“Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” (Job 39:19-25, KJV, public domain)
The horse, as God described it in Job 39, is a creature of great strength and thunder. As John hears a voice like thunder saying “Come!” he soon sees a tremendous scene of four horses and their riders. In this chapter the Lamb begins the process of opening the scroll; to do so he must break all seven seals. Six of the seals will be broken in this chapter. In studying the seals, I believe the first four are not meant to be considered in solidarity but as a complete fourfold theme. We have already seen the significance of the number four in the book, but there is an interesting connection between the four seals and the four living creatures. Notice how John specifies that it is one living creature which calls for the first horse and rider (6:1), the second living creature calls for the second horse and rider (6:3), the third to the third (6:5), and the forth to the forth (6:7). This connection of the first four seals and the four living creatures suggests that these seals are to be considered as a whole story and not independent situations.
This fourfold theme of horses is not new to the encyclopedia of symbolism in the Old Testament. God taught his people about this fourfold horse theme long ago and, like all symbols we find in Revelation, we will use what God taught beforehand as the key to understand this vision. In Zechariah chapter one, the prophet sees a vision of four horses and one horseman: “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the LORD has sent to patrol the earth.’ And they answered the angel of the LORD who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest’” (1:8-11). The four horses are shown to be under the authority of God. The Lord has given them their mission to “patrol the earth.” Their intent is to examine the spiritual condition of the earth and their final report is “all the earth remains at rest.” This sounds like a good report, but, as you can read in the proceeding context, they mean that the earth is at ease in wickedness.
The second time we see the fourfold horse symbol is in Zechariah chapter six. “Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong. Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth” (6:1-5). While the details in this chapter are different, we see that the theme remains the same: “When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, ‘Go, patrol the earth’” (6:7). The detail given in verse five that “these are going out to the four winds of heaven” is important to the fourfold symbolism. These four go to the four winds! We will soon see the four winds (paired with the four corners of the earth) in Revelation 7:1. Now, the creator knows that this earth is round, so the four corners symbolize the fullness of the earth. Four is symbolic of fullness, whether looking at the four horns on the altar of God, the four corners of the earth, or the foursquare city of God.
Back to Revelation, as the first four seals of the scroll are broken, John witnesses that old symbol of four horses. These beings are they which follow the four winds of the earth and examine the spiritual condition of the earth. In this case, they have found the Jewish people to be at ease in their wickedness, but this report will cause the Lord to shake things up as “the beginning of sorrows” for the Jewish State is beginning. In this vision we see the words of Jesus come to symbolic realization: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:6-8, KJV, public domain). Jesus’ fourfold prophecy of wars, famines, diseases, and earthquakes will be initiated at the calling of the four horses and their riders.
(1) Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!”
The authoritative “voice like thunder” begins the procession of horse and rider. It is with great authority that each horseman rides unto its mission; it is the authority of God. The first living creature said “Come!” this is directed to the horse and rider (as is obvious in the ESV), and not to John (as seems to be the suggestion of the KJV’s rendering “come and see”).