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Who are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Niki Foster
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are figures mentioned in the Biblical Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation, written by John of Patmos, is the most difficult book of the Bible, and there is much controversy over what exactly it is — literal or allegorical, a prophecy of the future or a commentary on current events. In any case, the Book of Revelation is full of rich and mysterious imagery, including the Four Horsemen, which have inspired the imagination and speculation of Christians and others into the modern day.

The Book of Revelation describes the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as part of the mysterious events revealed to the author in a lengthy vision that makes up the bulk of the text. Each of the Four Horsemen has a different colored horse and an attribute which suggests his character. The last of the Four Horsemen is named in the Bible as Death, but the identities of the others are less clear. Popularly, the four are often called Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death, though this interpretation is not universally accepted. The Four Horsemen are often interpreted as an allegory of the harbingers of the end of the world.

The first Horseman is the rider of a white horse, carries a bow, and wears a crown. He is described as a conqueror. For this reason, he is sometimes interpreted as the Antichrist or as a false world leader. This Horseman is also sometimes called Pestilence.

The second Horseman is astride a red horse and carries a sword. He is associated with war and slaughter, and the Bible attributes to him the power to take away peace and to make men kill each other.

The third Horseman rides a black horse and carries scales. This Horseman, popularly called Famine, is thought to represent not only scarcity of food, but also the strict rationing or unfair allocation of goods and the exploitation of the poor. The last of the Four Horsemen, Death, rides a "pale horse" of a sickly hue and is followed by Hades, or Hell.

The nature of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is hotly debated by theologians and Christians, but they are almost universally fascinating, regardless or perhaps because of their mystery. They were popular subjects for art during the medieval period and the Renaissance, and references to them continue to crop up in popular culture in our own day and age. Whether or not Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death are the correct interpretations of the Biblical Four Horsemen -- which will likely remain in debate for the foreseeable future -- it is safe to assume that that is what they represent in a cultural or literary context.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Foster
By Niki Foster , Writer

In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Discussion Comments

By anon314205 — On Jan 16, 2013

The third horseman is carrying scales? Serpent scales or measurement scales? Because neither description suggests that's associated with famine. judgment, i.e. scales of justice (in the case of the measurement scales). I can't even begin to speculate if it was serpent scales (which would seem rather odd for someone riding a horse carrying serpent scales), or even inequality, but not famine. I admit that I'm no biblical scholar, but to me, scales wouldn't link to famine.

By anon307048 — On Dec 03, 2012

Some reasons to not take the four horsemen literally. No one rides horses anymore, and definitely not red horses. Where exactly are they riding to? Just taking the ol' horse out for a spin?

The point is, there is meaning to the words of the scripture, and everyone will have their speculations. The purpose of the mystery of Revelation in the Bible is to cause one to think. If the answers were obvious, then we as people generally discount "factual" messages as insanity or label them as conspiracies.

If there is a message to present to a mass of people, the only way to get it across is to hide the message in metaphors and mystery. This causes the person to search for themselves and not eat up the next best explanation.

By anon260444 — On Apr 11, 2012

The book of Revelation in the Bible is real and does not need one to read the hidden truths. When it says Jesus Christ is coming back again it means Jesus Christ is coming back again. When it says the Horsemen it means exactly that. God bless you.

By candyquilt — On May 14, 2011

My pastor teaches that the four horsemen are the four stages in life up to the apocalypse. Through these stages, our faith is tested. If we do not pass these tests, then God responds with punishment. Like the horsemen of death is the final stage in this process. It is the stage of damnation when one does not repent and mend his ways.

I think this is a good way to teach us of what awaits us if we are not fearful of sinning. I just wish that there were more horsemen that also showed what happens to good Christians, like a horsemen of blessing.

By discographer — On May 13, 2011

There are different interpretations of the four horsemen. Since John's revelations describe some of the events of Christian history and signs for the future, some think that the four horsemen are metaphors for the history of the Christian Church.

I've heard the white horse being described as the beginnings of the Church where it was still very pure and right. The red horse is associated with the Christian persecutions.The black horse represents Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire and the pale horse represents Christian persecution of other Christians.

So the four horsemen don't have to be understood as being actual beings. It is more symbolic in my view.

By fify — On May 11, 2011

I saw a video on TV today that was filmed during one of the street protests in Egypt. It was apparently filmed by a European television channel. The video was shocking, there was an image of a ghost man riding on a horse. He was riding among the crowds without anyone seeing him and then sort of flew up into the air.

The TV channel said that they have not done anything to the video which means it is real. I think this is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And it appeared in the middle of protests where people had been killed and you could see blasts, fire and smoke in the background. It cannot be a coincidence that the horseman and horse were green, can it.

This is probably the one and only proof of the horsemen in the Book of Revelation.

Niki Foster

Niki Foster


In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics...

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