Horses of the 2nd woe
In the prophecies of scripture, animals sometimes represent nations, or categories of people. Jesus is called the shepherd, his sheep are those who belong in his sheepfold, and false teachers are represented by predators such as wolves.
There are many prophecies which refer to horses. In some of those prophecies, horses represent people who lack understanding, and their riders are those who guide or lead them. David wrote, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” [Psalm 32:9] Jeremiah wrote, “They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbor’s wife.” [Jeremiah 5:8]
When king David walked on the roof of his house, and saw a woman washing herself, who was very beautiful, he responded like one of Jeremiah’s horses. [2 Samuel 11:2-4]
The “private interpretations” proposed for the horses of the prophecies of Revelation include claims that they may represent “attack helicopters,” “armored troop carriers,” etc., but these claims are clearly spurious nonsense, and scripture supplies the interpretation of the symbols employed in prophecy. Applying the clue provided in Psalm 32:9 to the interpretation of horses, unveils the significance of the symbolic horses of several prophecies.
Horses are included in the 5th and 6th trumpets of Revelation 9, which are called the 1st woe and the 2nd woe. The 1st woe is a horde of locusts, and its interpretation is discussed here. The horses of the 2nd woe are rather strange-they have lions’ heads. John wrote:
And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.
The locusts in the great army of the prophecy of Joel resemble horses, and horsemen. [Joel 2:4] The invaders of Gog and Magog described in Ezekiel 38 & 39 all ride upon horses. Horses, asses, mules and camels are mentioned in Zechariah’s prophecies. In Zechariah 12:4, every horse is smitten with astonishment. And in Zechariah 14:15, the horses and mules and other beasts in the tents of those who come to fight against Jerusalem are afflicted with an awful plague.
The horses of the 2nd woe have lions’ heads; the invaders of Joel’s prophecy have lions’ teeth. [Joel 1:6]
In the last days, Paul said, people would be “Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce.” [2 Timothy 3:1-4]
Similarities in the descriptions of the armies of the 2nd woe, the prophecy of Joel, the Gog and Magog invasion of Ezekiel 38 and 39, and the prophecies of Zechariah 12 & 14 suggest these prophecies depict the invasion of the church by worldly people, throughout its history.
Breastplates are for protection, and the breastplates of the horsemen of the 2nd woe consist of fire, jacinth, and brimstone. “Fire and brimstone” is an expression commonly used to describe sermons with a threatening tone. This is probably close to the meaning of the prophecy. A breastplate was worn by the high priest. Paul encouraged Christians to put on “the breastplate of righteousness.” [Ephesians 6:14] The breastplates worn by the horsemen of the army in the 2nd woe suggests they are people who fiercely defend their opinions. Perhaps they are religious people who threaten others and invoke fiery, abusive language towards those with whom they disagree.
The prophecy says a third of men are killed by them, but then it says they “hurt” with their tails, that were like serpents. In prophecy, tails represent false teachers.
The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.
Evidently they “kill” in a spiritual sense, which is also harmful, and causes hurt. Their teachings deprive people of the blessings of the gospel, causing a spiritual type of death. The horses of the 2nd woe are people, who lack understanding, and they are deceived. The prophecy may allude to a prophecy of Nahum.
Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;
The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots.
The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering spear: and there is a multitude of slain, and a great number of carcases; and there is none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses:
Zechariah described horses as smitten with astonishment; “I will open mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness.” [Zechariah 12:4]
The number of the horsemen of the 2nd woe may possibly allude to the number of the chariots of God in Psalm 68:17.