Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Revelation 6:8

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Animals;   Death;   Famine;   Hades;   Hell;   Horse;   Pale Horse;   Vision;   Scofield Reference Index - Remnant;   Thompson Chain Reference - Hades;   Hell;   The Topic Concordance - Day of the Lord;   Seals;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Horse, the;  
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Sheol;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Color, Symbolic Meaning of;   Hades;   Kill, Killing;   Prophet, Prophetess, Prophecy;   CARM Theological Dictionary - Hades;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Authority;   Famine and Drought;   Horse;   Horseman;   Number Systems and Number Symbolism;   Revelation, the Book of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Beast;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Arts;   Authority;   Colours;   Eschatology;   Famine;   Hades;   Horse;   Voice;   Wandering Stars;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Hell;   Horse;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Apollyon;   Authority in Religion;   Baptism (the Baptist Interpretation);   Famine;   Four;   Hades;   Revelation of John:;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

A pale horse - The symbol of death. Pallida mors, pale death, was a very usual poetic epithet; of this symbol there can be no doubt, because it is immediately said, His name that sat on him was Death.

And hell followed with him - The grave, or state of the dead, received the slain. This is a very elegant prosopopaeia, or personification.

Over the fourth part of the earth - One fourth of mankind was to feel the desolating effects of this seal.

To kill with sword - War; with hunger - Famine; with death - Pestilence; and with the beasts of the earth - lions, tigers, hyenas, etc., which would multiply in consequence of the devastations occasioned by war, famine, and pestilence.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

And I looked, and behold a pale horse - - ἵππος χλωρὸς hippos chlōrosOn the horse, as an emblem, see the notes on Revelation 6:2. The uniqueness of this emblem consists in the color of the horse, the rider, and the power that was given unto him. In these there is entire harmony, and there can be comparatively little difficulty in the explanation and application. The color of the horse was “pale” - χλωρὸς chlōrosThis word properly means “pale-green, yellowish-green,” like the color of the first shoots of grass and herbage; then green, verdant, like young herbage, Mark 6:39; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 9:4; and then pale yellowish (Robinson, Lexicon). The color here would be an appropriate one to denote the reign of death - as one of the most striking effects of death is paleness - and, of course, of death produced by any cause, famine, pestilence, or the sword. From this portion of the symbol, if it stood with nothing to limit and define it, we should naturally look for some condition of things in which death would prevail in a remarkable manner, or in which multitudes of human beings would be swept away. And yet, perhaps, from the very nature of this part of the symbol, we should look for the prevalence of death in some such peaceful manner as by famine or disease. The red color would more naturally denote the ravages of death in war; the black, the ravages of death by sudden calamity; the pale would more obviously suggest famine or wasting disease.

And his name that sat on him was Death - No description is given of his aspect; nor does he appear with any emblem - as sword, or spear, or bow. There is evident scope for the fancy to picture to itself the form of the destroyer; and there is just that kind of obscurity about it which contributes to sublimity. Accordingly, there has been ample room for the exercise of the imagination in the attempts to paint “Death on the pale horse,” and the opening of this seal has furnished occasion for some of the greatest triumphs of the pencil The simple idea in this portion of the symbol is, that death would reign or prevail under the opening of this seal - whether by sword, by famine, or by pestilence, is to be determined by other descriptions in the symbol.

And Hell followed with him - Attended him as he went forth. On the meaning of the word rendered here as “hell” - ᾍδης HadēsHades - see the Luke 16:23 note, compare the Job 10:21-22 notes; Isaiah 14:9 note. It is used here to denote the abode of the dead, considered as a place where they dwell, and not in the more restricted sense in which the word is now commonly used as a place of punishment. The idea is, that the dead would be so numerous at the going forth of this horseman, that it would seem as if the pale nations of the dead had come again upon the earth. A vast retinue of the dead would accompany him; that is, it would be a time when death would prevail on the earth, or when multitudes would die.

And power was given unto them - Margin, to him. The common Greek text is αὐτοὶς autois- “to them.” There are many mss., however, which read αὐτῷ autō- “to him.” So Prof. Stuart reads it. The authority, however, is in favor of them as the reading; and according to this, death and his train are regarded as grouped together, and the power is considered as given to them collectively. The sense is not materially varied.

Over the fourth part of the earth - That is, of the Roman world. It is not absolutely necessary to understand this as extending over precisely a fourth part of the world. Compare Revelation 8:7-10, Revelation 8:12; Revelation 9:15, et al. Undoubtedly we are to look in the fulfillment of this to some far-spread calamity; to some severe visitations which would sweep off great multitudes of people. The nature of that visitation is designated in the following specifications.

To kill with sword - In war and discord - and we are, therefore, to look to a period of wax.

And with hunger - With famine - one of the accompaniments of war - where armies ravage a nation, trampling down the crops of grain; consuming the provisions laid up; employing in war, or cutting off, the people who would be occupied in cultivating the ground; making it necessary that they should take the field at a time when the grain should be sown or the harvest collected; and shutting up the people in besieged cities to perish by hunger. Famine has been not an infrequent accompaniment of war; and we are to look for the fulfillment of this in its extensive prevalence.

And with death - Each of the other forms - “with the sword and with hunger” - imply that death would reign; for it is said that “power was given to kill with sword and with hunger.” This word, then, must refer to death in some other form - to death that seemed to reign without any such visible cause as the “sword” and “hunger.” This would well denote the pestilence - not an infrequent accompaniment of war. For nothing is better suited to produce this than the unburied bodies of the slain; the filth of a camp; the want of food; and the crowding together of multitudes in a besieged city; and, accordingly, the pestilence, especially in Oriental countries, has been often closely connected with war. That the pestilence is referred to here is rendered more certain by the fact that the Hebrew word דבר deber“pestilence,” which occurs about fifty times in the Old Testament, is rendered θάνατος thanatos“death,” more than thirty times in the Septuagint.

And with the beasts of the earth - With wild beasts. This, too, would be one of the consequences of war, famine, and pestilence. Lands would be depopulated, and wild beasts would be multiplied. Nothing more is necessary to make them formidable than a prevalence of these things; and nothing, in the early stages of society, or in countries ravaged by war, famine, and the pestilence, is more formidable. Homer, at the very beginning of his Iliad, presents us with a representation similar to this. Compare Ezekiel 14:21; “I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence,” דבר deber- Septuagint, as here, θάνατον thanatonSee also 2 Kings 17:26.

In regard to the fulfillment of this there can be little difficulty, if the principles adopted in the interpretation of the first three seals are correct. We may turn to Gibbon, and, as in the other cases, we shall find that he has been an unconscious witness of the fidelity of the representation in this seal. Two general remarks may be made before there is an attempt to illustrate the particular things in the symbol:

(a) The first relates to the place in the order of time, or in history, which this seal occupies. If the three former seals have been located with any degree of accuracy, we should expect that this would follow, not very remotely, the severe laws pertaining to taxation, which, according to Mr. Gibbon, contributed so essentially to the downfall of the empire. And if it be admitted to be probable that the fifth seal refers to a time of persecution, it would be most natural to fix this period between those times and the times of Diocletian, when the persecution ceased. I may be permitted to say, that I was led to fix on this period without having any definite view beforehand of what occurred in it, and was surprised to find in Mr. Gibbon what seems to be so accurate a correspondence with the symbol.

(b) The second remark is, that the general characteristics of this period, as stated by Mr. Gibbon, agree remarkably with what we should expect of the period from the symbol. Thus, speaking of this whole period (248-268 a.d.), embracing the reigns of Decius, Gallus, Aemilianus, Valerian, and Gallienus, he says, “From the great secular games celebrated by Philip to the death of the emperor Gallienus, there elapsed twenty years of shame and misfortune. During this calamitous period every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted by barbarous invaders and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its dissolution,” i. 135.

In regard to the particular things referred to in the symbol, the following specifications may furnish a sufficient confirmation and illustration:

(a) The killing with the sword. A fulfillment of this, so far as the words are concerned, might be found indeed in many portions of Roman history, but no one can doubt that it was eminently true of this period. It was the period of the first Gothic invasion of the Roman empire; the period when those vast hordes, having gradually come down from the regions of Scandinavia, and having moved along the Danube toward the Ukraine and the countries bordering on the Borysthenes, invaded the Roman territories from the East, passed over Greece, and made their appearance almost, as Mr. Gibbon says, within sight of Rome. Of this invasion Mr. Gibbon says, “This is the first considerable occasion (the fact that the emperor Decius was summoned to the banks of the Danube, 250 a.d., by the invasion of the Goths) in which history mentions that great people, who afterward broke the Roman power, sacked the Capitol, and reigned in Gaul, Spain, and Italy. So memorable was the part which they acted in the subversion of the Western empire, that the name of Goths is frequently, but improperly, used as a general appellation of rude and warlike barbarism,” i. p. 136.

As one of the illustrations that the “sword” would be used by “Death” in this period, we may refer to the siege and capture of Philippolis. “A hundred thousand persons are reported to have been massacred in the sack of that great city” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, i. 140). “The whole period,” says Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, “was one uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity. The Roman empire was, at the same time, and on every side, attacked by the blind fury of foreign invaders, and the wild ambition of domestic usurpers,” i. 144. “Such were the barbarians,” says Mr. Gibbon in the close of his description of the Goths at this period, and of the tyrants that reigned, “and such the tyrants, who, under the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, dismembered the provinces, and reduced the empire to the lowest pitch of disgrace and ruin, from whence it seemed impossible that it should ever emerge,” i. 158.

(b) Famine: “Shall kill with hunger.” This would naturally be the consequence of long-continued wars, and of such invasions as those of the Goths. Mr. Gibbon says of this period: “Our habits of thinking so fondly connect the order of the universe with the fate of man, that this gloomy period of history has been decorated with inundations, earthquakes, uncommon meteors, preternatural darkness, and a crowd of prodigies, fictitious or exaggerated. But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present, and the hope of future harvests,” i. p. 159. Prodigies, and preternatural darkness, and earthquakes, were not seen in the vision of the opening of the seal - but war and famine were; and the facts stated by Mr. Gibbon are such as would be now appropriately symbolized by Death on the pale horse.

(c) Pestilence: “And shall kill with death.” Of the pestilence which raged in this period Mr. Gibbon makes the following remarkable statement, in immediate connection with what he says of the famine: “Famine is almost always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes must, however, have contributed to the furious plague, which, from the year 250 to the year 265, raged without interruption in every province, every city, and almost every family of the Roman empire. During some time five thousand persons died daily at Rome; and many towns that had escaped the hands of the barbarians were entirely depopulated,” i. 159.

(d) Wild beasts: “And shall kill with the beasts of the earth.” As already remarked, these are formidable enemies in the early stages of society, and when a country becomes, from any cause, depopulated. They are not mentioned by Mr. Gibbon as contributing to the decline and fall of the empire, or as connected with the calamities that came upon the world at that period. But no one can doubt that in such circumstances they would be likely to abound, especially if the estimate of Mr. Gibbon be correct (i. 159), when speaking of these times, and making an estimate of the proportion of the inhabitants of Alexandria that had perished - which he says was more than one-half - he adds, “Could we venture to extend the analogy to the other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed in a few years the moiety of the human species.” Yet, though not adverted to by Mr. Gibbon, there is a record pertaining to this very period, which shows that this was one of the calamities with which the world was then afflicted.

It occurs in Arnobius, Adv. Gentes, lib. i. p. 5. Within a few years after the death of Gallienus (about 300 a.d.) he speaks of wild beasts in such a manner as to show that they were regarded as a sore calamity. The public peril and suffering on this account were so great, that in common with other evils this was charged on Christians as one of the judgments of heaven which they brought upon the world. In defending Christians against the general charge that these judgments were sent from heaven on their account, he adverts to the prevalence of wild beasts, and shows that they could not have been sent as a judgment on account of the existence of Christianity, by the fact that they had prevailed also in the times of paganism, long before Christianity was introduced into the empire. “Quando cum feris bella, et proelia cum leonibus gesta sunt? Non ante nos? Quando pernicies populis venenatis ab anguibus data est? Non ante nos?” “When were wars waged with wild beasts, and contests with lions? Was it not before our times? When did a plague come upon people poisoned by serpents? Was it not before our times?”

In regard to the extent of the destruction which these causes would bring upon the world, there is a remarkable confirmation in Gibbon. To say, as is said in the account of the seal, that “a fourth part of the earth” would be subjected to the reign of death by the sword, by famine, by pestilence, and by wild beasts, may seem to many to be an improbable statement - a statement for the fulfillment of which we should look in vain to any historical records. Yet Mr. Gibbon, without expressly mentioning the plague of wild beasts, but referring to the three others - “war, pestilence, and famine” - goes into a calculation, in a passage already referred to, by which he shows that it is probable that from these causes half the human race was destroyed. The following is his estimate: “We have the knowledge of a very curious circumstance, of some use perhaps in the melancholy calculation of human calamities. An exact register was kept at Alexandria of all the citizens entitled to receive the distribution of grain. It was found that the ancient number of those comprised between the ages of forty and seventy had been equal to the whole sum of claimants, from fourteen to fourscore years of age, who remained alive after the reign of Gallienus. Applying this authentic fact to the most correct tables of mortality, it evidently proves that above half the people of Alexandria had perished; and could we venture to extend the analogy to the other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed in a few years the moiety of the human species,” i. 159. The historian says that it might be “suspected” from these data that one-half of the human race had been cut off in a few years, from these causes; in the Apocalyptic vision it is said that power was given over one “fourth” of the earth. We may remark:

(a) that the description in the symbol is as likely to be correct as the “suspicion” of the historian; and,

(b) that his statement that in this period “a moiety of the race,” or one-half of the race, perished, takes away all improbability from the prediction, and gives a most graphic confirmation of the symbol of Death on the pale horse. If such a desolation in fact occurred, there is no improbability in the supposition that it might have been prefigured by the opening of a prophetic seal. Such a widespread desolation would be likely to be referred to in a series of symbols that were designed to represent the downfall of the Roman power, and the great changes in human affairs that would affect the welfare of the church.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And I looked, and behold a pale horse,.... An emblem either of the state of the church, pale not with persecution, as some think, for through that it was red; but with the hypocrisy and superstition of many of its members, who were paving the way for the man of sin, and on account of whom the church was grown sickly and dying; or rather this is an emblem of the sickly and dying state of the Pagan Roman empire, through a complication of judgments upon it, hereafter mentioned, as war, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts:

and his name that sat on him was Death; not Satan, who has the power of death, but death itself; who is represented as a person, as he elsewhere is, sometimes as a king, Romans 5:14; and as an enemy, 1 Corinthians 15:25; see Isaiah 28:15; and this was a very ancient way of speaking of death among the Heathens; in the theology of the Phoenicians, according to SanchoniathonF11Apud Euseb. Prepar. Evangel. l. 2. p. 38. , who wrote before the Trojan wars, a son of Saturn by Rhea was called Muth, whom the Phoenicians sometimes called Death, and sometimes Pluto; which is manifestly the same with the Hebrew word מות, "death"; the name of the rider of this horse may well be called Death, both with respect to the various kinds of death under this seal, and with respect to the short lives of the emperors; for in less than fifty years' time, which is the period of this seal, namely, from Maximinus, A. D. 235, or 237, to Dioclesian, A. D. 284, or 286, there were more than twenty emperors, and who most of them were cut off by violent deaths; besides the thirty tyrants who sprung up under one of them, as so many mushrooms, and were soon destroyed. This is the only rider that has a name given him; and from hence we may learn what to call the rest, as the rider of the white horse "Truth", or Christ, who is truth itself; the rider of the red horse "War"; and the rider of the black horse "Famine": and because both the last, with other judgments, meet together under this seal, the rider of this horse is emphatically called "Death":

and hell followed with him: that is, the grave, which attended on death, or followed after him, and was a sort of an undertaker, to bury the dead killed by death; so these two are put together, Revelation 1:18;

and power was given unto them; to death and hell, or the grave, or rather to death only, for the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, read, "to him": and the power that was given him reached

over the fourth part of the earth; not of the church, which is never called the earth in this book, but is distinguished from it, Revelation 12:16; nor the land of Judea, but the Roman empire; some understand it of Europe, the fourth part of the world:

to kill with the sword; Maximinus, with whom this seal begins, was of a very barbarous disposition, and a more cruel creature, it is said, was not upon earth; and besides his persecution of the Christians, he acted a most inhuman part to the Pagan Romans themselves, so that the senate dreaded him; and the women and children at Rome, having heard of his barbarities, deprecated his ever seeing that city; and he was called by the names of the worst of tyrants; more than four thousand men he killed without any charge or judicial process against them, and yet his blood thirsty mind was not satisfiedF12Capitolinus in Vita ejus. : Gallienus, another emperor after him, emptied many cities entirely of men, and killed three or four thousand a day of his own soldiers, whom he understood had thoughts of a new emperorF13Pollio in Vita Gallieni. ; under him thirty tyrants sprung up together in the empire, who made great havoc before they were cut off; and in his time the Alemanni (a people in Germany) having wasted France, broke into Italy; Dacia, which beyond the Danube was added by Trajan (to the Roman empire) was lost; Greece, Macedonia, Pontus, and Asia, were destroyed by the Goths; Pannonia was depopulated by (the people called) Sarmatae and Quadi; the Germans penetrated into Spain, and took the famous city of Tarracon; the Parthians having seized Mesopotamia, began to claim Syria to themselves; so that, as the Roman historian observesF14Eutropius, l. 9. , things were now desperate, and the Roman empire was almost destroyed: not to take notice of the multitudes that were killed in after wars and persecutions, under other emperors, during this seal:

and with hunger; or famine; there was a grievous famine in the times of Gallus and Volusianus, which Dionysius bishop of Alexandria makes mention ofF15Apud Euseb. Hist. Eccl. l. 7. c. 22. ; and Cyprian, who lived under this seal, also speaks of famine, and indeed of all these three, war, famine, and pestilence, as then imputed to the Christians, and to their irreligion, which charge he removesF16Ad Demetrianum, p. 278. :

and with death; that is, with the pestilence, which, by the TargumistF17Targum in 1 Chron. xxi. 12, 14, 17. & in 2 Chron. vi. 28. & xx. 9. , and other Jewish writersF18T. Bab. Taanith, fol. 8. 2. & Sanhedrin, fol. 29. 1. , is commonly called מותנא, "death", because it sweeps away and carries off such large numbers with it: now in the reign of the last mentioned emperors was a very noisome pestilence, which raged most cruelly; the Roman historian saysF19Eutrop. l. 9. , that their reign is only known, or was famous, for the pestilence, diseases, and sicknesses; Hostilianus, who was created emperor by the senate, died of itF20Victor. Aurel. de Caesaribus, & Epitome. ; Dionysius of Alexandria has given a most shocking account of it, who lived at the same timeF21Apud Euseb. l. 7. c. 21, 22. ; it began in Ethiopia, and went through the east, and through all parts of the Roman empire, and lasted fifteen years; to which perhaps, for its large extent and long duration, there never was the like:

and with the beasts of the earth; by which many of the Christians were destroyed in the persecutions of those times; and is also one of God's four judgments, and which goes about with the sword, famine, and pestilence, Ezekiel 14:21, and may be literally understood of destruction by wild beasts, as Arnobius, who lived at this time, observesF23Adv. Gentes, l. 1. p. 13. ; or allegorically, of men comparable to wild beasts, as Herod is called a fox, and Nero a lion; and such savage creatures were most of the Roman emperors, and particularly the thirty tyrants under Gallienus: so the Targum on Jeremiah 3:12; interprets "the beasts of the field", מלכי עממיא, "the kings of the nations". The Alexandrian copy reads, "and upon the fourth part of the beasts", as if the power of death reached to them as well as to men. Under this seal all the judgments of God on Rome Pagan meet together; and it is observable that Maximinus, a Roman emperor, and one of the last of the Pagans, boasted, that for worshipping of the gods, and persecuting Of the Christians, neither pestilence, famine, nor war, were in his times, when on a sudden all these three came together at onceF24Euseb. l. 9. c. 8. ; to which may be added the following observation, that though the several steps and methods which God took to punish, weaken, and destroy the Roman Pagan empire, were remarkably seen in the distinct periods to which these first four seals belong, yet they must not be entirely restrained and limited to these periods, as if they were not made use of in others; so though the Gospel proceeded with remarkable success under the first seal, in the times of the apostles, to the subduing of multitudes in the Roman empire, it was also preached with great success under the following seals; and though there were most grievous wars under the second seal, in the times of Trajan and Adrian, so there were also in after times; that was not the only period of war, though it was remarkably so; likewise there was a famine in the times of Claudius, under the first seal, Acts 11:28; and in the time of Trajan, under the second sealF25Aurel. Victor. Epitome. , and of CommodusF26Herodian, l. 1. c. 37. as well as under the third; and there were pestilences also in those times, as well as under the fourth seal; and because God did by each of these weaken, break, and at last bring to ruin that empire, they are showed to John one after another.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

pale — “livid” [Alford].

Death — personified.

HellHades personified.

unto themDeath and Hades. So A, C read. But B and Vulgate read, “to him.”

fourth part of the earth — answering to the first four seals; his portion as one of the four, being a fourth part.

death — pestilence; compare Ezekiel 14:21 with the four judgments here, the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts; the famine the consequence of the sword; pestilence, that of famine; and beasts multiplying by the consequent depopulation.

with the beastsGreek, “by”; more direct agency. These four seals are marked off from the three last, by the four living creatures introducing them with “Come." The calamities indicated are not restricted to one time, but extend through the whole period of Church history to the coming of Christ, before which last great and terrible day of the Lord they shall reach highest aggravation. The first seal is the summary, Christ going forth conquering till all enemies are subdued under Him, with a view to which the judgments subsequently specified accompany the preaching of the Gospel for a witness to all nations.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

A pale horse (ιππος χλωροςhippos chlōros). Old adjective. Contracted from χλοεροςchloeros (from χλοηchloē tender green grass) used of green grass (Mark 6:39; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 9:4), here for yellowish, common in both senses in old Greek, though here only in N.T. in this sense, greenish yellow. We speak of a sorrel horse, never of a green horse. Zechariah (Zechariah 6:3) uses ποικιλοςpoikilos (grizzled or variegated). Homer used χλωροςchlōros of the ashen colour of a face blanched by fear (pallid) and so the pale horse is a symbol of death and of terror.

His name was Death (ονομα αυτωι ο τανατοςonoma autōi ho thanatos). Anacoluthon in grammatical structure like that in John 3:1 (cf. Revelation 2:26) and common enough. Death is the name of this fourth rider (so personified) and there is with Death “his inseparable comrade, Hades (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 20:13.)” (Swete). Hades (αιδηςhāidēs alpha privative, and ιδεινidein to see, the unseen) is the abode of the dead, the keys of which Christ holds (Revelation 1:18).

Followed (ηκολουτειēkolouthei). Imperfect active of ακολουτεωakoloutheō kept step with death, whether on the same horse or on another horse by his side or on foot John does not say.

Over the fourth part of the earth (επι το τεταρτον της γηςepi to tetarton tēs gēs). Partitive genitive γηςgēs after τεταρτονtetarton Wider authority (εχουσιαexousia) was given to this rider than to the others, though what part of the earth is included in the fourth part is not indicated.

To kill (αποκτειναιapokteinai). First aorist active infinitive of αποκτεινωapokteinō explanation of the εχουσιαexousia (authority). The four scourges of Ezekiel 14:21 are here reproduced with instrumental ενen with the inanimate things (ρομπαιαι λιμωι τανατωιromphaiāiυποlimōi thanatōi) and τηριωνhupo for the beasts (τανατωιthēriōn). Death here (λοιμοςthanatōi) seems to mean pestilence as the Hebrew does (λιμοςloimos - cf. limos famine). Cf. the “black death” for a plague.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Vincent's Word Studies

Pale ( χλωρὸς )

Only in Revelation, except Mark 6:39. Properly, greenish-yellow, like young grass or unripe wheat. Homer applies it to honey, and Sophocles to the sand. Generally, pale, pallid. Used of a mist, of sea-water, of a pale or bilious complexion. Thucydides uses it of the appearance of persons stricken with the plague (ii., 49). In Homer it is used of the paleness of the face from fear, and so as directly descriptive of fear (“Iliad,” x., 376; xv., 4). Of olive wood (“Odyssey,” ix., 320,379) of which the bark is gray. Gladstone says that in Homer it indicates rather the absence than the presence of definite color. In the New Testament, always rendered green, except here. See Mark 6:39; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 9:14.


Properly, Hades. The realm of the dead personified. See on Matthew 16:18.

Power ( ἐξουσία )

See on Mark 2:10; see on 2 Peter 2:11. Rev., better, authority.

With the sword ( ἐν ῥομφαίᾳ )

Another word for sword. Compare Revelation 6:4, and see on Luke 2:35.

With death ( ἐι θανάτῳ )

Or pestilence. The Hebrew deber pestilence, is rendered by the Greek word for death in the Septuagint. See Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 21:7. Compare the term black-death applied to an Oriental plague which raged in the fourteenth century.

With the beasts ( ὑπὸ τῶν θηρίων )

Rev., by. The preposition ὑπό byis used here instead of ἐν inor with, indicating more definitely the actual agent of destruction; while ἐν denotes the element in which the destruction takes place, and gives a general indication of the manner in which it was wrought. With these four judgments compare Ezekiel 14:21.

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Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

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.

And I saw, and behold a pale horse — Suitable to pale death, his rider.

And hades — The representative of the state of separate souls.

Followeth even with him — The four first seals concern living men. Death therefore is properly introduced. Hades is only occasionally mentioned as a companion of death. So the fourth seal reaches to the borders of things invisible, which are comprised in the three last seals.

And power was given to him over the fourth part of the earth — What came single and in a lower degree before, comes now together, and much more severely. The first seal brought victory with it: in the second was "a great sword;" but here a scimitar. In the third was moderate dearth; here famine, and plague, and wild beasts beside. And it may well be, that from the time of Trajan downwards, the fourth part of men upon the earth, that is, within the Roman empire, died by sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. "At that time," says Aurelius Victor, "the Tyber overflowed much more fatally than under Nerva, with a great destruction of houses and there was a dreadful earthquake through many provinces, and a terrible plague and famine, and many places consumed by fire." By death - That is, by pestilence wild beasts have, at several times, destroyed abundance of men; and undoubtedly there was given them, at this time, an uncommon fierceness and strength. It is observable that war brings on scarcity, and scarcity pestilence, through want of wholesome sustenance; and pestilence, by depopulating the country, leaves the few survivors an easier prey to the wild beasts. And thus these judgments make way for one another in the order wherein they are here represented. What has been already observed may be a fourfold proof that the four horsemen, as with their first entrance in the reign of Trajan, (which does by no means exhaust the contents of the four first seals,) so with all their entrances in succeeding ages, and with the whole course of the world and of visible nature, are in all ages subject to Christ, subsisting by his power, and serving his will, against the wicked, and in defence of the righteous. Herewith, likewise, a way is paved for the trumpets which regularly succeed each other; and the whole prophecy, as to what is future, is confirmed by the clear accomplishment of this part of it.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

The symbol of ruin and destruction. That these visions of the four horses accompanying the opening of the first four seals are intended, severally, to denote invasion, slaughter, famine, and destruction, as above explained, is clear; and it is probable that they are designed to prefigure the onset of these calamities in a general sense. Various attempts have been made by different commentators to give to each one an application to some particular event in history, but without much success; for, during several centuries after these predictions were recorded, perpetual storms of war, pestilence, and famine, ravaged the world; and there seems to be nothing to limit the application of the visions to any specific cases. Hence every independent commentator, who has attempted a limitation, has varied from the others in the selection of events to which he supposes the symbols to refer.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". 1878.

Scofield's Reference Notes


(See Scofield "Luke 16:23").

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Revelation 6:8". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". 1917.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death.’

Revelation 6:8

There are times when the near presence and the invincible power of death are felt with peculiar solemnity. What St. John saw in apocalyptic vision we see in solemn and often startling reality.

I. The ride of death.

(a) It is long. Death has been with us as long as man has been on the globe.

(b) It is powerful. Death triumphs now over everything and everybody. The sovereign on the throne; the peasant in the cottage must alike come under its power.

II. The fight with death.—Yet for the Christian death has lost its terrors because of the resurrection of the Lord of life. He confers on all that freely and fully acccept Him as their Saviour and Lord a life—

(a) Which is spiritual and therefore real.

(b) Which is holy and therefore noble and blessed.

(c) Which is eternal. What we call death is only the passage into a brighter and ampler life.

III. The final overthrow of death.—That glorious time will come when Jesus Christ shall reign, and when all enemies shall be subdued beneath His feet. And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

8 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.

Ver. 8. A pale horse] Fit for pestilence and pale death to ride on.

And hell followed] sc. To them that were killed with death, Revelation 2:23; {See Trapp on "Revelation 2:23"} that died in their sins, which is far worse than to die in a ditch.

Over the fourth part of the earth] That is, of the Roman empire. This happened in the days of Decius; Oresius bearing witness that the pestilence which then raged did extend no further quam ad profligandas ecelesias edicta Decii cucurrerunt, that is, than the proclamations of Decius came for the overthrow of the Churches.

And with death.] i.e. The pestilence, that harbinger and purveyor of death: this is somewhere called "God’s evil angel;" and by ecclesiastical writers mortality. Hippocrates calleth it το θειον, the divine stroke, because God hath a special hand in it.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Revelation 6:8. χλωρὸς) χλωρὸς, ch. Revelation 8:7, is green; but here it is pale, ὠχρός, which sense is confirmed by Eustathius: as also the Septuagint renders the Hebrew ירק by each of these Greek words.— ἐξουσία ἐπὶ τὸ τέταρτον) There is a similar construction, ἐπὶ with an accusative, ch. Revelation 16:9.— ἐν θανάτῳ) by pestilence. דבר pestilence; Septuagint, θάνατος, Exodus 9:3; 2 Samuel 24:13, and repeatedly. [An accumulation of different calamities.—V. g.]

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

A pale horse; a horse of the colour of his rider,

Death, which makes men look pale, and bringeth them into the state of the dead, (here translated hell), whether heaven or hell, as they have lived.

And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth; over a great part of the earth.

To kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth; to kill men all manner of ways, with the sword, famine, pestilence, and by throwing them to wild beasts. Interpreters judge that here was prophesied what should happen to the Roman empire, and the church within it, from the time when Maximinus was made emperor, which was about the year 237, to the time of Aurelianus, which was about 271. Some extend it to Dioclesian’s time, which ended about 294; but Mr. Mede rather reserveth that for the fifth seal. If the former time only be taken in, there was within it the seventh, eighth, and ninth persecutions; Dioclesian began the tenth and greatest of all. Within this time this prophecy was eminently fulfilled: Maximinus destroyed all the towns in Germany, for three or four hundred miles. There was a plague lasted fifteen years together in the time of Gallus, who had the empire Anno 255. Three hundred and twenty thousand Goths were slain by Flavius Claudius. Maximinus and Gallienus were both great butchers, both to their own subjects that were heathens, and to Christians. Gallienus is said to have killed three or four thousand every day. Such wars and devastations could not but be followed with famine; besides that we are confirmed in it, both by the testimony of Eusebius and Cyprian, the latter of whom lived within this period.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

конь бледный Словом «бледный» передается греческое слово, от которого произошли английское и русское «хлорофилл»; оно называет бледный пепельно-зеленый цвет, который присущ разлагающемуся трупу. Бог дает этому всаднику право истребить до 25% населения мира.

ад См. пояснение к Лк. 16:23. Место для мертвых, которое обычно называется в одном ряду со смертью (20:13; см. пояснение к 1:18).

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

A pale horse; the original denotes the ghastly paleness of a corpse. By this awful symbol destruction in multiplied forms is indicated.

Hell; that is, Hades, the abode of the dead. Hades follows death to swallow in its abyss those whom death has slain.

The fourth part of the earth; see note to chapter Revelation 8:7.

With sword-hunger-death, and with the beasts of the earth; four destroying agents to slay the fourth part of men. Compare Ezekiel 14:21, from which the imagery is taken; also Jeremiah 15:3, where also four destroyers are named. Not only famine, but pestilence and all destructive judgments are under divine control; and whenever God pleases, he can desolate cities, sweep off nations, and consign their inhabitants to utter ruin.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Family Bible New Testament". American Tract Society. 1851.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

John next saw an ashen (lit. pale green) horse the color of a human corpse. Presumably Antichrist, the cause of this death, is the rider since his name is "Death." [Note: Swete, p88; Lange, p165; Lenski, p224; et al.] "Hades," which claims unbelieving people"s immaterial part at death, followed on his heels. Death claims the material part of the person and Hades the immaterial part. Perhaps John saw Hades following Death as a man on foot followed a mounted warrior grimly gathering in his victims, or as a hearse followed a horse.

God gave death and Hades authority to take one-fourth of the world"s population. This evidently is the total number that will die as a result of all the catastrophes predicted so far. These catastrophes are war, the resulting famine, and disease. Attacks by wild animals will also contribute to the death rate (cf. Jeremiah 15:2-3; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 29:17-18; Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 14:21). Presently the world"s population is about five billion people. These initial calamities would reduce that number by one and one-half billion. It seems that nuclear war could play some role in this devastation since so many people will die in these judgments.

Beale believed the four devilish forces and their four kinds of woe falling on a fourth of humanity represent "all the ways that death can come and which all result in death." [Note: Beale, p382.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

looked = saw, as Revelation 6:1.

pale = livid. Greek. chloros; in Revelation 8:7; Revelation 9:4. Mark 6:39, rendered "green".

and . . . Death. "Literally and the one sitting on (Greek. epano, first occ Matthew 2:9, "over") him, the name to him (is) Death.

Death. By Metonymy (of Effect) (App-6) = pestilence. Famine is invariably followed by pestilence. Here, Death and Hades are personified. Compare Revelation 9:11.

Hell. App-131.

power. App-172.

fourth. See App-10.

beasts = wild beasts. Greek. therion. Occurs thirty-eight times in Rev., thirty-seven of "the beast". And here it may indicate the nations supporting "the beast". See Dan 7 for the Divine description of "the powers" as "wild beasts".

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

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.

Pale, [ chlooros (Greek #5515)].

Death - personified.

Hell - Hades.

Unto them - Death and Hades. So A 'Aleph (') C but B, Vulgate, read, 'to him.'

Fourth part of the earth - his portion, as one of the first four seals, being a fourth.

With ... with ... with - IN [ en (Greek #1722)].

Death - pestilence (cf. Ezekiel 14:21, with God's four judgments here-the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts: famine resulting from the sword; pestilence from famine; and beasts multiplying by the consequent depopulation).

With the beasts, [ hupo (Greek #5259)] - by: direct agency. These four seals are marked off from the three last by the four living creatures introducing them with "Come." The calamities indicated are not restricted to one time, but extend through the whole of church history to the coming of Christ, before which last great day of the Lord they shall reach their height. The first seal is the summary-Christ going forth on His white horse (as in Revelation 19:11), conquering, until all enemies are subdued (Psalms 110:1); with a view to which the subsequent judgments accompany the preaching of the Gospel, for a witness to all nations.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

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.
Zechariah 6:3
was Death
20:13,14; Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14; Habakkuk 2:5; 1 Corinthians 15:55; *marg:
unto them
or, to him. over.
8:7-12; 9:15,18; 12:4
Leviticus 26:22-33; Jeremiah 15:2,3; 16:4,16; 43:11; Ezekiel 5:15-17; 14:13-21
Reciprocal: 2 Samuel 24:15 - the Lord;  Job 18:13 - the firstborn;  Psalm 105:16 - Moreover;  Revelation 2:23 - with death;  Revelation 14:1 - I looked

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

When the fourth seal was broken John saw a pale horse which indicates death. That calmity would come first as a result of the terrible famine which the war had brought about, and it was made worse by the persecutions that were fostered by the Pagan Roman Empire. Death and hell are named in the order they would observe in their occurrence. The word hell is from Hades which is the abode of departed spirits. It was logical therefore to name them in the order as stated. Power . . . over the fourth part of the earth. God never did suffer the enemy to exterminate completely the victims attacked. The general purpose of the enemy was to k-ill. The means by which it might be accomplished we-re various, such as with the .sword and hunger. With either of these the death would be a direct result of the means used. With death might seem a meaningless phrase unless it is understood that it refers to some indirect means such as a pestilence. Another means of causing the death of the Lord"s people was to expose them to vicious beasts as was done in the arenas of Rome.

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Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.

Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation

Revelation 6:8

Revelation 6:8 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.

And I looked, and behold,

that Isaiah, John looked and called upon the others to behold, to consider, and take special notice of this fourth dispensation of God, both in his church, and in the world.

A pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him, &c..

This pale horse (by a metonymy of the effect) doth signify the several kinds of death, which effected by the sword, the famine, the pestilence, and the wild beasts. For by what judgements of God forever men are killed, it is named or called death. And Death's companion is hell, that is adhv, the place of the dead; that Isaiah, the grave, which followed the death of them that were killed by there judgments, in the fourth part of the habitable earth; that is Europe. The geometers divide the inhabited earth (where men and women dwell) into four parts, Africa, Asia, America, and Europe; and all historians tell us, that these judgments of God were executed upon the European empire, and kingdoms thereof, in the days of the Roman pagan emperors. See Sympson's Ecclesiastical History, and Fox's Tables of the Tortures of Christians.

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Knollys, Hanserd. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Hanserd Knollys' Commentary on Revelation".

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Fourth seal—of fourfold DEATH, Revelation 6:7-8.

8.A pale horse—Literally, a green horse; or, as Alford, “when used of flesh implies that greenish pallor which we know as livid; the colour of the corpse in incipient decay, or of the complexion extremely pale through disease.” Death, as riding the horse, was, of course, beheld as a personal being. Hell, hades, is supposed by Stuart to be personified here as well as in Revelation 20:14. It certainly is personified in 1 Corinthians 15:55. But that it is in either case so fully personified as to be shaped into form and figure we doubt. We rather conceive hades, here, to be a shadowy vague, a moving nebulous region, a ghostly receptacle for the souls of men slain by death, and for that purpose following in his track.

Fourth part—A limitation divine in its origin, (as indicated by given in previous clause,) yet expressed by the creational fourth as being wrought through creational or secondary causations. Notes on Revelation 9:5; Revelation 9:15.

To kill with—The creational four.

Hunger—Unlike the third symbol, this is deadly famine.

With death—Grotius says, “By the term death, here, according to a Hebraism, we are to understand pestilence. For so death is taken in Jeremiah 9:21; Jeremiah 18:21. So, in the Son of Sirach we read, (Sirach 39:29,) ‘pestilence and death,’ where death undoubtedly signifies pestilence. The Syriac, also, as well here as on Luke, renders the Greek word for pestilence by the Hebrew death; and the Septuagint, as well as the Chaldaic and Latin, translate the Hebrew for pestilence by death.” In Ezekiel 14:21, God says, “I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem—the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence.”

In conclusion, upon the four creational symbols we may note, that while there is nothing chronological, yet the last three are the ordinary sequents of the first; that is, from conquest result carnage, scarcity, and the fourfold destructions above mentioned.


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Revelation 6:8. , pale or livid as a corpse.— , for the ordinary , a grammatical variation which has no special significance. In this Dureresque vignette the spectre of Hades, bracketed here as elsewhere with Death, accompanies the latter to secure his booty of victims. So Nergal, the Babylonian Pluto, is not content with ruling the regions of the dead but appears as an active personification of violent destruction, especially pestilence and war, inflicting his wounds on large masses rather than on individuals (Jastrow, 66, 67). A similar duality of conception, local and personal, obtained in Semitic and Hellenic mythology (cf e.g., Revelation 9:11); only, Death is not here personified as an angel (with Jewish theology, cf. Eisenmenger’s Eindecktes Jud. i. 854 f., 862 f.). As the chief partner in this grim league, he is given destructive power over a certain quarter of the earth ( . colloquially); his agents are the usual apocalyptic scourges (cf.Ezekiel 14:21, Ps. Sol. 13:2 f., with Plut. Iside, 47 for the Iranian expectation of as inflictions of Ahriman) against which the Jewish evening prayer was directed (“keep far from us the enemy, the pestilence, the sword, famine and affliction”). War, followed by famine which bred pestilence, was familiar in Palestine (Jos. Antiq. xv. 9) during the first century A.D. Indeed throughout the ancient world war and pestilence were closely associated, while wild beasts multiplied and preyed on human life, as the land was left untilled. In Test. Naphth. 8, etc., Beliar is the captain of wild beasts. Note that the prophet sees only the commissions, not the actual deeds, of these four dragoons: not until Revelation 6:12 f. does anything happen. The first four seals are simply arranged on the rabbinic principle (Sohar Gen. fol. 91), “quodcunque in terra est, id etiam in coelo est, et nulla res tarn exigua est in mundo quae non ab alia simili quae in coelo est dependeat”. The four plagues (a Babylonian idea) are adapted from Ezekiel 14:12 f. Contemporary disasters which may have lent vividness to the sketch are collected by Renan (pp. 323 f.).



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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 6:8". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.