In Revelation 6:1, Jesus begins opening the seals unleashing a serious of events on the earth. The nature of the seals as well as the majority of the book of Revelation is still shrouded in mystery and symbolism. Some believe the first 4 seals opened immediately once Jesus ascended to heaven 2000 years ago while others think they’re saved to be opened right before or at the beginning of the tribulation.
The first seal is a figure that rides a white horse, has a bow as well as a crown, “And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Revelation 6:2). The identity of this figure itself is often debated to be a representation of the antichrist or the antichrist himself. As of now, I’m of the belief that this could indeed be the antichrist being let loose on the earth.
Out of the second seal appears a red horse, “…and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword” (Revelation 6:4). This isn’t the first time a red horse appears in the Bible, it also shows up in Zechariah 1:8, “I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white” and again in Zechariah 6:1-2, “And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses…”. At this point in the Bible, the role of the horses/horseman seem to be a type “scout”. They travel the whole earth and come back with a report on the activities of the world, “And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth. And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.” (Zechariah 1:10-11). In Revelation is where they are “given” power. Just as the name “seal” implies, the horses and horseman may currently have their abilities sealed up until the time of the end.
The third seal unleashes a black horse that seems to have power over the economy and maybe even the supply of food on a global scale. Things may become more scarce with prices soaring at the same time leading to a worldwide famine, “And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine”, (Revelation 6:5-6).
Let’s take a closer look at the statement “…A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny…”. In Greek, the word for “penny” is “dēnarion” or a denarius which was a silver coin used as a means of currency in the Roman Empire (Blue Letter Bible). Matthew 20 gives us a better picture of the worth of this “penny” as well as its application in society through the parable of the workers in the vineyard, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard…And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny” (Matthew 20:1-2, 9). The passage in Matthew shows us that during this time period laborers would receive a denarius for a day’s work.
The Greek word used for “measure” is “choinix” which is equivalent to a dry quart. When I convert this amount, I get around 1.3 pounds which makes about a loaf of bread. From these calculations we can see how people will be struggling to feed themselves.
The fourth seal seems to be the most serious one; a pale horse appears with its rider being Death itself and Hell is following along, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:8).
This brings to my remembrance Isaiah 28:14-18 which uses similar language concerning “Death” and “Hell”,
“Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.”
Both Revelation and Isaiah are personifying death and hell. Revelation says power was given to death and hell to kill by any means necessary and in Isaiah we can see God’s chosen people are making a deal with death and hell, 2 beings that have power to kill. This agreement formed may be done by force or by intimidation once the power of these figures are on display (maybe through a nation that gains power during this time). To note, death and hell may just be spiritual beings that have an effect on our physical world but they operate through physical people that may be empowered by them. So this deal may not be made directly with death and hell themselves but rather real people that are spiritually empowered due to the influence of “death” and “hell”. God in verse 16 points out that the people that belief in the corner stone he has laid don’t need to worry about these consequences. This corner stone represents Jesus referenced multiple times in scripture, both in old and new testaments (Mark 12:10, Acts 4:10-12, Ephesians 2:19-21, 1 Peter 2:5-7)
Culmination of the first 4 seals
All in all the seals appear to have a “trickle down” affect. In the second seal the rider of the red horse takes peace from the earth which may be the effects of the conqueror of the first seal. The third seal then negatively impacts economy and possibly causes a famine. Again, if wars are occurring worldwide now, with peace being taken away, food supply could drop and the economy would feel the affects. Lastly, the fourth seal wraps it all together and has power over a part of the earth to kill with the sword (2nd seal), and with hunger and death (possible causes of 1st and 3rd seal). Although separate, the seals are working together.
Note that in Leviticus 26:21-26 there’s a passage where God warns his people that if they follow his commandments they’ll be blessed, but if they turn away from him they will face dire consequences,
“And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate. And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me; Then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.“
Although I can’t say for sure if this passage is directly referencing the seals in Revelation (as this could’ve been punishments God has used several times due to the disobedience of the Israelites), the language here is still similar. God says he’ll “send wild beasts” and will “bring a sword upon them” (parallel that to the second seal in Revelation 6:4 and fourth seal in Revelation 6:8). God also specifically mentions that once he affects their food supply they won’t be satisfied with what they eat. The use of the bread being weighted linking to the next statement that they won’t be satisfied shows that there will be less food (parallel this with the third seal in Revelation 6:5-6).
Something I also found interesting about the first 4 seals is that they are fairly similar to some of the things Jesus warns the disciples about. For example in Matthew 24:6, Jesus starts off with wars and rumors of wars but in the next verse includes nations waring against each other, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7). This appears to correlate with the first, second, third, and fourth seals to some degree. However here is where it gets tricky because these things have been occurring since the dawn of time so it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s caused by the opening of the seals. Due to this very fact though that these events aren’t new might mean that the seals will cause a greater magnitude and severity of these events to take place which I believe is supported by verse 8 when Jesus says “All these are the beginning of sorrows”.
Nature of the Horsemen
Just like the second seal with the red horse that appeared in Zechariah, the other 4 horses are mentioned in Zechariah and have the same role of “surveying” the earth and reporting their findings back, “In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses; And in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses. Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these, my lord? And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” (Zechariah 6:2-5). In the next 2 verses we get more information as to where the horses are specifically going but this is still mysterious in nature, “The black horses which are therein go forth into the north country; and the white go forth after them; and the grisled go forth toward the south country. And the bay went forth, and sought to go that they might walk to and fro through the earth: and he said, Get you hence, walk to and fro through the earth. So they walked to and fro through the earth.” (Zechariah 6:6-7). Each of the colored horses have designated locations where they need to go to.
I believe that if these horses we see in Zechariah are truly related to those in Revelation then at this point the horses’ “true” abilities or purpose may be sealed up until later as we see in Revelation where they are given the power over portions of the earth to take peace and kill. Something I do want to note and that you may have already noticed is that in Revelation, the opening of the first 4 seals brings 1 horse and 1 rider, however in Zechariah we see a horseman on a horse as well as multiple horses behind him (Zechariah 1:8) and chariots with horses (Zechariah 6:1-2) so although we see similarities (mainly being the color of the horses) the differences with the various number of horses is interesting. Despite this difference I still believe they have a connection. This is mainly due to the fact that besides Zechariah and Revelation, no where else in the Bible (as far as I’ve seen) talks about the same 4 colored horses.
If you enjoyed this study, you can find similar studies on the book of Revelation here including the 7 Churches of Revelation, the 24 Elders, the 4 living creatures, etc.