When I was a kid in youth group I remember wanting (along with many other kids) the adults to explain and teach us about the book of Revelation. We wanted this because we knew it was beyond us and yet truly fascinating. We figured the church would (and should) have an explanation for us. Well we grew up and never got one and so only learned that the Church didn’t have one.
Revelation is a multi-layered and complex riddle. Think back to Samson’s riddle in Judges 14:12-14. Only Samson knew the answer. It’s like that but much deeper and only God knows the answer. For example, the seven spirits of God are represented by seven torches of fire and seven eyes. The only thing concrete about that is the fact that there are seven of them. Revelation is a mixture of concrete truths and figurative truths and it is not always possible to figure out where to draw the lines.
In context, the four horsemen are evil men on horses connected in some way to each of the four living creatures who surround the throne of God worshiping and singing to him. There are seven seals on a single scroll and as each of the first four are broken open by Jesus a different living creature calls out a horseman saying, “COME.” The horseman are regarded as evil things yet are not sent by Satan. They are apparently released by Jesus and the living creatures. God controls evil like miniatures in a Dungeons and Dragons game. You are part of a cosmic ‘game’ that God created himself. He is moving the pieces and orchestrating the outcome. For what point, you ask? In a word, to show off. What ever God does supersedes what anybody else does. And there is nothing you can do about it. If he considers your opinion or request, you are privileged. If he does not, there is nothing you can do about it. Can the created say to the creator, “Why’d you make me this way?” The biblical narrative tells us we have a short window of opportunity to be heard, and that He wants to hear us, answer us, and do things for us. The Gospel teaches us that this window of opportunity is all about his love. The Gospel is like the Queen of the chess game–the most important piece next to the King itself. The four horsemen would be mere pawns. Your life may feel like it has no more use than a speck of dust on the cosmic chess board and you may think that that’s all the purpose there is for you. How great and honorable it would be if only you could be one those knights or rooks! But alas you’ve been short-changed and left to a miserable fate of insignificance and there’s nothing you can do about it! But allow me to interject a question here—do you know this for certain? What if you were chosen for something great? How would you know unless you went after it?
Back to the four horsemen. What I find interesting is how these nefarious acts: conquering, war, famine, and death are represented by four men on a horse. I don’t think it’s any surprise that these four very negative things are closely associated with manhood gone wild in this world. Men commit these atrocities perhaps more than any other. This little observation is further piqued in my mind by the fact that another judgement, whoredom, is represented by a woman in Revelation 17:1-4. That one judgement is male and the other female must surely be no coincidence.
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. Rev. 6:1-2
When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. Rev. 6:3-4
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” Rev. 6:5-6
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. Rev. 6:7-8
An artists depiction of the four horsemen of Revelation 6. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the Bible is full of them. By artist Neal Jany.