John describes four colored horses that roughly correspond to the four colored horses that Zechariah saw. Since Revelation 6 specifically speaks of God's judgment on the earth, we should see the horses in verses 1–8 as a picture of God's judgment upon His and our enemies. Whether the enemies John has in mind are the Romans or the Jewish authorities who rejected Jesus doesn’t really matter. This is a word to comfort the persecuted church in every generation.
The significance of the number four in John's vision matches the significance of the number four in Zechariah's prophecy, namely, that God's work through the horsemen is complete. But what do the horsemen do? The rider of the white horse conquers (Rev. 6:2). Conquering kings in the ancient world often rode white horses, so the image depicts the enemies of God defeated in battle. The rider of the red horse takes peace from the earth and encourages bloodshed (v. 4). Large-scale death of the Lord's opponents is in view here, whether by earthly warfare or unmediated divine judgment. Horse number three bears a rider who charges one denarius each for one quart of wheat and three quarts of barley (v. 5). The denarius was the normal daily wage, and the grain allotment was a Roman soldier's daily food ration. One's entire wage goes to food in John's vision, leaving money for nothing else. Now, since a daily ration of food normally cost one-eighth of a denarius, the cost for grain in Revelation 6:5–6 represents an inflation rate of eight hundred percent. Economic catastrophe follows in the wake of God's judgment. Finally, the fourth horseman brings with him famine and disease (vv. 7–8). The divine judgment reveals itself in physical afflictions.
How do these images develop what Zechariah 6:1–8 reveals? Remember that Zechariah's prophecy indicates that all was quiet in the lands of Judah's enemies in the initial post-exilic period. The Jews had the freedom to build the temple because of this. The judgments revealed in Revelation 6 indicate that although enemies will rise up against God's people, these enemies will not finally be victorious. His church will continue to advance His kingdom—to build His temple—in the freedom and power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:20).
In the words of the classic hymn: "Christ shall have dominion over land and sea; earth's remotest regions shall his empire be." Nothing will stand in the way of Christ's kingdom. He will never allow an enemy of the church to get so strong as to wipe out His gospel, and church history is witness to this very fact. We should be confident in every circumstance because the Lord guarantees the success of His mission, which means He and His people will win in the end.