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Revelation: The Four Horsemen

four_horsemen_of_the_apocalypse_by_matchack-d4ig227


I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

Revelation 6:1-2˄ NIV

the_first_horseman_of_the_apocalypse___wip_03_by_spartanen-d5ohpx2

The first horseman is often associated with military conquest. One interpretation, which was held by evangelist Billy Graham, casts the rider of the white horse as the Antichrist, or a representation of false prophets, citing differences between the white horse in Revelation 6 and Jesus on the white Horse in Revelation 19.

When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come and see!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.

Revelation 6:3-4˄ NIV

the_second_horseman_of_the_apocalypse_by_spartanen-d5n41r5

The rider of the second horse is often taken to represent War or mass slaughter. His horse’s color is red (πυρρός, from πῦρ, fire). In some translations, the color is specifically a “fiery” red. This color, as well as the rider’s possession of a great sword, suggests blood that is to be spilled. The second horseman may represent civil war as opposed to the war of conquest that the first horseman is sometimes said to bring. Other commentators have suggested it might also represent persecution of Christians.

When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”

Revelation 6:5-6˄ NIV

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The third horseman rides a black horse and is generally understood as Famine. The horseman carries a pair of balances or weighing scales, indicating the way that bread would have been weighed during a famine. The indicated price of grain is about ten times normal, with an entire day’s wages (a denarius) buying enough wheat for only one person, or enough of the less nutritious barley for three, so that workers would struggle to feed their families.

Of the four horsemen, the black horse and its rider are the only ones whose appearance is accompanied by a vocal pronunciation. John hears a voice, unidentified but coming from among the four living creatures, that speaks of the prices of wheat and barley, also saying “and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine”. This suggests that the black horse’s famine is to drive up the price of grain but leave oil and wine supplies unaffected (though out of reach of the ordinary worker). One explanation for this is that grain crops would have been more naturally susceptible to famine years or locust plagues than olive trees and grapevines, which root more deeply. The statement might also suggest a continuing abundance of luxuries for the wealthy while staples such as bread are scarce, though not totally depleted; such selective scarcity may result from injustice and the deliberate production of luxury crops for the wealthy over grain, as would have happened during the time Revelation was written. Alternatively, the preservation of oil and wine could symbolize the preservation of the Christian faithful, who used oil and wine in their sacraments.

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come and see!” I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Revelation 6:7-8˄ NIV

the_fourth_horseman_of_the_apocalypse_by_spartanen-d5n0rrw

The fourth and final horseman is named Death. Known as “the pale rider; of all the riders, he is the only one to whom the text itself explicitly gives a name. Unlike the other three, he is not described carrying a weapon or other object, instead he is followed by Hades. However, illustrations commonly depict him carrying a scythe (like the Grim Reaper), sword, or other implement.

The color of Death’s horse is written as khlōros (χλωρός) in the original Koine Greek, which can mean either green/greenish-yellow or pale/pallid. The color is often translated as “pale”, though “ashen”, “pale green”, and “yellowish green” are other possible interpretations (the Greek word is the root of “chlorophyll” and “chlorine”). Based on uses of the word in ancient Greek medical literature, several scholars suggest that the color reflects the sickly pallor of a corpse. In some modern artistic depictions, the horse is distinctly green.

The verse beginning “they were given power over a fourth of the earth” is generally taken as referring to Death and Hades,although some commentators see it as applying to all four horsemen.

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