War, Famine, Death: who are the Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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Conquest, war, famine, plague, death. Whenever modern and contemporary history presents large-scale events attributable to some of these terms, the world once again wonders if the moment of the Apocalypse is about to arrive. In fact, the fear of the end of the world has always worried humanity since the dawn of time. And the fascination of John’s Apocalypse, the last book of the Catholic Bible, has always exercised great power over mankind and the Christian community. The questions have been arising again in recent years, after the Covid-19 pandemic was associated with the plague of the Apocalypse and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia with the start of a new World War. And then the with to learn more about what the book of Revelation says and who the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are becomes important.

The book of Revelation

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from Earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not damage the oil and the wine.”

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

The interpretations about the Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In John’s description, when the Lamb breaks the seven seals, the first four are always followed by the appearance of a horse and a horseman: a white, a red, a black and a pale horse. The last three have a clear evil connotation and undoubtedly represent the punishment of God before the Last Judgment, while on the first there are conflicting interpretations. Let’s see them one by one.

The white horse

There is no agreement on the interpretation of this figure. The white horse most likely represents the conquest, which can therefore be a military victory, or the word of God that spreads throughout the world. There are reasons to think that this figure could have a positive connotation, because it reuses the symbols usually associated with God (the crown, the bow) and because it would be greeted by the voice of thunder, which could mean divine approval. However, the figure could also represent the invasions of wars, or even the coming of the antichrist that precedes the end of the world. According to still other interpretations, the white horse could represent the Roman Empire of those times.

The red horse

War, violence and massacres are certainly the meanings behind the red horse, which takes away peace from the Earth. On the other hand, red is often associated with the enemies of God, as well as with the Red Dragon mentioned later in the Apocalypse.

The black horse

The symbolism of the scales that measured the cost of wheat and barley, together with the fact that those are exorbitant prices for the time, clearly represents the shortage of food and therefore famine. The detail on the oil and wine that are not damaged can have several interpretations: according to some they are not basic necessities, and therefore would indicate the fact that the richest part of the population will not suffer the effects of famine like the poor, while according to others could mean that the famine would be limited to the barley and wheat season, and therefore would have a limited time duration.

The pale horse

The term used to identify the rider of the pale (or green/greenish) horse is the Greek word thanatos, which means both death and plague/pestilence. It can therefore represent both the death due to wars and the spread of a plague, or in a broad sense of a great epidemic. This is why the association with the recent coronavirus pandemic was made.

The continuation of the Revelation

Immediately after the opening of the first four seals, the John’s Revelation describes the martyrs who fell while spreading the word of God and a great earthquake that will darken the sun and change the world. The rich and powerful will go to hide in caves and on the cliffs, asking the world to escape from the wrath of the One who sits on the throne. The Last Judgment, at that point, is close.