Revelation 6 and the Great War

From Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, pp. 1203f:

The Four Horsemen

One by one the seals of the book are broken and with each of the first four, a horse and rider appear:

Revelation 6:1.… when the Lamb opened one of the seals…

Revelation 6:2. behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown…: and he went forth conquering…

Revelation 6:3. And when he had opened the second seal…

Revelation 6:4. there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth…

Revelation 6:5. And when he had opened the third seal, … lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.

Revelation 6:6. And I heard a voice … say, A measure of wheat for a penny…

Revelation 6:7. And when he had opened the fourth seal, …

Revelation 6:8.…behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death…

These are the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" representing the variety of evils that were to descend upon the world (specifically upon the Roman Empire, which was viewed by its populace as synonymous with "the world") to mark the beginning of its dissolution and the coming of the Messianic era.

DoreStJohnPatmosThe white horse and its rider seems to represent foreign invasion. At least the bow is the virtual symbol of the Parthian raiders, who since the time of Julius Caesar had been the terror of the east. In the days of Herod the Great, they had occupied Jerusalem, and at no time thereafter were their forces very far to the east.

The red horse and its rider also seem to signify a form of war. It may well represent the bloody disorders of civil war and insurrection.

The black horse and its rider represent famine, for the price offered for a measure of wheat ("a penny") is far higher than normal and is so high in fact that the ordinary populace could not buy enough to live.

The pale horse and its rider are named as "Death," but this is not the kind of death in general that would follow war or famine. That is taken care of by the first three horses. Rather Death represents death by disease, as when we refer to the "Black Death," for instance.

In short, the four horsemen can be most briefly describe as War, Revolution, Famine, and Pestilence.

There are many who seek the meaning of the symbolism of Revelation in the events that have happened in the centuries since the book was written. To those, never did the four horsemen ride with such effect as in the days of World War I. Not only was there the bloodiest and most stupidly savage slaughter ever seen, on both western and eastern fronts, but there was a revolution in Russia that affects us even today, a famine in both Germany and Russia immediately after the war, and a world-wide influenza pandemic in 1918 that killed more people than the war did.

Never had War, Revolution, Famine, and Pestilence stalked ghastly over the world as in the years rom 1914 to 1920.

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