The four horsemen of the apocalypse appear in Revelation 6:1-8 and correspond to the first four seals of the seven seal scroll. John seems to be drawing on the imagery of Zechariah who also saw riders on colored horses who were sent forth to patrol the earth (Zech.1:8-11). The horses are white, red, black, and pale. They each have a specific mission of judgment to carry out upon the earth. While Hindson argues that the tribulation period commences with the opening of the seals, some regard the seals as past, a prelude to the future trumpet and bowl judgments. Not to be confused with preterism, the view I am proposing simply places the seals as historical events culminating at the yet future final seven year tribulation. This idea is compelling in that they parallel the pattern of birth pains given by our Lord in Matthew 24. I still subscribe to the premillennial dispensationalist school of thought in my broader eschatology.
I am theorizing that the horseman are symbols for unseen spiritual entities influencing our space time from an unknown dimension. They parallel God’s past work and the signs given by Jesus in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. A similar sequence of judgment is found in the Old Testament. For example, in Ezekiel 14:21 the Lord says, “How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!” (ESV) Comparing this verse to Rev. 6, conquest appears to be displaced by wild beasts yet beasts appear as agents of death with the fourth horseman (Rev. 6:8). Other Old Testament references show a similar pattern (cf. Deut. 32:24, 2 Chron. 20:9, Jer. 14:12, Ezek. 6:11–12; 12:16) yet a more concise list of three judgments by combining war and conquest. It is suitable to conclude that the four horsemen parallel God’s historical judgments upon disobedient Israel. Likewise, the birth pains given by the Lord line up with the seals as shown here:
|False Christ (4-5)||False Christ (2)|
|Wars (6-7)||Wars (3-4)|
|Famine (7)||Famine (5-6)|
|Earthquakes (7)||Death / Pestilence (7-8)|
|Persecutions (9-10)||Persecutions (9-11)|
|Earthquake, solar eclipse, blood red moon, stars falling (29)||Solar and lunar eclipse, stars falling, heavenly bodies shake (12-13)|
|Tribulation Begins||Tribulation Begins|
The first horseman rides a white horse, carries a bow, and wears a crown. The white color seems to suggest benevolence and the similarity to Christ riding a white horse in chapter 19 leads some commentators to suggest that this conquest is the spread of the gospel. However, it is unlikely that Christ would take orders from one of the living creatures as we read in verse 6:1. Additionally, it follows that since Christ is the one opening the seals he is not simultaneously inside them and parallelism with the other horsemen suggests a judgment. As Chuck Missler quips, “He keeps bad company.” Furthermore, he wears a different crown called a stephanos, a victor’s crown, not a diadema, the crown of a sovereign, which is donned by Christ (Rev 19:12). For these reasons, dispensational scholars view this rider as the Antichrist. Alternately, if one chooses to view the seals as the birth pains as I have suggested, this horseman might represent a historical conqueror like Muhammad. He carries a bow as a weapon, suggesting an allusion to Apollo, the bow wielding Greek god who inspired Hellenistic prophecy. Accordingly, the bow probably represents false prophecy.
The second seal unleashes the red horse whose rider is permitted to take peace from the earth. The bright red (pyrros) color suggests divine judgment and bloodshed. Hindson quotes Leon Morris as saying that the conquest initiated by the white horse leads to the conflict related to the red horse. The two do seem to be connected in light of the Old Testament citations discussed above. For that reason, I understand the horsemen to be ongoing and overlapping. The usual dispensational timing places this within the seven year tribulation period. However, I favor it as part of the birth pains like “nation will rise against nation” (Mat 24:7a,ESV) leading up to that phase. In this way John was seeing the culmination of history and one could argue that noteworthy events like World War II are accounted for. Admittedly it is purely speculative but the enormous impact of WWII upon God’s elect Israelites and the consequence of their national reformation on May 14, 1948 is hard to ignore.
The third seal representing famine is realized by a rider on a black horse carrying a pair of scales. The black (melas) color is rare in the NT and symbolizes sinister, dreadful, terrible, sad, unlucky, sorrow and desolation, a likely consequence of the war and bloodshed. The measures and prices given suggest a day’s work to merely eat for the common man. The reference to the oil and wine suggest luxuries not necessary for survival. Perhaps it hints at inequity as the wealthy would have them while the poor were starving (cf. Prov 21:17). In a first century context, scales were normally used by merchants to weigh coins and goods (cf. John 19:39). This suggests we can also view the famine as an economic consequence. As of March 28, 2010, half the world, over three billion people, lives on less than $2.50 a day. While I agree famine and economic depression are surely part of the tribulation proper, when one considers the plight of the third world today it is not hard to envision this judgment as contemporary.
The fourth seal has the living creature call a Pale horse with a rider named Death. The color is the Greek cloros suggesting a sickly green shade one might associate with a corpse. It is also revealed that this horseman is followed by an anthropomorphic Hades. What this means exactly is hard to say but it aptly illustrates hell on earth. Hindson argues that the contingency of the four riders is in view as the rider Death employs the elements of the previous horsemen to accomplish his task. They all add up to the death of one fourth of the earth by sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. The sword and famine have already been discussed in connection with the second and third seals. Pestilence is rendered from thanatos, the same word translated “Death” earlier in verse 8. Here it may primarily refer to disease as the cause of death. John MacArthur notes in his commentary that “Throughout human history, disease has killed people on a far more massive scale than war.” He denotes that 30 million people died during the great flu epidemic of 1918–19 which was more than three times the 8.5 million soldiers lost during World War I. This could also help to explain the inclusion of wild beasts as disease is often spread by vermin. Of course we do not have to look far to find contemporary application. AIDS is devastating the third world and particularly Africa. It is astounding that nearly 7 out of 10 deaths for 2008 were in Sub-Saharan Africa, an area that also has over two-thirds of adult HIV cases. Today we see even more disturbing new pestilences like MRSA and Ebola appearing that have never been known to man.
Clearly the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are not to be taken lightly. If they are unseen spiritual entities acting on the world, current events seem to support their presence and escalating influence. My opinions are offered with a light touch. Many good scholars see these events as proprietary to the seven year tribulation period. While I respect that view and for the most part am in agreement with their conclusions, I believe the riders are active today. I see them as the birth pains listed by Jesus (Matt 24:8) and like birth pains, the phenomena associated with each rider are occurring closer and closer together. Of course this begs the question, “if the first four seals have been opened, then which seal are we on today?” I believe we are at the fifth seal, persecutions, and according to Voice of the Martyrs there have been more martyrs for Christ in the last 100 years than in all of previous history. Also the fifth is necessarily our current position because the sixth is going to be self evident to the world and it is where I place the beginning of Daniel’s seventieth week. If I am right, the time is near. Maranatha!
 Hindson, Edward. Revelation Unlocking the Future. AMG Publishers, 2002, 79.
 Keener, C. S. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 199.
 Hindson, 79.
 Keener, C. S., 200.
 Hindson, 81.
 Hindson, 81.
 Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 4: Hebrews to Revelation. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 289.
 Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 1:657.
 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 Edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 Compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), 4:551.
 Hindson, 82.
 Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation” In , in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 474.
 Clinton E. Arnold, 289.
 Global Issues: World Bank Development Issues. http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats (accessed 06 02, 2010).
 Hindson, 82.
 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 184.
AIDS Around the World http://www.globalissues.org/article/219/aids-around-the-world#ScaleoftheAIDSEpidemic (accessed 06 02, 2010).