Last week we looked at the "The Scroll and the Lamb"; a call was made for anyone to take up the scroll and break its seals but there was no one but the Lamb of God! We also saw the amazing continuous worship in heaven by an innumerable host of angels along with the elders and the living creatures. Today we will continue from the Lamb taking the scroll. (It is worthy to note at this point that we have arrived at a stage in the study of the book of Revelations where there is controversy in the interpretation of the strange mysteries in John's vision.) The preceding chapters were somewhat clearer concerning the era involved and "who was who"; but not these next few verses. The interpretation of these few verses have created a divergence amongst scholars of the Bible; however our study of this chapter will mostly be away (though not completely) from this divergence (especially as it relates to whether these visions have already been fulfilled or not and who the visions referred to) but instead we will consider the events as John saw them. In each of these verses, after Jesus breaks a seal, a different horseman appears. In each of these instances, we will consider, first, the horseman himself; secondly, what he was empowered to do and thirdly, what the consequences of his actions were.
Seal #1 - The White Horse (Verses 1 & 2)
"And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer"
There are three symbols in verse 2
(a) The white horse that represents conquest;
(b) A bow is carried by a warrior into battle, and is a symbol of military power and victory. Any time in the old testament that a military power is destroyed, it is said that their bows were destroyed (see Jer. 51:56, Hos. 1:5, Ps. 46:9). But because there are no arrows for the bow, it is therefore indicative that he will conquer by diplomacy and not violence.
(c) The crown indicates victory.
Seal #2 - The Red Horse (Verses 3 & 4)
"And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword."
The second seal revealed a red horse; the rider of this horse had power to take peace from the earth by the great sword given to him which will then lead to people killing one another indiscriminately.
Seal #3 - The Black Horse (Verses 5 & 6)
"And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine."
The third seal revealed a black horse, whose rider carried a pair of scales in his hand, and a voice was heard saying "A measure of wheat for a penny, three measures of barley for a penny, and see that you don't hurt the oil and the wine."
This black horse represents famine, a natural result of war; the scales indicate that food will be doled out measure by measure.
A penny (the Roman denarius) was considered to be the usual day's wages (see Matt. 20:2); and a measure was one person's daily portion. Ordinarily, a man could purchase 15-20 measures for a penny. However, during this time of famine, a working man could feed only himself, not his family. "and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine" seems to indicate that luxuries for the privileged few would not be affected by this famine, while the price of wheat and barley for the poor would be inflated to ten times its usual cost.
Seal #4 - The Pale Horse (Verses 7 & 8)
"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."
The fourth seal revealed a pale horse, whose rider was plainly identified as Death, (the natural result of war and famine). Hades (hell, or the grave) travelled behind this horseman, and he was given power to kill by the sword (violence and war), and by famine, disease, and wild animals, a fourth of the world, leading many to believe this is a reference to the Roman emperors who threw Christians to wild animals for entertainment. However, the population of wild animals would increase greatly following any prolonged war, famine, and disease, when people would be dying in much larger numbers than usual. It appears that each of these seals is a natural result of the seal before it, indicating a continual progress, not events all occurring at once.
There a different schools of thought regarding the first four seals and the horses and their riders
1. School of thought #1: Some believe this represents Jesus Christ himself as in Rev 19:11
· But we can very easily dispute that because the Greek word used in verse 2 of this chapter for "crown" is "stephanos" which means a victor's crown, while the word used in Chapter 19 is "diadema", which is a crown of royalty
2. School of thought #2: There are also some that believe that this conqueror on the white horse represents the Roman Empire, the world power under which Jesus began His earthly ministry; the next three horses would then represent things that occurred under their reign. If the first horse and its rider indicates the conquest of the Roman empire, then the others must refer to events during that time, also, such as the empire's 100 year long civil war, (200-300 A.D.), when it lost more than half of its total population, and the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperors, from Nero in 64 A.D. to Diocletian in 305 A.D.
· I will however dispute this belief because the horseman did not have arrows; indicative that he will conquer by diplomacy but the Roman Empire conquered by the violence of war and bloodshed.
3. School of thought #3: Others believe that the first horse and its rider represent the Antichrist. If the first horse and its rider symbolize the Antichrist, then the others must refer to his destructive capabilities and the tribulation that will occur. The antichrist was described in Rev 13:1-10 "And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name ... and the dragon gave him his power, his throne and great authority . . ."
· This is no way matches the description of the rider of the first horse. The antichrist was also empowered by the Dragon and not by God as the rider in verse 2 was.
4. School of thought #4: Yet another theory is that this horse represents the Gospel, its spread and eventual conquest, and the next three horses represent the dire consequences of rejecting the Gospel. If the first horse and its rider represent the conquest of the Gospel, then the next three, (war, famine, and death) represent the bitter consequences of rejecting the Gospel.
· This theory however does not particularly have any scriptural or historical backing. The Gospel of our Lord is a Gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:15)
My own thoughts: The horses and riders are Instruments of God's Avenging Judgment. See verse 16: "They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" The scroll was in God's custody and is also indicative that He was the One who sealed it. I also believe that this judgment will be mete after the rapture; after the saints would have been taken away with Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9), Emphasis on verse 9: "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
It will not be of any benefit to us to attempt to prove whether the events that occurred at the breaking of the seals are in the past or in the future or it is ongoing. But we can undoubtedly say that the picture revealed by the breaking of the four seals is a picture similar to that of the tribulation period of the last days the Bible refers to in Matt 24-7, ""For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom [that's happening today]. And there will be famines [happening right now], pestilences, and earthquakes in various places".
There is war, famine, and death in various parts of the world today, as well as Christians suffering persecution. The truth is that this vision speaks to each generation with events they can relate to, either from their own time frame or from a historical perspective, it should therefore serve as a reminder to every believer that we should be ready to make the first flight and avoid the terrible events that will occur during the great tribulation. "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:34-36)
Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai