And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
You might have heard of “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse” mentioned in Revelation. Yet do you know what that vision is talking about?
Revelation 5 records an angel carrying a scroll sealed with seven seals which no one could open except Jesus, the Lamb of God, because He died for our sins. Thus the scroll symbolizes the time since the cross, the age of Christianity in which people can be forgiven of their sins.
When broken, the first four seals show a vision of four horses and their riders. These visions, like most of Revelation, should not be taken literally but should be understood to be figurative in nature because the book is said to be “signified” (Revelation 1:1). In biblical times horses were associated with warfare because horses were primarily used for that purpose back then. Therefore the four horses and their riders signify various battles and trials which Christians will face throughout this age.
The first seal reveals a white horse (6:1-2). The color white generally symbolized purity and holiness in the Bible (Isaiah 1:18). The rider of this horse is Jesus, as seen by the description given to Him later (19:11-16). He has a bow, which symbolizes great strength in battle because bows were powerful weapons in ancient times. He wears a crown, which brings to mind the power and authority Christ has as our Lord (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, this white horse symbolizes a pure or righteous war; the only war thought to be pure in God’s eyes would be the spiritual fight in which Christ and His followers engage as Christians evangelize with the gospel (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Every time a soul is saved through faith in Christ and baptism into Him, Christ conquers (Mark 16:15-16; Romans 6:3-5).
The second seal reveals a red horse (6:3-4). Red likely refers to bloodshed, considering that the rider is permitted to take peace from the earth so that people kill each other. Thus, this rider represents any force on earth responsible for wars in which people slay each other. Throughout history war has always existed, and nothing will change that (Ecclesiastes 8:8). It is a form of hardship and persecution through which Christians must remain faithful to be pleasing to God.
The third seal reveals a black horse with is rider holding a pair of scales (6:5-6). Black generally represents mourning, indicating that what this seal describes will bring severe hardship and possibly even death to those affected by it. The scales are used to weigh food which is shown to have a very high price (v. 6). A quart of wheat and three quarts of barley was a typical daily ration for one person. That daily ration would cost a denarius, which was the typical daily wage of the average working man. This must describe times of poverty if it would take your entire daily wage to provide just one meal. Yet times were not hard for everyone, because oil and wine are also mentioned. Both of these were luxury items during biblical times (cf. John 12:1-5). Thus the third seal shows that Christians will live in times in which many are impoverished while others live in wealth. Such has been the case repeatedly throughout the world in the centuries since the cross.
The fourth seal reveals a pale horse (6:7-8), appropriately colored since its rider is Death. Hades, the place of the dead, follows it. Death is given authority over “a fourth of the earth,” to kill with sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. The fraction is symbolic rather than literal. Fractions identify a part of something. Each of us have two parts: the physical and spiritual. The physical is generally symbolized by the number “4” in the Bible (cf. Isaiah 11:12). Thus the fraction “1/4” symbolizes the physical part of man over which Death controls. The message is that many Christians throughout the Christian age are persecuted to the point of death (cf. 2:10), but in the end they will still win if they remain faithful to God.
The rest of chapter 6 shows this to be the case. Lord willing, future articles will study that. See you then!