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)
Rev. 6:1 –Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer (HCSB).
Now that Jesus has received the scroll – possibly the title deed to the earth – He opens the first seal. When He does, one of the four living creatures speaks with a thunderous voice, “Come!” (or, possibly, “Come and see!” or “Go!”).
But to whom is he speaking? John already is nearby and sees what takes place. If the command is to go, where is John to go? The living creature doesn’t say.
Some commentators argue that the living creature is calling on the Lamb to come; we see throughout the New Testament a strong desire for Jesus to step into the clouds of heaven and return to earth. Interpreters who hold this view see Jesus as the rider on the white horse.
Others believe the command to “come” or “go” is directed at the riders on their respective horses. This view seems consistent with the text and does not require Jesus to be the rider on the white horse. In any case, the living creature’s thunderous voice lets everyone know something significant is about to happen.
One other note about the living creature: Some scholars believe the living creatures speak in order – the first, like a lion, for example (see Rev. 4:7). The creature’s bold proclamation is like a lion’s roar and ushers in a succession of great revivals beginning in Jerusalem and spreading throughout the world. But this framework is hard to match to all four horses and their riders. It may be better to understand that the living creatures share in the responsibility to pronounce the stunning events to follow; the order of their speaking is not made clear to us and therefore is not of great significance.
Now, John sees a white horse, the first of four horses in this chapter. Again, the ESV Study Bible aids our understanding: “The horses’ colors generally reflect those of the horses in Zech. 1:8–10 and 6:1–8, symbolizing emissaries sent by God to patrol the earth. Only by the Lamb’s permission and under his direction can the forces symbolized by these horses and their riders inflict death through sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. The seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments all have a format of four (judgments on the earth) plus three (cosmic judgments).”
Who is the rider?
But who is the rider on the white horse? We already have mentioned that some commentators think this rider represents Christ, the sword-wielding “Word of God” who rides a white horse in 19:11–16. However, this rider is armed with a bow, which is significant to first-century readers. The Parthians, a frequent enemy on the Roman Empire’s eastern border, are outstanding bowmen, so it’s more likely that this rider symbolizes the quest of neighboring political and military powers to expand their empires, leading to war (red horse), famine (black horse), and epidemic disease (pale horse).
Still others – predominantly futurists – think this rider on the white horse represents the Antichrist.
So how should we see the appearance of the white horse and its powerful rider? First-century Christians certainly could have seen this as an indication of political and military battles that ultimately lead to the fall of Rome and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, thus fulfilling Christ’s promise to deal harshly with those who persecute His followers. But political and military conquests have been the norm throughout human history, not just the early days of the church. Even more, the New Testament warns us that the world will become more evil in the days preceding the return of Christ – unprecedented days of persecution and wickedness. The futurist says we have not yet seen these days. Which view is correct? Or are they both right?
Perhaps a better question is: What does God’s Word say to me today? The truths of Revelation remain the same today as they were 2,000 years ago. We know that evil will run rampant throughout the church age; that Christians will be persecuted; that antichrists will oppose the Lamb and seek to take His place (see 1 John 2:18-19); and that one day the Lamb of God will appear as the Lion of the tribe of Judah to make things right. Let’s keep that perspective as we explore a variety of views about the order of events unfolding in Revelation.
Next – A bow and a crown (Rev. 6:1-2)