The Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseRevelation 6:1-8Theme: The Lord of history.This week’s lessons teach us that God is sovereign over even the most terrible of tragedies.
LessonThe last horse is a livid or pale greenish color symbolizing disease or death. The color there is hard to get into the English language, which is why it’s translated “pale.” It’s actually the Greek word chloros, from which we get the words “chlorophyll,” the substance in plants that makes them green, and “chlorine,” which is a pale greenish gas. Behind this fourth pale horse comes Hades, the abode of the dead. It says these two are given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
We find here a natural progression. The sword is the sword of war; war is followed by scarcity leading to famine; those who are starving are susceptible to plague which kills many; and, at last, when the restraining forces of civilization are dissolving, the beasts move in from the forests to prey upon the weak.
The important thing is this: even these terrible judgments are controlled by God, since the power to kill possessed by the pale horse and Hades is power that has been given to them, as we see in verse 8. Who gave them this power? God did, of course, and the Lord Jesus Christ who breaks the scroll’s seals. God remains sovereign even over the worst of war’s horrors. Now some people have trouble believing that Jesus is actually controlling war, bloodshed, famine, plague, and death, and sends the woes portrayed by these horsemen. They don’t want to think of him as the immediate cause of these judgments, arguing that he only permits or tolerates what unfolds. But the message of Revelation is that Jesus Christ is totally sovereign over all things, including the forces of evil in this world, and that he actually uses them for his own purposes as he always has.
Revelation teaches that it’s Jesus himself who is the judge and the executor of the judgments that the wicked deserve. Moreover, these things are going to get worse, which is what the unfolding series of seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath that follow the four horsemen and their judgments portend, because, after all, this is just war. The four horsemen of the apocalypse release only what human beings unleash against one another every single day.
In books and newspapers and magazine articles and in radio broadcasts we read and hear about the four horsemen of the apocalypse who are riding across the earth today. We sense that there must be a judgment in which the guilty will not be able to escape. And that is true. God will display his just judgments by breaking up nature, releasing destructive forces, and permitting the workings of the antichrist, the beast, and the false prophet who will strike the world with satanic evil.
In the days of Abraham God foretold the history of the Jewish people. He said that the Canaanites would be able to remain where they were for four hundred years while the Jews were slaves in Egypt, because, as God said, the sin of the Amorites was not yet full. It took four hundred years for their sin to become full, but it did become full, and in the end they were destroyed by the Jewish invasion of Canaan under Joshua. The pictures painted by John in this last book of the Bible are similar. They are not puzzles merely to exercise our minds. They are warnings of how seriously God takes sin and of how he is going to judge it fully and perfectly in its own time.
So let me make it personal. The evil that is portrayed by the four horsemen is not merely something tthat is out there somewhere in the world practiced by other people. The problem is that it’s in ourselves. Billy Graham had it exactly right when he wrote, “The four horsemen are God’s picture to warn us of our own sinfulness. They do not cause evil–they are a picture of a very human process.” What the four horsemen do, we do, or at least we’re very capable of doing. We need to repent of our sin and turn to Jesus Christ where alone salvation can be found. Don’t blame others for the evil. Blame yourself. And that’s it exactly. It’s where you must start, because it’s only when you turn from your own self-righteousness and recognize your sin that you can find God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.
PrayerOur Father, we bow before you to confess our sin. There’s nothing we see on television or come across in the newspaper, however evil it may be, that is not merely a projection of the very sin the resides deep in everyone of us. And it’s that sin–sins committed and those that, under other circumstances, might have been committed, that we need to have covered by the blood of Christ. We recognize that these passages are there to warn us that we have to deal with you and one day we will have to give an accounting for what we have done and either be condemned for our sin or be received because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Do impress that upon our hearts, for we pray in his name. Amen.