AFTER TAKING A BREAK from the seven seals to focus on the Rapture, we return to the opening of the third seal. Prior to this, the twenty-four elders inaugurated the opening of the seals with a song of affirmation: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The elders followed with, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12). Upon the opening of these seals, pertinent events and components of Christian eschatology are cued as God marches toward the seven judgments. Each of the first six seals serve to inaugurate the actors and actions necessary for the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ to commence. As the seals are opened (beginning in Revelation 6) the scenario shifts from heaven to earth, and the praise in heaven ceases in anticipation of the horrific events that are to come.
“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” (Rev. 6:5).
The third horse is black, which is typically used in Scripture to signify famine (see Lam. 5:8-10). The Book of Lamentations was likely written by the prophet Jeremiah. This is highly likely considering the author was a witness of the Babylonians destroying Jerusalem. Lamentations was written to serve as a public recital to remind Israel of the destruction of the City of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jeremiah constantly warned the Israelites of impending destruction if the nation did not repent. During the Great Tribulation, worldwide conflict will destroy the food supply and cause global hunger. The impact of this famine is borne out in the language of the passage: “…a quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius” (Rev. 6:6). One quart of wheat is the approximate quantity needed to sustain one person for one day. The value of a single denarius was a significant portion of one’s income for a Jewish family, equivalent to us having to spend $58 for a quart of wheat today per person in our household.
John MacArthur writes, “Famine is a logical consequence of worldwide war as food supplies are destroyed. Jesus also predicted this future famine (see Matt. 24:7).”(1) Under the Old Covenant, people trying to live without God were often awakened to their true need by experiencing famine. Starvation grabs one’s attention rather quickly. Although God has used famine as a means to exact judgment before, this will be the most calamitous and destructive famine in human history. The scales carried by the rider of the third horse suggests that scarcity of food will lead to rationing and food lines. The footnote in the English Standard Version (ESV), written by Dennis E. Johnson, says, “Siege and disruption of commercial routes will produce scarcity, driving prices up (see Deut. 28:49-57; 2 Kings 6:24-25; 7:1-2).”(2)
“When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a pale horse and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” (Rev. 6:7-8).
The Greek word chloros, from which we get the English word “chlorophyll,” describes the pale, ashen-green pallor characteristic of a decomposing corpse; the paleness of a sick person. This color matches well with the name of the fourth rider—Death—who arrives on a pale horse. Most eschatological scholars believe this refers to death brought on by pestilence or plague, which often results from widespread famine (see Jer. 14:12; Ezek. 5:17; Luke 21:11). Pestilence (Greek, thanatos) as described here could possibly suggest epidemic disease. Now, we see an increasing intensity in the judgments as they are identified—human violence, famine, plague, death, and wild beasts turning on man. God’s providence restrains His wrath and the violence of mankind. But chaos unfolds as He begins to loosen His grip on Satan.
“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.” —Søren Kierkegaard.
These four horses and their riders are often referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—Death, Famine, War, and Conquest. They appear with the opening of the first four of the seven seals that bring forth the cataclysm of the apocalypse. These four horsemen are symbolic depictions of different events that will take place in the end times. David Jeremiah writes, “As a culture and as a people, we are increasingly ignorant of what God has said about the end times, and what we face at the conclusion of history.”(4) With this warning in mind, I strongly suggest an extended period of prayer at this point in our journey. Ask for clarification from the Holy Spirit. Praise and honor God for His righteous judgment of sin. In Part Eleven, I will begin to lay out each of God’s specific judgments which are set to unfold in the final hours.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology
(1) John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 129.
(2) Dennis E. Johnson, “ESV Footnote,” English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2472.
(3) Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 13 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 654.
(4) David Jeremiah, PhD, The World of the End: How Jesus’ Prophecy Shapes Our Priorities (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2022), 207.