Poole on Revelation 6:8: The Fourth Seal, Part 2

Verse 8:[1] (Zech. 6:3) 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 (or, to him[2]) over the fourth part of the earth, (Ezek. 14:21) to kill with sword, and with hunger, (2 Esd. 15:5[3]) and with death, (Lev. 26:22) and with the beasts of the earth.

[A pale horse (thus Erasmus, Montanus, Beza, etc.)] Χλωρὸς is properly the color green (Cluverus, thus Erasmus, Vatablus), yet sometimes pale/yellowish-green, as in Pausanias’ Description of Greece “Corinth”,[4] and Galen’s Commentary on Hippocrates’ Prognostics 1, and Sophocles’[5] The Trachiniæ. Thus χλωρὸν δέος, pale fear, in Homer’s Iliad 13. For verdure is easily turned into paleness, as we see in grass (Cluverus). This horse signifies (Ribera), either, 1. Death (Forbes, Piscator, Cotterius, Gravius), which the Poets call pale (Grotius), for the mouths of the dead grow pale: whence the Poet calls the infernal kingdoms pale[6] (Cotterius). Pallor is also from famine, according to Æneid 3, mouths are always pale by famine (Ribera). Or, 2. that spiteful fury, by which men procure for themselves the death that they devise for others, according to Psalm 37:2; 129:6; Isaiah 40:7, 8; 51:12. For indeed that affection is rightly called the horse of death, by which one is most willingly carried to the slaying of men (Cluverus). Or, 3. persecution (Ribera), either, under Domitian (Lyra): or, under Trajan, under whom innumerable Christians were most savagely killed (Ribera): or, under Maximianus and Diocletian, which were the cruelest of all[7] (Andreas Cæsarius in Pererius). But those three (Pareus), and all Ten (Pererius), persecutions were undoubtedly denoted by the red horse (Pareus, similarly Pererius). Nevertheless, I think that the persecution of Diocletian is here indicated, partly because this calamity immediately precedes the liberation of the Church, while the clamor of the souls and the gracious response were effects of this persecution;[8] partly because the history corresponds remarkably with the type. There is no doubt that the Church after forty-four years of tranquility lapsed from its pristine purity and piety into contentions and divisions, for the punishment of which God sent this whirlwind of persecution, as it is called. Now, this persecution, 1. was universal throughout the entire Empire, with the strength of the three associated Cæsars combined, namely, of Diocletian, Maximianus, and Maximinus: 2. continued for ten years: 3. was the cruelest, sparing no one on account of family relationships, merits, etc.; diverse and most frightful sorts of death were devised (Durham). Or, 4. the Sect of Mohammed, that is, the Turks and the Saracens (Menochius, similarly certain interpreters in Ribera, Pererius). This beautifully coheres with the preceding, so that after the persecutors, and heretics, through whom the Devil was striving to impede the advance of the Gospel, the Agareni[9] joined in, who captured many provinces of the world (Ribera), and are most bitters enemies of Christians (Menochius, thus Ribera). To these all things properly agree, the name of Death, the following Hell, the power given over the earth, etc. (Pererius). Yet it is objected, that thus this vision would not pertain unto the fourth living Creature, as the other three were pertaining to the three preceding (Ribera). Or, 5. the State of the Church under hypocrites (Camerarius, similarly Gagnæus), and the superstitious (Camerarius, thus Pareus); or the Church pale, sick unto death, and Apostate, under the rising of Antichrist, for whom he prepared the way, and drew a large part of the Christian world unto ruin (Pareus).

[Who was sitting…his name was Death] Which is depicted for us as a person reigning over all, Romans 5:14, 17, conquered by Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:26, and to be destroyed completely in the end, Hosea 13:14 (Cluverus). First, the expression here is Hebraizing, ὁ καθήμενος—ὄνομα αὐτῷ, the one sitting…the name to him, in the place of, ὄνομα τῷ καθημένῳ, the name to the one sitting. In the next place, it is to be noted that by the name of Death is Metonymically signified Pestilence and deadly Diseases: which we show on Matthew 24:7.[10] Pestilence is wont to follow Famine. Μετὰ λιμὸν λοιμὸς, after famine, pestilence, is a Greek proverb. Thus, both in Matthew and Luke, λοιμοὶ/pestilences are mentioned after λιμοὺς/famines.[11] But here the name is given to the Angel by reason of the matter which he administers (Grotius). By the riders he denotes the event itself signified in these seals, rather than whatever actor, who is its cause, either the highest or a lesser. Therefore, here the rider is Death. By which name he denotes both the multitude of those to be slain, and the diverse and most cruel forms of death then sent forth (Durham). Here, an abstraction in the place of a concrete. He calls him Death, that is, singularly and eminently Θανατοφόρον/Death-bearing, or Deadly, because he would carry so many deaths with him into the World: For among the Hebrew to be called sometimes means the same thing as to be, or to exist, but in a certain extraordinary and special manner, as in Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Jeremiah 23:6; Zechariah 6:12; Revelation 19:13. Hence Orcus,[12] like an undertaker, attends the same (Mede’s Works 551). Death, that is, Satan, who exercises the power of death, Hebrews 2:14, and is the angel of Death, Wisdom of Solomon 2:24[13] (Cluverus).

[And, etc., καὶ ὁ ᾅδης, etc.] And hell, etc. (Montanus, Erasmus, Beza, Piscator, Cluverus). Ἅδης/hades/hell in the New Testament always signifies the prison and state of the damned. See Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 16:23; Revelation 1:18; 20:13, 14; etc. (Cluverus). Or, the grave (Piscator, Drusius, Beza, Forbes, Cotterius). Those diseases draw unto the grave. Death and Ἅδης/hades/hell are wont to be conjoined, 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:13, 14 (Grotius).

[And, etc., καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς (but Grotius reads αὐτῷ, to him) ἐξουσία ἀποκτεῖναι ἐπὶ τὸ τέταρτον—ἐν ῥομφαίᾳ—καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν θηρίων, etc.] And was given to them (namely, to him and the two prior Angels [Grotius, similarly Hammond, Durham]: for now the effects of the three Angels are gathered into one [Grotius]) power to kill over (or, up to [Beza, Piscator]) a fourth (here is understood μέρος/part [Piscator]) of the earth (that is, of the inhabitants of the earth [Piscator, similarly Hammond, Gravius], either, 1. of Judea [Grotius, thus Hammond]; not everywhere, but in a fourth part of Judea: Thus Christ will bring terror closer and closer by degrees, tempering severity with great patience [Grotius]: Or, 2. of the Roman Empire [Ribera], that is, upon the most prominent and the very greatest part of the Roman World [Mede’s Works 553]: A definite number in the place of an indefinite: Earth here denotes the Church militant on earth, as it is evident from the following Seal, under which those that are here killed cry out [Durham]) with the sword (this is the first Angel’s [Grotius]: Hence it is apparent that ῥομφαίαν is sword, for this is wont to be joined with the rest of God’s scourges, as in Ezekiel 6:11; 14:21 [Piscator]) and famine (this is the second Angel’s: Indeed, certain priests were killed by famine, Josephus’ Antiquites of the Jews 20:8 [Grotius]) and death (that is, diseases [Piscator, Grotius], pestilential [Grotius], or others [Piscator]; plague [Beza, Drusius, Piscator, Mede], which is here called death according to the custom of the East: for the Chaldean paraphrast and the Hellenists generally translate דֶּבֶר/pestilence as death, and others call it mortality [Mede’s Works 552]: This is the third Angel’s [Grotius]) and by beasts, etc. (Erasmus), or, by wild animals, etc. (Beza, Piscator). Either, 1. properly (certain interpreters in Durham), by exposing to Lions, bears, and other beasts (Menochius, similarly Durham), namely, by exposing Christians, as persecutors were wont to do. Or, 2. uncouth and beastly men, 2 Thessalonians 3:2, with which sort Paul fought at Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 15:32 (Durham). Tyrants, who were raging after the likeness of wild Animals throughout those times in the Roman World, providing the occasion for those calamities (Mede). Thus Nero is called a Lion in 2 Timothy 4:17 (Durham). And the change of Syntax favors this opinion, καὶ ὑπὸ, etc.,[14] which you might render, and that by the Beasts of the earth. Otherwise an evil common to the Eastern and Southern regions could be indicated in this case (Mede’s Works 553): so that, evidently, with Famine and Pestilence raging, Beasts might grow strong against men and kill them; as it appears in Leviticus 26:22; Ezekiel 14:15, 21 (Mede, similarly Hammond). It is wont to follow upon the desolation of the fields and deaths of men, that, with no one standing in the way, the number of wild animals increases, entailing great mischief for travelers, Deuteronomy 32:24; Ezekiel 5:17. In a manuscript, καὶ τέταρτον τῶν θηρίων τῆς γῆς, and the fourth part of the beasts of the earth,[15] as if it treated of the death of beasts also, not of death by beasts (Grotius). There is an allusion here to the four most grievous plagues of God, under which the Prophets are wont to describe some extraordinary calamity (Durham). The character of this Seal is the Concourse of the Sword, Famine, and Pestilence, raging in such a way as was not previously; which at this time is done in an eminent manner. Slayings were at that time most burdensome, not only by Barbarians, depleting nearly the entire Empire, but also by those inside and domestics. Their own sword wasted ten Emperors in the space of thirty-three years. Under the Empire of one Gallienus, those thirty Tyrants, most all of them, were butched either by themselves, or by each other, or by the legitimate Emperors.[16] How great at that time was the rage, both of Maximinus, whom they called Cyclops, Busiris,[17] and Phalaris,[18]for there was not a crueler animal on earth, says Julius Capitolinus;[19] and of Gallienus, concerning whose ferocity see Trebellius Pollio. Concerning Pestilence, the matter is well known. Zonaras[20] relates, neither were the others silent, that, under the Emperors Gallus and Volusianus,[21] Pestilence, having arisen out of Ethiopia, pervaded all the Roman provinces; and through fifteen continuous years wasted them in an extraordinary manner. I never found in reading that any plague was greater (says Lipsius[22]) in the extent of times, or lands. But that there was a famine at that time, Dionysius of Alexandria (who lived then) testifies in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 7:17, and the event itself speaks. For, while nearly all the Empire was ravaged at that time by the Scythians, as Zosimus[23] testifies, how could it be that the fields were not deserted, and prayers neglected, and every stored provision ruined (Mede’s Works 551)?

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 AD 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.

[1] Greek: καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδού, ἵππος χλωρός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ ὁ θάνατος, καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἀκολουθεῖ μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἐξουσία ἀποκτεῖναι ἐπὶ τὸ τέταρτον τῆς γῆς ἐν ῥομφαίᾳ καὶ ἐν λιμῷ καὶ ἐν θανάτῳ, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν θηρίων τῆς γῆς. [2] The majority of Byzantine manuscripts reads αὐτῷ, to him; but the Alexandrian tradition, supported by a number of Byzantine manscripts, reads αὐτοῖς, to them. [3] 2 Esdras 15:5: “Behold, saith the Lord, I will bring plagues upon the world; the sword, famine, death, and destruction.” [4] Pausianas was a Greek geographer of the second century AD. [5] Sophocles (c. 495-406) was a Greek playwright. Of his one hundred and twenty-three plays, only seven tragedies survive. [6] Virgil’s Æneid 8:244, 245. [7] EmperorReignDomitian81-96 (persecution of Christians in final year of the reign)Trajan98-117 (persecution of Christians 109-111)Diocletian284-305 (Diocletian’s persecution from 303 to 324, initiated by Diocletian himself, continued by others)Maximianus286-310 [8] Revelation 6:9-11. [9] Agareni, or Hagarites, are descendants of Hagar. The name was sometimes applied to the Saracens. [10] Matthew 24:7: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences (λιμοὶ καὶ λοιμοὶ), and earthquakes, in divers places.” [11] Luke 21:11: “And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences (λιμοὶ καὶ λοιμοὶ); and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” [12] In Roman mythology, Orcus was a god of the underworld. [13] Wisdom of Solomon 2:24: “Nevertheless through the envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it.” [14] Revelation 6:8b: “…and power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill by (ἐν) sword, and by (ἐν) hunger, and by (ἐν) death, and by (καὶ ὑπὸ) the beasts of the earth.” [15] Thus Codex Alexandrinus. [16] Trebellius Pollio, in his section on Gallienus in the Augustan History, relates that during the reign of Gallienus (253-260 with Valerian; 260-268 alone), thirty pretenders to the throne were put down. The historical reliability of this section has been questioned. [17] Busiris was a mythological king of Egypt; he sacrificed all of the visitors of his country to the gods in order to avert famine. [18] Phalaris was a tyrant of Agrigentum (c. 570-554 BC); he is remembered for roasting his victims in a bronze bull. [19] Casaubon produced a critical edition of Scriptores Historiæ Augustæ (Augustan History), a series of biographies on the various emperors from 117-284 AD. It includes Julius Capitolinus’ (writing probably in the early fourth century) biographies of the emperors Balbinus (238) and Gordian (also 238). [20] John Zonaras (twelfth century), native of Constantinople, was a historian and theologian. [21] Trebonianus Gallus reigned briefly in 251 with Hostilian, and 251-253 with his son Volusianus. Gallus and Volusianus were both killed in a revolt in 253. [22] Justus Lipsius (1547-1606) was a Flemish philologist and historian. [23] Zosimus (fl. 490-520) was a Byzantine historian; he wrote Historia Nova, six books covering the history of the Roman emperors.


Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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