Elon, North Carolina
For many people, the Book of Revelation is one of the scariest books of the Bible. If Revelation is one of the scariest books of the Bible, then Revelation 6 is one of the scariest chapters in the Bible. It is scary at the beginning of the chapter and scary at the end of the chapter.
In Revelation 6, Jesus opens the seven-sealed scroll. As He opened the seals, John saw the famous four horsemen. He had a vision of four horses. It is one of the most famous images in Revelation.
As Jesus opens the seals, four horsemen are unleashed on the earth. They bring hell on the earth. They bring doom, devastation, and destruction. They bring war, disease, famine, poverty and death on the planet.
The chapter ends with people scared to death. They are so terrified of the judgment of God that they want to kill themselves. They would rather die by a bunch of rocks falling on them than to face the judgment of God.
We have a big topic for today. Revelation 6 begins the main part of the book. We are done with the introduction to the book. We are done looking at the seven churches and the cosmic throne room. We begin the prophetic part of the book.
As we enter this section of the book, we have to give a warning. This part of the book of Revelation is a little more difficult. It is controversial.
Not everyone agrees on how to interpret it. Baptists read Revelation 6 very differently than Presbyterian do.
This chapter raises all kinds of questions. Who are the riders of the Four Horsemen? Where does this chapter fit on a prophecy timeline? Are we in the Tribulation Period? Have the Four Horsemen already appeared?
Did they appear in the past? Will they appear in the future? Who is the rider on the white horse? Is the rider Jesus or someone else?
We are going to deal with some deep topics today. I want you to think about this chapter in ways you never have before.
In many churches, you only hear one viewpoint and everyone in that circle says the same thing. Once you step outside the church and go to another church or talk to some other Christians, you hear something very different.
I will share with you my understanding of Revelation, but I am also going to mention some views of Christians who hold different view than I do. That way, you can make up your own mind.
We are going to start by looking at some things that are clear about the Four Horsemen. Then, we will look at some things that are debatable. They are controversial.
Today, we will look at the six seals and then we want to look at some applications. There are some powerful applications from this chapter. What does this chapter say to us today?
Let’s begin with the mysterious Four Horsemen. There is a famous painting of the the Four Horsemen by a Russian artist in the 1800s. It was done by Viktor Vasnetsov in 1887.
What do we know about these mysterious horsemen? Here are four truths from the text that all Christians can accept. There is no doubt about them.
Four Horsemen Truths
1) The Four Horsemen are demonic spirits.
It is clear from the text that these are Satanic horsemen. The one riding each of the four horses was a demon.
There is an old movie called Pale Rider (1985). It is a good Western. It is one of Clint Eastwood’s classic movies but the one who rode the Pale Horse was not Clint Eastwood. It was a demon.
These horsemen were “given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other” (Revelation 6:4 NIV). Angels do not make people kill other people. God does not incite people to hate and murder people. Demons do that.
Read the Book of I John. Love comes from God. Hatred comes from Satan. These four horsemen are demons. They do not cause peace. They cause misery and destruction. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10 NIV).
2) The Four Horsemen cause suffering on earth
These four horsemen, these demonic spirits, cause sickness, disease, poverty, warfare and death. They all go together.
Military conquest leads to war. War leads to Death. War also leads to food shortages which lead to poverty. These four are related.
Each of these riders has a different mission. Their mission is symbolized by their color.
WHITE was the symbol of conquest in the ancient world. It is the color of victory. RED is the color of blood. It is the symbol of war. BLACK is the symbol of starvation and famine. PALE GREEN is the symbol of death.
3) The Four Horsemen are divinely commissioned
All four horsemen get an invitation to do their work. They told them to COME (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7). They were given an invitation in a LOUD voice. They were given an invitation in a voice LIKE THUNDER (Revelation 6:1). They do not ride at their own command. They are invited to ride.
How could Jesus send demonic spirits into the world? How could they be invited to do a task for God? How could Jesus have any connection to demons? Where in the Bible does God use evil to accomplish His purposes? What are some examples?
God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul. Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. (I Samuel 16:14 NIV)
The wicked Assyrians captured Israel and took the ten tribes into captivity in 721 BC. God called them the rod of His anger and the club of His wrath (Isaiah 10:5 NIV). In fact, he said that He raised them up (cf. Habakkuk 1:5-11).
The wicked idolatrous Babylonians captured the southern kingdom of Judah, destroyed the Temple that Solomon built and took them into captivity in 586 BC. God called pagan Babylon His servant (Jeremiah 25:8-9)
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. God used that to get him into Egypt. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of a sex crime and put him in prison. God used that to give him access to Pharaoh. They meant evil. God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).
Judas betrayed Jesus and the Romans crucified Jesus. That was the greatest betrayal and greatest miscarriage of justice in history. God used the greatest crime in history that to accomplish the salvation of the world.
4) The Four Horsemen are instruments of judgment
The judgments in Revelation 6 are called the day of God’s wrath. God’s wrath is unleashed on the planet in this chapter. It is poured out on a sinful and rebellious world.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of THEIR WRATH has come, and who can withstand it? (Revelation 6:15-17 NIV)
These disasters are not accidents. They are not providential. They are not things that occur by chance. These are acts of judgment on a wicked world. God uses different means to judge people.
For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from man and beast! (Ezekiel 14:21 ESV).
Four Horsemen Controversy
Not everything about these horsemen is clear. There is a big controversy about these horsemen. There is a big debate about them.
1. Are the Four Horsemen riding today?
Is this chapter a picture of history or is it a picture of prophecy? Instead of giving you the answer, I want to give you two views. I want to give you both sides. You can make up your own mind which position sounds stronger.
Two Views on the Four Horsemen
1) The Four Horsemen are Present
According to this view, the Four horsemen are a picture of history. There has always been military conquest on the planet. There has always been war. There has always been pestilence, famine and death.
These things have always existed and always will exist. There have always been riders on white horses bent on conquest. We have a crazy demon-possessed ruler of Russia who is bent on conquest right now.
There have always been riders on red horses taking peace from the earth. The spirit of war is here. There are wars all over the planet. We have even had world wars. They are not limited to the Tribulation Period.
There is always someone riding the black horse. The black horse results in economic problems and poverty. We have food shortages, inflation, poverty and supply chain problems today.
There is definitely someone riding the green horse today. All you have to do is to look at all of the epidemics and pandemics we have had in our history that have killed people (Black Plague, Smallpox, AIDS).
Some would say that COVID is just one sign of the green horse. It is not just a pandemic but a worldwide pandemic.
We have had all kinds of martyrs in the last 2000 years (the fifth seal). We have had 45 million Christians martyred in the 20th century alone. Two-thirds of all Christian martyrs were martyred in the twentieth century alone.
We have had all kinds of natural disasters in our day. A Tsunami in 2004, which estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
It killed 230,000 people in fourteen countries. Hurricane Katrina killed 1838 in four states in 2005. None of these disasters are limited to the Tribulation Period. Have I convinced you?
2) The Four Horsemen are Future
This view says that the Four Horsemen have not arrived on the scene yet. All of the things I have described are just a sign of things to come. They are just a foretaste of worse things.
What we see today is a partial fulfillment but not a complete not a complete fulfillment. What are some arguments for this view? What is the evidence that this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled?
a) Revelation 6 is not describing past events
It is not describing past events or present events. It is describing future events. War, disease, poverty and death have always taken place, but Jesus told John that he was going to show Him things to come (Revelation 4:1). Revelation is a PROPHECY, not a history book or a description of current events
b) Revelation 6 is not describing natural events.
Natural disasters that are a part of human history. Natural catastrophes have been going on for thousands of years. This chapter is not describing something that is natural. It is describing something supernatural.
It is describing disasters that are a manifestation of divine judgment. The first time the word “wrath” occurs in the Book of Revelation is in Revelation 6.
One preacher said that this chapter describes “God’s reign over the present age” but it describes much more. It describes God’s wrath on the wicked. It describes the Wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16).
At no point in our history have people asked the rocks and mountains to fall on them to hide them from the face of the one sitting on the throne. That has yet to be fulfilled. This was not fulfilled in 70 AD. It was not fulfilled in the past. It is not being fulfilled right now.
When have one-fourth of the planet been killed by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth (Revelation 6:8)? When has 25% of the world population been wiped out?
2. Who is the rider of the White Horse?
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. (Revelation 6:1-2 NIV)
There is a big debate about that. The first seal involves conquest. The rider of the horse is a conqueror. Who is the rider? Some Christians believe that this is the spread of the gospel throughout the earth with people getting saved.
They say that this is the white horse of the gospel. Many Christians believe that the rider is Jesus. He rides a white horse. Good guys wear white. He is crowned. He conquers.
That view is almost certainly wrong. The first rider is known by his company. The other three seals represent bad things. If the last three seals are evil, the first is not good.
It does not fit. Jesus’ return is not followed by famine and pestilence. His coming will not be associated with hunger and disease. Jesus will come back on a white horse but not until Revelation 19.
In this passage, Jesus is the lamb, not the horse. The Lamb is opening the seals. All of the best scholars on Revelation agree that this is not Jesus. It can’t be Jesus. Who is the rider?
There are two possibilities. The rider on this horse may be the ANTICHRIST (future end-time ruler). The Antichrist will be a Counterfeit Christ. He will be an Imitation Christ. He will be Satan’s demonic messiah.
We know from the Book of Revelation that the Antichrist will be crowned (Revelation 13:1). A crown represents power or authority. This individual will be a politician.
This individual is coming to conquer. We know from the Book of Revelation that the Antichrist will conquer people (Revelation 11:7; 3:7). This individual will receive worldwide dominion (Revelation 11:7-8)
He will also be a military leader but not at first. He will be deceptive. Most politicians are. He begins peacefully. He conquers with a bloodless victory. He will use diplomacy. He will be an instrument of world peace.
If he is conquering militarily, it would be a red horse, not a white horse. The world is looking for a man on a white horse today bringing peace. He will come as a peacemaker, but it will be a false peace. If that is the case, do not trust everyone who rides a white horse.
The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 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. (I Thessalonians 5:2-3 NIV)
The rider on the first horse may represent FALSE RELIGION. It may represent RELIGIOUS DECEPTION. That also fits Matthew 24. It describes people being deceived and making false claims. That is happening today. It fits the context of Revelation 6. The other three seals are general (war, death, poverty).
Revelation 6 parallels Matthew 24. Jesus was asked, What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
He answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. (Matthew 24:4-5 NIV).
The very first sign of the end of the age in Matthew 24 is false religion. Jesus said, not one or two, but MANY will claim to be the Christ and will deceive many. Most of them are in California but there might be some in our area.
The Second Seal
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword (Revelation 6:3-4 NIV)
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. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. (Matthew 24:6-7 NIV)
The second seal shatters the false peace. This horse is violent. It is red the color of blood. It leads to war, genocide and ethnic conflicts. People are slaughtered and massacred. The conflicts are international and global.
The Third Seal
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine! (Revelation 6:5-6 NIV)
The third seal is poverty. Barley and wheat costs more than it used to, and you can’t buy as much. There is inflation and food shortages, but you can still buy luxury items, like oil and wine.
We had a supply chain crisis with COVID. There was a shortage of toilet paper but there was plenty of wine on the shelves. There was a shortage of the things we needed and an abundance of the things we don’t need
The Fourth Seal
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. 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 (Revelation 6:7-8 NIV)
The Fourth Seal is death. It is the color of death. It is the color of a corpse. It is yellowish green like a decomposing body. Hades followed after it. Why? After death is the afterlife. This horse can only kill twenty-five percent of the planet.
If this seal were opened today, that would involve the death of two billion people. There are about eight billion people on the planet. Twenty-five percent of 8,000,000,000 is 2,000,000,000 but they did not all die the same way. If there are eight people in your family, two will die.
There are four different methods of death mentioned in the text: death from warfare (sword), death by starvation (famine), death from disease (pestilence) and death by animal attacks. There are some wild animals that are deadly. Which is the worse way to die?
The Fifth Seal
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11 NIV)
The Fifth Seal deals with martyred believers. It deals with Tribulation Saints who were killed. We will find out in Revelation 13 and 17 who killed them.
They are dead. Notice what they are doing. They are speaking. They are conscious. It refutes the idea of soul sleep. Many people believe that when you die your soul sleeps.
That is not what the Bible teaches. When you die, the only thing that sleeps is your 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.
These believers in heaven are dead but John can see them and hear them. They are wearing white robes. They are under the altar. They offered themselves up as a sacrifice to the Lord.
What did they do? They cried out to God in a loud voice. There are a lot of loud voices in heaven. It is not a quiet place. They cried, “How long until you avenge our blood?” That raises an interesting question. Is that a Christian prayer? They are not praying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
This is not so much a prayer for vengeance as for justice. That is a biblical prayer. Justice is part of God’s character. These saints are not taking the law into their own hands. God says that vengeance is His. Their blood cried out to God like the blood of Abel cried out to God.
The Sixth Seal
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:12-17 NIV)
Now, we come to the longest of the seven seals. This seal affects ALL CREATION (earth, sun, moon, stars, heavens, clouds, mountains) and it is not just a natural catastrophe.
It is divine judgment. It is the wrath of the one sitting on the throne and the wrath of the lamb. No angels are mentioned in this seal.
Many believe these seals describe the end of the world. Some think they describes the Second Coming, but it doesn’t.
Jesus does not come back until Revelation 19. There are thirteen more chapters which must take place on earth before Jesus returns. What does this chapter say to us today? How does it apply to us today?
Applications for Today
1) God is sovereign over evil
These four evil horsemen operate under the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over evil. These horsemen can only work after Jesus breaks the seals. They cannot do anything without the permission of Jesus.
These judgments are all initiated by Jesus. He causes the seals to occur. These seals are not sent by Satan. Satan does not open the seals. Jesus does. They only had power to do their work because they were given that power from heaven.
I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he WAS GIVEN a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. (Revelation 6:2 NIV)
Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider WAS GIVEN power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him WAS GIVEN a large sword. (Revelation 6:4 NIV)
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. 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. (Revelation 6:7-8 NIV)
We learn from this chapter that evil is ALLOWED by God. We learn that evil in this world is LIMITED by God. There is a limit to what the horsemen can do. The fourth horseman is given power to kill a fourth of the earth, not two-fourths or three-fourths of the earth.
If the four horsemen operate under the sovereignty of God, then bad things that happen in our life also operate under the sovereignty of God. If Jesus is in control of the Four Horsemen, then He is in control of our life as well. Bad things that happen are under God’s control.
2) Sinners are accountable to God
The seals are divine judgment for sin. We live on an extremely wicked planet. People are in rebellion to God. They reject His authority over their lives. They reject His Word. They reject His offer of salvation.
We think we can do what we want and not be held accountable. We are the master of our own destiny but all of us will be held accountable to God. One day, judgment will fall. It will fall on earth. People will not have to die to face it.
When it falls, it falls on everyone who is lost. Seven categories of people are mentioned (Here we see seven categories of men (kings, great men, rich men, commanders, mighty men, slaves, every free man). Being rich will not protect you. Being famous will not save you. Being poor will not help you either.
3) God’s wrath is terrifying to face
The Bible says that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 ESV). There’s nowhere to run. There’s nowhere to hide. This Seal Judgment is so terrifying that people want to kill themselves.
They want the rocks and mountains to fall on them (Revelation 6:16). The preacher Hershel Ford (1900-1976) once called this “the world’s greatest prayer meeting.” They do not prayer to God. They pray to dead rocks and dumb mountains. Rather than running to God, they try to hide from Him.
This seal has not been fulfilled yet. This was not fulfilled in 70 AD. It was not fulfilled in the past. It is not being fulfilled right now.
4) There is a way to escape God’s wrath
The chapter ends with a question. It is a penetrating question. It is a solemn question. It is a life-altering question. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:17).
How can anyone survive this judgment? How can they face it? Where will you be when God judges sin? Do you have a Savior from sin? There is a group of people who will stand and can stand when this judgment falls. We read about them in the next chapter.
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).
 Cited by S. Lewis Johnson (https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/sljinstitute-production/new_testament/Revelation/15_SLJ_Revelation.pdf)