Who are these four horsemen of the apocalypse? What or who do they represent?
The Book of Revelation
When we read the Book of Revelation, we should realize that this isn’t the Apostle John’s revelation. The Bible says it is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Rev 1:1), so it’s not a revelation from mankind, but a direct revelation from God in Jesus Christ. This isn’t what John thought up or believed what would happen in the future, because only God can know the future with certainty. This is a revelation directly from Jesus Christ, so this doesn’t come from John but from God. The point being, since God wrote it, we can know that it is 100% true. We don’t have to guess or speculate about the source. God wrote it through John who was “in the spirit,” (Rev 1:10) possibly meaning he was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The Omniscient God
Only God knows what’s around the corner of time. We are blind to what’s in the future, but God’s already been there and back. He holds the future in His firm grip, and nothing we can ever do will change what God has purposed in His good pleasure and in His good will to do. This is why Daniel the Prophet prayed to God, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might” (Dan 2:20), for only God “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Dan 2:21). No one but God can reveal “deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Dan 2:22). The point is we must use Scripture to reveal who and what the four horsemen of the apocalypse are, and speculate or guess about it. It’s always best to let Scripture interpret Scripture by reading cross-references, especially with difficult passages, and there are many in the Book of Revelation. If we realize that this book wasn’t written in chronological order (or a time-sequence of events), we might better see where these “horsemen” fit into the future (or in the past?). Some speculate that these horsemen have been riding for a long time now, but let’s look at Revelation 6, and a very interesting parallel in Matthew chapter 24. Both of these are Jesus’ revelations, so we know our source is the Truth.
Matthew 24 and Revelation 6
The four horsemen of the apocalypse is a revelation from Jesus Christ, as is the Book of Revelation (Rev 1:1-2), but so is Jesus’ Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24. When we look at these chapters next to one another, we see some very interesting parallels.
The White Horse
Revelation 6:1-2 “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!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.”
Matthew 24:4-5 “And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”
These passages seem to be speaking about someone who looks or speaks like Christ and comes in His name but also has the power to deceive and lead many astray. Isn’t this happening now with all of the false teachers and preachers preaching a false gospel? The white horse is even imitating the white horse that Jesus will ride when He returns to judge the world, and which is mentioned in Revelation 19:11 where it says, “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.”
The Red Horse
Revelation 6:3-4 “When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 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.”
Matthew 24:6-7a “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. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
The red color of the next horse is symbolic of blood, as this rider takes peace from the world, and in a similar passage, Jesus said that nations are going to rise against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms. Is there coming a time when nations will begin to rise up against one another like they have during the great world wars of the past? Jesus said that’s a sign of the end of the age and His triumphant return.
The Black Horse
Revelation 6:5-6 “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
Matthew 24:7b-8 “and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
What typically follows wars? Its famine, and in this case, the black horse, representative of famine, and you’d certainly expect famine after a time of war. History shows that famines have almost always followed a time of war, especially after a major world war. During and after times of war, there might have to be rationing of foods, and since supply-demand determines prices, food prices might skyrocket in price due to shortages. This may explain why it takes a whole denarius to buy one quart of wheat. That was a whole day’s wages then, so might we expect the same type of hyper-inflation during and after a war? Quite possibly, yes.
The Pale Horse
Revelation 6:7-8 “When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 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, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”
Matthew 24:7b-9 “and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.”
Where wars occur, famine usually follows, and after famines, death. That’s what’s represented by the pale horseman. If you’ve ever watched any of the crimes shows, maybe you’ve see a corpse. It’s usually pale because there is no blood circulating, so the pale horse rider symbolizes death, which was Jesus’ subject in Matthew 24:8-9 where He was speaking about martyrs. In fact, right after the pale rider comes, it mentions “the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Rev 6:9).
Do I have all of this figured out? No! Does anyone really understand all that’s been written in the Book of Revelation? I don’t know, but I do know this. We must seek out the lost to share the gospel because the signs of His return seem to be evident. Jesus could come back at any moment, and He warned, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Rev 24:27). And that’s why we must warn the lost, telling them, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt 24:44). The day is approaching when it will be said, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so Amen” (Rev 1:7). They will wail or cry in anguish because they’ve rejected Him all their lives and they are now soon to be judged (Rev 1: 7).