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


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