The Four Horsemen – Seals 1-4

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!”  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. 

When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard 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 people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.

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. 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!”   

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”  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 6:1-8 ESV

The first 4 seals appear to unleash (or unrestrain) a series of spirits who bring judgment and tribulation to the world.  They are commonly called “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.  The horses and riders are “chomping at the bit” to ride forth, but are currently being restrained – at least from full expression.  I see a strong connection between Seals 1-4 and the removal of the Restrainer (2 Thessalonians 2).

Opening the seals initiates the specific results described, but the effects of the seals will continue on for some time.   Note how closely the seals parallel the description of the “birth pains” given by Jesus in Matthew 24.  The fact that we can see elements of the first 5 seals as occurring throughout the entirety of the church age, and even increasing in intensity, suggests that the time of their full expression must be near.  Perhaps the church age is a shadow or glimpse of how these horses and riders will function during the approximately 7 year time of “Tribulation”.

Seal 1 – White Horse with a Rider holding a Bow and wearing a Crown

This rider is not Christ, because Jesus is currently the one OPENING this seal.

Some favor this rider to be symbolic of an impersonal force – a false worldwide peace.  John MacArthur favors this view.  The rider has a bow but no arrows, and is honored with a winner’s crown (not a royalty crown).  This might suggest that his victories will be bloodless, and based on political alliances and treaties.

David Lowe sees this rider as a conquering spirit, which goes forth into the world using a religious system and the name of Christ with conquest and domination of the masses as its goal.  This horse and rider would then symbolize spiritual oppression and include the “false christs” mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24.  The culmination of this spirit would be found in the Antichrist and false prophet.

Yet others, such as Jack Kelley, favor the rider to be the Antichrist, rising to power on the world stage.  Douglas Berner also favors this view, that the Antichrist is freed to rise to political power once the Restrainer is removed.  This is the view which I hold as well.

An interesting association may be with the head of the gods of Assyria.  Way back in the days before the Flood, in the original Babylonian religion, this “god” carried a bow with no arrows.  He is depicted with a winged (flying) disc, with connections to the Sun (sun-worship).  There seems to be some suggestion in scripture that the end times will see a revival of ancient Babylonian religion/idolatry (through “Mystery Babylon”).  Satan, as the author of all false religion, will certainly be behind the antichrist and his rise to power both politically and spiritually.

I tend to favor the interpretation that Seal 1 unrestrains the rise to power of the Antichrist.  His rise to power may be through political victories involving peace talks and treaties, but it also describes in the book of Daniel (chapters 7&11) that he will fight wars (Seal 2).  It’s entirely possible that he identifies himself as a religious figure (a type of “messiah”).  I believe he will proclaim to be the Jewish “messiah” at some point (perhaps as Messiah ben Joseph for the first half of Daniel’s 70th Week, and Messiah ben David for the second half of the Week).

The antichrist, and his false religion, will feature prominently throughout the entire Day of the Lord.

Seal 2- Red Horse with a Rider Granted to Take Peace From the Earth

Red depicts war.  The false peace (if there was any, depending on your view of Seal 1) dissolves as God grants permission for peace to be lifted and men to kill each other.  This Seal could be a picture of the Gog/Magog invasion, which God halts before it can come to fruition.  The parallels between Seal 6 and Ezekiel 38-39 are strong, and if the seals are popped open all at the same time, this view might have validity.  This seal will also likely include regional wars and infighting, and probably the antichrist’s wars as he comes into power (Daniel 7, 11).

David Lowe, in his book Earthquake Resurrection, identifies that this is not normal human killing (apokteino), but the word used here describes a brutal slaying with no conscience (sphazo).  I imagine in the aftermath of the rapture and associated phenomena (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis), the pandemonium will unleash the worst in humanity as people literally fight for survival.

An interesting speculation regarding this seal is the winged horse known as a “chollima”, which is pictured red and figures prominently in North Korea.  To them, it symbolizes “heroism, a constant fighting spirit, and speed” (wikipedia).  Hmmm…

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I believe the entire Day of the Lord will be marked by violence.  The latter days are referred to several times “as in the days of Noah”, which were also marked by violence (Genesis 6:11-13).  Seal 2 is thus the result of the release of restraint on human violence and/or war.

Seal 3 – Black Horse with a Rider Holding a Pair of Scales or a Yoke

Black is associated with famine, which is a logical consequence of worldwide war.  Economic collapse is also common following wars, and we can definitely see in today’s economy that we are on the brink of massive economic system collapse.

In one view, the scales represent the rationing resulting from famine.  A day’s wages for an average worker will only buy enough to feed him for that day.

Alternative explanations to this horse and rider include an inequitable distribution of wealth around the world, such that although the world produces enough food to feed us all – many are starving and nutritionally deprived while the “oil and wine” – wealthy nations – aren’t as affected by famines.  The scales would represent economic justice (in this case, the lack of it).  David Lowe, in his book Earthquake Resurrection, notes that the word used for balance scale is also used as yoke (Jesus’ yoke is easy – Matt 11 – whereas this yoke is almost unbearable).  This would strengthen the interpretation of financial oppression and bondage for this seal.

I personally think the most likely explanation of Seal 3 includes a global economic crisis, triggered by the effects from worldwide calamity (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions) and the disappearance of a portion of earth’s population in the rapture.  Weather will be changed because of the ash in the atmosphere, affecting agriculture.  Transportation of goods will be affected.  Electricity may be unreliable, and food storage affected.  Food will become scarce and extremely expensive.

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The culmination of this seal would be in the institution of the Mark of the Beast system (after the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week/the abomination of desolation) in the ultimate economic system of control.

Seal 4 – Ashen (Pale/Green/Dappled) Horse ridden by Death, Given Authority to Kill a Fourth of the Earth

The color of this horse vividly portrays the color of a decaying corpse.  Death on a massive scale – 1/4 the population – is unleashed upon the earth.  Sword, famine, and pestilence are often linked in scripture as judgments from God, and wild beasts are included sometimes as well (see Ezekiel 14:12-21).

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 it man and beast!  Ezekiel 14:21 ESV

Sword and famine are pretty self-explanatory.  They were covered in Seals 2 and 3, which supports our theory that the seals open all at the same time.  Pestilence likely refers to disease, but could encompass natural disasters or biological/chemical weapons. But what are the “wild beasts”?

John MacArthur, in his book Because the Time is Near, offers an interpretation of “wild beasts” to be the rat as a disease spreader, like in the Plague.  We already know that mosquitoes spread disease very effectively.  An alternative interpretation for “wild beasts” could possibly include bacteria and perhaps viruses, although these would be more likely to be part of the “pestilence” already mentioned.

I would like to offer another interesting consideration regarding “wild beasts” in this seal.   Perhaps the Bible really does mean “wild beasts”.   Interestingly, we see a feast for wild animals/carrion prepared two times in the Bible – once at the beginning of the Day of the Lord, and once at the end of the Day of the Lord.  Ezekiel 39:17 (ESV) states: “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood.”  I believe this strongly associates the Gog/Magog war with Seal 4.  (This is discussed more fully here – Gog/Magog post).

David Lowe, in his book Earthquake Resurrection, suggests that Seals 1-5 are open throughout the church age.  In support of this interpretation, a search of causes of death worldwide, when added together, war + famine + infectious disease = 25%. Alternately, third world nations, with their shortened lifespans, make up about 1/4 of the world’s land mass.  I found both of these statistics to be interesting in light of Seal 4.

Douglas Berner, in his book When God Intervenes, challenges David Lowe’s view.  He points out that the mention of Hades following Death is very significant.  Death kills the body, and we all (well, not all!!!) face that.  Hades is uniquely an abode for the soul of unbelievers.  Thus, no Christian is affected by this Seal.  How is that possible?  The only logical explanation I see is that there are no Christians around when this seal takes place.  There is only one point in humanity when that will occur – and that is immediately upon the rapture of the church.  Thus, it seems most logical to me that 1/4 of the world’s population dies very quickly in the aftermath of the rapture.  This will be via 4 main causes – war/murder, hunger/famine, death/pestilence, and wild beasts.  Although this is very difficult to comprehend – over 1.5 billion people will die in a short span of time – I believe that we often underestimate the gravity of how awful the upcoming Time of Jacob’s Trouble is going to be.

The 4 Horses of Zechariah

Interestingly, we have seen these 4 horses in scripture elsewhere.  In Zechariah, these  are spiritual beings in the form of horses and riders that roam the earth and report on its’ condition to God.  The passages are found in Zechariah chapters 1 & 6:

 “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.  Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’  So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’ And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’  Zechariah 1:8-11 ESV

 Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze.  The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses,  the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong.  Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”  And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.  The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.”  When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, “Go, patrol the earth.” So they patrolled the earth.  Then he cried to me, “Behold, those who go toward the north country have set my Spirit at rest in the north country.”  Zechariah 6:1-8

I believe the horses and riders we see in Zechariah are connected with the four horses  and riders we see again in the book of Revelation.  Perhaps what we see in Seals 1-4 are their final assignments!  For a detailed examination of the horses in Zechariah’s vision, BibleStudyTools offers this commentary.

Conclusion

The first four seals involve humans (perhaps influenced by demons) acting in quite “natural” ways.  Political and religious domination, war, famine, pestilence, economic oppression – these are things that occur in our world with regularity.  God has used all of these elements before in executing His judgments.

Are the horses and riders always active on the earth?  Perhaps.  Maybe this is why we see some of these elements at play even now, and throughout the church age.  However, I see Seals 1-4 as the final enormous assignment for these horses and riders.  This assignment awaits for the appointed time, but I believe the horses are eager to burst forth.  I believe they will be released when the Restrainer is removed (the Holy Spirit indwelling the body of Christ) at the time of the rapture.  The Seals describe what is left in the wake of this great event.

When the Seals are truly opened, there will be no mistaking it – the wrath of the One on the Throne and the Lamb has come, and who can stand???  (The answer to this is found in Revelation 7).  The four horses and riders will be unleashed to bring various forms of judgment as they patrol over the whole world – deception, war, famine, economic collapse, pestilence, and death.  The phenomenon may seem “natural”, but the extent and severity will be unparalleled.


Further Resources:

Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt?  Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape?  If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.

Seals, Sealing, and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The Martyrs Under the Altar – Seal 5

The Blood Moon – Seal 6

Heavenly Silence – Seal 7

The Horses and Riders in Zechariah’s Vision – BibleStudyTools

God’s Mosaic – A Whole Scripture Overview of Things To Come

Main Menu – God’s Mosaic Prophecy Model

The Bible is infallible.  I am not.  I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture.  I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details, some of which I think might need to be adjusted slightly.  I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!

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