(7) When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” (8) And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
A pale horse rounds it up to four (fullness). The word “pale” does not give us the best picture of the Greek word chloros. The image we should have in our minds is a pale yellow-green. This portrays the color of skin during terrible sickness, disease, or upon death. It is evident that this color should give us the image of death in our minds, because the rider of the horse has the name “Death.” Hades is also mentioned as following Death. Recall from my comments on the introduction to the four horsemen that these four (including the one called Death) are spirits sent by God. This is not an act of the Devil, this is God sending death and the grave to a people whom he is judging. It is evident why this rider is called Death, because he is given power to slay men by a fourfold means: sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. The grave (personified as Hades) comes right behind him to scoop up the dead bodies.
A fourth of the earth. The effect is only upon a fourth of the land. The word “earth” (Greek – ge) refers to soil and refers either to all the earth or to a region; context must interpret the use of the word. Here there is no indication that the word “ge” is referring to earth in this verse, as the context is focused on the regional judgment of the unfaithful people (Jews). So, “ge” must refers to the land of Judea. Keeping with the theme of the number four, we see that a “forth” of the land will be affected by this horseman. While the symbol of four conveys completion, a “forth” illustrates that the judgment of God is not over for the land of Judea.
To kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts. Here we see another fourfold statement. We have had all four living creatures calling out these horses, we have seen four horses and four riders, and now we see the effects are fourfold: sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beast. This is so similar, if not identical to Jesus’ fourfold expression of the beginning of sorrows for the Jews, being wars, famine, pestilence, and earthquakes (Matthew 24:6-8). The only distinction being between “wild beasts” (Revelation 6:8) and “earthquakes” (Matthew 24:7). However, the stomping and swarming of wild beasts is just as much of an earthquake as anything else! Reining back our minds, we must confess that the earth quaking is symbolic of God bringing judgment upon a nation (see comments on 6:12), and that’s what is being dealt with in this context.