Revelation 6:1-8

The Four Horses of the Apocalypse

“I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,” declares the LORD, “the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds and the wild animals to devour and destroy” (Jer 15:3).

“I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem – the sword and famine and wild beasts and famine – to cut off man and beast from it” (Ezek 14:21).

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887.

Authority over a fourth of the earth

The first four seals are four Horses, who are given authority, as indicated in verse 8, “over a fourth of the earth” – death and hades (4th horse) comes by the sword (2nd horse), by famine (3rd horse), and by pestilence and the wild beasts of the earth (1st horse). The colors of these four horses are the four colors of Islam – white, red, black, and green, the forces that have terrorized Europe for 1,400 years.

Ezekiel prophesied that four kinds of destroyers would be sent against God’s people because of their idolatry (Ezekiel 14:21 cf. 14:4). Daniel told us that the King of the North (the Pope) would “come against the strongest of fortresses with the help of a foreign god (the Trinity)” (Daniel 11:39). The fortresses of Islam were the strongest in the world. The forces of Islam were given authority to terrorize a fourth of the earth, because the Christians forsook the one true God, and worshiped the image of the beast.

We understand that the work of these four horses is confined to the first 1500 years of Christianity, for several reasons:

  • The attack, as described from the Old Testament, is against the people of God who wandered from God’s way. For the first 1500 years, Christianity was nearly confined to Europe, representing 1/4 of the earth.
  • The announcement of the seals by the second and third living creatures corresponds to the time period of those two living creatures; the calf (193 -1471) and the man (1471 – 2017).
  • These four horses all fit into the period of Jesus’ statement, in Matthew: “there will be wars…famines…but these are merely the beginning of birth pangs).

1 I saw that the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying, as with a voice of thunder, “Come and see!” 2 I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow. A crown was given to him, and he came forth conquering, and to conquer. 

Revelation 6:1-2
a white horse – (1st Seal); The purpose of this Rider is different than the Rider of the White Horse in Revelation 19. The Rider on the white horse in Revelation 19 has fire in his eyes, and treads out the lawlessness from the kingdom of heaven.

The first three horses represent three “actions” to kill man; and the fourth horse is death itself. Verse 8 tells us that the four horses were given authority “over a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword (2nd horse), and with famine (3rd horse), and with pestilence and the wild beasts of the earth (1st horse).” We know the first horse, represents pestilence and wild Beasts in verse 8, because these are the only attacks not made by the second and third horses.

The second and third horses are calamities that come from men (war and economic collapse). The first horse, is a White Horse, it represents God. This horse brings the pestilence and wild beasts as indicated in Deuteronomy, Ezekiel and other passages.

he who sat on it was given a bow – the bow to shoot arrows is the bow of God, to destroy His errant people. These arrows have a very different purpose than the sword held by the Rider on the White Horse in Chapter 19. The purpose of these arrows is found very early in the Bible, as famine, pestilence and wild beasts:

I will heap calamities upon them and spend my arrows against them. I will send wasting famine against them, consuming pestilence and deadly plague; I will send against them the fangs of wild beasts, the venom of vipers that glide in the dust. In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign. (Deut 32:23-25)

When I shoot at you with my deadly and destructive arrows of famine, I will shoot to destroy you. . . . I will send famine and wild beasts against you, and they will leave you childless. Plague and bloodshed will sweep through you, and I will bring the sword against you. I the LORD have spoken. (Ezek 5:16-17)

a crown was given to him – the Rider in Revelation 19, has many diadems on His Head, but this rider, in Revelation 6, has only one crown (a garland). He may represent the Spirit of Christ as the Angel of God, who shoots the arrows, on behalf of the Almighty God. The two horse riders have different appearances, which we should notice.

3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!” 4 Another came forth, a red horse. To him who sat on it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. There was given to him a great sword. 

Revelation 6:3-4
the second living creature – an announcement by the second living creature (the calf,) tells us the time period (193 – 1471). The Roman Empire controlled the world until the fourth century, and there was no war in that time. Therefore, war had no significant impact on errant Christianity, until the fourth Century, and so it is the second living creature, who makes this announcement.

a red horse.. that men would slay one another– wars (2nd Seal). Granted to take peace from the earth.

5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come and see!” I saw, and behold, a black horse. He who sat on it had a balance in his hand. 6 I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three choenix of barley for a denarius! Don’t damage the oil and the wine!” 

Revelation 6:5-6
the third living creature – the third living creature (the man), gives us the time period (1471 AD – 2017 AD).

a pair of scales in his hand – the scales in the Rider’s hand suggests that these crisis are caused by the market and banking system. The greatest collapses of history and their effects on each particular nation and the global economy have been documented in Niall Ferguson’s book, “The Ascent of Money.” These collapses have led to people dying from hunger. The first great collapse came in 1494 AD, by the Medeci Bank in Italy. The Medeci family invented the modern accounting system of debits and credits, and was the first big bank to go out of balance!

a black horse – economic crisis that causes famine.

a voice in the center of the living creatures – not as spoken by them, but heard there.

A quart of wheat for a denarius – from the Pulpit Commentary: “The choenix (denarius) appears to have been the food allotted to one man for a day; while the denarius was the pay of a soldier or of a common laborer for one day.”

and three quarts of barley for a denarius – the cheaper kind of grain that could be bought to feed one’s family.

do not harm the oil and wine – the meaning is from Psalms 104:15:

And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.

7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see!” 8 I saw, and behold, a pale horse. He who sat on him, his name was Death. Hades followed with him. Authority over one fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword, with famine, with death, and by the wild animals of the earth was given to them. 

Revelation 6:7-8
the fourth living creature – the last living creature, who we might say brings us to the judgment day, and “hades.”

an Ashen horse – more properly, a “green horse.” χλωρός. This Greek word, chloros, is translated as “green” in all other verses of the New Testament, Revelation 8:7, 9:4, and Mark 6:39. It was correctly translated as “a grene horsse,” in the first complete English Bible, the Tyndale Bible, in 1535.

From the Greek word χλωρός, chloros, we get chlorophyll, that describes the green color of plants. The Greek word chloros can also describe someone’s face that is pale with fear. This is why a figurative translation as “pale” has been used by some, to describe the horse that brings death and hades.

Many do not fail to notice that the four colors of these horses, White/Red/Black/Green, are the four colors of Islam, that can be seen on the flag of all Islamic countries, who were the instrument of terror against the Pope (the beast) and his kingdom, from the 7th to the 15th century; the Islamic forces who rode on their horses, bearing the colors of Islam.

The 14th century Iraqi poet Safi Al-Din Al-Hilli, wrote: “White are our acts, black our battles, green our fields, and red our swords.”

In the Old Testament, God brought his punishment against Israel, through pagan nations. So it should not be a surprise that God also allowed Islam to punish the erring Christians.

People of the Book, go not beyond the bounds in your religion, and say not as to God but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only the Messenger of God, and His Word that He committed to Mary, and a Spirit from Him. So believe in God and His Messengers, and say not, ‘Three.’ Refrain; better is it for you. God is only One God. Glory be to Him — That He should have a son (an yakuna lahu waladun)! To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth; God suffices for a guardian.
Arberry Quran 4:171

Fight them, till there is no persecution and the religion is God’s; then if they give over, there shall be no enmity save for evildoers.
Arberry Quran 2:193

death and hades – this is the resulting effect of the first three horses. In the Judgment Day, in Rev 20:13, we are told that the sea, and “death and Hades gave up the dead.” The sea represents those who died in salvation. But “death and Hades” follows the errant.

authority was given to them – we find the same idea in Revelation 13:2, 4, and 5. The Dragon and the beast were given authority, because the people “did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved,” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Here, God has fulfilled His promise to send four severe judgments against Jerusalem (New Jerusalem) – (Ezekiel 14:21) because of its idolatry, in worshiping the image of the beast.

a fourth of the earth – this describes Europe as the centre of Christianity until the Reformation. Looking from Israel, on the map above, you can see that known world of John’s day could be divided into four quadrants, NW, NE, SE, and SW. Christian Europe was very accurately described as “a fourth of the earth.”