The Four Horses of the Revelation

Revelation 6

J. T. Mawson

The rider on the white horse of Revelation 6 is not the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not appear in that character until chapter 19, where the many glorious titles of that Rider leave as in no doubt as to who He is. In this chapter He is the “Lamb as it had been slain” opening the seals of the book that He had taken “out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne.” Neither is there any thought of the gospel gaining its victories in the world in this passage, for when the seals of the book are opened the church will have been raptured to heaven, the acceptable year of the Lord will have closed, and the lurid dawn of the day of judgment will redden the sky. All that we read of from the opening of chapter 4 are not “the things which are” but “the things which must be hereafter” (Rev. 4:1; see Rev. 1:19).

There are three distinct series of judgments in the Revelation—the seals, the trumpets and the vials. At the opening of the seals, it seems to me, that men are allowed to work out their own plans without restraint, God allows them to reap the harvest of their own schemes; under the trumpets Satanic influence and malice come into greater activity and men have to feel the terror of choosing Satan for master instead of God; under the vials the judgments seem to be more directly from God.

When the Lamb opens the first seal, one of the four living creatures with a voice of thunder cries, Come (see N.T.), and in answer to that summons the white horse and his rider appears. I suggest that it signifies a great scheme for the peace and prosperity of the world, inaugurated, it may be, by a great and powerful individual. “Self-preservation is the first law of nature” is an ancient proverb, and “safety first” is a modern slogan, and after the church has gone from the earth, men, startled into activity by that great event will combine to secure their own safety. As they began to build the tower of Babel after the flood, so they will begin to build up some great device something probably like the “League of Nations,” that was hailed by a war-weary world as the very thing to make wars impossible from henceforth and for evermore.

Whatever it may be it will be man’s effort to take care of himself without God. Hitherto God in great mercy has held mankind in check from destroying himself, but then He will cast the reins upon the necks of the swift steeds of man’s desires that the universe may see what man is without God. Great will be their hopes as they take the way that seems right unto them; “Peace and Safety” they will say, and the noise of their rejoicing will deafen their ears to the sudden destruction that is thundering at the door.

Their way will be the way of death, and swiftly the white horse will pass and the RED HORSE and its rider appear. Peace will be driven from the earth and power and a great sword be given to this rider. Human life will no longer be sacred; all thought of “collective security” will be abandoned, they will kill one another. Lust of blood will burn like a furnace. A frenzied “French revolution,” at least Europe wide, will seize upon the nations; good-will will turn to gall and bitterness for how can men who hate God love one another? This is the beginning of that time of which Joel the prophet spoke when they will forge their plough-shares into swords; agriculture will give place to war. Neglected land will bring forth thorns instead of wheat and barley, and the BLACK HORSE of famine will occupy the field. Woe then to the poor of the earth; the necessities of life will be strictly rationed and hard to get, while the luxuries of life will not be limited, for oil and wine do not require the same hard labour for their production as wheat and barley. The poor will suffer more than the rich, and strange as that may seem it is man’s way. Oh that the poor of our day would hear and understand it and turn from their trusted leaders to God. He is the friend of the poor, the God of the fatherless and the widow, as we learn from His word and from the ways of the Lord Jesus on earth. But men are selfish and grasping and apart from the influence of the gospel are indifferent to the sufferings of their fellows so long as they can secure good things for themselves. There will be no gospel influence. In those awful days, and the black horse of famine will be a more terrible oppression than the red horse of war.

The PALE HORSE will follow in quick succession and the name of his rider is DEATH, and HELL follows with him. The sword and hunger and death and the beasts of the field do their fell work on the bodies of men and Hell claims their souls. What a descent from the white horse and its rider to the depths of hell. But that is the road that men will travel when they are left to their unrestrained will.

Let no one suppose that I am throwing the colours upon the canvas with too lavish a hand; human words are feeble when it comes to portraying these scenes. And let no one think that the state of mind that causes these disasters shall arrive suddenly and only when this time shall come. Man has not changed from Adam’s fall, he is now, and will be what he was then, and would have destroyed himself from the beginning but for God’s restraining mercy. Think of Adam in the Garden. He was made in the image and likeness of God, and set in dominion over this lower creation to subdue and to cultivate it. No creature more noble ever came from the hand of the Creator. In him we see a white horse and his rider, full of promise of peace and perfection, but not for long did he rule prosperously. He was soon deceived by his own ambition, and distrust of God: and by that old serpent, which is the devil, he lost his place of supremacy, and the bright promise gave way to a sickening fear. The white horse passed off the field and the red horse took its place, for not many years had passed when the startled earth drank the blood of man for the first time. And that man was not slain by a wild beast from the forest, or by a demon from the nether hell, but by his own mother’s son, his elder brother, who should have been his keeper and protector.

Many times would the race have destroyed itself since that first murder, but God has restrained men in His mercy. Yet they are unchanged in character, their tendency is always away from God and consequently downwards. The idea that the race is making progress and climbing upwards upon the right road to final righteousness is a delusion. The Word of God and the history of the world disprove the idea of progress and evolution to better things, and dispel the delusion for all who have eyes to read and ears to hear. Men have rejected God preaching peace by Jesus Christ and still reject His salvation and grace, and the world can only be purged of its evil by His judgments.

But there will be in this day that we are considering a more terrible thing, which reveals the root, the cause of man’s inhumanity to man, his subservience to the Devil and his blind self-destruction. “When He had opened the fifth seal,” says John, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God.” In their schemes for making the world as they would have it, they give the destruction of everything that is for God a leading place. Let a man speak for God and his life will be the price of his courage and some will speak for God. There will be beams of light in the darkness, for the Spirit of God will begin a new work in the world chiefly among the children of Jacob. The veil will be taken from their hearts and they will see their great Messiah in the ancient Scriptures and bear witness to His coming glory. They will suffer for their faith and faithfulness. The word of God will not be tolerated, and those who love it will be hunted and slain. Coming events cast their shadows, and the persecution of Christian and Jew in Germany and Russia foreshadow this very thing.

This is the day of God’s grace and not judgment and evil men take advantage of this and have no fear of God before their eyes, but when grace gives place to judgment they will fear, for at the opening of the sixth seal “The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the chief captains and the mighty men and every bondman and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall an us, and hide us from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand.”

How great is the contrast between the scene on earth here depicted and that shown us in chapter five, where “They sung a new sang, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests and we shall reign over the earth … Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”

No comment of mine is necessary as to this contrast, the Word speaks for itself.