Summary of the Four Horsemen (Seals 2)

On the surface the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6:1-8) portray all kinds of literal war, famine and pestilence (as these images do in Matthew 24 and parallels). But a careful examination of the images, and their contexts within the book and in the rest of Scripture, leads me to believe that the four horsemen actually portray the progress of the Gospel and the spiritual consequences of its rejection. This interpretation depends on the identity of the white horse and its rider (6:1-2).

While some suggest that the rider on the white horse represents a counterfeit of Christ and the gospel, white in Revelation always represents the things of heaven, Christ or His people. There are no exceptions to this, unless the first seal IS the exception. Furthermore, the crown (Greek: stephanos) worn by the rider is the victory crown (like an Olympic gold medal, not a royal one). With only one exception (Rev. 9:7), this kind of crown is always associated with Christ and/or His people in the New Testament. Not only so, in the first five chapters of Revelation the word for conquering (Greek: nikôn, nikêsêi) always refers to Christ and His people (see, for example, Rev. 3:21 and 5:6). In Matthew 24, which has many parallels with Revelation 6, war, famine and pestilence occur in the context of the gospel going out to the world (Matt. 24:14). If the white horse does not represent the gospel, that theme is missing in Revelation 6, which is otherwise parallel to the Olivet Discourse of Jesus. So the imagery in the white horse and its parallels with the Olivet Discourse point to the white horse as representing the progress of the gospel.

There is more. The rider on the white horse in Revelation 19 is clearly Christ, and that rider is parallel to this one. The clearest allusion to the Old Testament outside of the covenant curse sequences is Psalm 45. This is primarily a love song, the references to battle are incidental to its main theme. To cap it all off, the first horse produces no afflictions on the human race, as do the other three. There is simply a reference to conquering, a term that is elsewhere in Revelation used in a spiritual sense. So the preponderance of the evidence points to a figurative meaning in relation to the gospel.

Is it possible, however, that the white horse and its rider are introduced here as counterfeits of the gospel? Could all of the positive imagery be explained in that way? It is possible, counterfeit is certainly a major theme in the book of Revelation. But when the counterfeits occur elsewhere in the book they are always clearly exposed as such to the reader. For example, the Christ parallels in Revelation 13 are in a context of blasphemous opposition to God (Rev. 13:1, 6) and war against the saints (Rev. 13:7). Exposing counterfeits is one of the main reasons the book was written, but it will only succeed in that mission by clearly showing whose side each character is on! Unlike Revelation 13, in Rev. 6:1-2 there is no hint of evil, rather the positive imagery is abundant. While the rider on the white horse in Revelation 19 wears the royal crown (Greek: diadêma) rather than the victory crown, the difference is explainable in terms of different stages of the conflict. Revelation 6 represents the church militant while Revelation 19 represents the church triumphant. The focus of the four horsemen seems to be the ongoing victory of Christ and the subsequent progress of both the gospel and resistance to the gospel. This fits perfectly with the context in chapter five.

4 thoughts on “Summary of the Four Horsemen (Seals 2)

  1. George Fountas

    You have it wrong. I put the following up on wikipedia and nobody there could find a problem with it. They did delete it because they considered it original research and thus had no place in wikipedia. What do you think?

    If the bow is a description of the weapon used by the conquering people represented by the First Horseman then the events described must have happened in our past, since the bow is no longer a weapon of any significance in warfare.

    Per the prophecy, during the era of the Four Horseman the population of the earth would drop by 25% “They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” From the time of Christ to the present day there have only been two time periods in which the population of the Earth decreased. The first was during and after the fall of the Roman Empire, and the other started around 1,200 AD. Both periods had cooling weather caused in the first period by the Late Antique Little Ice Age and later by the Little ice Age of the 1200’s and after. Cooler weather causes widespread crop failures resulting in famines and drops in population. No reliable data is available as to what may have happened to the total human population of the first period, but research for the second period, starting around 1200 AD supports a drop in world population on the order of 25% as predicted by the prophecy. This population drop was caused by the combination of the Mongol wars of conquest, the Ottoman and other wars, famines from unusually cold weather and the resulting crop failures, and diseases, most prominently the Black Death. By any standard this era was full of catastrophes[45]

    In their wars of conquests, the Mongols are thought to have killed an estimated 40 million out of a world population of about 400 million.[46] The Mongols were horsemen whose main weapon[47] was the composite bow. A weapon which was even more powerful then the English long bow,[48] and would be represented by the First Horseman. Their conquests included China, much of the Middle East, Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. At its peak in the mid to late 1200’s the Mongol Empire was the largest political entity of all time. Conquest is the hallmark of the First Horseman and the Mongols were the greatest conquerors of their time and likely of all time.

    After the conquest of Palestine from the Crusader states, the Ottoman Turks repeatedly attacked Byzantium and invaded southern Europe through the Balkans. Before the conquests Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe[49]. These wars also caused numerous deaths. Constant warfare is the same as “taking peace from the earth” making these wars a likely candidate for the Second Horseman. The numerous Muslim jihads not only onto Europe, but also into Georgia, Armenia, and even India would be another possibility. Additionally due to the lack of food in many areas, there were numerous wars by those that did not have food on those that did, or by those that were relatively well off on enemies weakened by lack of food. Constant warfare is the hallmark of the Second Horseman.

    The cooling weather caused by the Little Ice Age caused crop failures and famines for decades if not hundreds of years. One famine of note was the Great Famine of 1315–1317. Some areas lost 10-15% of their populations due to starvation and weakened immune systems from lack of food[50]. High food prices and famine are the hallmarks of the Third Horseman.

    The Black Death, which is thought to have killed an estimated 20 million in Europe and 75 million worldwide,[51] would be represented by the Fourth Horseman. It is spread by rats[52]. Since rats live underground they are literally “beasts of the earth”.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Your historical observations are very interesting. What, if anything, they have to do with how the text of the seals would have been read in the original context, eludes me.

  2. George Fountas

    My point is simply that the Horseman have come and gone and that we are now in some following period.

    The wold has already suffered a period where the population dropped by 25% due to

    1) a conquering people whose weapon was the bow – the Mongols
    2) a people that love war – either Muslims in general or the Turk subgroup
    3) famine from reduced food production from the Little Ice Age
    4) a disease spread by beast of the earth – the Black Plague spread by rats.

    It’s not like the bow is going to make a comeback and replace guns.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I agree with all you have said here in general. I would point out that the Greek of Rev 6:2 is the most extremely continuous language in ancient Greek. The conquering of the rider on the white horse does not come to an end until there is nothing left to conquer. If that is referring to the gospel, it makes sense that the horsemen are consecutive, but are not limited to specific incidents.


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