“(7) Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” (8) So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.” (Rev 6:7–8 NET)
Prewrath teaches that the first six seals are not the wrath of God, instead, only with the opening of the seventh seal will the day of the Lord’s wrath begin. We have argued this point in the past.
One of the common pretribulational arguments I hear is that the fourth seal must be God’s wrath since it is said that a quarter of the population of the world is killed. This is a surface-level reading for that is not what the text actually says. Let me explain.
The fourth seal shifts from the world at large to a limited scope, and it indicates an intensity of death. The final horse is pale green, which symbolizes death; and the final rider is personifying Death, with Hades following him. Authority was given to these two forces by God’s permission to kill by various means: sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts of the earth. But this authority is limited and concentrated. It is important to observe that it is said that this authority to kill is given “over a fourth of the earth.” The expression “to kill” suggests intention, not necessarily requiring accomplishment.
In contrast, the book of Revelation will actually state when such a massive amount of people are killed: e.g., “A third of humanity was killed by these three plagues, that is, by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur that came out of their mouths” (Rev 9:18; cf. Rev 11:13).
In addition, there is authority over a fourth of the earth. The question emerges about whether it is a fourth of the earth geographically or demographically? The fourth seal does not provide us this answer. However, if the fifth seal was considered a result of the fourth seal, which the text suggests, then it would appear to be more probable that the fourth of the earth is in a population sense, but we cannot be dogmatic on that point. And this is not to assume that a fourth of the earth’s population are believers and will end up being martyrs.
Nevertheless, Antichrist will control the globe politically and religiously, but in God’s sovereignty his purposes to kill all of God’s people will apparently be restricted. So in the immediate contextual relationship we have in the fourth seal the means of killing (apokteinō), with the fifth seal as the resultant killing (apokteinō).