on Revelation 6 :4
Another horse - red - The emblem of war; perhaps also of severe persecution, and the martyrdom of the saints.
Him that sat thereon - Same say, Christ; others, Vespasian; others, the Roman armies; others, Artabanus, king of the Parthians, etc., etc.
Take peace from the earth - To deprive Judea of all tranquillity.
They should kill one another - This was literally the case with the Jews, while besieged by the Romans.
A great sword - Great influence and success, producing terrible carnage.
on Revelation 6 :4
And there went out another horse - In this symbol there were, as in the others, several particulars which it is proper to explain in order that we may be able to understand its application. The particular things in the symbol are the following:
(a) The horse. See this explained in the notes on Revelation 6:2.
(b) The color of the horse: another horse that was red. This symbol cannot be mistaken. As the white horse denoted prosperity, triumph, and happiness, so this would denote carnage, discord, bloodshed. This is clear, not only from the nature of the emblem, but from the explanation immediately added: "And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another." On the color, compare Bochart, Hieroz. P. 1, lib. 2, c. 7: p. 104. See also Zechariah 1:8. There is no possibility of mistaking this, that a time of slaughter is denoted by this emblem.
(c) The power given to him that sat on the horse: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. This would seem to indicate that the condition immediately preceding this was a condition of tranquility, and that this was now disturbed by some cause producing discord and bloodshed. This idea is confirmed by the original words - τὴν εἰρήνην tēn eirēnēn - "the peace"; that is, the previously existing peace. When peace in general is referred to, the word is used without the article: Matthew 10:34, "Think not that I am come to send peace - βαλεῖν εἰρήνην balein eirēnēn - upon the earth." Compare Luke 1:79; Luke 2:14; Luke 19:38; Mark 5:34; John 14:27; John 16:33; Acts 7:26; Acts 9:31, et al. in the Greek. In these cases the word "peace" is without the article. The characteristics of the period referred to by this are:
(a) that peace and tranquility existed before;
(b) that such peace and tranquility were now taken away, and were succeeded by confusion and bloodshed; and,
(c) that the particular form of that confusion was civil discord, producing mutual slaughter: "that they should kill one another."
(d) The presentation of a sword: and there was given unto him a great sword. As an emblem of what he was to do, or of the period that was referred to by the opening of the seal.
The sword is an emblem of war, of slaughter, of authority Romans 13:4, and is used here as signifying that that period would be characterized by carnage. Compare Isaiah 34:5; Revelation 19:17-18; Leviticus 26:25; Genesis 27:40; Matthew 10:34; Matthew 26:52. It is not said by whom the sword was presented, but the fact is merely referred to, that the rider wets presented with a sword as a symbol of what would occur.
In inquiring now into the period referred to by this symbol, we naturally look to what immediately succeeded the one which was represented by the opening of the first seal; that is, the period which followed the accession of Commodus, 180 a.d. We shall find, in the events which succeeded his accession to the empire, a state of things which remarkably accords with the account given by John in this emblem - so much so, that if it were supposed that the book was written after these events had occurred, and that John had designed to represent them by this symbol, he could not have selected a more appropriate emblem. The only authority which it is necessary to refer to here is Mr. Gibbon; who, as before remarked, seems to have been raised up by a special Providence to make a record of those events which were referred to by some of the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible. As he had the highest qualifications for an historian, his statements may be relied on as accurate; and as he had no belief in the inspiration of the prophetic records, his testimony will riot be charged with partiality in their favor. The following particulars, therefore, will furnish a full illustration of the opining of the second seal:
(a) The previous state of peace. This is implied in the expression, "and power was given to him to take peace from the earth." Of this we have had a full confirmation in the peaceful reign of Hadrian and tim Antenines. See the notes on the exposition of the first seal. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the accession of Commodus to the imperial throne, says that he "had nothing to wish, and everything to enjoy. The beloved son of Marcus (Commodus) succeeded his father amidst the acclamations of the senate and armies; and when he ascended the throne, the happy youth saw around him neither competitor to remove, nor enemies to punish. In this calm elevated station, it was surely natural that he should prefer the love of mankind to their detestation; the mild glories of his five predecessors to the ignominions fate of Nero and Domitian," i. 51. So again, on the same page, he says of Commodus, "His graceful person, popular address, and imagined virtues attracted the public favor; the honorable peace which he had recently granted to the barbarians diffused an universal joy." No one can doubt that the accession of Commodus was preceded by a remarkable prevalence of peace and prosperity.
(b) Civil war and bloodshed: to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. Of the applicability of this to the time supposed to be represented by this seal, we have the fullest confirmation in the series of civil wars commencing with the assassination of the emperor Commodus, 193 a.d., and continued, with scarcely any intervals of intermission, for 80 or 90 years. So Sismondi, on the fall of the Roman empire (i. 36), says, "With Commodus' death commenced the third and most calamitous period. It lasted 92 years, from 193 to 284. During that time, 32 emperors, and 27 pretenders to the empire, alternately hurried each other from the throne, by incessant civil warfare. Ninety-two years of almost incessant civil warfare taught the world on what a frail foundation the virtue of the Antonines had reared the felicity of the empire." The full history of this period may be seen in Gibbon, i. pp. 50-197.
Of course it is impossible in these notes to present anything like a complete account of the characteristics of those times. Yet the briefest summary may well show the general condition of the Roman empire then, and the propriety of representing it by the symbol of a red horse, as a period when peace would be taken from the earth, and when people would kill one another. Commodus himself is represented by Mr. Gibbon in the following words: "Commodus was not, as be has been represented, a tiger, born with an insatiate thirst of human blood, and capable, from his infancy, of the most inhuman actions. Nature had formed him of a weak, rather than a wicked disposition. His simplicity and timidity rendered him the slave of his attendants, who gradually corrupted his mind. His cruelty, which at first obeyed the dictates of others, degenerated into habit, and at length became the ruling passion of his soul," i.51.
on Revelation 6 :4
6:4 There went forth another horse that was red - A colour suitable to bloodshed. And to him that sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth - Vespasian, in the year 75, had dedicated a temple to Peace; but after a time we hear little more of peace. All is full of war and bloodshed, chiefly in the western world, where the main business of men seemed to be, to kill one another. To this horseman there was given a great sword; and he had much to do with it; for as soon as Trajan ascended the throne, peace was taken from the earth. Decebalus, king of Dacia, which lies westward from Patmos, put the Romans to no small trouble. The war lasted five years, and consumed abundance of men on both sides; yet was only a prelude to much other bloodshed, which followed for a long season. All this was signified by the great sword, which strikes those who are near, as the bow does those who are at a distance.