What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Since Adam and Eve ate from the fruit that God told them they could not consume, sin has taken a firmer and firmer grip on man’s hearts. Jesus conquered death and the grave, as recorded in the Gospels, and sin was defeated in an eternal sense. However, until Jesus returns in His full power, it still holds sway.

When the time does come for Jesus to establish His kingdom, this world will pass away for a new one. Before that, there are many things that must come to pass, as recorded in the prophetic books of the Bible, particularly Revelation. One of the most intriguing, and mysterious, prophecies that will occur during the End of Days is the coming of the Four Horsemen.

During the seven years of tribulation, the Bible warns of seven seals, the fourth of which, when broken, will cause four great creatures to call forth four riders, who carry with them conquest, war, famine and death. These four horsemen will be a part of bringing forth God’s wrath and judgment.

What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

The Tribulation is a seven-year period during the End Times that is generally broken up into two parts. First, three years of uncontrolled and unrestrained evil followed by three years of unimaginable suffering as God pours out His wrath on the wicked. While different eschatological theories - meaning theories about the End Times - disagree about the nature of the Tribulation, they generally agree it will happen.

When the Tribulation begins, the Book of Revelation, supported by teachings from Jesus Christ during the Olivet Discourse, says seven sealed scrolls are presented, which are related to the four horsemen. Four creatures surround the throne of God when the scrolls are presented.

“And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight” (Revelation 4:6-7).

These creatures declare that Jesus Christ, as the sacrificial lamb, is worthy to open the scrolls. As Jesus opens each scroll, a new judgment is poured out on the earth.

The first judgment is the white horseman

Revelation 7:1-2 - “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’  And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.”

Many interpretations of the Book of Revelation understand this first horseman to be the Antichrist, who will spend the next three years increasing in power and dominion over the earth, culminating in the abomination of the desolation, believed to be blaspheming in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The second judgment is the red horseman.

Revelation 7:3-4 - “When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.”

Because the first half of the Tribulation will be defined by uncontrolled sin and the conquest of the Antichrist over the world, there will be great bloodshed and fierce battles. Some speculate that part of how the Antichrist will gain power is by creating peace between warring nations. Another interpretation is that the Antichrist will be the one causing the wars.

The third seal releases the black horseman.

Revelation 7:5-6 - “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!’”

This horseman will bring famine, which will cause mass starvation. It will also facilitate the centralization of power, currency, and allow the emerging government of the Antichrist to control how much food is distributed.

The fourth horseman is the pale horseman.

Revelation 7:7-8a - “When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him.”

Many believe this horseman will bring pestilence and disease that will spread across people and animals, which will contribute to the starvation caused by the famine.

The Bible states, “And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth” (Revelation 7:8b). These four horsemen will bring about the death of millions of humans and living creatures.

Are These Literal Horsemen?

There are several ways to understand much of what goes on in Revelation, and the four horsemen are no exception. Different theological approaches have different ideas. What someone believes about eschatology also influences their understanding. These different ideas can be summed up in three general approaches: literal, symbolic, and metaphoric. Each is speculative.

Literal - In this interpretation, there will be four horsemen, supernatural or human, whose presence will be harbingers of four different judgments on the earth. They are often depicted riding across the sky, or across the earth.

Symbolic - In this interpretation, the four horsemen symbolize four people or events that will cause the four judgments. The first horsemen would represent a person with the power and intent to conquer. The second would symbolize an event which causes famine, and so on for each horseman.

Representative - This understanding comes from an amillennial understanding of the Book of Revelation. In amillennial eschatology, some interpret Revelation as describing a longer period of time. In this case, the four horsemen could be seen as periods of time or generalizations. The pale horseman represents periods of plague and death throughout all of human history, for example.

When Will We See the Four Horsemen, and How Will They Manifest?

What someone believes about the appearance and manifestation for the four horseman is usually related to what they believe about the End of Days, and specifically, what they believe about the Rapture.

The Rapture is the event prophesied by Paul, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). Most theologians agree that Jesus will return for His church, and that believers who died will be bodily resurrected, and the living believers will also join them in the air with Jesus. However, there is some disagreement about when this will happen.

If someone believes in a Pre-Tribulation interpretation of the events in the Book of Revelation, meaning they believe that Jesus will Rapture the church before the Tribulation takes place, then believers will not see the four horsemen, or any of the following events from earth.

For people who subscribe to the belief that the Rapture will happen in the middle of the Tribulation, then believers will experience the destruction brought by the four horsemen, but not the judgments from the 6th and 7th scrolls.

Some people believe there will be no Rapture, and that Christians will be around to experience all of the Tribulation.

While theologians will debate about these things, it is clear that they will happen somehow. God has declared it to be. Whether there will be actual horsemen who manifest in the sky, or whether they will just be four cataclysms that take place one after another is ultimately in the Lord’s hands.

The Apostle John, who was given visions of the last days, said, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19). Being careless with interpreting the events in Revelation is not spiritually healthy. Accepting them as true events that will happen and fearing and respecting God’s Word is always the best.

Should We Be Worried about This Today?

During His earthly ministry, Jesus gave the Mount Olivet Discourse, which addressed the End of Days. He also spoke about the persecution of those who follow Him. To His disciples, who would go on to suffer greatly in His name, He encouraged, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Christian should not live afraid of anything the world will make them endure. Nor should they fear God’s wrath and judgment, as their sins are forgiven, and even if they die they will spend eternity with Jesus. When thinking about the End Times, Christians should be motivated to share the Gospel with the lost, as well as rejoicing and the prospect of being in the presence of their Lord and Savior.

The four horsemen cannot come until Jesus Christ Himself, opens the scrolls. Till that time, the Apostle Paul encouraged believers, “...renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:12b-13). God is the beginning and the end, and will keep those who love Him.


Graham, Billy. Approaching Hoofbeats. New York: Harper Collins, 1985.

Jeremiah, David. After the Rapture. Nashville: W Publishing by Thomas Nelson, 2022.

Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Old Testament and New Testament. United States of America: Victor Books, 1987.

Wilmington, H.L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1981.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Rajdeep Ghosh

Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.