We must understand at the outset that the book of Revelation is a continuation of the book of Daniel. At this time when the book was written, the Roman Empire, the Fourth Beast and the Legs of Iron in Daniel’s prophecy, which had literal historic fulfillment, is in effect. Thus, the prophetic time-frame, hermeneutic and the geographic location of the fulfillment of these prophecies, are established from the beginning.
Rev. 6:1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. 2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
(70 A.D. – 180-192 A.D.)
Seeing the subject of the book of Revelation concerns the Roman Empire I must abandon my previous view that the Four Horsemen refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. Seeing it is the Lamb who opens the seals in Rev. 6:1, the white horse rider cannot be Yeshua as this is a symbol of an event to come to pass enacted by Yeshua.
The white horseman is a symbol of the first victorious age of the Roman Empire after the writing of the book of Revelation which is as we know the Nerva–Antonine dynasty, 96 A.D. – ending with the reign of Commodus (180-192 A.D.). This era was an era of unprecedented victory for Rome and its people’s enjoyment of the Pax Romana.
The Denarius, issued in 88 B.C., depicted the Roman god of War, Mars, riding his chariot victoriously drawn by two horses.
It was a standard ritual for a victorious Roman leader or General to parade himself drawn by a white-horse-chariot:
Cassi Dio, Roman History, Book 43,
“14 1 Immediately after these events before he crossed into Italy [Julius]Caesar got rid of the older men among his soldiers for fear that they might mutiny again. He arranged other matters in Africa 2 just as rapidly as was feasible and sailed as far as Sardinia with his whole fleet. From that point he sent the dismissed troops along with Gaius Didius into Spain against Pompey, and he himself returned to Rome, priding himself particularly upon the brilliance of his achievements, but also upon the decrees of the senate as well. 3 For they had voted that sacrifices should be offered for his victory during forty days, and had granted him permission to ride, in the triumph already voted him, in a chariot drawn by white horses and to be accompanied by all the lictors who were then with him, and by as many others as he had employed in his first dictatorship, together with as many more as he had in his second.”
Rev. 6: 3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. 4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
(192 – 197 A.D.)
This ominous rider brings civil war, murder, and death, which is exactly what the subsequent age of Roman History shows. Beginning with the assassination of Commodus,
“The tyranny of Commodus, the last of the Flavii, his vices and his abominations, were punished by the domestic assassination which delivered the world of a monster. But with his death (December 31, 192) commenced the third and most calamitous period; that which we have characterized as the period of up- starts — soldiers of fortune, who usurped the imperial power. It lasted ninety- two years, a. d. 192 — 284. During that time thirty-two emperors, and twenty-seven pretenders to the empire, alternately hurled each other from the throne by incessant civil warfare.”
History of the Fall of the Roman Empire by Simonde de Sismondi, Jean Charles Léonard, 49-50
With the death of Commodus came the Year of the Five Emperors, ushering in the era of death and Civil War prophesied by the apostle John.
Rev. 6:5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny[denarius], and three measures of barley for a penny[denarius]; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
(212 A.D. – 235 A.D.)
A denarius was a day’s wage at this time:
Tacitus, Annals, Book I:
“The crowd replied that they had delivered their instructions to Clemens, one of the centurions, which he was to convey to Rome. He began to speak of the soldiers’ discharge after sixteen years, of the rewards of completed service, of the daily pay being a denarius, and of the veterans not being detained under a standard. When Drusus pleaded in answer reference to the Senate and to his father, he was interrupted by a tumultuous shout. “Why had he come, neither to increase the soldiers’ pay, nor to alleviate their hardships, in a word, with no power to better their lot? Yet heaven knew that all were allowed to scourge and to execute. Tiberius used formerly in the name of Augustus to frustrate the wishes of the legions, and the same tricks were now revived by Drusus. Was it only sons who were to visit them? Certainly, it was a new thing for the emperor to refer to the Senate merely what concerned the soldier’s interests. Was then the same Senate to be consulted whenever notice was given of an execution or of a battle? Were their rewards to be at the discretion of absolute rulers, their punishments to be without appeal?”
Yeshua uses the same measure in his parables:
Matt. 20:2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny[denarius] a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
A denarius was also a day’s wage under Domitian (81-96 A.D.).
Tables of Ancient Coins, Weights and Measures, Explain’d and Exemplify’d in Several Dissertations by John Arbuthnot
The fact that three measures of barley could be obtained by a day’s wage precludes the idea of a famine here but only scarcity or inflation; not famine. Moreover, if there is famine why are the normal measures used? Why not mention the price per loaf or a smaller measure mentioned as is commonly obtained during a real famine?
Now to the phrase “hurt not the oil and the wine”, Elliott maintains the better translation here should be unjust not hurt, as this word, adikeō, is translated in other places(Rev. 22:11). Moreover, the point is further buttressed by the fact that our third horsemen has in his hands a pair of balances. This of course denoting administrations of justice, and again denoting regular business not famine.
Thus, picking up from the second horsemen, the period of Civil War commencing in 193 A.D. in Rome, the next great fluctuation in Roman History is the famous Caracalla (Reign 198-217 A.D.) and his Antonine Constitution, giving universal citizenship to all freemen in Rome, which according to the master Historians of this period was for the purpose of oppressive taxation.
Cassio Dio, Roman History, Book 78.9,
“Then there were the provisions that we were required to furnish in great quantities on all occasions, and this without receiving any remuneration and sometimes actually at additional cost to ourselves all of which supplies he either bestowed upon the soldiers or else peddled out; and there were the gifts which he demanded from the wealthy citizens and from the various communities; 4 and the taxes, but the new ones which he promulgated and the ten per cent tax that he instituted in place of the five per cent tax applying to the emancipation of slaves, to bequests, and to all legacies; for he abolished the right of succession and exemption from taxes which had been granted in such cases to those who were closely related to the deceased. This was the reason why he made all the people in his empire Roman citizens; nominally he was honouring them, but his real purpose was to increase his revenues by this means, inasmuch as aliens did not have to pay most of these taxes.”
History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Vol. I, Chapter VI: Death Of Severus, Tyranny Of Caracalla, Usurpation Of Marcinus.—Part IV,
“The sentiments, and, indeed, the situation, of Caracalla were very different from those of the Antonines. Inattentive, or rather averse, to the welfare of his people, he found himself under the necessity of gratifying the insatiate avarice which he had excited in the army. Of the several impositions introduced by Augustus, the twentieth on inheritances and legacies was the most fruitful, as well as the most comprehensive. As its influence was not confined to Rome or Italy, the produce continually increased with the gradual extension of the Roman City. The new citizens, though charged, on equal terms, 113 with the payment of new taxes, which had not affected them as subjects, derived an ample compensation from the rank they obtained, the privileges they acquired, and the fair prospect of honors and fortune that was thrown open to their ambition. But the favor which implied a distinction was lost in the prodigality of Caracalla, and the reluctant provincials were compelled to assume the vain title, and the real obligations, of Roman citizens. 1131 Nor was the rapacious son of Severus contented with such a measure of taxation as had appeared sufficient to his moderate predecessors. Instead of a twentieth, he exacted a tenth of all legacies and inheritances; and during his reign (for the ancient proportion was restored after his death) he crushed alike every part of the empire under the weight of his iron sceptre. 114”
And thus we see in the subsequent reign of Severus Alexander who lightened the burden placed upon the people by Caracalla, coins minted with an image of Nemesis holding a balance depicting the grace shown to the people by Severus Alexander (222-235 A.D.).
This continued in the Aequitas under Claudius II(268-270 A.D.):
Rev. 6:7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8 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 over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
(235 – 284 A.D.)
Following our historic progression, I could not ask for a more fitting echoing of this prophecy than Gibbon’s description of the following period in Roman History, the Crisis of the Third Century:
History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter X: Emperors Decius, Gallus, Aemilianus, Valerian And Gallienus—Part I. Vol. I,
“From the great secular games celebrated by Philip [244-249 A.D.], to the death of the emperor Gallienus, there elapsed twenty years of shame and misfortune. During that calamitous period, every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted, by barbarous invaders, and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its dissolution… Our habits of thinking so fondly connect the order of the universe with the fate of man, that this gloomy period of history has been decorated with inundations, earthquakes, uncommon meteors, preternatural darkness, and a crowd of prodigies fictitious or exaggerated. 180 But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present, and the hope of future harvests. Famine is almost always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes must, however, have contributed to the furious plague, which, from the year two hundred and fifty to the year two hundred and sixty-five, raged without interruption in every province, every city, and almost every family, of the Roman empire. During some time five thousand persons died daily in Rome; and many towns, that had escaped the hands of the Barbarians, were entirely depopulated.”
Moreover, Arnobius, Christian Apologist during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), argued that the Roman Empire was not being judged by the Pagan gods because of Christianity stating, in desperate defense of the Catholic religion, in Against the Pagans,
“4. When was the human race destroyed by a flood? was it not before us? When was the world set on fire, and reduced to coals and ashes? was it not before us? When were the greatest cities engulphed in the billows of the sea? was it not before us? When were wars waged with wild beasts, and battles fought with lions? was it not before us? When was ruin brought on whole communities by poisonous serpents? was it not before us? For, inasmuch as you are wont to lay to our blame the cause of frequent wars, the devastation of cities, the irruptions of the Germans and the Scythians, allow me, with your leave, to say,—In your eagerness to calumniate us, you do not perceive the real nature of that which is alleged.”
As for “the fourth part” reading, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate has a different reading commensurate with our prophecy and history,
“And behold a pale horse: and he that sat upon him, his name was Death. And hell followed him. And power was given to him over the four parts of the earth, to kill with sword, with famine and with death and with the beasts of the earth.”
And yes, the Empire was divided into four parts at this time under the tetrarchy of Diocletian, Galerius, Maximian and Constantius.
Gibbon describes the tetrarchry in Chapter XIII: Reign Of Diocletian And This Three Associates.—Parts I-IV
Rev. 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were killed for the word of God, and for the testimony which they maintained. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, Lord, which art holy and true! dost not thou judge and avenge our blood on them, that dwell on the earth? 11 And long white robes were given unto every one, and it was said unto them, that they should rest for a little season until their fellow servants, and their brethren that should be killed even as they were, were fulfilled.
(303 – 313 A.D.)
Right after Chapter XIII, Gibbon gives attention to what happened in Rome after the death of Diocletian in Chapter XIV, namely, the Year of the Six Emperors. However, the very next Chapter is Chapter XV: Progress Of The Christian Religion.—Part I, which is exactly where the apostle places us in the prophetic timeline. Persecution of believers began with Nero in the first century and continued until the time of Diocletian.
This culminated in the Diocletianic Persecution.
Thus, the prophet asks, “How long, Lord, which art holy and true! dost not thou judge and avenge our blood on them, that dwell on the earth?”
History of the Fall of the Roman Empire by Simonde de Sismondi, Jean Charles Léonard
“The first persecutions, therefore, as they are called, were little more than random acts of violence, extending to few victims, and over a short space of time. But when brutal soldiers, impatient of all opposition, had been invested with the purple, and when order had been sufficiently re-established throughout the empire for them to perceive all that transgressed the limits of despotism, they were indignant at the existence of a new religion, as a violation of uniformity of obedience. They looked upon it much more as a breach of discipline, than of piety; and they persecuted the Christians, not as enemies to their gods, but as rebels to their own authority. The more absolute they were, the more exasperated were they at that new power of the soul which rendered it insensible to pain, triumphant in torture which calmly and unresistingly rose above the reach of their power. The struggle between the fury of despotism and the heroism of conviction, between executioners and martyrs, is worthy of eternal remembrance. It endured, with little interruption, up to the end of the fourth period, or the union of the whole empire under Constantine.”
Rev. 6: 12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
(313 – 361 A.D.)
This apocalyptic language is used to depict the destruction of a Government power and a great political upheaval. Jeremiah states in his prophecy that Babylon would spoil his people:
Jer. 4: 16 Make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. 17 As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been rebellious against me, saith the Lord. 18 Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart. 19 My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. 20 Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment. 21 How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22 For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. 23 I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. 25 I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. 26 I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger. 27 For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. 28 For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it. 29 The whole city shall flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they shall go into thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city shall be forsaken, and not a man dwell therein. 30 And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do?
And Ezekiel in his Prophecy of the destruction of Egypt and the judgment upon Pharaoh:
Ezek. 32: 2 Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers. 3 Thus saith the Lord God; I will therefore spread out my net over thee with a company of many people; and they shall bring thee up in my net. 4 Then will I leave thee upon the land, I will cast thee forth upon the open field, and will cause all the fowls of the heaven to remain upon thee, and I will fill the beasts of the whole earth with thee. 5 And I will lay thy flesh upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with thy height. 6 I will also water with thy blood the land wherein thou swimmest, even to the mountains; and the rivers shall be full of thee. 7 And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. 8 All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.
When Israel fought against Sisera in the book of Judges, Elohim fighting against Sisera is depicted as stars fighting against him:
Judges 5:20 They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
And thus, in 313 A.D. the Emperor Constantine passed the Edict of Milan, ceasing the persecution of believers, and later having conquered the Tetrachy, its final Emperor, Licinius, who represented the Pagan Heritage of Rome, fell finally at Bithynia making Constantine sole Emperor of Rome. Having already passed the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of early believers he moved to take vengeance for the persecuted believers against the Pagans.
Eusebius state sin his Life of Constantine, Book III Chapter 1,
“For in the first place, the tyrants, being themselves alienated from the true God, had enforced by every compulsion the worship of false deities: Constantine convinced mankind by actions as well as words, that these had but an imaginary existence, and exhorted them to acknowledge the only true God. They had derided his Christ with words of blasphemy: he assumed that as his safeguard against which they directed their blasphemies, and gloried in the symbol of the Saviour’s passion. They had persecuted and driven from house and home the servants of Christ: he recalled them every one, and restored them to their native homes. They had covered them with dishonor: he made their condition honorable and enviable in the eyes of all. They had shamefully plundered and sold the goods of godly men: Constantine not only replaced this loss, but still further enriched them with abundant presents. They had circulated injurious calumnies, through their written ordinances, against the prelates of the Church: he on the contrary, conferred dignity on these individuals by personal marks of honor, and by his edicts and statutes raised them to higher distinction than before. They had utterly demolished and razed to the ground the houses of prayer: he commanded that those which still existed should be enlarged, and that new ones should be raised on a magnificent scale at the expense of the imperial treasury. They had ordered the inspired records to be burnt and utterly destroyed: he decreed that copies of them should be multiplied, and magnificently adorned at the charge of the imperial treasury. They had strictly forbidden the prelates, anywhere or on any occasion, to convene synods; whereas he gathered them to his court from every province, received them into his palace, and even to his own private apartments and thought them worthy to share his home and table. They had honored the demons with offerings: Constantine exposed their error, and continually distributed the now useless materials for sacrifice, to those who would apply them to a better use. They had ordered the pagan temples to be sumptuously adorned: he razed to their foundations those of them which had been the chief objects of superstitious reverence. They had subjected God’s servants to the most ignominious punishments: he took vengeance on the persecutors, and inflicted on them just chastisement in the name of God, while he held the memory of his holy martyrs in constant veneration. They had driven God’s worshipers from the imperial palaces: he placed full confidence in them at all times, and knowing them to be the better disposed and more faithful than any beside.”
Chapter 27. How Constantine commanded the Materials of the Idol Temple, and the Soil itself, to be removed at a Distance.
Nor did the emperor’s zeal stop here; but he gave further orders that the materials of what was thus destroyed, both stone and timber, should be removed and thrown as far from the spot as possible; and this command also was speedily executed. The emperor, however, was not satisfied with having proceeded thus far: once more, fired with holy ardor, he directed that the ground itself should be dug up to a considerable depth, and the soil which had been polluted by the foul impurities of demon worship transported to a far distant place.”
Chapter 48. How he built Churches in Honor of Martyrs, and abolished Idolatry at Constantinople.
“Being filled, too, with Divine wisdom, he determined to purge the city which was to be distinguished by his own name from idolatry of every kind, that henceforth no statues might be worshipped there in the temples of those falsely reputed to be gods, nor any altars defiled by the pollution of blood: that there might be no sacrifices consumed by fire, no demon festivals, nor any of the other ceremonies usually observed by the superstitious.”
And etc. Book III continues with many other examples of Constantine’s war against Paganism in Rome.
It was Constantine’s Arian son Constantius II who continued reforming the Romans of Paganism by closing the Pagan temples and thus gaining vengeance for the Saints even further. It would then later be Julian his cousin who would apostatize. Theodosius would later continue Constantine’s tradition.
And thus, the Pagan Powers of Rome had been annihilated. But with the Council of Laodicea(363) and the Council of Constantinople(381) formally solidifying the Catholic Church’s rejection of the Law of Moses, their devotion to Neoplatonism and Trinitarian Polytheism, Saint Worship and Idolatry, the Roman Church was now doomed along with its empire for severe judgment.