four horsemen of apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of Revelation

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Turn on the television or browse the Internet and you will find many signs pointing to the fulfillment of end-time prophecy. Even false prophets are in the news lately.

Yahshua in His parable of the fig tree explained how we could use indicators as a gauge to His Second Coming. “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh. So likewise, when you shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (Matt. 24:32-33). Just as nature’s changes reveal the coming of the seasons, prophetic trends reveal the timing of His return.

Two specific collections of prophecies tell us much about the tribulation predicted to precede Yahshua’s coming: the Olivet Prophecy and the prophecy of the Four Horsemen. These two mirror and expound on one another and foretell the events of the first three-and-a-half years of the seven-year covenant that the Antimessiah will establish (Dan. 7:29).

Widespread Deception

A key trait of both prophecies is deception: “And Yahshua answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Messiah; and shall deceive many… For there shall arise false Messiahs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:3-4, 24).

Yahshua warned that if it were possible, even the elect could be led astray. The events of the end will require complete faith in and devotion to the One we worship. If we are deceived by a false prophet or false messiah into forsaking Yahweh, we will forfeit our eternal salvation (Rev. 14:9-11).

This is the reason our Savior began His prophecy with a warning about deception. He knew that this sign would be the most pernicious. As believers in Messiah we’re to be cautious about being deceived. We’re to obey the commandments and hold to the faith of Yahshua the Messiah, our Savior (Rev. 14:12). Anyone claiming to be a prophet and teaching that Yahshua is not the Messiah is to be avoided. (See article, “False Prophets 101” on p. 3 of this issue.)

Now we may think that we could never be hoodwinked by a man claiming to be a either a prophet or the Messiah Himself. Don’t forget what Yahshua said; these false prophets and false messiahs would show great signs and wonders and if possible, deceive the very elect of Yahweh. For this reason all believers should put on the whole armor of Yahweh, including the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16), to avoid this deception.

First Horseman – Antimessiah?

In Revelation 6:2 we find the first horseman: “And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.”

Debate swirls among scholars as to what this horseman represents. Some attribute him to the Messiah; however, a far more likely interpretation is to deception and by extension, the Antimessiah. One reason why this view is favored is the parallel between Yahshua’s Olivet Prophecy and the Four Horsemen.

Yahshua began in Matthew 24 with a warning against deception, and we find the same message here in Revelation. Let’s consider some of the attributes of this horseman. The rider travels upon a white horse, comes forth conquering, and wears a crown, indicating kingship.

While this horseman resembles the Messiah, he also bears a striking resemblance to the Antimessiah. The Antimessiah will go forth conquering (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 13:4) and rule this earth as the ultimate despot (2Thess. 2:4; Rev. 17:12-13). Also, the fact that this horseman carries a bow with no apparent arrows is another indicator of the deception by the Antimessiah or the first beast of Revelation 13:1.

An Atmosphere of War

Along with deception, Yahshua also warns about wars and rumors of wars. “And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:6-7a).

An increase in war is also the hallmark of His coming. He said specifically that nation would be against nation and kingdom would be against kingdom. The word “nation” comes from the Greek ethnos and means a race or tribe. Yahshua prophesied that we would see civil and racial wars before his return. Since 1550, over 100 civil wars have been fought throughout this world. At present, Colombia, Afghanistan, Uganda, Somalia, Yemen, Chad, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Syria are experiencing civil conflict.

In addition to civil war, Yahshua also prophesied that we would see war between kingdoms. The word “kingdom” is derived from the Greek basileia and refers to sovereign territories or nations.

According to the website GlobalSecurity.org, Algeria, Angola, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States are presently engaged in war (note: this and the previous list contain only a sample of nations at war).

Because of conflict, millions have suffered and countless others have lost their lives. It’s reported that in the last decade over 2 million children have died as a result of these engagements (www.care.org).

Besides ongoing wars, our Savior said that we would hear of potential conflicts. Today the Middle East is abuzz with conflict, especially those nations influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, as can currently be seen in Egypt and other nations on the Mediterranean coastline.

Blood of War

In Revelation 6:3-4 we find another horseman in this prophecy: “And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.”

This red horse likely symbolizes the blood of war. According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word “power” is not found in the original text; howbeit, based on the context, this can be assumed. This horseman is given authority to cause death through the act of war, which is symbolized by his great sword.

As we find in the Olivet Prophecy as well as here, before Yahshua’s Second Coming this earth will suffer horrific conflict. The timeframe is the first three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation, also known as Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7).

This war will likely provide an opportunity for the Antimessiah to bring peace (Jer. 6:14) and unite all nations under him for the last three-and-a-half years of the Great Tribulation. Prophecy also indicates that as Israel suffered through the first four plagues in Egypt that the saints will suffer from the activities of these four horsemen.

Parallels with Old Testament Israel beome important in studying New Testament prophecy.

War Brings Famine

Another phenomenon common to both the Olivet Prophecy and the Four Horsemen prophecies is famine, just Yahshua prophesied in Matthew 24:7. The word famine comes from the Greek limos and means a scarcity of food. Before tribulation there will be a shortage in foodstuffs. It will be partly the result of war. According to worldhunger.org, “Despite some large-scale repatriation movements, the last three years have witnessed a significant increase in refugee numbers, due primarily to the violence taking place in Iraq and Somalia. By the end of 2008, the total number of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate exceeded 10 million. The number of conflict-induced internally displaced people reached some 26 million worldwide at the end of the year.”

According to Bread for the World, a not-for-profit religious organization  with the purpose of ending world hunger:

• [In] 2008, nearly 9 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. One third of these deaths were directly or indirectly related to hunger and malnutrition. Malnutrition is not having enough nourishing food, with adequate amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals and calories to support physical and mental growth and development. Children who survive early childhood malnutrition suffer irreversible harm—including poor physical growth, compromised immune function, and impaired cognitive ability.

• Around the world, 178 million children under 5 are stunted in their growth, 90 percent of whom live in just 36 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia.

• Despite years of progress against hunger, in 2010 it is estimated that 925 million people suffered from hunger. This is the result of a sudden spike in global food prices and the onset of a world-wide economic crisis (United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization).

Even though most in the United States enjoy an overabundance, the plague of famine is real, killing millions every year.

This plague is also seen in the third horseman of Revelation: “And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” (Rev 6:5-6).

Barnes’ Notes reveals about the balances, “This word properly means a yoke, serving to couple anything together, as a yoke for cattle. Hence it is used to denote the beam of a balance, or of a pair of scales-and is evidently so used here.”

These balances indicate the shortage and scarcity of food. The word “penny” refers to the denarius, a Roman coin worth about one day’s labor. A quart of wheat or three quarts of barley is considered the rations for one man, specifically a soldier. Consequently, famine will be so severe that it will require an entire day’s wage to purchase the rations for one man. Where will this leave families with children and those tending to the needs of others?

Now, why is this horseman told not to hurt the oil and wine? This passage has led to several interpretations. Some point out that these represent items typically reserved for the rich. While bread, represented by the wheat and barley, will be scarce, these luxury items, which are not able to sustain, will be plentiful.

Plague of Pestilence

The last plague is death brought by pestilence. In Luke 21:11, a parallel to Matthew 24, Yahshua prophesied, “…and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” The word “pestilence” comes from the Greek loimos and means a plague or disease. Before Yahshua’s coming, diseases will increase. One of the worst plagues in our modern age is the AIDS epidemic. Ironically, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading means of transmission is homosexuality and drug use; both are diametrically opposed to Yahweh’s Word. Homosexuality is defined as an abomination (Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:27; 1Cor. 6:9).

Other serious maladies include: cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In addition to these are ominous diseases of recent note, including the Avian flu and Mad Cow disease. These and others are also seething below the surface waiting to emerge with greater vengeance. Then we will see new infections, such as the Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli bacteria outbreak recently in Germany.

A parallel to this sign is found in the fourth horseman. “And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (Rev 6:7-8).

The word “pale” is the Greek chloros and means greenish (Strong’s Concordance Greek Dictionary). Some scholars attribute this pale-greenish color to sickness and disease. The rider on the horse is called Death, which is the ultimate result.

The word “hades” simply means the grave. In addition to this horseman’s representation of pestilence, it likely also refers to the cumulative death that will befall mankind during the Tribulation. This horseman is given power to bring death by sword, by famine and by disease. In essence, this horseman symbolizes the consequences of the previous three.

Saints to Endure Tribulation

As Israel again had to endure the first four plagues of Egypt, it appears that the saints may suffer hardship from these Four Horsemen. Consequently, it is imperative that believers remain strong in Almighty Yahweh and Yahshua the Messiah. We must place our trust in the one whom we worship. If we falter in faith, we may lose the very hope that we treasure.

While some may become filled with fear and worry about events in the world, Yahshua gave us hope in Matthew 16:25, that should any lose their lives for His sake, that they would be rewarded with life in the coming Kingdom.

John in Revelation 2:10 wrote Yahshua’s words: “Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

Although this was written to the assembly in Smyrna, the message also applies to the last days. There is not a greater promise in Yahweh’s Word. No matter what we may suffer in this life, all of it is inconsequential compared to the promise of Yahweh’s Kingdom.

Prophecy is written not so that we can anticipate every event before it happens or to glory in our understanding, but so that we will be prepared spiritually when we see these happen.

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