SYNOPSIS: The third seal releases a rider on a black horse. A voice from the Throne prohibits him from destroying what is needed for daily life – Revelation 6:5-6.
Once again, the Lamb opens another “seal,” the third one. It cannot be overstressed, it is the sacrificial Lamb who opens each of the seals to release whatever each “rider” represents, not the Devil, the Beast, or “Babylon.” Whether the four riders are malevolent entities or ones that serve the Lamb is not clear, and perhaps, not relevant.
Later in the book, neither Satan nor his agents can attack the followers of the Lamb until “given” to do so by the Lamb, and only within predetermined limits. The Lamb uses both angels and the forces of the Devil to accomplish his purposes. Already, he reigns over the Cosmos because of his faithfulness in Death.
(Revelation 6:5-6) – “And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature, saying—Go! And I saw, and lo! a black horse, and he that was sitting thereon holding a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard as a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying—A quart of wheat for a denary, and three quarts of barley for a denary,—and the oil and the wine do not wrong.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The third rider is on a “black horse” and, at first glance, appears to represent economic distress and the scarcity of basic commodities necessary for daily life.
“A pair of balances in his hand.” Traditionally, commentators take this to signify the careful rationing of foodstuffs during times of famine. However, measuring by weight the amount of grain purchased would be the normal way to transact business in the marketplace of that day. Nothing in the verse, in and of itself, suggests economic collapse or starvation due to warfare, natural catastrophes, etc.
“A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius.” A denarius was a small silver coin approximately equal to a day’s pay for a laborer. A “quart of wheat” was enough to meet the daily needs of one person. “Barley” was a courser and less expensive grain used to make bread for commoners and the poor. The quantities of grain do not point to famine but, instead, to amounts sufficient to meet the daily needs of an average person.
“I heard as a voice in the midst of the four living creatures.” Previously, the “four living creatures” were seen by John “in the midst of the throne, and around the throne.” The “voice” may be the collective voice of the four beings, or, more likely, that of the Lamb or the “Lord God” who sits on the Throne. Again, the “four living creatures” are associated closely with the first four seals openings and, presumably, take a special interest in events.
“The oil and the wine do not wrong.” If economic distress is the point, the voice now limits its effects – Olive oil and wine are not to be harmed. Olive oil was necessary to bake bread and, otherwise, was essential to daily life; likewise, wine. “Oil and wine” are paired later as two of the commodities cut off from the merchants by the downfall of Babylon. In that case, the supply of such things is shut down; in contrast, in the third seal, the rider on the “black horse” is commanded quite explicitly NOT to harm the “oil and wine”:
(Revelation 18:13) – “And cinnamon, and spice, and incense, and unguent, and frankincense, and wine and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and cattle, and sheep, and [cargo] of horses, and of chariots, and of bodies, and lives of men.”
It is possible the rider on a “black horse” represents economic distress and deprivation. If so, inflated prices for basic commodities would impact all citizens, whether Christian or not. And, already, several of the churches of Asia have experienced economic hardship. Possibly in view are attempts by local pagan authorities or neighbors to coerce Christians into compliance through economic pressure. However, the color of each horse is determined by the vision from the book of Zechariah that Revelation builds on, not necessarily on what the color “black” symbolizes to our minds (Revelation 2:9).
If anything, the voice from the “midst of the four living creatures” limits the effects of any economic distress and ensures sufficient supplies of foodstuffs to support the daily needs of an average resident of Asia, although what is allotted does not constitute an overabundance of food.
What the “voice” indicates is a concern for the physical well-being of certain groups. Whether they are comprised of Christians or pagans is not clear at this point. Regardless, the point is to ensure their daily needs are met.