Exegetical look into Revelation 6: 5-8


  • Black horse represents famine, and the scales and amounts expressed refer to restrictions by God’s grace even in judgment, as He is limiting the devastation and suffering (Zech 6:2-6).
  • Pair of scales referred to a small wooden beam with scales hung from either end and balanced in the middle. The measurement was by the counter weights of pre-measured stones.
  • Wheat is the staple of a basic diet for a person’s sustenance. One quart means just enough for one person when you had a large family to feed. This is not necessarily referring to inflation or market economy as indicators to Christ’s coming. Rather, it is a symbol for being prepared for famine. The pricing is not monetary prediction (although inflation does go along with famine and shortages and thus will apply as so); rather, it is referring to the severity, as it will be harsh.
  • Denarius/day’s wages refers to inflation, indicating that the cost of products and services may rise ten times, and all will be affected. We may not be able to partake in the abundances and excesses as we once did because of tribulations and judgments. Nothing is immune from judgment.
  • Three quarts of barley. This amount of barley was a ration and not enough for a family; barley was cheaper and less desirable than wheat. This meant family members might die of starvation, as often happened in sieges and war.
  • Oil, symbolizing riches and affluence and not crucial for ones sustenance, will not be as affected for a time, or it is God’s grace that some good things are left for us to enjoy by His blessing. Oil was very important but not essential; it was used for lighting, cooking, skin care, washing, anointing, and religious observances. In other words, judgments will affect daily life and comfort; no one is immune! It is interesting to note that olive tress and grape vines are more drought resistant because they have deeper roots, whereas wheat will wither and die quickly. We are more resistant in tough times when we have deeper ties and trust in our Lord!
  • A pale horse, a Jewish image for the Angel of Death or the “ashen” appearance of the dead. As pale is the color of death and decay, like a dead leaf or person (Jer. 14:12; 24:10; 27:8; Ezek. 6:11; 7:15; 12:16; 14:21; Rev. 1:18; 20:13-14).
  • Its rider was named DeathHades was following, referring that he symbolizes death; from the Greek Hades and the corresponding Hebrew, Sheol (Matt. 16:18).
  • Given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth…This may seem harsh but consider that the horseman only have the power that God, through His wise judgment and grace, allows. His grace and protection are here. Some see “fourth of the earth as a coming global catastrophe, but some scholars say the Greek meaning is sometimes mistranslated (although debated) as it is here in the NIV. It rather means the four corners, or the four parts of the earth, and not necessarily one fourth, but authority over all, all areas of the globe. This also does not mean that one fourth will die, but they have the power to kill one fourth. If this means a fraction, the context denotes that they have full power to as much as Christ will allow, and He has limits to suffering.

Exegetical look into Revelation 6: 1-4

  • I watched. John serves as a witness, an important position in legal “testate” renderings then and now. A witness points to the validity of the contents of a document (Deut. 30:19; Psalm 50:4).
  • Opened the first of the seven seals. A document could not be opened until it was ready for the seals to be broken, such as in a will, the death of the testator, or the decedent (person who wrote or leaves the will). When all the seals are broken in chapter eight, then the contents are read. At this point, in chapters five to six, symbols and themes are used, pronouncing its power, scope, and coming judgment (Rev. 8:1). 
  • Come means a summons to come and see.
  • White horse. White represents conquest, and along with a horse, symbolizes the conquering king and subjugation. Some commentators argue that this represents Christ; others say the antichrist. However, these arguments are from human reasoning and not from Scripture. In ancient cultures, a white horse was a common symbol usually meaning dire subjugation, calamity, or something to be feared. The color white and/or a horse do not necessarily represent Christ in Hebrew thinking or in the Early Church. The white horse as Christ was a symbol from the Middle Ages. Many commentators from the mid 19th century and on mistakenly think of this as being Jewish or Roman, but it is not. “White,” in this context, meant “Judgment” in biblical times. White meant “purity” in midlevel times or referring to priestly dress in biblical times; this is a category mistake. It is also contradictory, as Christ is the One who opens the seal and is the Lamb. How can he also be the horseman? Also, in the fact that Christ’s reign brings peace, and not war or famine, understanding this as referring to Christ here is a major contradiction to His character and purpose. He conquers sin but does not bring pestilence (Zech. 1:8-17; 6:1-8; Rev. 19:11).
  • Held a bow was a symbol of conquest and war. This was an image of sheer terror as one is being conquered. Everything is lost, perhaps even one’s life. The biggest enemy to the Romans in Asia Minor then was the “Parthians” who were archers on white horses and invoked utter fear and chaos to the villages. Bow in the Old Testament was also a symbol of Judgment (Job. 30:11; Psalm 7:10-14; Isa. 21:15; 41:2; Jer. 6:23; 50:14, Ezek. 39:3; Zech. 10:4).
  • Conqueror…conquest proves the point that Revelation interprets Revelation. If you keep reading, observe the context, and know your Old Testament, it will tell you what the images mean, not a newspaper, a madman, or a false teacher!
  • Another horse … fiery red one. Red is a color that meant bloodshed and war, as Mars is the red planet and god of war (Zech. 1:8; 6:2).
  • Power to take peace, meaning the times will be harsh.
  • Make men slay. Chaos begets chaos; violence has the tendency to escalate itself.
  • Large sword was a symbol for judgment and war; large perhaps referred to its eminence and veracity.

Revelation 6: 1-8


 “The Four Horseman”   

And so it begins, Judgment from God’s throne, poured out on the world. The four horsemen embody the judgment and themes of conquest. They were symbols of an agrarian, warlike culture that engaged in war such as in the time of David when they were successful by their besieging of the enemy. These four horsemen encompass all of the most impacting judgments or sufferings a person or people could face¾that of war, famine, and death. Here, God is chastising a world that has disrespected and even forgotten Him. Its confidence is in the status quo, not in His Sovereignty. As humanity rises up against Him, He raises His Hand against those who would boldly defy Him. 

The theme for the last two chapters has been worship and how Christ is sovereign and worthy. Now, the attention turns to Judgment. This passage begins a series and is the first three of seven of judgments climaxing in chapters 8-9 and 16. The themes from this passage are also drawn from Zechariah, chapters one and six about the angelic horsemen who guard the earth and signify divine judgment. There is a sequence, first of conquest, then of bloodshed, followed by famine, and, finally, death. Such themes were common in ancient cultures and apocalyptic literature. 

How does it make you feel that God is pouring out His judgment to the world? 

What does it mean to you that Jesus is also Redeemer and Sovereign, exercising His love and protection? Are these ideas contradictory or complementary? 

Jesus is the Sacrifice for our redemption and reconciliation. He saves us, but if we reject Him, we bring judgments upon ourselves. He did more than He could or should for we who are wretched and undeserving!