Helps for the Bible Study on the Book of Revelation

Lesson 13 (Revelation 6:1-8):  The Four Horsemen

  1. General Remarks:
  2. The seals in general: this passage introduces the opening of the seals.  b.  These Seals (1) Represent forces and events that proceed from the decree of God.  We remember that the book with its seven seals is symbol of God’s living decree concerning the things that must shortly come to pass.  The events signified when the seals are opened issue forth from that decree:  the four horses come forth from the book when the seals are opened.  (2)  They represent forces and events that are on the earth.  (a)  Simultaneously; they do not represent events in certain consecutive periods of history, but they may be found in the earth at the same time.  This may be gathered from the first four seals (the victorious power of Christ, war, social contrasts, physical death).  (b) And they are always in the world. (c) Though with increasing force (this indicated in the fact that the seals change to trumpets, the trumpets to vials; see below).
  1. The first four seals:  our present passage deals with the first four seals.  They are a separate and distinct group, as it is evident from (1) The figure of the horse which appears in all of them.  (2)  The voice of one of the four living creatures which speaks in each of them.  b. The seals are therefore divided (1) Into groups of four and three:  the number seven as the sum of four and three is symbol of God’s covenant.  (2)  And also into six and one.  In this chapter six seals are opened.  The seventh stands apart:  its opening is not mentioned till ch. 8 and is revealed in the form of seven trumpets.  And again, the seventh trumpet stands apart and is revealed in the form of seven vials. Ch.11:15ff; ch 15, 16. (3) Besides, each of the group of trumpets and seals is also to be distinguished into two groups of four and three respectively.  c. Concerning the first four seals we may remark in general also that they have reference to the earthly world in all its aspects and fullness.  This is suggested (1) By the number four: the number of the world, our world, in its extent.  (2) And by the activity of the four living creatures at the opening of these seals.
  1. Notes on the text:
  2. 1. a. “And I saw”; when the Lamb opened one of the seals John immediately saw something.  What he saw, however, he does not tell us till the second verse.  b. In the meantime he heard one of the living creatures speak as with the voice of thunder: “Come”. (1) Not:  “Come and see” as the Authorized Version has it: the R.V. which simply has “Come” is preferable. (2) Nor must this word be conceived as being addressed to John in the sense of “Come up hither”; for John had already come up to heaven in the vision. cf. 4:1. (3) Rather:  The living creature here summons the first horseman to come forth.  This would also explain why the summons is repeated with the opening of each of the first four seals.
  1. 2: a. The horseman. (1) Very clearly (“And I saw and, behold”) John beholds a horseman issue forth from the book.  (2) The figure of the horse in Scripture (a) Is that of the battle horse; see Job 39:19ff; cf. Zech. 1:8ff; 6:1ff. (b) Signifies a mighty, irresistible force in battle. (3) The rider:  the horse has a rider: (a) We must not ask, who is represented by the rider. (b) But rather: what is signified by him, viz. the power that directs the horse in its course.  (4) Horse and rider belong together and represent one idea: a mighty, impetuous force, issuing forth God’s living decree (the book), and intelligently directed in its course through the world.  b. The specific significance of this first horseman must be deduced from the color of the horse and from the other details mentioned in the text: (1) The color: white; this is the color that signifies glory and righteousness and victory.  Here especially victory (a) Christ appears sitting on a white horse in ch. 19:11ff. (b) The triumphant Roman warrior would return riding on a white horse. (2) The bow: the rider has a bow (a) He goes forth to battle. (b) Yet, he is distinct from the second horseman who has a great sword.  See Ps.45:5. (3) The crown: a crown is given to this horseman (a) Not the royal diadem, but the wreath of victory. (b) This indicates that even as he goes forth to battle, he has the victory. (4) This corroborated by: “he went forth conquering and to conquer” i.e. unto certain victory.

3, Meaning: a. Horse and rider, therefore, represent a victorious warrior, who’s certain victory is guaranteed. b. The victorious course of Christ in the world, through His Spirit and Word (1) To establish His kingdom. (2) To destroy His enemies.