As predictably as the sun rises and sets, so the four horsemen of the apocalypse continue to march steadily forward unimpeded. This chapter concludes the terrifying fulfillment of prophecies uttered by Jesus Christ over 1,900 years ago but intended most specifically for the time we are living in right now, today.
We have already examined the first three horsemen: The first is religious deception, next is war, then famine. With the fourth, pestilence, these horsemen represent the final, end-time culmination of the most traumatic problems endured by a rebellious mankind. They picture one of the most ominous scenarios ever. It is imperative that each of us takes heed while there is still time.
“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 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” (Revelation 6:7-8).
The context mentions two of the other horsemen—war and famine. But we cannot be certain of the symbolism of the last horseman from this passage. The key word to its identity is the word pale, which often makes us think of someone who is feeling sick, having an anemic-looking appearance. Pale is translated from the Greek chloros, which we would normally take to mean the color of chlorophyll, the property that gives plants their healthy green appearance. When used biblically, however, chloros means the sickly pale green color of sickness and disease.
Other biblical translations describe the pale horse as an ash-colored horse, a horse sickly green, a horse sickly pale and an ashy pale horse. We have continually stressed throughout that we should look to Christ the Revelator to explain these seals and symbols. He provides us with the most correct word to unlock the true identity of this pale green horse which man’s best translations cannot: “and there shall be … pestilences” (Matthew 24:7). The man on the pale horse symbolizes climactic, globe-encircling plagues and pandemics occurring and soon to occur in this modern age!
Look up pestilence in any Bible concordance and you will be amazed by the link between the second, third and fourth horsemen representing war, famine and pestilence (Jeremiah 21:9; 27:13; 29:17-18; 32:24; 34:17; 38:2; 42:16-17; 44:13). These three horsemen derive their origin directly from the first horseman of religious deception, as we have already shown.
Last but Not Least
Worldwide disease epidemics are mentioned in the same context with the other horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8 and in the three Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, because they are successive. Multiple millions of people will perish from sickness and disease if they survive the ravaging effects of nuclear bombardment and subsequent starvation. This will bring the total death toll of all four horsemen to one fourth of all mankind. With the world population over 7 billion people, this number could conceivably approach 2 billion!
We have repeatedly emphasized in our literature that the only reason for this type of extreme punishment is man’s unabated rebellion toward his Creator God. Despite this self-inflicted genocide, man refuses to obey God and submit to His rule, the only way that can bring true peace and happiness with joy unmeasured (John 10:10).
The book of Daniel is an end-time prophecy (Daniel 12:4, 9). It reveals more prophecy for the nations of Israel in the end time, which may be surprising to many people. “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth” (Daniel 9:13).
Let’s examine Deuteronomy 28 (part of the law of Moses) carefully and add modern-day expressions to see more clearly how this warning applies to our time now. “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee …. The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it. The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption [chronic, degenerate diseases such as aids], and with a fever, and with an inflammation [malaria or communicative diseases such as influenzas], and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew … with the botch of Egypt [elephantiasis], and with the emerods [tumors, cancer, etc.], and with the scab, and with the itch [aggravated psoriasis and other nutrient-deficiency diseases such as scurvy, rickets, etc.], whereof thou canst not be healed [incurable or drug-resistant diseases] … with madness [mental illness, insanity] and blindness and astonishment of heart [emotional distresses such as depression]” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 21-22, 27-28).
The next verse (verse 29) graphically depicts the utter hopelessness of mankind suffering from these and the many other innumerable scourges of our generation. Invisible bacterial microbes are outwitting the best researchers and doctors, quickly outstripping their ability to develop vaccines to keep up with newer and more drug-resistant strains.
Man’s Best Friend?
But it gets even worse. Earlier, God shouted out the warning, “I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate” (Leviticus 26:22).
The warning is repeated in Revelation 6:8. Man, responsible for the extinction of hundreds if not thousands of species of creatures, now faces a grave danger—at the jaws of wild animals. Of even greater threat than being bitten out of self-defense is being directly attacked and consumed as part of a source of dwindling food supplies.
Not only will animals attack people for food, they will also become sickly carriers of such mass killer diseases as the bubonic plague (the Black Death of the Middle Ages) or rabies. Our modern, so-called civilized Western peoples are neighbors to many potentially rabid vermin and animals such as squirrels, rats, skunks, foxes and bats. It’s not an unlikely scenario that, immediately following war and famine, these infected animals could come in contact with ordinary pets, especially cats and dogs. The human population could quickly fall prey to either rabid or ravenous beasts.
Fortunately, sanitary standards, medical science and certain security measures such as fencing have thus far shielded most from contact with the untamed wilderness. But how thick is this buffer zone? Given a breakdown in protective conditions, these silent time-bombs lie ready to explode. It could be as inconspicuous as a deer tick carrying Lyme disease. A false sense of security exists because vaccines for many childhood diseases such as mumps, measles, whooping cough, tetanus and chicken pox are available. Meanwhile, new strains and viruses are emerging as old ones resurface.
Some may dismiss such discussion as being alarmist and unrealistic. But shouldn’t we consider the possibilities, given the fact that such problems were specifically prophesied by none other than Jesus Christ?
Earlier, we examined war-induced famine. But history shows that epidemics are also a by-product of the resulting chaos. There are many historical examples of deadly disease epidemics.
You might be surprised to learn how much effect disease has had on the course of mankind. Look at the great economic upheavals that resulted from the Black Death in Europe.
The Mainstream of Civilization 1350 to 1815, written in 1974, presents an interesting summary: “The effects of economic depression, political confusion and religious uncertainty were intensified by terrible outbursts of plague in the middle years of the 14th century. The Black Death [bubonic plague] first appeared in Italy in the 1340s and swept through Europe during the next two decades. The worst was over by 1360, but repeated, though less severe, outbreaks throughout the next half-century kept the population from reaching its pre-plague numbers. Although no accurate estimate can be made of the mortality, it was especially severe in thickly populated areas. Some towns lost more than two fifths of their inhabitants.”
The Black Death, spread by flea bites and rats, killed close to one half of Europe’s population—25 to 50 million people—in one three-year span alone (1347 to 1350)! Eventually some who became ill developed an immunity, and the disease finally died out. Still, this account has ominous overtones for our future.
From the Grolier Society’s Book of History (Vol. 9), a set of history books written before World War i, is an article by Dr. G. Archdall Reid titled “The Triumph of Race”: “The ancient condition of the Eastern Hemisphere was reproduced in the West. Again, we read of plague and pestilence, of water and air-borne diseases coming and going in great epidemics, and of the famines that followed. Measles and cholera piled the Earth with the dead. The part played by smallpox was even greater. When taken to the West Indies in 1507, whole tribes were exterminated. A few years later it quite depopulated San Domingo. In Mexico it destroyed 3.5 million people. Prescott describes this first fearful epidemic as ‘sweeping over the prairies, smiting down prince and peasant, and leaving its path strewn with the dead bodies of the natives, who perished in heaps like cattle stricken with murrain.’”
Unlike the short-lived Black Death, smallpox plagued Europe for centuries. At its height in the 18th century, it killed about 400,000 Europeans a year, including such heads of state as the queen of Sweden in 1741. The World Health Organization announced in 1979 that smallpox had been wiped out after a successful inoculation campaign in Asia during the same decade.
Closer to home, an influenza epidemic in 1917-18 killed about half a million Americans. In Massachusetts alone, it claimed 15,000 lives in four months before a developed immunity saved civilization. Typhus accounted for 3 million deaths from 1918 to 1922, due to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions in prison camps and refugee homes. Between 1943 and 1956, almost half a million Americans were infected by the polio epidemic. Over 20,000 died from paralysis and respiratory failure. Partly due to vaccines discovered in the ’50s and ’60s, polio is now only a problem in less-advanced countries.
These are natural attention-getters. But even in the 21st century, despite better medicine and technology, the threat to all societies looms large on the horizon. Even old diseases from world wars fought over 75 years ago are making a silent but deadly return. The New England Journal of Medicine (Feb. 16, 1995) cited several doctors both in the U.S. and in France who report that trench fever, a scourge of soldiers in both world wars, has reappeared among homeless alcoholics. This illness, spread by lice, was especially common during World War i when more than a million soldiers caught it. No one knows whether it is a new affliction of cities or one that has been unnoticed all along. The disease is rare during peacetime, although it has been found in aids patients in recent years.
When looking at statistics about aids, it is easy to miss the physical suffering of those infected and to overlook the mental and emotional anguish of the people around them. It is easy to skip past the facts surrounding the infants born hiv-positive and those whose parents die, leaving them as orphans. In other words, the impact of this disease is much deeper than just the number infected. The toll on the lives of the people involved is immense, not to mention aids’ considerable economic impact.
unaids, the United Nations’ anti-aids agency, placed the number of people living with hiv around 39 million at the end of 2004. An estimated 2.2 million of those infected are under age 15, and slightly less than half of all victims are women. In 2004, 3.1 million people died from hiv-related illnesses, including 510,000 under age 15. This brought the estimated total deaths from hiv to about 23 million men, women and children since the disease was first recognized.
unaids also estimates that some 15 million children under age 18 have lost one or both parents to aids. Of these aids orphans, more than 80 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa. Close to 60 percent of all infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa, while only about 10 percent of the world’s population lives there. If current hiv infection rates continue, close to 60 percent of today’s 15-year-olds in the worst-afflicted countries of southern and eastern Africa will not reach age 60.
The social and economic impact of hiv/aids is astronomical, especially in Africa. unaids predicts that “[u]nless urgent interventions are made, the epidemic could cause a steady fall in agricultural production, which would fuel serious famine in African countries” (Reuters, Oct. 12, 2004). Up to a quarter of Malawi’s civil servants have reportedly been killed or left seriously ill by aids. In Zambia, school teachers are dying at a faster rate than colleges can train new ones, and three fourths of deaths in the police force in Kenya are apparently linked to aids (UN Economic Commission for Africa, 2004).
No One Is Immune
In America, health care remains a controversial subject among lawmakers. Billions of dollars are spent annually. Yet, tens of thousands are without insurance. We have too many problems already to try to satisfactorily deal with new ones that seem to pop up without warning.
To make matters worse, we live in a small world. Federal health officials admitted early in 1995 that some few passengers and flight crews on commercial airlines in the U.S. had been infected by tuberculosis bacteria. Though they stress the risk of catching tb on a plane is low, they advise people with active tb to take private transportation or postpone travel until they are no longer infectious. At least half a dozen people had been exposed, tested positive for the disease, and would carry a 5-10 percent lifetime risk if not treated with the recommended drug treatment. tb is spread by droplets in coughs, sneezes or breath. Fliers with airborne infectious diseases can be denied admittance onto aircraft, but the Air Transport Association admits they cannot be easily detected.
All this from “normal” peacetime circumstances. What about blatant terrorist acts to damage air, soil or water quality? What about during nuclear war? “With many people weakened from radiation, stress and malnutrition, there could be outbreaks of infection and communicable diseases. Long-vanquished epidemic scourges like cholera, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and even bubonic plague could once again flourish if the public health barriers against them were to erode,” said Nicholas Wade in A World Beyond Healing. Mr. Wade later added that “radiation from nuclear weapons does not cause new types of cancer but increases the incidence of those that occur anyway.” Cancer, leukemia, diabetes, heart disease—the list goes on and on of woes afflicting our societies in peacetime, let alone in a nuclear holocaust.
A Necessary Evil
The great, loving Creator and Sustainer of this universe takes no delight in seeing His future children suffer. It grieves Him to know the horrific loss of life soon to be visited upon Earth. God promised the people of ancient Israel in Exodus 15:26 that if they obeyed Him, they would never have to suffer any diseases, but would instead enjoy super-abundant health. In Deuteronomy 7:15, God said He wouldn’t punish them with the same diseases with which He punished Egypt. But later, He vowed to inflict them with worse plagues. Why? For not obeying!
Deuteronomy 29:22-25 describe a yet future time when nations will ask why these diseases had to infect mankind. The answer is quite simple—because the people rebelled and served other gods, refusing to admit the error of their ways. Ezekiel 38:22 describes ways in which God will plead with Israel and how He’ll inevitably become known to the billions who either ignorantly or willingly trampled on His laws. Even after the pestilence, on top of everything else that has already transpired and that which is yet to occur, the majority of people still won’t repent!
The masses will not, but a minority will. God promises, in Psalm 91:3 and 6, to protect us from pestilence if we trust in Him. Some prophets of old were thrown into treacherous dungeons for sounding this seemingly pessimistic warning (Jeremiah 38:2). Jeremiah still sounded the trumpet because he knew very well what worse fate would befall him if he should fail to prophesy. We share the same concern about our fate if we fail to warn this world about what will soon afflict it.
A Way Out
Millions have died and will die needlessly, because they either failed or will fail to heed these and other warnings to turn to God with the type of contrite attitude necessary to please Him (Isaiah 66:2). Unfortunately, it appears that many see the signs of the times and could escape, but they don’t act. Most are like cattle heading for the slaughter, completely oblivious to what lies immediately ahead of them. Many others will recognize the four horsemen of religious deception, war, famine and pestilence, but will not know where to turn for escape if they refuse the only source of permanent escape—God!
God wants true repentance—a turning away from the carnal “human nature” that we possess to the spiritual nature God originally intended us to develop. Instead, man takes the law into his own hands and builds bomb shelters, paramilitary compounds or even flees to remote locations in a futile attempt to save his own physical life.
“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:22). The protected elect will comprise those who hold fast to God’s revealed truths and obey all of His laws (Revelation 3:10; 12:14). This very small cadre of future leaders will be preserved in the ultimate place of safety to receive final training before being given the authority 3½ years later at the return of Jesus Christ. There can be no greater concern than striving to comply with God’s standards of character in order to survive the punishment symbolized by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. This vision will soon be a reality for those who adamantly refuse to submit to God.
A few million, thanks to God cutting events short for the elect’s sake, will not have to die—though they certainly may wish they had! They will have to endure the worst time of human suffering ever (Jeremiah 30). The Philadelphia Church of God is continually providing hope for those willing to yield their naturally stubborn natures to the will of God. Doomsayers only tell how bad things will get, but without the hope of how much better it will soon be. Jesus Christ is soon returning to this Earth to bring it all the joy and happiness man has continually sought after!
God will mercifully end the deadly sweep of the four horsemen just before they eradicate mankind from off the Earth. Finally, man will have the sweet, childlike attitude that God can work with in the wonderful World Tomorrow (Matthew 18:1-6). Are we each working out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) so we can be a part of God’s great master plan for humanity?