Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

I couldn't live another day without finding out what the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were supposed to represent. Sunday School class was no help at all. The white horse was confusing me. I didn't want to believe he was representative of a punishment, or an AntiChrist, or even unrighteous dominion. It seemed to me that white was symbolic of goodness and purity. But then, how did this horseman fit with the others? My own wisdom was not sufficient. I used Google, and read many interpretations which I could not quite accept. I tried prayer, and was impatiently waiting for a dream, a vision, or a voice in my head, when I remembered a quote from Joseph Smith about understanding the symbols in the scriptures. I looked it up, and here it is in it's entirety:

"I make this broad declaration, that whenever God gives a vision of an image, or beast, or figure of any kind, He always holds Himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it. Don't be afraid of being damned for not knowing the meaning of a vision or figure, if God has not given a revelation or interpretation of the subject." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 291.)

I decided to look for a scriptural interpretation of the meaning. Perhaps God had given the meaning to this symbolic passage. My first stop was D&C 77, which is a series of answers to questions about Revelation. It didn't seem to help much, but it did clarify that "the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh." I saw that the four horsemen were associated with the opening of the first four seals.

My next big break happened as I read a little further in Revelation and noticed this description:

Rev 14:14--And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
Then Revelation 19:11-12--And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

There it was! The same scriptural symbols--a white horse, a crown, a conquerer--were used to represent Christ. I was vindicated. But I still didn't know why Christ was included in this particular set of four. He didn't seem to fit with the others.

More searching in the scriptures brought me to the obscure book of Zechariah. Did you know that the same four colored horses are mentioned in chapters 1 and 6? News to me. Zechariah even had the presence of mind to ask what these horses meant; and the angel answered that they were "they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth." Prophets! I realized. Then it became clear to me that the horses were symbols of prophets who were sent to preside over the unveiling of Christ at the opening of each of the seals, or in the thousand year dispensations.

That would make Christ the horseman on each of the horses. I took yet another look to see if I could recognize Christ in these riders. The first was simple: a rider with a bow and a crown who went forth to conquer. The second horseman was sitting on a red horse. The red could represent the blood of Christ. This horseman had power to take peace from the earth. Sounded like Christ's words in Matthew 10:34. The rider of the red horse also had a sword. As I turned back to the rider in Revelation 19 I read: "And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." This perfectly described the second rider, and identified him with Christ.

The next rider had been identified by many scriptural scholars as "Famine," and this interpretation seemed to fit so well that at first it was hard to see how it might represent the Savior. However, the scales he had in his hands could also represent judgment, and the famine could be a spiritual famine; a hunger for the "Word of God," or Christ. Reading again in Revelation 19 revealed that the horseman "in righteousness he doth judge..."

The final rider had a name: Death. And Hell followed with him. So how did this horseman represent Christ? As I read about how power was given to them to kill with sword, hunger, death, and beasts, I recognized a connection with the rider of Revelation 19 who made war with the kings of the earth, slaying them with the sword and filling the mouths of the fowls with their flesh. This Messiah image, though not as comfortable to us as the loving Good Shepherd, is nonetheless an important scriptural aspect of his reign.

And so this week I have become acquainted with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse--all representative of Christ. This Messiah is revealed to the peoples of the earth by prophets, or the four different colored horses. And if you have made it through this post, you are ready for next week's Sunday School lesson, since my ward is a little bit ahead. I'd love to hear how your Sunday School teacher spins this chapter! Send me a comment.


SilverRain said...

That was great! Thank you so much, I'd never heard this interpretation, but it makes so much sense.

Janell said...

I favor the interpretation that the four horsemen represent the first four dispensations (victory of the city of Enoch, bloodshed due to the wickedness and the flood during Noah's time, the famine of Abraham's time, and the escalated death of saints in Christ's time).

I do, however, rather like your interpretation, and I'll probably extend my own to account for brining everything back to Christ. After all, all things testify of Christ :)

journeygal said...

Thanks for sharing, BiV. I'm sure this took you a while to type up and organize, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found it very insightful. I'm not sure what I think about this subject and haven't done nearly enough of my own reading/thinking/pondering to comment on it.....but you definitely sparked curiousity in me to re-visit these references. I'm glad you posted this.

Bored in Vernal said...

Janell, this particular LDS teaching actually fits into my new thinking, however I prefer not to assign a particular prophet to each horse. Remember that the opening of each seal represents a roughly thousand-year dispensation. The first thousand years is the time of Adam to Enoch and we can, if we are so inclined, assign the white horse/prophet to the prophet Enoch. Enoch's revelation of Christ was associated with crowns and victory. Similarly, the opening of the second seal represents the second thousand years. Most would agree that the red horse would represent Noah, since he is the most dominant prophet of the second dispensation. Noah's revelation of Christ resulted in division and bloodshed for the wicked people to whom he preached. The third dispensation is associated with several different prophets. If we must assign a single one to the symbolic horse, I prefer the prophet Joseph of Egypt, an important revealer in biblical and Book of Mormon theology. He is also more associated with famine, the black color of the horse, and the scales in my conception of him. However, a strong case could also be made for the prophet Moses to represent this black horse.

The death of the early Christian martyrs does not come until the fifth seal is opened, and is covered in verses 9-11 so it does not fit in with the four horsemen. But the fourth dispensation did include prophets such as David, Isaiah, Lehi, and many others. The unveiling of Christ that they participated in was also accompanied by death, hunger and the sword. (Remember also the sword as a symbol of the Word of God.)

For now I am content to recognize the horses as prophets of these various dispensations, carrying upon their backs a revelation of the Messiah to their people and therefore causing all sorts of tumult in their wake. At a later time I would certainly like to try to associate the different prophets and time periods with the seven seals.

David Littlefield said...

Let me first thank you for your kindness in linking to my site MormonMysticism.com

May I suggest a different view on the four horsemen?

I wrote about this topic in my first book, letting my lack of humility show, it is the correct answer. Here is the link: Kingdoms That Clash. Good books on this topic in LDS circles are hard to find.


HerrQuixota said...

I believe that the descriptions of the horsemen are "Christ-Like". I don't believe that it's Christ himself. I believe that the practice of allowing other beings the privilege of doing his work is still valid at this point of the opening of the four seals.

Furthermore, look at the reference to the elements. Power was given unto these four. Moses was given power over Water (pearl of great price). I see no reason why they were not given power to command the elements via the four winds.

We all know that when God spoke*** the world was. Sound is transfered via the air and other elements. When God gives power, he's giving Authority* to speak and act in his name.

There are other references to the Horsemen/Chariots, and it has nothing to do with individual dispensations.

Remember that horses are uses for traveling and for carrying messengers. We can see that the descriptions of the riders and their horses depict How they go about fulfilling their calling.

To sum up my entire interpretation:
Messengers are given power to go forth and do all sorts of stuff in preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.

PS:Christ is not the horsemen. He hasn't come a second time yet, and has only came ONCE. So the "event" theory is not valid. Not only that, but as mormons, lol, God would never go as far as describe himself as four more separate individuals, because he simply ISN'T.

Janet Lisonbee said...

Yes! You and I are on the same page! I wrote an article and posted it on the Feast Upon the Word site. The four horses represent the roles of Jesus Christ. I was excited to read your post, even though it is a couple of years since you wrote it!