The Way It Happened

Revelation 6:1-8, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Part I of V

I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals.

//In Revelation chapter six, a mysterious scroll is slowly opened, as Jesus removes seven seals from the scroll one at a time. As each seal is removed, Revelation’s story directs us to the earth and the events happening there. I briefly introduced this mystery scroll in a post a few days ago.

The first four seals serve to introduce four horsemen. This image of terrifying warriors riding horses of four different colors has fascinated artists, storytellers, and hellfire preachers for two thousand years. But what do you suppose John of Patmos was originally writing about, way back in the first century? Let’s take a closer peek at these four horsemen, and see if we can make sense of the images from a first-century perspective.

Scholars have long recognized the unmistakable similarities between the images used here in the seal-breaking and the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21, where Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. War, international strife, famine, and earthquakes occur in the same order in both the Gospels and Revelation. Luke specifically names Jerusalem as the city under siege, and nearly all Bible interpreters agree that the Gospels, all written after the war began, “predict” the war of 70 A.D. These Gospel accounts, often termed the “little apocalypse,” mirror Revelation in other ways as well:

  • The Gospels and Revelation both speak of the Abomination of Desolation.
  • Both speak of the gospel first being preached to every land.
  • Both speak of the Great Tribulation.
  • Both say false prophets will arise.
  • Both mention the Son of Man arriving on the clouds.
  • Both mention a trumpet sounding the end of all things.
  • Both mention a darkened sun and moon and stars falling from heaven.
  • Both describe birds feeding on the carcasses of the dead.
  • Both were to be fulfilled “soon.”

How have we come to believe the Gospels speak of a different event than Revelation? Surely, as John penned his frightening story of four horsemen, he had in mind the events of his day. The “big apocalypse” of Revelation could only be the “little apocalypse” of the Gospels. Over the next four posts, I’ll describe these four horsemen and their role in the first century.

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