Fourth Seal: Death and Hades—Revelation 6:7-8
7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.
As with the first three apocalyptic Riders on their color matched mounts, the Fourth Rider and his Horse are a pale green (chloros). When I think of the color of this Horse and Rider, I can’t help but think of sickness and disease and, of course, death. The name of the Pale Horse Rider is “Death”, or “Thanatos.” This is the Greek form of the word “death”, and is used over 100 times in the New Testament. It should be noted, however, that since in this case the word is capitalized, it is given an identity. In Greek mythology, Thanatos was a ‘god’ who personified death, and he dwelt in the underworld with his twin brother Hypnos, or “Sleep”. In addition, Hades was the Greek ‘god’ of the underworld, son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea, brother of Zeus and Poseidon, who ruled the top-side world and the sea. We notice that the fourth Rider has a tagalong behind him, and the Bible names him “Hades.”
In spite of the fact that followers of Jesus do not follow the beliefs of any of the pagan mythologies, whether they be the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Babylonian, or Assyrian versions, there is a certain reality to many of these entities. Some of them are fallen angels and others, like the Titans, were the demigods, called Nephilim in the Bible. Fallen angels, Nephilim, and demons (which have their own distinction), all had their part in corrupting the human race. “Death and Hades are described throughout the New Testament as realities. Death and Hades are used again and again to describe death of the mortal body, and hell—the place of eternal punishment and torment—which was created for the devil and the angels who sided with him in his rebellion against GOD. The Apostle Paul referenced both Death and Hades right after describing the immortal bodies believers will receive at the resurrection of the dead.
55 Now when this perishable puts on imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, death (Thanatos) has been swallowed up in victory. 56 Where, O death (Thanatos), is your victory? Where, O death (Hades), is your sting? 1 Corinthians 15:55-56
Another reference to both death and hades is found in Revelation 20. Both are cast into the Lake of Fire. This is also the final destiny of Satan, the Antichrist (1st Beast), the False Prophet (2nd Beast), and all whose names are not found in the Book of Life.
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death (Thanatos) and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 14 Then Death (Thanatos) and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. Revelation 20:13-14
These two personifications were given permission by the Almighty to kill 25% of the world’s population by four oppressive methods. These same exact four methods are described by the prophet Ezekiel as the Lord’s “four terrible judgments.”
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “How much worse will it be when I send My four terrible judgments—sword, famine, wild animals, and plague—against Jerusalem to kill both man and beast! Ezekiel 14:21
This passage, together with the Revelation 6:8 passage, provides something interesting for us to ponder. First of all, the passage in Revelation 6 states that Death and Hades are “given” the authority for the task. They didn’t get it on their own. Second, Ezekiel 14 reveals that these four oppressive methods of death are the Lord’s own four terrible judgments. The prophet Jeremiah heard something similar when the Lord told him that He Himself was bringing devastation on the people of Israel:
“I will bring war, starvation, and disease on them until they are completely destroyed from the land I gave them and their ancestors.” Jeremiah 24:10
These very same three things, war, starvation, and disease, are also embodied in the symbolism of the Seals, as shown above, and it was the Lord who permitted them. God in His wisdom, granted permission to these spirits to exact these judgments during the period of time extending from Christ’s ascension until the present day. We see the evidence of this with all the Apocalyptic Riders.
The symbolism of the Fourth Seal is not difficult to see. The supernatural spirit fulfilling his task is a spirit of death, and he has authority to oppress 25% of the human population. History is full of examples of this oppression, which has come by way of sword, famine, diseases, and beasts of the earth. As stated in the previous writing describing the Third Seal, it would be nearly impossible to separate the number of deaths in each category from deaths of other causes, but we’ll take a brief look at each of them.
The “sword” was discussed in the Second Seal and how it symbolized war and violence. The fact that it is mentioned within the Fourth Seal may, however, speak to a general spirit of violence and murder around the globe, aside from all the wars we’ve already referred to. I don’t know that many would argue with the fact that there has been a pervasive spirit of hatred, murder, and suicide causing the crime rate to rise all around the world.
Then there is the second form of judgment,”famine” or “hunger”. Once again, if we were to go back over the history of the past two millennia, we would find records of many hundreds of millions of those who have died due to famine and starvation. Famine has been a killer on all continents, especially in more recent times in Africa and Asia. Famines are caused by many things including wars, natural disasters, or catastrophic weather, and governmental corruption. One of the end results of these is the effects on the food supply.
The third form of judgment, “disease”, over the last 2,000 years has taken the lives of many additional hundreds of millions of human beings. The death toll from just the Black Death, Spanish flu, Plague of Justinian, and the HIV / AIDS plague have taken the lives of approximately 500,000,000. There have been many other epidemics, including smallpox, the Antonine Plague, the Cocoliztli Epidemic, the Bubonic Plague, tuberculosis, typhoid, scarlet fever, diphtheria, malaria, pneumonia, and others that have killed multiplied tens of millions.
In addition to the plagues listed above, we have serious illnesses that are not necessarily considered plagues. Think of the multiplied millions that have died of heart disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, to just list a few. People all over the world are dying of such diseases every hour of every day.
Diseases such as those above catch our attention because they are right in our faces and we all know people who have died of diseases like this. What doesn’t usually grab the headlines are viruses like SARS, ebola, West Nile virus, malaria, anthrax, and many more.
This brings to question, what are the “beasts of the earth” which the fourth judgment of God says are killing man? We read many stories of isolated incidents of grizzly bears, tigers, crocodiles, and many other wild animals crossing paths with humans and killing them. We are also familiar with historical stories we have read in books like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, where Christians have been slaughtered by wild animals for sport in the Roman coliseum by Roman emperors like Nero and others. But, is there another type of “beast” that could be referred to in Revelation 6:8?
Could it be that the Pale Horse Rider uses “beasts of the earth” such as microscopic bacteria? Humanity gets much of its meat and dairy products from cattle, pigs, chickens, and other domestic animals or birds. Yet, it is these very same food sources that can pass on deadly bacteria to humans. Modern means of processing meat, milk, eggs, and other products have helped to eliminate much of this problem, but not all. A short list of bacterial diseases that humans suffer from in spite of modern pasteurization processes includes: diabetes, lupus, Parkinson’s, irritable bowel disease, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, and Crohn’s disease. There are, of course, many more.
We innocently eat, drink and enjoy the products we purchase for consumption, paying little or no attention to the fact that such products have the potential of carrying deadly bacteria that can be passed on to humans. This is a very good reason to thank God for our food and ask His blessing over it! There are billions of germs and viruses that have the ability to kill human beings, including viruses that have been genetically engineered by scientists as biological weapons. We know this is true. Most of us have read the news reports of both biological and chemical weapons being used in different locations around the earth. Jesus foretold that such things would happen before His return. I believe that they will grow to a crescendo the nearer we come to the return of our Messiah.
“And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines, and pestilences (plagues), and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” Luke 21:11
In reflecting the commentary on all the first four Seals of Revelation 6, it is important to connect what we read in these verses with other chapters in Revelation and other Scripture passages associated with our chosen subject. In His answer to the disciples concerning things to come, Jesus described what would happen throughout history after He was resurrected and ascended to take His place at the right hand of the Father on His Throne. These events are described in the first five Seals of Revelation 6. Below are several important things to keep in mind:
- The first four Seals do not open in consecutive order with one being fulfilled before the next one begins. They have been overlapping each other over the centuries.
- Each of these Spirit Riders have been riding throughout the earth fulfilling their tasks, often bringing about staggering death tolls.
- Demonic spirits operate through their human hosts, and the real struggle humans have is with evil spirits, not with other humans. The question is often asked why God would release such evil to do its work on the earth? It is important to understand that even though God has granted these supernatural beings the authority to influence humanity, it is still humanity that has the God-given free will to choose whether or not they will follow through with the evil tempting them. Humans always have the choice.
It is estimated that there have been approximately 40 billion births since 1 AD. Is it possible that 25% (10 billion) have perished by means of the Red, Black, and Pale Green Horsemen? As stated earlier, it is nearly impossible to separate all causes of death throughout the last 2,000 years into neat indisputable categories, but the question is not without merit. Added to the total would be the hundreds of millions who have been martyred for their faith due to the deception brought by the White Horse Rider.
A statistic that might be a surprise to most readers is one that is not included in the death toll of what the world’s system would consider “the living”: The World Health Organization says that there are an average of 200,000 abortions in the world every single day. Should abortions be put under the classification of the Red Horse Rider? If the WHO’s numbers are anywhere near reality, 200,000 abortions per day just over the past 50 years alone adds up to about 3.5 billion deaths. The practice of aborting babies did not begin with the infamous Roe vs. Wade court case in 1973. Abortions have been going on for millennia!
As we take a good look at history for the past 2,000 years, it’s not too hard to see that 10 billion people may very well have lost their lives through the influence of the Four Apocalyptic Riders. The White Horse Rider brought great religious persecution, torture, and death to multiplied tens of millions. The Red Horse Rider with his great sword brought death to multiplied hundreds of millions by means of centuries of war and man’s demonically influenced savagery. Additionally, hundreds of millions more perished by means of the unbearable yoke put on mankind by the Black Horse Rider via great droughts and catastrophic weather resulting in horrific famines, bringing death by starvation to untold hundreds of millions through the course of the centuries.
The Pale Horse Rider (Thanatos, Death) has been riding throughout the earth since he was released with Hades in tow. Not only does this Fourth Rider bring his own brand of death to the fallen world, but his “partner” plays the part of clean-up, gathering up the dead from all causes. The prophet Isaiah speaks of hell enlarging itself and opening its mouth without measure in Isaiah 5. Do all that die go to hell? Of course not. The spirits of the righteous go to a location in Heaven, whereas the spirits of the lost are confined in Hell.
- Note: It is important to understand that during Old Testament times, all who died did enter Hades (Greek) Hell (Anglo-Saxon version of the Jewish Gehenna), but Hades was divided into two compartments. One part was the abode of the damned and the other was a temporary location of Paradise where Old Testament saints were located until after Jesus’ resurrection. Paradise was then relocated to a heavenly location.
As we conclude the commentary on the Four Riders of the Apocalypse, we should expect the severity of their ‘end of the age’ stampede will continue to increase until they are stopped by the Sovereign GOD of the universe who released them to begin with. It is only He who can recall them. As we get closer to the end of the Church Age, we can expect more outbreaks of viruses and diseases caused by bacteria. Some of them will undoubtedly be man-made and have only one purpose, and that is to kill human beings. Other killing agents are coming in through earth’s atmosphere from the cosmos. Scientists are confirming exotic elements and radiation coming to the surface of the earth in increasing amounts. Earth’s home, the Solar System, as it orbits through our galaxy is hurtling through a very volatile and dangerous portion of the Milky Way, but that is the subject for another writing in this series.
A final thought… No matter how unsettling these things may be, God is not to blame for the problem. Man’s sin and rebellion corrupted the world. God, however, provided the remedy by entering the human race as both Son of Man and Son of God. As God’s Messiah, He paid the ransom price for our freedom and then rose from the dead. Choose Jesus. He is the only way!
–Continued in Part Six–