Popular culture has widely appropriated ideas of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It was the nickname of the Notre Dame football team’s backfield in 1924. Rock band Metallica used it as the title for a song. The Four Horsemen made a brief appearance in the movie Hellboy: The Fury and appear in more than one Marvel comic story line. They were even featured in an episode of The Simpsons. All this may blunt the force of our encounter with them in Revelation 6.
The Four Horsemen issue forth from the first four of the seven seals on the scroll mentioned in chapter 5. Each horseman represents a mode of divine judgment, which is progressive. The horseman who conquers is followed by the horseman who takes peace from the earth (v. 4). He gives way to a black horse with scales in his hands who brings want (vv. 5–6). The fourth horseman is the most terrifying: “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth” (v. 8). And this is only the overture. Three more seals will follow and from the seventh seal will come another series of seven judgments.
We must remember that the Four Horsemen are not merely a cultural trope. They point to real events that will take place at the end of the age. These events are not random disasters. Only the Lamb can break the seals and set them in motion. They are an execution of divine judgment that will eventually culminate in God’s ultimate victory.
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The descriptions of the terror unleashed by the Four Horsemen should sober us, but we should not miss a key lesson here: God is in control. The stage is being set for Christ’s return and the establishment of His kingdom. The same is true on a smaller scale in our individual lives. Jesus is the gatekeeper of everything that enters our lives.