The fourth seal released “Death,” followed by “Hades” to gather the dead in its wake – Revelation 6:7-8.
To this point, the “victims” harmed by the first three seal openings have not been identified, although the details from the assigned task of each “rider” provide certain clues. Nothing has been said about the enemies of the “Lamb,” or about judgments against the “inhabitants of the earth.” Moreover, the actions of the “four riders” are never labeled “plagues,” “wrath,” or “judgments.”
Furthermore, while the “Lamb” opens each seal, the task assigned to each rider is given by one of the four creatures, including limitations on how much harm each one can inflict. In the case of the “third seal,” the voice of the “living creature” was heard coming “from the midst of the throne.”
- (Revelation 6:7) – “And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature, saying: Go! And I saw, and behold, a livid horse, and he that was sitting on it had for a name Death, and Hades was following with him.”
In verse 7, “livid” translates the Greek adjective chlōros, a green, pale green, or yellowish-green shade of color. The “rider” was named “Death,” while “Hades” followed him, presumably on foot to collect the dead. “Hades” was a term used in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible for sheol, the shadowy abode of the dead.
In Revelation, “Death” and “Hades” are the cosmic enemies of God destined for consignment to the “Lake of Fire.” However, in the interim, because of his own death and resurrection, they are under the authority of the “Lamb” and serve his purposes:
- (Revelation 1:17-18) – “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead, and he laid his right hand upon me, saying: Do not fear! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One, and I became dead; and behold, living am I unto the ages of ages, and have the keys of Death and of Hades.”
Thus, Jesus has absolute sovereignty over both deathly “realms,” precisely because he “became dead” and now lives forevermore. He is the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead,” and therefore, “the ruler of the kings of the earth” – (Revelation 1:5-6).
To the church at Smyrna, the Risen Christ identified himself as the “first and the last, he who became dead and lived.” He is aware of their “tribulation and destitution,” therefore, the church has no reason to fear anything that it might suffer, including death. Followers of the “Lamb” are free to be “faithful until death” because Jesus possesses the “keys of Death and Hades,” and therefore, the faithful saint who overcomes will “in nowise would be injured by the second death” – (Revelation 2:8-11).
At the “Great White Throne of Judgment,” all the dead received judgment – (“the sea gave up the dead, and death and hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to their works”). Everyone whose name was found in the Lamb’s “book of life” received life, but anyone whose name was not found in it received the “second death.” And in the final analysis, even “death and hades” were thrown into the “lake of fire” – (Revelation 20:11-15).
The image of the fourth “rider” carrying “death” means that death is still a reality between the exaltation of the “Lamb” and the arrival of “New Jerusalem.” But death is now under his authority and serves his redemptive purposes. As the next seal opening will demonstrate, this is especially true for the deaths of his martyrs.
The fourth “rider” does not symbolize the judgment of death on any specific group of the unrighteous. All men and women, both the righteous and the unrighteous, remain subject to death until the end of the present age. What matters is not escape from death, but whether one’s “name is written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
For overcoming saints, “death” is not the final answer. All men must appear before the “Throne” for judgment. For those who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes,” even into death, that will mean their vindication. In contrast, on the “day of the wrath of the Lamb,” the rebellious “inhabitants of the earth” will pay the ultimate penalty, the “second death.”
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