Four Horsemen in the Christian Era

The four horsmen represent warfare, conquest and the effects of war. Since horsemen are symbols of political power we look for their fulfilment in the political realm. As the seven seals represent events in the history of the nation that rules the world the four horsemen must apply to the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Christian era. The four horsemen accurately describe the history of the Roman Empire beginning in the second century and ending before its demise in the fifth century. The seven trumpets during the christian era immediately follow the four horsemen and overlap with the fifth and sixth seal.

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Seals

Dates

Characteristic

Period

1

White Horse

27BC – 192

Conquering King

Five Good Emperors

2

Red Horse

193 – 235

Death and Strife

Civil war – Severan Dynasty

3

Black Horse

235 – 300

Want and Famine

Crisis of the 3rd Century

4

Pale Horse

301 – 538

Death over ¼ of earth

Fall of Roman Empire –

5

Souls Under Altar

538 – 1600

Martyrs Under Altar

Holy Roman Empire

6

Earthquake

1600 – 1800

Signs nature, religious revival

before modern secular era

The first horseman is given a crown and goes to conquer and represents the military conquests of the Roman Emperors commencing at the start of the first century. Since the establishment under the Empire under Augustine in 27 BC there had been relative peace and prosperity. With the assassination of Domitian in 96 AD, a period that would last until 192 AD and known as that of the “Five Good Emperors” came into history. (Some have suggested the bow replaced the sword as the weapon of choice during this period). This period spanned the peaceful successions and what is generally considered to have been the just and virtuous the rule of the emperors Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. The respected historian Edward Gibbon wrote in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I.78 that “without hesitation” this was “the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous” when “the vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom.” This period was comparatively peaceful. It was under the conquests of Trajan that the Roman Empire reached its maximum size and after Aurelius began to decline. Thus this period is well represented by the conquering Emperors on white horses going forth to conquer.

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. Rev 6:4

The second horseman came into history with the death of Marcus Aurelius, which is considered the end of the “Pax Romana” (Roman Peace). His self-indulgent son Commodus whose assassination in 193 A.D would inaugurate the “year of the five Emperors” succeeded him. The various claimants for the throne resulted in four years of civil wars in the empire against Niger and Albinus. The rule of the victor, Septimus Severus and his successors was characterized by increasing turmoil in the empire and increasing number of invasions from the Alamanni and the Parthians. According to Gibbon this period marked the start of the decline of the Empire and sparked what is called the “Crisis of the third Century”.

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. Rev 6:5 – 6

The third horseman describes the period between 235 and 300 AD when the Empire was on verge of collapse due to the combined effects of continual civil war, invasion, plague, and economic crises. Profound and fundamental changes took place in the institutions, society, religion and economy of the Empire. Roughly twenty-five Emperors ruled during the first fifty years of this period as different generals fought each other for control. For a time the empire split into three competing states. Hyperinflation hit the economy due to years of currency debasement. All this had the effect of permanently disrupting the extensive trade network within the Empire. Previously the stability within the empire and extensive road network had permitted merchants to travel from one end of the empire to the other in relative safety within weeks. This allowed the different provinces to export their produce to different markets within the empire and import produce they lacked. This encouraged the development of large-scale production and agriculture and resulted in a large decree of interdependence within the empire. Metals came from mines in Spain, marble from Greece, livestock from Spain and the Black Sea, dried fruit from Syria, wine and oil from Southern France and wheat and barley from Egypt. All this was disrupted by the widespread civil unrest of the third century making travel unsafe and compounded by the financial crisis and hyperinflation made exchange difficult. Hence certain provinces experienced shortages of whatever produce that they had previously imported such as wheat from Egypt but had surpluses of local produce such as oil and wine.

This was compounded beginning sometime around 251 by a pandemic known as the Plague of Cyprian believed to have been smallpox that would rage for decades through the empire. From 251 to 266 it is said to have caused the death of 5000 people a day in Rome. It caused widespread manpower shortages throughout the empire. Eventually the larger producers that were no longer able to market and export their produce began to diversify and focus on subsistence farming. The Emperor Decius made Christians the scapegoats of the problems facing the empire and persecuted them, as we will describe later.  The empire was reunited in 274 AD, under Aurelian. That same year he declared Mithraism to be the official religion of the Roman Empire establishing sun worship under the name of Sol Invictus as its main divinity and Sunday sacredness, a principle that Constantine would later follow. The crisis is said to have ended by 284 AD with the accession of Diocletian. This however mainly pertained to the political crisis as he tried unsuccessfully to restore economic stability. The political restoration of the empire did little to improve the lot of its common citizens. The cumulative effects of years of food shortages, manpower shortages, reduced defences against barbarian invaders, large-scale civil unrest and unrelenting civil wars continued to take their toll on the population. The hyperinflationary economy, and the inability to sell produce as before led to want and hunger. People continued to suffer death from a combination of hunger, war, and pestilence. It is interesting to note that the black colour of the horse is an indication of famine (Lam 5:10)

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. Rev 6:8

The fourth horseman came after about 300 AD when the crisis of the third century began to decline and Diocletian attempted to eradicate Christianity beginning the largest and bloodiest official persecution of Christians in the history of the Empire lasting from 303 until 311 AD. Yet the fourth horseman describes more than martyrdom, it includes famine and pestilence and perhaps more tellingly with the beasts of the earth. We may interpret this literally or figuratively. In the literal case we observe that people were at risk of death from wild animals in feudal rather than urbanised societies resulting from the collapse of the social framework. Figuratively, beasts represent nations, and wild beasts would therefore refer to the barbarian nations that ravaged the Roman Empire beginning around late 300 AD. In either case both represent the collapse of the civilisation that formed the Roman Empire and its entry into the dark ages of feudalism.

We also observed that not only did death follow in this horseman’s wake but hell as well. This presents an additional dimension that was not present in the second horseman. If death indicates the dissolution of the body, hell must refer to the dissolution of the soul. The fourth horseman not only kills the body but also the soul as Jesus explained:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Mat 10:28

It is the period from about 300 AD to 538 AD that saw the development of the universal syncretic religion that amalgamated Christianity and paganism as had taken place under the forth horseman in the Jewish era with the amalgamation of Judaism and Hellenism. Like Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ law against Jewish Sabbath keeping in 167BC so do did Constantine enact his famous sunday law of 321AD. While Constantine ended the general persecution against Christians in 311AD, he began to selectively persecute Christian churches such as the Donatists that would not unite under the authority of the Bishop of Rome, whom Constantine had crowned as “King of Christians”. Constantine also began the process of amalgamating the chrisitan church with the state. This was a period when the church began to openly abandon Christ for her new lover, the Roman Emperor.

The four horsemen are followed by the fifth seal which brings to view the souls of the martyrs. This is clearly a reference to the millions that over the following 1000 years died for their faith, persecuted as heretics for daring to worship God according to their own conscience and reason. The sixth seal reveals the signs of the coming of the Son of Man and the sealing of God’s people. This refers to the evangelical revival of the late 1700’s followed by the second great awakening with the preaching of the soon coming of the Lord in the early 1800’s that was largely a reaction to signs in the heavens and earth such as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the famous New England’s dark day of 1780 and the famous Leonid meteor shower of 1833. All these were signs that the era of the world’s last days was beginning and that the world should wake up before the final apocalypse.

Read the next section to see how this history was repeated again in the history of the USA.

Read the previous section to see how this history was fulfilled during the Jewish era.

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