Why are the FOUR living creatures identified with the FOUR horsemen?

In Revelation 6: 1-8, whenever the Lamb breaks a seal, one of the four living beings will shout, “Come!” John does not confuse the reader to think of only one being giving the command. He identifies all the four living beings in action with the first four seals:

  • 6: 1—”I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living beings say in a voice like thunder, “Come!””
  • 6: 3—”When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living being say, “Come!””
  • 6: 5—”When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living being say, “Come!””
  • 6: 7—”When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living being say, “Come!””

Why are the four living beings identified with the four horsemen?

The answer lies in the symbolic identity of the four living beings. In our previous studies “Meaning of the FOUR FACES of the FOUR living creatures,” we outlined how the four faces were related to the four banners of the four divisions of Israel (Nu 2; 10: 11-25). The article above explains in details. We shall take a recap here:

Judah on the East (Lion)—Issachar, Zebulon
Reuben on the South (Man)—Simeon, Gad
Ephraim on the West (Ox)—Manasseh, Benjamin
Dan on the North (Flying eagle holding a serpent)—Asher, Naphtali

The positions of the four divisions (East, South, West, and North) placed the tabernacle in the midst of the tribes. This is the exact picture we find with the four living beings. John says, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures” (Rev 4: 6). I have identified this symbolism with the Judeo-Christian conception of the sanctuary, and the redeemed in the book of Revelation (read the article above).

Now, the connection with the four horsemen is made clear when we come to understand that this is not the first time we encounter the four horsemen in the Bible. The book of Zechariah is the scriptural reference or apocalyptic allusion to the four horsemen. We read from Zechariah 6: 1-8 (LXX):

1 And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, four chariots coming out from between two mountains; and the mountains were brazen mountains. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horsesand in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot piebald and ash-coloured horsesAnd I answered and said to the angel that talked with me, What are these, my Lord? And the angel that talked with me answered and said, These are the four winds of heavenand they are going forth to stand before the Lord of all the earth. As for the chariot in which were the black horses, they went out to the land of the north; and the white went out after them; and the piebald went out to the land of the southAnd the ash-coloured went out, and looked to go and compass the earth: and he said, Go, and compass the earth. And they compassed the earthAnd he cried out and spoke to me, saying, Behold, these go out to the land of the north, and they have quieted mine anger in the land of the north.

The English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible Commentary says, “The interpreting angel explains that the chariots represent the four winds of heaven, stressing the universality of their range: nowhere in the world is outside their reach. The Hebrew word for “wind” (Hb. ruakh) is the same as that for “spirit,” so these winds also represent the agency of divine power at work in the world (cf. 5:9).” (“Zechariah 6: 5,” English Standard Version Study Bible (2008), Crossway Bibles)

Although the horses in Zechariah seem to have gone to the North and South, the angel identifies the horsemen as “four winds of heaven.” The phrase is quite familiar in scripture—Jer 49: 36; Dan 7: 2; 8: 8; 11: 4; Zec 2: 6; Matt 24: 31; Mk 13: 27; Rev 7: 1. At this point, we don’t have any difficulty to identify the signification of the expression as the four poles of the Earth: North, East, South, and West.

The horsemen in Zechariah are parallel to the horsemen in Revelation 6: 1-8. They are agents of God sent out to execute His purpose on Earth. The unfolding of the scroll by Christ is an apocalyptic unfolding of the future to John (Rev 1: 1). ESV Study Bible Commentary writes, “As the Lamb opens each of the first four seals, one of the living creatures shouts, “Come!” and a horse with its rider (or riders) responds to the summons. The horses’ colors generally reflect those of the horses in Zech. 1:8-10 and 6:1-8, symbolizing emissaries sent by God to patrol the earth. Only by the Lamb’s permission and under his direction can the forces symbolized by these horses and their riders inflict death through sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. The seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments all have a format of four (judgments on the earth) plus three (cosmic judgments).” (“Revelation 6: 1-8,” English Standard Version Study Bible (2008), Crossway Bibles)

The four living beings with their positions of North, East, South, and West around the throne, called out these “four winds of heaven” to execute God’s plan on Earth. Each living being represents one horse in each direction.

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