The four horsemen of the Apocalypse, as they are commonly called, are the riders on the four horses seen by John in a vision as recorded in the Book of Revelation. Each of the four are given different tasks to complete when the Lamb breaks a seal on a scroll that no one else could break. The first four of seven seals involved these four horses and their riders.
As Jesus, the Lamb of God broke the seals, his servants, four representatives of life on earth, called out the riders of four horses. These were war horses, bringing judgement through war and chaos. The story of the end of the world was about to unfold.
John was not surprised by the varicolored horses. Much of the imagery in the visions are drawn from those seen by the prophet Zechariah. In that case four chariots were pulled by four teams colored horses--red, black, white and spotted. These chariots spread out as scouts in every direction. That Old Testament prophet was poised at the cusp of a new age. John is shown war horses coming onto the scene at a similar time.
When the first of the seven seals was broken, the first of the four Living Creatures shouted "Come". Then John saw a white horse with its rider holding a bow. The rider was given a crown and rode out like a conqueror determined on conquest.
Though no quiver is noted, the bow is enough to show the power and skill of the bearer. The Hebraism "conquering and to conquer" leaves no doubt that his goal will be accomplished.
Fiery Red Horse
As the second seal was peeled from the scroll, the voice of the second Living Creature roared "Come". This time John saw a fire-red horse blaze onto the scene. The rider was an instigator who was commissioned to cause unrest everywhere on the earth. His skill at his calling moved people to kill each other. To make things worse, he had a large sword.
This rider was the "hatchet man" for the first warrior chieftain. He was that kind of commander any general could count on. What he could not get the people to do to themselves, he would take care of with his own weapon--the "mega-machete" (Gr: μάχαιρα μεγάλη)--a very large sword, the best weapon anywhere.
The team had a finance minister aboard a black horse waiting to be called. The seraph with the face of a man called out when the third seal was broken: "Come"; and John saw scales ready to measure the value of a days wages against a quart of wheat or three quarts of barley. Neither the working man or his family could afford to buy much else. The word among the seraphim was that no harm would come the oil or the wine--processed food that the poor could no longer afford.
As conditions of war and anarchy got worse, farmers would not be able to grow and harvest crops. Only those who were protected by the invading armies--providing housing and food--could hope to stay in business. Any extra grain would sell at premium prices.
The seraph with the face of the eagle, had looked over to see the Lamb remove the fourth seal. That was his cue to shout "Come." John saw that there would not be any let up until a third of the population, spread out over a fourth of the earth were dead from the efforts of the rider on the deathly pale horse. His name was "Death" and he was not alone, for he was followed by Hades.
Death would come in every way imaginable--sword, famine, plague and even wild animals attacks. The war brought by the four horsemen was directed by God himself on a population that had rejected Him. But this was only the beginning. Three seals were left to be removed.