Third Seal: The Black Horse and its Rider: Page 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Revelations)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Book of Revelation

By: Tom Lowe Date: 9-19-15

Lesson: III.B.3: Third Seal: The Black Horse and its Rider (Revelation 6:5-6)

Revelation 6:5-6 (KJV)

5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.


The white horse, we learned, is the symbol of power and victory without bloodshed . . . the rider carried only a bow—no arrow. The red horse denotes power and wholesale bloodshed such as this world has never known. The rider of the red horse has been commanded to take peace from the earth, and he carries a great sword. The black horse is a symbol of lamentation and mourning. Here, as in the book of Zechariah, the black horse follows the red—“The first chariot had red horses, the second black” (Zechariah 6:2). The weeping prophet laments, “Our skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine” (Lamentations 5:10). Also read Jeremiah 4:28 and Jude13.

It will help us to understand the idea behind this passage if we remember that John is giving an account not of the end of things, but of the signs and events which precede the end. So here the black horse and its rider represent famine, a famine which is very severe and causes great hardship, but which is not brutal enough to kill.

What John is predicting is a situation in which a man’s whole working wage would be needed to buy enough corn for himself for a day, leaving absolutely nothing to buy any of the other necessities of life and absolutely nothing for his wife and family. If instead of corn he bought the much inferior barley, he might manage to give some to his wife and family but again he would have nothing left to buy anything else.


5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.

John again says, “I heard” and “I saw.” He just wants to make sure that we know that.

The color of the black horse indicates morning (see Jeremiah 4:28; Malachi 3:14), and it also speaks of famine, and it may denote darkness and ignorance. In Lamentations 4:8-9 we read:

“Now their appearance is blacker than soot;
They go unrecognized in the streets;
Their skin clings to their bones,
It has become as dry as wood.
Those slain by the sword are better off
Than those who die of hunger;
For these pine away,
Stricken for lack of the fruits of the field.”

When Christ opens the third seal another rider appears, but this one is seated upon a black horse, and the third beast cries out “Come and see”, beckoning the rider. This time he holds no weapon of warfare in his hands; there is however a pair of scales. These balances, like the black horse, suggest scarcity to the extent of famine. Grain was so scarce and dear that it had to be weighed very carefully. Beating plowshares into swords produced no food; but it did destroy the man who produced the food and it prevented the soil from being tilled. Famine always follows war. Food rationing of the strictest order is an aftermath of war, particularly in the warring countries.

Black follows red; famine follows war. Famine is symbolized in Scripture by the color black. “Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine” (Lamentations 5:10). When our Lord Jesus said “There shall be wars and rumors of wars with nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom,” He added, “And there shall be famines” (Matthew 24:7).

This vision of the rider on the black horse is considered by most Bible commentators as prophesy and a forewarning of the famines which will

lead to a period of Great Tribulation; but there is also a spiritual meaning that we must not miss. According to prophetic language, these articles—wheat and barley, oil and wine—signify the food of religious knowledge by which the souls of men are prepared to receive everlasting life, and which Isaiah has invited us to buy—“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). But when the dark clouds of ignorance and superstition, denoted by the black horse, spread over the Christian world, the knowledge and practice of true religion became scarce. When a people loathe their spiritual food, God is justified in depriving them of their daily bread. The famine of bread is a terrible judgment; but the famine of the Word is even more so.

6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.

The magnitude of the famine during the tribulation is suggested by what John saw and heard in that divinely given prophetic vision. The announcement, “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” is not ascribed to any one of the four beasts. In fact, the announcement itself is only said to have been like a voice from among the four beasts.

In metrology, which is the science of weights and measures, there are linear measures, measures of capacity, measures of weight, and measures of value or money. Here the word “measure” is used to denote the amount required to feed a man for one day. The “measure” was a choinix, equivalent to 2 pints and consistently defined in the ancient world as a man’s ration for a day. The “penny” (denarius) was the daily wage of a laborer or soldier at that time—“And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:2). Now imagine a man working a full day for merely enough food to keep himself alive, and then having to share that food with his family. The average person passing through such torture would rather be dead. And this condition exists while the war lords enjoy plenty, for “the oil and the wine” are the possessions of the few rich who hold the masses in slavery, and therefore they are not to be measured out to the famine-stricken. The rider on the black horse is commanded to leave the luxuries of the rich untouched, but the staples of the poor, wheat and barley, are to be weighed out a pinch at a time. Judgment is tempered with mercy, for the wheat and the barley are not to be entirely destroyed, and the oil and the wine are to be untouched by whatever caused the famine. This rider on the black horse symbolizes the blighted prosperity of the last days; he represents famine, wartime inflation, and economic disaster.

The phrase “Do not damage the olive oil and the wine” could be a warning to conserve two basic provisions; or, it could mean that these items would be hoarded and thus unavailable in the marketplace; or, it may be that although this famine would be severe, it would not destroy the olive trees and the vineyards; or, it could signify that the rich will be excluded from this famine. All oil and wine were regarded as luxuries, and were to be found only on the tables of the rich. Oil would correspond to our toiletries, the beauty aids and the body conditioners that we use today; that is, the luxuries of life. The wine corresponds to the liquor that will be in abundance. Isn’t it interesting that there will not be enough foodstuff, not enough barley for food, but there will be enough barley to make liquor! They will make it in that day, and the rich are the ones who will get it. (Read carefully Proverbs 21:17; Jeremiah 31:12; Psalm 104:15.)

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