The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
March 18th, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-18-62 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message. It is entitled The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. If you will turn in your Bible to the Revelation chapter 6, you can easily follow the message of the morning hour, Revelation chapter 6:
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four cherubim saying, Come.
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 in order to conquer.
And when He had opened the second seal, I heard the second cherubim say, Come.
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.
And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third cherubim say, Come. 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 cherubim say, A choinix of wheat for a denarius; and three choinix of barley for a denarius; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
And when He had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of one of the four cherubim say, Come.
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.
These are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. When we come to the sixth chapter of the Revelation, we come to the great main part of this vast program of God to give back to Adam’s seed the inheritance that has been so ruthlessly and mercilessly taken from our hands. The main action of the Revelation begins at chapter 6 [Revelation 6:1]. The Lamb-Lion comes to break the seven sealed book that is in His hands [Revelation 6:1-17, 8:1], the hands of God’s Son and our gaal, our Kinsman-Redeemer. In His hands God has placed all authority in heaven and in earth [Matthew 28:17]. And the hour has now come for our gaal, our Kinsman-Redeemer to cast out of our inheritance the usurper, and the interloper, and the intruder [Revelation1 2:9]. The day has now come when the Almighty shall cast out the powers of darkness, and those principalities, and those angels, and those demons, and those spirits, and that dragon [1 John 3:8]. The day has come when God shall cast him out [John 12:31], and shall give His creation into the hands of the rightful heirs [Romans 8:22-24]. And how those judicial proceedings shall cast out Satan; if you would like to know, God hath revealed them to you here in the Book [Revelation 4:1-20:10].
Beginning at chapter 6 [Revelation 6:1], the opening of those seven seals, those seven seals, when they are opened [Revelation 6:1-17, 8:1], bring the entire final proceedings of God to their ultimate and final consummation [Revelation 5:9-14]. The seven seals represent all of the action of God: the proceedings of God, the program of God, from the rapture of the church [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], from the taking out of God’s people in this world, from the taking away of the church, until the establishment of the millennial kingdom, when Satan is bound [Revelation 20:1-15].
The seven seals, the seventh seal is the seven trumpets [Revelation 8:1-2]. And the seventh trumpet is the seven bowls of wrath, the seven final plagues [Revelation 10:7, 15:7]. And when they are poured out, God’s wrath has finished its course in the earth, and the judgments are done [Revelation 16:17], and the millennial kingdom of our Christ is established in this world [Revelation 11:15]. So God says, “If you are interested in how the final victory is won over the grave, and over sin, and over Satan, and over death, then read herein, and blessed are the eyes,” says the Lord God, “that look upon the pages of this testimony, and blessed are they who read the words of this prophecy” [Revelation 1:3].
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise, the voice of thunder, one of the four cherubim saying,” and you have it in the King James Version, “Come and see” [Revelation 6:1]; as though the invitation were to the apostle John, “Come and see.” No, “I heard, as it were the voice, the noise of thunder, one of the four cherubim saying erchou, Come” [Revelation 6:1]. Had it been addressed to John, there would have been no need for it to be repeated four times, for John was already there. And had he drawn nearer, and nearer, and nearer, he’d have finally got in the way of the proceeding horsemen [Revelation 6:2-8]. There’d been no point in its repetition, had it been addressed to John. Another thing, there’d been no point in the voice “as of thunder” [Revelation 6:1] addressing John. He’s right there, looking. And in a noise of thunder to address him to look would have been beside the point [Revelation 6:1]. Finally, you can know how that Greek text reads by what happened when the noise of thunder, the voice of the cherubim, said erchou [Revelation 6:1]. What happened? One of the riders came forth [Revelation 6:2]. So following your best Greek texts, “I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four cherubim saying, Come” [Revelation 6:1]. And there came in each instance a horse and a rider [Revelation 6:2-8].
Now it is hard for us to realize the awe and the respect with which an Oriental looked upon a horse. An ox, to an Oriental, was a sign of patient labor; but a horse was a sign of quickening power, of battle, of conquest. For example in the thirty-ninth chapter of the Book of Job:
Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?
Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible.
He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet armed men.
He mocketh at fear, and he is not affrigthed; neither turneth he back from the sword.
The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield.
He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.
He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! And he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
This is just a little instance of how the Oriental looked upon a horse; a figure of power, and strength, and conquest, and battle. And you’ll find the same thing in the sixth chapter of the Book of Zechariah [Zechariah 6:1-8]. So in the thunderous voice of the cherubim, “Erchou, Come, proceed [Revelation 6:1]. 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 in order that he might conquer” [Revelation 6:2].
So our first horseman is on a white victorious charger. Who is he? And what does he represent? Almost all of your Bible expositors, and almost all of your commentators, and almost all of your scholars will immediately reply, “That white horse represents Christ.” There He is on a white charger; and whenever in that ancient day the victor came home with the spoils, he rode through the streets in a triumphant procession, riding a white horse. So this white horseman, this white horse and its rider almost all Bible commentators will say represents Christ: “This is the Lord Christ, riding triumphant in the earth, conquering and in order to conquer.”
Well, there are several reasons why I do not think that at all refers to our Savior. And these are the reasons: first, it is almost incongruous in the imagery of the Revelation to do a thing like this. Here comes the Lamb of God, our Savior, and He draws the curtain aside in order that you may see the great panorama of what is coming to pass. So the Savior stands here, the Lamb of God, to withdraw the curtain in order that you might see God’s program. Then as He stands there to withdraw the curtain, out He rides the same Lamb of God that is standing here to draw the curtain. In the twinkling of an eye He changes His garb, and He rides forth, now as a soldier on a triumphant, victorious mission. Well, the thing doesn’t appeal to me, the imagery of it. If our Christ is standing there to draw the curtain aside, then in the snap of the finger He rides in the garb of a soldier, it’s sort of incongruous to begin with.
Another thing about the identification of that rider with Christ; I do not think it fits. The situation doesn’t fit. Those four horsemen are of a group; there is something in common with all of them, they are there together. Here rides the white horseman, a conqueror [Revelation 6:2]. Then immediately here rides the red horseman; he is war and blood [Revelation 6:3-4]. Then immediately rides the black horseman, and he is famine [Revelation 6:5-6]. And immediately follows the fourth horseman, a ghastly pale greenish sickly color, and he is pestilential death [Revelation 6:7-8].
Now to put Christ in that group of blood, and war, and famine, and disease, and pestilence, and death, to put the four together somehow does not fit. It doesn’t fit my mind. It doesn’t fit in my thinking. I can see Christ with Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:24-26]. I think Christ fits, the Son of God, walking in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew children. I can see Christ with the beloved disciples, Peter, James, and John, and then there is our Lord [Matthew 17:1]. He fits. But I don’t somehow have the feeling that He fits with Ahab and Jezebel, with Baal and Aphrodite. And I don’t feel, somehow, that He fits with Herod the Great who slaughtered the babes at Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]; with Herod Antipas who killed John the Baptist [Mark 6:14-27]; or with Herod Agrippa I, who slew James the brother of John [Acts 12:1-2]. When you put Christ in a company like that, it doesn’t fit. And it doesn’t fit my mind and my thinking as I read the Book here, when I put Christ with the red horseman of blood and war, with the black horseman of famine, and with the pale horseman of pestilence and death [Revelation 6:2-8].
All right another reason why I do not think that this represents Christ; this horseman comes at the beginning of this opening of the seven seals, at the beginning of the tribulation [Revelation 6:2]. Our Lord Christ comes at the end [Revelation 19:11-16]. In the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, beginning at the eleventh verse, our Lord comes on a white horse, coming out of heaven, victorious. And the saints of heaven of armies are following after Him. There He comes at the climactic time and in the program of God [Revelation 19:11-16]. But when He comes here, He is coming out of place, out of time, and out of the program. It has no real significance in the revelation of God to say that Christ comes here [Revelation 6:2]. He doesn’t come here. Our Lord comes at the end, at the consummation of the age, in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation [Revelation 19:11-16].
Another thing and finally, these two horsemen are altogether different. This first one has a crown, a stephanos [Revelation 6:2], but that nineteenth chapter horseman has a crown, a diadēma, a diadem [Revelation 19:12]. And they’re altogether different. A stephanos is the crown given a man who has conquered something. He’s won a race or he’s won something else. But the diadēma, the diadem is the crown of a king, of a lord. Another thing: in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, the Man who comes on the white horse who is the Lord Christ, comes with a great sword of His Word [Revelation 19:15]. This horseman comes with a bow and has no arrow [Revelation 6:2]. Well, if this white horseman of the first of the Apocalypse [Revelation 6:2], if he is not Christ then who is he? And what does this represent?
To me it is very plain in the Word of God who he is and what he represents. You will find in twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew, which is the apocalyptic discourse of our Lord you will find an outline of this tribulation. Just as you find the whole detail of it in the Revelation [Revelation 6:1-8], you will find an outline of it in the apocalyptic discourse of our Savior [Matthew 24:3-51]. Now you watch what our Lord says.
He will say the same identical things as you will find in these four horsemen [Revelation 6:1-8]. Now beginning at verse 5, beginning at verse 4 let’s say, “Jesus answered and said unto him,” about the time of the end when the disciples asked, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?” [Matthew 24:3]. He says first—now watch Him, He will follow these four horsemen word for word. First, “Take heed that no man deceives you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” [Matthew 24:4-5]. All right, that was first. Then second, “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” [Matthew 24:6-7]. All right, that’s second. Then third our Lord says, “And there shall be famines,” and then fourth, our Lord says “And there shall be pestilences” [Matthew 24:7].
When I turn to the Revelation, I find that same identical thing as the Lord outlined in chapter 24 of the Book of Matthew.
- First there will be false Christs, the white horse [Revelation 6:2].
- Second, “There will be war,” said our Lord, and then I read here the red horse and a great sword given the rider [Revelation 6:3-4].
- And then third, said our Lord, “And there will be famines”; and then I see the third horse, the black horse representing famine [Revelation 6:5-6].
- And then fourth, and our Lord said there shall be pestilential death; and the fourth horseman here, pale—and Hades, and death following with him [Revelation 6:7-8]. So following the outline of our own Lord, that white horse and its rider represents the great and the final Antichrist [2 Thessalonians 2:8-10].
There have been and there will be many false saviors and false deliverers, men who come saying, “I have the answer,” men who say, “Put all of your military resources in my hands, and leave the destiny of your nation into my hands.” There will always be false Christs, says our Lord. And we have seen them in our day and in our time: men who stand before nations and who say, “If you will follow me, I will lead you to victory. I will lead you to great conquest, and I will lead you in the paths of peace. And I will bring honor, and glory, and wealth, and power, and riches to our nation and to our people. Follow me.” And in our day and in our generation, we have seen vast nations and multitudes of people following these false Fuhrers, these false leaders, these false saviors, these false Christs.
Now all of these who have gone before are but typical of the great final Antichrist, the great final deceiver, the great final imposter, the great final world dictator. All of these who have gone before are but little patterns of the great final leader who is God’s enemy and who is Satan’s final masterpiece. All of these are but imitations and harbingers of that great final world tyrant. And when you read of his coming here on a white horse, with a bow without any shafts and without any arrows [Revelation 6:2], that is, when he presents himself to the world, he will do so as the man of peace. This is the man who will deliver us from the catastrophe of war. This is the man who will save our nation. The whole world will be in turmoil, in restlessness, and in revolution. And this is the man who comes to lead the whole world into peace, and into victory, and into triumph. He comes an imitation of the real Christ, the real Savior, and the real Deliverer. And for the first part of his sojourn, for the first part of his reign, for the first part of his dictatorship, there will be great results and marvelous blessings and worldwide peace. “He comes on a white horse, conquering, and in order to conquer” [Revelation 6:2].
Now may I show you that that fits exactly the revelation, the prophecy that God has made in His Book? This white horseman is the Antichrist, the final world dictator, the ultimate self-styled savior and deliverer of the world [Revelation 6:2]. All right, our first passage is the description of that man in 2 Thessalonians. Our Lord says through the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2:
This end time will come, only when there is a great falling away, when there is a great apostasy; and then shall that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition—
Now he’s talking about this final Antichrist—
That man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition;
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped.
And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only He who now preventeth will prevent, until He be taken out of the way. And when He be taken out of the way,
Then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness,
[2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 6-10]
And on and on.
This man is described. He appears first after the rapture, after the taking away of God’s people in the earth [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. The first thing that will arise at the end time will be this man of sin, this son of damnation, this wicked one, whom “the Lord shall consume with the brightness of His coming” [2 Thessalonians 2:8], this evil tyrant who is coming “after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” [2 Thessalonians 2:9]. The first thing that shall happen will be the appearance on the scene of this world dictator, this Antichrist. And he does marvelous things. He has in his hands and by his side, he has the support of the religious systems of this world. The Roman church exalts him. The Roman Church lifts him up. The Roman Church accepts him, lauds him. The Roman Church helps to make him the great dictator of the world [Revelation 17:1-10, 18]. And the Jewish people sign a treaty with him [Daniel 9:27]. He has everything in his power and in his might. Political, economic, military, power is placed in his hands. He is truly the world dictator and these religious systems support him [Revelation 17:9-13].
Then—then in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, he is presented as he really is; the Antichrist, the first beast [Revelation 13:1-10]. After three and a half years of world power and world domination, he turns into an indescribable fiend, the Satan that he is [Daniel 9:27]. And according to the prophecy of Daniel, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, the last verse, after he confirms the covenant with God’s people; in the middle of the week he breaks that covenant [Daniel 9:27]. Those Jewish people in Jerusalem have rebuilt their temple, they have reinstituted the Mosaic sacrifices and the Mosaic rituals, and this world dictator has made it possible for them to do all of these marvelous things. And right in the midst, right in the midst of that last and final week, described here in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, this world dictator breaks his covenant with God’s people [Daniel 9:27], and there follows after these things that are described in the other horsemen [Revelation 6:1-8].
Now the Roman Church, what of that Roman Church? In the midst of that final week, this Antichrist turns and he destroys that Roman Church [Daniel 9:27]. In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation:
And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.
For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill His will, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, that reigneth over the kings of the earth.
You’re in trouble when you follow this Antichrist. You’re in terrible, terrible straits for he comes as a man of peace. And he comes as a world dictator leading all the nations and all the peoples of the earth into great prosperity, into the paths of affluence and quietness, but he is Satan’s final masterpiece. And when he turns into that fiend that he really is, then you have following him the other three horsemen [Revelation 6:3-8], one after another in quick succession:
And I heard one of the cherubim say, Come, erchou.
And there came forth a red horse: and he that sat upon him had power to take peace from the earth: and there was given unto him a great sword.
Now I want you to look at that. You know the sword of war is a rhomphaia, a sword that a soldier carries into battle, a rhomphaia. But this is a different word: “There was given to him a machaira, a machaira.” What kind of a sword is a machaira? A machaira is a kind of a dirk that you’d hide concealed beneath your coat. A machaira was the word used for the knife that you’d, say, cut an animal’s throat with, or a man’s throat, or that you’d cut up a piece of meat with.
And this red horseman that comes, that takes peace from the earth it isn’t like a nation rising against nation and a kingdom against kingdom. That’s true. But this kind of a red, murderous, bloody death is the kind of a death that comes when class clashes with class and when party clashes with party; this is internecine war! This isn’t Germans fighting French; this is Germans fighting Germans, and this is French fighting French, and this is Americans fighting Americans. The whole world is in a bloodbath. It’s in a seething turmoil, and men are slaying one another. And when a man goes down the street, like it is in Algiers today, he doesn’t know whether he’ll get to the end of the block or not. That’s the kind of a troublous time that this world is falling into after they acclaim the great final Antichrist [Revelation 17:7-13].
And then immediately the third horseman, “And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third of the cherubim saying, erchou, and there came forward a black horse.” And that black horse, the rider had in his hand a pair of balances weighing out every little teensy weensy bit of food, for all of it is vital; all of it is needful. And a choinix, a choinix of wheat sells for a denarius [Revelation 6:5-6]; a denarius is the full day’s pay of a working man and a choinix is just about enough for a meal. And the man works all day long and earns just enough to feed himself one meal. It is a sign of famine, of dearth, of want. For when men go to war and when men slay one another and when men live in fear, the fields are untilled, and famine covers the face of the earth. “And see thou hurt not the oil and the wine,” he says [Revelation 6:6]. That is the stroke heavy falls upon the poor, falls upon the wretched, falls upon the great mass of the common people; but for a while at least the ruling classes live in indulgence and in riches.
Then finally the fourth horseman: “And he opened the fourth seal, and I heard the voice of the fourth cherubim saying, erchou, and I looked.” You would have thought that all the dreadful colors had already been used; but no, “And I beheld, and behold, a chloros.” Actually chloros is green, just a common word for green. But here it refers to that deathly pallor of the corpse, “And the name of the horseman that sat on him was Death and Hades”; Hades, the grave “followed by his side” [Revelation 6:7-8]
This is a picture of the beginning of that end time when the world that loves to follow leaders, “He is our savior, he is our deliverer, he is our great, great conqueror.” Sometimes they bow at the shrine of a great scientist. Sometimes they bow at the shrine of a great politician. Sometimes they bow at the shrine of a great military conqueror; on, and on, and on. Sometimes they bow at the shrine of a great mercantile leader, a great financial magnate; on and on.
Whenever men have a tendency to follow other than the Lord God, they’re building up, building up, building up those attitudes and those ways that make possible the rise of a Hitler in Germany, that make possible the rise of a Mussolini in Italy, that make possible the rise of a Stalin in Russia, that make possible the rise of a Tojo in Japan. And all of these things God says are but adumbrations of that great final day when the world will proclaim its great final dictator and that dictator will lead this entire earth into that road of murder, and blood, and famine, and death! [Revelation 17:8-17].
Oh, what a horrible prospect does God lay before an unbelieving, a blaspheming, and a gainsaying earth! But it is not for us, not for us, not for those who love our Lord and who bow the knee to Jesus our true Savior and our rightful Deliverer [1 Thessalonians 5:4]. As it was in the days of the Flood, there was the ark for the family of God [Genesis 7:13-23]; as it was in the days of Israel, there were cities of refuge for the one who had shed innocent blood [Joshua 20:1-9]; as it was in the days of the destruction of Jerusalem, there was a pillar for saints of Christ—so there is a refuge for those who trust in Jesus [2 Corinthians 12:9].
Our lot is in heaven [Philippians 3:20]. Our inheritance is in the hands of our great and living Lord [Ephesians 1:11]. Our home is one of peace, and gladness, and conquering eternal victory [1 Corinthians 15:57]. Our great Fuhrer, and leader, and duce, and prime minister, and Lord, and King is Jesus Christ Himself [Revelation 19:16]. And to those who place their trust in Him, there’s no other word but comfort, and blessing, and strength, and victory, all ours in the name of Jesus.
And while we sing this song of appeal, somebody you give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10]. Somebody you put your life with us in the fellowship of the church. While we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come and stand by me, while all of us stand and sing together?