The Four Horsemen (Revelation 6:1-8)

Furthermore, thoughtful consideration is due because the devastation described beginning in Revelation 6 should cause any morally-minded person to start thinking:  Is God right in doing all this?  


What do we really believe about this question:  Is God just?  Is He just in judging the world?  I guess that we don’t ever think too much of this idea of God being just – particularly in His judgments.  But why ought we to consider this question?  Why does it matter?  For one thing many point their finger at God for wiping out certain people groups in the OT.  We ought to reflect on this.  After all, that is the God we believe in.  Is He just?  Furthermore, thoughtful consideration is due because the devastation described beginning in Revelation 6 should cause any morally-minded person to start thinking.  Is God right in doing all this?  As Christians, we should have or should be contemplating this.  But we ought to be seeking to understand God in light of His holiness and righteousness.  We ought to see the judgments of the coming chapters in light of His worthiness in chapters 4 and 5.  After coming face to face with what God is going to do, if our faith is going to stand we will need to be convicted that yes, absolutely God is just.  Absolutely God is right.  If not, the only alternative is to condemn God – to judge the Judge.  There is no middle ground.  But, what kind of Christian – what kind of “believer” – judges His Savior?  I present this to you before going into the Tribulation so you do not stumble in your faith.

As we progress through Revelation we enter into the next section of the book:  the Tribulation, covered from chapter 6 through 19.  Beginning in chapter 4 we were introduced to the things of the future.  From chapter 4 through chapter 22 we are exposed to the events that are yet to come.  I remind us that we come to the book of Revelation as futurists, meaning we think everything starting in chapter 4 through the end is all still to come in the future, like we are reading tomorrow’s headlines today so to speak.  Good people think differently than this, and want to view everything in Revelation as already having happened in the past.  So you read, like I have been coming across, guys who try to pick passages in Revelation and speculate as to which events and persons in history are being referred to.  Its an approach I like to call “pin-the-tail-of-history-on-the-Revelation-donkey”.  But the problem with that is it’s pure conjecture.  Those kinds of guesses don’t have any Scriptural authority.  It reduces every passage to simply colorful clay that can be molded into whatever imagined meaning the person wants.  Much of what is said by way of persons, events, objects, names, etc. find their meaning in the Old Testament.  This is very Jewish.  Many however who don’t take these events as literal future events, are driven to believe that because they don’t believe the nation of Israel and the Jewish people have a future in God’s plans.  So the Jewishness of Revelation has to be Christianized and re-assigned to Christian history.  

This “future” section is divided into 4 sub-sections:  1) the Prologue in chapters 4 and 5, 2) the Tribulation in chapters 6 through 19, 3) the Millennial Kingdom in chapter 20, and 4) the Eternal State in chapters 21-22.  


So today we leave behind the Prologue in chapters 4-5, which showed us that Jesus Christ is going to be causing all the terrible events in the chapters that follow.  We learn that He is given authority and qualified to be the Judge who executes these judgments on a rebellious earth.  Those judgments are spelled out in the scroll that He took from God the Father’s hand.  As He opens the scroll by breaking each seal we are going to witness the specific, creative, and catastrophic ways in which God is going to pour out His wrath on the earth.


And that is what this time period is:  a time of God’s wrath (Rev. 6:16-17 and 16:1).  The stage is set, the time is begun, and now as we enter chapter 6 we enter the Tribulation.


In order to grasp the idea of the Tribulation we need to have some foundation laid.  The Tribulation is a 7 year period.  Daniel 9:27 shows us that a 7 year period is left in God’s program for Israel.  In other words, before God fulfills His promises to the nation of Israel, they have to go through this last 7 year period.  Again, this is why so much of Revelation is so “Jewish” and has so many intimations to the OT.  This 7 years will begin when they sign a 7 year covenant with the Antichrist, the ruler who will come.  This covenant will allow them to re-establish their temple worship with the system of animal sacrifice and all.  


Then, the Bible says that half way through the 7 years (3 ½ years/ 42 months/ 1260 days) the Antichrist will betray the Jews, end their temple worship and sacrifices, assert himself to be God and demand to be worshipped as God, and begin to persecute the Jews, causing them to run for their lives (Mt. 24:15-16; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 12:12-14).  This will last for 3 ½ years, the last half of the 7 year Tribulation.  The last half of the Tribulation is typically referred to as the “Great Tribulation” as this will be the most intense and devastating time ever in human history (Mt. 24:21).


This is what we are coming to in chapter 6:  the 7 year Tribulation.  The last 7 years of God’s program before Israel is restored, regenerated and renowned.  And from chapters 6-19 we are going to see the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth as each judgment in the scroll is executed during this 7 year tribulation.


Now, the way these judgments roll out is interesting.  We have 3 groups of seven:  7 seals, 7 trumpets and 7 bowls.  With the 7th bowl we learn that God’s wrath is done, meaning that it is finished and completed (16:17).  So keep that framework in mind to help you follow along through this section.


You’ll notice the pattern that each successive judgment is carried out.  The Lamb breaks a seal, which is followed by an angelic creature of different sorts coming forth to carry out the judgment.  The will of the Lamb is being pronounced by and executed by angelic beings.


Now, let us enter the Tribulation.


The First Seal (v1-2)

We come to the first seal, which calls forth and sends the rider on a white horse.  The first 4 seals call forth 4 different horse-riders.  Together they have become known as “the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”.  So this rider comes forth.  Who is he and what does he do?  Let us consider him remarkable as he is the lead-off man, the very first judgment in the Tribulation.


Some believe he is Jesus Christ because he is riding a white horse just like Jesus is said to ride in chapter 19 at the end of the Tribulation.  It seems odd however, as, Jesus is in the center of the throne breaking the seals.  Now he switches to become the rider?  It doesn’t seem likely.


Others believe it is the Antichrist.  This to me doesn’t seem likely either because the antichrist is a Satanically possessed human, not an angelic being.  This rider is clearly angelic.  I think its best to consider this one of the dozens of angels God is marshalling against the earth.  This angel, while not the Antichrist, will do something that coincides with the activity of the Antichrist:  he will conquer peacefully.  


This rider will go forth to conquer.  It seems that his conquest will be political and diplomatic, not necessarily militarily and violently.  Why say that?  Several clues appear to indicate this.  First is that he is wearing a stephanos crown, which is a victors crown, a crown won from some contest.  He is not wearing the diaddem, which is the rulers crown of authority.  This may indicate he wins political capital, even position, for his savvy politicking and winning an international peace of sorts.  Secondly, notice that the 2nd rider coming up is given power to take peace away from the earth and make men slay each other.  Peace can’t be taken away unless it is there in the first place.  If you combine that with the fact that the Antichrist will form a 7 year covenant with Israel, a peace covenant allowing Israel to worship in their temple in Jerusalem, then it seems like this first rider will be a brilliant politician who will achieve something no one has ever done:  Peace in the Middle East.  


Why would this be a judgment from God though?  Why would peace constitute a kind of divine judgment?  I would suggest the reason is that it is a false peace.  God is judging man by giving him a false peace.  He did this with the Israelites when they were so evil and wouldn’t repent He led them on thinking they had peace when really they were about to be slaughtered by Him.  Jeremiah cried out, “Ah, Soveriegn Lord, how completely you have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will have peace, when the sword is at our throats.’”  First Thessalonians 5:3 says this about the Tribulation:  “While people are saying ‘peace and safety’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”  When men hate the truth and love lies, when they stubbornly persist in their rebellion towards God,  God will lead them on with a false sense of security before crashing their world, and that leading them on is in itself a form of judgment!   So too we see the Tribulation is going to begin with peace.  But the peace is false, because while it is a peace among men on earth there is no peace with the One in heaven on His throne.  Therefore God will give mankind peace, but, it will short-lived, and it will end disastrously.  


What about you?  Do you live in peace?  Are you living with a false peace?  Is everything going your way in life and you have no trouble?  Are you well with your family, your friends, your co-workers?  Do you live carefree today?  Do you enjoy peace here and now without any thought of God?  Then here and now I am telling you that yours is a false peace.  It is short-lived and unless you turn to Jesus Christ to save you your life will end disastrously in judgment.  Unless you have peace with God over your sins you have no real peace.  In our text the call goes out to these riders to “Come” and they come for judgment.  But here and now the call goes out to you to “come”, come to Jesus for salvation.  


The 2nd Seal (v3-4)

Then we come to the 2nd seal in verses 3 and 4, “…”


The Lamb breaks the 2nd seal, the 2nd Living Creature (perhaps the one “like an ox”) calls for the 2nd rider.  He appears riding a fiery red horse and he is given a large sword.  This rider means war.  If there was peace on earth this rider’s job was to take it away and cause men to turn violent towards each other.  


I think this indicates war for sure.  Speaking of this time period, Jesus said in Matthew 24:6-7, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”  Front and center in these wars will be the Antichrist.  While his global domination grows it will require military force to conquer more nations and retain those already within his empire.  Daniel 8:23-25 describes the powerful career of the Antichrist (turn and read along with me).  


When peace is taken away I think more is meant than just ensuing war between nations, as big and as bad as that is.  I think increased localized violent crime is inherent when peace is removed.  Zechariah 14:13 says, “On that day men will be stricken by the Lord with great panic.  Each man will seize the hand of another, and they will attack each other.”  Neighborhoods will break down.  People will break down. Family’s, friendships, businesses, colleagues are all going to break down.  Civility towards one’s fellow man will disappear and societies will degenerate into barbarism and wild west violence.  Everyday everyone will live in fear or anger, hostile, on edge, guards up, quick to defend or retaliate to anything on the street or in the check-out lane.   


Religion will not bring anyone peace either.  Religious freedom will be a thing of the past and the new norm will be religious persecution.  Jesus said so when talking about this time period in Matthew 24:6-7 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.”  The Antichrist we are told will destroy the holy people (Dan. 8:24).  Later in the 5th seal we see the souls of the people who were martyred for their faith during the Tribulation.  Religious persecution will be part of this 2nd seal judgment as men all over the world turn violent when the rider on the fiery red horse comes.


With the first seal God judged man with a false peace and with the second seal He took it away and caused men to kill each other.  


Third Seal (v5-6)

The third seal is found in verse 5-6, “…”


Now we come to famine and extreme scarcity.  The 3rd living creature (perhaps the one like a man) calls for the next rider.  He comes riding a black horse and carrying a scale in one hand.  The scale was used in ancient times to measure the weight of various things like precious metals as a way of doing fair trade – ensuring accurate amounts were given for the price declared.  But when the Scriptures speak of scales in connection with bread it indicates scarcity or famine, as in Leviticus 26:26 and here in Revelation 6:5.


A day’s wages is literally a “denarius” in the Greek, which was a silver coin.  That was the typical day’s pay for a soldier in that time period.  But the key here is in the purchasing power of that denarius.  Normally 10 quarts of wheat could be bought with one denarius, or, if you wanted more for your buck then that denarius could get you 30 quarts of barley.  When the 3rd seal is broken the scarcity and famine will be so bad that one day’s wage will get you only one quart of wheat, or, 3 quarts of barley.  


Here’s where the pinch is felt:  your paycheck for the day will give you enough for you alone to eat for the day and leave you nothing leftover to buy anything else or feed your wife and family if you have them.  You could go with the barley to feed the fam but still you won’t be able to afford anything else:  goodbye iPhone.  Actually this won’t be trade-offs where wants are given up for needs.  This will be far worse than inconvenient.  This will be needs given up for other needs.  Life will be reduced to the most basic need:  food.  It will be literally “day-to-day” existence.  The day’s labor will only pay for the day’s food, and barely so.  No “seconds” (second-helpings) for anyone.


And as if it weren’t hard enough on people to endure such poverty, everyday opening up bare refrigerators, looking into empty pantries, watching clothing get baggier and faces get gauntier, listening to grumbling stomachs that are never quite full, insult is added to all this misery when they look across town.


Here we have famine, but not just famine.  We have luxury alongside of famine (Barclay).  Notice verse 6 tells us that while the poor man’s food source will see soaring prices, the wine and the oil, the symbol of wealth and prosperity in Scripture, won’t be touched at all by the famine.  The middle class you might say is wiped out.  All that is left is two classes:  the very wealthy on one side of town and the extremely poor on the other.  Never before will history have seen such polarization between the have’s and the have not’s.  With violence and hatred already rampant because of the 2nd Seal judgment, this extreme disparity between the wealthy and the poor will only add to the misery and resentment among people – this time along class lines.


Famine is often the result of war.  Perhaps the increased violence is the result of extreme panic, desperate people searching and protecting any daily necessities they can find.  Maybe a parent has been killed in the war or by some senseless act of violence and so the family is struggling to find each day’s necessities.  


Fourth Seal (v7-8)

The fourth seal is broken by the Lamb, read verses 7-8.


The Lamb breaks the seal, the 4th living creature, probably the one looking like an eagle, calls forth the next rider, and riding a pale (greenish) horse we are introduced to Death.  But Death brings a partner:  Hades.  Death and Hades ought to come together as they are a pair.  Death comes for to sever men’s souls from their bodies and Hades is the abode for their souls.  Jesus said in Luke 12, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but after that do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear, fear Him who after the killing of your body has power to throw  you into Hades.”


Death and Hades are not rogue agents and they are not the instruments of Satan.  They are under the authority of God.  In chapter 1 Jesus said “I was dead but now I am alive forevermore and I have the keys to Death and Hades”.  With His authority over Death and Hades Jesus is sending them both to take 25% of the earth’s population.  


Twenty-five percent!  There are almost 7.5 billion people on the earth right now, and if the 4th Seal broke loose today there would be about 1.8 billion people who would lose their lives.  Let’s put that into perspective:  that is almost 6 times the population of the US.  That’s more than the combined population of North and South America plus all of Europe.  That’s almost 38 million times the size of EFC.  Death and Hades are going to come as an unstoppable force.  And they are going to have power to kill this many people using four ways:

First, they are going to use the sword, which refers to war.  Like the 2nd seal, this seal will bring war too.  So there will be war, and, there will be more war.  There will be wars and rumors of wars (Mt. 24:6).


Second, Death and Hades are going to use famine, often a tragic result of war.  Also like the 3rd seal this 4th seal will produce famine.  However, while the famine associated with the 3rd seal results in extreme hardship, the famine of the 4th seal results in mass death.  


Third, Death and Hades will have the power of disease.  Widespread disease is a tragic consequence of war also.  Medical supplies will be limited.  Sanitization will be impossible.  MacArthur points out, “Throughout human history disease has killed people on a far more massive scale than war.  More Union and Confederate soldiers died from disease in the Civil War than were killed in battle.  An estimated 30 million people died from the great influenza epidemic during 1918-1919 – more than three times as many as the estimated 8.5 million soldiers who died during WWI.  In addition, several million more died at about that same time in an outbreak of typhus in Russia, Poland and Romania.  In a world ravaged by war and famine it is inevitable that such disease will be widespread.”  (p184).
Fourth, the wild beasts will be a means they use to help kill off 25%  of mankind on the earth.  Some believe wild beasts symbolize the evil national leaders during the Tribulation, or that disease will be spread through animals.  But, I think it best to see this literally as a special revolt of the animals against mankind.  Animal attacks on humans will dramatically escalate when the 4th Seal is broken.  This is a consequence quite appropriate for man and it really shows God’s creativity and exactness.  Here’s how:  You may remember that when God created man back in the beginning He gave man dominion over the animals.  Man had a God-ordained rule over all the animal kingdom.  Now, here we have man in total rebellion against God, bucking his own authority.  So what does God do?  He causes the animals under man’s dominion to buck their human authority resulting in widespread animal-on-man violence.  It will literally be “open season” on man.

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