The first four seals of Revelation 6, depicted by the four horsemen, show the devastation of false religion, war, famine and plague on the earth’s population, which ultimately leads to such a crisis when if Jesus Christ did not intervene, “no flesh would be saved” (Matthew 24:22).
The coronavirus pandemic has already killed hundreds of thousands and panicked millions. Before that ebola killed thousands in Africa before being largely contained. Preceding the ebola outbreak AIDS killed tens of millions and even today is still decimating populations in some countries.
Revelation 6:7-8 describes the effect of the fourth seal or horseman: “When He opened the fourth seal...behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him.” These four seals would have a cumulative effect with the latter part of Revelation 6:8, referring to all four horsemen, stating: “And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth to kill with sword, with hunger, with death and by the beasts of the earth.”
To better understand this prophecy, let’s review some of the great plagues of history:
The Black Death of the 14th century, thought to have been bubonic plague, killed more than 20 million people, which was a third to half of Europe’s population. The disease was so lethal people were known to go to bed well and die before waking. Whole towns were depopulated, and the social structure crumbled. One writer of the time tells of observing 5,000 bodies lying dead in a field.
The bubonic plague has also appeared in more recent times. The Great Plague of London in 1664-65 resulted in more than 70,000 deaths, and an outbreak in Canton and Hong Kong in 1894 left 80,000 to 100,000 dead. Within 20 years this disease spread from southern Chinese ports throughout the whole world, resulting in more than 10 million deaths. The bubonic plague originates in rodents and is usually transmitted to people by fleas. Cases of the plague are still reported today, with an average of 15 people dying each year.
Human-engineered plagues have been used throughout history as an offensive weapon.
The Mongols catapulted plague-infested corpses over the walls of besieged cities, causing thousands to die as the disease spread throughout the walled-in population. Also, during World War II, Japan dropped plague-infested fleas on China.
After World War II the Americans conducted a decades-long research project into biological warfare at Fort Detrick in Maryland until President Nixon ordered the research stopped in 1969. The United States then signed a treaty with 70 other nations in 1972 outlawing the production, stockpiling and use of biological weapons. However, despite this treaty many nations still continue to develop biological weapons.
Influenza “[One hundred] years ago a mutation in the influenza virus resulted in a worldwide pandemic that killed an estimated 25 to 40 million people in 18 months. Many consider this to be the worst natural disaster in history” (Hillary Johnson, “Killer Flu,” Rolling Stone, Jan. 22, 1998).
Researchers know they cannot stop a pandemic, and measures like total lockdowns are put in place to try and “flatten the curve” of infections to buy time for medical workers to learn how to treat the disease. Covid-19 has forced governments to shut down virtually all public life, with the world media contributing to both an awareness of the disease and fear. The economic impact is serious, with the long-term consequences still unknown, but we will likely be feeling the impact for years to come.
The four seals of Revelation 6 (false religion, war, famine and disease) are the result of man’s broken relationship with God, in spite of repeated warning and pleading from Him to turn from sin and live righteously based on His eternal law of love.
The Fifth Horseman: In spite of man’s refusal to acknowledge God, He will accomplish His purpose of “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). The book of Revelation portrays God’s merciful intervention in human affairs to save man from destruction.
John saw more than four horsemen in his vision. Revelation 19:11-16 shows the ride of the fifth horseman. This is the appearance of Jesus Christ, on a white horse, intervening in world affairs to bring about an everlasting Kingdom of truth, peace, plenty and ultimate well-being.
Bible Study Guide - The Horsemen of Revelation