Life Hope & Truth

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: What Are They?

Many people have heard of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, but not as many really know what they are. What do they tell us about future prophecy?

First of all, “Apocalypse” is actually a reference to the book of Revelation (the last book of the Bible). The Greek word for “disclosure” or “revelation” is apokalupsis, spelled apocalypse in English. Because this term has taken on a modern popular meaning beyond its original definition, Revelation is used instead for the name of the book.

So the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are actually the four horsemen of Revelation.

(Our bimonthly Discern magazine covers issues like this regularly. We’d be happy to give you a free subscription to Discern. Digital subscriptions are available worldwide; print subscriptions are currently available in the United States, Canada and much of Europe.)

First four of seven seals

The four horsemen appear only in Revelation chapter 6. Some additional context is needed to understand their identity and meaning. This book is Jesus Christ’s revelation to His servants (Revelation 1:1), showing major events that will take place prior to His return to the earth. These events are written under seven distinct seals of a single scroll, which only Christ Himself can open to reveal their contents (see Revelation 5).

The first six seals are all opened in Revelation 6. The seventh seal is opened in chapter 8 and continues to the end of the book. The seventh seal represents the Day of the Lord and is actually the main theme of the book. The Day of the Lord is the time of Christ’s intervention in this world to wrest control from Satan’s dominion and from the rebellious human rulers under him and to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. So the first six seals are all preliminary events that will lead up to the Day of the Lord.

With this context in mind, we now look at Revelation 6 where we find six seals disclosing events that will lead up to the end of this world. The first four seals are also the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. These horsemen represent events that have been ongoing since this prophecy was given and that will intensify before the end-time, climactic return of Jesus Christ.

Christ opens the seals

Since Christ is the One opening these seals and revealing what will happen in this world prior to His return, is there anywhere else in the Bible that He discloses these events? In fact, He did so shortly before His death in a section known as the Olivet Prophecy (given on the Mount of Olives), recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (chapter 24), Mark (chapter 13) and Luke (chapter 21).

Seeing what Christ said in this prophecy helps us identify what each of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse represents.

In Matthew 24:3 Christ’s disciples asked, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” In the comparison chart below, notice how Christ’s answer lines up exactly with what He gave years later in the book of Revelation through the apostle John.

Matthew 24 Revelation 6 Identity; Comment

:5  “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”

:2  White horse and rider with a bow.

Religious deception would be the first major trend to develop after Christ’s departure from earth—i.e., falsely representing Christ, which would deceive many. (In Revelation 19:11-15 we see Christ on a white horse, but with a sword, not a bow.)

:6  “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. … But the end is not yet.

:7a  “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.

:3-4  Red horse and rider with a sword, taking peace from the earth and causing people to kill one another.

Wars have continued around the world since Christ left the earth. But warfare between great nations and kingdoms (including “world wars,” which began in the 20th century) will increase in the end time.

:7b  “And there will be famines, …”

:5-6  Black horse and rider with scales to weigh scarce food supplies.

Famines will increase around the world as the end draws near. Famines are caused by both droughts and wars.

:7c  “… pestilences, …”

:7-8  Pale horse (literally chloros, a pale green color) and rider named “Death.”

Pestilence (disease on a large scale, i.e., epidemics and pandemics) increases around the world. Wars and famines contribute to pestilence.

An important point to realize is that once each seal is opened, it remains open! In other words, each seal is added to the seals previously opened and taking their toll, and they all greatly intensify as the end of this world draws near.

Notice the enormous effect of these first four seals (horsemen) in Revelation 6:8: “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.” This indicates that the first four seals will ultimately result in a death toll of one-fourth the earth’s population. This summary statement also adds something else that will contribute to the death toll—beasts of the earth, which kill as carriers of pestilence and as ravenous predators.

The first four seals are clearly already open in our day now, and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse have been riding through the years, taking their toll on populations. But many other prophecies in the Bible show that their destruction will multiply greatly as the next seal—the fifth seal or Great Tribulation—is about to open. Christ reveals that this world is about to undergo great devastation due to the rebellion of humanity against our Creator.

The Kingdom of God

But the good news is that a wonderful, bright new world will begin after the terrible storm is over. Near the end of the seventh seal, Jesus Christ Himself will return to this earth and begin to reign—along with His resurrected saints—in power and righteousness, establishing the true utopia of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

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