In Revelation 6, Jesus begins to open the seven seals. This sets in train the events which will begin the Time of Distress. It leads up to the Fullness of the Jews and the time when the Kingdom is established. As each seal is opened, an event takes place on the earth. We should remember that Jesus is the one who opens the seals. Although the events that take place are unpleasant, they will only come when he is ready. Satan has no authority to bring them to pass. Because they are initiated in heaven, we know that they will bring blessing to God's people.

As each of the first four seals is opened, John sees a horseman ride forth. The horses should not be taken literally; each horseman represents an actor in human history who causes a particular event. These follow on from each other, but may also overlap each other.

There is a parallel vision in Zechariah 6:1-8. Zechariah actually saw four chariots, but the horses are the same colours as those seen by John.

I looked up again and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains – mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled – all of them powerful.

All events spring from the eternal purposes of God, which are as unchangeable as mountains of brass. These powerful horses represent part of God"s purpose and plan. Zechariah does not tell us what each one does, but he does tell us the direction in which they operate. This will help explain the events that were seen by John.

There are four horses in both visions. The four that John saw were:

  1. The White Horse

  2. The Red Horse

  3. The Black Horse

  4. The Pale Horse

Four is the number that represents the earth, so these events will have an impact to the four corners of the earth.

There is a natural connection between the events symbolised by the four horsemen. A decline in faith leads to increased warfare. The wasting of war tends to produce death and famine. Shortages of food cause sickness and death. The first two horsemen open the way for the third and the fourth horsemen.

Where Are We Now?

The birth pangs of the Kingdom age are described in the horsemen of Revelation 6. I believe that the first horseman (white) has already ridden forth. He represents the advance of Islam. This rapid advance is continuing. There are now more Moslems in Britain than there are Baptists. The secular magazine, The Economist recognised Islam as one of three major cultural movements shaping the modern world (6 Aug 1994).

I suspect that we are already seeing the horseman (red) at work in Beirut, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and Syria. His work will become much more evident in the next few years. In some places, the first horseman will have an influence first. This is the case in Bosnia. In Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan, Islamic groups are fighting for dominance. In many of the other states which formed out of old Soviet Union various ethnic groups are struggling for freedom. This is the second horseman at work.

The third horseman may be at work in places where there is now terrible poverty.

The result of all these wars will be death, famine and disease. This will automatically open the way for the fourth horseman.

We may have seen the beginnings of these events, but we have certainly not seen their complete fulfilment. The prophecy says that one quarter of the world's population will die by sword, famine, and plague. Although there have been some terrible troubles in this century, we have seen nothing on this scale. It will be quite obvious when the first four seals have been fulfilled. Death and destruction will take place on a scale that the world has not seen before.

God promises that he will protect his people through this time. They will see the wicked punished, but God will cover them and be a refuge for them.

You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you (Ps 91:5-7).

This Psalm is a wonderful promise of hope for those who are faithful to the Lord.

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More on the Book of Revelation.

See also What is Going On.