thus I saw the horses
The previous judgment involved demonic locusts whose appearance was like horsesthey were not horses, but a similitude. Here, John says he saw horses, but doesnt mention like or as, as in a similitude. These horses are not like normal horses for they breath fire out of their mouths and harm with heads on their tails. Yet, like horses, they are ridden upon by horsemen. Perhaps they are like the fabled Centaurshorses with human-like heads and upper bodies, in appearance like men riding horses except that the horses ridden by them are also their own bodies.1 Again, Joel describes what is before us:
Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run. With a noise like chariots over mountaintops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array. (Joel Joel 2:4-5)Note that when John uses simile, what he describes is approximately true to the vision that he is being shown. It is the closest thing he is familiar with to compare that which he sees. This precludes the notions of some that John was describing futuristic military weaponry with which he had no familiarity:
John was writing to addressees with no knowledge of mechanized warfare; to them cavalry was the most formidable military force, so naturally he described his vision in terms to which his readers could relate. The mounts John saw may well be advanced military equipment (which even we may not know how to describe), but which he described using the vocabulary and references of his readers.2Mills suggests that John saw something like tanks, helicopter gunships, and other modern mechanized equipment, realized that these represented some sort of unknown futuristic weaponry, and then translated this down in terms of cavalry images for his readers. We find this notion difficult to accept. When John uses simile, he uses the closest object known to him which approximates what he sees. If John had been shown modern military tanks, he would have undoubtedly mentioned something like chariots with multiple wheels. If helicopter gunships, then he would have mentioned flight, perhaps like an eagle, etc. He clearly saw some sort of animals which were mounted by riders. Understanding this army to be demonic in origin solves many of the conjectural problems posed by attempts to find natural fulfillments in modern warfare, recognizes their huge number, and explains how they are led by four malevolent angels.
The three words . . . translated fire, hyacinth and brimstone are found in no other place in the New Testament. The first of the words is used by Aristotle and Polybius in the sense of flaming or firing. Hyacinth is a translation of a word that is rendered by various authorities as red color bordering on black (Thayer), violet or dark blue (Bailly), while ancient writers described it as purple and iron colored (cit. in Liddell and Scott). In the last half of this same verse and in the following verse three plagues are further described as fire, smoke and brimstone. Each of these words is different from the three used in the description of the breastplate.4the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions
It is unclear whether John means that the head of each horse resembled the actual appearance of the head of a lion, or merely that they shared the ferocious characteristics of a lion (1Chr. 1Chr. 12:8). Probably the latter since he calls them horses.
out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone
They devour their enemies in much the same way as the two witnesses (Rev. Rev. 11:5+). Fire and brimstone are the result of Gods overwhelming judgment (Gen. Gen. 19:24; Deu. Deu. 29:23; Job Job 18:15; Ps. Ps. 11:6; Isa. Isa. 30:33; Isa. 34:9; Eze. Eze. 38:22; Luke Luke 17:29; Rev. Rev. 14:10+; Rev. 19:20+; Rev. 20:10+; Rev. 21:8+). A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns; the land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness (Joel Joel 2:3).
No doubt this all sounds fantastic and impossible, so commentators have invented all sorts of figurative meanings to apply to these deadly horses. But these are not the first fire-breathing animals the earth has seen. Ancient nations everywhere describe fire-breathing dragons which formerly existed on earth, and the Bible describes at least one such creature, called leviathan (Job Job 41:19-21). There are many indications that these dragons were actually dinosaurs, and the fossil evidence does show structures on at least some dinosaurs that could well have served as mixing chambers for flammable chemicals [not to mention methane from digestive processes] that could be expelled in the form of fire and smoke.5
2 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 9:17.