Revelation 6:5-8 is a haunting scene, and John must have watched in horror when God brought him to this point in the vision. Death emerged from the water on a grotesque horse and galloped toward earth with demonic speed. What is the outcome? Find out now as Stephen continues this series.
Death Came Riding
On September 30th, 1862 Sarah Pardee married a young man by the name of William Winchester. Since William was an only child, he became the sole heir to his father’s fortune. His father, Oliver Winchester was the inventor of the repeating Winchester rifle – the rifle that played a key role in the Civil War, giving the Union army a significant advantage.
William Winchester inherited a fortune.
Four years after they married, they had a little girl who died after only a few weeks. This threw Sarah into a deep depression. Her grief was only compounded when four years afterward, her husband William died of tuberculosis.
She was left with millions of dollars plus a guaranteed income of $1,000 dollars a day. But it couldn’t buy happiness or relief from her growing fear of death.
This New England woman, who lived, by the way in a time of gospel influence, evidently knew nothing of the gospel of Christ, or had chosen to disbelieve it. Instead, she began going to spiritists and mediums for counsel. One medium told her that the Winchester family was indeed cursed because of the invention of the rifle which had been used and was being used to kill thousands of people.
The only solution to her grief and the only option for protection and life, she was told, was to move west and build a house for herself and all the spirits of people who had died from a bullet fired from a Winchester rifle.
She was also told that she must never stop building her house and promised that as long as she built, she would live, but if she ever stopped building, she would die.
Sarah Winchester moved to San Jose, California where she purchased a 6 room farmhouse from a doctor and began to build and build and build.
For the next 38 years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, something was being constructed either in the house, or attached to it.
She spent her inheritance of nearly 20 million dollars furnishing all the elaborate rooms for her spirit guests. Railway cars brought in supplies. Every morning Sarah met with her foreman to sketch out some new room or addition. Rooms were added to rooms and towers and peaks were built.
Because she was building for spirits, and well, because she must never stop building; staircases led to nowhere. Doors opened into walls; hallways doubled back upon themselves.
She was fascinated by the superstition of the number 13 and the house had windows with 13 panes of glass; there were 13 bathrooms.
When Sarah Winchester died she even left her will composed in 13 sections which she had signed 13 times.
In spite of the promises of mediums and spiritists . . . in spite of faith in a family curse . . . in spite of her fortune . . . on September 5, 1922, at the age of 83, Sarah Winchester died.
The building finally stopped . . . her home is now a museum for the curious, located on Winchester Boulevard in San Jose.
Adapted from Wikipedia.com
The truth is there is a family curse. It’s fatal. It’s the curse of sin, in fact, the human race is condemned already, Christ said in John 3:18. And John the Baptizer adds this ominous warning to his sermon in John 3:36, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disbelieves in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
The wrath of God is already upon the unbeliever, to be fully unleashed in the final and everlasting judgment of hell.
Prior to that individual application of God’s wrath is a demonstration of wrath on earth during the time of Tribulation.
This is the wrath of the Lamb.
And as it begins to be unleashed upon humanity, four horsemen come thundering from the presence of God.
There is no medium or spiritualist who can provide some escape; there is no superstition that can stave off disaster upon disaster upon disaster in this coming world madness.
In Revelation 6 and verse 1, The first horseman comes riding a white horse – he is a counterfeit prince of peace, offering a brief time of peace, primarily affecting Israel.
In verse 3, the second horseman upon a blood red horse rides in next to incite global unrest and murder.
It’s as if a blackout hits the planet, and rioting and looting and killing and wars break out all over the earth.
If that isn’t bad enough, the Lamb opens the scroll just a little further as another rider mounts up.
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Notice verse 5 of Revelation chapter 6. When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand.
He’s holding a zugos (zugoV)– this was metal bar with scales at both ends.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 826
There is no reason to wonder what these scales symbolize, for we’re told in the middle part of verse 6, A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius.
One quart of wheat in the first century represented the daily need for one person to survive.
The denarius was a Roman silver coin equivalent to one day’s full wages. In other words, enough wheat to feed on man for only one day cost a full day’s wages.
Let me put food prices into today’s economy. Suppose you worked at McDonald’s . . . which might feel like you are in the Tribulation . . . it isn’t.
If you worked tomorrow for 8 hours and you were paid the minimum wage. Right now it’s 6.15 an hour – the good news is that next summer, minimum wages in North Carolina is going up to $7.25 an hour – more than a dollar an hour increase.
Before you get excited, imagine if this Biblical scene were unfolding, you would need every bit of Monday’s income of around 50 dollars to buy one loaf of bread.
Fifty dollars for one loaf of bread!
And you can’t eat at McDonald’s because by comparison, a Big Mac would cost $100.
So you gather the family around your paycheck and decide more than one person needs to eat today so you can’t afford one loaf of wheat bread anymore . . . so you’ll eat barley.
John records here in verse 6 that a person can get about 3 times more barley than wheat for one day’s wage.
Which means a man will be able to feed his family – if he has a job and if he gets paid – one day at a time.
By the way, coarse barley bread was the food of animals and poverty stricken people.
This is runaway inflation!
Following the outbreak of universal war and rioting, it is no surprise that earth is plunged into worldwide famine.
It’s interesting to note this little phrase at the end of verse 6 that indicates the fact that oil and wine would not be harmed.
Olive oil and wine were the luxuries of the rich; but the staples of life affecting the majority middle class were being weighed out a pinch at a time.
John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 101
This informs us that the disparity between the rich and the rest of the world will become more and more apparent. Comfort is denied the common worker, but the rich pass through the trial virtually unscathed.
Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1992), p. 433
This kind of disparity is happening in many places around the world – but when this seal is broken and the black horse thunders forward, nearly all of humanity will writhe with hunger.
I researched briefly the Great Famine of 1315 which affected much of Europe. Stores of grain and luxuries were limited to nobles and royalty. They feasted while most starved.
Children were abandoned in the famine – in fact, this became the backdrop for a German tale of 2 children abandoned by their father in the woods, only to be captured by a witch who planned to cannibalize these children who outwitted her and stuffed her into the oven instead. They took her jewels and money and found their way back to their father with money now for food to survive the famine and he and his children, Hansel and Gretel, lived happily ever after.
Adapted from wikipedia.org/famine
There is no happy ending here.
The world is on the verge of bankruptcy. World economies are shifting and uncertain. Our current gasoline prices; flooding in the Midwest and an Asian Tsunami are mild and distant thunderclaps of a coming storm.
Frankly, the coming black horse of famine is something we, in this culture have great difficulty understanding. It brings no horror to our minds and hearts because most of us have never been hungry.
My idea of going without is skipping a snack before bedtime. Am I gonna eat that bowl of ice cream or not . . . no! What great denial. What resolve.
You remember growing up and sitting at the table resisting that squash or those green peas? You were told to eat your vegetables because of all those starving people, right? It didn’t help, did it? It really didn’t help when you talked back to your parents and said, starving people wouldn’t eat this stuff either.
Well, there was truth to what your parents told you. There are starving people in the world. In fact, during the time it takes to eat lunch today, 400 people will starve to death on planet earth.
The truth is, you and I mirror the rich and the royalty in current world economies. I have read that the average American dog has a higher protein diet than much of the world’s population.
Phillips, p. 101
One of the great challenges in addressing the poverty of our world is corrupt political systems and the sinful greed of human hearts; so much of the food we send to starving countries never make it into the mouths of the poor.
We saw this only recently in our humanitarian efforts in China as corrupt officials took supplies and instead of giving them to the needy began selling them.
That’s one of the reasons our own relief efforts in China right now are through Christian partners who not only deliver food to those who are needy, but the gospel as well. We understand that people who are full will one day die, just like people who are hungry.
Our mission isn’t world hunger; the mission of the church is spiritual hunger. If we can feed or help people physically and use that as a bridge to feed them spiritually, we may help them not just temporarily but eternally.
In fact, giving someone food today who may actually face the horror and deprivation and famine in the Tribulation is little comfort.
There is a coming world famine that will make all others seem insignificant and it will be one of the causes of more than 1 billion people dying in a matter of months.
But it only gets worse.
Notice verse 7 in Revelation chapter 6. When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of eth fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8. And I looked, and behold, a pale horse!
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By the way, the word for pale is chloros (clwroV) which gives us our word chlorine. It’s a word that referred to a “pale green color. In fact it is used in Revelation 8:7 for vegetation.
It was used by the ancients to refer to the decay of death. In the 5th Century BC, Thucydides the Greek Historian used the word for the appearance of people dying in a plague.
Stewart Custer, Revelation: From Patmos to Paradise (BJU Press, 2004), p. 78
Without a doubt, the color would be sickly and unnatural for a horse.
What’s interesting about this fourth and final horse is that for the first time, it’s rider is named. Notice further in verse 8. And its riders name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth,
As bad as it’s been . . . as horrific and devastating as it’s been; here comes death riding a pale green horse and in the wake of this horseman, 1/4th of the world’s population will die.
There has never been a time when the results of all four horsemen occurred in overlapping sequences of time; there has never been a time in world history when world madness with all these affects has been felt universally at the same time; certainly, 1/4thof the world’s population has not been killed in such a short amount of time – nor calculated at any time in history.
If the Tribulation were to begin in the next few years that would mean more than 1 billion people would die in a matter of a months.
Death comes riding in to mop up a quarter of the world’s population.
How does God destroy so many people at one time?
We’re told of 4 causes of death in the next phrase; Death will kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beast of the earth.
- The first cause of death is the sword.
I believe with many others that this is a reference primarily to death by murder. This is the deadly assault of individuals against others; corrupt regimes creating their own killing fields. In the chaos of everything else that’s happening, people will take the law into their own hands. Certainly, wars that began earlier will restart and new wars begin.
Adapted from Sam Gordon, Revelation: Worthy is the Lamb (Ambassador, 2000), p. 158
- The second cause of death is famine.
This is the culmination of lingering starvation as those who’ve somehow hung on foraged for their existence finally run out of options and starve to death.
- The third cause of death is pestilence.
The Greek word is the normal word translated death. However, Ezekiel used the word to refer to plagues to cut off man and beast (Ezekiel 14:21).
Can you imagine the effects of worldwide hunger and bloodshed; loss of civility and respect for human life. It’s the survival of the fittest and the fastest and the strongest and the meanest. Imagine death, disease and corpses lying everywhere.
Epidemics will spread like wildfire.
Even in our modern world of medicine, when the confidence of the 1970’s seemed to spell the end of sweeping killer microbes. A strange new disease appeared in the early 1980’s – AIDS. In the last 3 years alone, more people died than live in the state of North Carolina. 8,000 people are dying from AIDS every single day.
According to one Newsweek article, 30 new diseases have cropped up, causing the deaths of millions of people. There’s Ebola, mad cow disease, Avian flu, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, SARS, and on and on and on.
The Institute of Medicine says matter of factly, and I quote, “Infectious disease will continue to emerge.”
Throw in biological weapons that will be unleashed in the wars of the red horseman and onward; weapons containing smallpox, anthrax and Ebola are already prepared. Hundreds of millions of people could be easily wiped out in a very short time.
Mark Hitchcock, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Multnomah, 2004), p. 88
Pestilence, John writes, plagues, will contribute to wiping out 1 out of every 4 people alive in what Jesus Christ and John consider only the beginning of birth pangs . . . the opening days of the Tribulation.
For those who believe the Rapture will occur somewhere at the mid-point of the Tribulation because that’s when the real wrath of God is felt on the planet haven’t studied these four horsemen and the coming world madness closely enough.
This is horrific. 1 out of 4 people . . . dead. No superstition can save them; they can’t build a house and cheat death; the spirits won’t protect any of them.
There’s one more cause of death.
- The fourth cause of death is “wild beasts of the earth”.
You could certainly interpret this as a reference to carnivorous animals loose and on the prowl during these conditions.
Some believe this could be lions and tigers and bears on the rampage.
My primary objection with that interpretation is that carnivorous beasts will have all they want to eat among the starving and dying already – worldwide.
These beasts are not seen as eating those who are dying, but killing those who are living.
One-fourth of the earth’s population will be cut down – and wild animals play a role in cutting down millions.
Some believe this is a reference to the antichrist, given the fact that this word for “beast” (qhrion) – is used throughout Revelation to refer to the coming Antichrist or his false prophet.
I wouldn’t interpret it that way either simply because at this point in the Tribulation, the Antichrist isn’t killing people – he’s still gaining world power and respect by his peace keeping mission throughout the first half of the Tribulation.
I believe these wild beasts are connected to the preceding cause of death – plagues.
The most dangerous wild animal on the planet, by far more dangerous and destructive animal on earth, so far as mankind is concerned, than the lion or the tiger or the bear, but the common rat.
Phillips, p. 105
It carries at least 35 known diseases. Their fleas carry bubonic plague and history verifies the impact they had in Europe 600 years ago and the Bubonic plague that swept millions to their death. They also carry Typhus which has killed an estimated 200 million people over the last four centuries.
Gordon, p. 159
This may very well be what John has in mind.
Sword, famine, pestilence, plagues and diseases kill 1/4th of the world population.
Now, if you look closely in verse 8, you’ll notice that this Pale Horse has someone following him. John writes, And its riders name was Death, and Hades followed him.
Wherever Death rides, Hades follows like a shadow.
This is God’s way of warning humanity and all who still refuse to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ – death is not the end of suffering.
Death is not an escape!
Death may take the body . . . but Hades takes the soul.
Ray C. Stedman, Revelation: God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 146
Hades – Old Testament Sheol – the place where today the soul of the unbeliever goes after death; a place of consciousness and self-awareness; a place of physical suffering and an intermediate body that longs for a drop of water; Christ described the man suffering in Hades who cried out, “I am in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:23)
According to Revelation 20:14, Hades will be eventually emptied into the lake of fire – which is eternal Hell.
So Hades rightly so, comes behind death as it were to take the souls of all who die in this Tribulation. And these souls, along with all the unbelieving of all of human history are waiting, tormented, condemned, without appeal, awaiting their final judgment and delivery over to eternal hell.
You say, “That’s why I don’t like coming to church – every time I come you talk about hell-fire and brimstone.”
I don’t preach on it every Sunday. Perhaps God just times it for whenever you show up!
Listen dear friend, do you think for a moment that eternal hell is something we’ve invented to scare people into being good or going to church or giving some money to charity?
Do you think I enjoy preaching about eternal torment? No, I preach it because it’s true.
This is for real.
This is the gospel. There is a real eternal Hell to shun and there is a real eternal glorious new heaven and earth to gain.
And the turnstile which determines which way you spend all of eternity is in the form of a cross and the One upon it who paid for your sins, in fact the sins of the whole world – again, the words of the prophet John the Baptizer sound both a promise and a warning; Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disbelieves in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)
Listen, the thundering of the Four Horsemen and the coming world madness with all its terrors, as the wrath of God is unleashed on the planet, is still nothing to compare to having the wrath of God remain on you forever.
Perhaps you have been brought to hear one more fire and brimstone warning and our prayer is that this time – you will hear and believe in and find safety in Christ.
These four horsemen have made me think of four words:
- Motivation – the potential of the church age ending in our lifetime causes me to want to communicate the gospel of Christ with every means possible to our generation.
- Evaluation – the end of days as we know them causes me to want to not only communicate the gospel, but confirm the sincerity of my faith in Christ alone; is your testimony a card signed at camp; a baptism experience at age 12 or a relationship with the Living Lord.
- Anticipation – to cling to the promise of His coming and love and long for His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8); knowing that before these horsemen thunder from the skies, if we are yet alive; we will be taken to the skies to meet our Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Motivation, evaluation, anticipation and finally;
- Exaltation – the soon coming of Christ and the glory of His victory and the majesty of His kingdom and the power of His new creation causes me to want to honor and exalt Christ our Redeemer and soon coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The Four Horsemen and the coming world madness are horrific scenes of death and despair. Frankly, every member of the human race was born a funeral procession.
But, through faith in Jesus Christ, you have left the funeral procession and have joined a wedding party. And the wedding processional could begin at any moment with the wedding march played on some angelic trumpet.
We are headed for the rapture – or the resurrection – most certainly a reunion.
Already our church family has seen several go on from our midst. Donald Cooper a couple of weeks ago; Ted Appleman 8 or 9 days ago and Ellie Glaiser just yesterday.
Should the rapture occur today, they will form the welcoming committee home!
So . . . what are we to do until that reunion and the wedding reception as we, the Bride of Christ, await our Beloved?
The answer is motivation . . . evaluation . . . anticipation . . . and exaltation.
Thomas Watson, a puritan theologian and church leader, said, The world is but a great inn, where we are to lodge a night or two, and be gone; what madness is it to set our heart upon this inn, and forget our home.
And what madness it is indeed to cling to earth. For what madness is coming to planet earth with the thundering, galloping hoof beats of the Four Horsemen.
We will leave the madness behind . . . and so like the Thessalonians in chapter 1 of Paul’s first letter, “we serve the true and living God and wait for His Son from heaven; whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)