I looked on when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a thunderous voice, “Come!” 2 So I looked, and here came a white horse! The one who rode it had a bow, and he was given a crown, and as a conqueror he rode out to conquer.
Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” 8 So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.
The Seals, Bowls and Trumpets
People went about their early business on that day. While their country was at war with a powerful foe, there had been no reason to expect this day to be different from others. In the local military garrison, the Fifth Division’s troops drilled like usual while school children began their classes and farmers set out vegetables at the market.
At 8:15 AM something emerged from an opening beneath an unseen plane; fifty-seven seconds later the unsuspecting people learned what it was. High above the surgical clinic in the middle of town, a flash of unreal light presaged a titanic explosion that leveled everything for a mile in all directions. Life forever changed in Hiroshima. What is coming in the last days is much worse!
This section of Revelation begins a series of apocalyptic visions describing judgments brought upon the world by God. Grant Osborne does a superior job introducing them:
The seven seals are preliminary judgments on the earth that prepare for the trumpets and the bowls. . . . All three series of judgments end with [the end of human history]. It is also important to realize that the scroll is not opened until all seven seals are opened. Therefore, these are preliminary, and the contents of the scroll are concerned more with the trumpets, bowls, and ensuing events of chapters 17–20: the divine plan for ending human history and beginning the eternal age.
While the insights above are not universally accepted, that is a common state of affairs for this symbolic book! See the Introduction for various interpretive approaches to the book.
Osborne also explains that the seal-judgments (affecting one-quarter of humanity) are followed by the more intense trumpet-judgments (affecting one-third of humanity) and finally escalating to the bowl-judgments (affecting the whole world). The intensification promotes repentance.
The first four seals
Just as soon as the Lamb opens the first seal, one of the four living creatures summons its content: a white horse with a rider carrying a bow (6:1). Note carefully that “he was given a crown” (6:2); this was expressed by a Greek verb (did?mi “give”) in the passive voice. Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace says: “The passive is also used when God is the obvious agent. Many grammars call this a divine passive.” The implication is that the rider was given a crown by God, without expressly saying so.
This divine passive for did?mi occurs eleven times in chapters 6–9. Osborne finds such a divine passive in 6:2 and says: “It denotes the sovereign power of God over all his creation, even the forces of evil. Everything Satan and his minions do in the book occurs only by divine permission.”
Who is the rider on the white horse? The NET Bible Notes say, “The white horse rider represents the Antichrist, who appears later in Rev 11:7 [and] 13:17, and whose similarity to Christ explains the similarity with the rider in 19:11.” Other views exist, but this one seems best. In 6:2 we find that the rider is given rulership and the role of conqueror.
The second seal (6:3–4) unleashes slaughter by the sword through the removal of peace. The third seal (6:5–6) brings famine, a common occurrence with conquest and war.
When Jesus breaks the fourth seal, Death rides out on a pale horse (6:7–8). Greg Beale, along with many others, considers Death to be a metaphorical name that in this context “refers to ‘pestilence, disease’ rather than death in the general sense.” “Hades” (6:8), the sphere that imprisons the dead, “followed right behind” (6:8), a phrase that “pictures Hades on foot gathering up the corpses left by Pestilence and Death as they struck victim after victim.” These terrors cover one-fourth of the earth.
The Four Horsemen will come unannounced! Why? Because the warning has already been given by God’s prophets, his Son, and the church over millennia. These preliminary judgments are the least of all, but they are still awesome and extensive. The seals demonstrate that Jesus was not using empty words when he said, “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22).
Paul Revere gained fame in American history by riding to warn his countrymen of a coming British invasion. But the Four Horsemen that Jesus will set loose do not come to warn, because the warning has already come!
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 269.
 Osborne, Revelation, 270.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 437.
 Osborne, Revelation, 277.
 NET Bible Notes for Revelation 6:2.
 G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 382.
 Osborne, Revelation, 282.