Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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." 2 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.3 When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come and see." 4 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. 5 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. 6 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." 7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come and see." 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And 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.

Revelation 6:1-8

It may surprise many to find that most people, believers or not, have heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. No doubt the reasons for that are films from Hollywood, video games, and even references in the news that talk about these four individuals. So it should come as no surprise that with the events of the past few months, and the emergence this past week to a possible world wide flu pandemic, questions about the "Apocalypse" have shown up. So let me try to give you a primer on what the Bible has to say about these individuals, and the explain the context in which they appear.

As you begin to read the book of Revelation, it seems clear to most that there are some definite divisions within the book. The first three chapters are described as letters to the seven churches, which most scholars agree are report cards from Jesus to seven churches that existed in the first century. Why just seven? Well the conclusion is that based on what we know about God's use of the number seven as a sign of perfection referring to completeness, every church then, as well as today is described by one of those letters. In other words, every church throughout history and in existence today will fall into one of seven categories.

The most important thing to notice in Revelation, however, is the absence of the Church after Chapter 3. The point is made by the majority of Bible scholars that the reason for this is the removal of the Church, described by most as the "rapture", which occurs before the period of time called the Tribulation. This period of seven years is the subject of the rest of the book of Revelation, and the events which occur during those seven years are graphically described beginning in Chapter 6. For the purpose of this discussion, though, it is important to understand that the first event to be revealed at the beginning of the tribulation period is the appearance of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Exactly who are these horsemen? Well the Bible only tells us that the horses are ridden by men, by using the word "he" to describe the riders. It is the power these men possess, however, which give us a clue as to their purpose. The first rider is revealed as riding a white horse, holding a bow and wearing a crown. We know from history that victorious generals usually rode into cities riding a white horse, so the picture we have is a political leader who the world sees as "victorious". He wears a crown, but in the Greek the word here is "stephanos", which is used to describe a conqueror, not a King or ruler who would wear a "diadema". He also carries a bow, or in the Greek "toxon" which refers to a covenant, which indicates he conquers by political means rather than militarily. So the picture we have of the first horseman is an individual who "conquers" much of the world with non-violent means, probably by promising peace.

The second rider described is riding a red horse, which would probably signify blood, as he is given the power to take peace from the earth by violent means. He is carrying a sword, and we are told he has the ability to encourage men to fight against each other, the result obviously being open warfare. It is also important to note he is able to affect the entire earth, so the description we have is of a war or conflict which involves the entire human race, regardless of geographical location.

The third rider rides a black horse carrying a pair of scales. Scales have historically been used in the marketplace to weigh out food, so the obvious conclusion here is this rider is bringing famine to the world. If we read verse 6, however, we find more than that. It says there that it takes a "denarius" to purchase enough food for one person for one day. In the first century a denarius was equivalent to one days pay for the average person, so the picture we are given here is that people will have to spend their entire daily wage to purchase enough food to live on. That in turn tells me that there is an economic side to this picture as well. Not only is food in short supply, but the economy is so bad people will only be able to afford to buy food. So what happens to house payments, rent, car payments, gas, heating, etc?

The fourth rider rides a pale horse, and is the only rider given a name. Death. Not a very encouraging picture to be sure, but look closer at the description of how that death is accomplished. We are told in verse 8 that death comes to a quarter of the earths population from one of four ways. War, starvation, pestilence, and the wild beasts of the earth. The word pestilence refers to what we today would call a pandemic, or a plague of sickness which would affect the whole world. So the scenario described is one fourth of the world, (which right now would be 1.68 billion people) will die from war, starvation, sickness, and predatory attacks from animals.

To sum up, the Bible predicts that at the beginning of the Tribulation period, a great leader will emerge attempting to unify the world through peace, but wars will spontaneously occur worldwide while the world economy suffers to the point that famine and starvation begin to be the norm, which, along with a worldwide pandemic decimates one fourth of the population of the earth.

Have you read the news lately?