The Way It Happened

Revelation 6:3-4, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part III of V

When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.

//We continue our historical-critical discussion of the Revelation’s four horsemen with this, the second of four. This horseman, like the other three, relates to the events of the Jerusalem war in 70 A.D.

There is little to say about this horseman except the obvious: red denotes bloodshed. Its rider steals peace from the earth, which refers to the breaking of the Pax Romana, the “age of peace.” Augustus ushered in this time of peace over 80 years earlier, though Origen would later claim that Christ initiated this period with his birth.

But now, war dramatically shatters the peace in Judea. Jewish historian Josephus writes, “[T]he daytime was spent in shedding of blood, and the night in fear.” He estimates nearly 1.2 million Jews perished in the Jerusalem war, most in the final bloodbath that concluded with the destruction of the Temple. Roman historian Tacitus would say only half that many died, which sounds a bit more reasonable, but Josephus’ number shouldn’t be entirely discounted, because the final siege began at the feast of the Passover, when great multitudes of Jews came to worship–for six hundred years, the Passover lamb had always been slain in Jerusalem. By the end of the war, around the Temple mount, according to Josephus, “the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it.”

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