John has told us that a third of the world’s people will die in this terrible event (verse 15). He has also explained that 4 evil angels (servants of the devil) will cause their deaths. Now he explains to us how these people will die.
John describes a terrible battle. There have been battles in history where one million or two million soldiers have fought. This battle is much worse. The number of soldiers is 200 million.
Horses carry the soldiers into battle. Horses are bold, strong animals that were very powerful in ancient wars. Their riders wear clothes that are red like fire, blue like smoke, and yellow like the substance called sulphur. The horses seem as fierce as lions; they fight with the fire, smoke and sulphur that comes from their mouths. It is that fire, smoke and sulphur that kills so many people. The horses also cause pain to people because their tails are like snakes.
Clearly, this cannot be a description of ordinary horses. However, the description of the results of the battle seems sadly familiar. There is pain, and death; people suffer greatly.
Some people ask whether passages like this one could be describing modern military equipment. We cannot say; but ancient armies, like modern ones, did use fire, smoke and burning chemicals in their battles. Burning sulphur is especially nasty; its smell is awful.
This passage may remind us of the punishment of Sodom (Genesis 19:24). It almost seems as if the fires of hell are burning upon earth. However, unlike those punishments, this one is not a final punishment. After it, some people will still be alive upon the earth, to continue their wicked deeds (verse 20-21).
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© 2016, Keith Simons.