Today’s reading: Rev 6
In Revelation chapters 6 we see some of the most vivid imagery in the Bible. When they are read untethered from the teaching authority of the Church many people read into the chapter overly literalistic interpretations that have stuck in the public consciousness for generations. Let’s be clear the chapter is primarily symbolic imagery.
The White horse symbolizes Conquering:
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.
The Red horse symbolizes Bloodshed:
And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
The Black horse symbolizes famine:
A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius …
To interpret this correctly you must know a little history. These are exorbitant prices for wheat and barley roughly equivalent to a day’s wages for a loaf of bread. When food is scarce the price goes up.
And the Pale horse symbolizes Death:
And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him.
Together the Four Horses symbolize war. And we know from experience that war comes to each and every generation. Historically, the four horsemen are closely associated with a PARTICULAR war, that of the Jewish uprising in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 that led to the destruction of the temple.
In part, we can infer this because the famine was the key lynchpin to that war. The Jewish people revolted to throw off Roman rule. The Romans surrounded the city. However, Jerusalem was a true fortress city. It had an underground spring to supply water and it had diligently saved up stores of wheat and barley sufficient that they should have had food sufficient for ten years, enough that they could have easily outlasted the Romans. However, the residents of Jerusalem turned on each other. The factions within the city destroyed each other’s food supplies. With no food, the taking of the city was an easy victory for the Romans. So the Four Horsemen most closely represent the war that destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. The four horseman also represent all wars to come but most particularly wars in which Christian peoples are martyred for their faith (hence the souls under the alter praying for justice).
What do the Four Horseman say about the end of days? I think it is safe to say that end of time will be proceeded by a great war. Will the final day of Judgement contain four actual horsemen riding across the earth in some great spiritual culling of the wicked? Well, certainly anything is possible with God. However, God seems to consistently work by using simple things in significant ways. Maybe the uniforms or flags of the offending armies will be white, red, black and pale. The important thing to remember is that Jesus himself said that no one knows the day or the hour.
Tomorrow: Rev 7