Almost 1900 years ago, a man called John experienced a series of visions. The controversial book containing these visions is called Revelation or the Apocalypse. Do these visions have meaning for today? Can they be understood? This article takes you step-by-step through the experience of the visions as John saw them and then gives the true understanding of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse.
The man was John, a disciple of Jesus Christ. The place was Patmos, an island west of the land we today call Turkey. The time was somewhere around the year 90 AD. John was as yet unaware of his hour of destiny. He would shortly experience some of the most remarkable visions ever recorded.
As John strolled along one of the sandy beaches on the isle of Patmos, he heard a booming, human-like voice behind him. It was a voice full of authority and power. As he turned around, he came face to face with an incredible sight. It was a total-experience vision of the Day of the Lord. Now this article will use some poetic license, but it leaves unchanged every fact and circumstances of the visions. They are in the book of Revelation for all to read.
Event after event began to flash past his eyes. It was as though he were in another world, in another age. Then came what seemed a most preposterous series of images: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The horsemen flashed by, one at a time, in staccato succession.
Thundering across the landscape came the first of these beasts, a powerful white horse. Astride the horse was an apparition in white. As the horse loomed ever closer, the apparition appeared to be a ghostly rider. It looked like a conquering crusader. Yet the image of whiteness gave the statuesque horse and rider a saintly religious aura.
Then suddenly, in an instant of time, the white horse and its rider melted away. As this image vaporized, John could hear the pounding hoofs of another galloping beast on the far horizon. The phantom seemed to blend in with the heat waves; the animal out there was only a reddish blob. But its thundering hoofs were beating louder and louder. Closer and closer it came. John shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted to see the specter more clearly. As it neared, the animal took the form of a second horse. It was blood-red in color.
Behind the horse and its rider, it was as if a vast horde trudged along. Their armaments glistened in the sun. Chariot-like vehicles roared across the landscape. John became a witness to an incredible bloodbath. This vast horde was slashing helpless children to ribbons, killing old men, ripping up pregnant women, murdering babies. There was slaughter everywhere. John saw the whole earth engaged in ghastly orgies of battle.
Then, just as quickly, the scene vanished. On his left, a black horse suddenly popped into view. It was a scraggly beast of a horse, frothing at the mouth, its head drooped low. The horse’s rider possessed the form of a human. But just barely. He looked like some victim of a prolonged famine. His skin was black, his bones were protruding, and his eyes were bulging. As the rider passed by, his empty, dying eyes gazed mournfully at John. A voice from somewhere in the midst of the vision chanted in a doleful cantata: “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” (Rev. 6:6). Then the voice ceased. The black horse and its starving rider disappeared.
John lifted his eyes to the horizon. His glance became a stare of utter fright. It was the most terrible sight he had ever seen. It was the 4th horse of the Apocalypse. Like the reaction of an earlier compatriot, Daniel (Dan. 10:8), John’s knees clattered together from fear; he tried to run, but his legs failed him. He tried to close his eyes. But the ghoulish sight would not disappear because the 4th horse and its retinue was in the vision of his mind, not in the reality of the landscape.
The horse John saw was pale and sickly pallid. It was covered with boils and pus-filled sores. Behind the horse scampered rats, scorpions and other living things representing pestilence and death. John tried to stop his ears to the chorus of innumerable voices screaming in agony. Then he saw them, millions of them. They must have been humans. The flesh was being eaten off their bodies. Hollow sockets represented eyes. Bellies protruded, ready to explode. And the stench. It was the stench of rotting human flesh.
Finally, the ghastly sights, sounds and smells ceased. For a moment nothing happened. John collected his thoughts, and then he put it all together in his mind. There had been four of them, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And they represented false prophets, wars, famines, pestilences.
Somehow, he thought that he had heard what they represented. John’s mind tried to recall some old experience that would explain these horses, and then the answer exploded into his consciousness. He remembered a previous experience. He had heard about these horsemen then. Of course, he hadn’t known then that they were the four horsemen in his vision. But out of his consciousness he remembered that Jesus Christ had told him of the circumstances which the horses represented.
John thought of that time long ago, two generations earlier. He was in the city of Jerusalem. Actually, he was on a mountain called Olives, which overlooked the city. He remembered the Master, Jesus Christ, sitting in the cool shade of a tree on this mountain. He remembered asking this man, who was also the Son of God, the question that now filled his mind: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt. 24:3) Yes, he now remembered the incident with clarity.
John remembered the words of Christ. He quoted them to himself: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (vs. 4-5). As he listened to the thoughts of his mind, the thought flashed through his brain – “of course, the white horse!”
John returned his thoughts to the words he had heard long ago, Jesus had instructed John and the other disciples that day about “the time of the end.” He had told them: “And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (vs. 6-7). John again interrupted his own thoughts with the fleeting realization, the “red horse!”
But Jesus’ words once again reappeared in John’s mind, “And there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (vs. 7-8). Instantaneously, John thought, “That is the black horse and the pale horse.”
John’s thoughts raced on beyond the memory of the four horsemen to again recall the words of Jesus Christ. “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (vs. 9, 13). “What does that mean?” he asked himself.
Before the words of his thoughts were finished, John was again thrust into a vision. He would soon understand what Jesus meant. For John now saw the bone-chilling vision of the time of the Great Tribulation.
John looked out and saw Jesus tear off the seal, the 5th seal of the scroll he held in his hand. (The first 4 seals revealed the Four Horsemen.) As the seal was ripped off and the words became visible, another vision materialized. John gazed upon an incredible altar. But it was the scene of terror under the altar that shocked him. Under the altar were multitudes of human beings. They appeared dead and yet alive. What John heard from them made it clear that they had been slain as victims of religious persecution. They cried out with a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:10)?
Immediately after this John saw Jesus Christ tear off the seal of the scroll in his hand. Suddenly, in this total-experience vision, John’s body became a mass of quivering flesh, a victim by vision of the most violent earthquake ever experienced by man. Simultaneously, he saw the sun become black; the moon turn blood-red and screaming meteors strike the earth. The very stars from heaven appeared to fall to earth.
Then it seemed as if some supernatural force lifted John from the face of the earth. Like some astronaut, he beheld the orb’s totality. Islands were being sucked into the sea. Mountains became valleys. Valleys became mountains.
Then the scene abruptly changed. John found himself able to see the earth from a vantage point as though he were a watchtower placed squarely in an amphitheater filled with utterly frightened humans. He heard voices and echoes and reechoes of one terrified cry, “fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). John turned away and the humans disappeared.
It was sunny again and he recognized the beach at Patmos, Shocked and shaken, he threw himself on the sand. But his mind raced back, back to that time long ago when he was on the mountain with Jesus Christ. He remembered His words:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun by darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).
Now John understood what he had experienced by vision. He knew from the words of Jesus that first there would be false prophets roaming the earth, coupled with wars of incredible magnitude, leading to worldwide famines and pestilences. Then would come an incredible religious persecution. On whom, when and for what reason he did not yet understand. But he would soon.
Nor at that moment did he perceive that soon, very soon, he would experience the most dreadful of all the visions: the events of the Great Day of the Wrath of God.
Soon after these prophetic scenes, John knew that he was going to experience another vision. The cool blue of the sky melted away from his eyes. His feet no longer felt the hot sand. His ears no longer heard the rush of the Aegean Sea.
John first caught a glimpse of four angels standing on what appeared to be four symbolic corners of an orb he identified as the earth. Later in the vision, he witnessed Jesus Christ open the 7th seal. But when the seal was opened, nothing happened. It was still and peaceful for one half hour. Suddenly, seven angels darted into view, each with a trumpet. As they sounded their trumpets, imagination-defying catastrophes devastated the earth. The first four angels sounded and:
A third part of the earth’s trees were burnt up
A third part of the sea became blood
A third part of the sea’s creatures died
A third part of the ships were destroyed
A third part of the rivers were hit by fire
A third part of the waters were poisoned
A third part of the sun was darkened
A third part of the moon was darkened
A third part of the stars were darkened.
Then an angelic being flew into view. With a deafening roar, he uttered an eerie sentence over and over and over: “Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound” (Rev. 8:13)!
John looked into the heavens. He watched as a star descended to earth. The star became a being. A key materialized from nowhere, and it was handed to this being. He put the key into the door of an immense and dark pit. John saw a small waft of smoke arise. The smoke kept rising, and rising and rising. The waft turned into a billow which turned into a cloud. The cloud turned noonday into midnight.
As the smoke cleared, John saw a vision he was unable to describe because he was viewing mechanistic objects which did not exist in the world at that time. He looked at the strange objects emerging from the clouds. At first, John called them “locusts.” But they were powerful like scorpions. They could not kill, but their touch caused men to shriek in pain. The scorpion-like locusts seemed covered with armor like horses ready to war on the battlefield. But they had helmet-like crowns on their heads. And their faces were like the faces of men. They seemed to have long hair. The beasts had fronts made of iron, and they had wing-like appendages. John heard the sound produced by these beasts, and it reminded him of the noise of hundreds of chariots dashing into battle.
This vision was suddenly turned off. But another appeared in its place. John beheld the most magnificent army he had ever seen. A voice said the army was two hundred million strong. And John was witness as this army killed one third of the population of the earth.
Later, John heard the 7th angel sound its trumpet. Immediately, he was thrust by vision into the residence of his God. This vision was also auditory, like some incredible stereophonic symphony. Voices from myriad throats cried, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
Afterward, John experienced, in vision, the seven-part destruction levied against the nations before the kingdoms became the kingdoms of Christ. John watched in horror as the world’s armies gathered at Armageddon to fight a mad war directed against the giver of the visions, John’s Master, Jesus Christ.
“What am I to do with these visions,” John wondered. “What is their purpose?” While he was yet asking himself these questions, the Master (through an emissary) spoke to him again in vision. “These sayings are faithful and true. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book. Seal not the saying of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (Rev. 22:6-10).
And then the very voice of Jesus Christ was there. He recognized that voice from a long time ago. “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city. He which testifieth these things saith, surely I come quickly” (Rev. 22:16-20).
Still, John was puzzled. He knew what the four horsemen and the Great Tribulation were. But there was a nagging question: “To whom did they apply and when?” Then John recalled further the words of Christ, recorded by a fellow disciple named Matthew:
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man comes. Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delays his coming: and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looks not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of “(Matt. 24:42-50).
Then John understood that the warning was to all generations, to all nations and to all individuals. For one does not know whether he will be a victim of the Four Horsemen, the Great Tribulation or the Wrath of God. Thus the prophecy and the warning is also addressed to you and to me. The warning is that it is now time to prepare ourselves for our destiny with our God and that the time is now to repent and heed the words of the prophecy.