The four horsemen of the Apocalypse appear in the final prophecy of the Bible, and there is much confusion as to what they mean. The book of Revelation is full of symbolism, and the tendency among fundamentalist religious leaders has been to interpret the book in a very literal way, trying to make the book fit historical and future events. The confusion can be summed up by looking at an article on BeforeItsNews - from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
To the skeptic, these riders are nothing more than symbolic sound bites. To your average unstudied Christian, these four riders represent a mysterious symbolism that can’t be known. The Preterist and Amillennialist see them as either historic or figurative leaders who have long since come and gone. But to those who hold to a Pre-Tribulation Rapture view, we recognize these riders as those who will be unleashed after the church have been caught up to heaven during the 70th Week of Daniel.So, overall, the book of Revelation or the Apocalypse is still a closed book. Other than historical interpretations, the tendency among Protestant churches is to always place things in the "future" - always future, but never applicable to our present day reality. Futurist interpretations are based on a false interpretation of the prophecy of Daniel 9 (the "70th week"), which happened to predict the exact year Jesus would appear and be rejected by the Jews over 500 years in advance. Also common among futurist interpretations of the Bible is a belief in a "rapture" in which believers are caught up in heaven, but in reality what the apostle Paul was seeing is an ascension of souls into the higher heavenly realms in the spiritual world (another topic for another day).
So its easy for a reader to get lost with the various opinions of men to interpret the book. But there is only one person who can interpret the book, showing that it could only be made known by Divine revelation:
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. (Rev. 5:1-5)
In other words, only Jesus Christ would reveal the contents of this book - the "Lion from the tribe of Judah," in the spiritual sense means by the power of the Divine Truth. The other higher spiritual meaning of the passage is that only God is allowed to explore the true spiritual state of each individual and the church on earth. For we all see people's outward actions, but no one can explore each person's internal intentions. Only God can explore the thoughts of each person, and from that foresee the future.
So among all the interpretations of the book of Revelation, the only one I have seen that explains the symbolism of the book of Revelation or the Apocalypse are the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. In 1745 his vision was opened, had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and while in waking vision in the spiritual world he would read scripture and the spiritual sense would be explained to him. And this Swedenborg stated was not from any spirit or angel, but from God, whom he saw as a central light in the heavenly world, in which was his visible form we know as Jesus Christ. The spiritual sense of scripture would be given to him by an internal perception of the truth.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For this claim, we have 3 volumes of Apocalypse Revealed, preceded by six volumes known as Apocalypse Explained. The explanation is massive - the symbolism of each word, with its spiritual meaning, is always shown by referring to other portions of scripture. Before I knew about Swedenborg, I had read several attempts by many authors. They all failed, or were incomplete. Back before the internet was popular I managed to find an old copy of Apocalypse Explained in a university library, opened it, and was literally stunned - here it was, the entire Apocalypse explained in great detail. And it all made sense.
It was a mind shift. There is no literal rapture, but rather an ascension of souls caught in the middle world up into heaven in the spiritual world. There is no individual "Antichrist" that sets himself as god in a future temple in Jerusalem - but rather, there will be an antichristian system of thought that would become the center of worship in the very churches themselves. This anti-christian system of theology would regard evils as nothing, and evils can simply be "transferred away" without any reformation of one's life. And yet, with this shift in thinking, everything remains focused on the Lord and his spiritual kingdom in scripture.
It's a hard message. How does the present day church as it is on earth look in God's eyes? Is everything angelic and perfect?
Or, if one looks more closely in the mirror, one will find something else?
So let's take a look in the mirror.
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
All religions go through dispensations, or world ages. At the end of an age, love and charity is replaced by selfishness and materialism, and truth becomes distorted with falsities until nothing of truth is left. There is no "end of the world" but rather an "end of an age." We are at the end of the Christian dispensation. This was preceded by the Jewish dispensation under Moses, which in turn was preceded by two other more ancient churches of the Middle East. There are fragments of this lost faith, but now distorted by idolatry and stories now regarded as myths. We are now at the end of the Christian dispensation, yet the promise is Jesus will be present with a remnant few who follow his commandments:
[Teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:20)Unfortunately, the King James version mistranslates "end of the age" as "end of the world." So at what point in the time did the church on earth begin to deviate from what Jesus commanded? This actually happened very early on in the history of the Christian Church. The book of Revelation speaks of "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). By that many theologians thought that referred to a second person of a trinity before creation. In reality, the "foundation of the world" in the spiritual sense represents the foundation of the present day Christian Church; the "lamb" is the Divine human of the Lord; to be "slain" means that the acknowledgement that Jesus very human became Divine was rejected. So this is not in regards just to the Jews of Jesus's day, but the present church, and this is readily apparent to anyone who examines the early theological debates which led to the church to split Jesus into a Divine and human nature. For by making his very human body Divine, one with his Divinity, is how the entire human race was saved. As He entered a human form under his control, so by His spirit he can enter each human being to help them resist sin and temptation through repentance.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE FOUR HORSEMEN
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse represents the successive stages of the Christian Church, beginning to conquer falsity by the truth, and declining until there is nothing good and true left in it. Some have noted that the white horse is similar to the white horse at the end, and they do have a similar meaning. But the book of Revelation is strange: each time a seal of the scroll is broken and opened, out of the scroll pops out a horse. So why is there a horse popping out of a book? No one has been explain it. Its just weird.
The meaning of a horse coming out of a scroll or book becomes quite clear when reading the spiritual symbolism revealed to Swedenborg in his visions, but he demonstrates it by referring to other scripture:
I will smite every horse with astonishment, and every horse of the people with blindness (Zech. xii. 4). A horse in the spiritual sense is the understanding of the Word... (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 48)Knowing that, other passages in scripture begin to make sense:
Because God has made her forget wisdom, nor has imparted understanding; at what time she raises herself on high, she scorns the horse and his rider (Job xxxix. 17, 18, etc).Its a bit strange, but such symbolism is common in the spiritual world, where animals appear that represent each person's internal character. We say such things as "clever as a fox," or "he eats like an ox," or "low like a dog." In the spiritual world, horses represent one's understanding of the Word - understanding is above the level of mere knowledge and reasoning.
And this is why we so often find such strange language and metaphors or "figures of speech" in the Bible - for inspiration proceeds directly from heaven, and ultimately falls into objects we are familiar with - and these objects are symbols that correspond to the spiritual reality behind it. In most cases, the objects are in terms of the human language and culture, so that one can receive it. Thus in his spiritual visions, Swedenborg explained the reality of the book of the seven seals in the spiritual world:
"...it is to be known that such predictions were not seen and read in a book when its seals were opened, but were made manifest through the heavens from the Lord before the angels of the inmost heaven; and were represented in the ultimates of heaven by such things as are related in this chapter, namely, by horses of various colors, and afterwards by earthquakes, by the darkenings of the sun and moon, and by the falling of the stars to the earth." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 369)In the following, I will give a summary of the symbolism of each horse, but what is interesting here is that the sequential stages as shown in the Apocalypse for the end of the church follows exactly the sequeential stages for the end of the age as described by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 24. Surprisingly, although Swedenborg interpreted both passages, he failed to note the correspondence between these two prophecies.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE WHITE HORSE
The symbolism of "white" is easy - it signifies truth. Truth has the power of conquering and defeating what is false and evil:
And he went forth conquering and to conquer, signifies victory over falsities and evils for ever. Conquering and to conquer, is said, because he who overcomes in the world in spiritual combats, which are temptations, overcomes for ever; for the hells cannot assault any one who has overcome. (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 301)This signifies the early stage of the Christian church at its beginning - the gospel was unadulterated by those seeking power, nor by external philosophies or paganism. It was simple: a baptism of repentance, and following Jesus by keeping the commandments. New light was given to the old ancient prophecies and myths, and representative worship was abolished.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE RED HORSE
The red horse signifies the next stage of the Christian church, which began to suffer from internal disputes:
"And there went forth another horse that was red," signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed as to good and hence as to the life with them. "And unto him who sat upon him it was given to take peace from the earth," signifies the taking away of charity, spiritual security, and internal rest. "That they should kill one another," signifies intestine hatreds, infestations from the hells, and internal unrest. "And there was given unto him a great sword," signifies the destruction of truth by the falsities of evil. (Apocalypse Revealed, chapter 6)This particular stage of spiritual development is described in the spiritual sense in Jesus discourse in Matthew 24, in which he describes successive stages in the decline of the church until the end of the age:
The disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what is the sign of Thy coming, and of the consummation of the age I And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in My Name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled; for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall be stirred up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. But all these things are the beginning of sorrows (xxiv. 3-8). They who keep in the sense of the letter cannot know whether these things, and those which follow in the chapter, were spoken concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish nation, or concerning the end of days, which is called the final judgment; but they who are in the internal sense see clearly that the end of the church is here treated of, which end is what is here and elsewhere called the coming of the Lord and the consummation of the age. And because that is the end which is meant, it may be known that all those expressions signify things of the church; but what they signify may be evident from the several particulars in the internal sense — as when it is said that many shall come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and shall lead many astray; where name does not signify name, nor Christ Christ; but name signifies that by which the Lord is worshipped (n. 2724, 3006); and Christ signifies truth itself (n. 3009, 3010); thus it is meant that there would come those who would say, This is of faith, or This is true, when yet it is neither of faith, nor true, but false: that they should hear of wars and rumors of wars, is, that there would be disputes and strife concerning truths, which are wars in the spiritual sense; that nation should be stirred up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, signifies that evil would fight with evil, and falsity with falsity... (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3353.2)This is the first state of perversion of the church, when disputes arise as to what is true or false. The next state (Matt. 24:8-14) also corresponds to the red horse of the Apocalypse, where people would turn against and hate what was good and true:
All these things are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you unto affliction and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all the nations for My name's sake. And then many shall be offended, and shall deliver up one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold. But he who endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole inhabited earth, for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come.
By the words that precede and have been already explained (n. 3353-3356), was described the first state of the perversion of the church, which was, that they would begin no longer to know what was good and what true, but would dispute about it among themselves, from which falsities would originate. By the words now cited is described a second state of the perversion of the church, which is, that they would despise good and truth, and also turn away from them, and thus that faith in the Lord would expire, in proportion as charity should cease. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3486-87)
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE BLACK HORSE
The black horse represents the next spiritual state of the Christian church - the internal disputes have ended, but in the place of disputes there is falsity put in its place - which is symbolized by the color of black - the opposite of white, which is truth:
"And when he had opened the third seal," signifies prediction respecting the state that next follows with those who are of the church where the Word is (n. 369); "I heard the third animal saying," signifies out of the inmost heaven from the Lord (n. 370); "Come and see," signifies attention and perception (n. 371); "and behold, a black horse," signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed in respect to truth (n. 372); "and he who sat upon him had a balance in his hand," signifies the estimation of truth from the Word in that state of the church (n. 373). "A measure of wheat for a denary, and three measures of barley for a denary," signifies that the genuine good of the church, as well as the genuine truth of the church, is of no account to them (n. 374); "and the oil and the wine hurt thou not" signifies that it is provided that the internal or spiritual sense of the Word should suffer no harm either in respect to good or in respect to truth (n. 375, 376). (Apocalypse Revealed, chapter 6)Again, this corresponds with the next passage found in Matthew 24, verses 15-18:
When therefore ye shall see the abomination of desolation which was foretold by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, let him who readeth understand, then let them who are in Judea flee unto the mountains: let him who is upon the house not go down to take anything out of his house: and let him who is in the field not return back to take his garments.
According to the internal sense the signification is this: "When therefore ye shall see the abomination of desolation" signifies the vastation of the church, which occurs when the Lord is no longer acknowledged, consequently when there is no love and no faith in Him; also when there is no longer any charity toward the neighbor; and consequently when there is not any faith of good and truth. When this is the case in the church, or rather in the land where the Word is possessed and read — that is, when men are such in the thoughts of the heart, even if not such in the teaching of the lips — then there is desolation, and the particulars just now mentioned are its abomination; hence, when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, means when any one observes such things; what is to be done in such case, is told afterward (verses 16-18). (Heavenly Arcana, n. 3652)The abomination of desolation signifies when there is no longer any truth in the church, or when the spiritual truth is no longer acknowledged in one's life - this corresponds to the black horse. Those who are in Judea who flee to the mountains do not concern the Jews, but rather those who are in love towards the Lord, the others are those who are in the good of charity or truth of doctrine - these will be protected, just as the internal truths of the Church will be protected (the oil and the wine) in the vision of the black horse.
The advice given here: even though the church itself may be corrupt at large, as individuals, maintain a life of usefulness, charity and love towards others and the Lord. Don't get distracted or misled by religious fundamentalism which stresses belief alone.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE PALE HORSE
The pale horse represents the next spiritual state of the Christian church - in which there is no good, nor truth - or its not internally acknowledged in life among those who know. And without the protection of truth, evils of life begin to become dominate. Church is there as an external shell, but people will go do as they will as it has lost its moral and spiritual authority:
And I saw, and behold, a pale horse," signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed both as to good and as to truth. "And the name of him who sat upon him was Death, and hell followed with him," signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and hence damnation. "And there was given unto them power over the fourth part of the earth to kill," signifies the destruction of every good of the church. "With the sword, and with famine, and with death, and by the beasts of the earth," signifies by falsities of doctrine, by evils of life, by the love of self-life, and by lusts. (Apocalypse Revealed, chapter 6)This corresponds with the next state in Matthew 24 concerning the end of the age: for when one knows the truth, but internally denies it, and goes against it in the way one lives, all that is holy becomes profaned and distorted. False religions and doctrines predominate, and religion becomes superficial. Thus Jesus says "woe to those who are with child" - signifying innocent ones who know no better will be spiritually destroyed. This is the time of "great affliction" - where internal spiritual truths are falsified and profaned. This will all happen from within the church, not outside the church - thus Jesus described false christs, who will attempt to deceive the elect.
INTERNAL SPIRITUAL STATES REVEALED
One can see, from the sample above, is that with the revelations shown to Swedenborg, even the most obscure passages of scripture become applicable to one's own life. The different spiritual stages of the Christian church is shown, how it declines from love and truth, to internal doubts about the truth, to aversion to what is good and true, and finally, until all religion is profaned as evil is mixed with good, and falsity with truth. When doubt is sowed into people's minds by skeptics, or people become averse due to religious fanaticism, the power of spiritual truth declines, and evil becomes predominate. It is gradual, takes place over time - and many will probably be surprised to learn that the church has declined to such a state. These different spiritual states can be applied personally, perhaps to those who were first attracted to Christianity, but then left for a variety of reasons, until it is rejected in the final state. Or it can be applied to personal relationships, how they can successfully decline over time if one departs from love and truth. For Divine spiritual truth, in its essence, is universal.
There are two reactions people may have to this revelation concerning the four horsemen of the Apocalypse - to reject it entirely, or perhaps to see there is truth in it. Those who do see the truth will be a small remnant few, who will be rejected by others - these people are represented by "the souls of them that were slain for the word of God" that John sees in the spiritual world under the altar - they are consoled a bit by being given white robes, in that they will be protected by living according to the truth.
HIDDEN SYMBOLISM IN LORD OF THE RINGS
Tolkien, a Catholic, understood much of this symbolism, and it took him years to incorporate this stuff into Lord of the Rings. One can see that especially in the following scene, which one may compare to crossing of the Jordan river, the cleansing of falsehood by the water of truth, and how evils and falsehoods attempt to extinguish and kill any small remnant of the truth.