The Mysterious Horsemen of the ApocalypseThe Watchtower—1986 | January 1
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.
Solving the Mystery of the HorsemenThe Watchtower—1986 | January 1
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.