The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
THE FOUR HORSEMEN
THE political redemption of the earth is seen under the seven seals and the seven trumpets and the seven thunders. The throne vision which we have been viewing is a general prelude to these judgments, and is a special introduction to the seven seals.
The seven trumpets are included in the seventh seal, so that the seals cover the entire judgment period up to the actual visible appearing of the Lord Himself on the clouds of heaven, and the establishment of His kingdom over all the earth. The length of this era seems to be seven years. The central point in this period, three and a half years, or forty-two months, or twelve hundred sixty days from the end, is the greatest crisis in the history of the earth. True, the judgment begins half a heptad before, and continues half a heptad beyond, but the center of the period stands forth as the highest point of human apostasy and the transition from "providential" judgments to divine inflictions.
The covenant of Dan.9:27 is ratified for this "week" or heptad, and in the "midst of the week" the covenant is broken and active hostilities commence between the kingdoms of the world and the people of God. There is, perhaps, no better vantage point from which to view the events of the end time than the middle of the heptad. We have drawn a dotted line across the chart to indicate its importance. Almost all of the action in the Unveiling is found in the second half of the heptad. The last three seals, the trumpets, the thunders and the bowls all find their place in the last three and one-half years. In contrast to this, the four horsemen bring before us introductory and providential judgments during the first half of the heptad. Consequently, we cannot identify these judgments with any others in this apocalypse. They are, however, the very same as those foretold by our Lord Himself, during His earthly ministry.
The best commentary that we are aware of on the seven seals is found in the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us an account of our Lord's predictions concerning the end time which are in exact accord with these seven seals. To simplify a comparison of His utterances with the record of the breaking of the seals we have arranged them in parallel columns so that the four accounts are next to one another.
The symbol of horsemen is a strange one to Western minds. We associate horses with useful labor and speedy transportation, but the Eastern mind associated the horse and his rider with war. For this, we have the special term "cavalry." The wise man says "The horse is prepared against the day of battle" (Prov.21:31). Pharaoh had horses. Many were drowned in the Red Sea at the exodus. But the kings of Israel were warned not to multiply horses (Deut.17:16). The ox and the ass did the useful labor in Palestine, but the horses were held for destruction and devastation, for the conflict and carnage of opposing hosts. Translated into literal language, the four horses and their riders present a picture of God's first inflictions in His controversy with mankind. Swift, powerful, irresistible ruin is visited on rebellious man.
It is notable that the elders take no part in these judgments. The animals, as the representatives of the sphere which is attacked, give the order, Come! The horses, too, are animals, and may well convey the impression of judgement by natural, or, as we say, "providential" means. The inflictions which follow their charge are exceptional only in their vast scope and intensity. Conquest, war, famine and pestilence, have often devastated a portion of mankind. The last two world wars were both mistaken for a fulfillment of this vision. Though called "world wars," they actually included only a portion of mankind. The war here foretold will involve the whole earth. Nation will rise against nation. Conscription will be universal. Not only will the fighting be fearful, but the famine and pestilence which follow will be frightful. No nation will be able to assist another, as in the war just past, but each will be unable to cope with even its own conditions.
The warfare indicated under the four horsemen seems to have the effect of transforming the four beasts of Daniel into the single equivalent of the Unveiling. It is the last great struggle between the East and the West. It is the conflict between apostate Christendom and the orient. The divine diplomacy sets the kingdoms of the earth against each other so that they become His whip for their chastisement. The judgments are inflicted by man upon man. No signs are seen in heaven. No quake convulses the earth. God hides behind His providence.
With the parallel passages of Matthew, Mark, and Luke to guide us, we cannot go astray in our interpretation of the white horse rider. He is the false christ who shall come. It seems incredible that anyone should be misled into believing that this is the true Christ having the conquests of the gospel. Yet such, we are told, is the accepted interpretation. Christ is here, not as the rider of the white horse, but as the Lambkin. When He does appear He comes on a white horse (19:11). But that is at the close of this judgment period immediately before the kingdom is set up. The white horse rider of the first seal is an imitation of the true, conquering the nations to unite them against God, though leading them to believe that he is the man of destiny who is able to solve humanity's problems and bring in the longed for millennium.
As the horses are of various colors, we should be careful to inquire into the significance of each. Red for war, black for famine, and sallow green for pestilence need no further explanation. But why is the first horse white? A white animal was reserved for a noble personage or a special occasion. Kings and princes rode on white asses. The bridegroom was honored by a white mount in his wedding procession.
When the true white horse Rider comes He is followed by the cavalry of heaven on white horses (Rev.19:14). Hence we may conclude that the rider is the great Caesar of the end time, the highest of human potentates, fitly mounted to accord with his exalted rank.
His "crown," however, is not the hereditary insignia of royalty, but the wreath or chaplet accorded to the victor in the games. He has gained his place by some exploit, and his rank has been won by his own efforts. It is conquest which acclaims him the dictator of Christendom. This supremacy he uses for still further aggression. At the time of the vision, he is the conquering head of the beast seen by Daniel. "That he should be conquering" suggests the struggle against the lion and the leopard and the bear. He vanquishes these and organizes the great nondescript, the wild beast which comes before us in the religious section of Revelation 13:1-3).
This interpretation throws light upon his only weapon of offense, a bow, which may well stand for distant warfare. His military campaigns, carried on by modern means, will be executed with the swift celerity of an arrow. He will attack the most distant realms with little regard for space or time.
Perhaps we should enlarge our interpretation to include the spirit of which he is the embodiment. None of the other horsemen are actual individuals. Our Lord refers only to the things which they represent. Corresponding to the white horse rider He warns against many false messiahs. So that the confederation of Christendom to force the millennium upon the heathen may well be included within the scope of this vision.
The red horse rider is war. When this war comes the previous so-called "world wars" will be viewed as preliminary skirmishes, in preparation for the appalling strife of nations.
War was followed by famine. The price of foodstuff rose to twice and thrice its normal value, even in countries remote from the center of operations.
To understand the real severity of the famine we must not measure the cost of wheat by our currency, but by its relation to labor. Our Lord considered a denarius a day's wage (Matt.20:9-11). A chenix was a day's ration for slave. So that all a man will be able to do will be to obtain food for himself, if he has work, with nothing to spare for his dependents, or for shelter. The usual price of a chenix of wheat was about one-eighth of a denarius, though sometimes it was much less. Hence provisions will be eight times their normal price at least. Interpreters have searched in the annals of the past for such a season of scarcity, but have never been able to find one. So they have resorted to various devious methods to scale down its severity. But there never has been such a time, neither shall there be any after this judgment season. The word here rendered "balances" is the Greek word for yoke. A yoke and a balance are so similar that a yoke might be made to do duty as a balance. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures zugos represents two distinct Hebrew words, one of which means yoke, and the other balance. Hence it has both meanings. The latter is far preferable in this connection.
Olive oil and wine and grain formed the staple diet of ancient Palestine. There was nothing else to take their place. Put them beyond the reach of the common people, and hunger, emaciation, disease, and death are sure to follow. Famine and pestilence are the aftermath of war. Soldiers are withdrawn from the cultivation of the soil, crops are devastated, food is destroyed, and the fighting men must be well fed, hence famine follows fast in the footsteps of the awful conflict of the future.
The sickly greenish horse, with Death in the saddle, completes the work of the four horsemen. The plague follows the famine. By contrast, happy is he who dies by the sword, for his misery is soon over. And better to die by the famine than to be tortured by the pitiless plague. Even the wild beasts will be ravenous and assuage the pangs of hunger with human flesh.
The terrible extent of these inflictions may be imagined when a fourth of mankind succumb to its ravages. Counting the earth's current population at six billion, this would wipe out one and a half billion persons within the short space of three and a half years. Every day will swallow up over one billion victims. Yet all this is but the beginning of travail! (Matt.24:7).
The character of these judgments is such that God is hidden from view. His hand is not apparent. The inflictions follow one another in their natural order, as they have always done in the past. Man still seems to be the maker of his own misfortunes. It is, indeed, his last great effort. So the substitute messiah seeks to usher in his millennium. The world will welcome the great White Horse Conqueror.
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