In order to properly understand what Christ is telling His disciples, as recorded in the account of Matthew, we need to also review other passages in the parallel accounts of Mark and Luke, as well as passages in the book of Revelation.
When John was on the island of Patmos, he saw in a vision events which would take place in the future. As we explain in the 8th chapter of our booklet, “Is That in the Bible?—The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation,” John saw how God the Father gave a scroll with seven seals to Jesus Christ, asking Him to open it, as no one else was able to do it (compare Revelation 5:1-9; 6:1). We need to turn to Jesus Christ’s Words in order to understand the seven seals. The first six of the seven seals are all recorded in Revelation 6, and they are explained, as we will see, in the accounts of Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
When Christ opened the first four seals (compare Revelation 6:2–8), John sees in the vision the famous four horsemen of the Apocalypse. When comparing Revelation 6:2–8 with Christ’s sayings in Matthew 24:4–7 and Luke 21:8–11, then the meaning of the four horsemen or the first four seals becomes clear.
Turning to Matthew 24, let us note what Christ tells His disciples.
In verses 1-2, Christ pointed out that the glorious Jewish temple would be destroyed. This actually happened in 70 A.D., when the Romans conquered Jerusalem. Beginning with verse 3, four of His disciples (compare Mark 13:3) asked Him privately when these things would be; what would be the sign of His coming, and of the end of the age.
Christ responded, in verses 4 and 5, by warning them against deception, stating that many would come in His name, proclaiming and admitting that He was the Christ, and still deceive many. This deception began shortly after Christ’s resurrection and the birth of the New Testament Church. The apostle Paul would later say that many, at his time, preached another gospel and another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6)—one who had come to do away with the law of God. By the time of the destruction of the temple, much of the truth had been lost due to false deceptive teachings which had entered the Church. Subsequently, John needed to emphasize that anyone who would proclaim God and refuse to keep His law would be a liar, and no truth would be in him (1 John 2:4).
The religious deception which Christ warned against would continue. Even in the end time, just prior to and during the Great Tribulation (see below), religious deception would abound (verses 11, 24; compare Mark 13:22). And so, turning to the book of Revelation, we realize that the first seal in Revelation 6:2, describing a rider on a white horse, who has a bow and a crown and who goes out to conquer, identifies false religion, claiming that it professes Christ, while deceiving the many. The true Christ is later on described, in Revelation 19:11-12, 15, as One who has many crowns, and He has a sharp sword. He is riding a white horse as well, showing that the representation of the false Christ will have some resemblance with the true One – otherwise, no one would be deceived—but the differences are striking. First, the true Christ will return after the Great Tribulation, while the false representation of Christ will already have conquered many before that time. Then, the true Christ has a sword and many crowns, while the false representation of Christ has a bow and just one crown.
Religious deception began in the early New Testament Church, but it was to continue throughout the ages and reach the beginning of its culmination when the first seal is broken and the first horseman of the Apocalypse begins to ride (compare Matthew 24:3–5; Luke 21:8).
In Matthew 24:6-7, Christ continues to warn of wars and rumors of wars (as well as commotions, compare Luke 21:9), with nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. This is depicted in Revelation 6:3-4 as the second seal—when the rider on a fiery red horse goes out with a great sword to take away the peace from the earth, and when people kill each other. Even though wars and commotions and rumors of wars have existed throughout the ages, Christ intends to point out that the wars would become bigger and more all-encompassing—from nations fighting against nations to kingdoms fighting against kingdoms. We have experienced two World Wars in the 20th century, and the Bible shows that in the not-too-distant future, another terrible and most destructive World War will engulf the entire globe.
Turning again to Matthew 24:7, we note that Christ warned of famine next. The third seal in Revelation 6:5-6 depicts famine as well: A black horse begins to ride, and the rider has a pair of scales in his hand, indicating scarcity of food, measuring small quantities of food for comparatively huge amounts of money. While there still is some wheat and barley available for a high price, oil and wine are not to be “harmed” or “touched.” The People’s New Testament states: “Oil and wine, though common foods, are entirely prohibited. An age of war, mourning, calamity and famine is certainly symbolized.” The Ryrie Study Bible adds: “A severe shortage of food is indicated.” The parallel account in Luke 21:11 adds that at that time, earthquakes will increase in frequency and magnitude as well.
The third horse of the Apocalypse (mainly famine) is followed, according to Revelation 6:7-8, by a pale horse, and the rider’s name is “Death,” and “Hades” or “the Grave” follows him. Christ says in Matthew 24:7 that famines will be followed by pestilences [see also Luke 21:11].
As we stated in our free booklet, “Is That in the Bible?—The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation: “Oftentimes religious deception leads to wars, directly or indirectly. Wars, in turn, lead to famine and diseases. Historically, the Black Death alone killed upwards of one-third of the people living in Europe in the 14th century. The Spanish flu pandemic lasted from March, 1918, to June, 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. While older estimates put the number of those who were killed at 40 to 50 million people, current estimates are that 50 to 100 million people worldwide died, possibly more than what succumbed to the Black Death.”
So, the fourth horse of the Apocalypse describes pestilences or disease epidemics, but not exclusively. Christ also speaks in Matthew 24:7 of earthquakes in various places. We see then that earthquake activity will continue and increase throughout that time. (Luke 21:11 adds that at that time, fearful sights and great signs from heaven will be observed. This is primarily a reference to the heavenly signs which will follow after the beginning of the Great Tribulation, but it is possible that some of these frightful signs will begin to occur right after the pestilences will be spread throughout the earth.).
Revelation 6:8 adds that one-fourth of mankind will be killed by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and that these killings will be carried out with the sword (political and also religiously-motivated wars), with hunger (a result of famine), with death (resulting from pestilences), and also with the beasts of the earth. Many times, contagious diseases are communicated by sick animals carrying deadly viruses (remember the Ebola virus, the bird flu or the mad cow disease).
In addition, note the following comments by Barnes’ Notes on the Bible.
This commentary points out that the four horsemen will “kill with sword – In war and discord… And with hunger – With famine – one of the accompaniments of war – where armies ravage a nation, trampling down the crops of grain; consuming the provisions laid up… and shutting up the people in besieged cities to perish by hunger. Famine has been not an infrequent accompaniment of war; and we are to look for the fulfillment of this in its extensive prevalence…
“And with death… This would well denote the pestilence – not an infrequent accompaniment of war. For nothing is better suited to produce this than the unburied bodies of the slain; the filth of a camp; the want of food; and the crowding together of multitudes in a besieged city; and, accordingly, the pestilence… has been often closely connected with war…
“And with the beasts of the earth – With wild beasts. This, too, would be one of the consequences of war, famine, and pestilence. Lands would be depopulated, and wild beasts would be multiplied… Compare Ezekiel 14:21, ‘I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence…’”
Christ continues to warn that following these events, an organized and worldwide martyrdom of true Christians will occur next. Matthew 24:9-13, 21-22 describes this time in vivid terms (compare also Mark 13:11–13; Luke 21:12–19). These events are identified as the “Great Tribulation,” and they are also described as the fifth seal in Revelation 6:9-11. (The vision of the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:9-11 is more fully explained in chapter 8 of our free booklet, “Is That in the Bible?—The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation.” This vision makes clear that religious persecution has occurred throughout the history of the true Church, compare verses 9-10, but that in the end time, a terrible and unparalleled persecution will happen once again, compare verse 11).
Following the beginning of the Great Tribulation, Christ warns in Matthew 24:29 of heavenly signs, when the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from heaven, and when the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The parallel account in Luke 21:25-26 adds that at that time, there will be distress of nations on this earth, with perplexity, and the sea and the waves will be roaring, and men’s hearts will fail them for fear and the expectation of those things which will be coming on the earth, because the powers of heaven will be shaken.
All of these events are depicted by the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12-14, picturing “heavenly signs” or cosmic disturbances, which are introduced once again by a great earthquake (Revelation 6:12–14). These cosmic disturbances precede the “Day of the Lord,” the seventh seal of the book of Revelation. Revelation 6:17 refers to the Day of the Lord as the “great day of His wrath,” culminating in and leading to the return of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:17, 30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27).
(To Be Continued).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link