Notes on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 6, Part 1

Albrecht Dürer The Four Riders of the Apocalypse // Larry Hunt Bible Commentary

Albrecht Dürer The Four Riders of the Apocalypse

Concerning the chronology of the seals…

While some of the events symbolized by the visions of the seven seals may be arranged chronologically in the order that the seals are opened, I do not believe that  all of the events symbolized by the seals can be thus arranged.  In other words, I do not believe that the events symbolized by the visions of one seal necessarily precede those symbolized by the visions of the next.[1] My reasons for this are in chapter seven.  For example, 7:3 describes the visions of the 6thseal.  In that verse, an angel tells four other angels that they are not to damage the earth until the 144,000 have been marked with the seal of God on their foreheads.  However, since these four angels are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (whose damaging effects are described in the first four seals) then this event (the marking of the 144,000) in the sixth seal must have happened before the events of the first four seals.  See also notes on 7:9-17, which describe how another vision in the sixth seal seems to symbolize events after those symbolized in the seventh seal.

v. 1: One by one, each of the four cherubim summons a horseman by commanding it to come forth.

v. 2: Concerning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…

I think all four of these horsemen should be considered destructive agents (though not evil ones).  There is no doubt that the last three horsemen are destructive; the red horse takes peace from the earth and causes people to slaughter one another; the black horse brings famine and desperation; the pale horse is death and has authority to kill with sword, famine, pestilence and wild animals.  Only the rider on the white horse is questionable since Christ himself is described as riding a white horse of victory in 19:11-13; however, in this context, the white horse is clearly part of a whole, and the other three parts of this whole are destructive; therefore, I think the white horse must also be destructive.

It seems very likely that John borrowed the imagery of the four horsemen from that of the four chariots in Zechariah 6:1-8.  The four chariots of Zechariah are “the four winds of heaven going out after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth [God]” (Zechariah 6:5).  Because the Horsemen seem to borrow their imagery from the four chariots, and because these chariots are the four winds, I am inclined to believe that these four horsemen and their horses are “the four winds of the earth” being held back by four angels “standing at the four corners of the earth” (7:1).  These four winds are destructive (7:1-3).

In a general sense, I believe this is what the Four Horsemen symbolize:

The White Horse: Violent conquest

The Red Horse: Impotent, self-destructive violence, like civil war.

The Black Horse: Famine, poverty, and economic desperation

The Pale Horse: Death[2]

Beyond this, however, I do not know what specific events in time these horsemen refer to.

Nevertheless, consider the following sequence of events:[3]

Before the cherubim summon the four horsemen (6:1-8), i.e., before God releases the four winds,[4] God puts his seal on the foreheads of all his people who are destined for martyrdom during the reign of Beast I (7:1-3, 14:1-5) and tells the martyrs already in heaven that their blood will be avenged (in other words, that “the great day of God the Almighty” will come[5]) after the proper number of Christians destined for martyrdom has been reached (6:9-11).    The number is 144,000 (7:4-8, 14:1-5).  Now the four horsemen (the four winds) are released.  I believe these four horsemen also correspond to the first four angels with trumpets (8:6-12) and the first four angels with bowls (16:1-8). After this, come the portents and omens that declare the (imminent?) arrival of “the great day of God the Almighty” (6:12-17).  Then, “the great day of God the Almighty” itself comes with “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (8:5, 11:19, 16:18).[6]

v. 6: Since this voice comes from the midst of the four cherubim, I suppose it is the voice of God himself, who is enthroned in their midst (4:6).

It is interesting that this horseman and the fourth are both limited in how much they may destroy.  The black horse must not damage the oil and wine, and the pale horse may only destroy ¼ of the earth.

[1]As it turns out, I do actually believe that the events of the first four seals are a unit and follow one another, but not all those of the last three do.  Even in these last three, however, there are some notable parallels between the events of the (not-necessarily-chronological) sixth and seventh seals and those of the (chronological) sixth and seventh trumpets and bowls.  Compare the following verses:  11:13 (the sixth trumpet) with 6:12 (the sixth seal), and 11:19 (the seventh trumpet) and 16:18 (the seventh bowl) with 8:5 (the seventh seal).

[2] Many commentaries claim that this horseman represents disease and pestilence, but there is no justification for limiting its meaning in this way.  This is the one horseman whose general interpretation is overtly given: “Its rider’s name was death” (6:8) and its means of bringing death include, but are not limited to, pestilence; it kills with “sword, famine, pestilence, and … wild animals of the earth” (6:8).

[3] See also note on 8:5.

[4] Notice that the narrative never says that these four winds are released, and yet the suggestion is clear that they will be released.  I think this means that we should look for their release under some other symbol than the four winds, i.e., under that of the four horsemen.  See also note on 7:1.

[5] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4.

[6] See Order of Events appendix.


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