The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Revelation 6

Let us review briefly the first chapters of Revelation in order to get the setting and then read Revelation 6. We have seen John on the isle of Patmos being shown visions of heaven. We looked at the seven churches of Asia and saw the letter Jesus wrote to them. We saw their struggles and the tribulations and difficulties which confronted them which really are typical of the problems and struggles of the church in all ages. Then, in chapter 4, a door opens in heaven and John is permitted to see the throne of God and we see that awesome description of the glory of God on His throne.

We are reminded and made aware that God is on His throne, that He rules in the kingdom of men and that God is very much in charge of our universe even though it may not seem like it at times. And, then in chapter 5, we see the Lamb of God coming to the very throne of God and joining God at the throne. And to the Lamb a kingdom was given, and He made us to be a kingdom and priests. Those whom Jesus purchased from every tribe and tongue and people and nation He caused to reign on the earth. Then, there is the great exclamation in heaven: “Worthy is the Lamb that has been slain, to receive that power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory and blessings” (Revelation 5:12).

We saw in chapter 5 that the one who sat on the throne had in His hand a book that was sealed. Then John wept because no one in heaven or on earth was able to open the seals of the book, which would reveal the future and would also make it possible the carrying out of the affairs of the future. Finally, the Lamb appeared, and He was the one who was worthy to open the book. As the book is opened seal by seal, we are permitted to see that which was going to happen in the future.

Revelation 6:1–2: “Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” It is extremely important to us as we move through Revelation that we understand what these symbols represent.


Through the many centuries since this book was written there have developed all kinds of bizarre notions and interpretations of what the various symbols of Revelation mean. It is going to be our attempt, as nearly as possible, to allow the Bible to interpret itself as we work our way through this book.

As we come to the first of the seals of the book that is opened, we have a sense of a horseman and a horse. It was a white horse, and he that sat on it had a bow, and there was given to him a crown, and he came forth conquering, and to conquer. I do not know what is the first impression that would come to your mind as you would try to determine what that represents.

But I think that what would come to your mind is Jesus Christ. Yet there have been those who have interpreted this as being the anti–Christ! The premillennialists, those who believe that some day in the future God is going to set up a kingdom here on earth and reign a thousand years, have been known to interpret it in this way. But I am convinced, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this passage has reference to Jesus Christ.

I want to tell you why, because my opinion is worth nothing unless what I say has scripture behind it. There is only one other time in the book of Revelation when a white horse is mentioned, and in that one other reference, there is no question as to who is sitting on it. That is found in Revelation 19:11–13 which says: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.” We know who that is. It is Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh.

There is more in this passage to identify the rider of the white horse as Jesus. In fact, I know of no commentator who denies that this is Jesus who is being described here in Revelation 19:11. There is no question about who this is. It seems reasonable to conclude that the rider on a white horse in Revelation 19:11, is the same rider on a white horse in Revelation 6:2. Here we have a white horse “... and He who sat on it had a


bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” This expression, “conquer,” is found throughout the book of Revelation and, with a couple of exceptions, it always, including the two nearest references to it in Revelation 3:21 and Revelation 5:5, refer to Christ or to His people. The conqueror is Jesus Christ. John only uses that word one time in his gospel. It is found in John 16:33, and there he applies that expression to Jesus Christ.

Read in sequence these four references and see if it does not suggest to you clearly that we are seeing Jesus Christ as the One who goes forth conquering, and to conquer. First, John 16:33; “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.” This is Jesus speaking. “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” And that is the same Greek word translated "conquer" in Revelation 6:2. “I have conquered the world.” Next, turn to Revelation 3:21, and read what Jesus is speaking. He is addressing the church at Laodicea, and he says, “To him who overcomes. ...” There is that word again, he that conquers. “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Then in Revelation 5:5: “But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’ ” And last read Revelation 6:2: “...and he went out conquering and to conquer.”

We saw, in chapter 5, the Lion. The Lion has overcome. How did he overcome? He overcame death itself when He rose from the dead. He is the overcomer, and therefore, He made it possible for all who are willing to follow in His way to overcome and to be conquerors. And, of course, Jesus goes forth to conquer men's minds. He is not going forth in the world to destroy man. He goes forth to conquer, to bring every though into captivity to Himself, to make men bow in allegiance to Him. He is the conqueror, and He is the One who wears the crown.

In Revelation 14:14, we see Jesus: “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown and in His hand a sharp sickle.” Here is a description of Jesus returning in order to


bring judgment on the earth. And, here in Revelation 6, He is said to be wearing a crown even as He is described as wearing a golden crown in Revelation 14:14. Notice, the expression in Revelation 6:2, that the conqueror “... who sat on it had a bow.” There is a fascinating parallel to this passage in the Old Testament in a messianic Psalm; that is, a Psalm that is a prophecy of the Messiah who was to come. It is Psalm 45:3–6, and I want you to think about this against the background of the words of Revelation 6:2. It says: “Gird your sword upon your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things. Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies; the peoples fall under You. Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.”

Here is a description of One who is being addressed as God and who rides forth. We are told in Psalm 45:4: “And in you majesty ride prosperously.” The Septuagint translation of this passage renders it in this way: “... and in your majesty ride and bend the bow and prosper and reign.” Jesus and the apostles often quote from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Hebrews 1:8 shows that Psalm 45 is speaking of Jesus. It says: “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.’ ” So Psalm 45 is presenting a description of Jesus Christ Riding forth in Majesty and bending the bow for the purpose of reigning and for the purpose of prospering.

We see in Revelation 6:2 what seems to be, if we allow the Bible itself to provide for us a context, a clear picture of Jesus Christ riding forth conquering and to conquer. This also reminds one of Romans 8, where we are told, beginning with verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Then we find the answer in verse 37: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” The same word is used in Revelation 6:2. We have seen Jesus Christ through whom we are more than conquerors. As we come to chapter 6 of Revelation, we are shown first of all, that Jesus Christ who had been slain, who had risen from the dead, and who had ascended to the throne of


God is now going forth to conquer and to reign. And we want to see that at the beginning because now there are to come some very terrifying scenes. We need to know before hand that Jesus Christ is the victor and that His people, therefore, are going to be able to withstand what is going to be described.

Of course, Jesus is not literally riding on a white horse through our land trying to convert people, but He uses His people as the instrument of spreading His gospel. Remember, Jesus said all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations ...” (Matthew 28:19). We are the agents that He uses in the battle to conquer men's minds and bring them into captivity to Christ. And so, as His people, we are going to be faced with the onslaught of every kind of Satanic force. But, while we are going to be experiencing various kinds of difficulties, we also are made to understand by Revelation chapter 6 that God still had these things under control. He can use them for the purpose of strengthening His people.

What do you see next? We come to 6:3–4: “When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying ‘Come and see.’ And another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a sword.” As we read in Matthew 10:34, Jesus one time said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Then He explained what He meant by that. In essence what He says is, “When men are turned to Me, when men commit their lives to Me, it is going to create extreme difficulties.” It may very well be that a man's own family will turn against him. It may happen that he himself will face the cross, and it may be that he will lose his life. Wherever Jesus goes forth conquering and to conquer, the efforts of Satan to destroy, will follow. Consequently, the sword will come wherever the gospel goes. And that is precisely what we are seeing in Revelation 6:2–3. Following the efforts of Christ to permeate the world with the message, we see the efforts of Satan to destroy the people of God. That is what we see as the rider of the red horse is given power to “... take peace from the earth, and that people should kill [slay] one another.” What we are seeing here, I believe, is


not a general slaughter of mankind, but, rather, it has reference to persecution of the God's own people. I believe that, first of all, because, not only in Matthew 10:34, but in other passages there is the constant assurance of God, that when people turn to Him, they are going to face persecution. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). So, when Jesus goes forth, Satan comes with persecution. In the second place, the expression “slay” that is used in Revelation 6:4, in the ASV, is not the normal word that is used in scripture for killing. It is a word that is used regularly for slaughter of God's people or Christ Himself. Revelation 6:9 says: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” It is the same word “slain” that is used in verse three. In other words, those people who had been slain for the sake of the word of God are now seen in the presence of God Himself.

In other words, Satan was defeated by the very effort that he made to defeat God's people. It backfired on him. The very effort he made to persecute God's people simply resulted in their release to be in the presence of God. We are going to see another word for “kill” which has reference to a general slaughter of mankind rather than one specifically directed to God's people. But what we are seeing here as the red horse is religious persecution, the persecution of God's people.

Read verses 5–6: “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine ’ ” Denarius is a Greek word and, as we learn in Matthew 20:2, was a common laborer's daily wage. The amount of wheat that is spoken of according to the ancient historian Herodotus, was roughly the equivalent of a quart, which works out to be the amount of food that would feed one man for one day. What we are seeing, then, is economic hardship. It does mention that you would buy three measures of barley for a day's wage. But barley is not considered as good a substance


from which to make bread. However, that would provide a man enough for his family. So, whether or not these figures are precise, we are at least being given a picture of economic hardship. It is not a case of vast famine that is leaving people starving to death. There is enough food for the daily needs of the people, but not any left over for luxuries. It says the oil and the wine were not to be hurt. This suggests that some who were wealthy would still be able to have their luxuries and go beyond the mere necessities of life. We are seeing the equivalent of a very great inflation that was taking place in the economy, a period of severe economic hardship. But the point is that it affects primarily God's people. We are seeing a problem that is created by injustice, for the one who is on the black horse had a balance in his hand. God's people throughout the ages have suffered not only from the sword of persecution, but they have suffered also, from time to time, economic hardships because of their commitment to Christ. Those in the early days of the church in the Roman Empire often suffered economically because of their convictions and because they had to withdraw themselves from certain activities of their society in which they could not participate. This deprives them of their livelihood. So, here we see a third horse, which suggests economic hardship for the people of God.

Read verse 7: “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ ” It seems as though, for the third time, God is having an angel to call out the power of Satan against God's own people. What we are seeing is much the same kind of thing as we saw in the Old Testament where God would refer to Babylon as His servant. Then, He would send Babylon down into Judah to wreck havoc and to take the people out of their land and make slaves and captives of them. God is still sovereign and God can even take Satanic forces bent on evil and use them ultimately for the strengthening of His own people. We saw in the Old Testament in the story of Joseph how his brothers meant their actions toward Joseph for evil, but God meant them for good. So God is still sovereign and He will only allow destruction to go so far.

Read verse 8: “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse.” Your translation may have a different word for the color of the horse. This one say, “pale.” The word in Greek is the word from which we get our word chlorine. It is sort of a yellowish


green, a sickly looking color, suggesting death. “And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” I think that what we have seen in the cases of the second and third horsemen are difficulties brought on God's people. but now, in verse 8, we are seeing calamities that come on all the earth, which we must suffer with all the rest of mankind. These are the sword and famine and death and the wild beasts of the earth.

There is a fascinating parallel to this particular passage found in Ezekiel 14. Read Revelation 6:8, and then think about it as you read Ezekiel 14:21. “For thus says the Lord God: ‘How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem—the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence—to cut off man and beast from it.’ ” The same four items referred to as the four judgments of God are mentioned in Revelation 6:8. This expression, “death,” is a word that can be translated two or three ways in the Greek; either death or pestilence or plague. In fact, it apparently is a term that had reference to what in modern times we call bubonic plague. At any rate, it is suggesting to us disease and things to which all men are subject: the sword, famine, death and the wild beasts of the earth. So Christians may expect to suffer not only religious and economic hardship because of their commitment to Christ, but they will also suffer calamities common to the rest of mankind.

What happens to the Christian in all of this? What happens to God's people? Fortunately, we are shown another scene in verses 9–11, as the fifth seal is opened: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying: ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” We have already suggested back in verses 3 and 4, where we saw those who were being slain, that they are God's people.


But now, in verses 9–11, we see them underneath the altar in Heaven in the presence of God. In other words, Satan's efforts have failed. They have backfired. He has not succeeded in destroying God's people. He has only released them from this life to enter into the presence of God. And so it says: “And a white robe was given to each of them.” White is a symbol which, always in the book of Revelation, has a connotation of moral goodness. Incidentally, this is another reason for thinking that the rider on the white horse in verse 2, is not the anti–Christ. White always represents moral goodness, moral purity, holiness and, consequently, victory. And Christ is the victor, and here we see that God's people are victorious, they are each given a white robe./p>

We come now to what happens to the rest. What happens to those who have persecuted God's people? In verses 12–17, we see the sixth seal opened: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell on the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains and said to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand.’ ” He speaks of the wrath of the Lamb, the gentlest of all God's creatures! The wrath of the Lamb suggests something really terrible such a gentle creature finally exploding in wrath, in anger and vengeance. There is the awesome picture of what happens finally, to those who oppose God and His people.

The long–suffering of God finally ends, and quickly and suddenly and unexpectedly wrath strikes mankind and who can stand? God's opponents can only cry out to the mountains to fall on them because of the terror that has gripped them. Finally, they come to the realization that truly there is a God in heaven who reigns and that truly the Son of God died for them and they rejected Him and turned their backs on His offering of love and mercy.


And, finally, we see the vindication of those souls at the altar who cried out and said: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Perhaps you say, “How can these people who are with God in heaven have such a spirit of vengeance?” It is not a spirit of personal vengeance. It is true that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:24). And Stephen said when he was being stoned, “Lord do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). But, here the cry is for the vindication of the justice and holiness of God. His justice must be served and those who reject and rebel against the holy and true and merciful God deserve to receive the wrath of God. Those who have suffered from the attacks and the ridicule of those who reject God deserve finally to see the wrath of God poured down upon them, and surely it will happen in the great day of His wrath.

Who is able to stand? We have seen those who are able to stand. They are God's people. They shall escape and they shall one day stand victoriously with the One who went forth conquering and to conquer. In Revelation 17:14 is the final picture: “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

If you are among the called of God, if you have accepted His call, and if you have allowed yourself to be among those God has chosen, and if you have been faithful to Him, then you are prepared to face a God who is both the God of justice and God of love, and who showed it when He allowed His Son to die for you. How will you respond to that expression of love? That is the question that comes to each of us.

If you are not one of God's children, we plead with you to allow yourself to begin to walk in the way of Christ. We plead also for you to be washed in the blood of the Lamb, that you might be cleansed, justified, and sanctified, and prepared to one day receive the white robe and to stand with the victorious in the very presence of God.