The Ride of the Four Horsemen—A Sign
‘And I saw, and, look! a white horse, a fiery-colored horse, a black horse, a pale horse; and the one seated upon it had the name Death. And Hades was closely following him.’—REVELATION 6:2-8.
1. Before taking his seat at the breakfast table on October 2, 1914, what did the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society do at the Brooklyn headquarters?
IT WAS Friday, the second day of the month of October of the year 1914. Into the dining room of the headquarters staff of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society at 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A., stepped the president of the Society. It was just about seven o’clock in the morning. Before going to his place at the head of the dining-room table, he paused. To get the undivided attention of the Bethel family members seated at the dining tables, he clapped his hands. Then, with a positive voice, he made reference to the opening words of verse 3 of the song entitled “Our King Is Marching On!” as found on pages 162, 163 of the songbook Hymns of Millennial Dawn, saying, “The Gentile Times have ended, for their kings have had their day.” First then he took his regular seat, to preside over the daily religious program of the Bethel family breakfast.
2. How far in advance had the president pointed forward to that marked year, and how deep into the world conflict was he permitted to live?
2 As early as in the year 1876, in an article that he submitted for publishing in The Bible Examiner, the president had pointed forward to 1914 as the date for “the times of the Gentiles” to end, with serious consequences for the whole world of mankind. (Luke 21:24, Authorized Version) Amazingly, at the time that the president announced to the Brooklyn Bethel family that the Gentile Times had ended, the first world war of all human history was in its 66th day. Already by then 14 declarations of war had been made by participants in that terrible conflict against one another. Before the end of that vicious struggle for world domination and for the commercial markets of the world, 29 nations and empires had become entangled in that unimaginable conflict. The Society’s president, who spoke those appropriate words, died before his own country, the United States of North America, got involved in World War I on April 6, 1917, to become an ally of the British Empire against the Central Powers of Europe.
3. How had the president reemphasized the significance of 1914, and how could he feel when he said, “The Gentile Times have ended”?
3 The Society’s president had reemphasized the vital significance of 1914 in the columns of the Watchtower magazine from 1879 onward, and especially in the book The Time Is at Hand, published in 1889. But by October 2, 1914, he had observed enough of the current of world affairs in that memorable year to gain reassurance for his publicly stated position. He could feel vindicated, at least in this respect, as a close and careful student of the chronology, or time schedule, of the Bible, which prophesies about God’s times and seasons.
4. Before his death the Society’s president had seen the beginning of whose ride, and of what could this properly be called a “sign”?
4 Thus, before his unexpected death on Tuesday night, October 31, 1916, the Society’s president had seen the beginning of the ride of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse from the year in which the Gentile Times were due to end according to Bible chronology. The Apocalypse, or the Revelation, is the last book of the Christian Greek Scriptures, usually called the New Testament. The ride of the four horsemen is of worldwide significance, for it is part of a “sign” marking where the human family is on the stream of time. It indicates that we are in what the disciples of Jesus called “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 24:3) That it is a “sign” is stated for us in the opening verse of the Revelation, where we read: “A revelation by Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his slaves the things that must shortly take place. And he sent forth his angel and presented it in signs through him to his slave John.”—Revelation 1:1.
5. How do the various Bible translations differ from one another as to how the symbolisms of the Revelation were presented, and, true to its introduction, with what is the Revelation filled?
5 The ride of the four horsemen is set forth in Revelation 6:1-8. Interestingly, whereas the New World Translation uses the expression “presented it in signs” and thus corresponds with Rotherham’s The Emphasised New Testament, the expression “signified it” is used by the King James Version, or Authorized Version of 1611, B. Wilson’s The Emphatic Diaglott and Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. True to those introductory words, the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, is just full of signs, symbolisms significant of things of far greater importance in human history. These were to take place in the future, “shortly.”
The Four Horses and Their Riders
6. For whom has it been reserved to enter into the happiness foretold in Revelation 1:3, and how so?
6 There are no historic developments to prove that those things came to reality during the 18 centuries after the death of the apostle John, about 98 C.E., and so, now, our attention focuses upon the current 20th century C.E. Doing so, we find that it has remained for us of this exciting century to enter into the happiness to which the inspired apostle pointed forward, when he wrote: “Happy is he who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and who observe the things written in it; for the appointed time is near.” (Revelation 1:3) For our happiness let us examine “the sign” of the four horses and their riders. Let us read Revelation 6:1-8:
7. What appeared when the Lamb of God opened the first seal of the scroll that was in his hand?
7 “And I saw when the Lamb [Jesus Christ] opened one of the seven seals [of the scroll that was in his hand], and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice as of thunder: ‘Come!’ 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.
8. What did the apostle John observe at the opening of the second seal of the scroll?
8 “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.
9. What did John see and hear at the opening of the third seal?
9 “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 denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.’
10. At the opening of the fourth seal, what did John observe and hear in the vision?
10 “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.”
THE WHITE HORSE AND ITS RIDER
11-13. (a) What does the white horse picture, and what kind of person does its rider picture? (b) The rider there corresponds with what rider addressed by the psalmist, and to whom does Paul, at Hebrews 1:8, 9, apply those prophetic words?
11 The white horse signified a royal mount, a bearer of royalty, a righteous and pure carrier, swift in movement like a literal horse. The rider of this speedy means of travel signified a newly installed king, for a royal crown was given him. He was a warrior king, for he was armed with a bow. Furthermore, he rode forth conquering, even down to the last opponent of his Kingdom to be put under him as conquered. It was to be a complete victory! In line with that, a long sword was given to him, a royal implement of warfare. Who, then, has been fulfilling this role in our own 20th century? Evidently the same one as the King who fulfills Psalm 45, where we read:
12 “My heart has become astir with a goodly matter. I am saying: ‘My works are concerning a king.’ . . . Gird your sword upon your thigh, O mighty one, with your dignity and your splendor. And in your splendor go on to success; ride in the cause of truth and humility and righteousness, and your right hand will instruct you in fear-inspiring things. Your arrows are sharp—under you peoples keep falling—in the heart of the enemies of the king. God is your throne to time indefinite, even forever; the scepter of your kingship is a scepter of uprightness. You have loved righteousness and you hate wickedness. That is why God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of exultation more than your partners.”—Ps 45 Verses 1-7.
13 In Hebrews 1:8, 9 the apostle Paul quotes Psalm 45:6, 7 and applies the words to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Inescapably, then, the rider of the white horse who rides on victoriously must be Jesus Christ at his coronation in heaven at the close of the Gentile Times in 1914.
14. (a) When and how did Jesus ride into Jerusalem as if to his coronation, and in fulfillment of what prophecy? (b) What illustrious forefather did Jesus imitate in thus riding on such an occasion?
14 We recall the occasion when Jesus Christ rode as the king-elect as if to his coronation at the temple in Jerusalem. At that time he did not ride on a spirited white horse. He rode astride an ass. This was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, which reads: “Be very joyful, O daughter of Zion. Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem. Look! Your king himself comes to you. He is righteous, yes, saved; humble, and riding upon an ass, even upon a full-grown animal the son of a she-ass.” Conforming to this prophecy, Jesus rode a peaceful animal when he made his climactic ride into Jerusalem on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, 33 C.E., thereby presenting himself like the Lamb of God on the very day that the Jews took the Passover lamb into their homes to keep it there until the Passover celebration on Nisan 14. In riding that way Jesus imitated his illustrious forefather, Solomon, the son of David. When David resigned from his kingship after 40 years of sitting upon the throne of the kingdom of Israel, he made Solomon ride on a she-mule to his coronation. Then, after High Priest Zadok had anointed him to succeed his father, the attending crowd of Israelites broke out into shouting, “Let King Solomon live!”—1 Kings 1:33-40.
15. (a) What was the popular reaction to Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on the female ass? (b) What kind of welcome did Jerusalem give him, and why?
15 What, now, was to be the reception accorded to Jesus when, four days before the Passover, he rode on an ass down the Mount of Olives to the city of coronations? The crowds that started to accompany him caught up the spirit of the occasion from the setting of things and felt that he was the promised Messianic king of Israel. They waved palm branches. They spread out their outer garments to let him ride over them. “As for the crowds, those going ahead of him and those following kept crying out: ‘Save, we pray, the Son of David! Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name! Save him, we pray, in the heights above!’” (Matthew 21:1-9) Such was the popular reaction. But as for Jerusalem itself, it was under the influence of the Jewish religious leaders who were not guided by the fulfillment of prophecy before their eyes. So Jerusalem gave him no royal welcome.
16. How did temple authorities treat Jesus in contrast with their treatment of the merchants?
16 When Jesus went to the temple, High Priest Caiaphas did not anoint him to be the Messianic king independent of the Roman Empire. The priests were allowing the merchants to use temple areas to carry on their gainful business, but Jesus displayed the proper qualities of a high priest by driving them away, and he rebuked those who objected by saying to them: “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a cave of robbers.” Blind and lame Jews came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But the chief priests and the scribes found fault with what was going on, and they refused to accept him as the “Son of David” and to inaugurate him as the rightful ruler of the kingdom of Israel. When Jesus left them behind at the temple and went out to Bethany, he did not do so as a newly installed king.—Matthew 21:1-17.
17. How did Pontius Pilate show interest in Jesus’ claim to kingship, and how did he override the desires of the chief priests with regard to Jesus’ kingship?
17 Four days later, when Jesus stood before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, this Gentile asked him whether he was a king. Jesus replied that his Kingdom was no part of this world to which Pilate belonged. At the instance of the chief priests that had said, “We have no king but Caesar,” Pilate handed Jesus over to be impaled at Calvary. Yet Pilate stood firm for putting above the head of Jesus on the impalement stake the sign: “Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.”—John 19:15, 19-22.
18. On what significant day did Jehovah raise his Son from the dead, and what were the parting words of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples before ascending to heaven?
18 It remained for the Almighty God, Jehovah, to raise his martyred Son as “the firstborn from the dead” on Nisan 16, the very day on which the Jews presented the firstfruits of the wheat harvest to Jehovah at the temple. (Revelation 1:5) Thus the future King was able to manifest himself to his faithful disciples that very day. Forty days later, before ascending back to heaven, he said to them: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.”—Matthew 28:18, 19; Leviticus 23:10-12; 1 Corinthians 15:20.
Completing His Conquest
19. What prophetic picture was Jesus thus enabled to fulfill in due time, and what kind of king has he been since?
19 Thus Jesus Christ was enabled to fulfill the prophetic picture of making his ride on the white horse, riding as a crowned king to complete conquest over all his enemies in heaven and on earth. (Revelation 6:1, 2) Since the end of “the appointed times of the nations” in the year 1914 C.E. he is a warrior King, armed as it were with a bow to pierce his foes from afar off. In reality, to this warrior King were addressed the prophetic words of Psalm 45:3-8:
20. What do the words addressed to him by the psalmist tell him to do?
20 “Gird your sword upon your thigh, O mighty one, with your dignity and your splendor. And in your splendor go on to success; ride in the cause of truth and humility and righteousness, and your right hand will instruct you in fear-inspiring things. Your arrows are sharp—under you peoples keep falling—in the heart of the enemies of the king. God is your throne to time indefinite, even forever; the scepter of your kingship is a scepter of uprightness. You have loved righteousness and you hate wickedness. That is why God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of exultation more than your partners. All your garments are myrrh and aloeswood and cassia; out from the grand ivory palace stringed instruments themselves have made you rejoice.”
21. (a) How can we be sure that the words of the psalmist apply to the glorified Jesus Christ? (b) How is the accuracy of his aim at his enemies emphasized at Psalm 45:5?
21 At Hebrews 1:8, 9 the apostle Paul quotes from the words of Psalm 45:3-8 and applies the quotation to Jesus Christ, to call attention to his now highly exalted position. This makes it certain that the “king” to whom “the sons of Korah” were inspired to address themselves was the duly installed King Jesus Christ. (See the superscription to Psalm 45 sup.) The arrows from his “bow” will be aimed at the heart of the opposers of his Kingdom with greater accuracy than that of the ancient Parthians, who were expert bowmen though mounted on horses.
22. (a) In what other part of Revelation is this rider on the white horse depicted, and under what name? (b) How are our eyes blessed to see what vision, and how do we respond to this sight?
22 The rider of the white horse described at Revelation 6:2 proves to be the same as the rider of the white horse portrayed at Revelation 19:11-16. In this latter reference his name is called “The Word of God,” and on his thigh he wears the title “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Here he is pictured as at the grand climax of his charge against his opponents, when he brings his ride to final victory at “the war of the great day of God the Almighty” on the battlefield of Har–Magedon, or Mountain of Megiddo. (Revelation 16:14-16; 19:17-21) Unseen to human eyes, there then comes the binding of Satan the Devil and his demons for a thousand years of confinement in an abyss. (Revelation 20:1-3) Blessed are our eyes to see by faith the ride of the crowned King on the “white horse” since the end of the Gentile Times in 1914. Thrilled to our very souls at his conquests so far, we cry out, ‘Ride on, you royal rider on the white horse, to your matchless victory at Har–Magedon, for the vindication of the universal sovereignty of Jehovah God, the Giver of this prophetic “sign.”’
How Would You Answer the Following:
□ When did the horsemen start their ride?
□ What expectation was then fulfilled?
□ What preliminary ride did the first rider make, and how was he received?