The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse — Revelation 6:1-8

by Reverend Anthony R. Locke Sermon Series in Revelation # 14 Revelation 6:1-8 English Standard Version

1   Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.”

2   I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

3   When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.”

4   And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

5   When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.

6   And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

7   When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.”

8   I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.[1]

There are certain parts of the book of Revelation that I feel are just daring us to interpretation them. I find these verse particularly difficult. Are they meant to be placed within a historical timeline? Are they already being fulfilled or do they point to a future calamity of the Earth?

Martin Luther and John Calvin both chose not to try and exegete these passages. Calvin responded, “Why should I write a commentary on a book I do not understand?”

A sermon series requires that we deal with the difficult passages as well as the easy ones.

It is my opinion that these four horseman summarize the suffering of humanity, yet with particular application to mankind’s increased suffering toward the end of the world. I do not see these as End Time occurrences for humanity. I believe the suffering is cyclical and increasing.

It is surprising to discover that these four horseman were on patrol and reported to the Lord Jesus in Zechariah 1:8-10I 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. 9 Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ 10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’

They report to Jesus in the Old Testament like they submit and report to the Lamb of glory in the book of the Revelation.

In Zechariah 1:11 they answered Jesus and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’ God will not let the world remain at rest while it is at enmity with God. Peace must only be found in Christ, and never by a Tower of Babel kumbaya.

So Jesus turns to the Father and says, O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah? Then the Father tells the angel speaking with Zechariah to speak comforting words to God’s people.

These horseman are sent into the world to comfort God’s people by bringing discomfort on God’s enemies. They are the tool of the Lamb to bring temporary judgment on the world.

It is my opinion that these four horseman personify the suffering of humanity, including an increased suffering that manifests itself as this world grows closer and closer to the end. This suffering has been working itself out since the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden.

Visions in Revelation sometimes cover future events and past realities. Revelation 13:8 (KJV) tells us that Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. What we see in Revelation is true of the future, but has ramifications going backward too.

Another example is Matthew 25:34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. The inheritance of the saints is secured by Jesus in Revelation 5, but the promise that we would possess this blessing was established from the very beginning.

It is with this broad understanding of the Revelation that allows me to say that these sufferings summarize the suffering of humanity since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

You could use this passage to answer the question, “Why is there suffering in the world?” Answer? Because the Lamb of God has determined to make the enemies of God uncomfortable.

God has determined to keep humanity from being at rest in this world. This place is not Heaven. We will all face difficulty and suffering. The Lamb has determined to give all of humanity a foretaste of God’s displeasure through the Divine work of these Four Horseman that we might be brought to repentance. We must experience our own flesh leading us to destruction to know we need a Savior.

Verse 2, John is commanded to look, and Behold, John sees a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

This is the opposite of the work of God’s Spirit. James 3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. God permits these demon creatures to fan the flame of our flesh and light the world on fire. It’s like when God gave Satan permission to persecute Job.

This white horse imagery was familiar to the Roman people. The Roman Army was defeated and forced to surrender to the Parthians who rode white horses and used bows.

Within the English language you still might hear someone refer to a “Parthian Shot” which means a final blow that brings defeat.

And these horseman are given a crown like the Olympic champions who compete for the victory. These horseman go into the world to encourage war and military restlessness.

Why are there wars? Why Because the Lamb of God has determined that this world will not be at peace while it is at war with God.

Jesus has sent a messenger of war to encourage political leaders to be at war, and keep us from being at rest, while we at war with God.

Only Jesus can bring everlasting peace on the Earth and between the Earth and Heaven.

Over a 100 million Muslims were killed in the Muslim wars a thousand years ago.

At least 75 million were killed in World War II. The story of humanity is that 100’s and 100’s  of millions of people have been killed in wars.

The American military is deployed in 150 countries. When is this going to stop? Not until humanity puts down their rebellion against the Lamb of God, and we repent of our insurrection, then the hostilities will cease and our welfare will be secure.

Then Jesus breaks the second seal and John sees a Red Horseman. The first and second Horseman are close in their work, but they are different too.

The first incites wars. The second horseman incites the killing of innocent civilians by those in power. Killing is not always carried out be people in political office, but they are the worst.

The Russian government in the last 100 years has killed almost 100 million of their own citizens, that we know of. The same number is true of the Asian Communist countries like China and North Korea. Germany killed over 20 million of their own citizens in the ten year period before WWII. 10 million have been killed in the last few years in and around Chad Africa.

And let’s not forget that mothers in power kill 50 million unborn babies every year.

The Holy Spirit prompts us to be kind and compassionate. This Red Rider whispers into our heart that we should act on our murderous tendencies to kill one another.

This is what motivates a man to walk into a movie theater and open fire, a woman to walk into an abortion clinic and kill her baby, or Herod to kill babies in Bethlehem.

And the Lamb of God accomplishes His sovereign purpose to reveal the darkness of human hearts. We are exposed as children of the Devil who was a murderer from the beginning.

Third, there is the Dark Black Horseman of famine.

He has a scale in his hands for food is so scarce that it must be measured out with great care. Why is there suffering in this world? Because humanity does not know how to be faithful in our stewardship of the Creation.

The poor work a whole day for their denarius which buys only enough for that day. They live hand to mouth. They never have enough for savings. They never have enough for the future.

But the rich, those who purchase the luxuries of life represented in the oil and the wine, have so much that they can’t decide where to indulge themselves further.

It should make us angry when hard working Americans can’t pay for their healthcare or put quality food on the table for their children. Barley could not provide for a healthy development for children, but it would provide a full stomach. Too many parents have only enough money to purchase unhealthy food for their families.

Why is this world governed by economic disparities? Because the Lamb of Glory has sent out a Horseman that fans the flame of our greedy hearts that we might know the depths of our sinfulness and our desperate need for a Savior. Suffering brings us to our knees.

Finally, Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

Death and the grave were promised to humanity in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned. This pale gangrene Horseman has been riding in the night sky ever since.

We lose loved ones. Some people outlive their own children. There is no way to cheat or buy off death. As my wife’s uncle puts it, “None of us are getting out of here alive.”

And all this suffering is a foretaste of the wrath of the Lamb. None of this suffering is as bad as it can get. Only Hell itself can bring to us the Hell that these horseman shadow.

Which brings me to the conclusion of our sermon. Jesus endured these Horseman.

When Jesus walked this Earth, He also bore the suffering that these four Horseman bring into the world.

The Jewish and Roman governments worked to suppress and conquer His message. Jesus suffered under the hands of men in government who were Hell bent on conquering the freedom and liberty found in the message of Jesus.

The blood of Jesus was shed by these men in power. Jesus lived a life of poverty. He lived hand to mouth. He never had a permanent place to lay His head.

And Jesus died a death we deserved.

And while on the cross Jesus suffered even at the hand of God. Jesus didn’t just have a foretaste of hell by what He suffered while on the Earth. Jesus suffered Hell while on the cross.

No person has suffered as terribly as Jesus, God’s vicarious Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world. The injustice is without compare. This was a social evil we will all regret.

The end of Zachariah 12 informs us that all of the Creation will see the suffering of Jesus and weep for the tragedy of His loss. That the most beautiful person to ever live endured the most terrible suffering that we could not even imagine.

Zechariah 12:10 When they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.

I don’t know the personal tragedy that you have endured. This world is filled with untold sorrow. But ever person’s sorrow will fade from their memory forever when they see the scars on Jesus.

When we see the Lamb of God as having been slain, we will be filled with a most profound sadness for the suffering Jesus Christ endured to pay for our sins.

And the suffering of sinful humanity will cease to bother us. We will not regret receiving what we deserved.

Instead, we will be overwhelmed by the unfair suffering of the innocent Son of God.

And then, if we have placed our faith in Christ and we are prepared to stand in God’s presence, we will have the tears wiped from our eyes. We will enter into the prepared rest and peace of Heaven.

We will enter into a celestial city where death will never cast a shadow.

We will dwell forever in God’s gracious provisions. Everyone will have more than we could ever ask or imagine. And Death will never again cast a shadow on our eternal dwelling places.

We will not ask why this world suffered when we see the glories of Heaven. We will not ask why we suffered.

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

God is working to bring us to repentance by the work of these Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. God gets the world’s attention. God is reminding us that there is a day appointed when this life will end and we will stand before His Great White throne.

Are you ready? You can be by bowing the knee to the Lord Jesus.

May we all become ready through repentance and faith in the only Man who can bring a lasting peace. Jesus is our peace. May we embrace that peace today.


[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


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