Have you ever wondered why we have war or why there is such a disparity of wealth—why some people and whole nations are rich and overfed while others are starving and deprived of other basic necessities? Why do governments spend billions on wars that kill and maim while the poor continue to suffer?
I used to wonder why the world is the way it is, why there couldn’t be more peace and cooperation among people and nations to make the world a better place. I found the answer to that in the Bible, beginning with Revelation chapter 6, about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
In Revelation chapter 6, Jesus opens the book of the future, which is sealed with seven seals, and shows the apostle John the future of the world from that time (about 90 AD) to the last days (the time in which we are now living) and beyond.
Another name for the book of Revelation is the Apocalypse, which means “a revelation concerning the future.” The four horsemen of the Apocalypse reveal the truth about religion, war, and economics, and set the stage for what is soon to come.
The first seal
And I saw when the Lamb [Jesus] opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, “Come and see.” And I saw, and behold, a white horse: and He that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto Him: and He went forth conquering, and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1–2 KJV.)
The first horseman, who wears a crown and goes forth to conquer, is obviously Jesus. What was happening at this time in world history, in about 90 AD? The resurrected Jesus was going forth to “conquer” the world with the Gospel through His apostles and the early Christians—and they would eventually conquer the mighty Roman Empire. Jesus’ message of the love and forgiveness of God would prove more powerful than all the legions of Rome! Jesus is this mighty conqueror on the white horse.
We find another picture of a white horse in Revelation chapter 19: “And behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True. ... His name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:11,13 KJV). We know from John 1:14 that “The Word of God” is Jesus: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And following Jesus are the armies of Heaven, the resurrected saints who are also riding white horses as they come down from Heaven to defeat the forces of the Antichrist and take over the world at the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:14).
The second seal
And when He had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, “Come and see.” And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. (Revelation 6:3–4 KJV.)
What takes “peace from the earth”?—War! This red horse symbolizes war, the military and their wars. The horse’s color is appropriate because it represents all the blood shed in man’s hellish wars—wars for which God is not responsible, but which come from the pride, prejudices, and avarice of man’s heart. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1 KJV).
The “great sword” given to the rider of the red horse seems to suggest the great “improvements” in weapons of war and the vastly greater devastation bought on by war since this prophecy was given in John’s day.
The third seal
And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, “Come and see.” And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, “A measure of wheat for a penny; and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5–6 KJV.)
This black horse’s rider with the pair of balances in his hand symbolizes the rich capitalists that have a major impact on world conditions through their manipulation of national economies. Only one other verse in the Bible pictures a man with balances, or scales: “The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud” (Hosea 12:7 NIV).
Another prophet, Amos, also said that the merchants—the wealthy capitalists of his day who were robbing the poor instead of helping them—“set forth wheat, making the ephah [unit of measure] small, and the shekel [price] great, and falsifying the balances by deceit...that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail” (Amos 8:4–6 KJV).
The black horse, then, represents famine and poverty perpetrated by the rich who refuse to share with those in need. This horse is largely responsible for today’s economic situation. Oil and wine throughout the Scriptures symbolize abundance or luxury. The fact that the oil and wine were “hurt not” indicates a situation where wealth and luxury exist alongside famine and poverty—and the gulf between rich and poor is only growing.
The fourth seal
And when He had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7–8 KJV.)
The fourth and final horseman of the Apocalypse is death itself—death not only from war, but also from beasts and plagues and famine and death in every other conceivable form.
Death has always been with us, of course, but death by famine, natural disasters, new plagues such as AIDS, and new pestilences such as the Ebola and coronaviruses have heightened, just like Jesus said they would prior to His return: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:7).
The fifth seal
And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Revelation 6:9–11 KJV.)
First comes the white horse, the proclamation of its rider’s message, and the “conquest” of many souls. Then comes the open rejection of that message by the unbelievers, those in league with the other three horsemen on the red, black, and pale horses, which crystallizes into persecution and the martyrdom of “them that were slain for the Word of God.” This is the way it’s been all throughout history. These martyrs, though, are actually the exception. Most of Jesus’ followers have usually escaped martyrdom and lived on to help carry on His work.
War, greed, and death—the characters that were revealed when the second, third, and fourth seals were opened—are almost as old as the world itself, but the biblical picture both here and elsewhere is that each of these forces has taken on greater power since the time of this revelation.
Again, Jesus predicted this in His famous Endtime discourse, Matthew chapter 24, and said that it would culminate in “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:7, 21–22).
In other words, Jesus was saying, one day man would reach such an impasse that if God were to let him continue unchecked, he would annihilate himself. Only within the last 60 or 70 years has the human race developed the potential to destroy itself. The military (red horse) now have their nuclear bombs, intercontinental missiles, chemical and biological weapons, and other lethal technologies.
However, when man finally reaches that suicidal point, Jesus said that God would step in and stop man. And the way God will stop him is at the Battle of Armageddon that happens shortly after Jesus’ Second Coming and the Resurrection and Rapture. First the resurrected saints will go to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9) and then return with Jesus probably sometime near the end of Wrath of God and defeat the Antichrist and his forces at the Battle of Armageddon. (Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 16:16-21)
The rich, on their black horse, were complicit in the last century’s great wars, and their hoarding and misuse of their riches is threatening another one. The rich also, in their relentless pursuit of greater wealth, are finally succeeding in polluting the entire earth—a byproduct of modern technology.
And following the others comes the fourth horseman, on the pale horse—death in every form.
So there you have the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. They will continue to ride until the end, when Jesus returns to take us home with Him. God will then cleanse and purify the earth and set up His eternal kingdom, ruled by Jesus Christ and His Saints.