************ Sermon on Revelation 6:1-8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 9, 2008
"The Four Horsemen"
The God of the Old Testament is a God of justice and judgment, a God of "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise" (Ex 21:23ff). He created the world and gave the Jewish law. The God of the New Testament Who has been revealed in Jesus Christ is a God of mercy, a God of love and forgiveness and grace. These two gods are at war with each other. This is the teaching of Marcion.
I hope you all recognize this as heresy. Because in both the Old Testament and the New Testament we see both the wrath and the mercy of God. That certainly is the case as we have been studying the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Remember how Revelation starts? It starts with the love of Jesus: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev 1:5). Jesus loves us. He shows His love by dying for us on the cross. But, as we see in our Scripture reading this evening, Jesus is also the One Who controls the execution of divine wrath. The Lamb of God gives us eternal life but He is also the One Who executes eternal condemnation. Listen to how John puts this in his Gospel:
(Jn 5:21-22) For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. (22) Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son ...
The setting for our Scripture reading is the triumph of the Lamb in Revelation 4 & 5. Jesus has died. He has risen from the grave. He has ascended into heaven. He sits at God's right hand. He is worthy, so He takes the scroll from God's right hand. And, He breaks the seals that have closed the scroll and sets the contents of the scroll into action.
This raises a question in my mind: If Jesus has triumphed, if Jesus reigns right now, why is this world still a place of sin and misery, violence and bloodshed, evil and wickedness? If Jesus has triumphed, if Jesus reigns right now, why is there AIDS, famine, cancer, civil war, terrorist attacks?
Similar questions were being asked by John's audience. In A.D. 55 the Romans were defeated by the Parthians. In A.D. 60 a major earthquake destroyed many of the cities of Asia Minor. In A.D. 62 the Romans were defeated by the Parthians again. In A.D. 64 Nero started his persecution of the Christian church. In A.D. 68 civil war broke out in the Roman Empire with the death of Nero. In A.D. 70 Jerusalem was destroyed. In A.D. 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city and people of Pompeii. In A.D. 92 there was a widespread famine. If Jesus has triumphed, if Jesus reigns, why all this misery?
John gives us the answer. But are you ready for the answer? Are you going to accept the answer? The world is full of violence and evil and misery because the triumphant Lamb is already executing His judgment. That's the message of our Bible reading this evening.
In Revelation 6:1-8 we see Jesus opening the first four seals of the scroll. With each broken seal Jesus sends an apocalyptic horseman into the world as an instrument of His judgment.
John borrows the image of the horsemen from Zechariah (Zech 1:7-11, 6:1-8). There are differences with Zechariah. Zechariah's horses have different colors and those colors do not seem to have significance as they do in Revelation. But in both Zechariah and Revelation the colored horses are sent out from the Lord's presence to the four corners of the earth as instruments of God's judgment upon those who hate God and His people.
I The First Horseman
"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!"" (Rev 6:1).
We were introduced to the four living creatures in Revelation 4. They are the highest order of angels. When they are not busy with other things we see that they engage in the unceasing worship of God. Now we see that one of the other things they do is implement God's judgment.
"Voice like thunder" reminds us of Mount Sinai. The living creature speaks with the voice of God.
"Come!" he says. In the Revelation of Jesus Christ that word "come" is frequently used to speak of the coming of God to bring either salvation or judgment. In this case, God brings judgment.
"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" (Rev 6:2).
One of my commentaries suggests a name for each of the four horsemen. This one is called "Conquest." What a fitting name for this horseman. We see that he is on a white horse. In the Ancient World, conquering kings rode on white horses. He "held a bow" – a symbol of warfare. He was "given a crown" – the Greek word does not indicate the golden crown, the diadem, of a king; rather, he was given the wreath of victory placed on the head of a conqueror. "He rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest." The actual Greek here says, "he rode out conquering so that he might conquer." This suggests his intention – to conquer. And it suggests continuing action – he never quits conquering, he constantly strives to conquer, he pursues this. Furthermore, this horseman wins. He is victorious.
If you were to look ahead to Revelation 19 you see there that Jesus is on a white horse. Because of this, many commentators suppose that it is Jesus on the white horse of Revelation 6. The only similarity between Revelation 6 & 19 is the white horse. In Revelation 19 Jesus bears a sword, not a bow; He wears many crowns or diadems and not the victor's wreath. Furthermore, does it make sense that one of the living creatures could command the victorious Lamb to "Come!"?
The first horseman is not the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, he is one of Christ's appointed instruments of judgment. He releases upon a sinful human race the tyranny of unceasing military conquest. He releases upon the human race a relentless greed for power and domination. This is the first judgment that the triumphant Lamb of God visits upon those who oppose Him and seek to kill His people.
II The Second Horseman
"When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" 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" (Rev 6:3-4).
This second rider is on a red horse, a blood-red horse. His name is "Slaughter."
He was given power "to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other." No one can actually take away peace. What can be taken away are the restraints that impose peace. What can be taken away are things like law and order, respect for life, a sense of justice, fair government, a stable economy, and so on.
What happens when these restraints are taken away? "Men slay each other." The Greek word for "slay" is used for Christ in Revelation 5:9 – He is the Lamb that was "slain." Slain, slaughter, butcher, sacrifice, a deliberate killing. In mind is the Passover Lamb. We can apply the word to the killing of Abel – that was a deliberate murder. We can apply the word to what was done by OJ Simpson or Scott Peterson. No wonder this horseman is called "Slaughter." Wherever he goes there is bloodshed, violence, murder.
Jesus opened the second seal. The second horseman was called out, "Come!" His mission? To remove the restraints of society so that men turn their destructive instincts upon one another.
Notice how this ends? "To him was given a large sword." The sword of this horseman is extensive, wide-ranging, far-reaching. It destroys peace everywhere.
This is the second judgment that the triumphant Lamb of God visits upon those who oppose Him and seek to kill His people.
III The Third Horseman
"When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" 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!" (Rev 6:5-6).
This third rider is on a black horse. His name is "Famine."
Why do I call him "famine"? Because of the price for wheat and barley. The usual price for a quart of wheat was one-eight of a denarius – which was enough wheat to feed one person for one day. The usual price for three quarts of barley was also one-eight of a denarius – which was enough barley to feed three persons for one day. But notice the price for a quart of wheat and three quarts of barley when the third horseman is loosed upon the earth – a whole denarius. Talk about inflation – 800% inflation.
Food is scarce. Famine is upon the land. And food prices begin to climb. How expensive is the food? You need to realize that a denarius is the average man's wage for one day of work. So for a denarius an average man can buy just enough wheat for himself for one day or just enough barley for himself and two others for one day. What if the family has more than three people? How do you pay for housing and clothing?
This third horseman holds a pair of scales. We are not to think of the scales of justice. Rather, we are to think of the scales used in a grocery store to weigh fruits and vegetables. In the first century they did not have grocery stores. You went to the farmer's market and picked up what you wanted. From one stall you got a bag of wheat or barley. From another a dozen peaches. From a third you bought a jar of olive oil. From a fourth you got eggs or chicken. In the Ancient World most of these purchases were by volume, not by weight. By the way, doesn't that bug you today – the notice on a bag of chips or box of crackers that the contents are packed by weight and not by volume? So you open the bag or box and it is only half full. To me it seems like I am being cheated. However, in the Ancient World in times of famine you purchased food the same way we do today – by weight and not by volume. Food was scarce and you paid for every ounce you received.
Did you catch the strange command added to the end: "do not damage the oil and the wine!" The three main agricultural products of the Ancient World were grain, olives, and grapes. Guess which two were grown in Asia Minor? Olives and grapes! Only grain was imported. So, there was enough olive oil and wine. In short supply was wheat and barley. There is hunger, but it is not absolute. This is the third judgment that the triumphant Lamb of God visits upon those who oppose Him and seek to kill His people.
IV The Fourth Horseman
"When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" 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" (Rev 6:7-8).
The fourth rider is a on a pale horse. The color is the color of a dead body, a corpse. We don't have to name this rider. We are told his name is "Death" and his closest companion is "Hades" – which in this instance stands for the hungry, devouring grave. Death – and his companion, Hades – has four weapons: sword, famine, plague, wild beasts. He is given power over one-quarter of the earth. Do you realize how many people that means today? That means 1.5 billion people!
Sword, famine, plague, wild beasts. In Ezekiel 4 these four weapons are wielded by God Himself to inflict judgment upon those who are His enemies. Sword, famine, plague, wild beasts – this is a comprehensive list of what killed man in the Ancient World. They stand for every means of death as an expression of God's judgment upon His enemies.
Remember what we were told back in Revelation 1:18? Jesus holds the "keys of death and Hades." Death and Hades is the fourth judgment that the triumphant Lamb of God visits upon those who oppose Him and seek to kill His people.
A Conquest. Slaughter. Famine. Death and Hades. These are the names of the four apocalyptic horseman sent by the Lord Jesus to the four corners of the earth. This is the judgment visited upon the enemies of God by the victorious Lamb.
When does this happen? When does this take place? Some commentators, I am sure you realize, say this happens during the time popularly known as the Tribulation. But when is the Tribulation – that's the question? Go back to chapter 1. Remember what John says about himself:
(Rev 1:9) I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.In the Greek the word for suffering is the same word that we translate as tribulation. John is a brother and companion of the seven churches of Asia Minor in the "tribulation." So, the tribulation is now. The tribulation is the time between the two comings of Jesus Christ. The tribulation is the time that begins when Jesus ascends into heaven, is seated at God's right hand, takes the scroll, and begins to open the seals. The tribulation is now and goes to the very end of time.
B Think back to the list of terrible events suffered in Asia Minor at the time of the seven churches:
-A.D. 55 the Romans were defeated by the Parthians.
-A.D. 60 a major earthquake destroyed many of the cities of Asia Minor.
-A.D. 62 the Romans were defeated by the Parthians again.
-A.D. 64 Nero started his persecution of the Christian church.
-A.D. 68 civil war broke out in the Roman Empire with the death of Nero.
-A.D. 70 Jerusalem was destroyed.
-A.D. 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city and people of Pompeii.
-A.D. 92 there was a widespread famine.
Conquest. Slaughter. Famine. Death and Hades. The four horsemen were alive and active in Asia Minor, weren't they?
C Conquest. Slaughter. Famine. Death and Hades. Do you think the four horsemen are galloping across the countryside today?
Does the human race today lust for military conquest? I came across these statistics in my files:
Topic: WarThe first horseman is still riding his white steed and still holding his bow.
On the basis of the computation in the Moscow Gazette, Gustave Valbert in his day could report that "From the year 1496 B.C. to A.D. 1861 in 3358 years there were 227 years of peace and 3,130 years of war, or 13 years of war to every year of peace. Within the last three centuries, there have been 286 wars in Europe."
Is there a lack of peace among men today? What do we see on the local news every night? Murder. Molestation. Pornography. Drive by shootings. Gang violence. The second horseman is still riding his blood-red horse and he is still carrying a large sword.
Does famine still exist today? That's like asking if grass is green or the sky is blue. The hoof-prints of the third horseman may not be so obvious in our land but his hoof-prints are clearly seen in places like Somalia and the Sudan.
What about Death and Hades and their weapons of sword, famine, plague, and wild beasts? Have you ever heard of AIDS, cancer, high blood pressure, hepatitis?
VI From the Lamb
A Understand this: the Lamb has triumphed. He has taken the scroll. He is opening the seals. The scroll is NOT opened yet. But the four horsemen are already executing His judgment upon the earth.
Conquest. Slaughter. Famine. Death and Hades. They have been sent by Jesus.
Did you notice that phrase "was given." The first horseman was given a crown. The second horseman was given power to take peace. The fourth horseman was given power over a fourth of the earth to kill. That phrase "was given" points to a Giver. Who is the Giver? It is the Lamb. It is Jesus. He is the divine Giver.
As for the third horseman, we aren't told he is given anything. But we are told that famine is announced by whom? By "what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures" (Rev 6:6). Who is among the four living creatures? Isn't that the Lamb? Isn't He the One in the center of the throne?
B Conquest. Slaughter. Famine. Death and Hades. They have been sent by Jesus.
This is not a popular teaching today. People like to point to social, economic, political, or educational causes. They like to point to the evolution of bacteria and viruses. As for Christians, they like to point to sin and evil and wickedness. But all of these, do you know what they are? They all are secondary causes.
Conquest. Slaughter. Famine. Death and Hades. They have been sent by Jesus. Listen to how Q & A 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism puts this:
What do you understand
by the providence of God?
the almighty and ever present power of God
by which he upholds, as with his hand,
and all creatures,
and so rules them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
prosperity and poverty--
all things, in fact, come to us
not by chance
but from his fatherly hand.
If you are going to think Biblically about God and Jesus then you need to admit that the four horseman come from Jesus and have been sent by Jesus.
Why? Why does Jesus do this? Already, before the scroll is open, He is executing judgment on His enemies.
Conquest. Slaughter. Famine. Death and Hades. They have been sent by Jesus. But isn't this also what has been endured by Jesus, on the cross, in your place. So you need to love Him Who died for you or you need to fear Him Who is judging you!
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