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What are the four horsemen of the apocalypse? Learn the Bible’s answer—and how to prepare—as Richard Ames goes through end-times prophecy in Revelation 6:1-8, Matthew 24, and other prophecies in the book of Revelation.
[The text below represents an edited transcript of this Tomorrow’s World program.]
Of all the mysterious symbols and prophecies of the Bible, few have captured the imagination of the broader culture like the FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. Leaping from the pages of the book of Revelation, these horsemen and their colored horses have been used as metaphors for death, destruction, and world-ending calamity for centuries.
But they aren’t meaningless symbols to be used however WE want to use them or speculate about them. Jesus Christ revealed them to His servant John in a vision depicting our VERY REAL FUTURE—a future that is galloping toward us at full speed.
You need to understand the meaning of the four horsemen before their arrival catches you and your family off guard and unprepared. Join us today as we reveal Jesus Christ’s own meaning behind the COMING FOUR HORSEMEN.
Greetings, and welcome to Tomorrow’s World, where we help you make sense of your world through the pages of the Bible. Today we’re going to talk about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—some of the most infamous and imagination-stirring figures to enter our culture from the pages of the Bible.
Some of you may remember how the four popular, so-called “new atheists”—Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—were dubbed the “Four Horsemen” by many. Similarly, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple have been called the “Four Horsemen of Tech.” In the movies, you might be familiar with Clint Eastwood’s film “Pale Rider”—or even the superhero movie “X-Men: Apocalypse” and its four “mutant” horsemen.
Such uses actually OBSCURE the very important FUTURE REALITY that Jesus Christ intended the Four Horsemen to represent. It is THAT LIFE AND DEATH REALITY that we lay out for you on today’s program.
To do that, we need to lay an important foundation first.
The four horsemen come to us from chapter 6 of the prophetic book of Revelation. In this passage, the Apostle John is seeing a vision of events in heaven, including the unsealing of a scroll with seven seals. Those seven seals represent future events, and of all in heaven and earth, Revelation 5 tells us that only Jesus Christ was found to be worthy of opening those seals and revealing the contents of God’s prophetic scroll.
And this leads us to a vital element we need to uncover the identity of these horsemen: JESUS CHRIST IS THE REVELATOR. The entire purpose of the book of Revelation is not to HIDE truth, but to REVEAL IT—after all, it is called the book of “REVELATION,” not the book of CONCEALING or HIDING. In fact, it gets that name from its own words. Look at them with me in Revelation 1:1:
“The REVELATION of JESUS CHRIST, which God gave Him to SHOW HIS SERVANTS—things which must shortly take place.”
Note several things here: First, it is the Revelation of JESUS CHRIST. If we want to understand the things it says, we need to consider what HE teaches us and shows us. Also note, God gave Him this revelation to SHOW HIS SERVANTS THINGS WHICH MUST SHORTLY TAKE PLACE. Not to hide those things so that they would not be understood, but to REVEAL THEM!
Keeping in mind that Revelation represents Jesus’ own revelation about the future, let’s turn to Matthew 24. This is another place in the Bible where Jesus discusses end-time events, and there is a pattern there that will help us immensely as we tackle the identities of the four horsemen.
Here in a prophecy, given by Christ on the Mount of Olives, Jesus explains much about world conditions leading up to His second coming and the end of this age. There we see an important pattern. Let’s start in verse 4. Here, He begins to answer His disciples’ questions about His return:
“And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:4–8).
While He mentions several things in this prophecy, take note of four PARTICULAR items in Jesus’ words here that occur in this order:
1. False Religion
It’s important to note that Jesus says in v. 6, “the end is not yet.” Because, to a great extent, the things He mentions here have been happening since time immemorial.
Yet, the pattern of items Jesus establishes here will prove vital to confirming the final, FUTURE events of world history, as they are repeated in a larger scale in the future four horsemen He reveals to the Apostle John—and to us.
Now, as we turn to Revelation 6 and the vision of the four horsemen, we’ll find that they fit the same pattern Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24, with the difference that the four horsemen of the apocalypse represent cataclysmic, end-time extremes of these four conditions that will build, one upon the other. How cataclysmic? Revelation 6:8 says that “… power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.”
Now as we record this program in 2022, world population is projected to soon hit eight billion people, so a fourth of the earth at this time would be around TWO BILLION PEOPLE—truly a vast number!
So, what does each horseman represent? Let’s begin with the first horseman, who is revealed as the first prophetic seal is opened. We read of that in Revelation 6, beginning in verse 1:
“Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer” (vv. 1–2).
Here is a vision of a white horse, whose rider is wearing a crown, holding a bow, and conquering.
This rider corresponds to the first element in our list of items Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24: a (Global) False Religion.
Of course, corrupt, false religion has been with mankind virtually from the beginning, after the devil deceived Adam and Eve to take the forbidden fruit. When the Apostle John warned first-century Christians of a coming final Antichrist, in 1 John 2:18, he also noted that many antichrists were ALREADY in the world, in HIS OWN TIME. Satan has been counterfeiting Christianity since the very beginning.
Yet in the days still ahead, this final incarnation of the devil’s “counterfeit” Christianity will turn far more aggressive and militant, described in Revelation 6 as going out to “conquer.” Not simply willing to “win hearts and minds,” it will seek to forcibly convert the whole world.
Some confuse this first horseman on a white horse with Jesus Christ, claiming it represents the TRUE religion conquering the world. Are they right?
Consider the description of Jesus in Revelation 19, beginning in verse 11:
“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. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (vv. 11–16).
That THIS rider in Revelation 19 is Jesus Christ should be obvious! And a white horse, crowns, a weapon, conquering. Surely this rider is the same as the first horseman, right?
Wrong! The devil is a creature of subtlety, and it is in the subtleties that we see the difference. When you read closely, you notice that they both ride a white horse, but Christ brings a sword, the word of God, while the first horseman uses a bow. Also, the first horseman is described as wearing a crown, but Christ is described as wearing MANY crowns—not just a King, but the KING of KINGS.
The first horseman represents a militant, dangerous counterfeit Christianity aggressively spreading across the earth and conquering new adherents in a way the world has never seen before—led by the one the Apostle John called “the Antichrist,” who is the culmination of the many antichrists who have preceded him.
His religion is already present in the earth, but in the final years leading up to Christ’s return, it will wield unheard of influence and power.
So then, who is the NEXT horseman—the second horseman? He’s described next, in Revelation 6, beginning in verse 3:
“When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword” (vv. 3–4).
Again, this matches the pattern Christ mentioned in Matthew 24, and this horseman refers to warfare. But this end-time horseman’s ride indicates an extreme level of warfare unlike anything humanity has known before. Note that the horseman is given a “great sword,” and he is granted to remove peace from the entire earth.
This corresponds well with the description of the great Beast of Revelation, found in Revelation 13. In verse 4, we read of the people of the world worshipping him and, by design, the devil who empowers him:
“So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’”
The scale of warfare that is coming in the end times, represented by this dangerous second horseman, is almost unimaginable. Even for a world that has seen two world wars climaxing in two mushroom clouds, past conflicts will pale in comparison to the global warfare to come.
It is not without cause that Jesus says in Matthew 24:22 of the days ahead that “… unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
Through chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, the potential for mankind to end all life on the planet has steadily grown. The coming of the second horseman heralds the time when that potential becomes a chilling reality.
The first and second horsemen of the apocalypse will unleash terrifying forces on planet earth, but the tale of their soon-coming ride does not end there. After the second horseman, the third and fourth horsemen follow shortly after. Let’s continue reading in Revelation 6:
“When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard 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 the wine’” (vv. 5–6).
Again fitting the sequence Jesus revealed in Matthew 24, the next horseman depicts great famine—an utter lack of the necessities of life.
As recently experienced in Madagascar and Ethiopia, mankind has faced famine on and off for millennia. But this third horseman represents a level of famine and scarcity on a scale that humanity has never before experienced—and by peoples and nations who have never known it.
Revelation 6 says that the third horseman, holding a pair of scales in his hand, announces that a quart of wheat costs a denarius, which in the first century was a FULL DAY’S WAGES—an ENTIRE DAY’S WORK spent for the purchase of a bit of grain. What we have pictured here is the scourge of famine sweeping the whole world, when even the most basic of foodstuffs—grain and barley—are rare and precious.
Some in the affluent West have recently experienced a small, small taste of what it is like for the shelves to be briefly empty and the staples of life to be too expensive or hard to find.
What will the same nations do as the third horseman arrives, bringing permanently empty shelves, empty fields, and empty stomachs?
Of course, famines and lack often follow warfare, and the circumstances brought by the fourth horseman often follow famine. We read of him in verses 7–8:
“When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him….”
Once again, we find the pattern matches the sequence Jesus Christ, the revelator, GAVE us in Matthew 24, There, the Lord listed “pestilence” after “famine,” and the sickly, pale color of this horse suits Jesus’ words precisely as does the rider’s name, “Death,” and the fact that he is followed by “Hades,” or the grave.
Of course, in our own day, COVID-19 has turned many to thinking of just how great the scope of worldwide disease and pestilence could be.
Yet the testimony of prophecy—and therefore of Jesus Christ, since the testimony of Jesus IS the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10)—is very clear: Relative to the pestilence and disease TO COME, COVID-19 is barely a warning shot across the world’s bow. The coming of the fourth horseman heralds the coming of diseases the likes of which no doctor, health organization, or world government is prepared to tackle.
Let’s consider these four horsemen in perspective. In the most common estimates, COVID-19 has killed millions. Some believe the bubonic plague killed 25 million in the Middle Ages. The greatest famine in history, China’s “Great Leap Forward” famine, killed 20 to 40 million people from 1959 to 1961. And World Wars I & II, by some estimates, killed 70 to 80 million people.
These numbers are horrifying. Yet, we must remind ourselves that Revelation 8:6 says that the coming four horsemen—false religion, warfare, famine, and pestilence—will be given power over ONE-FOURTH of HUMANITY. Right now, around 2 BILLION PEOPLE. That’s “BILLION” with a “B.”
The conflicts, famines, and diseases of the past and the present hardly compare to the ride of the horsemen to come.
That, my friends, is a grim picture, I know. Yet Jesus Christ reveals this knowledge for a REASON, and it isn’t to depress us or throw us into despair! What can you and your family DO about the times to come? Is there ANYTHING ANYONE can do?
My friends, I know the ride of the four horsemen sounds terrifying, and clearly Jesus Christ meant it to be so. But God has not left us without hope. Because there are MORE THAN FOUR HORSEMEN mentioned in the book of Revelation!
We read about the FIFTH HORSEMAN earlier in Revelation 19. JESUS CHRIST will return on a white horse. And He won’t be alone! He will be accompanied by His newly resurrected and glorified saints riding white horses of their own, and together they will vanquish the enemies of God and initiate the reign of the Kingdom of God here on earth!
We’ve seen the small tastes of the coming four horsemen that God has allowed the world to experience. The recent pandemic gave us a small taste of global disease, we’re beginning to see food prices skyrocket due to inflation and other causes. Warfare fills our news feeds—the war in Ukraine being only a recent example. And if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the world’s counterfeit Christianity can be seen and heard for what it is as it is preached from behind the lecterns and on the stages of the most popular denominations and churches in the world.
Those circumstances should move us to act NOW, BEFORE the Four Horsemen are unleashed upon the world to bring apostasy, carnage, starvation, and pestilence in full measure.
NOW, RIGHT NOW, is the time to come under the protection of the FIFTH Horseman, that we may find ourselves riding one day alongside Him to heal the world.
For those who submit their lives to His rule today, He offers protection from what is to come tomorrow. For such individuals, the precursors to the Four Horsemen’s rides that we see on our news feeds—the daily reminders of what they will bring—do not have to be signs of despair. Quite the contrary, they can be signs of hope. Jesus Himself tells us so, just as He told His disciples 2,000 years ago. To those who commit their lives in obedience to Him today and who endure to that time in faithfulness, He says in Luke 21:36, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
May all of us be praying for the ride of that FIFTH Horseman, Jesus Christ, who is coming soon to usher in the Kingdom of God, forever! And may we seek His face TODAY—His way of life, His Work, and His desires—that we may one day accompany Him on white horses of our own, to help Him put the horses of the other Four Horsemen out to pasture for good.
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Many consider Revelation the most difficult-to-understand book in the Bible. Some dismiss its complicated narrative and vivid descriptions as mere allegory. Others assume that it recounts past history. The truth, however, is far more remarkable: if you understand Revelation, you can know the future of our world!