Nearly every Bible study I’ve ever seen on the Book of Revelation links the third seal of judgment, the black horse of Revelation 6:5-6, to famine and economic scarcity. It’s been the accepted interpretation for so long it’s often stated as fact without analysis.
Take a deeper look into the scriptural connections behind this seal and the black horse, and some interesting insights come to light. Could it be possible the black horse is a prophecy of the Third Temple?
The passage is familiar to Bible prophecy students: “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. 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; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.”
Most studies will tell you the third seal and horse indicate famine because of the color black. If you find one that goes into more detail, you may come across Lamentations 5:10, “Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.” Or Jeremiah 4:28, 8:21, or 14:2, where black describes mourning, astonishment, or desolation. One of the earliest church commentators, around 300 AD, made these and another connection between famine and the Revelation 6 black horse. He based it on a comparison of Luke 21:11, where Jesus Christ on the Mount of Olives described end-time birth pangs (wars, rumors of war, famines, pestilences) roughly corresponding to Revelation 6’s first four seals and the different colored horses. Others have compared the four seals and horses to judgments listed in Ezekiel 14:12-23: the sword, famine, the noisome (evil) beast, and pestilence.
One might conclude these common interpretations are accurate enough and move on. Dig a little deeper, though, and you can find other parallels in the Old Testament that, to my knowledge, have rarely been explored in Bible commentaries and prophecy studies.
First, the Hebrew words for “black” in the Old Testament verses mentioned above are different from the word that actually means “the color black.” The Hebrew “nichmaru” translated in Lamentations 5:10 as “black” comes from the root word “chamar.” This word, also translated as “yearn” and “kindled,” means to be hot, over-ripened, or scorched, rather than the color black.
The Hebrew word translated as black in the Jeremiah passages is “qadar” meaning to “mourn” or “grow dark.” A different Hebrew word, “sahor,” is used for the actual color black, such as when referring to black hair in Leviticus 13 or the black horses in Zech 6:2 and 6:6. In the Septuagint, the Greek word “melas,” the actual color black, is used in these Zechariah 6 verses while different Greek words are used in the other passages. “Melas” is also the Greek word used in Revelation 6:5 for black, the actual color of the horse.
The two Zechariah 6 verses are the only ones in the Old Testament that mention black horses. It’s wise to remember that virtually every symbol in the book of Revelation appears in an Old Testament passage that reveals or clarifies its meaning. Here, Zechariah is told that these different colored horses represent the “four spirits of the heavens” that stand before the Lord, going forth in different directions to exact judgment on the regions immediately surrounding Israel.
The same Hebrew root word “ruach” is translated into English as “spirit” and “wind.” Compare these four “spirits” with the “four winds” of heaven that exact judgment on Elam (Persia/Iran) in Jeremiah 49:36, breathe life into the dry bones of Israel in Ezekiel 37:9, strive upon the great sea in Daniel 7:2 and are held back by four angels in Revelation 7:1 until the seal of the living God is given to the 144,000 servants of God from the tribes of the children of Israel (Revelation 7:1-4).
The colors of the horses in Zechariah 6, although presented in a different order and not associated with specific kinds of judgments, are the same as those in Revelation 6. To me, this makes it clear the four horses of Revelation 6 are the same four spirits/winds of the heavens in Zechariah 6:5 who go forth to bring judgment on the nations standing against Israel.
The overall context of Zechariah 6:1-8, the horses and the judgments, points to what follows in the rest of the chapter—the construction of the Second Temple when the Jews returned to the land of Israel after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. Even the date when this prophecy was given, the second year of Darius the king of Persia (Zechariah 1:1, 7), is directly and specifically tied to the construction of the Second Temple (Ezra 4:24-5:2, Haggai 1:1, 15 and 2:10, and Zechariah 6:12-15 and 8:9).
The judgments of the horses in Zechariah 6 are against the neighboring nations (Babylon, Egypt) involved in the invasion of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple, as well as those who rejoiced over the Jews’ captivity in a foreign land (Persia and others). Specifically, after the four horses are released to the North (Babylon), South (Egypt), and East (Persia), Zechariah is given a vision where Zerubbabel and Joshua, the governor and high priest of the returning Jews, are designated directly by God to lead the construction of the Second Temple. As mentioned above, the prophecy is closely tied to the books of Ezra and Haggai, and further announces the coming Branch, the Messiah (Zechariah 6:11-12).
This begs the question: are the four horses of Revelation 6 a similar description, or the second fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy? Are they the sign of God’s judgment against the nations opposing modern-day Israel after its people have gathered back in the ancient land after having been scattered all over the world, coinciding with the construction of a new, Third Temple?
It’s quite possible.
Revelation 11 describes a temple, in the “holy city” Jerusalem, which did not exist when John wrote His vision, has not existed since, nor does it exist today. John was told to measure this temple with a reed in much the same way as the Millennial Temple was measured in Ezekiel 40-42. Similar measurements were recorded for the Tabernacle (Exodus 26), the First Temple (1 Kings 6), and the Second Temple (Ezra 6).
This Third Temple of Revelation 11 has a pivotal role in the Great Tribulation as the “holy place,” the site of the “abomination of desolation” (Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15, and Mark 13:14). It must—and will—be built to similar standards of the previous temples to serve this specific purpose in God’s timeline. As serious Bible prophecy watchers are aware, the present-day Jewish Temple Institute has made detailed preparations to construct the Third Temple, awaiting the geopolitical events that will make it possible.
A second Old Testament passage, 2 Chronicles 2:10-15, presents further evidence that the third seal/black horse judgment could point to a Third Temple. It is the only other passage in the Bible where wheat, barley, oil, and wine are specifically listed together as measures of wages. In 2 Chronicles 2:1-2 and 2:17-18, King Solomon hired 153,600 workers from Hiram, the king of Tyre, to construct the First Temple. Of those workers, 80,000 were woodcutters. In 2 Chronicles 2:10, Solomon promises 20,000 measures of wheat, barley, oil, and wine as wages for the woodcutters. The Hebrew word “corim” (plural of “cor”) is used in this verse for the “measures” of grain and the word “battim” for the “baths” of wine and oil.
1 Kings 5:11 tells a similar story but lists only wheat and oil, and uses “cor” for the measure of both. Further, according to this verse, these were annual wages for Hiram’s workers. Without getting into a long discussion of Old and New Testament weights and measures, it appears the large amounts of “corim” and “battim” allocated to these thousands of workers could equal daily individual allowances similar to the “choinix,” the daily ration translated as “measure” in Revelation 6:6. Similar rations were given to the workers who built the Second Temple (Ezra 3:7).
The balances held by the rider have been interpreted several ways, but they may bring up a possible connection to Leviticus 19:35-36. Here, the Lord instructs the people how priestly offerings were expected to be measured: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard (quantity), in weight, or in measure (capacity). Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.”
There is an interesting difference between the equal measures of wheat and barley in 2 Chronicles 2 and the three measures of barley to one measure of wheat in Revelation 6. Most commentators say the three-to-one ratio is because barley is a cheaper and lower quality grain than wheat. In my study, I noticed several interesting possible connections to the number three as it might relate to this prophecy.
First, the Lord instructed the children of Israel to gather before Him three times a year, at a place of His choosing, to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Exodus 23:14, 17, Deuteronomy 16:16, 1 Kings 9:25 and 2 Chronicles 8:13). That place of His choosing was ultimately the Temple in Jerusalem.
When the nation of Israel split into the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom vs. the tribe of Judah in the Southern Kingdom after Solomon died, the first thing rebel king Jeroboam did was make two golden calves and announce two new places of “temple” worship in Bethel and Dan. This was specifically so the ten tribes wouldn’t travel to the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26-30) and submit once again to the leadership of the King of Judah, the line of David. Throughout the history of the Northern Kingdom, this was called “the sin of Jeroboam.” The gathering of the people in Jerusalem three times a year was very important to God. It’s possible the three measures of barley offer a hint of that Temple requirement.
In Genesis 18, the Lord met Abraham outside his tent in the plains of Mamre to announce a promise and a judgment: the upcoming birth of Isaac and the imminent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham told Sarah to prepare three measures of meal into cakes for the three “guests” who showed up to tell him this news. Perhaps the three measures in Revelation 6:6 is a link to the “days of Lot” prophecy in Luke 17:28. Also, in Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:21, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to the leaven a woman hid in “three measures of meal,” leavening the whole lump. Perhaps the three measures of barley portend a promise and a judgment, and a subtle hint that contrasts the leavened Kingdom of God with the first annual Temple gathering, the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Lastly, there may be a connection to the six measures of barley Boaz gave to Ruth at the threshing floor (Ruth 3:15). They were a token of his intent to fulfill the role of the kinsman-redeemer, three measures for Ruth and three for Naomi so that Ruth would not go back to her mother-in-law Naomi “empty-handed” (Ruth 3:17). Perhaps this is a hidden promise to the Jews who turn to Jesus Christ at the end of the Tribulation that the Kinsman Redeemer, the Messiah, will not leave them empty-handed (Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1, 8-9).
A literal Bible interpretation always looks first for instances where “scripture interprets scripture.” Chuck Missler used to say the Bible is a completely self-contained system with many, many interlocking truths, patterns, examples, and types. As Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16-21, we are not following cunningly devised fables, but have a more sure word of prophecy when we consider the supernaturally integrated scripture given to us by holy men of God who were moved by the Holy Spirit. Many prophecy teachers believe the Third Temple will be built in the first part of the Tribulation. Perhaps this third seal and black horse is a more specific hint of the timing.
Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: But the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” Are the third seal and black horse of Revelation 6 a hidden sign of the coming Third Temple? We shall soon see! May this study encourage you to dig into scripture to find more gems God has hidden for us in His Word.