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Four Horses of the Apocalypse: Before the Battle of Armageddon

Stop worrying about the end times and the battle of Armageddon when you hear the news and current events. Our God has already assured us He will fight that battle. 


Revelation 6:1-2 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.


Have you ever heard the saying that a preacher should preach holding the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other? Originating with Karl Barth, the suggestion is “take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”


Personally, I stick to the book of the Bible that I am preaching from irrespective of the headlines in the daily news because news headlines change as time changes, but God and His Word never change.


However, today, as we open Revelation 6, we may not be able to avoid some of the headlines in the news and our text’s relevance to them. Let me give you a sample of the headlines just from last week.


In light of the Russian, North Korean, and Iranian threats, the BBC News headline was, “Armageddon: Doomsday Clock to Be Set in Chicago.”


The Guardian published this headline, “Nuclear Armageddon: How Close Are We?”


Another news channel’s headline was “World War III: North Korea Tests Undersea Nuclear Armageddon.”


I don’t want to scare you with more similar headlines, but my point is, that if the world is wondering about Armageddon, perhaps many of you are wondering about that also.


The problem is that people, in attempting to bridge the old world of the Bible to the contemporary world, often drag their conclusions into the Word. What they need to do is allow the Word to speak for itself irrespective of news headlines regarding Armageddon. 


As we continue our series, “Uncovering Revelation,” verse by verse, Revelation 6 is the heavenly scene moved from the throne room of God to the Judgment of God on earth. It was the beginning of the end, listing events before the battle of Armageddon, the final battle between God and the forces of evil.


The big idea I want to put forth is, do not drag your daily news into the Word of God to determine whether we are heading toward Armageddon or not, rather allow the Word to speak for itself irrespective of the headlines in the news about Armageddon. 


Revelation 6:1-8 outlines one of the first such events— the unleashing the four horses of the apocalypse. We start with the white horse as the Lamb breaks the first seal in verses -2 and learn the meaning of the white horse, the rider on the white horse, the mission of the rider on the white horse. 


The Meaning of the White Horse


Revelation 6:1-2a says, “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse!” The word “Come” is not for John, but for the horse and the rider.


A voice like thunder certainly cannot be the voice of comfort and peace but authority and power. I think at the signal of Jesus, one of the four living creatures commanded in the name of Jesus to the first of the four horses of the apocalypse to step forward and it did.


The imagery of the four horses of the apocalypse is probably the most commonly known imagery from the Bible. This is not the first time in the Bible we see the four horses of the apocalypse.


Zechariah 6:1-8 mentions four horses, too. When the prophet asked the angel about the four horses, the angel answers in verse 5, “And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.” ”


In Zechariah, they were the instruments of God’s judgment and destruction on the earth. So, the white horse in our context means judgment. With each seal broken a special kind of judgment will befall the earth and in the center of all this is Israel. 


In Revelation 6-16, Jesus would break seven seals and until all the seven seals are broken, the scroll will remain sealed. Previously, we have looked at the meaning and significance of the seven seals but moving forward in Revelation, we will see a sequence of seven seals with seven trumpets, and seven bowls each carrying a devastating judgment of God on earth for seven years.


The opening of the first seal is the start of the seven-year period of tribulation when God will pour out His wrath on earth to discipline Israel and judge those who do not follow Jesus.


This is from Daniel 9. Starting in verse 24, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city.” This decree is from God the Father about God’s people Israel, and God’s city Jerusalem.


Next in Daniel 9:24 is the purpose of the divine decree which consists of six divine actions:


1)       to finish the transgression

So, the first action God will take is to shut up or restrain revolt, the rise of rebellion on earth. Just as in heaven God finished the revolt by casting out the devil and his followers; God is going to do the same on earth, thus fulfilling His will on earth as it is in heaven.


2)       to put an end to sin

Now the second action “to put an end to sin” in Hebew is ḥāṯam ḥaṭṭā'āṯ. Hāṯam means sealing up, stopping, or locking up and ḥaṭṭā'āṯ is not only sin but its guilt and penalty as well. It has the idea of expiation, which is taking the guilt away through the payment of a penalty.


These two divine actions seem redundant, but they are not because in Hebrew the word for “finish” is kālā' which means restrain or shut up and the word “transgression” is pāśaq (Pa-shah) which is rebellion or revolt. 


3)       to atone for iniquity

4)       to bring in everlasting righteousness

5)       to seal both vision and prophet. That is to say, fulfill all prophecies about Israel

6)       and to anoint a most holy place.”


How is God going to do this all? Though Jewish Messiah in Isaiah 53:3-7, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” All this describes the first coming of Messiah to pay for our sins to secure our salvation.


In Revelation 6:1-2, John saw the slaughtered but living Lamb, the crucified, risen, and coming again Messiah Jesus opening the first seal of the scroll which is the deed to the earth because He fulfilled Daniel 9 and Isaiah 53 and other prophecies.


Now, regarding the seven-year period for the coming tribulation, the NIV and other translations will translate the seventy weeks in Daniel 9:24 as seventy “sevens” because the Hebrew word for the week here is shabua which means “a period of seven,” whether days or years. Most scholars agree it is the latter.


Now let’s do some quick math. What is 70 times 7 years? 490 years for the whole prophecy to be fulfilled.


Next Daniel 9:25-26 reads, Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.”


From Daniel’s prophecy during the 70 years of Babylonian exile until the return, rebuilding of Jerusalem, the boundary walls, and the temple that we studied in the book of Nehemiah, there were to be 7 periods of 7 years, that is, a total of 49 years which had already been fulfilled.


Next, from there another 62 periods of 7 years, which is a total of 434 years until the Messiah comes and would be cut off. 


Now combine 49 years from Daniel’s prophecy to the return of Jews and 434 years until the first coming and death of Jesus the Messiah. That is a total of 483 years. However, the whole prophecy in verse 24 was to be fulfilled in 490 years.


We have one 7-year period unaccounted for. This seven-year period is the period of tribulation. Jeremiah 30:7 called it “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” Joel 1:15 declares it the day when destruction from the Almighty comes. Jesus in Matthew 24:21 said, such tribulation “has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” 


The application for us is trust the Bible and not some man-made news headline. 


The Meaning of the Rider on the White Horse


Revelation 6:2b reads, "And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him.” Some believe the rider on the white horse is symbolic and represents the judgment of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Rome and the judgment for the seven churches. Others believe it is Christ and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. They say all arrows have been used to proclaim the gospel thus only the bow is left.


I do not believe the rider is Jesus, first because Jesus is the one who opens the seal and according to Zechariah 6:1-8, the horses are coming from the Lord. Secondly, the rider on the white horse is holding a bow in his hand but when Jesus appears in Revelation 19, He will be holding a sword in his hand. Thirdly, the rider here is wearing one crown that was given to him. In Revelation 19, Jesus will be wearing many crowns. Fourthly, the crown the rider is wearing, in Greek, stephanos, a wreath that was given to the victor in games but Jesus in Revelation 19 wears diadems, Greek for the Royal Crown, for Jesus is the Eternal King. The rider is followed by three other horses representing famine, pestilence, and death but Jesus is followed by and comes with the church and the angels. 


I believe the rider represents deception and he is so good at it that even today, people are deceived to see who he is. Daniel 9, while talking about Christ’s coming, also talks about the antichrist who will come in the last week which is the missing seven-year period of tribulation that is yet to be fulfilled.


Picking up where we left off in Daniel 9:26, the middle of the verse says, “Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” In Matthew 24, Jesus himself mentioned this too. The antichrist has two parts. In the first half of the week which is 3½ years, he will be known as the man of peace but that is just a deception because in the second half of the week, that is the rest of the 3½ years of the seven years of tribulation, he will show his true identity.


I believe the rider on the horse is the antichrist. His bow with no arrows represents the false peace that he will bring into the world therefore he will be given a victor crown. I believe he will bring the Israelis and the Arabs together and convince them to rebuild the temple ending the Middle East conflict and in the middle of seven years, he will break all treaties. 


The application for us is, do not be deceived by the false gospel, false peace, and false Christ and share this truth with others.


The Meaning of the Mission of the Rider on the White Horse


Revelation 6:2c says, "and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” The rider has only one mission to conquer. First with deception and then with bloodshed. His mission is to do whatever it takes to ensure every knee bows before his Lord Satan and not Jesus.


The application is, if the rider will pursue the mission he has been given by his master Satan, should the church not pursue its mission given by our Lord Jesus before He comes? 


I am not sure how many of you heard the news last week that Iran fired ballistic missiles at Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan and justified them as attacks on Israeli hideouts. Of course, Pakistan hit back. Since the terrorist attack on Israel, the Middle East has become more unstable than ever before.


The world is desperate for peace in the Middle East and other places. The rider on the white horse will accomplish it temporarily before the Battle of Armageddon. Only Jesus will bring permanent peace for He is the prince of peace. 


Stop worrying about the end times and the battle of Armageddon when you hear the news and current events. Our God has already assured us He will fight that battle. 


Do not fear what you hear and read in the news. As times become more uncertain, spend more time in the Word and let the Word comfort you. 


At the beginning of this message, I gave you a sampling of the news headlines. Now as I close, let me give you a passage from of the Word of God. In Matthew 24:4, Jesus said, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” And in John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

And you can, too, by the power of the Spirit that dwells in you.


Study Questions


1.       What is the significance of the horses of the apocalypse before the battle of Armageddon?


2.       Are the horses literal or symbolic?


3.       What is the significance of the white horse? Why is it first among the four horses of the apocalypse?


4.       What does the phrase “a crown was given to him” mean in Revelation 6:2? Who possibly gave him (the rider) the crown ?


5.       What does the bow represent in Revelation 6:2? 


Deeper Discussion Questions


1.       Can you recall when you first heard about the four horses of the apocalypse? What comes to your mind when you hear about the four horses of the apocalypse?


2.       Compare Revelation 19:11-21 with Revelation 6:2 and discuss why or why not the rider on the white horse is Jesus.


3.       If the rider on the white horse is indeed the antichrist, how would you recognize him? After all, he is spreading peace, security, and prosperity. Can you think of any passages in the Bible that can help you to differentiate between the antichrist and Christ?


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