And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
Are you conscious of the fact that God is executing His eternal counsel every day without fail? Do you know that powerful forces are at work causing Christ to come again and come quickly? These truths are set forth by powerful symbols that the apostle John was given to behold in a vision recorded in Revelation 4-7. In this vision, seven seals that sealed a book representing God’s eternal decree are being loosed. When the first four seals are loosed, four horses of different colors—white, red, black, and pale—are unleashed. The word we consider here concerns the loosing of the fourth seal and the unleashing of the pale horse.
Death! This pale horse is the horse of death! The Holy Spirit clearly and emphatically spells out this identity in a threefold way. To begin with, let us note that the fourth beast, which first appeared in Revelation 4 and calls to “come and see” the loosing of this second seal, was like a flying eagle, or more literally, a vulture. And the vulture, being a scavenger for food from dead animals, is a creature that signifies death. Then, there is the pale color of this horse, which is that of a yellowishgreen color. Those of us who have been by the deathbed of loved ones and who have seen death will readily recognize that this is the color of death. Finally, and quite unlike the previous three horses, the rider of this horse is given a name: “Death”!
Then we read, “and Hell followed with him.” The word “hell” literally is “hades.” And that word has several meanings in the Bible. It can mean and has been translated “hell,” the place of everlasting punishment and death. But it can also mean and has been translated as “death” or the place where the dead are buried, the “grave.” Here in verse 8 we have the idea of death and the grave: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and the grave [not hell] followed with him.” When one dies, he is buried in the grave, the place of corruption. Death is followed by the grave! That is what this pale horse and its rider brings with it: death and the grave. The pale horse and its rider represent that powerful force of death.
As powerful as it is, let’s remember that this power has been given to the Lamb of God who alone is worthy to loose the seals of that book of Revelation 5, even our exalted Christ! We do well to remember this when we consider the rest of verse 8: “… and power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” Here, the word translated as “power” refers to a power of choice, or authority. Putting this altogether, while the pale horse of death has been given authority to kill up to a fourth part of the earth, the exalted Christ, by virtue of His death and resurrection, has been given control over it!
This means that there is victory—and not defeat— for Christians on the occasion of death! The wonderful words of the apostle Paul under inspiration ring out the resounding note and confirmation of the Christian’s sweet victory over death in Jesus Christ: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:55-57).
Are you still struggling with the pain of losing a loved one who died in Christ? Know that the pale horse of death cannot hurt the Christian and rob him of comfort! For Christ has overcome death! He has authority over the pale horse and its power, now and forever! And He has transformed it to be a mere door for us into Father’s house of many mansions (cf. John 14)!
That, however, seems not to be the only way the power of the pale horse is curtailed. For we are told that it has been given power to afflict only a fourth part of the earth at any one time. Why? What about the remaining three-fourths of the earth’s population? Here, we have to remember that, just like the three earlier horses, the pale horse is part of the loosing of the seals of a book that represents God’s sovereign and eternal counsel, so that even this detail of the pale horse being allowed to take only a fourth part of the earth reminds us that it serves to fulfill God’s plan and purpose! There is divine intent and purpose underlying the limitation of the pale horse to visit only a fourth part of the earth at one time. We will have more to say about this purpose a little later. For now, we will be brief and say that the remaining three-fourths of the earth, which is temporarily spared the power of the pale horse, serves to fill up the cup of iniquity, and in that way, hasten the return of Jesus Christ in judgment!
Only a fourth part of the earth are for the pale horse to take at any one time.
We cannot help but reflect on the word “only,” can we? For a fourth part of the earth is still a massive number! Think of the millions who were killed by the plague in medieval Europe! Think of the sixty million who died during World War II! Besides, this pale horse operates in manifold ways to carry away the sons of men! It can work in cooperation with the red horse of strife and war and also with the black horse of poverty, greed, and financial struggle. Or it can work independently— through ‘natural’ death, death through hunger, death by old age, by sickness and disease, by natural disasters, and by animals, as these verses indicate. But we should also understand that the Holy Spirit is not being exhaustive here, for we know all too well that there are more ways to die: death through abortion, stillbirth, suicide, and so much more!
All this becomes clear to us when we consider its running through history. Do you not see the trail left behind by this pale horse and rider as it gallops through the sands of time? There is hardly a day in which this horse is not hard at work as it carries men, women, and children away! And death is no respecter of persons and their accomplishments. Whether or not one has accomplished much or little is of no relevance to the pale horse. For death puts an end to all of man’s boastings and accomplishments! It separates him from all of his earthly possessions. Like a powerful tide of the ocean, it sweeps away all the sandcastles of his accomplishments, his possessions, his earthly reputation and yes, even his memory!
And it leaves no one untouched! Should the Lord continue to tarry, it will most surely visit us as it continues its unstoppable, unrelenting, ceaseless running through time and history! Indeed, at the end of the ages, the number of deaths caused by this pale horse will increase. In Revelation 8 and 9, which record the opening of the seventh seal and the blowing of the seven trumpets of divine judgment, and which bring us to the end of history, we find that with the blowing of the first five trumpets, four angels will be unleashed and terrible natural disasters will fall upon mankind, and a third of them will perish. Here in Revelation 6, we are told that the pale horse has authority to take a fourth of mankind into the grave. Many more will die through the pale horse and its running as history moves to its end!
And as the death rate increases, the people of the world will rally behind one person, the Antichrist. This will cause the rise of Antichrist and his antichristian kingdom. But ultimately, the higher rate of death brought on by the pale horse will also destroy the antichristian kingdom, as God executes His counsel through the exalted Christ, who through the pale horse will cause His and our enemies to die—and die so very quickly, in staggering numbers!
What is the purpose behind all this? Without knowing the purpose of the pale horse and its running, we will be fearful, restless, bitter, and bereft of comfort as the pale horse of death draws nearer to us and impacts us more and more within our sphere of earthly relationships and life. But when we know its purpose, we will have peace! We will have comfort! We will have hope, even joy as we see this pale horse more and more at work in our sphere of earthly life! For let’s remember that it is not the devil but Christ who controls all things, including the pale horse. And God works all things together for good for all those who love Him! So, do you love Him?
The question is not the strength or weakness of our love for Him, but His great love for us and therefore His working together all things for your good and mine (cf. Rom. 8:28). Such is His control of the pale horse that He will cause it to bring about the swift return of Christ unto the glorification of our souls and bodies for life in the new heavens and the new earth!
He does that in at least three ways. First, through the running of the pale horse, the world fills the cup of iniquity and makes itself ripe for judgment. Second, it also delays the premature coming of the antichristian kingdom by cutting short the lives of powerful national leaders having the agenda of the devil. Third and finally, it purifies the church on earth. It rids the church of hypocrites and sanctifies the hearts of God’s children by causing them to reflect upon their lives and to amend their ways. Dear reader, has not God used death to speak to you in such a way? God through His exalted Christ uses this pale horse for our good!
And so, we conclude positively, on a note of comfort and hope, but also with a sense of mission and purpose! For all we who belong to Jesus are allies of the triumphant white horse of the gospel. We are called to be witnesses of Christ unto the ends of the earth. And, therefore, we are to be faithful in relation to the witness of the gospel, which alone can deliver people from the ravages of the red, black, and pale horses. May it be so with you and me!