In the Book of Revelation, a terrifying red horse carries a rider who will bring destruction. But has he already set forth, and is another world war on the horizon?
Many professing Christians have the idea that Jesus Christ could return at any moment—perhaps even tonight. Yet the Bible says something different. Jesus gave His disciples specific prophecies and told them to watch for their fulfillment, because His Second Coming would be preceded by signs—recognizable trends and events.
One of those is pictured by the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse, described in the book of Revelation. Scripture warns that, at the end of this age, this horseman—riding a fiery red horse and wielding a great sword—would “take peace from the earth, and… people should kill one another” (Revelation 6:3–4).
When the disciples asked Jesus, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3), He told them, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:6–8; Mark 13:7–8; Luke 21:8–10). And, while wars have certainly raged throughout history, there is no denying that the twentieth century saw the scope and magnitude of warfare and international conflict reach unprecedented levels.
Historian Philippe Gigantès offers this summary of the twentieth century: “There were two world wars; a cold war; many smaller wars; one great depression; two monster regimes and their fall—nazism and communism; decolonization; mass carnage; warplanes; atomic bombs” (Power and Greed, p. 187). The death toll of World War I was more than 8.5 million; that of WWII was more than 14 million soldiers and 27 million civilians. In addition, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong each killed tens of millions of their own countrymen as they established communist states. Never before have wars been fought on a global scale with so many lives lost.
Jesus’ prediction that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” is an accurate description of what is happening today. The biblical Greek word for nation—ethnos—refers to a people, race, tribe, or ethnic group. The biblical Greek word for kingdom—basileia—means a nation, realm, or empire. Jesus prophesied that ethnic strife and wars between nations would dominate the news at the end of the age.
Harvard University professor Samuel Huntington famously observed that “the central and most dangerous dimension of the emerging global politics [will] be conflict between groups from differing civilizations…. The rivalry between superpowers is being replaced by the clash of civilizations… between peoples belonging to different cultural groups…. Clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace” (The Clash of Civilizations, pp. 13, 28, 321). Religious and ethnic strife is at the heart of many of the violent clashes in recent decades.
The Apostle Paul warned that “in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud… unloving, unforgiving… brutal” (2 Timothy 3:1–5). This describes what we have seen in recent years on a global scale. After the print version of this issue was already in the mail to subscribers, Russia invaded Ukraine, stunning the world and stirring concerns worldwide about the possibilities of escalation. German legislators quickly authorized a $113 billion expenditure to strengthen the German army, and the developing alliance between China and Russia is stirring new concerns about Chinese ambitions to reclaim Taiwan. Elsewhere, will long-standing distrusts between India and Pakistan erupt into nuclear conflagration? Will North Korea assert itself as a world power by launching missiles that can reach population centers? Will Sudan stabilize after the coup that toppled its government in October 2021, or will it lurch into greater destruction and chaos?
And let us not forget ongoing subnational conflicts across the globe, from Boko Haram terrorists across Africa, to resurgent ISIS cells in Syria, to “drug lord” violence ravaging parts of Mexico—the list could go on and on. Never before have a relatively few individuals armed with the weapons of their day been able to wield an influence far beyond their numbers, putting at risk entire regions—or even our entire planet!
Is it any wonder that the people of the world will be so receptive to a powerful prophesied world leader who will promise to keep the world safe from so much turmoil? But what will come of such promises? In another end-time prophecy, Paul foretold that “the day of the Lord so comes as a thief [unexpectedly] in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them” (1 Thessalonians 5:2–3). In recent decades, we have witnessed peace conferences, prayers for peace, and marches for peace—yet the world becomes more dangerous every day! This is exactly what Jeremiah foretold more than 2,500 years ago. In prophecies that apply to both Jeremiah’s time and the future, he wrote that “from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely… saying, ‘Peace, Peace!’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13–14; 8:10–11).
Jesus warned of other conditions that would prevail just before His return. While cautioning that no one would know “the day nor the hour” of His coming, He warned that “as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 25:13; 24:36–39). Scripture reveals that in the days of Noah, “the earth was filled with violence… all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:11–13).
Our modern society is permeated with violence—in our homes, our schools, our “entertainment,” and everywhere on the world scene. Jesus explained that, because of escalating violence, war, and immorality, “unless those days were shortened [by the return of Christ], no flesh would be saved” (Matthew 24:21–22). Jesus clearly understood the danger of human extinction, which became a real threat with the advent of the atomic bomb in the mid-twentieth century!
And the danger has persisted into the twenty-first century, exploding to new levels after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. soil. “In the two decades since [the 9/11 attacks, the] 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force has been formally invoked to justify counterterrorism (CT) operations—including ground combat, airstrikes, detention, and the support of partner militaries—in 22 countries…. During that same time, the number of terrorist groups threatening Americans and American interests has, according to the U.S. State Department, more than doubled.… The 2001 AUMF has… already been invoked by Biden to cover an unknown number of military missions in 12 countries: Afghanistan, Cuba, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Niger, the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen” (“The war on terror is going great—for terrorist groups,” BusinessInsider.com, January 6, 2022). Peace? There is no peace!
We are living in perilous times, but the news is not all bad! Jesus concluded His prophecies of the end of the age on a positive note, saying that “when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:28–33). In the days of Noah, God intervened with a flood to put an end to human corruption and violence, yet He saved Noah and his family to repopulate the earth. In the years ahead, God will intervene again to put an end to corrupt human behavior and global violence. The Second Horseman of the Apocalypse, though he portends terrible ruin on the earth in the end times, also will precede the glorious soon-coming reign of the Savior, Jesus Christ!