The Mysterious Horsemen of the Apocalypse
YOU watch fascinated as, with mane and tail flying and nostrils flaring, the horse pounds down a rocky slope. The rugged rider seems glued to the saddle as though he were part of this moving, pulsating horseflesh.
Whether visiting a high-country Australian cattle station or, half a world away, the plains of an American ranch, the sight of a horseman who really knows his mount is indeed a fascinating one. Equally spectacular is the splendor of a parade of highly trained horses and riders.
Such horsemen and their mounts leave us impressed. However, the horses and riders witnessed by the writer of the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse) are thrilling to behold! They are mysterious as well as awesome. These horsemen have become widely known as the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Imagine that now, thundering toward you, are four skilled riders, one even brandishing a sword! Notice the color of their horses. Each one is different. One horse is white, one red, one black, and one a sickly greenish-yellow color. They are indeed a strange, mysterious sight.
Follow the fast-moving account of what the Bible writer, the apostle John, saw. He states: “Then I saw a white horse, and its rider carried a bow. He was given a crown, and he rode forth as a victor to conquer. . . . And another horse came forth, bright red, and its rider was given power to take peace away from the earth, and make men slaughter one another; he was given a great sword. . . . And there I saw a black horse, and its rider had a pair of scales in his hand, and I heard a voice . . . say, ‘Wheat at a [day’s wage for] a quart, and barley three quarts for a [day’s wage]’ . . . And there I saw a horse the color of ashes, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. They were given power over one quarter of the earth, to kill the people with sword, famine, death, and the wild animals of the earth.”—Revelation 6:2-8, An American Translation.
Since this vision was first written down, its meaning has puzzled countless readers. What is represented by these mysterious horses and their riders? When did their ride begin? Does their ride have any bearing on life today? A wide variety of explanations has been offered as to what could be represented by the horses and their riders, and when their ride, in reality, takes place.
The greatest variance is found in the interpretations of the white horse and its rider. For instance, the New Catholic Encyclopedia explains that the white horse represents ‘either the victory of the gospel or imperialism.’
In the book Daniel and the Revelation, Uriah Smith gives this interpretation: “A white horse . . . is a fit emblem of the triumphs of the gospel in the first century . . . The whiteness of the horse denotes the purity of faith in that age.”
The Expositor’s Bible says: “Under the first rider the cause rather than the person of Christ is introduced to us, in the earliest stage of its victorious progress, and with the promise of its future triumph. . . . We learn that this cause is in the world, that this kingdom is in the midst of us, and that they who oppose it shall be overwhelmed with defeat.” However, Woodrow Kroll, of The Christian Jew Foundation, feels that the rider on the white horse is the Antichrist.
Some have suggested that there are five horses and riders, not just four. So how can we know which of the many interpretations is correct? How can we be sure that there is a correct understanding? Just who are these mysterious horsemen of the Apocalypse, and when did their ride begin?