Solving the Mystery of the Horsemen
WHO can solve the mystery of the horsemen of the Apocalypse? In the Bible, at Daniel 2:47, Jehovah God is called “a Revealer of secrets.” Since he is the one who inspired the Bible, including the vision about the horsemen, he can provide the answers we need. Therefore, by searching his revealed Word for information, we are able to unravel the meaning of the colored horses and their riders.—Amos 3:7; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21.
The three opening verses of Revelation, 1:1-3 or the Apocalypse, provide a key to help unlock the mystery. They show that this series of visions had to do with future events, that is, future to the year 96 C.E. when the apostle John saw all these things and wrote them down. This harmonizes with his statement at Revelation 1:10 that the things seen in these visions were to take place only after “the Lord’s day” began.—Compare 1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5.
With this in mind, we shall examine the horses and their riders. At the outset, it is vital to have the correct understanding of the white horse and its rider. Then the meaning of the other horsemen will fit into place.
In the previous article, it was noted that one interpretation of the white horse and its rider was that they represented ‘either the victory of the gospel or imperialism.’ But the world has not been converted to the gospel (good news) about Christ and God’s purposes surrounding him. And, surely, imperialism has not ridden forth in triumph. Rather, it has been breaking down, fragmenting, in this century.
What of the interpretation that the white horse represents the victory of the gospel and the purity of faith in the first century? This ignores the fact that the vision was of things to come in the future. And since John wrote the vision as a prisoner in exile on the island of Patmos in the year 96 of our Common Era, it could not possibly represent anything having to do with the first century.
Another explanation was that the white horse introduces the cause rather than the person of Christ and that his Kingdom ‘is in the midst’ of us, that is, in our hearts. But the cause of Jesus Christ and Christianity did not begin at some time future to the writing of Revelation. Rather, this cause was already in great evidence among first-century Christians before John wrote.
Also, when Jesus said that “the kingdom of God is in your midst,” he was speaking to the hypocritical religious Pharisees in answer to a question they had raised. Jesus was not speaking to his faithful followers and telling them that the Kingdom was something ‘in their midst’ in the sense of being in their hearts. Instead, he was telling the disbelieving Pharisees that he, Jesus, as the representative of the future Kingdom of God, was present among them on that occasion.—Luke 17:21; see also The Jerusalem Bible and The New English Bible.
How about the thought that the rider on the white horse is the Antichrist? Nowhere does the Bible say that the Antichrist will make such inroads that it could be said of him that “he went forth conquering and to complete his conquest,” as was said of the rider on the white horse. (Revelation 6:2) It is clear that whoever is seated on the white horse will ride forth completely conquering. His conquest will not fail. All his enemies will be destroyed.
Bible Clues Help Identification
Unmistakable identification of the rider on the white horse is given by the “Revealer of secrets” later in the same series of visions. At Revelation 19:11-16, a white horse is again seen, this time with clear identification of the rider.
The fact that a white horse is seen twice in these prophetic visions indicates that it is the same horse and that various duties or activities of the rider are being depicted. In the latter scene, the rider is named. He is called “Faithful and True,” “The Word of God,” and “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Those designations leave no doubt as to the identity of the rider on the white horse. It is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ himself! (Compare Revelation 17:14.) But at what time of his life? It has to be some time after the end of the first century, when the Revelation vision was given. Notice, too, that now a royal crown is given to him. So at some future time Jesus Christ was to begin a special role as King, or Ruler. And in that capacity, he is also depicted as a warrior armed with a bow, to ride forth “conquering and to complete his conquest.”
Also showing that this had to be future is this fact: By the time of the apocalyptic vision, more than 60 years had passed since Jesus finished his earthly life, was resurrected from the dead, and had ascended to heaven. When he returned to heaven, Jesus was told to wait at the right hand of God until that future time when his enemies would be made “a stool for his feet.”—Hebrews 10:12, 13.
The Ride Begins
So the ride on the white horse was to begin at some future time when Jesus Christ would be enthroned as the heavenly King of God’s Kingdom. At that time God would send him forth with the command: “Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.” (Psalm 110:2) But when does this take place?
The crowning of Jesus Christ as heavenly King is described at Psalm 45:3-7. Then in Hebrews 1:8, 9 the apostle Paul quotes from this psalm and applies verses 6 and 7 to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Detailed information and Scriptural proofs published by Jehovah’s Witnesses show that the coronation of Jesus Christ in heaven took place at the close of the Gentile Times, “the appointed times of the nations,” in the year 1914.—Luke 21:24.a
Hence, any interpretation that puts the horsemen’s ride earlier than the year 1914 could not be correct. Also, since the rider of the white horse was in the lead, the other horses and riders following would represent events that would take place along with, or some time after, his ride begins. The ride of these four horsemen, therefore, must occur from and after the beginning of “the time of the end” in 1914. It has been since then that “the last days” have been seen to be in evidence.—Daniel 12:4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13.
The Other Horses and Riders
The second horse is “bright red,” or “fiery-colored.” (Revelation 6:3, 4, An American Translation) Its rider “was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another.” He was given “a great sword.” This proved true when 1914 saw the beginning of the worst war in all human history, the first global war. Back then it was called the Great War. Just 21 years later World War II began, and it was even more devastating than World War I. Since then there have been constant wars. Altogether, since 1914, wars have taken some one hundred million lives.
The third horse is a black one, and its rider has a pair of scales in his hand. (Revelation 6:5, 6) A voice calls out that it would require an entire day’s wage just to buy one quart (1.1 L) of wheat or three quarts of the cheaper grain barley. This fittingly describes food shortages on a scale greater than ever before. That has proved to be true since 1914. Right from the outbreak of World War I, food prices soared. Millions died from hunger. Since then, food shortages have continued without letup. It is estimated that now some 450 million people are hungry to the point of starvation, and up to one billion do not have enough to eat. From time to time the gloomy picture is emphasized by such famines and extreme loss of life as reported from Ethiopia in recent years.
As for the fourth horse, we notice that it is “pale,” sickly looking. The rider’s name is “Death.” (Revelation 6:7, 8) It well symbolizes the vast number of deaths since 1914 by unnatural causes, such as food shortages and famines, wars and violence, plagues and diseases. The Spanish influenza that broke out worldwide at the close of World War I caused over 20 million deaths. Now heart disease, cancer, and many other sicknesses take their toll of millions in untimely deaths.
The events symbolized by these horses and riders are also noted in a parallel prophecy Jesus gave about our time. He said that in “the conclusion of the system of things,” where we now live, there would be global war as ‘nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.’ He foretold “the increasing of lawlessness” and “in one place after another pestilences and food shortages.”—Matthew 24:3-12; Luke 21:10, 11.
Was There a Fifth Horse?
Revelation 6:8 reads: “And I saw, and, look! a pale horse; and the one seated upon it had the name Death. And Hades was closely following him.” On the basis of this, some have suggested that since the first four characters mentioned are riding horses, would not the fifth also be mounted on a horse?
The Bible does not say that. In the Greek text the word for “horse” does not appear at Revelation 6:8 in connection with Hades. Hence, most Bible translations do not include the word “horse” with reference to this fifth character. So it is sufficient to note that Hades, the common grave of mankind, was following the previous three horses and riders, gathering up all their victims.
How Does the Vision Affect You?
To be living at the time when this vision of the ride of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse is having its dramatic fulfillment is certainly a thrilling experience. But it is also a time of great seriousness, calling for self-examination. Why is this so? Because every person on earth is affected by this symbolic ride. Yes, you and your loved ones are all involved. How?
This question raises a serious aspect of the matter that will be answered in the next issue of The Watchtower: “How Their Ride Affects You.” Do not miss the absorbing answer.
a See You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pages 134-41, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 5]
1914—The “King of kings” rides forth on his white horse
[Picture on page 7]
Since 1914, Hades has reaped a grim harvest in the wake of the horsemen of War, Famine, and Pestilence