The four horsemen may seem mysterious and terrifying, but that does not have to be the case. Why not? Because the Bible and the events of modern history help us to identify clearly what each horseman pictures. And although their ride has signaled calamity on earth, it can also mean good news for you and your family. How so? First, let us determine the identity of each horseman.
THE RIDER OF THE WHITE HORSE
The vision begins this way: “I saw, and look! a white horse, and the one seated on it had a bow; and a crown was given him, and he went out conquering and to complete his conquest.”—Revelation 6:2.
Who is the rider of the white horse? The key to his identity is found in the same Bible book, Revelation, which later identifies this heavenly rider as “The Word of God.” (Revelation 19:11-13) That title, The Word, belongs to Jesus Christ, for he acts as God’s spokesman. (John 1:1, 14) In addition, he is called “King of kings and Lord of lords” and is described as “Faithful and True.” (Revelation 19:16) Clearly, he has authority to act as a warrior-king, and he does not wield his power in any corrupt or abusive way. Yet, some questions arise.
Who gives Jesus the authority to conquer? (Revelation 6:2) The prophet Daniel saw a vision in which the Messiah, likened to “a son of man,” was given “rulership, honor, and a kingdom” by none other than “the Ancient of Days,” Jehovah God. * (Daniel 7:13, 14) Thus, it is Almighty God who grants Jesus the power and right to rule and execute judgment. The white horse is an appropriate symbol for warfare justly carried out by God’s Son, for the Scriptures often use the color white to symbolize righteousness.—Revelation 3:4; 7:9, 13, 14.
When did the horsemen begin their ride? Note that the first rider, Jesus, begins his ride when he receives a crown. (Revelation 6:2) When was Jesus crowned as King in heaven? It was not when he returned to heaven after his death. The Bible shows that a period of waiting began back then. (Hebrews 10:12, 13) Jesus gave his followers a means of recognizing the end of that waiting period and the beginning of his reign in heaven. He said that at the beginning of his rule, world conditions would take a decisive turn for the worse. There would be warfare, food shortages, and pestilences. (Matthew 24:3, 7; Luke 21:10, 11) Soon after World War I broke out in 1914, it became apparent that mankind had entered that era, a troubled time on earth that the Bible calls “the last days.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
But why have we seen conditions that are worse, not better, since Jesus received his crown in 1914? Because at that time, Jesus began ruling in heaven, not on earth. War then broke out in heaven, and the newly installed King, Jesus, referred to as Michael, cast Satan and his demons to the earth. (Revelation 12:7-9, 12) Confined here, Satan has been full of rage ever since, knowing that his days are numbered. Indeed, it will not be long before God will carry out his will against Satan here on the earth. (Matthew 6:10) Now, let us see how the other three horsemen help to confirm that we are, in fact, living during the troubled “last days.” Unlike the first horseman, who clearly pictures a specific individual, the three that follow represent global conditions that have swept across human society.
THE RIDER OF THE RED HORSE
“Another came out, a fiery-colored horse, and it was granted to the one seated on it to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another, and he was given a great sword.”—Revelation 6:4.
This rider represents warfare. Notice that he takes peace away from not just a few nations but the whole earth. In 1914, for the first time in history, a global war erupted. It was followed by a second world war, which was even more destructive. Some estimates place the total number of deaths due to wars and armed conflicts since 1914 at more than 100 million! In addition, vast numbers of other individuals suffered debilitating injuries.
To what extent does warfare characterize the present time? For the first time in history, mankind appears to have the ability to extinguish all human life. Even so-called peacekeeping organizations, such as the United Nations, have not been able to stop the rider of the red horse.
THE RIDER OF THE BLACK HORSE
“I saw, and look! a black horse, and the one seated on it had a pair of scales in his hand. I heard what sounded like a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say: ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.’”—Revelation 6:5, 6.
This rider represents famine. We find here a picture of food rationing so severe that a quart (1.08 L) of wheat would cost one denarius, a whole day’s wage in the first century! (Matthew 20:2) The same coin could purchase three quarts (3.24 L) of barley, a grain viewed as inferior to wheat. How far would that go to feed a large family? People are then warned to be frugal even with daily foodstuffs, aptly pictured by such basic staples of that time and culture as olive oil and wine.
Since 1914, have we seen evidence that this rider of the black horse has been on the move? Yes! About 70 million people died in famines during the 20th century. One authority estimated that “805 million people—about one in nine of the world’s population—were chronically undernourished in 2012-14.” Another report states: “Hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.” In spite of many earnest efforts to feed the hungry, the rider of the black horse continues to ride.
THE RIDER OF THE PALE HORSE
“I saw, and look! a pale horse, and the one seated on it had the name Death. And the Grave was closely following him. And authority was given them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with a long sword and with food shortage and with deadly plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.”—Revelation 6:8.
The fourth rider represents death due to plague and other causes. Soon after 1914, the Spanish flu killed tens of millions. Possibly some 500 million people were infected, about 1 out of every 3 humans then alive!
But the Spanish flu was just the beginning. Experts estimate that hundreds of millions died of smallpox during the 20th century. To this day, the lives of millions are cut short by AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, despite intensive medical research.
The result is the same, death—whether due to war, famine, or plague. The Grave relentlessly gathers up the victims, offering no hope.
BETTER TIMES ARE AHEAD!
The present times of trouble will soon end. Remember this: Jesus “went out conquering” in 1914, confining Satan to the earth, but Jesus did not then complete his conquest. (Revelation 6:2; 12:9, 12) Soon, during Armageddon, Jesus will remove Satan’s influence and will destroy the Devil’s human supporters. (Revelation 20:1-3) Jesus will not only terminate the ride of the other three horsemen but even reverse the effects of their destructive ride. How so? Consider what the Bible promises.
Instead of war, peace will reign. Jehovah “is bringing an end to wars throughout the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.” (Psalm 46:9) As for peace-loving people, “they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Psalm 37:11.
Instead of famine, there will be plenty of food. “There will be an abundance of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains it will overflow.”—Psalm 72:16.
Instead of plague and death, there will be perfect health and eternal life for all. God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”—Revelation 21:4.
When Jesus lived on earth, he provided a heartwarming preview of future conditions under his rulership. He promoted peace, miraculously fed thousands, cured the sick, and even raised the dead to life again.—Matthew 12:15; 14:19-21; 26:52; John 11:43, 44.
Jehovah’s Witnesses would be delighted to show you in your Bible how you can be ready when the ride of those horsemen ends. Will you accept an invitation to learn more?