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What are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse?


I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.
Then the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. 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.  Revelation 6:1-8

These four horses are known as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They have been characterized as hooded figures on multi-colored horses riding around the land.  What are they?

They are not actual horsemen.  That’s the stuff of mythology.  They must represent something else. Judgment.
  1. White Horse – judgment on nations, conquering them
  2. Red Horse – judgment on people, robbing them of peace
  3. Black Horse – judgment on the economy, causing inflation
  4. Pale Horse – judgment on health, by wars, famine or plague
Old Testament View:

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, "What are these, my lord?"
The angel answered me, "These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south."
When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, "Go throughout the earth!" So they went throughout the earth. Zechariah 6:1-7

These are four angels (spirits) trotting out into the world in all directions, bringing chaos and plunder.  It does not represent a specific event that happened in history, but a pronouncement of judgment on the people of the world for all time.

New Testament View:

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Matthew 24:6-7

Jesus said wars, death, famines and earthquakes will happen as they always happen.  These are the natural “birth” pains that will occur before the final, beautiful arrival of Jesus back to the earth to end it all.  While not specified as horses of apocalypse, Jesus spoke of a similar judgment on mankind – wars between nations, famines, earthquakes.

The four horsemen speak of judgment coming on the land or a people in the form of devastating, ongoing events that come about because of the disobedience of people.