The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse

For the second year in a row, my sermon on Sunday came from Revelation. This year we looked at "It's a Long Way from a Manger to the Throne" and the picture of Christ reigning in Revelation 5. He is before the throne as all creation worships, "Worthy is the Lamb." He alone can open the scroll of the future, and when he does, the drama of the book begins. As the first four of the seals of the scroll are opened, the four living creatures before the throne cry out and in response appear the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."

  • A rider on a white horse appears with a bow and wearing a crown; he is a conqueror who has come in conquest.
  • A rider on a red horse comes carrying a sword; he is given power to take peace from the earth.
  • A rider on the black horse comes uses scales to measure grain sold for excessive prices indicating a time of famine.
  • The last rider comes on a pale horse. This rider is named Death, and Hades follows behind him. He is given power to kill by sword, famine and plague.

These four riders represent the all too familiar progression—the conqueror brings war, war brings famine and famine brings death. This is what has happened throughout human history when man gives in to the lust for power.

What is the meaning of the vision? Have the four horsemen come to persecute the church? Do these thundering hooves begin judgment on Rome for her persecutions of Christians? Or do the four horsemen simply represent the ongoing consequences of man’s thirst for power? The precise details don’t matter as long as we understand—

  • God’s people were being hurt by conquest, war, famine and death.
  • Yet God reigns despite conquest and war and famine and death.

The church at the end of the first century was suffering tremendous pressure from Roman persecution. People were dying. Faith did not insulate them from the evil that existed in the world. There is no way for the "Health-and-Wealth" theology that is so popular today to reconcile itself with the fact that sometimes faithful people suffer despite their faith. Sometimes because of their faith.

But the story is not complete until we see the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. Later in the book another rider thunders across John’s canvass, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True." (Revelation 19:11). This rider brings justice and destroys the enemies of God with a sharp sword that comes out of His mouth. On his robe and thigh appear the name "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." The story of Revelation is not over until Jesus comes to bring justice. We may suffer because of the evil choices of others, but ultimate victory belongs to those who give themselves to serve the One who is Faithful and True.