THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The Church's Triumph Through Christ
Sermon #27 - The First Four Seals - The Four Horsemen - Revelation 6:1-8
INTRODUCTION - In the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, the Lord Jesus made some very precise prophecies concerning the first century and the fall of Jerusalem. This event was of extreme importance for the early church for it was the sign that Christ had ascended to the right hand of God to receive His kingdom. With the Temple's destruction, Old Testament worship ended and New Testament spiritual worship began in the spiritual temple of God. If we are ever going to understand the message of Revelation, we must be acquainted with the first century. Its message is particularly for the early church as they faced their day and the great judgments poured out on apostate Israel.
1) THE TIMING AND THE DATING OF REVELATION - At the very beginning and end of Revelation, a time frame is given for the fulfillment of its prophecies. We are told that the events of Revelation are "things which must shortly take place...for the time is at hand" (Revelation 1:1,3; 22:6,10). Like the events described in Matthew 24, so Revelation's message was written particularly for that first century generation. In this book we will see the overthrow of Jerusalem, the judgment of Israel, the establishment of the church, and the great persecution and sufferings which the first century Christians must endure. John is preparing the church for that great time of suffering and conquest.
As we study the book, we should also be concerned about when John actually wrote it. Sometimes a late date is given for the writing of Revelation (95 AD), while other Bible commentaries give it an earlier date (pre-70AD). Obviously, if our first century interpretation is going to hold together, the book needs to be written before the fall of Jerusalem, otherwise we will have to find some other explanation for its message. We are not going to spend a great deal of time studying Revelation's dating, for this would take too long and would be an extremely technical study. Instead, those wishing to make a thorough study of its dating should read Dr. Kenneth Gentry's book, "Before Jerusalem Fell." It deals sufficiently with the fact that Revelation was written before 70 AD, supporting this view in a scholarly approach from both early church fathers and the text of Revelation itself.
2) A BRIEF REVIEW OF REVELATION CHAPTERS 1 TO 5 AND AN INTRODUCTION TO CHAPTER 6 - So far we have seen in Revelation: the vision of Christ in chapter one, the letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three, and the throne room of God in chapters four and five. These last two chapters introduced us to true, spiritual worship. In chapter five we saw Christ as the Lamb of God coming forward to take the scroll (the New Covenant) from the hand of the Father. The first action of the crowned King of kings and Lord of lords is to bring His wrath against the city which had rejected Him - Jerusalem. This will establish His rule and bring spiritual worship into the true Temple of God. This will also establish the church as the people of God. This action of overthrowing Jerusalem is begun in chapter six when Christ takes the scroll and begins to breaks its seven seals.
When the seals are broken, four horsemen come forth, each bringing a judgment from Christ. As we saw in our study of Matthew 24, there is a definite parallel between the judgments of Revelation 6 and the Olivet Discourse. Note the diagram below -
Revelation 6 Matthew 24 Mark 13 Luke 21
War (vs.1,2) Wars (vs.6) Wars (vs.7) Wars (vs.9)
Nations fighting Nations fighting Nations fighting Nations fighting
(vs.3,4) (vs.7) (vs.8) (vs.10)
Famine (vs.5,6) Famines (vs.7) Famines (vs.8)
Persecution Persecutions Persecutions Persecution
(vs.9-11) (vs.9-13) (vs.9-13) (vs.12-19)
Cataclysmic signs Cataclysmic signs Cataclysmic signs Cataclysmic signs
(vs.12-17) (vs.15-31) (vs.14-27) (vs.20-27)
Clearly Revelation 6 is to be understood as the signs which the disciples were to watch for with the coming fall of Jerusalem. It is in the Revelation picture that the first century disciples would see Christ as the author of these judgments. Today we shall look at the first four broken seals and the four horsemen who come forth. How are we to understand them and their judgments? Once again, the Old Testament provides the background for understanding this picture.
3) OLD TESTAMENT BACKGROUND TO THE FOUR HORSEMEN - The first century Christian would understand the Revelation 6 picture for they were raised on the Old Testament. Immediately it would bring to mind passages which were familiar to them in the Old Testament.
A) THE FOUR JUDGMENTS OF GOD - EZEKIEL 14:21,22 - Ezekiel writes during the Babylonian captivity when God judged Jerusalem for its idolatry. When we compare the four means of God's judging in Revelation 6 with Ezekiel 14:21, we see an exact parallel. The disciples of Christ would know that John's vision was an outpouring of God's wrath upon Jerusalem, just as God had brought about on that same city in the Old Testament.
B) THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF GOD - ZECHARIAH 6:1-7 - In Zechariah there are also four types of horses, four different colors matching Revelation 6, and the horses represent the spirits of heaven, messengers from Almighty God, who go out into all the world (Zechariah 6:5). In Revelation they are the messengers of God's judgment.
C) A DESCRIPTION OF THE JUDGMENT OF GOD - HABAKKUK 3:1-19 - In the prayer of Habakkuk we once again see the parallels between God's judgement and Revelation 6. Pestilence, plague and war are mentioned. God is also pictured riding on horses. Cataclysmic events are part of His judgment. It is the same imagery as Revelation 6.
With the Old Testament background and Christ's Olivet Discourse, the first century Christian could easily interpret Revelation 6 as God's judgment against Jerusalem and the signs which they were to watch for.
4) THE FIRST FOUR SEALS - THE FOUR HORSEMEN - REVELATION 6:1-8
A) THE WHITE HORSE - THE CONQUEROR - This rider is armed with a bow (as God is in the Habakkuk passage), and crowned with victory. In Revelation 19:11-16, the rider of a white horse is the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we may presume that this is also Christ, leading the forces of heaven out to war, going forth as the warrior/king. He is the One who initiates the destruction of Jerusalem. He is the One who brings the devastation through the Roman armies of Titus.
B) THE RED HORSE - WARS AMONG THE NATIONS - Here we see God and Christ inciting war in the world by taking away the grace of peace. As God removes His common grace from the world, so man naturally turns to war, carrying out the destructive depravity of his nature. We have already seen how the first century was filled with war, culminating with the Jewish wars and the destruction of Jerusalem.
C) THE BLACK HORSE - FAMINE - We also saw the worldwide famines of the first century, followed by the great famine in Jerusalem as the city was being taken. God judged His people through the bringing of famine into the land.
D) THE PALE HORSE - DEATH - Christ holds the keys to death and Hades (Revelation 1:18) and here He unleashes them against the land. In this final horseman we see the mentioning of God's four judgments from Ezekiel 14.
All of these judgments are called forth from the hand of God and through the Lord Jesus Christ. The early church would see that these judgments came from the throne of God and would thereby receive comfort, knowing that God was in control, Christ's kingdom was going forth, and the plans of the Lord for the church would be victorious.