The dramatic course of history is about to commence. The worthy One is breaking the seals and all the consequences of sin overwhelm the earth and its inhabitants. A thunderous voice calls the four horses to disperse their destiny over the earth. The horse in this chapter is a metaphor for an unstoppable flow of events, divided roughly into four categories of disaster.
The horses of the Apocalypse as they are often called, have been the dramatic theme in many movies and scary stories. A horse is a magnificent creature in God’s creation and the words of Job echoes through so many centuries as horses were the faithful companions for everything man had to do. Hear what God says about a horse:
Have you given the horse strength?
Have you clothed his neck with thunder?
Can you frighten him like a locust?
His majestic snorting strikes terror.
He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength;
He gallops into the clash of arms.
He mocks at fear, and is not frightened;
Nor does he turn back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him,
The glittering spear and javelin.
He devours the distance with fierceness and rage;
Nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded.
At the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!’
He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of captains and shouting. (Job 39:19-25)
Since the earliest times horses roamed the earth and were harnessed into service and battle. Scholars agree that the inhabitants of the Eurasian Steppes were the first to tame horses over 6000 years ago. Until quite recently, wild horses in swift gallops were a familiar scene in most unexploited natural environments. These days wild horses are protected to retain their distinct characteristics of speed and strength.
Any horse handler has a colourful story of taming a horse. Wild horses are not easily tameable. Taming a horse is a process that requires patience and perseverance. The course of action is often painful – for the horse and the man. They often talk of breaking a horse. All his old habits of running free and wild, living on his birth instincts without bridle and fence, have to be broken and forgotten, to guide him into full and unconditional obedience to his master.
The image of horses running across the world, was a way to portray the fierce and vicious brutality of sin. Wild horses trample their enemy, rearing up with a sound that brings man to his knees in fright, running away with no hope of catching up. Wild horses are quietly tricked into confined spaces with the goal of catching only one. We often have to deal with our habitual sin the same way. In prayer and determined self-control, we tackle our bondage piece by piece and break the chains of our sinful nature. It is a slow, single-minded process to bridle and saddle our wild horse into full submission and obedience to our spirit-man, with the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Here we are in Revelation 6 where John sees the image of the first four seals. The One on the throne is in control of everything and sin would be ultimately used to accomplish His purpose as the Redeemer of mankind. Ezekiel (14:21-23) mentions the four severe judgments against Jerusalem. Zechariah (6:1-8) describes the four horses in the exact colours of Revelation as symbols and types of destruction. Here is the Amplified translation:
Now again I looked up, and four chariots [four angelic spirits appointed by God to dispense His judgment] were coming out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of [firm, immovable] bronze (divine judgment). The first chariot had red horses (war, bloodshed), the second chariot had black horses (famine, death), the third chariot had white horses (victory), and the fourth chariot had strong dappled horses (death through judgment).
White horse. The bow is a symbol of war and conquest. Christ is never depicted with bow, always with a sword. The blood is spilled to gain victory in political strife of which history is the record. The crown (stephanos) is the reward for success in war.
Psalm 18:34: He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. Christ’s crown is diadema, which is a royal crown. Roman victories celebrated with a parade in which the victorious general rides a white horse. Military conquest is always bloody and tragic.
The red horse represents war and strife. Peace is taken away with the sword. Human relationships are broken down and the world is a “seething cauldron of embittered hate.” [Barclay] Peace is the greatest blessing that could only come from God. Satan can never give it. Peace can never be faked or obtained by fraudulent means. It is a direct and powerful consequence of a godly life.
Christ gives peace with the sword of the Word. His promises calm the brokenness and pain even within strife. (Hebrews 4:12)
The black horse depicts scarcity of commodities. Scales were used to determine quantity and symbolize the lack of abundance. There were three main crops in Israel: corn, wine and oil.
(Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14, 28:51 and Hosea 2:8,22.)
To measure bread by weight indicates scarcity – Leviticus 26:26, Ezekiel 4:16.
It is not only about the rule of economics in history, but also the scarcity of true, divine knowledge. (Isaiah 55) More often than not there is a general scarcity of spiritual food. With spiritual insight we know that the people of this world hunger for the bread of life, which would fill the gap in their souls.
It is possible to have wine and oil and no corn. The vines for grapes and the olive trees were deeply rooted and could yield their crop even in drought. A denarius was a labourer’s working wage for a day. The price of the corn would cost all he has for himself – nothing more. It implies that he cannot provide for his family. It is a tragic state of affairs and prevalent all over the world.
During the reign of the Caesar Domitian there was a shortage of corn and an over supply of wine. It sets famine alongside luxury.
It is a vivid picture of the world throughout history, especially today.
In contrast with the scarcity on earth the four living creatures around the Throne are symbolic of the full provision of nature. Nature itself provides enough, but the reign of man causes shortages so that its provision is thwarted and cannot reach everybody.
The pale horse represents pestilence and death. (6:8)
So I looked, and behold, an ashen (pale greenish grey horse [like a corpse, representing death and pestilence]; and its rider’s name was Death; and Hades (the realm of the dead) was following with him.
He has authority over a fourth part of the earth. It means the disaster is huge, but limited. His colour is described with the word chloros, which means ashen or pale as a person in fright or terror. The death horse kills with the sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. (Ezekiel14:21)
Ezekiel describes how the wild beasts will steal children, the sword will avenge the breaking of the Covenant, pestilence will break out in the cities and break the staff of bread so that they eat but are not satisfied. (Leviticus 26:21-26) Again we see the consequence of sin. Where terror reigns there can be no happiness and joy. Psalm 128 paints the contrasting picture of fruit on your labour and blessings for your children. All six verses spell out the wonders of God’s blessing.
For you shall eat the fruit of your hands. You will be happy and blessed and it will be well with you. (Psalm 128:2)
I am sure we agree that the “wild beasts” of our day still steal our children? Greed, sexual sin, power, immorality, worship of money, addictions, to name a few, are beasts stealing and killing the children.
Hades was the dwelling of death. It is possible to be dead before actual death. The living dead, the walking dead who dwell in death while in this life are amongst us, living in hell with no awareness of the wonders of the Presence of our Father.
The fifth seal is called the cry of the martyrs. The original meaning of the word martyr was witness. So many of Christ’s witnesses were persecuted and killed, especially at the time of the early church, that the word was used exclusively for people losing their life for what they believe in.
There is an altar in heaven. It is heaven’s pattern that established the Tabernacle and Temple on earth. Under the altar was the place of the blood. The souls of the martyrs will cry for God’s vindication, not vengeance. They will cry because of God’s seemingly inactivity, but with confidence of ultimate action and victory.
The martyrs will be given a white robe of purity and victory. To wait a little while longer indicates a time delay to extend the time of repentance. There is always more grace in TIME. In the case of the persecuted church Smyrna, the persecution time was limited to 10 days, which also speaks of grace.
The example of Methuselah in the time before the Flood speaks of grace and extended time for repentance. (Genesis 5, Jude 14,15) Enoch hid the prophecy in his son’s name. Methuselah means to be sent plus death. He knew the judgment shall come when Methuselah dies. He is known for the man who lived the longest in all of history. Grace is extended to the maximum.
The sixth seal speaks of cosmic upheaval, indescribable to the human mind.
The seven structures of creation and the seven classes of men are affected. (Hebrews 12:27, Luke 23:27-30, Isaiah 2:2,17, Hosea 10:8)
The day of the Lord as spoken by Obadiah in verse 15 of his prophetic utterance, is to be feared. It is a day of judgment and intervention. It determines the rise and fall of empires and civilizations.
The unsaved “pray” to nature to save them. Who is able to stand? There is clearly no escape. The revelation of God that they denied to be true, is now proved and it is too much to bear.
The unbeliever does not fear death itself, he fears the revelation of God.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)
All the events of natural disaster are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.
- Earthquake – Amos 8:8, Ezekiel 38:19.
- Darkening of the sun and moon – Amos 8:9, Isaiah 50:3, Joel 2:31.
- Falling of the stars was a Jewish superstition for the worst that could happen. Matthew 24:29.
- Heavens rolled up – Isaiah 34:4.
- Moving of mountains and hills – Jeremiah 4:24, Nahum 1:5 – contrast Isaiah 55:12.
- Every terrifying thing imaginable is happening – picture of utter destruction.
Salvation is always available in the midst of it all.
Next time: The seventh seal in Chapter 7.