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THE FOURTH SEAL

 

 

When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” 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.

 

The Pale Horse

 

As devastating to the Christian church the third seal was, we now see a horrifying picture that we cannot comprehend as being the church built by Jesus Christ.

The fourth living creature, the eagle, shows John the dreadful scene. You will recall from chapter 4, verse 7 that the face of the eagle represents grace to endure. The condition revealed under the fourth seal is so horrifying and it lasts so long, but yet in spite of it there will be some souls that will take hold of this grace and endure through the most difficult era of church history.

John sees a pale horse. We might think of the pale color being a kind of grey; but the significance of this color is more telling than what the English word pale conveys. It is interesting that the New American Standard Bible actually renders the description of the horse as “I looked, and behold, an ashen horse”, invoking the color grey in our minds. The word pale is the Greek word cloros, meaning pale green. Barnes clarifies the meaning for us, “This word properly means pale-green, yellowish-green, like the colour of the first shoots of grass and herbage”. He adds, “The colour here would be an appropriate one to denote the reign of Death—as one of the most striking effects of death is paleness”.

Isaiah 40:5–8 gives us some insight to the meaning of green.

 

The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”

 

Grass is said to be flesh. As grass withers under heat and wind, mere human flesh cannot endure the glory of the Lord. The church portrayed under the pale horse is totally dominated by flesh, by humanity, to the degree that the word and Spirit of God no longer have any influence. A church like this cannot endure forever, but be assured that the word of God endures forever and those with the eagle grace of endurance can stand in the most difficult of times.

 

The Rider of the Pale Horse

 

The rider of the pale horse, or that which leads the visible church-at-large in this time, is called Death.

This church is led and governed by the powers of total apostasy. In the letter to the church at Thyatira, this leadership is called the prophetess Jezebel who causes her followers to commit adultery with her and descend to the depths of Satan.

What is pictured under the fourth seal is Mediaeval Christianity and the Middle Ages. This period is so long that it consumes three volumes of Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. He dates this period from A.D. 590 to 1517, Schaff writes:

 

No period in the history of the Christian Church has a more clear date set for its close than the Middle Ages. In whatever light the Protestant Reformation is regarded there can be no doubt that a new age began with the nailing of the Theses on the church doors in Wittenberg. . . . Not so easy, however, is it to fix a satisfactory date for the opening of the Middle Ages. . . . The better starting point is the pontificate of Gregory the Great, who is well called the last of the Fathers and the first of the mediaeval popes.[1]

 

Those familiar with the Revelation chart commonly used in the Church of God will recall that the date 1530 is painted on the chart as the date for the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. That particular date is arbitrary and was designed to result in the later year 1880 for the opening of the sixth seal in which the Church of God Reformation Movement sees itself as the principal actor.

Martin Luther actually posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. This is one reason why I chose not to follow the accepted dates traditionally used in our teaching the Revelation. Let the seals speak for themselves and let us not misuse them to prove a point that does not need proving. We like to have the dates A.D. 530 to 1530 on our charts for the Middle Ages (the Dark Ages) because it produces a period of 1000 years that perhaps all too easily explains the 1000 years of Revelation chapter 20.

 

Hades Follows

 

Death is the rider of this pale horse, but he has a companion closely following him, called Hades (King James Version has the word Hell; New Living Translation has the Grave, the actual meaning of the Greek word).

There is a dramatic expansion of the influence of the church during this time in history reaching out beyond the regions where it already existed to the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Russia. We also see the birth of the Holy Roman Empire, and the division of the church in 606 A.D. into the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. We also see such horrible things as the Inquisition and the crusades.

During this time the Bible, now translated into Latin, was forbidden to be read by the people. Two men in particular with a passion for God’s word defied the papal interdiction against the Bible.

John Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into the English of his day and published it in 1384. He dissented against 33 teachings of the church in his book De officio regis and advocated for reform in the church. He died at the end of that year and was retroactively excommunicated from the church on May 4, 1415. His bones were exhumed and burned as a heretic.

John Huss received Wycliffe’s writings and led a reform movement in western Europe. He was burned as a heretic on July 6, 1415. Huss decided to take a radical step in his faith. He no longer put his trust in a hostile Pope or church council. On October 18, 1412 he appealed to Jesus Christ as the supreme judge. By appealing directly to the highest Christian authority, Christ himself, he bypassed the laws and structures of the medieval Church. For the Bohemian Reformation, this step was as significant as the 95 theses nailed to the door of the Wittenberg church by Martin Luther in 1517.

Several separatist and independent groups immerged during this time, among which were the Cathari, the Beguines, and the Waldenses. All these were persecuted as heretics during the Inquisition.

Under the black horse, the papal see rationed the word of God to such a degree that it was virtually ineffective; under the pale horse, the word of God is virtually eliminated from the worship of the church. In its place such things were substituted such as: The sacraments; the Eucharist and the Mass; Penance and Indulgences; and, the worship of Mary.

 

Death Followed By Hades

 

Death succeeded in taking over the church as it did away with the word of God and replaced it with the evil, fleshly devices designed to spiritually kill any soul coming into the church.

In the letter to the church at Thyatira, we found that Jezebel’s children were killed. In like manner, Hades, the spiritual grave, followed the Death rider in the church. The sacraments, Mass, penance, and Mary cannot produce spiritual life. Jesus said, “You must be born again”; and to be born again means to be born of the Spirit of God.

Jesus taught in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man that Hades is a place of separation from God. Death followed by Hades is the spiritual separation from God, the consequence of which can be eternal death and not the heaven promised by the pope and his apostate church.

Jezebel’s children, the people in that deep apostate condition that can consume a church, have no recourse to anything in such a church that can give them spiritual life. Those caught up in the pale horse are in the same condition. With no offense intended to any individual Catholic, the Church of Rome cannot give you spiritual life; no pope, no priest can do for you what Jesus has already done through the atonement. I believe there are Catholics that have a real experience with God; these are people that have received a grace to endure in spite of impossible religious conditions. Their faith is in Christ, not the church. These dear people are the exception not the rule.

 

One-Fourth of the Earth

 

The rider of the pale horse has power over one-fourth of the earth. What is meant by one-fourth of the earth? This is not an easy question to answer as most commentators tend to apply the meaning to geographic regions rather than give it a spiritual application. While the events of the fourth seal were literal, their importance is spiritual affecting the spirituality of the church more than the physical happenings as bad as those might have been.

What is meant by a fourth part of the earth? Church of God teachers seem to gloss over this expression. I do recall one attempt to explain the four parts spiritually. It was said that all mankind is divided into four parts: The unsaved; those that are only justified; those that are justified and sanctified; and those that are justified, sanctified, and united in the biblical church. Since one fourth are killed, that fourth would be the unsaved, which are dead spiritually anyway as there can be no spiritual life in the Catholic church.

That could be what is meant in the fourth seal, but we see that Death has power over one-fourth of the earth and that power is to kill. One possible meaning is that the fourth seal is the first of the four remaining seals; 4, 5, 6 & 7. With his power being over one-fourth, it exists only in the fourth seal and not in the last three seals. That may be too obvious. Another possible meaning can be seen from the four methods by which this apostate Death can kill: sword, hunger, death, and the beasts of the earth. The sword of the rider in the second seal was the word of God redacted into creeds, thereby limiting what seekers can learn about the gospel. Hunger was the result of the balances of the rider in the third seal. The word of God was taken out of the hands of the people and church ritual was substituted for spirituality. Death is the mainstay of the rider here in the fourth seal. A church with no access to the gospel can only hold people in spiritual death. The beasts of the earth have not yet appeared in the Revelation, but it is the influence of these beasts that continue long after the fourth seal even into our day.

In my thinking, one-fourth of the earth is best explained by the latter and represents the continuing killing of spiritual death that will be prolonged by the influence of the beasts of the earth. What are these beasts? They are seen in the shadows of the seals and the trumpets to follow, but they do not appear unmasked until chapters 12 and 13 where we have the red dragon, the beast coming up out of the sea, and the beast coming up out of the earth. You can find these beasts on many corners of our city.

 

Actions Have Consequences

 

Actions have consequences and the apostasy of the visible church-at-large had its consequence. Schaff enlightens us.

 

The mediaeval theology had put the priesthood in the place of the individual conscience. Far from possessing any passion to rescue Italy from a religious formalism which involved the seeds of stagnation of thought and moral disintegration, the priesthood was corrupt at heart and corrupt in practice in the highest seats of Christendom. Finding the clerical mind of Italy insincere and the moral condition of the church corrupt, Humanism not only made no serious effort to amend this deplorable state but, on the contrary, it contributed to the further decadence of morals by a revival of paganism, now Epicurean, now Stoical, attested both in the lives and the writings of many of its chief leaders.[2]

 

With no spirituality in the church, the spirits of people craved some kind of meaning to life and the world in which they lived. Humanism evolved out of the rubbish of the apostate church.

Humanism is defined as an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems. Since the god of the church was of no help, humanity turned to itself to find meaning and answers for life.

Schaff notes: “Culture was substituted for Christianity, the worship of art and eloquence for reverence for truth and holiness. The Humanists sacrificed in secret and openly to the gods of Greece and Rome rather than to the God of the Bible”.[3] Sacrifice here is not killing animals on an altar to Zeus, it means art and literature.

Because the truth of the word of God was virtually unknown most “Humanists lived in flagrant violation of the moral code themselves and inclined to skepticism or outright paganism. . . . They advocated a return to the dictates of nature, which meant the impulses of the natural and sensuous man. The watchword, sequere naturam, “follow nature,” was launched as a philosophical principle”.[4]

In this was born the Renaissance of the 13th to the 17th centuries. It was born out of the spiritual death of the apostate church; it revived people’s ability to think for themselves and ultimately it gave rise to the Protestant Reformation.

But, the Humanism born out of that spiritual death was followed by a Hades with which we live today. There was a Reformation; There have been revivals; but because Humanism now is the cultural norm, the real church has been like a salmon swimming against the current to reach its home; in fact, Humanism is a philosophy that has infected so much of what calls itself the Christian Church in our day and age.

Today we live in a world-wide culture that is truly a Hades, a culture that separates people from God.

 



[1] Schaff,  History of the Christian Church,  Vol VI,  ppg. 768 & 769.

[2] Ibid,  Vol VI  pg. 606.

[3] Ibid,  pg. 607.

[4] Ibid,  pg. 609.