Who Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? #158 #Revelation
Happy Thursday, friends, and I hope you are having as nice a weather as we have been having in central California the past few days. Now that I am opening the podcast by discussing the weather, we can verify that the show has officially jumped the shark. It’s been a good run, and I appreciate you listening. Today’s Bible readings include Deuteronomy 8, Psalms 91, Isaiah 36 and Revelation 6, which is our focus passage. I’m going to be honest with you – it’s going to be tough for me to focus on another chapter other than Revelation for the next few days, but I’ll try!
Today’s question is all about the fabled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and there are two very different and distinct ways to answer the question, depending on whether or not you were listening to a pro wrestling podcast, or a daily Bible reading podcast. Which reminds me of another philosophy joke that I found while looking for a non-boring podcast opening last week, and it here it is:
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson decide to go on a camping trip. After dinner and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night, and go to sleep.
Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.
“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
Watson replied, “I see millions of stars.”
“What does that tell you?”
Watson pondered for a minute.
“Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.”
“Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.”
“Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.”
“Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant.”
“Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”
“What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke: “Watson, you idiot. Someone has stolen our tent!”
Very drole, and it brings us to the first mystery we have to solve together: Is this a wrestling podcast, or a daily Bible podcast? Let’s examine the clues, Watson. Was there loud glass breaking and aggressive music at the beginning? Has anybody yet asked if we could smell what the Rock was cooking? Has there been any instances of loud ‘woo’ing? Has there been any talk of saying our prayers and taking our vitamins? (Well, that one’s a wash, I guess) The answer to most of those questions is ‘no.’ No Hulkamaniacs, no full nelsons, no Frankensteiners off the top rope, no Stone Cold Stunners, or Rock Bottoms and no Swanton Bombs. I guess we can conclude that this is NOT a wrestling podcast, and thus the answer to our question about the Four Horseman is not, “Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and Ole Anderson.” No, my friends – this is a Bible podcast, and the place we turn to for our answers is the Bible, so let’s read Revelation 6 and discover the four horsemen:
6 Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there was a white horse. Its rider held a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a conqueror in order to conquer.
The Second Seal
3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse went out, a fiery red one, and its rider was allowed to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And a large sword was given to him.
The Third Seal
5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and there was a black horse. Its rider held a set of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard something like a voice among the four living creatures say, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, but do not harm the oil and the wine.”
The Fourth Seal
7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following after him. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth.
Revelation 6:1-8, CSB.
That is a pretty terrifying image! First thing to remember in our discussion – Apocalypse doesn’t mean, at least in the book of Revelation, the same thing as cataclysm, or armageddon, or whatever…we use the word differently today than the Greeks did in John’s day. Apocalypse means a revealing/revelation, so these horsemen are the Four Horsemen of Revelation. Yes, they bring trouble and disaster, but they are serving the ends of the King of Kings, not the pretender.
If you are familiar with the old Clint Eastwood film, Pale Rider (1985) it is a reference to the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, death. (Shout out to Clint – his birthday was this week, and my family and I just got back from his city – Carmel by the Sea.) Interestingly, the Pale Horse/χλωρός chlōrós, of Revelation 6 is actually more of a green horse, because chloros apparently means green – as in green grass (see Matthew 6:39.) Why is the death horse green? That is actually a good question. One answer might be that chloros can also be translated as gray/pale/greenish, which is what the excellent Greek scholar Robert Mounce argues in his commentary on Revelation, and I think that is probably the answer. The pale/greenish/gray horse and rider are likely meant to look like death and decay, rather than like green grass. Let’s turn to End-time scholar George Eldon Ladd to give us some help on one way of understanding the Four Horsemen:
The Revelation claims to depict the consummation of God’s redemptive purpose, involving both judgment and salvation. One of the key problems in the interpretation of the book is the relationship between the seals, trumpets, and bowls. In the solution of this problem may lie the key to the interpretation of the book. John sees a book in the form of a scroll, sealed with seven seals along its outer edge, resting in the hand of God. No creature was found able to break the seals and open the book, except the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who was the slain Lamb. This strikes the keynote of the book. The conquering Lion, who alone can disclose the hidden purposes of God, is the Jesus who died on the cross.
The little book is in the form of an ancient will, which was usually sealed with the seals of the seven witnesses. The book contains God’s inheritance for his people, which is founded upon the death of his Son.12 The saints’ inheritance is the Kingdom of God; but the blessings of God’s Kingdom cannot be bestowed apart from the destruction of evil. In fact, the very destruction of all evil powers is one of the blessings of God’s kingly rule. Here is the twofold theme of the Revelation: the judgment of evil and the coming of the Kingdom.
The successive breaking of the seals does not gradually open the book. Its contents cannot be disclosed until the last seal is broken. However, as each seal is broken, something happens. After the first seal, conquest rides forth over the earth; after the second, war; then famine, and death, and martyrdom. The sixth seal brings us to the end of the age and the coming of the great Day of the Lord and of the wrath of the Lamb (6:16–17). This suggests that the events attending the breaking of the seals do not constitute the end itself but events leading up to the end. This structure is paralleled in Matthew 24, where wars, famines, and other evils are but the “beginning of woes,” not the end itself (Mt. 24:8). Furthermore, the conquering white horse parallels Matthew 24:14, and pictures the victories to be won by the preaching of the gospel in the world.
Many commentators feel that the four horsemen must be alike in kind, and that the white horse must therefore represent some evil power. However, no woe is mentioned as with the other horsemen, and white in the Revelation is always associated with Christ or with spiritual victory. That the preaching of the gospel is associated with plagues is here no more incongruous than it is in Matthew 24:1–14. It is no effective objection to say that the gospel in this present order will never be triumphant.This is true; but the gospel does win victories. Both the sword (Heb. 4:12; Rev. 2:12) and the bow (Isa. 49:2–3) are symbols of God’s working among human beings In the breaking of the five seals are disclosed the agencies God uses before the end to lead up to the fulfillment of salvation and judgment: the preaching of the gospel and the evils of war, death, famine, and martyrdom. These are, as it were, anticipations of the consummated salvation and judgment that are contained within the sealed book.
The sixth seal brings us to the end; but with the breaking of the seventh seal, when the book itself can at last be opened and its contents disclosed, nothing happens (8:1). There is no woe. While it is in accordance with the flexibility of apocalyptic symbolism that the actual book now drops out of sight and its contents are never explicitly mentioned, the fact that the seventh seal is given no specific content suggests that all that follows, beginning with the seven trumpets, constitutes the contents of the book. Here then begins the actual unfolding of the judicial and redemptive events that constitute the consummation.
We may conclude that a moderate futurist interpretation understands the seven letters to be addressed to seven historical churches that are representative of the entire church. The seals represent the forces in history, however long it lasts, by which God works out his redemptive and judicial purposes in history leading up to the end. The events beginning with chapter 7 lie in the future and will attend the final disposition of the divine will for human history.
George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, ed. Donald A. Hagner, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 673–675.