You’ve probably heard of the four horsemen of the apocalypse whether it was through the original biblical stories or some kind of modern reference. When it comes to the end of days, you can’t go far without bumping into the four horsemen. So, who are these mysterious figures and what exactly is their story?
Where The Four Horsemen Originated From
The idea of the four horsemen originates from the Christian myth. They appear in three main books.
In the Old Testament, the riders can be found in the book of Zechariah and the book of Ezekiel. In the New Testament, John of Patmos talks about them in the book of revelation.
Chapter 6 of revelation talks about a scroll in the right hand of God that has been sealed shut by seven individual seals. When the lamb of God opens the first four of these seven seals, he shall summon forth four beings that ride on white, red, black, and pale horses.
Out of these four riders, only Death is named in the bible, but the rest were named by what they represent.
The lamb of God, for those unfamiliar, is a title given to Jesus Christ. This leads us to believe that if Jesus himself is opening these seals and unleashing the apocalypse upon humanity, then maybe this has been ordained by God. Maybe it is a future or punishment humanity brought upon itself.
The Four Horse of the Apocalypse
The First Horseman — The Horseman of Conquest
The first horseman to appear is the rider in white, the horseman of conquest.
“Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.”
This horseman has been interpreted in several different ways. In this context, conquering meant spreading the word of God across the land.
The reason this rider is dressed in white would have been because traditionally, it’s a colour the bible associates with purity, Christ, and righteousness.
In the mid-19th century, some claimed this horseman represented something closer to the Anti-Christ and was not to be seen as a positive figure. The white horseman was also thought to symbolize war, which would make sense considering war and conquest often go hand in hand. But war is more commonly associated with the red horseman.
You may also see that many refer to the first horseman as pestilence instead of conquest and there are few reasons for this.
War and conquest are quite similar, and so, in the last few hundred years, writers and scholars have instead associated the first horseman with infectious disease, the bringer of plague.
The Romans interpreted all four horsemen slightly differently. They saw them as representing or prophesying the future of the Roman empire. The colour white to them was symbolic of triumph, political success, and prosperity.
Although the white horseman may not be seen as Christ or religion by the Romans, they also some him largely as a positive figure.
The Second Horseman — The Horseman of War
The second Horseman is the rider in red, the horseman of war.
“When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come.’ And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from Earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.”
Everything about the second horseman is fairly straightforward; he rides on a fiery red horse with his greatsword held upwards as a declaration of war.
Upwards facing swords would often signify the intention to enter a battle and the colour red we can assume symbolises the bloodshed that comes with war.
The white and red horseman were both connected to war but not the same type. Conquest implies trying to seize control of something through military force. In the case of the Horseman of conquest, that would mean spreading the word of God to those who may be of a different or no faith.
“It was granted to take peace from the earth and that men would say one another.” It’s this passage that led scholars to interpret the horsemen of war as representing civil war.
If we go back to the Romans empire, the white horseman was symbolic of the success of Rome, the red horseman however not so much. The second seal being broken meant that peace left Rome, there was bloodshed, civil war, and insurrection in the empire. This is attributed to the Roman emperor Commodus whose reign is considered to mark the end of the golden era within Rome and the beginning of civil unrest.
The Third Horseman — The Horseman of Famine
The third horseman is the black rider, the horseman of famine.
“When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the centre of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not damage the oil and the wine.’”
Some believe the scales the horseman holds can be interpreted as the scales of justice; others believe the scales reflect how bread used to be weighed in times of famine. The mention of barley and wheat in the above passage is why the later interpretation is used more commonly.
The prices mentioned may not make much sense now, but it roughly translates to an entire day’s work just to buy some of the ingredients to make bread. So, you can see why they may have caused a famine.
It also mentions the price of oil and wine remains untouched, but these were luxuries way out of the price range of a common worker. This can be taken in a literal sense, as a plague of locusts could easily ravage crops, but grapevines and olive branches were a bit more resolute.
If the horseman is bringing this famine as punishment, then going after the necessities such as wheat and barley which offer little resistance but are of grave importance makes sense.
If we once again go back to the Roman empire, the third horseman and the increasing costs of necessities would represent the excessive taxation of Roman citizens. That led to the rich continuing their lavish lifestyles whilst everyone else struggled just to feed their families.
The Fourth Horseman — The Horseman of Death
The fourth and final horseman is the pale rider, many scholars describe a sickly appearance as opposed to a specific colour like the other horseman. In later artistic interpretations, the colour green is what we associate with the horseman of death.
“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death, and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
The fourth horseman is the only one to be named, he is also referred to as Thanatos, a Greek deity or spirit associated with non-violent death.
Death is also described as being followed by Hades, which in this sense may not necessarily mean the god himself, but more so Hades the resting place of the dead.
“…authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” This can be interpreted as Death being given authority to kill and Hades to take these souls, but the fact it mentions by sword, famine, and pestilence, you would imagine this passage refers to all four horsemen.
After years of carnage, famine, oppression, and failures by the empire to look after its people, death would mark the dissolution of the Roman empire.
In Conclusion to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The four horsemen have been interpreted in many different ways: one being as a prophecy of the great tribulation. A series of judgments from God that caused many on earth to die, those who repented for their sins and accepted him as their saviour would form a new world with those who remained faithful.
The horsemen were the first of these many judgments, the first seal being broken signifying the arrival of the antichrist; the second was global war; the third economic collapse; and the last the death of a quarter of the world population.
The book of Zechariah takes a different approach to the four horsemen. Here they are known as four spirits who descend from heaven on chariots, each with a different coloured horse.
Unlike in revelation, their role here is not to bring the apocalypse. They were sent to patrol the earth and maintain peace. So, the account in Zechariah is pretty much the opposite of revelation.
Hopefully, this has shed some light on the four horsemen.
Image Sources: JW.ORG