The Four Horsemen–The White Horse

The Father is holy. Jesus Christ is worthy. The world is the way it is because God is winning glory for Himself. Jesus begins breaking the seals on the legal document He has received from the Father. As He breaks the first seal, the first angelic witness presents his testimony to the just judge for our benefit.

Revelation 6:1-8

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.”

I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.”

And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.

And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.”

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

The four horsemen

John employs symbolism from Zecheriah 1:7-10 and 6:1-10 to describe what people today refer to as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. In Zecheriah’s image, the four horsemen were the four angelic spirits before God’s throne who went out to patrol the earth and report their findings to the Angel of the Lord—Jesus Christ. As Jesus breaks the seals on the book, Zechariah’s angelic patrols are reporting the earth’s condition like they did in Zechariah’s prophecy so that Christ may judge justly—rather, so we may know that He judges justly. If we read about the first four seals regarding Zecheriah’s imagery, we can’t read it as some future event or judgment. Christ, because of His substitutionary atonement, has all authority and is worthy to judge. Therefore, the cherubim (there are four cherubim whose testimony appears like four horsemen) perpetually patrol the earth and report their findings to Christ. Symbolically, before Christ reads the book, while He is still breaking its seals, He hears their report. Remember this isn’t a chronological puzzle; it’s a theological picture.

As we read the testimony of the cherubim, testimony that they have been giving since Old Testament times (Cf. 4:6-8; Ezekiel 4:1-24:27). We remember that a natural, proper, and contextual reading of Revelation reveals these symbols to be testimony, not God’s explicit judgment. Yes, that means most interpretations you hear of the symbols that accompany the breaking of the six seals is provably false.

The white horse

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.”

Notice, John describes a correlation, not necessarily causation. As Christ breaks the first seal and anticipation builds because the reader wants to know the book’s contents, one cherub says, “come.” His voice of thunder symbolizes that he speaks on the Christ’s behalf (Cf. 4:5). John’s imagery clues us in; We are about to read something concerning God’s Law and faithfulness to His Law. The image, here, continues to take the shape of a Greek courtroom. The first living creature calls his testimony, and the image comes forth. The witness’s testimony is the image of the white horse and its rider.

I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

Remember, John’s description is symbolic, not literal. The symbol shows a white horse both from Zechariah’s prophecy concerning God’s patrol on the earth and symbolizing purity. It shows a crown, symbolizing eternal reward (Cf. 2:10).

Concerning the identity of the one on the white horse, I have heard a few different interpretations that mostly have to do with speculation rather than good exegesis. White is a color associated with Christ’s righteousness (Cf. 1:14; 2:17; 3:5; 4:4). The bow is a symbol of war and has only so far been depicted around God’s throne. Whereas God hang His bow up in Genesis 9:12-17, this rider now wields it to go out and conquer on the earth. Since Jesus is the only one who received all authority in His death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew 28:18) and has been revealed as the only worthy one (Cf. 5:8-14), it seems Jesus is the one in view. The first witness is testifying about the work Jesus is currently doing on the earth. It’s fitting for the first witness to testify about justice being accomplished on the earth. It is fitting for him to reveal that Jesus Christ, the righteous one, is both just and the justifier of people.

I want to think about this symbol as a testimony. 1) Why is Jesus now carrying the divine war bow? 2) What does it mean that Jesus is going out conquering and to conquer? 1) God’s bow represents two things throughout Scripture, God’s wrath and mercy. Before the Great Flood, God saw “that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). That’s what happens when people are left to their own devices, their own wills. So, God chose Noah, to save His family. He showed that no one could be righteous and revealed His just wrath against all humanity except for His elect, Noah. After the flood, God promised He would never destroy the earth again. He promised that the seasons and the produce of the earth will remain forever (Cf. Genesis 8:22). He hung His bow as a sign for Himself of the promise He made (Cf. Genesis 9:13). If God were to destroy this earth by some cataclysmic endgame event, He would deny His own promise. Jesus does not carry the divine bow for the purpose of destruction. He doesn’t go forth to conquer by destroying. That would be an exact contradiction to God’s promise. People who teach such things assume we still live in a pre-flood world. God has already shown that we cannot achieve righteousness if we are left to our own devices. Now, having accomplished righteousness on behalf of His elect people and atoning for them (Cf. 5:6, 9, 12), Jesus is bringing justice to the earth based on His work rather than the works of people. He is delivering those for whom He made perfect atonement. He is revealing God’s wrath against those for whom He did not make perfect atonement. 2) We have already discovered that the New Jerusalem is currently coming down out of heaven to the earth as Christ builds His church (Cf. 3:12). Jesus is conquering the world through the current building of His church. He even taught that the gates of Hades will not be able to overpower it (Cf. Matthew 16:18); The kingdom of heaven on earth started out small and will grow until it overtakes the whole world (Cf. Matthew 13:31-33). A proper reading of Scripture debunks any narrative people have invented suggesting that a series of cataclysmic events will bring the earth to ruin before Christ returns and establishes His kingdom. That sort of narrative actually contradicts Scripture. The four horsemen are not an endgame wrath. The seals do not represent some future wrath during some mysterious future seven-year tribulation.

John is telling the church that Jesus Christ is currently conquering the earth because He is faithful to His Gospel promise, represented by the divine rainbow around God’s throne and bow in His hand. Christ is doing His work on the earth. He is building His church. John is utilizing Zecheriah’s image, even down to Christ dwelling in the midst of His patrol (Zecheriah 1:11). Zechariah was prophesying about God’s judgment on the nations surrounding Judah in the Sixth Century BC. God’s patrol, led by the Angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Christ), testified about the condition of the world. God would judge the heathen nations and justify the Jews—even leading them to build the second temple. This is not a strictly future work. John is describing Christ’s perpetual work as He has been and continues to redeem and renew His creation.

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The Gospel is going out. Christ is saving His people from among the nations by the power of His word. He is judging those for whom He has not atoned by His Law. We can be encouraged and know that God is in the process of redeeming and renewing His earth. We are a part of that wonderful work; That’s why He has His church on the earth in this time.

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