The fourth seal (Rev. 6:7-8)
Previously: Do not harm the olive oil and the wine (Rev. 6:5-6)
Rev. 6:7 – When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (HCSB).
When Jesus opens the fourth seal, the fourth living creature thunders, “Come!” and a horse and rider appear. This horse, the last of the four, is a ghastly grayish green. The rider is called by name – Hades, the Greek word for the abode of the dead – and Death follows closely behind. This frightful duo is granted authority to strike a fourth of the population by sword, famine, plague and wild animals.
What does all this mean to John’s first-century readers? And what does it mean to us today? Let’s take a closer look.
The fourth seal
The Lamb opens the fourth seal, enabling the fourth living creature to call for the fourth horse and rider. Recapping what’s been written in previous chapters before about seals, they likely are pieces of wax or clay that have been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. They identify the person who has authorized what’s been written. The seal may be broken only by a designated authority, in this case the Lamb. As each seal is broken, it gives way to another portion of the scroll until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed.
As the seal is opened, John hears the fourth living creature say, “Come!” This call probably is not to John but to the horse and rider, who appear at once.
A pale green horse
This horse is described as pale green or greenish gray, the ashen color of death. And no wonder, for the rider upon him is named Death. The Greek word used here to describe the horse’s color, chloros, is the same word used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe vegetation. In Mark 6:39, for example, the Gospel writer records that Jesus has the multitudes sit down in groups on the “green grass.” In Rev. 8:7, at the first trumpet judgment, the “green grass” is burned up. And in Rev. 9:4, the locusts are told not to harm the “grass of the earth.”
What a stark contrast this horse is to the others: white, fiery red (yes, horses can be varying hues of red), and black. But what horse is the color of faded summer vegetation? Perhaps like the grass, which eventually withers and dies, this horse symbolizes the fleeting nature of human life – “As for man, his days are like grass,” Ps. 103:15 – and the inevitability of death and judgment. Consider these passages of scripture, particularly as they speak to death and judgment of the wicked:
- Ps. 92:7 – “though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will eventually be destroyed.”
- Ps. 129:6 –“Let them [all who hate Zion] be like grass on the rooftops, which withers before it grows up.”
- Isa. 5:24 – “Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes straw and as dry grass shrivels in the flame, so their roots [those of the wicked in Judah] will become like something rotten and their blossoms will blow away like dust.”
- James 1:11 – “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will wither away while pursuing his activities.”
- 1 Peter 1:24-25 – “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower drops off, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (quoting Isa. 40:6-8)
Ultimately, youth gives way to old age, vitality to inertia, health to illness, riches to ashes, life to death. While the clock ticks on the life of the unbeliever as he speeds headlong into a Christ-less eternity, the stark reality of death involves even the faithful Christian and is a reminder that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). The difference, however, is that Christians – and creation itself – wait eagerly to “be set free from the bondage of corruption” (Rom. 8:21). For the wicked, Death comes on a pale green horse, with Hades close behind.
Next: A horseman named Death (Rev. 6:7-8)