Gems in the book of Revelation
Part 137 - Revelation 6:1–8
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse
From the glories of the last two chapters we come to earth with a bump when we turn to chapter 6. The famous picture of the Four Horseman is a graphic description of the sad way the world of mankind was in as John wrote. And, very sad to say, it is still an incredibly accurate account of where the world still is, now, in 2018. These first 8 verses do not comprise a gem of any kind. I set out, a long time ago, to find and comment upon some of the many marvellous things for our comfort and encouragement that can be found in the writings of the Johns of the New Testament. Nothing here qualifies on that score. But these verses are so famous as ‘The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse’ that I cannot pass them by.
There is no doubt what the second, third and fourth of them mean. But there is some doubt about the first. Because the rider is on a white horse and appears to be in good health (unlike the others) some have thought he must be Jesus since Jesus appears in 19:11 - 16 on a white horse in judgment and thus in a not entirely pleasant aspect. This will not do. These are pictures, and a symbol from one picture cannot necessarily be transported to another. In this particular context Jesus would find himself in some very strange company.
No. The first rider represents all those whose greatest desire is to lord it over other people. Just occasionally a president or a prime minister will appear whose greatest desire is to serve. Even when they do, human nature being what it is, after a while the attractions of power often overtake their initial commendable desires. The English phrase ‘Prime Minister’ means nothing more or less than ‘first servant’! There are many examples in the present day world where those already at the pinnacle of power in their own nation cannot resist the desire for more. It is tempting to list some of them, but I am sure you can fill in the blanks whether of a small nation or a large one.
The second horse is red. Its rider stands for even worse things. The rider of the white horse was at least only trying to establish his position. The rider of the red horse stands for people with an even greater ambition, to establish some different way of organising people that they think are better. So we have had Fascism, communism and Islam each of which in their turn over the last century have attempted, or are attempting, to bend mankind to their way of thinking regardless of how many people they have to kill to do so.
The rider of the third, black horse represents famine. The world in which we live is very unevenly balanced. Some countries experience an almost continuous shortage of food while other countries have a super-abundance. The hope is that eventually market forces will bring the world into something nearer equilibrium but there is little sign of that happening as yet.
The fourth horse and its rider are symbols of all the other things that can go wrong in a part of the world. Perhaps particularly it represents disease, which still kills a great many people in many parts of the world. Again, there is a great disparity between those countries where modern medicine can effect minor miracles in healing people and keeping them alive while in other countries people die from easily cured diseases because they cannot afford the cures.
So, we have four causes of death (Revelation 6:8). It will be no accident that two of them refer to the way people die simply because of human behaviour; two die from causes which are non-human but could easily be prevented were the human race better at organising itself and more even-handed in the way it shared its resources.
The world belongs to the God on the throne of Revelation 4 and the Lion/Lamb of Revelation 5 but this chapter reminds us that the devil is still alive and kicking and rampaging through the world. Much of the rest of this remarkable book is devoted to suggesting where it is all going and how eventually the devil will meet his end and mankind enter into better days along with all the rest of creation. The Three in one God will triumph - but not yet.