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What does it mean that Death and Hades will be riding on a pale horse (Revelation 6:8)?

Death Hades pale horse

In Revelation 6, the apostle John records the Lamb’s opening of a scroll and six of the seven seals. When the fourth seal is broken, John says, “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him” (Revelation 6:8).

The scroll the Lamb opens is introduced in Revelation 5. Only the Lamb who was slain is worthy to open it (Revelation 5:1–5). As the Lamb opens the scroll, He breaks seven seals in succession. Each seal unleashes a new judgment on the earth. The first four judgments are known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

• The first seal: a rider on white horse. The rider has a bow and a crown and goes out to conquer (Revelation 6:1–2).
• The second seal: a rider on a red horse bringing division and war (Revelation 6:3–4).
• The third seal: a rider on a black horse. The rider has scales for measuring, and he brings famine to the earth (Revelation 6:5–6).
• The fourth seal: a rider on a pale or ashen horse. The rider is named Death. Hades follows with Death. These two are given authority to kill a fourth of the earth with famine, pestilence, and wild animals (Revelation 6:8).

In the Bible, death (Greek, thanatos) refers to either the physical separation of the body from the spirit or the separation in relationship of the human being from God. In the scene that John records, he sees a horse rider who is called Death, perhaps because this rider is given authority to bring death to a fourth of the earth’s population. Hades (an English transliteration of the Greek word hades) refers to the grave, where people await resurrection for judgment (Revelation 20:13). The riders named Death and Hades are riding together to bring death and send people to the grave (Revelation 6:8). John does not say that Death and Hades were both riding on a pale or ashen horse, but rather that Death was riding on a pale horse and that Hades was following with him. John doesn’t describe what Hades rides, so it has been assumed by some that Hades was also riding a pale horse. Others see Death and Hades sharing the same pale horse. Either way, the fourth seal brings about the demise of many during the tribulation.

The pale horse that Death rides is of a sickly, corpse-like color. Some translations of Revelation 6:8 describe Death riding “an ashen (pale greenish gray) horse” (AMP) or “a pale green horse” (CSB). In this chilling scene, slaughter is personified as the earth experiences unparalleled, terrifying calamities. It is the Day of the Lord, and “who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:2).

To the eternal praise of Jesus, believers will triumph even over the rider of the pale horse: “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55).

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What does it mean that Death and Hades will be riding on a pale horse (Revelation 6:8)?
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This page last updated: February 23, 2023