Four Horsemen on the Earth
Christian observers of the international political arena are confronted daily with the four horsemen, described in Revelation 6:1-8. World events portray the effects of the four horses and their riders. To view these in the proper perspective, it is good to understand their meaning.
The book of Revelation shows us the things which happen between the Ascension of Christ and His return on the clouds of heaven. This does not mean that we can calculate the year and day of Christ's return, but we are able to gain a better understanding of the often confusing world events and their meaning for us, God's people. A good understanding of the significance of the four horsemen brings comfort for God's children. The world events seem to be chaotic, but they all serve God's purpose of gathering His church and coming to the completion of His plan of salvation.
In the Bible, the horse is often described as being used for battle. In Psalm 33 we read: The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save. The most eloquent description of the war horse and its strength is given in Job 39:19-25:
Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with strength?
Do you make him leap like the locust?
His majestic snorting is terrible.
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear and the javelin.
With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
When the trumpet sounds, he says 'Aha!'
He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
A horse symbolizes strength, and that is why it was often used in battle. And for this very reason the Israelites were not allowed to have horses for their army. They had to put their trust in the Lord!
These fierce animals go over the face of the earth to do their task, given to them by the Lamb. The horses mentioned in Revelation 6 do not roam the earth in an uncontrolled fashion, because every horse has a rider on its back. The horses do not run at random, but they are directed by the riders. Each horse and its rider represent one idea; they are a unity!
The appearance of the four horses occurs when the first four seals are opened. These seals are opened by the Lamb, Jesus Christ. We must keep this in mind, because it teaches us that the Lamb has all power and authority. The horses and their riders are controlled by the Lamb. Without Him, they cannot do anything!
The White Horse
The first seal is opened. With a voice of thunder one of the living creatures says, "Come!" (I will not deal with the broad context of this part of Revelation. We should realize that the opening of the seals reveals the things which are to come.) A white horse appears, with a rider. White is the symbol of victory. For example, when a victorious Roman army returned from the battlefield, the commander had to ride a white horse. The rider has a bow, symbolic of righteous and victorious warfare. On the bow are arrows, which are used to pierce into the heart of the enemy. Moreover, the rider wears a crown, or better, a wreath of victory.
This is a magnificent scene with a comforting message before the three horses-to-be-dreaded appear. The white horse and its rider symbolize the victorious progress of the Gospel in this world. It depicts the Church-gathering work of Jesus Christ. The white horse travels over the earth in the form of the Word and Spirit. The Lamb directs it where He wants it to go. He has sent the white horse and the rider to Jerusalem, and from there to Antioch, to Greece, and all over the continent of Europe, also to the American continent. The rider shoots the sharp arrows into the hearts of the enemies, so that they listen to the call of the Gospel and become believers. This horse is still running in Europe, in North America, and in many other parts of the world. This horse will continue to run until all the believers have been gathered. And no one can stop the progress of the white horse!
The Red Horse
Would it not have been beautiful if the vision of John had ended here? No more horses. However, the opposite is true. The second seal is opened and a red horse appears. Red! It is the color of blood, of glowing passion, of anger and wrath, of war. Added to the color is the rider's sword, an additional symbol of war, of blood, destruction and death. And, the Bible tells us, its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another. Note the words receives and permission. The red horse and the rider do not have authority and power of their own. What they are going to do, they have been permitted to do. They do not cause their bloody destruction at random; wars are sent forth and controlled by Jesus Christ.
That this horse has appeared on the earth should be obvious to everyone. Nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. This has been and still is an everyday reality. The ground is drenched with the blood of the slain in war. The hunger and passion for power has dominated the course of history. Small, local wars and large-scale world wars have been fought. So have civil wars and revolutionary wars. Despite the efforts of establishing world peace, the wars go on. No wonder. The red horse is still around. The bloody conflict between Iran and Iraq is an example of the strength and influence of the red horse. Iran's leader sends teenagers and children into war. He sends waves of ill-prepared soldiers into the enemy's line of fire. The war in Lebanon between many factions seems to have no end in sight. The Soviet Union and the freedom fighters of Afghanistan fight on. Wars continue and will continue, because the red horse and its rider are on the loose. They are all over the world. As one commentator puts it: "This horse is sent forth and is controlled by the Lamb. It must perform its own part for the bringing of the Kingdom of God to its completion. "
The Black Horse
Black is the color of scarcity, famine, and drought. Famine and drought. Who does not think of the terrible drought and famine in Africa, publicized so extensively a few years ago? Who can ignore the horrible scenes of starving children? A newspaper reported that the African country of Mozambique is presently in great danger of famine. The aid organization, Save the Children, predicted that 3.5 million men, women, and children will starve to death in Mozambique. This is a quarter of the population! In many countries on the African continent one out of every three children does not reach the age of five.
Mozambique is not the only country in which hunger reigns. According to the World Food Organization, 600 million people suffer from hunger, day in and day out. And the predictions are that the situation will be much worse by the year 2010.
We should note, however, that the vision of the black horse shows more. The black horse represents all of social life. Read, for example, that a quart of wheat for a denarius is the wage for a day's work. It means that a family's entire wage is spent on food, and still the wage-earner lives at a mere subsistence level. Only basic necessities can be bought for the wages. It is clear that scarcity is the order of the day. This is but one side of the coin.
On the other hand, "...but do no harm to oil and wine," which means there is also plenty, and this plenty is used in an unacceptable manner. Wealth and poverty are caused by the black horse and its rider. They cause the social problems of rich and poor, of plenty and scarcity, of wealth and miserable poverty. Do we not see this in our world? About 40 percent of the Third World population lives in extreme poverty, while in the U.S.A. 15 billion dollars is spent annually on diet foods and 22 billion on beauty aids. In many of our cities we see the stark contrast between high-class suburbs, the affluent society, and the deteriorating slums with their poor who have no hope.
The Pale Horse
The last horse is pale, or better, a pale green, the color of a corpse. A merciless monster, with a merciless rider, named DEATH. As if this is not horrible enough, the horse is followed by Hades, the place of the dead. The rider kills and Hades receives the victims. This last represents a catch-all death, which is caused by the sword, pestilence, wild beasts, homicides, suicides, revolutions, storms, disasters, fire, sickness. The pale horse kills our dear ones, kills through violence in the streets, and kills on the battle fields. This horse and its rider are given power over a fourth of the earth ... to kill! This power, too, is given. This horse and rider are not in control of their own destiny. There is One mightier than they!
Cause and Effect
The cause of the powerful destruction of the horsemen and the fact that they are sent out over the earth should be well-known. Man rebelled against God, and the results of sin are still very obvious in this world. All the things the horses represent are familiar to us. And Christ tells us in Revelation that these horsemen will continue to be around until the end of the world, to destroy, to cause war and death. The examples of the horsemen's influence are legion. But have we forgotten, however, that the first horse is a white one? That it represents the victorious progress of the Gospel? And that white is the colour of victory? And that power to the various horsemen is given to them by the Lamb? The knowledge of the cause comforts us. Believers do not grope in the dark when they observe the events of the day. The assurance that the Lamb is in control, is a great comfort for the believers.
There are, then, two effects of the horsemen on the earth. There is, first of all, the proclamation of the Gospel, and secondly, the never-ending destruction caused by the other horses. They are sent together over the earth. They have effects on all men. The effect is twofold: the activities of the horsemen are beneficial for the children of the evil one. The horsemen cause separation between the believers and the unbelievers. God's children believe that all things are controlled by the Lord, and they believe that nothing happens in this world without the will of their heavenly Father. The unbelievers and the ungodly harden their hearts; they continue to live in their sins.
The ultimate, combined effect of the four horsemen is that they prevent the Antichrist from coming to the summit of its power. The spreading of the Gospel and the continuation of the conflicts between various peoples and nations, between rich and poor, prevents world unity. That is the key. Man is too busy solving the problems in society — how to help the poor, how to decrease the deficit, how to... — one can fill in many more examples. Governments are too preoccupied to help the Third World countries, to resolve international conflicts, and to prevent wars from flaring up. Governments and people are too busy establishing their own brand of morality and ideas on other nations. Disasters and sickness, finding cures for mortal diseases — they all prevent mankind from focusing on their ultimate enemy, God's people. In the meantime, God continues to gather His people from all nations.
God's children live in this world and they experience the effect of the four horsemen, the white and the red, the black and the pale. The white horseman's mission, however, firmly dominates their lives. Yet they must also understand the activities of the other horsemen.
One commentator sums it up as follows:
Be not afraid, ye people of the kingdom! All these things must needs come to pass. In times of war and trouble, famine or pestilence, when the red horse drives through the earth and the black horse appears in your streets, or the pale horse enters into your homes, let your hearts rest in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the book with the seven seals and controls all things in heaven and on earth unto the ultimate completion of His glorious kingdom!
Finally, the four horses on the earth show God's wrath. God is angry with man's sin, and He punishes the world for its sin. This punishment does not start when Jesus Christ returns, but the Lamb's bowls of wrath are being poured out now already, as they have been in the past. The sending of the four horsemen shows God's just wrath. His children know where salvation can be found — only in the blood of Jesus Christ. That is the comfort for us and all God's children who are daily confronted by the four horsemen.