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Revelation Episode 7: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Revelation Episode 7: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

June 05, 2024 | Andy Davis
Revelation 6:1-8
Second Coming of Christ, Judgment

Christ begins to open the seven seals, and as he opens each, of the first four seals, a horseman appears on earth and brings some severe trial to the earth.

- Podcast Transcript - 

Wes

Welcome to the Two Journeys Bible Study Podcast. This podcast is just one of the many resources available to you for free from Two Journeys Ministry. If you're interested in learning more, just head over to twojourneys.org. Now, on to today's episode.

This is Episode 7 in our Revelation Bible Study Podcast entitled, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, where we'll discuss Revelation 6:1-8. I'm Wes Treadway and I'm here with Pastor Andy Davis. Andy, what are we going to see in these verses that we're looking at today?

Andy

Well, as you just said, this is one of the most famous images from the Book of Revelation, the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And so, we're going to see the power that heaven has, specifically Jesus has to initiate events on earth that represent God's wrath and judgment on a sinful human race for the sins that we've committed in the consummation of history. We're going to walk through these four horsemen and see what this text tells us really about the future.

Wes

Well, let me go ahead and read Revelation 6:1-8.

Now, I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a loud voice like thunder, "Come!" And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" And I looked and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be 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 wine!'

When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Andy, how does the breaking open of the first four seals relate to Revelation 4 and 5 that we've been walking through up to this point?

Andy

Right, so just by way of review, in Revelation 4, John, who's in exile on the island of Patmos, has a vision of a doorway standing open in heaven, and he's invited, even commanded by Christ, the one who he had seen in the first vision in Revelation 1, to come up. He says, "Come up here, and I'll show you the things that must take place after this" (Revelation 4: 1), so it's a future.

He was in the Spirit, goes up through the doorway, and as he goes through the doorway, he sees a throne in heaven with someone seated on it. That throne is the throne of Almighty God, the single most important reality in the universe, God enthroned. Then we have the concentric circles, the 24 elders, four living creatures, 100,000,000 angels. We have all of these things going on in heaven, and the focus in Revelation 4 is the celebration or worship of God, the Creator.

Then in Revelation 5, we have a mighty angel crying out concerning a scroll that's in the right hand of Almighty God, and the mighty angel cries out saying, "Who is able to take the scroll from the right hand of God and break open its seven seals" (Revelation 5:2)? It's sealed with seven seals. No one is found in heaven or earth or under the earth who is able to take the scroll or look inside it, and John wept because of that. Then, as a result, he was told by one of the elders, "Do not weep. Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed" (Revelation 5:5), and he saw a Lamb looking as if it had been slain. The Lion and Lamb, and it's so beautiful.

Then, in Revelation 5, there's a celebration of Christ the Redeemer, and he comes and takes the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne, and there is cascading worship, all different levels of worship, the 24 elders, and the living creatures, and the 100,000,000 angels. The entire universe is celebrating when Jesus comes and takes the scroll.

Now, in chapter 6, he has the scroll, and he starts to break open its seals.

Wes

What do these verses teach us about the sovereignty of Christ as we see the Lamb open these seals, and what's the significance of the living creature being the one to speak after the seal is broken?

Andy

Yeah, so the significance is that heaven initiates, and earth responds. That's the whole point, is that God is sovereign. The things that happen on earth happen because they're part of God's sovereign plan. Human beings have all kinds of wicked motives and have all kinds of intentionalities, but it is heaven's plan that's being unfolded here. So, it's all in Christ's hand, and his is the plan, and his is the initiation of that plan and the timing of the plan.


"Human beings have all kinds of wicked motives and have all kinds of intentionalities, but it is heaven's plan that's being unfolded here. So, it's all in Christ's hand, and his is the plan."

So, when he breaks open the seal, something happens. What happens is a living creature calls out, and then ... So, there's a heavenly intermediary. Jesus breaks open the seal, and then one of the living creatures says, "Come!" Then the first horse comes and on down through the four horsemen. So, the idea is that there are heavenly servants that then deliver the decrees of Almighty God of Christ down to the earth, so they're go-betweens. They're in between, and we're going to see this throughout the Book of Revelation, the angels or the heavenly creatures effect or bring about the plan of God.

A seal is broken, one of the four living creatures says, "Come!" and then one of the horses comes.

Wes

Yeah, so in verse 2 we get the description of this first of four horsemen. How does John describe the first horse and its rider, and what does the bow in his hand symbolize, and what more do we learn from this description here?

Andy

All right, so he is described in this way, a white horse, and its rider held a bow, and he's given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. Now, there are a lot of different interpretations, and what you and I say in this podcast is just yet another try or interpretation. Do we know for sure? We don't.

Let me just step back and just say hermeneutically, as we look at the four horsemen, there are two different approaches we can take to it. One is that none of these events have happened yet. They're all part of the final seven-year tribulation. They initiate that final great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24, then there'll be a great tribulation unequal from the beginning of the world until the end of time. Or they could be seen, the first four horsemen in particular, even into the fifth seal, which is martyrs, that we have the commonplace sorrows and sufferings that have happened in every generation, such as in Matthew 24:4-9, which is famines, earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, persecutions, sufferings and all that. That's basically what's going on in the first five seals.

So, it could be like, "Look, this is the stuff that's going to happen in every generation," but it could be, it's not an either-or but more of a both-and. Yes, they're going to happen in every generation, but they greatly intensify at the end of the world. Anyway, that's the big picture on the four horsemen.

The first horseman is described as riding on a white horse, and he's got a bow, but no arrows are mentioned. Some commentators really make much of that. He's got a threat of war, but he doesn't use it, and so there's an idea of a conqueror conquering in the world by means of diplomacy and by means of a threat of war that never comes about. It reminds me somewhat of the ruler, the little horn or the antichrist and all that, that takes power by intrigue and by scheming and plotting and things like that.

So, the idea is of perhaps a counterfeit Christ or of an antichrist that's able to gain control and power in the earth by subtle means, not by overt military. It's a terrifying image. It's the idea of the beginning of the reign of the antichrist. That's one possible interpretation.

He's got a bow, but no arrows. He doesn't have a sword it seems. He appears good. He appears white, but he's still one of these judgmental horses that's stamping over the surface of the earth.

Wes

Yeah, coming out it says, "conquering and to conquer."

Andy

Yeah.

Wes

Now, we get this rhythm you mentioned a moment ago of something happening, this invitation or command being issued by one of the living creatures, and then the riders and horses described, so there's just this back and forth. In verse 3, we see the second seal opened and the second living creature saying, "Come!" Then the second horse comes. What has he given permission to do and what does he represent?

Andy

Yeah, one of the great lessons of the book of Revelation, I think it's summed up in the image at the end of Revelation when Jesus says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega. I'm the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 1:8). Oh, of what? Of human history. I am Alpha the A letter, and I'm Omega the Z letter. I am A to Z and every letter in between, so every facet of human history is initiated by Christ and planned by Christ, even great wickedness, things that Christ will judge them for doing, still he initiates when it happens.

Now, we're at the second horse, and the second horse is described as a fiery red one. His rider is given power to take peace from the earth and make men slay each other. That's war, and so that brings me to that statement of wars and rumors of wars. It could be also war happening in the final tribulation in the last seven-year period, things like that, etc.

This is a picture of the coming of human war on the earth, and it's going to be part of, I think ultimately what brings about the reign of antichrist on the earth and also of the second coming. We also notice that when it says make men slay each other, they are sinning greatly. It's a bloodbath, and it's part of the judgment on earth. I think about when Nazi Germany invaded Soviet Russia, and it's not good versus evil at all. It was just evil versus evil, and there was carnage like you couldn't even measure. It was just all kinds of death.

Fundamentally, Satan just hates the human race, and in this case, men are slaying each other. So, this is a picture of war.

Wes

In verse 5, the Lamb opens the third seal, and we hear the third living creature say, "Come!" Describe this third horse and horseman and what he's given permission to do and what he represents.

Andy

Sure. The third seal is broken, and then the living creature says, "Come," and a black horse comes. You just think about how terrifying that is. By the way, all of these are terrifying. If you're a foot soldier or just a peasant or something like that, and you think about the charge of heavy horse with armor and weapons and all that, you're going to get destroyed. You'll lose, so this is great power being unleashed on the earth.

But now we have this black horse, and the rider's holding a pair of scales in his hand. Now, scales were used for the economy for weighing things out and look what happens. There's a voice that sounds like this. One of the living creatures says this, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine." This seems to be famine, fundamentally. The food is weighed out, and you can work for an entire day for not enough to eat. So, that's the idea.

There's, I think, a sequence to this. You've got a perhaps devious world ruler who takes power by the threat of force, but without using it by devious diplomacy. Then you've got open war resulting in a bloodbath as men are enabled to slay one another. Then you've got famine after that, and that just makes sense that because crops are destroyed. You think about when the Russians retreated before the onslaught of the Nazi warriors. They burned their fields so that they wouldn't find any food. Well, nobody's finding food then. Not they, not anybody. It's just you can imagine the result would be famine. There was tremendous famine at the time of World War II, and so we've got that sense.

This statement, "Do not damage the oil and the wine" is a little bit difficult to know. I've heard one interpreter saying that there will still be wealthy people who are able to husband or store away resources for themselves, and they'll be fine, but the poor people are really going to suffer. So, that could be what this third horseman here, the black horse is, famine.

Wes

It's amazing. We see versions of this, and you and I were even discussing how in the world there are pictures of this, how there's these progressions of conflicts leading to wars, leading to suffering, and poverty, and great disparities. But this is, if at the end of time, one of the most severe instances of this ever depicted. So, even the things we see now are a shadow of how devastating this will be on the earth.

Andy

Yeah, terrifying. It really is. You also just realize, for the most part, the earth is very productive. I remember driving across the length of the state or from south to north, the state of Indiana, and there were corn fields as far as the eye could see. We know that the farmers in America and in other parts of the world produce way more food than they need or than they could even sell or export. In general, the earth is incredibly fruitful and productive.

Then why is there ever famine? It's almost always because of human sin, usually, a civil war, like in Somalia or Ethiopia, or food or famine is being used as a weapon, a political weapon within a civil war like that. It's usually there's reasons why, like we mentioned about the war.

Wes

What does the fourth horseman represent, and what does it mean that Hades followed close behind him?

Andy

Yeah, so it says, "When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creatures say, 'Come!' And I looked, and there before me was a pale horse." You can imagine somebody who has a mortal wound through let's say a bayonet thrust or a knife wound to the gut, and then after a little while, their face is pale like clay. They're dying, and the blood is rushed out of their face. So, this horse is a pale horse. It's a picture of death, and we don't have to wonder because it says this rider was named Death.

So, Death comes, and Hades, which is the grave, is following close behind him. So, the idea is people are dying, and they're being buried in graves, and it says they're given a power over a fourth of the earth to kill, so a lot of people are dying here. Again, there's a progression. You've got that white horse with the rider, with a crown and with a bow, but without arrows who comes and is able to conquer and to build an empire by a threat of war, but without using it. Then the second horse comes, the red horse, and he's bringing about war, and he takes peace from the earth and making men slay each other. Then the third horse is a black horse, which represents famine in which people have not enough to eat. Then what comes after all that? Well, it's pretty obvious, death. People are dying. It's remarkable.

It says they were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague and by the wild beasts of the earth, so it's just complete death. Now, I don't know if that means that a fourth of the earth's population died or there is a part of the world that this is focused on, and in that part of the world, these things are happening. But it really seems more the first, that perhaps as many as 25% of the world's population are dying as a result of this.

This would be, therefore, that final tribulation. This has never happened in history, not even close. There's never been a quarter of the earth's population dying unnatural deaths because of these other events. But if it were, we're talking in our present situation with 8 billion people, we're talking about 2 billion people dying from all this. It's terrible.

Wes

What does this teach us about Christ and his death?

Andy

Yeah, as I look at this, all of this, we understand that the wages of sin is death. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the penalty was death. The wages of sin is death, and so we're going to see the effect of sin being suffering and death. So, these four horsemen mean that as Jesus who has the title deed to the earth, he has the scroll in his hand, and as he moves ahead to establish his glorious and radiant kingdom, the events on earth that pave the way for that are going to be terrible.

But we also know that each one of the human beings who go through these things, who go through the reign of terror by the Antichrist, if that's what the first horse represents, and goes through the actual wars that are described by the red horse and have to live through the famine when there's not enough to eat for a full day's work and then death itself, and you're looking around and so many people are dying, each of these individuals has the opportunity to repent of his or her sins and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. That is the only rescue that there will be from these apocalyptic events.

Ultimately, Jesus's own death and burial and his resurrection from the dead, and the gospel message that is spread through him, that is the only hope for a world that's going to be tormented by these four horsemen.

Wes

Now, after saying that they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, it describes the way that this destruction, this devastation was to take place. It says, "They were given authority to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth." How do these relate to the three horsemen that preceded, and how should we understand what's taking place at the end of verse 8 here?

Andy

It's fascinating that you asked that because what happens with the fourth rider. As we see, it says, "They were given power over fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth." This is exactly the roster of killers that Ezekiel talks about in Ezekiel chapter 5,6,7, and also Ezekiel 14:21. It says, "How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments, sword and famine, wild beasts and plague?" He also says in Ezekiel, "Those that are out in the country will die by the sword, and those that are within the walled fortresses are going to die by famine and plague, and all of them will be subject also to the terrors of the wild beasts" (Ezekiel 33:27, paraphrase).

This is just biblical language. There's going to be lots and lots of ways to die. Fundamentally, what's going on is a terrible death toll all over planet earth. There is, as you mentioned with the four horsemen, a progression as we go from the perhaps one world ruler to the actual war, to the famine that comes in the next horse, and then death. All of these things are integrated together to produce a misery unlike the world had ever seen before.

Now, it'll be similar to aspects that we see. World War II, other things saw that, but the tribulation at the end will be unlike anything that has ever been seen in history.

Wes

Andy, there's so much for us to consider in these eight verses as we begin Revelation 6. What final thoughts do you have for us today as we conclude our time?

Andy

Yeah, I think as I look at this, I think that there is an "already not yet" aspect to this chapter as there is with eschatology in general, the study of end times. There are things that we see in every generation as we see in Matthew 24: 4-9, which is just signs that are common in every generation; wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom. That's just human history.

But we should not be blasé about it or act like it's no big deal. The fact is it's a sorrowful thing. People hate each other. Nations rise up against other nations because of covetousness and pride and greed on the part of their rulers and the part of their warriors, and they spill out beyond their national boundaries, and they go steal other people's stuff. It's been going on for centuries. It's not the way it should be. It is not the way it'll be in the new earth.

So, it's the convulsive torments of an earth racked by sin and death, and the Lord is giving us over to it into an orgy of horror and terror and death that will climax at the end of this age with the second coming of Christ. So, as we look at that, we're going to see already aspects we read every day. In our time right now, there's a war going on in the Middle East. Before that, there've been other wars, and there'll be others after it. It's sorrowful and a lot of people are dying.

For us, we should grieve, and we should realize this is not the way that it should be. But we also see the initiation of all of this from heaven, and that God is in control. He's in charge. He's not surprised by it. He's orchestrating it. He's going to hold sinners accountable for the wicked choices they make, but he's still orchestrating all of it. So, despite the sorrow and the weeping, like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, and he spoke of military terms, "If only you," ... speaking of Jerusalem ... "even you had known what would bring about your peace, but it's hidden from you" (Luke 19:41-42, paraphrase), and therefore, they're going to come and build siege works against you. They're going to break through your walls, and they're going to kill you. So, it's just going to be terrible, and Jesus wept over it.


"For us, we should grieve, and we should realize this is not the way that it should be. But we also see the initiation of all of this from heaven, and that God is in control."

For us to weep over the sorrows that are coming on the earth, and also to fear God on behalf of lost people who don't fear him. And even though we don't see blood in the streets now in America, we don't see this kind of stuff happening, just life goes on as seemingly it always has, we're able to see better than that and say, "Despite the fact that things seem normal, we know we're heading toward a bloody end, and we need to be ready for it by repentance and faith in Christ."

Wes

Well, this has been Episode 7 in our Revelation Bible Study Podcast. We want to invite you to join us next time for Episode 8 entitled, The Fifth and Sixth Seals, where we'll discuss Revelation 6:9-17. Thank you for listening to the Two Journeys Podcast and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

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