Four Seals, Four Horses
The first four seals are broken and four colored horses appear with riders carrying all sorts of stuff. Remember the book of Revelation is highly symbolic, which means we have to look for clues to find out what the stuff means. Are you ready? Saddle up!
First question. Does the Bible mention four colored horses anywhere else?
Wow! Yes it does! This is a big clue, especially since an angel tells Zechariah, the prophet exactly what the horses (and chariots) are. Read Zechariah 6:2-7 below.
2With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black horses, 3 with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot dappled horses—strong steeds. 4 Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth. 6 The one with the black horses is going to the north country, the white are going after them, and the dappled are going toward the south country.” 7 Then the strong steeds went out, eager to go, that they might walk to and fro throughout the earth. And He said, “Go, walk to and fro throughout the earth.” So they walked to and fro throughout the earth.
In Zechariah the four colored horses are the four spirits of the heavens, which go to all the earth.
Four often symbolizes going to the entire earth. So the Holy Spirit from Heaven is going out to all the world to spread the good news of what Jesus has done for us. The spirit does this through people, just like the disciples became mighty workers for Jesus when the Holy Spirit came upon them. As we learn about the four horses and riders remember they represent the gospel, or good news of Jesus, going into the world.
For all you visual learners like me, download a free doodle page on the four horses of Revelation 6 here.
The White Horse – 1st seal opened – (Rev 6:1-2)
White always describes something about Jesus or his followers in Revelation. It is a color of purity. The rider is given a crown of victory and is a conqueror with his bow, and probably some arrows.
- Bible History: God uses a bow and arrows in the Old Testament to fight for his people. Zech 9:13-16
- Church/World History: The early church was pure at first and the gospel spread rapidly.
- Now: When we accept Jesus and surrender our lives fully to Him, he washes us white as snow and gives us victory over sin! Isa 1:18
Note for budding scholars: There are two words for crown in Greek, one is for a kingly crown diadema, and one is for a victory crown or wreath stephanos, like the winners of the Olympics were given in Greek times. The Greek word used here is stephanos, a crown of victory.
The Fiery Red Horse – 2nd seal opened (Rev. 6:3-4)
Red is a color of bloodshed and persecution.
The word of God is also described as fire. Jer. 23:29
A great sword is given the rider to take peace from the earth. This reminds me of something Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”. You can read everything Jesus said about this here – Matt. 10:34-39
- Bible History: The prophets and faithful people of God were often persecuted.
- Church/World History: As Christianity spread, so did persecution of Christians. Most of the disciples were martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus.
- Now: In many countries of the world, people are persecuted, put in prison or even killed because they follow Jesus. Sometimes when a person decides to follow Jesus, their family disown them. But Jesus promises if we lose our life for his sake, we will find it. Life with Jesus will be WAY BETTER than this one, for sure!
The Black Horse – 3rd seal opened (Rev. 6:5-6)
Blackness, or darkness is a lack of the light of God’s Word. The Bible says that God’s Word lights our way. Psalm 119:105 If we don’t have God’s word we will be in darkness, and darkness is black. The rider carries a pair of balances or scales in his hand.
Balances or scales measured out grain in Bible times. In these verses there is a shortage of food. Food or grain can also represent Jesus and his word. John 6:35, Matt. 4:4, John 1:1 If we search deeper we find in the Old Testament that famine is sometimes described as a lack of God’s word. Amos 8:11-13
Oil and Wine: Oil was used for anointing kings and priests and other things in the Old Testament to make them holy. Psalm 89:20, Exod 40:9 In the New Testament God showed us that anointing was really done with the Holy Spirit. Acts 10:38 The oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Wine represents Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. His shed blood saves us from the eternal death that is a result of sin. Matt. 26:28-29 In the Old Testament wine mentioned with oil was an offering brought to the Lord. Neh. 10:39
Putting it all together: Even when there is a lack of God’s word, or the gospel is not being preached everywhere, the Holy Spirit is still at work and people can still find salvation in Jesus. The Bible tells us that even through creation and the wonderful things in nature, people can know there is a creator God. Rom. 1:19-20
- Bible History: People who rejected Jesus were said to be in darkness. John 1:4-5
- Church/History: Have you heard of the dark ages? This was a time in history when the Bible was not available to most people. The Roman Church which was the main organized church at that time, did not want people to read the Bible for themselves.
- Now: Even though most people in developed countries have easy access to the Bible, they are still in darkness if they don’t open the Bible and read it! But Jesus is always working through the Holy Spirit to show people he loves them.
Note for budding scholars: A denarius was a full day’s wages for an average person. A quart of wheat would feed one person. Three quarts of cheaper barley could feed a family. So it would take all of a person’s money just to eat. If you had to pay for a home and clothes and transportation, you’d probably be very hungry!
The Pale Horse – 4th seal opened (Rev. 6:8)
Death sits on the pale horse and hell follows him. This does not sound good! This is definitely the most serious condition so far. Did you know that when you reject the good news of the gospel, there are serious consequences? God does not cause death, but the wages of sin is death, there’s just no getting around this fact. Rom. 6:23 Without Jesus, we die, because Jesus is the source of life. John 11:25 God does not want us to die. 2 Pet. 3:9
So he sends warnings, serious warnings, to try and wake people up and bring them to repentance. He does this through the sword, famine (hunger), pestilence (diseases) and beasts. This is the same pattern we see in the Old Testament. God sending serious warnings, with the hope that people will turn back to God and live. Ezek 14:10,11,21 Remember, we use the Bible to interpret the Bible. That’s why there are always a lot of texts to connect everything together. Our own ideas mean nothing. But God’s Word is always true. Bad things naturally happen to people when they forsake God and follow other gods or try to do things themselves. That is a consequence of turning away from God. Of course, bad things happen to people who follow God as well. We live in a sinful world and Satan is out to hurt everyone he can. Thankfully, God’s people can look forward to a happy ending when Jesus makes all things new. God’s desire is that everyone would turn back to Him and be saved. That’s why he sends such drastic warnings.
- Bible History: Many times in the Bible there were sad consequences for people who chose not to follow God. A big example is when the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon. He allowed these things to happen to get their attention so they would turn back to him, have blessings, and live. Ezekiel chapter 14 is but one example.
- Church/History/Now: Eventually people began to forget about God altogether. As we see now, there are terrible things happening all over the world – wars, famines, diseases, natural disasters, shootings, killings and so many other terrible things. If that’s what happens when man leaves God out of everything, maybe it’s time to turn back to him, before it’s too late.
Whew! That was a lot of information. So if it was too much, here’s a summary.
The White Horse
The pure gospel spreading victoriously around the world
The Red Horse
Where the gospel is accepted, persecution and rejection can follow.
The Black Horse
Even where there is spiritual darkness because the Bible is not available, the Holy Spirit is still at work, making salvation available to everyone who listens to the Spirit.
The Pale Horse
When people reject the gospel and choose to live in sin, apart from the life-giver Jesus, there are terrible consequences.
The opening of the four seals gives us a preview of what happens when the gospel is accepted or rejected. We can choose victory with Jesus on the white horse or death on the pale horse without Jesus. There is a day that is coming soon, however, when the gospel will not be preached anymore and it will be too late. Choose to follow Jesus today and he will give you victory over sin and eternal life!