The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

And I looked, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (REV6:2)

The book of Revelation is the record of the visions that the disciple John had while he was exiled to the Isle of Patmos. As it is the record of his sight into the spiritual world where he was shown scenes that represented what would happen when the Lord made His final judgment on the Christian Church, it is not surprising that it is full of powerful, and even frightening images. The Lord was showing him, and through the record of his book, showing us, the symbols of a battle between the forces of good and evil.

When the leaders of the Christian Church began to wander from the doctrines taught by Jesus Himself, inventing various doctrines that confused the people, it made it even harder for them to understand God’s purpose in their life, or even what right and wrong were. It resulted in people who were so confused about spiritual things when they died and went to the spiritual world that they were essentially unable to separate the good from the evil, the true from the false in their own characters.

We must remember that in the Lord’s sight, the single most important quality in a person is his freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord has ever guarded this most jealously in every human being, for it is this quality that makes it possible for a person to freely choose to enter heaven and its life of use, thus entering an eternal communion with God.

Since there were people, who through the confusion among the leaders of the church as to its doctrine and the proper path to salvation and eternal life, were no longer able to see the truth of the Word, and so no longer able to freely choose between good and evil, the Lord provided that these people were protected until the doctrinal issues in the church would come to a head, and it would be the proper time for Him to come again in the spirit of truth, to make the Second Coming.

Those people who, for one reason or another, had managed to remain apart from the confusing doctrines of the church, who could sort out right from wrong, and who, from conscience did what was right for the Lord’s sake, had no problem. When they died, and entered the world of spirits, they continued to act in a conscientious way, and sought opportunities to show their love to the Lord by doing good to the neighbor. Such people, as always, soon found their way to their eternal spiritual homes in heaven.

Those people who, for other reasons, had also known the difference between right and wrong, but had taken delight in the loves of self and the world, who continually, and knowingly sought their own advantage over the welfare of others, also had no problems when they died. They too quickly shed the facade of civilized behavior and joined others like themselves in hell.

But many were confused, and were unable to sort out what they should do. These remained in the spiritual world for many years. They were not unhappy, nor were they particularly uncomfortable, but neither were they in either heaven or hell. There must have been some sense of anxiety on their part, some sense that they were in the middle of some process that had somehow stuck in the middle.

It was these people that the Lord had to judge, not those who were already in heaven or hell.

The word “judgment” has been colored for us by the dramatic pictures painted by some people’s belief that the “last judgment” means the “end of the world,” the destruction of the physical world that we know. The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem give a far more reasonable picture which can be illustrated by an analogy to a courtroom.

Let’s think for a moment about a situation where two well-meaning people have gotten into a disagreement and cannot sort it out on their own. One of them brings a lawsuit against the other, and they end up in court. Each side presents a series of witnesses who tell what they believe to be the truth. Each witness is asked questions to clarify exactly what it is that they really know, what they heard from others, and what they are guessing. As each witness tells what he knows, and is cross examined, certain ideas are confirmed, and others are seen to be untrue. A picture of what really happened begins to emerge. When the truth is seen, the judge can make a judgment.

There is a weakness in the analogy in that the courts of the world are judged by people who can make mistakes, but the principle on which courts are based is sound; and that is that it is the truth that judges, once it is found.

By the eighteenth century, the spiritual world was full of people who desperately needed truth to sort out their lives. In the natural world the various heresies and schisms in the Christian Church had brought it to the point that there was no longer any hope that it could be recovered. Therefore the Lord came again as the spirit of truth, opening the spiritual sense of the Word by revealing the Science of Correspondences, and showing that the whole of the Holy Scripture is nothing but a parable that teaches about the Lord, about Heaven, and about the life that leads to heaven. He came again, not in the flesh, but as He said “in the clouds of heaven” – the literal sense of the Word.

This had an immediate and profound effect on the world of spirits. As the truths revealed in the Second Coming made their way into the spiritual world, it was as if Jesus Himself was walking among them, touching their eyes and healing their blindness – suddenly, after a life of blindness, they could see. They could look at their companions and see which of them were genuinely their friends, and which of them were hypocrites who had only pretended to be their friends to control them. With the new truths revealed by the Lord at this time, each of these people in the spiritual world could judge for themselves where they should be, and who they should be with.

Naturally, there was some struggle involved. Those spirits who were inwardly evil argued with the good spirits, and tried to maintain their facade. The evil spirits resisted having their true nature exposed, and they resisted giving up the feeling of power they had. The arguments and fights they had are represented by the battles of Armageddon in the book of Revelation; the belief that you can be saved, no matter what kind of life you live, if you know the right doctrines, is represented by the dragon; and that belief that you can be saved, no matter what kind of life you live, if only you do certain works of penance, is represented by the great Whore of Babylon.

All of which brings us to the consideration of the particular part of the book of Revelation where the Lamb of God begins to open the seals on the book of life, and the four horsemen are seen.

The Lamb represents the Lord, and the opening of the seals, as the opening of a book, like the book of life, represents the Lord’s examination of all those spirits who had been waiting in the spiritual world for sufficient truth to be given to them to allow them to make their choice for good or evil.

A person’s mind is divided into two main segments, the will and the understanding, and either can lead, and either can be corrupted. The four horses of different colors represent the four different general kinds of people; those who have truth from the Word and do good; those in evils of life; those in falsities; and those who are in falsities and the resulting evils of life. The appearance of the four horsemen in John’s vision was a representation of how the Lord would, at the time of the last judgment, examine those people who had been waiting in the world of spirits, and how the various types would separate themselves in judgment.

Specifically, the white horse represents the understanding of truth and good out of the Word with those who were being examined. That the rider carried a bow signified that such people have fought against evils and falsities in their lives using the doctrine of good and truth which they have gotten through the study of the Word from doctrine. The rider is wearing a crown as a badge of combat, and it is said that he went forth conquering and to conquer (REV6:2) to represent that because these people had lived according to the truths they had discovered by study of the Word, that they would have victory over evils and falsities forever.

The red horse is a description of those people who, when examined by the Lord, were found to have an understanding of the Word, but who, for one reason or another, had never brought that understanding into their lives. This horseman was said to take the peace from the earth (REV6:4), which tells us that with such people there is no spiritual peace, for there is no charity, no spiritual security, and therefore no internal rest. Instead, such people have hatred, infestation from the hells, and internal anxiety. The rider of the red horse carried a great sword to signify that such people will destroy the truth to justify their evils of life and to continue enjoying the pleasures of their lusts.

The black horse represents those who have totally turned away from the truth of the Word. The rider was seen to be carrying a set of scales to represent the evaluation of their states of good and truth. That a voice was heard saying, A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, (REV6:6) signified that there was so little good or truth with these as to be worth hardly anything.

That the voice said, and do not harm the oil and the wine (REV6:6) signified that the Lord has provided that when people turn away from and reject the truths of the Word, they then lie hidden interiorly within the Word where they cannot be violated and harmed, because the internal truths of the Word can only be seen when the mind is enlightened by the Lord, and enlightenment comes from a life according to good. Therefore, it is provided that those very people who would seek to use the interior truths of the Word to harm the church are those very people who are unable to see them.

The fourth horse was pale, and represented the judgment on those people who were utterly without truth from the Word or the good of life. The rider of this horse was called Death, and hell followed him, because the result of such a life is the extinction of spiritual life and the resulting damnation to hell.

It was said that he had power over a fourth of the earth to signify that every good of the church is destroyed in such a person. He could kill with the sword, representing false doctrine, with hunger, representing the evils of life, with death, representing the love of proprium, and with beasts, representing the lusts of evils.

So where does all this leave us? In the first place, knowing that the Last Judgment is a spiritual event, and has already taken place relieves us of a certain anxiety about the future of the world, not to mention the uncomfortable contradiction in having a God who is both the Creator and Destroyer of the world. Also it is reassuring to be able to understand the events described in the book of Revelation, to be able to see that the Word of God is not just a record of certain historic events, but is pertinent to our daily lives.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from our study of the judgment on those awaiting judgment in the world of spirits is the process of judgment – that it is according to the truth that each of us has found in the Word and then brought into our lives, not some arbitrary or capricious decision that is beyond our control.

Each of us has been put on earth for a purpose; that we may learn truth and then exercise our freedom of choice in spiritual things to do what we know to be right. By so doing, we create within ourselves a spiritual being like that seen by John on the white horse: with a bow to symbolize our battles against evils and falsities, a crown as a sign of our spiritual victories, and to go forth conquering and to conquer to represent truth’s eternal power over evil and falsity.

And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have power in the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. (REV22:12-14) AMEN.

First Lesson: ZEC 6:1-8

(ZEC 6:1-8) Then I turned and raised my eyes and looked, and behold, four chariots were coming from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of bronze. {2} With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black horses, {3} with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot dappled horses; strong steeds. {4} Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” {5} And the angel answered and said to me, “These are four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth. {6} “The one with the black horses is going to the north country, the white are going after them, and the dappled are going toward the south country.” {7} Then the strong steeds went out, eager to go, that they might walk to and fro throughout the earth. And He said, “Go, walk to and fro throughout the earth.” So they walked to and fro throughout the earth. {8} And He called to me, and spoke to me, saying, “See, those who go toward the north country have given rest to My Spirit in the north country.” Amen.

Second Lesson: REV 6:1-8

(Rev 6:1-8) Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” {2} And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. {3} When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” {4} Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword. {5} When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. {6} And I heard 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 the wine.” {7} When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” {8} So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth. Amen.

Third Lesson: TCR 772 – 774

772. That this second coming of the Lord does not tee place for the purpose of destroying the visible heaven and habitable earth, has been shown in the preceding section. That it is not for the purpose of destroying anything, but to build up, consequently not to condemn but to save those who since His first coming have believed in Hint and also those who may hereafter believe. … The last judgment took place in the spiritual world in the year 1757. … To all this I can testify, because I saw it with my own eyes in a state of full wakefulness.

773. The Lord’s coming is for the purpose of forming a new heaven of those who have believed in Him, and for the purpose of establishing a new church of those who shall hereafter believe in Him, inasmuch as these two are the ends for which He came. The very end for which the universe was created was no other than the formation from men of an angelic heaven, where all who believe in God shall live for ever in eternal blessedness; for the Divine love which is in God and essentially is God, can intend nothing else, and the Divine wisdom which is also in God and is God, can effect nothing else. As the end for which the universe was created was an angelic heaven from the human race, and at the same time a church on earth (for man enters heaven through the church); and as the salvation of men (which is to be effected in men who are to be born in the world), is thus the continuation of creation.

774. The Lord’s presence is unceasing with every man, both the evil and the good, for without His presence no man lives; but His Coming is Only to those who receive Him, who are such as believe on Him and keep His commandments. The Lord’s unceasing presence causes man to become rational, and gives him the ability to become spiritual. This is effected by the light that goes forth from the Lord as the sun in the spiritual world, and that man receives in his understanding; that light is truth, and by means of it man has rationality. But the Lord’s coming is to him who joins heat with that light, that is, love with truth; for the beat that goes forth from that sane sun is love to God and love toward the neighbor. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009


The Meaning of the Bread and the Wine

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart. (PSA 104:14,15)

  1. One of the most important and basic concepts of the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Church is the idea that when good is conjoined to its appropriate truth, it is like a marriage.
  2. Because the bread and wine of the Holy Supper are also symbols of good and truth they remind us of the marriage of good and truth.
  3. When good and truth are conjoined, or married, in our minds, it brings the Lord more closely present with us. So we say that the bread and wine of the Holy supper together represent the Lord’s presence with us.
  4. The bread and wine = the Divine Human of the Lord.
  5. The bread = His Divine Celestial
  6. The wine = His Divine Spiritual
  7. Consequently, together they = his love towards all humans — and the love of humans to the Lord — reciprocal conjunction.[1]
  8. And in general, that is true enough but a closer examination shows that there is more.
  9. In their discussion of the bread and wine of the holy supper, the Writings frequently use the terms “celestial” and “spiritual.”
  10. In this context, the word “celestial” means having to do with the celestial kingdom (as opposed to the celestial, or highest, heaven).
  11. Every human being has been created with both a will and understanding. Since they cannot be of exactly equal influence in our lives, we are of a “celestial” genius if the will predominates, and a “spiritual” genius when the things of the understanding predominate.  However, just because one predominates over the other, it does not mean that the lesser does not have its effect as well; just because the will predominates, for example, it does not mean that one is without intelligence.
  12. The celestial kingdom encompasses all those for whom things of love are the most important, and for whom the things of truth are servants of their loves. There are angels of the celestial kingdom in all the heavens.  In the same way, “spiritual” has to do with the spiritual kingdom of heaven, and relates to all those for whom the things of truth come first.
  13. Therefore, when the Writings say something like, “bread represents celestial things”[2], it means that bread has generally to do with the things of affection, or love, that is, good, and when they say that “wine represents spiritual things”[3] it means that wine has generally to do with the things of the understanding, that is, truth.

III.             This external symbol [the Holy Supper] was commanded, because the greatest part of the human race are in external worship; therefore, without something external, there would be nothing holy with them.[4]

  1. In general, bread corresponds to good. The Heavenly Doctrines explain the reason for this correspondence in this way:
  2. The food derived from trees, and more especially from the grain harvests of the field, corresponds to affections for good and truth, because these affections feed the spiritual life, as the food of the earth does the natural life; and bread from grain, in a general sense, because it is the food that specially sustains life, and because it stands for all food, corresponds to an affection for all good.
  3. It is on account of this correspondence that the Lord calls Himself the “bread of life”; and that loaves of bread had a holy use in the Israelitish Church, being placed on the table in the tabernacle and called “the bread of faces;” also the Divine worship that was performed by sacrifices and burnt offerings was called “bread.” Moreover, because of this correspondence the most holy act of worship in the Christian Church is the Holy Supper, in which bread is given, and wine.[5]
  4. Bread signifies every good that nourishes the spiritual life of man, thus it signifies all heavenly and spiritual food.
  5. a) Spiritual food is knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom thus the good and truth from which these are.
  6. b) Therefore, every thing that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord is spiritual food.
  7. Bread means food in general, it signifies every good, celestial and spiritual.
  8. a) And because these things nourish the mind which belongs to the internal man.
  9. b) So bread, which commonly represents good, when viewed in its inmost meaning, also represents truth, for it is by means of truth that good is communicated to us by the Lord.
  10. Wine
  11. Throughout the Word, and especially in the Gospels, fruits are symbols of the good works that people do. The following quotation is typical of the way the Lord used the image of fruitfulness in the Word:
  12. a) You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.[6]
  13. In the gospel account of the crucifixion wine plays an important part.
  14. a) In Mark, He refuses wine mixed with Myrrh, because it represents the Divine truth mixed with the falsifications of the Jewish Church.
  15. b) In John, He accepts “sour wine” because it represents truth as it is with the Gentiles, which, although not entirely correct, comes from a good heart and can lead to the good of life.
  16. We know that wine, in general, represents spiritual things[7], so we can see that wine, because it comes from grapes, which are fruit, represents the spiritual things, or faith, that come from living the life of charity.[8] In fact, we could say that the bread and wine are simply manifestations of the Lord’s inflowing life on different levels.  When the Lord’s life is received in the celestial degree, it is perceived as good, or the bread of life.  When it continues down, passing through the celestial degree into the spiritual, it shows itself as something spiritual, that is, truth.  The Divine Life is its inmost; celestial good its first clothing, and spiritual truth its next.
  17. When we read about wine in the Word, or when we receive it during the Holy Supper, the angels who are with us do not think about the wine itself, but instead they think about what the wine represents. They think about charity towards the neighbor.[9]
  18. a) This means that instead of thinking about the bread and wine as representing “good” and “truth,” it would be more accurate for us to think of them as representing “love” and “charity.”
  19. Celestial love is love to the Lord, and is represented by bread. Spiritual love is love to the Neighbor, represented by wine.
  20. Celestial love shows itself through Spiritual love, that is, we express our love to the Lord, our obedience to His will, not by doing good to Him, but by doing good to our neighbor:
  21. Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me[10].
  22. As with the bread, which turned out to represent both good and truth, so we find that wine, too, carries element of both good and truth. Its source is good, it takes form as truth, but only lives in the human mind when it goes forth and expresses itself as good deeds done to the neighbor for the Lord’s sake.
  23. What should we think about when receiving the bread and the wine in the Holy Supper?
  24. The … person who has a holy mind, when he receives the bread in the Holy Supper … does not think of the bread but of the Lord and His mercy, and of the things which constitute love to Him and charity towards the neighbor, because he is thinking about repentance and amendment of life. … It is similar when wine is … received in the Holy Supper. In this case [the person does] not think at all of wine but of charity towards the neighbor.  This being so, and since man in this way is linked to heaven and through heaven to the Lord, bread and wine have been made the symbols and unite a person who leads a holy life to heaven, and through heaven to the Lord.[11] Amen.


First Lesson:  PSA 104:1-15

Bless the LORD, O my soul!  O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, {2} Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain. {3} He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind, {4} Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire. {5} You who laid the foundations of the earth, So that it should not be moved forever, {6} You covered it with the deep as with a garment; The waters stood above the mountains. {7} At Your rebuke they fled; At the voice of Your thunder they hastened away. {8} They went up over the mountains; They went down into the valleys, To the place which You founded for them. {9} You have set a boundary that they may not pass over, That they may not return to cover the earth. {10} He sends the springs into the valleys, They flow among the hills. {11} They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild donkeys quench their thirst. {12} By them the birds of the heavens have their home; They sing among the branches. {13} He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works. {14} He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, {15} And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.  Amen.

Second Lesson:  Mat 7:9-21

“Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? {10} “Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? {11} “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! {12} “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. {13} “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. {14} “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. {15} “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. {16} “You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? {17} “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} “Therefore by their fruits you will know them. {21} “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Amen.

Third Lesson:  AC 3316 [3]

That ‘pottage’ or soup means a massing together may be seen also from what is said about the sons of the prophets and Elisha in the Book of Kings, Elisha came again to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land.  And the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, and he said to his servant, Set on the great pot, and boil pottage for the sons of the prophets.  And one of them went out into the field to gather herbs and found a wild vine, and gathered from it wild gourds his lap full, and came and cut them up into the pot of pottage, for they did not know [what they were].  And they poured out for the men to eat.  And it happened, while they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out and said, There is death in the pot, O man of God!  And they could not eat it.  And he said, Then bring flour.  And he threw it into the pot, and said, Pour out for the people.  And they ate, and there was no harm in the pot. 2 Kings 4:38-41.

In the internal sense these words have an altogether different meaning from what they do in the sense of the letter, that is to say, ‘a famine in the land’ means a dearth of cognitions of good and truth; ‘the sons of the prophets’ means those who teach; ‘pottage’ facts badly massed together; ‘flour’ truth which is obtained from good, or that which is spiritual obtained from that which is celestial.  Thus the description of Elisha throwing the flour into the pot, at which point it ceased to contain anything harmful, means that those facts, massed together so, were put right by means of spiritual truth from the Lord’s Word – for ‘Elisha’ represented the Lord as to the Word. Amen.


[1]AC 2830

[2]AC 1727

[3]AC 1727

[4]AC 2165:5

[5]HH 111

[6]MAT 7:16-20

[7]AC 1727

[8]See AC 1071

[9]See AC 4217

[10]MAT 25:40

[11]AC 4217:2

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem
Author:  Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page updated October 21, 2008