Image above is from WikiMedia Commons; “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov.
vs. 7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “[Go!]” (ESV; modification of word “come” to “go” by me.)
I. Death and Hades are under the authority of Christ!
Remember what we read in Chapter 1:17-18 —
17 When I saw Him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Before each horse makes its appearance, an order comes forth from the throne room of God for it to appear. The Four Horsemen do not ride until later, but that is not introduced here. Two more seals remain in this chapter and one more in a later chapter. The interlude between the six and seventh seals explains a lot about the church’s circumstances during this time. But, that is for a later post.
We as believers have no fear of death and what lies beyond. We know our destiny is to live forever with the Lord in the place He has prepared for us!
vs. 8a And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him.
The Fourth Rider — The word for “pale green” is chloros (“Clorox” is an English derivative with the idea of killing germs). It is used of grass and greenery in general. Here it is the pale green of a corpse.
If seal one describes conquest, seal two speaks of war, and seal three of economic hardship and scarcity, which follow war; then, the fourth seal speaks of disease, pestilence, etc. that also accompany all the Four Horsemen.
This rider is the grim reaper himself. He is followed by hades — the place where the unrighteous dead go. Hades follows along behind swallowing up the dead.
In the picture above, you can see a hole beneath the fourth rider. This represents hades, swallowing up the dead from conquest, war, and scarcity. The latter part of the verse below describes the means of death that follow the Four Horsemen’s ride.
II. Christ is Sovereign over all disruptive elements in our world.
vs. 8b And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
The “they” refer to all four of the Horsemen and not to the fourth only.
Authority in Greek is exousia = “the right to take action.” In this case, the riders have the authority over 1/4 of the earth. This is also the second time a limited judgment occurs in the book. The four horsemen are limited precisely to 1/4th of the earth.
Literally, the text says the rider has “authority to kill.” The four judgments mentioned here are drawn from Ezekiel 14:21. They are the means by which the riders kill their victims.
21 “For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast! [ESV]
III. Modern nations suffer Old Testament calamities if they have known God at one time and later abandon Him.
No doubt Leviticus 26, Ezekiel 14, and the Olivet Discourse of our Lord (Matt. 24) form the background of these four judgments for the nations that stray from God’s commandments and persecute Christ’s Church.
By the sword — The Greek word is different than the one the second rider had — this is rhomphia. It was the large broad sword of the heathen invaders of Rome. This is invasion by one’s enemies. Rome was afraid of the Parthians (Persians) who were like the rider on the first horse. We today fear terrorists from rogue nations who threaten our way of life. Christians trust in God as enemies attack!
By famine — Seal three was scarcity. This is famine to the point of death — little food if all. It is sad, but aid sent by the UN to Somalia today is often hijacked by thugs and sold for profit at a high price to those in famine. (See Somalia below.) God provides for Christians because he is Lord over the climate and resources needed to grow food.
By pestilence — The Greek word is thanatos “death.” However, the rider is death. “To kill someone with death in Hebrew is an idiom meaning disease. Hans Zinsser drew this conclusion about pestilence and Rome —
Again and again, the forward march of Roman power and world organization was interrupted by the only force against which political genius and military valor were utterly helpless — epidemic disease — and when it came, as though carried by storm clouds, all other things gave way, and men crouched in terror, abandoning all their quarrels, undertakings, and ambitions, until the tempest had blown over. (see Johnson below.)
Christ is Lord even over bacteria and germs. He heals Christians in times of pestilence. God always heals disease except for one. The last malady we have that ushers us into our larger life forever with Him.
By wild beasts — With the decimation of populations in the civilized world, wild beasts lose their fear of mankind and roam the formerly inhabited world. They kill those who survived the horrors of war and plagues. Wild animals venture into the human population as their habitat shrinks and their food chain is disturbed by war and famine. I have seen a coyote, several bobcats, and one dark panther in our little town in South Carolina. Christ is Lord over nature and can preserve His people from harm.
On to Seal Five next time!
Fauci, A. S. (2017). “Three Decades of Responding to Infectious Disease Outbreaks.” Accessed 1 February 2020 from https://www.niaid.nih.gov/news-events/three-decades-responding-infectious-disease-outbreaks
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Wilmington, DE: P & R Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Somalia. (2009). Corruption eats into Somalia’s food aid accessed 28 January 2020 from https://www.thenational.ae/world/africa/corruption-eats-into-somalia-s-food-aid-1.502144
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