The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

September 13, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos


My title needs some explanation. What is the meaning of “apocalypse." The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which simply means “revealing, disclosure, to take off the cover.” The original title of the book of Revelation in Greek is “Apokalupsis Iēsou Xristou,” literally, “Apocalypse of Jesus Christ,” because it is the “revealing” of the Jesus Christ who is the central subject of the book. The book of Revelation is about the glorious resurrected Christ in all of His glory, majesty and power in contrast to what we see about Him in the Gospels that highlight His character as the humble, meek, and suffering, incarnate Son of God.

Today, the term “apocalypse” has changed in meaning and it has a negative connotation attached to it. “Apocalypse” usually refers now to an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.” It is also used to refer to “the complete final destruction of the world which includes the horrible events that will happen in this world in connection with the second coming of Christ.   It is in this last sense that I use the phrase the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” We see these in the first Four Seals mentioned in Revelation chapter 6.   I will focus our study on these four seals because they form a group that is distinct from the rest of the seals. One of the things you will observe about these first four seals is their common features: each seal is preceded by an utterance from one of the four living beings and followed by the appearance of a colored horse and its rider who has some sort of power over the earth.   The four horses of Rev 6:1-8 are also similar to Zechariah 1:7-11 and Zech 6:1-7.   Zech 1:7-11 On the twenty- fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, 8 “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel (reddish brown), and white horses. 9 Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord? ’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are. ’ 10 So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth. ’ 11 And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.   Zech 6:1-7 Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. 2 The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, 3 the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled (spotted) horses —all of them strong. 4 Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “ What are these, my lord?” 5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. 6 The chariot with the black horses goes toward the north country, the white ones go after them, and the dappled ones go toward the south country.” 7 When the strong horses came out, they were impatient to go and patrol the earth. And he said, “ Go, patrol the earth.” So they patrolled the earth.  

But there are also differences between the horses of Revelation and Zechariah:

  • The horses in Zechariah 1 are colored red, sorrel, and white. In Zechariah 6 the horses are red, black, white, and dappled. The horses in Revelation are white, red, black, and pale green.

  • In Zechariah there is no special significance given to the colors of the horses but in Revelation there is.

  • The horsemen in Zech 1 and 6 are most are not human beings but most probably angels, whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth. They are God’s “special operations” forces engaged in secret observation of the world to provide up-to-date and accurate intelligence information for the Lord.

  • In Revelation, the four horses and their riders do not signify individuals; they are personifications of four great evil and destructive forces that God releases as He begins to pour His judgments on the earth before the second coming of Christ.

  • As I mentioned before, the first four seals cover the period Jesus described as “the beginning of the birth pangs in Mt 24:8.

  • This is period is part of what the book of Daniel calls the 70th week in Daniel 9:27. I will not talk about this yet in detail so that you will not be confused. But this is all I will say for now. Daniel 9:24-27 talks about “seventy weeks.” This is actually a period of seventy sets of seven years. These 70 sets of seven are divided into three parts:

  • 7 sets of seven years

  • 62 sets of seven years

  • 1 set of seven years. It is this last set that interests us. This is the period where we find the 7 seals of Revelation.

  • As terrible as those four judgments are, they are but the preliminary outpouring of God’s final wrath in the last three seals.

Now let’s look at the details of four seals or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  

The First Seal: False Peace (6:1-2)

  1 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse!   Chapters 4-5 described the praise offered in heaven to God the Father and to Jesus, the Lamb of God. The scene now shifts from heaven to earth. The praise ceases and now, having received the Scroll from His Father, the Lamb of God breaks the seven seals, one after another.   As each seal is broken in the vision, what is written on the scroll is not read, but acted out. The first four seals involve horses and riders. This is the reason for the phrase, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”   As the Lamb opens each of the first four seals, one of the living creatures shouts, “Come!” and a horse with its rider (or riders) responds to the summons. Only by the Lamb's permission and under his direction can the forces symbolized by these horses and their riders be released. As each of the seven seals is broken and opened, a new terror falls upon the earth.   In response to the angelic summons, a white horse and its rider came forth. What do they represent? Several explanations have been suggested.  
  1. It has been suggested that the rider on the white horse is the victorious Christ himself since “white” symbolizes righteousness and holiness and since in Rev 19:11-12 there is a picture of a white horse and on it a rider, called Faithful and True, and obviously is the victorious Christ. However, this cannot be a correct interpretation.
  • Since Christ breaks the first seal, He cannot also be the One who come forth in obedience to the voice of one of the living creatures.
  • The four horses and their riders do not represent individuals but growing movements or forces of evil and disasters that will work before the coming of Christ. This picture tells of the coming not of the victorious Christ but of the terrors of the wrath of God.
  • A comparison of chapters 6 and 19 shows that the only common thing between the two riders is that they are both riding white horses. Besides this they are different in many ways. In 6:2 the rider wears a victor’s wreath (stephanos) and carries a bow; in 19:11,15 Christ is crowned with “many diadems” and armed with a sharp sword coming out of his mouth and ruling with a rod of iron. Also the rider in chapter 6 comes at the beginning of the tribulation while Christ in chapter 19 returns at the end of the tribulation.
  1. Others identify the rider as the unstoppable Gospel that is sent forth in the world by Christ to conquer the world. We must reject this because the four horses and their riders do not represent something positive but the forces of evil or terrors of the wrath of God that is poured upon the sinful world.
  1. Others identify the rider as the Antichrist. There is also good reason to reject this view. As I said, the four horses and their riders do not represent individuals but forces of evil.
  1. It seems that the best explanation for the white horse and its rider is that they represent a growing movement or force that will bring temporary peace upon the world. This movement may be composed of the “many impostors” that Jesus talked about first in his Olivet Discourse. Mt 24:4-5 says, And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.
  Robert Thomas says,   This rider, like the other three, is not an individual, but a personification of a growing movement or force that will be at work during this future period. Christ spoke of many impostors. These will join hands in a concerted effort to unseat Him from His throne. The beast out of the sea (cf. Rev 13:1-8) will be a part of this movement and on his way to the top, but at the time represented by the first seal, he will not have risen to be the pre-eminent one of the movement. At the very beginning of the period, called, “the beginning of the birth pains,” he will be one of the many impostors who constitute this antichristian force of which the first rider is an emblem. (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 422)   The rider had a bow. The bow is always the sign of military power. But you will notice the absence of arrows.  “The bow indicates that war is threatened, but never actually occurs because victory is accomplished through peaceful means. Worldwide peace is the condition of the end of the first-seal period, because one of the results of the second seal is to take that peace away” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 423)   And a crown was given to him. The idea here is not that the rider forced someone to give him the crown. In the book of Revelation, the word “given” is used 18 times. In several of these instances, the idea behind this word is the permission that God gives for evil powers to carry out their wicked mission. See examples below:  
  • Rev 6:4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
  • Rev 6:8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth…
  • Rev 9:3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.
  This means that the reason why the rider on the white horse succeeds in his efforts to deceive people and gain authority over the people is because God has granted him that authority. We see here an application of the words of Paul in 2Th 2:11-12 where he writes,   11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”   Because many do not believe in the truth, God is allowing a strong delusion through false Messiahs deceive people.   and he came out conquering, and to conquer. The rider on the white horse went forth with the determined purpose of conquering and his victorious march knows no interruption. His career is one that is marked by a long series of victories. But remember that the nature of his victories will come through peaceful means. As a result of the efforts of many who will portray themselves to be champions of peace, the world will experience temporary peace But these peacemakers are motivated by an antichrist spirit. They appear to imitate Christ but they are not Christ’s followers. They actually hate Christ.   If Christ released the first rider on a white horse, I imagine that there would be somebody who would strike an agreement between warring nations and bring temporary peace in troubled regions and places such as the middle East, the Spratly islands in involving Brunei, China, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam, and other places ravaged by conflicts. In gratitude, the world will honor these “peacemakers,” but the peace they will deliver will be short lived.  

The Second Seal: Warfare and Bloodshed (6:3-4)

  The world’s peace and harmony will be shattered as the second horse and rider appear on the scene. As the Lamb opened the second seal, John heard the second living creature say, “Come.” And out came another horse, bright red.” Red is the color blood and it symbolizes slaughter or bloodshed. Bloodshed is not only caused by wars between nations but also by internal strife (i.e., “battles and misgivings that divide the citizens of a community among themselves.”).   In Matthew 24:5-7 our Lord Jesus says that after the many impostors who will lead many astray, wars will happen.   Again, as with the other horsemen, this second rider does not represent an individual but an evil force that God releases as Jesus breaks the second seal.   Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another. One preacher said, “This rider doesn’t need to bring war and destruction.  All he needs to do is take peace from the earth.  Peace between men and nations is a gift from God. Once this peace is taken, men rush in with war and destruction” (Guzik).   According to the book of Romans, all God needs to do in order for people to destroy one another is to give them up to their own sinfulness. He only needs to remove His restraining grace and people are going to commit murderous deeds.   Ro 1:28-31 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.   Violent slaughter will become commonplace. Men will kill one another on an unprecedented scale.   John also noted that this second rider will be given a great sword. The Greek word for “sword” here refers to the short, stabbing sword a Roman soldier carried to battle. It was also a weapon used by assassins. This sword is described as “great” because the number of people who are killed by this sword is so great.   We do live in an age of war and conflict.  Since World War II, there have been more than 150 wars of one kind or another on the earth, and at any given time there may be some three dozen armed conflicts taking thousands of lives yearly. But the bloodshed that will happen when the second seal is broken is much greater still and it will occur at a specific period which is still future and is referred to by Jesus as “the beginning of birth pains.” Let me read to you Mt 24:6-8   6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.  

Third Seal: Widespread Famine (6:5-6)

  As the Lamb opened the third seal, John heard the third living creature say, “Come!” and out came a black horse with its rider. Black signifies lamentation and mourning. This sorrowing is the result of the scarcity of food. This is indicated by its rider having a pair of scales in his hand. The pair of scales are two small trays that hung from each end of a balance beam and are used as an instrument for weighing.   The weighing scales show that the basic commodities of life are measured out at unreasonably high prices. This implies famine. This extreme shortage of food may be the result of wars all over the world that will destroy much of the food supply.   Jesus also predicted this future famine that follows worldwide wars in Mt 24:7, For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines   God has used famine as a means of judgment in the past, but this will be the most devastating famine in all of human history. This is going to happen in the future during a period the Lord calls “the beginning of the birth pains” (Mt 24:8).   John did not only see something when the third seal was broken, he also heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures (v.6). Since the four living creatures were stationed around the throne (4:6), this voice could either be from the Lamb or from God, but we cannot be absolutely sure. Some bible teachers think that it is more likely that this is the voice of God, the One sitting on the throne, because He is the ultimate source of all these judgments.   Of the four horsemen, the black horse and its rider are the only ones whose appearance is accompanied by a proclamation. It was an announcement regarding the prices of wheat and barley, and a command not to harm the oil and wine.   The first thing John heard was the announcement regarding: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius. [Magandang Balita Biblia: “Isang takal na trigo lamang ang mabibili ng sahod sa maghapong paggawa, at tatlong takal na sebada lamang ang mabibili ng gayon ding halaga.”]   God informs the hearer and reader the prices of the wheat and the barley, the staple food of many nations. Wheat was the main food of the ancient world. It is one of the top three most produced crops in the world, along with corn and rice. Barley is cheaper than wheat and was usually fed to animals. The denarius was a Roman silver coin equivalent to the daily wage of a working man (Mt 20:2). A quart of wheat is the approximate amount necessary to sustain one person for one day.   If my estimates are correct, when John wrote this letter, one denarius could normally buy about 7 kilos of wheat grain. But during this difficult period predicted here, one denarius could only buy about half kilo of wheat. This price is about 15 times what it should have been. This means that one day’s work will barely provide for one person for one day. By buying the cheaper commodity a laborer could obtain three measures and have enough for only a small family’s daily supply. (To give you a better perspective of how expensive the food was, it was like buying a half kilo of rice for P300.)   John also heard he command, “do not harm the oil and wine.” The warning against harming the oil and wine sets limits to the destruction about to be carried out by the third horseman. The command means “Do not even begin to damage the oil and the wine.” Some think that oil and wine were more in the category of luxuries. Oil was used for fuel for lamps, for healing the sick, and for anointing the head and body at feasts.   Ps 104:14-15 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.   Some think the command not to harm the oil and wine may imply that the privileged lifestyle of the rich will remain intact. This implies of course that during this period the inequality between the poor and the rich will be magnified. The poor will have it extremely hard while wealthy will experience no interruption to their luxurious lifestyle. However, the rich will get their judgments in the sixth seal judgment.  

The Fourth Seal: Death to Fourth of Earth’s Inhabitants (6:7-8)

  When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, the fourth living being summoned the fourth horse and its rider. John described the final horse as a pale horse. “Pale” refers to yellowish green color of a corpse in the advanced state of decomposition. The rider who sat on it had the name Death. This is of course the personification of death. Death on a massive scale is the inevitable consequence of widespread war and famine.   In this terrifying scene, John saw Death is followed by Hades. Some imagine Hades with open jaws receiving the victims slain by death. “Hades” refers to the region where the departed spirits of the lost are temporarily placed as they await their final judgment and eternal punishment in Hell.” (Hades is not equivalent to the a place the Roman Catholics call Purgatory. According to the teaching of Roman Catholics all souls that go to Purgatory will go to heaven. In Revelation, souls that go to Hades will go to Hell.)   Hades is not mounted on a horse and so probably it was on foot but apparently, he is still able to maintain the pace of the horse so as to keep up with Death’s movements.   And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth. This means that Death and Hades were granted by God the authority to take the lives of 25 percent of the world’s population. If the world’s population in 2015 is about 7.3 billion, that would amount to the staggering total of nearly 1.8 billion deaths. One commentator said, “The magnitude of this catastrophe can hardly be grasped because nothing comparable has happened throughout history” (Swete).   Death and Hades will use four tools in removing human life. They will kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. The first three elements, the sword, famine and pestilence, are often linked together in Scripture (Jer 14:12b, “But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”) But all four elements appear in Ezekiel 14:12-21.   We’ve looked at the sword and famine already in the second and third seals. Here’s an interesting commentary by John MacArthur on pestilence and the wild beasts.   “Pestilence” here may primarily refer to disease as the cause of death (2:23; 18:8) but is broad enough to encompass natural disasters such as the earthquakes predicted by Jesus (Mt 24:7), floods, and volcanic eruptions. It could even refer to the effects of biological and chemical weapons.   At first glance, the inclusion of “wild beasts” with war, famine, and disease seems puzzling, since most creatures dangerous to man are either extinct or isolated in unpopulated regions. But one explanation may be that the most deadly creature of all, the rat, thrives in all populated areas. Rats have been responsible for uncounted millions of deaths throughout history by spreading disease. The most devastating occurrence of rat-borne disease was a 14th century outbreak of bubonic plague that wiped out one-fourth to one-third of Europe’s population. In a world ravaged by war, famine, and disease, the rat population may run wild.  

As we close this section I want to make the following lessons:

  1. There are those who interpret these passages and suppose that they are developments that are already evident on the world scene today. For example, some think that the red horse represents Communism, the white horse and rider with a crown representing Catholicism, Black has been used as a symbol of Capitalism, while Green represents the rise of Islam. In light of this, many say that the end of the age is immediately in sight. Anyone who says that cannot believe in the pretribulational rapture. Because if that view is correct then it means that we are already in the first half of the seven-year tribulation and if Pretrib rapture is correct then the rapture has already occurred and we have all been left behind.
  I think the events connected to the four seals are still future. How long in the future, I do not know. You need to realize that when the seals start to be broken, they will result in growing intensity of trouble for the world. It will be strong felt because the difficulty and trouble the world will experience will be unprecedented. No nation will be exempted.   Please note that if you compare these horrible events connected with the four seals with the events that Jesus mentioned in Mt 24, you will see that they are all part of what Christ says “but the beginning of the birth pains.” Let’s read carefully Mt 24:3-7.   Before reading that portion please take note of the context of this utterance from Jesus. It was when the disciples asked in Mt 24:3, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The evil things that will happen are connected to a few years before the coming of Jesus and the end of the age. And so we are not talking about the usual impostors claiming to be Christ, wars, famines, earthquakes in various places in history. We are talking about a specific period in the future before Christ returns.   Mt 24:3-8 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, 4 And Jesus answered them, “ See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘ I am the Christ, ’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.  
  1. Let me remind you again that the evil that will be released in this world is going to be limited because the power of evil will only be permitted by God’s decision. Notice the limitation upon the third and fourth horsemen. The third horseman is not allowed to harm the oil and the wine (v. 6). Death and Hades could only kill one fourth of the world’s population (v. 8). All this shows the sovereignty of God. The evil that will happen in this world is under the control of Jesus.
  1. For your assignment, read Daniel 9:24-27.