And I saw when the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures sayingwith a loud voice like the sound of thunder: 'Come!' And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he who was seated on it had a bow, and a conqueror's crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.
When he had opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say: 'Come!' And there came forth another horse, blood-red in colour, and to him that sat upon it there was given to take peace from the earth, and to bring it about that men should slay one another, and a great sword was given to him.
When he had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say: 'Come!' And, behold, there came a black horse, and he who sat upon it had the beam of a balance in his hand. And I heard, as it were, a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying: 'A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius. But you must not injure the oil and the wine.'
When he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying: 'Come!' And I saw, and behold, there came a pale horse, and the name of him who sat upon it was Death, and Hades followed with him; and they were given power over a fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Before we embark on a detailed interpretation of this vision, we note two important points.
(1) We note that the origin of this vision is in Zechariah 6:1-8. Zechariah sees four horses which are let loose upon the earth to deal out vengeance on Babylon and Egypt and the nations which have oppressed God's people. 'These are the four winds of heaven going out, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth' (Zechariah 6:5). The horses stand for the four mighty winds which God is about to let loose on the earth with a blast of destruction. John does not keep the details the same; but, for him too, the horses and their riders are the instruments of the avenging judgment of God.
(2) We must explain the method of interpretation which we think must be used. The four horses and their riders stand for four great destructive forces which, in the times before the end, are to be despatched against the evil world by the holy wrath of God. But John sees these forces in terms of actual events in the world which he knew—a situation where life seemed a chaos, the world seemed to be disintegrating, and the earth seemed to be full of terrors. The horses and their riders are forces of destruction and agents of wrath; they are not to be identified with any historical figures; but in the events of his own time John saw symbols and types of the destruction to come.
Our method of interpretation will, therefore, be to define the destructive force for which each of the horses stands, and then, where possible, to find circumstances in the history of John's own time which illustrate the destruction to come. We will further see that, in more than one case, John is dealing in pictures and ideas which were deeply ingrained in the writers of these visions of the days of the end.