“The angel answered me, ‘These are the four spirits of Heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world.’ ” (Zechariah 6:5)
The First Four Seals
Please review the breaking of the first four seals and notice that four royal horsemen are sent out from God’s throne.
Seal #1 White Horse
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts [the one that had the face of a lion] saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:1,2, KJV, insertion mine)
Seal #2 Red Horse
“And when He had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast [the one that had the face of an ox] say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the Earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.” (Revelation 6:3,4, KJV, insertion mine)
Seal #3 Black Horse
“And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast [the one having the face of a man] say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5,6, KJV, insertion mine)
Seal #4 Pale or Dappled Horse
“And when He had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast [the one that had the face of an eagle] 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.” (Revelation 6:7,8, KJV, insertion mine)
These eight verses speak volumes with very few words. The first four seals describe four tasks assigned to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is represented as four horsemen. As Jesus breaks each of the first four seals, He gives a command to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit invites John to “come and see” the action. While many people have heard of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, preachers and artists who have painted scary and grotesque pictures of the four horsemen have badly distorted the meaning of the four horsemen. Few people have any idea why four horsemen are even part of this vision, even though the solution to this mystery is quite simple.
Royal Horses and Royal Horsemen
In ancient times, there were no telephones, faxes, satellites, high speed internet connections, televisions, or radios. In those days, kings dispatched couriers on fast horses throughout their kingdoms to deliver laws, edicts, bulletins, political directives, and other information that was pertinent to the administration of the kingdom. The person in charge of the couriers lived in or near the king’s residence so the king could dispatch royal couriers at a moment’s notice. The king’s commands could have no delay. Royal couriers rode special horses that had been bred and trained for stamina because the king’s subjects could be hundreds of miles away from the throne.
During the time of Queen Esther, King Artaxerxes naively issued a decree which allowed the Persians, at an appointed time, to kill all of the Jews and take their possessions. (Esther 3:9-11) However, Queen Esther learned of the plot and she cleverly exposed wicked Haman. Haman had masterminded the plan because he hated the Jews, especially her uncle, Mordecai. When King Artaxerxes discovered that he had been duped into granting a decree to kill all of his wife’s people, he executed Haman on the gallows which Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The king then asked Mordecai to write an emergency edict which the king sent to all the Jews throughout his kingdom, notifying them that they could use arms to defend themselves. “Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king’s signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king. The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies. . . . The couriers, riding the royal horses, raced out, spurred on by the king’s command.” (Esther 8:10-14, italics mine)
The parallel between Esther 8 and Revelation 6 should be obvious. King Artaxerxes dispatched horsemen from the throne room in the same fashion that God dispatches four horsemen from His throne when Jesus breaks the first four seals. God used the imagery of horses and riders because that was how couriers were used in John’s day. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse represent the Holy Spirit who is sent to Earth to accomplish four missions.
The use of parallel language is important to help us understand apocalyptic prophecy. Parallel language helps us to interpret the language God gave us in Revelation. As you read the following passage, notice how the number and color of the horses in Zechariah 6 paralleled the horses in Revelation 6. Also note the four horses are identified as “the four spirits of Heaven.” The prophet Zechariah wrote, “I looked up again – and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains – mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled – all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel answered me, ‘These are the four spirits of Heaven [the four living creatures], going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.’ When the powerful horses went out, they were straining [having difficulty] to go throughout the Earth. And he said, ‘Go throughout the Earth!’ So they went [again] throughout the Earth. Then he called to me, ‘Look, those going toward the north country have given my spirit rest [they have accomplished my objectives] in the land of the north.’ ” (Zechariah 6:1-8, insertions and italics mine)
God’s wrath against Israel in 605 B.C. came from the north. (Jeremiah 25:9) After 70 years in Babylon, God delivered His people through a decree issued by King Cyrus, but Cyrus’ decree was not enough to get the temple rebuilt and the homeland resettled. The Persian kings ultimately issued three more decrees and this is the lesson presented in Zechariah 6. When needed, the Lord can send the Holy Spirit to favorably incline the hearts of pagan kings to help His people. “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing.” (2 Chronicles 36:22, italics mine)
Even though Zechariah 6 does not mention riders on the horses (they are assumed to be in the chariots), the point remains that God represented the four living creatures who stood before the throne of God to Zechariah as the four spirits of Heaven. The horses have the same colors found in Revelation 6. However, the Holy Spirit is not actually four living creatures or four horses. God used these representations of the Holy Spirit so that human beings can understand the divine processes and powers that exist outside the realm of human comprehension and ability.
Four Horns and Four Craftsmen
One more sample of parallel language will help to clarify the connection between the four living creatures and the Holy Spirit. Notice these verses from a vision recorded in Zechariah 1: “Then I looked up and there before me were four horns! I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these?’ He answered me, ‘These are the horns that scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.’ Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. I asked, ‘What are these [four craftsmen] coming to do?’ He answered, ‘These are the [four] horns that scattered Judah so that no one could raise his head, but the [four] craftsmen have come to terrify them [the enemies of Jerusalem] and throw down these horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter its people.’ ” (Zechariah 1:18-21, insertions mine) This vision reveals an awesome truth. King Nebuchadnezzar was not the four horns that brought down Jerusalem even though historians would say that he did. The four horns (or four powers) that brought down Jerusalem were the four living creatures. The Holy Spirit aroused and empowered King Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish God’s will and the Holy Spirit delivered Jerusalem into the hands of a pagan king, King Nebuchadnezzar! (Daniel 5:18,19) God told Jeremiah, “I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.’ ” (Jeremiah 25:9, italics mine)
It is interesting that God calls Nebuchadnezzar “my servant” in Jeremiah 25:9 even though the king did not recognize the God of Israel as the Most High God until many years later. (Daniel 4:34-37) The Lord instructed the Holy Spirit (four horns) to arouse Nebuchadnezzar, and years later, the Holy Spirit (four craftsmen) was instructed to rebuild the city. God told the Holy Spirit to raise a destroyer for Jerusalem and He did. Then, God told the Holy Spirit to set His people free and He did. Cyrus issued the decree right on time! (2 Chronicles 36:22) Then, God told the Holy Spirit to raise a builder so that Jerusalem might be rebuilt and He did. “So he said to me, This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel [the rebuilder]: Not by might nor by [human] power, but by my Spirit,’ [You will overcome the obstacles and rebuild the temple.] says the Lord Almighty. What are you, O mighty mountain [of obstacles]? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground [and enable his success].’ ” (Zechariah 4:6,7, insertions mine)
When we compare parallel language from the books of Esther and Zechariah with Revelation 6, the mystery of the four living creatures is easily resolved. The four living creatures represent the Holy Spirit. He is the omnipresent “Enabler/Destroyer” through whom God’s will is accomplished on Earth. Now we know who the four living creatures are, why the Holy Spirit is represented as four couriers on horseback, and that 1798 is the date when Jesus was found worthy to break the seven seals (see Chapter 5), we are now ready to examine the seven seals. You need to see how Jesus will resolve the sin problem and exonerate God’s government!