paralleling the two words – death and Hades – neither of which truly being what they are describing. Death is the separation of the soul from the body (Strong’s NT Greek 2288-1), the result of which being Hades. What is it that these two words may be typifying for the reader? If John is playing on these two words to express something larger than these two words, what could that be?
Proverbs 2:18 speaks of the adulteress’ house leading down to death, and her paths to ghosts (or the shades). Her feet go down to death, and her steps lead to sheol (Pro 5:5). Her house is a highway to sheol, leading down to the chambers of death (Pro 7:27). The woman folly invites the simple into her home, but little do they know that the dead are there and that her guests are in the depths of sheol (Pro 9:18). In Hosea 13:14, we read of how God will “ransom them from the power of sheol; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O sheol, is your destruction?”
Is it possible that John sees the adulterous woman (Revelation 17:1 – Babylon) as being this fourth horseman? In this case, we see both judgment upon Israel and the common thread of the Antichrist once again. Ezekiel 16:15 and 1 Peter 5:13 (as well as much else in the context of Ezekiel 16 and also 23) plainly put Babylon as being Jerusalem. In the book of Revelations, we see two Israels. There is the woman who is the righteous and sealed Israel (the 144,000) in Revelation 12 as the woman who is to give birth. Then, we see the prostitute is this wicked Israel, the one that has ever and always been chastised and condemned by the prophets. Both are Israel, but only one is the pure and first fruits to God. Just like we see some in Israel that betray the covenant in Daniel 11:30 and 32, and we even find in Zechariah 14:14 that some of Judah will fight against Jerusalem at Armageddon, so too do we find that there is both righteous and wicked Israel in the book of Revelations.
What John is doing here is connecting the dots for us. This pestilence is ultimately from the Lord (Ezekiel 5:11-12), but we find John explaining to us who this “fourth” is and in what manner it happens. This theme continues through Revelations. Notice also the context of Ezekiel 5 – Jerusalem under siege – and compare Luke 21:20. What I am suggesting is that this fourth horseman is released at the time that there is the rebellion spoken of in Daniel 8:12, which is the time where the abomination of desolation is set up. This final horseman is when the Antichrist is fully established, and they who know their God will resist him. This is the rebellion that Paul expected in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (see the Greek, because rebellion is the correct interpretation, not “great falling away”).
This is where the pieces all fit together. This is the climax of the plot. From this point forward, we find that there is persecution upon the saints – all of them. We also find that they who are wicked continue to do wickedly. It is here, and exactly here, where we see the unfolding of all that the prophets have decreed. The triumph of the saints over the kingdom of darkness is utterly displayed in their victory through the cross, and this is the formation of events to reveal Christ at His second coming. So, what is imperative to understand, then, is that these four horsemen revolve around the Antichrist and his actions, but they ultimately have their full expression through the sons of Israel. As we continue in Revelation 6, we’ll see the events to culminate in the return of Jesus. As the pieces are put together for us, and as we begin to see more details being added as we go through the book of Revelations, it is imperative to understand these seals. These are the foundation for the rest of the book in regard to the end times. How we understand the trumpets and bowls will directly come from how we understand the seals. At the very front of all of this is the four horsemen and what they represent. These are world events, but they revolve around Jerusalem – the center of all the nations (Ezekiel 5:5).