Four Horsemen, Four Hearts
Responding to the Gospel in Revelation 6
by Haynes, Paul B.
Four Horses and
Have you ever been in a hurry to share an important message with someone? Perhaps you have even been in a life or death situation in which a 911 phone call was employed to save someone’s life. Paul Revere would surely know how you feel. He represents the classic example in United States history of the proclamation of an urgent message. Mr. Revere rode a fast horse from town to town shouting his message while galloping through the villages. Do you remember reading or hearing this famous poem in grade school?
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Revere was joined in his ride by William Dawes and about forty other riders, yet, because of Longfellow’s poem, it is Paul Revere whom we remember for the midnight ride. Traversing the region on horseback and waking his neighbors from their sleep, he proclaimed: Get up, get ready, and get armed. The enemy is approaching. The country folk certainly heard, saw, and responded as the Revolutionary War began. The rest is history. Revelation 6 speaks of four horses and four riders. Do they have a similar message?
“Come and See.”
Revelation 6 begins with an invitation. “Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see’” (Rev. 6:1). Who is the Lamb? What do the seals represent? Who are the four living creatures? Before we discuss these details, let us simply read through to verse 8 for a quick overview of the passage.
And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword. When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth. (Rev. 6:2–8)
What do we see in this passage? There are four horses and four riders. Each horse has a different color. There are other interesting details. The riders are briefly described. Sometimes the passage tells us what they wear, and other times it tells what they are holding in their hands. Once a voice is heard from among the four living creatures. Yet, all of them bear a cryptic message as they go out. What reason would there be for using horses in this passage?
The Horse as a Symbol
What is so special about horses? Horses are built with strength. They have a well-developed sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight instinct. They can run quickly from predators. Horses even have the ability to sleep standing up or lying down. Yet, horses are not all alike. The 300 or so breeds of horses that exist today can be loosely divided into three categories. Hot bloods are spirited horses that have speed and endurance. Cold bloods are slower horses, like draft horses, that can do heavy work. Warm bloods are crosses between hot and cold bloods and were bred for specific riding purposes.
Horses were often used throughout history in warfare. The first use of horses in battle is found in the Ancient Near East around 3000 BC. One of the earliest horse training manuals was written in Greece about 1350 BC and explains how to use horses in war. In the Orient, light hot-blooded horses were used in war because of their speed and endurance. Because they were smaller in size, the rider carried lightweight tack and few weapons.
The Bible uses the horse as a symbol. Notice God’s description of the horse to Job.
Have you given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with thunder? Can you frighten him like a locust? His majestic snorting strikes terror. He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength; he gallops into the clash of arms. He mocks at fear, and is not frightened; nor does he turn back from the sword. (Job 39:19–22)
More than merely a mode of transportation, the horse was recognized in Bible times as a symbol of strength in carrying warriors into battle. The horse is described in Proverbs 21:31 as a weapon of war: “The horse is prepared for the day of battle.” In Zechariah 10:3, God metaphorically describes making Judah “His royal horse in battle.” When people go to war, they need all the power they can get, and horses have the speed and muscle to transport soldiers where they are needed.
What kind of horse is described in Revelation 6? These are horses with riders “going out.” The first horse went out “conquering and to conquer.” The imagery is not of a lazy, slow horse pulling a wagon or of a child riding a pony through a pasture of flowers. The picture is of warfare. The horses are spirited and carry riders with an urgent message to share. God showed John powerful and swift horses carrying their riders to their destinations. No one will stop them.
Revelation shows us that our world is a battlefield between good and evil. There is a great war between Christ and Satan that began in heaven (Rev. 12:7). That war spilled over into the earth (Rev. 12:9; Luke 10:18). Revelation 12–14 depicts evil powers that are bent on destroying God’s people. The vision described in these chapters contains a message of warning and preparation. It can readily be described by riders on horses going out into the entire world. The picture in Revelation 6 paints a scene of speed and warfare. Why are there four horses?
The Symbolic Number Four
There are many “fours” in Revelation 6. There are four living creatures, four horses, four colors of horses, four riders, and four messages. Is this a coincidence? Numbers hold meaning in the Bible, especially in apocalyptic literature like Revelation. Four is a symbolic number in the Bible, representing things that are “universal.” Like the four points on a compass, the four horsemen go throughout the earth. They cover the globe. When Peter was given a vision to take the gospel to the Gentiles, a sheet with “four corners” was let down from heaven (Acts 10:11). Similarly, there are angels holding back the “four winds” from the “four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1). Thus, four represents universal truth that must go out everywhere. This number describes the worldwide work of the four horsemen who “went out” (Rev. 7:2) with their messages.
In order to begin to help us understand the pattern and meaning of the symbols in our study, we introduce a diagram on which we will place the truths we are learning. It will be based on four quadrants, which are a pattern repeated in the sanctuary and in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. The sanctuary and the parable reveal deeper truths about the four horsemen. At this point, we will simply place the four horsemen and their colors in the diagram. We will discuss the sanctuary and Jesus’ parable in later chapters.
Many questions about the four horsemen remain. Where do they come from? What is their message? Why are they four different colors? Who are the four living creatures? What are the seals? To answer these questions, we need to review the setting of this part of Revelation by backing up to Revelation 4 and its depiction of the throne room of heaven.
End of preview.
Here is the Table of Contents of the complete book:
Chapter 1 — Four Horses and Four Riders
Chapter 2 — Heaven’s Throne Room
Chapter 3 — Another View of the Heavenly Sanctuary
Chapter 4 — Creatures Around God’s Throne and a Book Unsealed
Chapter 5 — The Message of the White Horse: The Gospel Received?
Chapter 6 — The Message of the Red Horse: Peace or Fear?
Chapter 7 — The Message of the Black Horse: Freedom or Slavery?
Chapter 8 — The Message of the Green Horse: Life or Death?
Chapter 9 — Four Soils, Four Responses
Chapter 10 — Parallel Pictures: Seeds and Horses
Chapter 11 — How Will You Respond?
About the Author