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When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” Revelation 6:5–6.


As the Glorified Christ opens the third seal, John hears the third living creature bid him to come and see. The third living creature is described in chapter 4:7 as having a face like a man. The rider of the red horse was nondescript, but we learned that his nature was to take the rule of the church out of the hands of the Glorified Christ.

The rider of this black horse is not described, but we see that his nature is entirely human and because of that he holds a pair of scales that adversely affects the church, virtually starving it to spiritual death. This period in the history of the church is known as Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, lasting from A.D. 311 to A.D. 600.

Those that are familiar with the Revelation teaching of the Church of God will notice that the dates we are using do not coincide with the dates painted on the Revelation charts with which we are familiar. As much as the teachers have proclaimed revealed light for some of the dates, some of those dates are arbitrary and suspect. While some of those dates may fit both the Revelation and the historical record, not all do. At this point in our study we are following recognized historical markings in the history of the Christian Church. While church history is full of dates, and many of them surround the time frames at which we are looking, we are not depending on any other than established dates and events to mark the eras of the seals.


The Black Horse


The horse depicted here is still the visible church-at-large and we see that its color has changed from red to black. The color black is mentioned only twice in the Revelation. The first time is here in connection with the third seal, and The second time is in V 12 in connection with the sixth seal where the sun is turned black as sackcloth.

The sun is considered to be symbolic of the word of God, and particularly the gospel or the NT in its entirety. In Malachi 4:1–2 we read a prophecy of the coming Christ.


“For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves.


The word sun is the word meaning the literal sun in the sky, and here used as a metaphor for the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle John follows the metaphor in chapter one of his gospel where he writes of Christ in verses 4–5, 9:


In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . . . That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.


Matthew Henry comments on the Sun of Righteousness:


Christ is the Sun that has light in himself, and is the fountain of light (Psa. 19:4–6); he is the Sun of righteousness, for he is himself a righteous Saviour. Righteousness is both the light and the heat of this Sun; the word of his righteousness is so; it guides, instructs, and quickens; so is the everlasting righteousness he has brought in. He is made of God to us righteousness; he is the Lord our righteousness, and therefore is fitly called the Sun of righteousness. Through him we are justified and sanctified, and so are brought to see light.


The sun being turned black as sackcloth under the sixth seal suggests that something happens to the teaching of the gospel that darkens it so that it no longer “gives light to every man coming into the world.” In the black horse of the third seal we find that something has happened to darken that light. What has happened here under Nicean and Post-Nicean Christianity is that the rider of the horse exchanged the great sword for a pair of scales.


The Scales


The scales are held in the hand of the rider of the horse, showing that he and he alone has the power to measure what is put into it. Scales are used to weigh some commodity against a standard weight before the commodity is given out to be consumed.

Under the third seal, the commodities being weighed are wheat and barley. The word barley appears only here in the Revelation and the word wheat appears here and in Revelation 18:13 where it is mentioned among the produce of Babylon that no one longer buys from its merchants. Of the barley and the wheat, under the third seal the wheat has more value than barley by a ratio of 1 to 3.

Bread can be made from wheat and barley; the wheat bread being better quality than the barley. Bread is common and necessary food and without bread people will starve to death. Jesus speaks at length in John 6:31–58 concerning the bread from heaven. In verses 47–48 Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life.” In verses 57–58 Jesus teaches that He as the bread of life is the source of both spiritual and eternal life.


As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.


As the episcopate of the church controlled the dissemination of the word of God by weighing it out through the Creed and the accepted writings of those that were called the Church Fathers, it became difficult for the people of the church to hear the unadulterated word of God.


Infant Papalism


By this time in history the alliance between the church and the state was firmly established. Schaff writes:


The christianizing of the state amounted therefore in great measure to a paganizing and secularizing of the church. The world overcame the church, as much as the church overcame the world, and the temporal gain of Christianity was in many respects cancelled by spiritual loss. The mass of the Roman empire was baptized only with water, not with the Spirit and fire of the gospel, and it smuggled heathen manners and practices into the sanctuary under a new name.[1]


The first pope in the proper sense of the word was Leo I, who reigned from A.D. 440–461. Schaff remarks that he was the first important theologian to sit in the papal chair.[2] But his theology was weighed in the balances and Schaff says of him, “But with him the interests of Christianity were identical with the universal dominion of the Roman church.”[3] As the rider of the black horse, Leo as architype of the papacy firmly grips the balances and rules with a fist of iron. Schaff continues:


Leo pronounces resistance to his authority to be impious pride and the sure way to hell. Obedience to the pope is thus necessary to salvation. Whosoever, ways he, is not with the apostolic see, that is, with the head of the body, whence all gifts of grace descend throughout the body, is not in the body of the church, and has no part in her grace. This is the fearful but legitimate logic of the papal principle, which confines the kingdom of God to the narrow lines of a particular organization, and makes the universal spiritual reign of Christ dependent on a temporal form and a human organ.


During this period the reading of the Bible was repressed by the spirit of man-rule that had taken over the church. Schaff points out, “No prohibition, indeed, was yet laid upon the reading of the Bible; but the presumption that it was a book of the priests and monks already existed.”[4]

This period was a time of doctrinal controversy and growing division among regional leaders of the church. Africa had become the intellectual center of the church while Rome and Constantinople vied for political supremacy of the church. Shaff tells us,


Emperors and civil officers also mixed in the business of theology, but for the most part to the prejudice of its free, internal development; for they imparted to all theological questions a political character, and entangled them with the cabals of court and the secular interests of the day.[5]


Scarcity of the Real Word


The common people of the church suffered because of the scarcity of the real word of God. Salvation was held to be dependent upon baptism and acceptance by the church rather than on personal faith in Christ and the work of His atonement. With the lack of spirituality among the people, substitutes such as the adoration of saints and use of relics were relied upon for true gospel graces unknown in this black horse time of the church. However, the desire to live holy was still alive among true believers and while this was no longer found in the congregational environment, asceticism and monasticism developed to fill that longing.

Asceticism was practiced in many different and often spectacular, if not horrifying ways, such as living in caves or in the deserts or other means of self-abuse. Asceticism was obviously too intense for the majority of sensitive people, so monasticism became an acceptable and desired option.

People wanting to live for Christ could join a group of likeminded people that separated themselves from the world in monasteries and live according to the set of rules of their monastery.  It was felt that the poverty and discipline of the separated life was the holiness Christ wanted from His people.


Do Not Harm, the Oil and the Wine


Infant papalism rode this black horse of the third seal and displays for us the undermining influence that degraded the church of Pergamos. You will recall that the Glorified Christ said that this church dwelled where Satan’s throne is. (2:13) The reason Satan’s throne was there is because that church while still holding to Christ’s name had given over to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.

The Nicene and Post-Nicene church had backed off the gospel of regeneration through the atonement in Christ and substituted its own brand of theology that ultimately vested the power of salvation in the office of the pope. But we are told by the Apostle John that while the wheat and barley were severely rationed, there was oil and wine that was not harmed. Ezekiel 31:12 gives us some idea of what oil and wine can mean in the light of this third seal.


Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, Streaming to the goodness of the LORD—For wheat and new wine and oil, For the young of the flock and the herd; Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, And they shall sorrow no more at all.


Here is a prophecy of the restoration of Israel from Babylonian captivity. However, there is in this prophecy a shadow of salvation under the gospel. First there is the coming to Zion, which in the NT is a metaphor for the church, the body of Christ to which people are added when they are saved out of sin’s captivity. Second, there is wheat, new wine and oil.

We have already considered wheat to be the teachings of the gospel. Wine was used by Jesus to represent His blood when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin. And oil was used by Jesus in some of His parables to represent the Holy Spirit, and salvation revealed in the gospel, purchased by the blood of Christ, is entered into by the new birth by being born of the Spirit.

John heard the living creature, the face of a man, tell the rider of the black horse not to harm the oil and the wine. While the gospel was being restricted from the people of the visible church-at-large, it still acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God. As people, grieved by their personal sin looked to Christ and placed their hope and faith in Him without the clear teaching of the gospel, the Holy Spirit would apply the merits of the blood of Christ to their hearts and they would be born again. Remember, those in the church at Pergamos that overcame received some of the hidden manna in spite of the fallen condition of their church.

[1] Schaff,  History of the Christian Church,  Vol III, pg. 93.

[2] Ibid,  pg. 315.

[3] Ibid,  pg. 317.

[4] Ibid,  pg. 610.

[5] Ibid,  pg. 601.