The Fourth SealWar, famine, plague, and wild beasts
The Pale Horse
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.
The encroaching of external armies on the borders of the weakened, infighting Empire and the effects of excessive taxation and oppression resulted in war, famine and pestilence.
The colour of the horse is “pale”, or “greenish” as the word means in Greek. It is the colour of death, or dying grass. Death rules over the empire, and the grave accompanies. The image already is clearly not a good one.
The “fourth part of the earth (land)” has also been translated “the four parts of the earth (land)”. It may refer to either one quarter of the empire in area, a quarter of the people, or power over the entire empire.
The four agents of sword, hunger, death, and beasts are worth comparing with a similar affliction upon Jerusalem mentioned in Ezekiel.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?
It is likely that “death” means pestilence as listed in Ezekiel. Pestilence is often connected with war, dead bodies, crowded and unclean conditions within army camps and sieges, and with famine. The sword, hunger and wild beasts obviously bring death, but the listing of death itself suggests something like pestilence or plague which brings the same final result.
The dissolution, or breaking up, weakening and disappearing, of the Empire is a perfect fit for the afflictions and pale state of the horse in the vision.
The first four seals are shown to be grouped by the common symbols of horses and riders, and by their introduction in turn by each of the four living creatures (“beasts”). The consistent symbol of the horse, or warhorse, as a representation of an Empire helps us to recognise the central subject of the visions and start our interpretation in the correct era. The rider on the horse represents the controlling power or influence over the empire in each vision, and the colour of the horse reflects and confirms the effect of that controlling power upon the empire.
The fourth and last Gentile kingdom in the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel was Rome, in both its pagan and papal phases. These two phases were symbolised by the iron (Imperial Rome), and then by the mingled iron and clay (Catholic Europe dominated by Papal Rome). But in Daniel's visions of the metallic idol, and the four beasts, these two phases are considered the one continuing, though changing, power of Rome. The iron of Rome runs through both. The apostle John lives in the first phase of the Roman power. Revelation is the tale of two kingdoms – the iron kingdom of Rome, and its conflict with, and ultimate defeat by, the stone kingdom of Jesus Christ (the Kingdom of God).
The character of the First Seal compared with the next three is obviously quite different: something good as opposed to something bad. The use of the horse and rider symbol throughout helps to ensure that the visions, however different in character, are applied consistently to the same subject. This also makes it harder to misinterpret the symbols, since the subject of them must experience both the good and the bad in order.