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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.

Revelation, The Last Book in The Bible

The book of Revelation is rightly found at the end of our Bibles: not only is it possible that it was the last New Testament book to be written (although this point is contested), but it most thoroughly speaks about Christ’s second coming and eternity. Moreover, anyone who wishes to under Revelation must first be well acquainted with the rest of the Bible, both the Tanach (the Old Testament) and the New Testament, for the book makes frequent reference to both.

Because of its many references to the rest of the Bible, its extensive use of symbolism, and its complex structure, Revelation is difficult to understand. Consequently, there are at least five main views of how to interpret the book: preterist, historical, idealist, futurist, and eclectic.

According to preterist view, the book is mainly about the persecution of the church by Nero Caesar and the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD.

According to the historicist view, the book foretells various periods/events throughout history, from the first century to the Lord’s future return.

The idealist view interprets Revelation not as a book about events in the past or the future, but about theological and spiritual concepts that are meant to encourage persecuted Christians of all times.

The futurist view holds that the book of Revelation is mainly about events that have yet to be fulfilled, most of which will be fulfilled during a future period of seven years called the Great Tribulation.

Finally, the eclectic view seeks to reinterpret the book by combining the four views above (preterist, historicist, idealist, and futurist).

The Four Horsemen

There are many memorable elements in the book of Revelation, and one of them is the four horsemen. They appear when the Lamb (Jesus) opens four of seven seals on a scroll.

6 And I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying like the sound of thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one seated on it had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and in order that he might conquer.

3 And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!” 4 And another horse came out, fiery red, and it was granted to the one seated on it to take peace from the earth, and that they would slaughter one another, and a large sword was given to him.

5 And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse, and the one seated on it had a balance scale in his hand. 6 And I heard something like 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 damage the olive oil and the wine!”

7 And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard a voice from the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale green horse, and the one seated on it was named Death, and Hades followed after him. And authority was granted to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword and by famine and by pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:1-8, LEB)

Most interpreters agree on the meaning of the red, black, and pale horses: (wars, famines, and death—it’s just a matter of when they take place (past, present, future, whenever). However, the white horse is cause of controversy. Some believe it represents the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem; others, a Roman emperor, the Lord (Jesus Christ), or even the Antichrist. Clearly, one’s approach to understanding the book of Revelation will influence one's interpretation of the white horse.

Interpreting The White Horse

The White Horse

It is easy to see why some interpreters believe the rider on the white horse to be the Lord Jesus Christ. In Revelation, white is usually a color that represents purity (Revelation 1:14, 2:17, 3:4, 3:5, 3:18, 4:4, 6:2, 6:11, 7:9, 7:13, 7:14, 14:14, 15:6, 19:8, 20:11); the Lord's own horse is white (Revelation 19:11); and the horses of the Lord’s armies are white (Revelation 19:14). Moreover, in Psalm 45:4-5, the Christ (Messiah) rides on a horse and uses arrows to battle.

A Bow

Throughout the Bible, arrows are dangerous weapons because they are swift (Psalm 76:3, 77:13), sharp (Proverbs 7:23, Habakkuk 3:14) , and silent (Psalm 11:2, Psalm 91:5). Even God uses a bow and arrows (Genesis 9:13, Psalm 64:7).

Conquering and to Conquer

According to the text, the rider of the white horse went out “conquering and to conquer” (Revelation 6:2, KJV). This redundant expression appears to mean that the rider was victorious from the moment he went out: he was conquering since he went out, and he was going out for the purpose of conquering.

The Crown

In regards to the crown, crowns usually represent (not only in Revelation, but also in the rest of the Bible) that one has authority or victory (Zechariah 6:11, 1 Corinthians 9:25).

Moreover, the crown had been given to the one riding the horse. Usually, it is God who gives crowns, whether it be on the unbelieving or on Christ himself (Psalm 8:5, Daniel 2:37, Zechariah 6:11, Hebrews 2:9).

Other Cosinderations

But before we jump to conclusions, we we will do well to remember that Revelation draws from several other books of the Bible, like from Daniel and Ezekiel. Are there other apocalyptic horses anywhere in the Bible? Yes, there are.

Comparison with The Horses in Zechariah

The prophet Zechariah saw a man riding a red horse (Zechariah 1:8), and behind this red horses were other horse: some red, some sorrel, and some white. He also saw chariots being pulled by red horses, black horses, white horses, and dappled horses (Zechariah 6:2-3).

At first glance, Zechariah’s horses do not appear to assist us in our interpretation of Revelation’s horses. Zechariah’s horses come in groups, but Revelation’s horses are single horses. Zechariah’s horses are red, black, white, and dappled, but Revelation’s horses are white, red, black, and pale. Zecharaiah’s horses do not appear to stand for large concepts, such as war, famine, and death. Nevertheless, Zecharaiah does give us an important detail.

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In Zechariah 6:4, Zechariah asks the angel that was talking with him who these riders are, and the angel answers that these riders are the four spirits of the heavens that stand before the God of all the Earth. This information is consistent with the answer that Zechariah receives in Zechariah 1:10, that the riders are spirits whom God has sent throughout the earth—pressumalby to monitor and bring about events on Earth.

In Revelation, there are several spirits (angels) who bring about events of judgment on Earth. Therefore, the riders on the horses can be interpreted as spirits sent to bring about judgment on Earth.

What this means is that the rider on a white horse is most likely a spirit that is enabling an event on Earth (that event is a conquest). Therefore, it is unlikely that the rider on the white horse is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Most Likely, He Isn't Christ

Most likely, we can safely conclude that the horseman in Revelation 6:2 is not the Lord Jesus.

First, every time the Book of Revelation depicts Christ, it gives compelling hints that make it clear that the passage is talking about Christ. For example, when John sees the Son of Man in Revelation 1:13, the Son of Man tells us that He is the one who lives, was dead, and now lives forever (Revelation 1:18). There is therefore no question that John had seen the Lord.

When John sees the Lamb with Seven Horns and Seven Eyes, Revelation makes it clear that this Lamb had been slain to redeem humankind with his blood (Revelation 4:6 and 9). There is no question that the Lamb represents the Lord.

Then, when John sees a rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:11, he immediately identifies the rider as faithful, true, having many crowns, the Word of God, having eyes like flames of fire, and having a sharp sword in His mouth. There is no question that the passage is describing the Lord Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, when Revelation 6:2 presents the horseman on the white horse, no compelling details are given. Therefore, since the book itself does not identify the rider on the white horse as Christ, it is very unlikely that the rider is Christ.

Comparison with The Gospels

The events unleashed on Earth by the horsemen remind us of the Lord’s eschatological discourse in the synoptic gospels, and I think this is intentional because Revelation demonstrates the author’s familiarity with New Testament concepts such as Jesus being the Lamb of God, the Word of God, the anointed king in Psalm 2, and the reason Herod ordered the slaughter of children under two years old.

We need to remember that the four horsemen (the rider of the white horse included) are part of a larger sequence of events: the seven seals that the Lamb opens.

The first seal brings about the rider on the white horse; the second, the rider on the red horse; the third, the rider on the black horse; the fourth, the rider on the pale horse; the fifth seal, the persecution and martyrdom of saints; and the sixth seal, a cataclysm: stars falling to the earth, an earthquake, the darkening of the sun, and the moon turning to blood. The seventh seal is a structural device that allows the book of Revelation to develop its topic further.

The sixth seal, the cataclysm, reminds us of the Lord’s eschatological discourse in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21. In these discourses, the Lord teaches that the event preceding his return to Earth is a cataclysm characterized by the stars falling to Earth, an earthquake, the darkening of the sun, and the moon turning to blood. Thus, Revelation appears to point us specifically to the Lord’s discourse.

When we look further into the Lord’s eschatological discourse, we find events that resemble the five seals that precede the cataclysm: wars, famine, death, and persecution of the saints.

In Mark 13:7-8, the Lord foretold wars (red horse) and famines (black horse). Death is implied throughout the discourse (pale horse). In Mark 13:9 and Mark 13:12-13, he foretold the persecution of Christians (fifth seal). Then, in Mark 13:24-25, the Lord foretold the cataclysm prior to his coming.

In Matthew 24:6-7, the Lord foretold wars, famines, and earthquakes (red and black horses). In Matthew 24:9, he foretold the persecution and martyrdom of Christians (fifth seal). In Matthew 24:29, he foretold the cataclysm (sixth seal), which is immediately followed by the Lord’s return. Death is implied all over the discourse (pale horse).

In Luke 21:10, the Lord foretold wars (red horse). In Luke 21:11, he foretold both famines and pestilences along with earthquakes (black and pale horses). In Luke 21:12-18, he foretold persecutions and martyrdom (the fifth seal). Then, in Luke 21:25-26, he foretold the cataclysm (sixth seal), which is followed by the Lord’s return in Luke 21:27.

In my opinion, Revelation 6 is a symbolic representation of the events foretold by the Lord in his eschatological discourses as recorded in the synoptic gospels.

That begs the question, where is the white horse in the Lord’s eschatological discourse?

The best answer is perhaps the most obvious answer: the white horse, which in Revelation goes out conquering and to conquer, and therefore represents conquest, is most likely linked to a key event in the Lord’s discourse: the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:14-19, Matthew 24:15-22, Luke 21:20-24).

Do Mark and Matthew Agree with Luke?

The difficulty with this interpretation of the white horse for someone who, as myself, has held for long to the futurist interpretation of Revelation, is the following:

Luke 21:20-24 is clearly speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but Mark 13:14-19 and Matthew 24:15-22 are normally interpreted by futurists to occur in the future because they do not believe the abomination of desolation was fulfilled in the year 70 AD (preterists, on the other hand, place them as parallel with Luke 21:20-24).

For preterists, then, there should be no problem in saying that the white horse in revelation 6 represents the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD, which was brought about by the forces of Roman general (and later, Emperor) Titus.

However, for futurists, the question remains: if Mark 13:14-19 and Matthew 24:15-22 are talking about the future, and if Luke 21:20-24 is talking about the past, why would the white horse in Revelation 6 match Mark and Matthew, and not match Luke?

What The Rider on The White Horse Must Mean

Given that Luke 21:20-24 is clearly talking about the destruction of 70 AD, and given that the white horse in Revelation 6 is the first seal of seven, and so precedes other events, it makes sense to me that the white horse in Revelation 6 is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

What Revelation 6 appears to be saying is that, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, there would be wars, famines, and deaths of various kinds, followed by persecutions of Christians, until the time when a cataclysm occurs before the Lord returns to Earth. The destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD is clearly spoken of in Luke 21.

The rider on the white horse, then, is the angel that brings about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. He has a bow to make a fast destruction, he has a crown that gives him authority to carry out this destruction, and he goes out conquering and to conquer because he will be successful on his mission.

The rider is not Christ because Revelation does not identify him as Christ, and because (according to the gospels) the Lord will return after the cataclysm (the sixth seal in Revelation).

Moreover, the rider on the white horse is not the Antichrist because the horses are most likely a general reference to the Lord's discourse, which doesn't directly discuss the Antichrist. Revelation is simply reminding us of the Lord's discourse.

Finally, after the destruction of Jerusalem, there will be wars, famines, deaths, and persecutions until a cataclysm occurs and the Lord returns.

What do you think?

© 2021 Marcelo Carcach

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