The Horsemen of the Apocalypse—Their Effect on Our Lives
WAR, famine and disease have continued to plague humankind in this twentieth century. Why is this so in spite of man’s technical developments?
The answer involves “the horsemen of the Apocalypse.” No doubt you are acquainted with that expression. But did you realize that what the Bible says about those “horsemen” is really a description of the problems of our day and of their solution? The accuracy with which the events of the twentieth century fit the prophecy is indeed thought provoking.
The term “horsemen of the Apocalypse” is drawn from the Bible’s last book, called Revelation, or, as in Greek, Apocalypse. Written nineteen centuries ago, it is a book of prophecies inspired by God. Consider how it describes these horsemen:
“And I saw, and, look! a white horse, and the one seated upon it had a bow, and a crown was given him, and he went forth conquering and to complete his conquest.
“And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ And another came forth, a fiery-colored horse, and to the one seated upon it there was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another, and a great sword was given him.
“And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I saw, and, look!’ a black horse, and the one seated upon it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice as if in the midst of the four living creatures say: ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wage, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wage; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.’
“And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I saw, and, look! a pale horse, and the one seated upon it had the name Death. And Hades was closely following him. And authority was given them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with a long sword and with food shortage and with deadly plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.”—Rev. 6:2-8, New World Translation, 1950 edition.
Obviously, much of this prophecy is symbolic; Revelation was ‘presented in signs.’ (Rev. 1:1) Thus, in the fulfillment, we would not expect a series of literal horsemen to spread destruction. But the effects brought by these symbolic horsemen would be as disastrous as if that had happened.
When do the terrible conditions represented by those horsemen appear? The Revelation indicates this because, after describing the horsemen, it goes on to talk about “the great tribulation,” also called the “great day of [the] wrath” of God and of the Lamb Jesus Christ. (Rev. 6:17; 7:1-3, 14) So the conditions represented by the horsemen must come just before the complete destruction of the present worldwide wicked system of things. Our personal security during God’s “great tribulation” demands that we find out when these horsemen would ride.
DETERMINING THE TIME OF THE APPEARANCE OF THE HORSEMEN
Most of the action in the Bible book of Revelation occurs during what the apostle John calls “the Lord’s day.” (Rev. 1:10) What does this term “the Lord’s day” mean?
Well, first of all, note that the “Lord” in this expression must refer to Jesus Christ, the one to whom God entrusts rulership over all mankind. The rest of Revelation largely revolves about his special activities. It calls him “Lord of lords.”—Rev. 19:16.
The work that Revelation speaks of Jesus as performing is definitely not confined to a twenty-four-hour “day.” The term “day” often means an extended period of time, as in the expression “Noah’s day.” As Revelation shows that sometime after Jesus is granted rulership over the world of mankind he fights the “wild beast,” Satan’s beastly system of political control, and the kings of the earth and their armies. (Rev. 11:15; 12:10; 19:11-21) Then he rules for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:6) All of this is included in the “day” or period of Jesus’ rule of which the apostle John speaks.
But when, exactly, does the “Lord’s day” begin and thus also the ride of the horsemen of the Apocalypse? All the evidence points clearly to the year 1914, and it includes our own day. How is this known? Well, consider first what the Bible says about the horsemen and then compare this with world events since that year.
Since it is Jesus’ “day,” it is logical to believe that the account of the horsemen would, first of all, describe him in some way. This is the case. The initial horseman is shown to be seated on a “white horse” and as having a bow and a crown, expressions that would indicate he is both a warrior and a king. That this is a reference to the Lord Jesus is shown by a comparison with Revelation 19:12, 13. There the “Word of God,” Jesus, is shown astride a white war mount and as having “upon his head . . . many diadems.” Also, terminology similar to that found in Revelation chapter 6 about the white horse’s rider is found in Psalm 45; this psalm is applied to Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:8, 9.
How does knowing this help us to know when he rides? Well, to say, as the Revelation does, that this one on the white horse goes “forth conquering and to complete his conquest” indicates that he, as an active king, would remove his enemies. Who was the first of these to whom he turned his attention? Revelation chapter 12 speaks of the time when Jesus “Christ comes to his rightful rule!” (Rev. 12:10, New English Bible) A war takes place in heaven, and Satan the Devil, the foremost enemy of all who love righteousness, is thrown down to the vicinity of the earth. With that act, Christ ‘goes forth conquering.’
These events, however, took place in heaven, invisibly. After the Devil is thrown out of heaven, the account tells us that there would be “woe for the earth . . . because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger.”—Rev. 12:7-12.
The descriptions of the other horsemen who ride at the same time that Jesus does serve to prove that Christ as King is riding to victory. Knowing when the effects caused by the riders started would reveal the exact time that the horsemen were riding and would indicate when Jesus as king was gathering lovers of God and of his kingdom with a view to their preservation.
What are these disastrous effects?
THE SECOND HORSEMAN—WAR
The second rider is depicted as being seated on a “fiery-colored horse” and as taking “peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another, and a great sword was given him.” What does this represent? War! But not just ordinary war. Rather, large-scale war seems to be implied, for this rider is given no ordinary sword of war; he is given a “great sword.” For this reason the paraphrase found in The Living Bible is appropriate. It says that this rider was authorized to “banish peace and bring anarchy to the earth; war and killing broke out everywhere.” When did war on such a large scale appear?
In the year 1914.
That was when World War I erupted, the greatest war the world had seen up to that time. Further, historian H. W. Baldwin says: “World War I ushered in the century of Total War, of—in the first full sense of the term—global war.” About 10,000,000 persons were killed and many millions more were wounded in that war. Even those nations that did maintain their neutrality were in great uncertainty; they felt no sense of security, because ‘peace had been taken from the earth.’
But the “fiery-colored horse” did not stop after World War I ended in 1918. True, there were concerted efforts to bring about earth-wide peace, and many circumstances seemed to indicate that it could be achieved. An international organization, the League of Nations, was even established to try to prevent war from arising again. A New York Times editorial appearing the day after World War I closed expressed the feelings of most persons: “The world is sick of war . . . the solid framework of the League of Nations has already been erected.” Even science seemed to contribute toward lasting peace, by making a ‘smaller world,’ one of rapid communication and transportation. But even with all these favorable forces at work, “the League of Nations” buckled about twenty years later.
World War II broke out in 1939. It eventually took fifty-five million lives. After the explosion of two atomic blasts over Japan, it finally came to a close.
The nations again desired peace and so the United Nations was formed. Peace talks continue up to this time. But, as you know, so do the construction and stockpiling of huge weapons of war. War, revolutions and civil revolts are still being fought. Peace has indeed been ‘taken from the earth,’ in spite of man’s efforts and desires to the contrary.
Is this not clear evidence, therefore, that the rider on the “fiery-colored horse” must have started his ride in the year 1914? Are not the effects of his riding all around us? Surely that is the case. In that same year, 1914, Jesus Christ must also have gone forth to begin actively ruling as king over the whole world of mankind, and the time when he would destroy those who are enemies of God’s righteous rule must be near at hand.
THE THIRD HORSEMAN—FAMINE
Food shortage often accompanies warfare. Appropriately, therefore, the third rider that John saw is upon a black horse representing famine. So intense would the conditions be that a voice is heard to say: “A quart of wheat for a day’s wage, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wage; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.” According to the Greek historian Herodotus, one “quart” of grain was the minimum amount needed to maintain a soldier successfully.
Revelation thus indicates that food would be limited. Rationing would be necessary, as pictured by the horseman’s “pair of scales.” The wealthy would not be exempt, since the voice says, “Do not harm the olive oil and the wine,” that is, it would be necessary to use sparingly even those products customarily identified with the well-to-do. Have we seen such famine conditions as these since World War I?
Indeed we have. One of the largest famines in history swept much of Europe and Russia after World War I. An even larger one occurred after World War II. You have probably read about the extreme famine conditions and food shortages that continue right now in parts of Africa and Asia. And where you live, what has happened to food prices? People in all walks of life, from every economic and social stratum feel the effects of the food pinch; such shortages have occurred in spite of man’s know-how. Better farm equipment and sophisticated farming methods have not stopped famine. Since thousands of people still suffer and die every day from starvation, the rider on the “black horse” obviously is still riding.
DEATH BY OTHER MEANS
While war and famine have caused millions of deaths in the last sixty years, there have been other major causes of death. So, the fourth horseman is described as being seated upon a pale-colored horse and “it had the name Death.” He brings death, not just with “a long sword and with food shortage,” but also with “deadly plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
Many persons now living have seen the truthfulness of this prophecy about “deadly plague.” Ask some of the older generation who recall World War I. They will tell you about the deadly Spanish Flu (grippe) that swept the globe after that great war, and about how it brought death to over twenty million persons, even to those living in the most remote sections of earth.
Cholera, malaria, trachoma, smallpox and schistosomiasis (snail fever) now affect hundreds of millions of persons. And even if you live in one of the “advanced countries,” you know that in spite of diligent medical work, cancer, heart disease and other sicknesses abound. These things should convince us that the fourth horseman is still riding.
But what about death brought on “by the wild beasts”? In the absence of humans, wild animals ordinarily thrive. (Ex. 23:29) So, too, in modern times the large-scale upsetting of settled life brought about by war and subsequent famines and plagues has meant increasing danger from wild beasts. Thus a January 23, 1915, Reuter’s news dispatch reported that people living in the Carpathian Mountains while fleeing from the Austrians were in “fear of wolves, who, rendered desperate by hunger, are attacking human beings throughout the devastated districts.”
Yes, honest observers can see that the horsemen of the Apocalypse have been on the move since the year 1914. But how long will they continue to ride? That is no doubt something you would like to know.
LENGTH OF THEIR RIDE
In answer to that question it is necessary to consider the words of Jesus, which largely parallel those found in Revelation chapter 6. He predicted similar calamities in connection with the “conclusion of the system of things.” (See Matthew chapters 24 and 25; Mark chapter 13 and Luke chapter 21.) And, therein, Jesus lets us know how much time is involved before he, as the rider on the white horse, ‘completes his conquest.’
Jesus stated, as recorded at Matthew 24:34: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” The generation that saw the beginning of “these things” in 1914 is now well up in years and, in fact, is near to ‘passing away.’ Therefore, the time must be close for the “great tribulation” and the ‘day of wrath’ of God and Jesus Christ. What should you do to survive the coming destruction?
Take steps to find yourself among those whom Revelation also reveals will “come out of the great tribulation,” that is, who will survive it. These ones, the account says, have taken certain steps to come into a favorable relationship with God and the Lamb. They have shown faith in the sin-atoning value of Jesus’ sacrifice; theirs is an active, living faith resulting from study of the Bible. Jehovah’s witnesses will be pleased to show you how you might be among the “great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” who stand approved “before the throne and before the Lamb.”—Rev. 7:9-17.
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The WATCHTOWER November 1, 1949
Awake! March 8, 1956
The World Magazine August 30, 1914
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THE WORLD November 20, 1918
THE WORLD November 24, 1918
THE WORLD December 12, 1918
THE NEW YORK TIMES September 7, 1973
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THE OREGONIAN December 15, 1973
THE WASHINGTON POST October 13, 1918
THE WASHINGTON October 28, 1918
THE SEATTLE TIMES June 13, 1973
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THE LONDON TIMES January 23, 1915
THE LONDON TIMES December 2, 1918
CATHOLIC UNIVERSE BULLETIN September 14, 1973
THE NEW YORK TIMES October 29, 1918