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Fourth Seal - Annihilation/Death 6:7-8

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. - Revelation 6:7-8

When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come and see." In the frequent switching of perspective from the earthly to the heavenly plane, the focus is again on one of the four living creatures around the throne of God. As the first three have each announced one of the unfolding horrific scenes, this last one calls attention to the opening of the fourth seal.

So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. When John looked at the next development, he saw a horse with another symbolic color, for which we English-speaking people have no exact word. The Greek word used was chloros, from Chloe, a woman's name, meaning "verdant," the greenish color of tender young grass. It is the root word of the well-known "chlorophyll", the tiny green chemical converters in the leaves of most plants.

However, in this vision, the pale-green color is not representative of young life and healthy growth, but of sickly, gangrenous death, caused by the former terrors of war and famine and the added threats of plagues, wild animals, pests, diseases and environmental hazards. All of this a picture of the planet becoming progressively corrupted, neglected and dangerous.

And the name of him who sat on it was Death. This is the only horseman who is actually named. His title is "The Death" (Greek Ho Thanatos, an unusual formation using the definite article-ho-for the sake of emphasis). Thus, this warrior would be the ultimate symbol of every cause for death. This is the equivalent of the mythological concept of "The Grim Reaper."

In the Bible, death does not mean the cessation of existence. The best synonym for death in the Bible is "separation." (See notes on Revelation 1, verses 17 & 18 in our book, The Church in Prophecy and History: Revelation Commentary Chapters 1-3)

Physical death is the separation of the body from the soul and spirit.

There is also spiritual death-separation of our human spirit from God because of sin.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. - Ephesians 2:1

When a person is "born again" (John 3:3), his spirit is reconciled with God. He or she is no longer spiritually dead.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new…
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. - 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21

A third and even worse separation is the "second death," which is mentioned four times in the Revelation (2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). The second death means eternal separation from God. This is what will happen to a person who dies physically while he is still dead spiritually.

Many people believe that physical death is the end of human existence, but the Bible does not allow that illusion. So John explains: and Hades followed with him. Hades is the name of the place of departed spirits. It is seen as the enemy of the Church (Matthew 16:18). Since Christ's ascension (Ephesians 4:8-10), it is the temporary abode of unbelievers who have died and await their final judgment. Here are other references to Hades in the Revelation:

I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. - Revelation 1:18

The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. - Revelation 20:13

Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. - Revelation 20:13

We will consider this second death in greater detail when we study chapters 20 and 21.

Next, John describes the destruction of the Fourth Seal. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth.

It is not clear whether the combined impact of these deadly forces will devastate one-fourth of the Earth, or that it will result in the eradication of one-fourth of its residents. At the current population level that would mean the death of 1.8 billion people!

In any case, this carnage will fall into four major categories--to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

There is an Interesting parallel in Ezekiel's prophecy of Jerusalem's conquest in Old Testament times:

For thus says the Lord GOD: "How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem-the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence-to cut off man and beast from it? - Ezekiel; 14:21

In our study of the previous seal we noted that, even before the Tribulation Jesus predicted famines, pestilences and earthquakes (Matthew 24:7). These things will get even worse during this time of judgment.

1 - Sword - Described by the 2nd Seal and ongoing wars mentioned above

2 - Hunger - Included in the 3rd Seal. There is apparently no real recovery from worldwide famine

3 - Death - In addition to the carnage of wars and famines, there will be natural disasters -floods, earthquakes, storms, volcanoes and other kinds of disease and death.

Perhaps the worst disease that still threatens humanity is Cancer, and all the environmental and nutritional threats that contribute to its ever-growing danger. Nuclear radiation and other types of electromagnetic transmissions-probably including cell phone signals--have caused various kinds of cancer to destroy multitudes already.

AIDS is another major threat to the human race. Progress is being made toward control of the epidemic, but toleration of immorality blocks efforts to identify sources and isolate them.

Major influenza epidemics, like the one that killed 30 million people in 1918-and 1819, are likely to return. We still do not have the cure to this viral menace.

Tuberculosis is a growing threat again, after we had once thought it was eliminated. Drug-resistant superbugs seem to thrive in hospitals. Recent Ebola epidemics caused near-panic in some places. There are some reports of Bubonic Plague returning in various places. This "Black Death" was a key factor in the historical conquest by early Islamic forces after the Roman and Persian Empires had been severely weakened by the disease.

4 - Beasts - This fourth category includes everything from wild animals in a disturbed ecosystem; to dangerous insects, like ants, spiders, and mosquitos.

These things have been problems in every age, but in this generation there are growing concerns about many of them. Terrorism and threats of war pose the additional nightmare of intentional injury and death by nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Anthrax, Sarin, and other lethal agents have been used recently by desperate governments and insurgents.

These first four seal judgments will apparently be various forms of judgment by God during the first half of the Tribulation, utilizing natural causes. They may cause survivors to consider what is happening in the light of Bible prophecy, and turn to the Lord for salvation.

The later trumpet judgments and bowls of wrath will transpire during the Great Tribulation-the last 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation-and will have supernatural causes. During this time most of the survivors will have hardened their hearts and will not repent (Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9, 11).

Come back soon for the next installment of our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Revelation.


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