Summary: The horse imagery is probably related to the vision described in Zechariah 1:7-17. Horses represent God’s activity on earth, the forces He uses to accomplish His divine purposes.

Second Seal: the Red Horse and Its Rider

Commentary on the Book of Revelation

By: Tom Lowe Date: 9-9-15


Subtopic B: The Opening of Seven Seals (6.1-8.1)

Lesson: III.B.2: Second Seal: the Red Horse and Its Rider (Revelation 6:3-4)

Revelation 6:3-4 (KJV)

3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.

4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.


In this short passage, John records the opening of the second seal; and as the seal was opened, one of the four living beasts summoned a rider on a red horse (“Come and see”). In other words, events take place on earth because of the sovereign direction of God in heaven.

The horse imagery is probably related to the vision described in Zechariah 1:7-17. Horses represent God’s activity on earth, the forces He uses to accomplish His divine purposes. The center of His program is Israel, particularly the city of Jerusalem (Jerusalem is mentioned 39 times in Zechariah). God has a covenant purpose for Israel and that purpose will be fulfilled just as He promised.


3 And when he had opened the second, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.

4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

Here we have the second act of John’s vision which he describes in detail. Jesus, the Lamb, breaks the second seal on the scroll, as he had the first; the process was the same. “And when he had opened the second seal,” John said, “I heard the second beast say, ‘Come and see,’” which was like the invitation given to the first rider, who came on a white horse. “And there went out another horse that was red” (blood-red in v. 3), and he was given a special power—“and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. In other words, he was granted the power to remove the peace that is on the earth. Since God is sovereign over all things, it is He who grants the permission. The imagery here is not that this horseman does the butchering, but that he removes peace, and without that peace, humans butcher each other. Next, the apostle says, “And there was given unto him a great sword.” The “great sword” is representative of the machines of war being unleashed on the earth by people left to their own devices without any divine intervention. The Greek word for “sword” here is different from the sharp two-aged sword of Revelation 1:16: “And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword . . .” This sword probably would have been about 5 feet long and would have weighed about twenty-five pounds. Strong warriors would swing it while on horseback to kill foot soldiers.

The first paragraph is a summary explanation of verses 3 and 4. However, as always, there is much more to this passage; so, let’s shed more light on John’s vision and his description of what he saw take place in Heaven.

In all seven seals the statement is made “I saw” (or “I beheld”), except the second seal. Here, John says, “I heard.” He does not say he saw it, but that does not mean that he was not an eyewitness. The second beast said to John, “Come and see,” and verse 4 simply states, “There went out another horse that was red.” Instead of the word “behold,” the word “another” is used. The use of the word “another” instead of “I saw” may seem very trivial and unimportant to the average reader; but I believe in THE VERBAL INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE. I believe every word in the Bible is inspired. I do not believe there is one word in it to fill up space, nor do I believe there is one word out of place. Perhaps I am a fool—but I say in the words of the Apostle Paul, “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” To me, the reason the words “I saw” and the word “behold” are used in connection with the first seal and omitted in connection with the second seal, is that the seals are opened one after the other, and the white horse and the red horse do not appear at the same moment. The events did not all occur at the same time. The red horse could have appeared 3 ½ years after the white horse.

For me to dogmatically set a period of time in which the rider of the white horse rode with a bow but no arrow, conquering without blood, is impossible. I cannot set a number of weeks or months; but when the white horse had completed his mission, the red horse immediately rode out. The summons from the Speaker was “Come and see,” and when John looked, there was a red horse. Why is the second horse red? you ask. Antichrist’s conquest begins in peace (vs. 1-2), but soon he exchanges the empty bow for a sword. The color red is often associated with terror and death: the red dragon (Revelation 12:3), the red beast (Revelation 17:3). It is a picture of deliberate unprovoked bloodshed. War has been a part of man’s experience since Cain killed Abel, so this image would speak to believers in every age, reminding them that God is ultimately in control, even though He is not responsible for the lawless deeds of men and nations. The white horse denotes peaceful victory. The red horse denotes slaughter and rivers of blood. This rider on the red horse, symbolizes the belligerent policies of the last days. He personifies world war on a scale never before known on earth, war which will make the conflicts of this century seem like scenes in a stiff, awkward play. Ever since Cain murdered Able, man has been escalating war upon this earth; but THE END IS NOT YET.

Again, the rider is not named. However, the pronoun “him” is used, and so, we know the rider is a man, permitted by God to ride the blood-red horse. “To him it was given,” signifying that the man was appointed by God for that specific purpose. God used Pharaoh, and he has used others in like manner, and in this hour of judgment God will appoint men to carry out His program in the last days. It is my belief that the rider on the blood-red horse is none other than the Antichrist. The first horseman could not be Christ, because when He brings peace to the earth, it is going to be permanent. This is a short-lived peace. Immediately after the white horse went forth, here comes the red horse of war on the earth. The peace which the rider on the white horse brought to the earth was temporary and counterfeit. The Antichrist presents himself as a ruler who brings peace to the world, but he cannot guarantee it, for God says, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21). And that verse of scripture certainly has been fulfilled.

This enemy of God’s Christians resembles the real Christ to the extent that he deceives people, perhaps even many who will read this commentary! At first the Antichrist seems to be a man of peace, but “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Keep in mind that the Restrainer, the Holy Spirit, is at that time taken from the earth, so that slaughter is infused into men by satanic power: “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

Someone may be asking, “WHY?” Why does God use this method to end the world? Let me answer in Bible language: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Romans 9:14-23).

“In the beginning God . . .” (Genesis 1:1). And since God was and is the beginning and the ending, then far be it from me to question God. There are many things I do not understand about prophecy. God’s ways are not our ways and I confess I do not fully understand many things in the Bible. But there is one thing I do understand: “God so loved the whole wide world that He gave Jesus to die for sinners.” And according to the precious Bible, “Jesus died for sinners,” and the invitation is to “whosoeverwill.” Salvation is a gift—by grace through faith, the gift of God, “not of works, lest any man should boast.” I can understand that God loved me and gave Jesus to die for me. Salvation is mine for the receiving. So I will follow what I can understand, and those things that are too deep for me I will wait until I sit at the feet of Jesus and hear Him explain them in words I can easily understand!

Notice—in verse 4: “There went out another horse that was red: AND POWER WAS GIVEN TO HIM THAT SAT THEREON TO TAKE PEACE FROM THE EARTH, AND THAT THEY SHOULD KILL ONE ANOTHER: AND THERE WAS GIVEN UNTO HIM A GREAT SWORD.” Let me point out here that the power possessed by the red horsemen was given to him—he did not have power within himself, nor did he merit the power he demonstrated. The power was given to him by another. Jesus said, “ALL POWER is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Therefore the devil, or any one of his cohorts could have any power as long as it was permitted by God. When Jesus was on trial, Pilate asked Him a question, and then reminded Him that he (Pilate) had the power to either crucify or release Him. Jesus answered, “Thou could have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above!” (John 19:11).

The assignment given the second horse and its rider is to “take peace from the earth.” They stand for that destructive strife which sets man against man and nation against nation in a chaos of tragic destruction. There are two backgrounds to this.

John was writing in a time when destructive strife was tearing the world apart. But in the 30 years before the reign of Herod the Great, 67-37 b.c., in Palestine alone no fewer than 100,000 men had perished in unsuccessful revolutions.

In the Jewish pictures of the end time, an essential element is the complete disintegration of all human relationships. Brother will fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, city will rise against city, and kingdom against kingdom (Isaiah 19:2). Every man’s hand shall be against the hand of his neighbor (Zechariah 14:13). From dawn to sunset they will slay each other. Friend shall war against friend; friends will attack one another suddenly (Ezra 4:9; 6:24). Some of them shall fall in battle, and some of them shall perish in torment, and some of them shall be destroyed by their own family and friends. Many shall be stirred up in anger to injure many others, and they shall stir up all men in order to shed blood, and in the end they will all perish together.

There will be a period of peace and progress here on earth immediately following the Rapture; and it will last approximately 3 ½ years. It will be a time when there will be little, if any, bloodshed, from the standpoint of war. During the next 3 ½ years, the devil will be loose on this earth, and nation will rise against nation. The wild passions of wild men will be let loose. There will be a time of wholesale slaughter. The mighty conqueror who will ride the red horse will be a bloody conqueror. He will not go forth with a bow minus the arrow. Power will be granted to him—and also “a great sword.” His conflict against mankind will be unchecked, and blood will run like rivers! This rider of the red horse is commanded to take peace from the earth, and he has the power to assure “that they should kill one another.” He will have the ability to stir up angry passions in men; they will crave blood—and blood will be shed.

We are living in a day of hatred, a day of madmen . . . dictators who do not value human life even as much as most of us value the life of an animal. Jesus asked, “What is man?” If we should ask that question of some of the modern dictators, and if they answered truthfully, they would say, “Man is a living creature, to be destroyed or annihilated if he gets in my way!” Only the Lord Jesus values man with a true sense of value of the personality created in the image of Almighty God. Jesus said “What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

Can you imagine a world where there is peace everywhere? A study was conducted some years ago, which shows that there have been very few years where there was world-wide peace; “peace on earth.” The first conclusion of the study was that wars would cease if the will to make them cease were there. We all know about the horrors of war, the death and destruction it creates, for it is reported on the radio and TV news programs and on the internet (facebook). But since war itself is at the very root of mankind’s social systems, it is not likely that peace will ever be a serious goal. It follows then, that since there will always be wars that hopefully there are some benefits that come from it. Let me give you a few of those benefits. No substitute has yet been found which can better stabilize and control national economies. War, moreover, is the foundation of stable government; every governing body which has failed to sustain the continuing credibility of an external threat of war has lost control of its constituency. War provides a nation with a means of controlling its youth; it provides society with an effective means of dealing with overpopulation; it is probably the greatest single stimulant to scientific research; it has a high social value for dissipating boredom; and it gives the older generation an effective means for controlling a physically stronger and more vigorous younger generation. However, as good as that sounds, we don’t want war, because anything positive that comes from it is greatly exceeded the negative consequences of war.

No wonder God says of mankind that “the way of peace have they not known” (Romans 3:17) and that the Lord Jesus declared, with characteristic incisive analysis, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, BUT THE END IS NOT YET. For nations shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24: 6-7).

The human race finds the trappings of war fascinating. It loves the paraphernalia that surround the military. God once sent men a peace offer when the Prince of Peace was born, but men scorned and crucified Him. Until He comes back in power, war must go on until at last war itself is personified, mounted on a blood-red horse, and sent forth with a great red sword to summon men to the terrible wars of the Apocalypse.

Every war is deplorable, and certainly thinking men do not desire war. But this is a different type of slaughter. It will be a state of open, armed, civil rebellion—man against man, fellow against his fellowman, brother against brother, sister against sister, pouring out their vengeance upon each other and spilling each other’s blood as water runs from a faucet. Certainly this is the worst state of war, and it is hard for us to conceive of such a conflict. Yet that is exactly what will happen when the rider of the red horse rides through the earth during the Great Tribulation period.

Complete peace will only come when Christ returns. The picture in Revelation of the coming persecutions and natural disasters is gloomy, but ultimately it is cause for great joy. When believers see these two events happening, they will know that their Messiah’s return is coming soon, and they can look forward to His reign of justice and peace. Rather than being terrified by what is happening in our world, we should confidently await Christ’s return to bring justice and restoration to His people.

The phrase, “that they should kill one another” suggests war within each nation, class wars, religious wars, race wars. All the wars that the world has ever known put together will have been mild when compared with the world-wide reign of terror and slaughter of human lives in that day. “Every man’s sword shall be against his brother” (Ezekiel’s 38:21). These Scriptures depict prophetic scenes, not historical. It is still true that the nation in which there is division between man and man and class and class and hatred based on competitive ambition and selfish desire, is doomed; and the world in which nation is set against nation is rushing to its end.