Some people claim that the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” represent Communism (red), Catholicism (white), Islam (pale/green), and Capitalism (black). However, the bible already defined what each horse means. If the bible gives a parable or metaphor and then explains it, then there should be no speculation because an explanation is already given. The four horsemen represent exactly what the bible says they represent, and nothing more.
The four horsemen are found in Zechariah 1:7-11, Zechariah 6:1-8, and Revelation 6:1-8. They are already defined in the bible and they not are related to modern religions or economic systems, but they represent specific categories of God’s judgment for the world. In Zechariah 1:10 it says the horsemen are, “they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.” In Zechariah 6:5 they are defined collectively as, “the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth”. Meaning they were sent by God to judge the world, and they do not represent non-Biblical political or religious ideologies. Why would God send communism or capitalism to judge the world? In Revelation 6:1-8, they are defined individually: The white one is Conquest, the red one is War, the black is Famine, and the pale/green is Death (which often uses disease and natural disasters but can use famine and war). The same categories of famine, war, conquest, and death are in pre-exile prophecy (Ezekiel 5 and Jeremiah 14,15,16,21) when God warned Israel of His judgment through Babylon. We shouldn’t reinterpretation things that already have explanations. Imagine someone taking the parable of the sower in Mark 4:1-9 and re-explaining it with a different meaning, even though Jesus explains the meaning in the same chapter in verses 10-20. There is no need to reinterpret signs that have already been explained.
Ezekiel chapter 5 is when God has Ezekiel do a demonstration of his Judgement against Israel using his hair. At the beginning of the chapter, He shaves off a large portion of his hair (head and beard) and cuts it into 3 equal parts. He places them in the small clay model of Israel that he made in the previous chapter. Then he burns one-third of the hair in the city, then cuts up another third around the city, and scatters the last third to the wind. Later on in verses 11-13 God then explains what the signs mean. The first portion that was burned resents those who will die from famine and pestilence, the next third are those killed by the sword, and the last third are scattered away from Jerusalem and eventually captured and taken in Exile. Sounds like the four horsemen in Zechariah 1 and 6, and Revelation 6.
Likewise Jeremiah chapters 14,15,16, 21, 24, and 27 (as well as chapters 29, 32,34,38,42, and 44). Jeremiah says multiple times that the coming judgment will result in Death, War, Famine, and Conquest/Captivity. He says those specific things in that order in Jeremiah 15:2: “…Thus saith the Lord; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.”
In Jer 14:11-16 he criticizes the false prophets who claim that there will be no famine and war, and God himself makes this same critique back in Jer 5:12. In Jer 16:1-2 God warns Jeremiah not to get married because these people and their families will mostly die from war and famine. In Jer 21:1-11 God says he will hand over King Zedekiah, his staff, and everyone in Jerusalem who survived the disease, war, and famine, into Babylonian captivity. God continues in Jer 21:9 saying that everyone who stayed in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who go out and surrender to the Babylonians will live, in captivity. In Jeremiah ch. 24, God uses the analogy of good and bad (rotten) figs for the people of Judah. The good figs are righteous who will be taken into captivity and God will renew their descendants in the future (70 years), and the bad figs are the wicked who will be destroyed by war, disease, and famine (Jer 24:10). In Jeremiah 27 God reiterates what was said in Jeremiah ch. 21, he warns the people of Judah to submit to Babylon because God is using them to judge Judah, but those who don’t submit will be condemned via war, disease, and famine. He says this not just to King Zedekiah of Judah but to the nations he has allied with like Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. I can go on and on but you get the point.
Some examples of plagues against Israel for their sin can be found in Exodus 32:35 (golden calf), Num 11:33 (complaining about God’s provision), Num 14:36-38 (10 spies and their negative report), Num 15:18-50 (Korah’s rebellion), and Num 25:1-18 (fornication with pagan prostitutes).
Examples of war caused by sin can mostly be found throughout the book of Judges and this is alluded to in Judg. ch. 2. In addition, in the kingdom era of Israel we see the kings after Solomon promoting idolatry and corruption in the land and as a result, the Moabites (2 Kings 3:1-5, 2 Kings 24:1-4) and Edomites (2 Kings 8:20-22, 2 Kings 16:1-6) that King David subjugated many years before (2 Sam 8:11-14) overthrow them.
Some examples of famine include the story of Elijah and Elisha. In 1 Kings ch. 17, Elijah condemned the wicked King Ahab and he proclaimed it wouldn’t rain for three years. The drought lifted in 1 Kings ch. 18 but then Israel was attacked by the Arameans in 1 Kings ch. 20 because Ahab continued his sinful behavior. He had a man murdered for his vineyard in the next chapter 1 Kings ch. 21 and was killed in battle with Aram in 1 Kings ch. 22.
In 2 Kings ch. 6-7, there was a famine because the King of Israel Joram (Ahab’s son) had continued his father’s wickedness and promoted idol worship and corruption, so there was severe famine because the Arameans were besieging Israel and cut off their food supplies (2 Kings 6:24-25). In 2 Kings 7, the prophet Elisha said the whole famine would be turned around in one day and God did so by scaring off the Assyrians causing them to leave their supplies behind. Four lepers when into the camp and plundered it first then told everyone else and the kingdom was delivered. The famine was so bad that women were eating their children (2 Kings 6:24-30) which was prophecies in the curse of Deut 28:53-57.
Of course, the prophesied conquest of Israel by Assyria (2 Kings ch. 17) and Judah by Babylon (2 Kings 21:10-15, 2 Kings ch. 24-25) was the final act of judgment that lead to exile.
In Samuel 24, David was brought into God’s council just like Abraham (Gen 18:16-33) and Moses (Ex 32:7-14 and Num 14:1-35) to judge the people and he had a choice of the three days of plague (75,000 dead), three months of war, or three years of famine. David chose plague because it was quick. Notice that these are three of the four horsemen? Conquest isn’t here because that would mean the end of the kingdom, and conquest is reserved for after a long period of God’s mercy, then he will execute the exile from the land (Lev 26:14-46, Deut 28:15-68). The conquest of Israel happens in 722 BC by Assyrian Empire and the conquest of Judah by the Babylonian Empire happens in 586 BC.
These categories don’t happen at random but are a result of the curse that was promised to come upon Israel if they didn’t keep God’s commands in Deut 28:15-68 and Solomon reiterates this in 1 Kings 8:33-53. This curse includes being defeated in battle and being scattered by their enemies, conquest and enslavement, famine, disease, pestilence, all-around terror, and exile from the land. Sound familiar? It should be because it is the same things that the horsemen represent and it is the opposite of the blessing in the earlier part of the chapter (Deut 28:1-14). This curse was God’s judgment against them because they broke the covenant by rejecting his rules as his representative son on earth. When they failed he treated them like the Canaanites whom he drove out for them. This is fair since they are being judged by the same standard they were used to execute judgment. These same methods of judgment are the same things he used against Egypt, Canaan, Assyria, Babylon, etc, and will apply to the Anti-Christ regime in Revelation’s generation as well. The imagery in Revelation is not all new imagery and when you look in the Tanakh (old testament), you will find the initial definition of everything that is prophesied in the New Testament.