“And when He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say ‘A measure of wheat for a denarius and three measures of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine” (Revelation 6:5,6).

The third horse is announced by the third living creature, who is like a man and is associated with the tribe of Reuben. Man was created in the image of God, but because of sin, man and Reuben are appropriate symbols of degenerate human weakness; Reuben lost his birthright when he succumbed to the temptation to sleep with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22, 49:3,4). Yet in spite of his mortal sin, his final blessing was “Let Reuben live, and not die, nor let his men be few” (Deuteronomy 33:6).

The horse is black, which is a symbol of spiritual darkness.[1] However, the rider is apparently Jesus, holding a scales or balance in His hand—“Honest weights and scales are the Lord’s” (Proverbs 16:11). He is the one who weighs in the balance (Daniel 5:27) in order to demonstrate the righteousness of those who have been accused of unrighteousness. Job, being accused by his friends and even feeling like God was accusing him, cried out “let me be weighed on honest scales, that God may know my integrity” (Job. 31:6).

Thus the black horse represents people who are in spiritual darkness, but when “weighed in the balance,” they are found to have Jesus as their rider. How can this be? A voice which is in the midst of the four living creatures” declares their true spiritual condition: A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.”

Wheat and barley were the grains from which bread was made, and these prices[2] would indicate a famine for bread. Bread is the symbol of several things: It represents Jesus (“I am the bread of life’ John 6:35), in which case the black horses would represent people who do not know much about Jesus. Bread also represents Christ’s body, the church (“The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body” 1 Corinthians 10:16,17), in which case these would be people who have not had much contact or communion with the church of God. Bread also can represent the true teaching of God’s word (Matthew 4:4, 16:5-12), in which case these would be people who have not had adequate or true teaching from God’s the Bible. Probably all of these may be lacking to one degree or another, and to outward appearances these people may not appear to be candidates for eternal life. But He who holds the balance sees that there has been no harm to the oil and the wine: they have been taught by the Holy Spirit (the oil)[3] and because by faith they have responded to the Spirit, Jesus has applied his blood (the wine)[4] for the forgiveness of their sins.[5]

There are black horses in remote jungles and deserts, in teeming cities of the world where there is no witness for Christ, and in fact they have been sprinkled all over the world all through human history. They are also found in “Christian” churches where they are taught to be "righteous" by selling books or burning candles or paying penance; but in the quiet place of their hearts they hear the voice of the Spirit telling them to love God and their neighbors.

Paul describes this group as those who “by nature do the things in the law…although not having the law…who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Romans 2:14,15). “They…seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him” and although they are in darkness “these times of ignorance God overlooked” (Acts 17:27-30). Because of God’s great heart of love and mercy they have a future in His kingdom: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you” (Isaiah 9:2, 60:2).

Continue to next section: 6:7,8 THE FOURTH HORSEMAN

[1] Surprisingly, the word for black (the root word, melas, refers to ink) is rarely used in the Bible and not in a particularly negative way. In Revelation 6:12, just before Jesus comes, “the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood..” The parallel passage in Matthew 24:29 says “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light.” Black and darkness are synonymous, and black is associated with a lack of light rather than the darkness of evil. Jesus declared, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46)

[2] A denarius was a day's wage and a "measure" was about a quart or liter.

[3] Zechariah 4:2-6, 1 Samuel 16:13.

[4] Matthew 26:27-29

[5] While it is true that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), this does not mean that it necessary to know the name of Jesus in order to be saved by Him. In fact, the parade of the faithful in Hebrews 11 who will be “made perfect” together with the faithful Christians (v.40) are all people who never heard the name Jesus, but they knew Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.