The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Revelation 6:1-17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2012

Last week, we looked at the background to Revelation 6. We compared Revelation 6 to Matthew 24. We also saw how the seals are divided into two main parts. The first four are identified by four horsemen and have four living creatures. The last three do not. What judgment will God send to earth when these seals are opened by the Lord Jesus? What are some lessons or applications that we can learn from those judgments? Let’s look at each one.

The First Seal (6:1-2)

There are many different interpretations of the First Seal. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the rider of the First Seal. Is there any evidence in the text for this interpretation? Jesus conquered (5:5) and will ride a white horse (19:11).

It also explains why they believe that the Second Coming took place in 1914. The second seal is warfare. World War I began in 1914. Therefore, they believe that Jesus must have returned before that event but there are many reasons why the rider of this white horse CANNOT be Jesus.

Why Jesus is Not the Rider on the White Horse

1. It does not fit the context of the passage.

The other three seals represent bad things. Jesus’ return is not followed by famine and pestilence. His coming will not be associated with hunger and disease. It makes more sense that the first seal also represents something bad, not good.

2. It does not fit the chronology of the book.

Jesus does not come back until Revelation 19. He does not come to earth until much later.

3. There are too many differences between the two riders.

  • The rider  on the white horse in 6:2 has a bow but no weapons (arrows).

The rider of the white horse in chapter 19 has weapons. Jesus returns with a sword, which happens to come out of his mouth (19:15).

  •  The rider of the white horse has “a crown” (6:2) but Jesus returns with “many crowns” (19:12).
  •  In addition, they do not even wear the same type of crowns. There are two different Greek words used. The rider in 6:2 wears a στεφανος (the victor or athlete’s crown). The rider in 19:12 wears a διάδημα (the king’s crown, the crown of royalty).

This has to be a reference to the coming Antichrist. The Antichrist is a future world ruler who will seek world dominion. We will learn more about this individual in chapter 13. Why is this probably a reference to the Antichrist?

The White Horse and the Antichrist

1) The other person in the Book of Revelation who will be crowned (13:1) and become a great military leader (11:7; 13:2-3, 4, 7), conquer people (11:7; 13:7) and eventually received world dominion (11:7-8) is the Antichrist.

2) He begins as a man of peace which fits the white horse.

White is a symbol of peace and he comes as a peacemaker. He will come in peace but it will turn out to be a false peace. He will use diplomacy. He will be an instrument of world peace and will be very popular.

3) It fits the parallel with Matthew 24.

What was the first sign of the end of the age in Matthew 24? Deception, false Christs. Jesus said, “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (24:5).

The Antichrist will be a false Christ. He will demand to be worshipped (13:8, 4; II Thessalonians 2:4). The first sign of the end of the age in Matthew 24 refers to the spirit of the Antichrist. The first seal in Revelation 6 refers to the Antichrist himself.

The Second Seal (6:3-4)

The second seal is red. It symbolizes bloodshed and warfare all over the earth. Peace is removed from the planet. The result is death. The second seal produces bloodshed and warfare among nations. The rider of this horse was given a large sword.

He has a huge sword in his hand. This sword will be used to kill believers as well as unbelievers. Many will be martyred. They are slaughtered and butchered. This seal has to do with violence.

When individuals do not get along, they sometimes fight and kill each other. When nations do not get along, they fight and go to war. Laws cannot stop nations from going to war. People have tried to outlaw war but that did no good.

The United Nations cannot stop nations from going to war. World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars” but that did not happen.

The Third Seal (6:5-6)

The third seal is famine. It has to do with food. This seal affects the poor primarily. The rich still have their oil and wine. This seal leads to two problems.

1) Food will be scarce

There will be a food shortage. We don’t have this problem in America. We can go to the grocery store and buy anything we want. Many countries have food shortages.

There are countries all over the globe facing food shortages and look for humanitarian aid but this is talking about a global food shortage, a worldwide food crisis that may eventually affect this country. There will be a shortage of basic items but not luxury items (still oil and wine, Starbucks).

2) Food Price Inflation

The price of food went sky high. “A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley will cost a day’s pay” (NLT). A denarius was a full day’s pay. You will spend a whole day’s pay on a loaf of bread. If you have a family to feed, you have a problem because you only have enough money to feed yourself.

The Fourth Seal (6:7-8)

The fourth seal is death. This is the only one of the four horsemen to be named and is the only one to have another rider following close by. Why does it mention death and Hades? One involves the body and one involves the soul.

This seal produces death in four different ways: the sword (death from warfare), famine (death by starvation), pestilence (death from disease) and wild beasts (brings to mind the early Christians who were eaten by lions).

This seal results in the death of one-fourth of the world’s population. If this seal were opened today, that would involve the death of almost two billion people (1.75 billion). There are about seven billion people on the planet.

The Fifth Seal (6:9-11)

This seal involves the prayer of the martyrs. The fifth seal is not martyrdom. They have been martyred before the fifth seal is opened and martyrdom would be more of a judgment on believers than unbelievers.

The seal involves the prayers of martyred Tribulation saints. They are dead. They do not have bodies but they do have souls. They have not been resurrected yet.

There will be no resurrection until the end of the Tribulation Period. Notice what the souls are doing. They are speaking. They are conscious. It refutes the idea of soul sleep. Many people believe that when you die you soul sleeps until the resurrection and final judgment.

That is not what the Bible teaches. When you die, the only thing that sleeps is the body. Your soul is alive and conscious. We see that in Luke 16. The unsaved rich man is dead but he is conscious and talking to God.

The souls in Revelation 6 are praying. Will there be prayer in heaven? Yes. Prayer is simply talking to God. What are they praying for? They prayed for vengeance. Is that a Christian prayer? Some think that this prayer is sub-Christian. They did not pray, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

That is true but there is also nothing wrong with this prayer. There cannot be anything wrong with this prayer.  They were in heaven and were doing it.  Notice what they did not do.  They did not take the law into their own hands. They did not try to assassinate the Antichrist (like Dietrich Bonhoeffer) or try to shoot up his armies.

They are simply asking God to keep his promises. The Bible says that vengeance is God’s He will repay (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). Vengeance is not bad. It is God’s job. If vengeance is wrong, then God could not take vengeance.

It is just not our job. It is not wrong for us to pray for God to do His job and to keep his promises. That is a biblical prayer. The blood of these martyrs cried out for justice, just as the blood of Abel cried out to God in Genesis 4:10.

The Sixth Seal (6:12-17)

This seal involves six cosmic signs. It starts with a great earthquake. The sixth seal brings six signs in the heavens: the earth quakes; the Sun turns black; the Moon turns red; the stars fall; the sky vanishes; the mountains and islands are removed.

This seal will involve physical changes on the planet and in the heavens but John does not describe these changes scientifically. John was not a scientist. He did not take too many classes on biology or astronomy. He is using the language of appearance (like the sun rising and the sun setting). How do we know?

1. John uses figurative language

He says, The Sun will become AS sackcloth, the Moon becomes AS blood, the stars fall AS winter figs, heaven will be rolled up AS a scroll. If we take this completely literally, people would not be able to ask for the mountains to fall on them if all of the mountains are removed. The stars in the sky do not literally fall to the earth. All of the stars do not fall to the earth. There are more stars in the sky later in the book (8:12)

2. If a star literally fell to the earth, it would vaporize the planet.

It would completely destroy the earth. The Sun is a star. It is a medium size star and is much bigger than the earth. The word for “star” in Greek is not limited to star.

It can refer to other objects in the sky, like meteors or asteroids. This may be like a meteor shower. John compares them to figs falling to earth from a fig tree when shaken by a great wind, not to something bigger than the earth, falling down.

There are many who believe that this seal takes place right before Jesus returns. That is a very common interpretation. That fits Matthew 24. Matthew 24:29-30 says,

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

Matthew says that there will be changes in the Sun and Moon immediately BEFORE Jesus returns but Revelation 6 is talking about something else. The sixth seal is followed by the seventh seal. What happens at the seventh seal?

Does Jesus return then? No. The seventh seal produces seven more series of judgments (the trumpet judgments) and when they are over, they are followed by seven other judgments.

The sixth seal is in Revelation 6. Jesus doesn’t return until Revelation 19. There are thirteen more chapters in the book that describe more things which must take place on earth first. There are several other times in the Tribulation Period in which we see these signs in the heavens (8:12; 16:8)

Lessons on the Seals

1. Jesus CAUSES the seals to occur.

Jesus is the one who starts the whole process. He opens the seals and disaster takes place. Events on earth are affected by events in heaven. As he opens each seal, God’s wrath is unleashed on the planet. What is the significance of that?

These natural disasters are not accidents. They are not just random acts of senseless suffering. They are not things that occur by chance. Everything happens by the permission of Christ.

This includes suffering, disaster, painful diseases that have no cure and death. Why would Jesus give permission for this? These are acts of judgment on a wicked world (cf. Ezekiel 14:21). This is the wrath, not of the lion but of the lamb (6:16-17).

We don’t think of a lamb as having wrath? Lambs are kind, gentle creatures which do not complain or fight back but this lamb can get angry. The lamb who was silently led to the slaughter is now angry.

2. Jesus CONTROLS the seals.

The riders on the horses only have the power to do certain things. He WAS GIVEN a crown (6:2) and the second living creature say, “Come!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider WAS GIVEN power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other.

To him WAS GIVEN a large sword (6:3-4).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 (6:8).

Each seal could only bring the disasters that God allowed. The fourth seal could only kill a fourth of the earth, nothing more. The rider on that horse did not have permission to kill half of the planet. Everything that Satan does today, he does with divine permission.

God has to allow it. We see that in the Book of Job. Since God is sovereign, nothing happens without his permission. That does not mean that he approves everything that happens in the world but he allows it and is in control of it (Daniel 4:34-35; Ephesians 1:11).

Lessons on God’s Wrath

1. God’s wrath will be terrifying.

It is better to be dead than alive when the wrath of God comes upon the earth. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). This is one of the scariest chapters in the Bible.

This group of people is literally scared to death. It is terrifying for sinners to stand before an infinitely holy God in their sins. They would rather die than face God’s wrath. They would rather kill themselves than face divine judgment.

2. God’s wrath will be universal.

Seven classes of people are affected by these seals (“the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man”). Everyone will be affected – every race, every religion, every sex, every social class (rich or poor).

Jesus said, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when ALL who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). That is why we need to make sure we are saved now. The wicked will be cast into the lake of fire.

3. God’s wrath will be inescapable.

Not only will this judgment affect everyone, not only will it be terrifying for sinners to stand before a holy God in their sins and without a savior but they have nowhere to hide. They cannot escape it. This is a rather scary thought. We can’t hide anything from God. He sees and knows everything. “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).

Jeremiah 23:24 says “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD.  “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD”. When judgment comes, there will be nowhere for us to go. Sin cannot be hidden from God. Sinners will not be hidden from him either.

4. God’s wrath can be avoided.

If we are saved, we do not have to fear the wrath of God. Jesus is the one who “rescues us from the coming wrath” (I Thessalonians 1:10). It says that if we are saved “shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Christ” (Romans 5:9). The Bible teaches that the saved “are NOT appointed to wrath” (I Thessalonians 5:9).

There are three kinds of people. Many do not believe that God is a God of wrath, they do not repent or come to Him to save them. They do not believe he is angry or is going to judge anyone. They are going to get away scot-free.

Many get away with things in this life, so they think they will get away in the next life. They can do what they want without any consequence. The Bible teaches that God has wrath. He is angry and he is angry over sin. He must and will judge sin.

Others do believe that God will judge sin and come to Christ for salvation. That is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him SHALL NOT PERISH but have eternal life”.

This group does not have to worry about perishing. They do not have to worry about standing before a holy God in their sins and being condemned to Hell. They don’t have to worry about this because the Bible says that they will “not be condemned” (Romans 8:1; John 5:24). They have peace with God (Romans 5:1)

There is one more category of people. It is the scariest of the three. It is the group that thinks that they are saved. They are religious. They may even be outwardly moral. They go to church. They have been baptized. They call Jesus Lord and yet they are lost and will end up in Hell.

Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me, I never knew you”. That is why it is very important to make sure that everyone in this room is saved and knows for sure that they are saved.

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