Chapter OneRIDERS ON
Horses and horsemen are mentioned some three
hundred times in the Bible. But there aren't
any that even come close to being as famous as
the four horses-white, red, black, and pale-ridden
by the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
These four mysterious riders have always captivated
the minds of men. We are drawn to them.
There's something almost magnetic about their
They attract both believers and unbelievers alike.
The scholar and the sensationalist. The passionate
preacher and the merely curious.
Artists have been drawn to their imagery. I can't
substantiate this with any hard data, but I believe that
there are more artists' renditions of the four horsemen
than of any other biblical image-except, perhaps, the
Crucifixion and the Nativity. One of the most famous
was painted by Albrecht Durer, a German artist of the
Northern renaissance. In 1498, Durer created an artistic
interpretation of the book of Revelation that
included eighteen engravings of the Apocalypse. The
most interesting of the engravings depicts the four
horsemen. It's a stunning scene. The grim riders
appear with dust clouds in their wake, trampling and
destroying everything in their path.
Religious cults are also drawn to the four horsemen
like bugs to a porch light. In his last days on
earth, a young man named Vernon Wayne Howell,
aka David Koresh, the self-proclaimed messiah, was
poring over the four horsemen of the apocalypse in his
Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
Together with over a hundred followers, Koresh
held police and federal agents at bay outside his heavily
armed compound. Koresh believed he was Jesus
Christ, the Lamb of God, and the only one worthy
and able to open the seven seals in Revelation 6 and
bring about the end of the world. He believed that the
events at his compound were the beginning of the
end-and he was doing all he could to make this a
self-fulfilling prophecy. The image of the four horsemen
played over again and again in his warped mind.
Clearly, the four horsemen command people's
attention. They should grab ours as well.
But as you get into this book you might be asking,
"Why is this particular image so important? Why is it
so vital for me to understand its message? Why have so
many people focused attention on this vision down
through the centuries?"
I would like to suggest four reasons.
The first reason for the magnetism of the four horsemen
is the powerful, vivid symbolism that's employed.
Or, what we might call "horsepower."
In the Bible, horses often represent power, might,
and awe. For the Jewish people, the horse was held in
great awe and reverence. I have to be honest-I, too,
hold horses in great awe. I've never had a positive
experience riding horses the couple of times I've given
it a try. I think they somehow sense my anxiety
because they always decide to "take me for a ride."
They have my utmost respect.
Job 39:19-25 contains a dramatic description of the horse from the early days of man's history.
"Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
Do you make him leap like the locust?
His majestic snorting is terrible.
He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his
He goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
And he does not turn back from the sword.
The quiver rattles against him,
The flashing spear and javelin.
With shaking and rage he races over the
And he does not stand still at the voice of the
As often as the trumpet sounds he says, 'Aha!'
And he scents the battle from afar,
And the thunder of the captains and the war
Horses are awesome creatures. Nothing in the
world can compare with the sight and sound of a herd
of horses running at full throttle over the plains.
Arguably, horses are the most beautiful creatures in the
world. Nothing can touch their grandeur and majesty.
Movies like Seabiscuit can move us to tears as we see
the power, beauty, and drive of this regal animal.
Have you ever been to a racetrack and seen and
heard the horses "coming down the stretch"? The rippling
muscles. The flared nostrils. The thunderous
sound. It's enthralling. Exhilarating.
The four horsemen are an awesome sight.
And a sight you never, never want to see.
The Night Riders of Zechariah
Second, horses represent more than just awe and
respect in the Bible. Horses in the Bible frequently
represent God's activity on earth and the forces He
uses to accomplish His divine purposes. We see this
clearly in the four horses mentioned in Zechariah
1:7-17 and 6:1-8.
In the earlier passage, the prophet sees a night
rider on a red horse with red, brown, and white horses
behind him. These four horses and riders are sent
forth by God as a kind of horse patrol to "check things
out" on the earth.
Again in Zechariah 6:1-8, the prophet sees four
chariots, each drawn by different colored horses-red,
black, white, and dappled. The four chariots come
from between two bronze mountains. Bronze, in
Scripture, often symbolizes judgment of sin. The four
chariots are sent out to the north and the south to
bring judgment on the nations who oppressed His
The imagery of the four horses in Revelation is
undoubtedly connected to Zechariah's vision of different
colored horses. From this obvious parallel, we
know that the four horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8 are
telling us something about God's coming judgment
on the earth in the end times. This alone ought to grab
A third reason we are fascinated by these horsemen is
their mystery. In each instance, when one of the angels
cries "erkou" ("come"), a rider and horse gallop across
the stage of history, summoned to thunder upon the
earth. The imagery is striking, yet simple.
As the summons is issued to each horse and rider,
one by one they hurtle across our world. And all it
takes to describe these four riders is eight verses-two
apiece. The brevity of each account leaves us wanting
more. And most mysterious of all, none of the horsemen
says a single word. They are mute. Each rides
forth in complete silence. In another sense, however,
they speak loudly to a world in desperate need of
Scene One of the End Times
Fourth, the four horsemen are important and captivating
because they introduce the dreaded seven-year
Tribulation. They represent scene one of the drama of
Revelation 6-19 is the fourteen-chapter heart of
the book of Revelation. These chapters contain
twenty-one judgments that will be unleashed on the
world during the coming seven-year Tribulation
period, leading up to the glorious appearing of Christ
in Revelation 19. The twenty-one judgments are
divided into three groups of seven.
Seven seals. Seven trumpets. Seven bowls.
The severity and scope of these judgments boggles
But before the seven trumpets and seven bowls are
poured out on the earth, there are seven seal judgments.
And the first of these four seal judgments is the
four horses and riders in Revelation 6:1-8. So as you
can see, the four horsemen will get it all started. The
real action of Revelation, of the seven-year
Tribulation, is introduced with these four horsemen.
Through these symbols, God depicts the unleashing of
the first four great judgments of the Tribulation
For this reason, if we want to know what could be
right around the corner for our planet, Revelation
6:1-8 is the place to begin. There's no more relevant
passage for today in all of Bible prophecy.
The Calm Before the Storm
I'm excited, as I hope you are, to jump right in and
identify these four horsemen. But before we look at
each individually, we need (as always) to gain a basic
understanding of the setting and context for this great
prophecy. And the introduction to the four horsemen
is found in the heavenly scene in Revelation 4-5.
Ironically, it will take a quick trip to heaven to
show us what on earth is going to happen in the
Seven Trumpet Judgments of Revelation 8-11
First Trumpet (8:7) Bloody Hail and Fire:
One-Third of Vegetation Destroyed
Second Trumpet (8:8-9) Fireball from Heaven:
One-Third of Oceans Polluted
Third Trumpet (8:10-11) Falling Star:
One-Third of Fresh Water Polluted
Fourth Trumpet (8:12) Darkness: One-Third of Sun,
Moon, and Stars Darkened
Fifth Trumpet (9:1-12) Demonic Invasion:
Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21) Demonic Army:
One-Third of Mankind Killed
Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19) The Kingdom: The Announcement
of Christ's Reign
Seven Bowl Judgments of Revelation 16
First Bowl (v. 2) Upon the earth: Sores on the
Worshipers of the Antichrist
Second Bowl (v. 3) Upon the Seas:
Turned to Blood
Third Bowl (vv. 4-7) Upon the Fresh Water:
Turned to Blood
Fourth Bowl (vv. 8-9) Upon the Sun:
Intense, Scorching Heat
Fifth Bowl (vv. 10-11) Upon the Antichrist's Kingdom:
Darkness and Pain
Sixth Bowl (vv. 12-16) Upon the River Euphrates:
Seventh Bowl (vv. 17-21) Upon the Air:
Earthquakes and Hail