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Revelation 6:5–8

“I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, 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” (v. 8).

Seven seals must be broken before the contents of the heavenly scroll in John’s vision can be read and enacted (Rev. 5:1–4). Having conquered sin, Satan, and death by His death and resurrection, the Lamb of God, Jesus the Messiah, can break the seals and open the scroll—He can enact the plan of God, especially its final stages. He can fulfill all that the Father has purposed for these last days, the entire period between the first and second advent of Jesus (see Acts 2:1–41). As the seals are broken, we see the things that must take place throughout this era. The first two seals release a horseman on a white horse and a horseman on a red horse who bring war and other violence to the earth (Rev. 6:1–4). So, we should expect to see conflict until Jesus comes back.

Revelation 6:5–6 describes the breaking of the third seal, which releases a rider on a black horse who announces prices for grain and calls for the preservation of oil and wine. With respect to the wheat and barley in verse 6, we have a situation of incredible price inflation. The cost given is up to sixteen times greater than the average price of grain in John’s day. Economic problems are in view, likely caused by a shortage of grain caused by famines, which often accompany wars. The rider on the black horse builds on what John has said about the white and red horses (vv. 1–4). But note that the oil and wine are spared. This reflects a connection to John’s original audience in Asia Minor, where oil and wine were important crops but grain had to be imported. The idea seems to be that food shortages and economic problems will characterize the era before Christ returns in glory, but some food supplies—represented by oil and wine—will remain. God tempers His judgment on the earth with grace, leaving some sustenance behind.

The same principle of God’s tempering His judgment appears also when the pale horse and its rider are released in Revelation 6:7–8. This rider on the pale horse brings death, but only to one-fourth of the world’s population. Likely, we are not to think that exactly a quarter of people on the earth will die in God’s judgments; the number could be larger or smaller. The point is that some will survive. Sickness, famine, and war will come and go throughout these last days from the birth of Jesus to His return, but they will not wipe out everyone on the planet. Christ is reigning, and He has set up boundaries beyond which destruction must not pass.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

We do not want to undermine the severity of plagues, famines, war, and so forth. These things cause real and terrible devastation. At the same time, we should not think that these things mean that life on earth will all come to an end. People will suffer indeed, but the Lord will not end all life through them. We need not fear that pandemics, food shortages, or world wars mean that God is not in control or that the church will not survive them.


For Further Study
  • 1 Chronicles 21
  • Psalm 91
  • Luke 21:11
  • Acts 11:27–30

The White and Red Horses

The Cry of the Martyrs

Keep Reading Covenant Theology

From the October 2020 Issue
Oct 2020 Issue