Not everyone agrees on the identity of the rider of the apocalyptic white horse, the first of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Some interpret the white horse and its rider as Satan or the Antichrist. Others hold the view that this rider is the enthroned Jesus Christ. How can the Bible help explain the identity of the horseman? The account reads in Revelation 6:1, 2:
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the Seven Seals.
I heard one of the 4 Living Creatures with a voice like thunder, saying: “Come!” And I saw, and look! a white horse. The one riding it had a bow.
A crown was given to him. He went forth conquering so he might finish his conquest.
The beloved apostle John has been invited into heaven to behold future events. [Revelation 4:1 First, however, he is blessed to see the celestial Throne-Room and the One sitting on that Throne - Almighty God. After this heavenly scene is described, John sees that enthroned God Almighty has a small Bible [BIBLION] in His right hand. [Revelation 5:1] A slaughtered Lamb is seen receiving this seven-sealed Bible [or, scroll]. [Daniel 7:13] The Lamb is described as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, who has conquered.” [Revelation 5:5] This proves revealing as to the identity of the rider on the white horse.
This scene of the slaughtered Lamb “who has conquered” describes the fulfillment of the two prophecies of Psalm 2:6, 7 and Daniel 7:13. These read:
“While I was watching a Throne was placed and the One Most Venerable took His seat. … I was gazing into the visions of the night, when I saw [arriving] on the clouds of heaven someone like a human being. He came to the One Most Venerable and was led into His Presence. … He who is enthroned in heaven laughs [at the nations]. Yehowah mocks them. Then He speaks to them in anger, terrifying them in His rage, ‘But I have installed My king on Zion, My holy mountain.’ Let me [the Messiah] tell of the decree: ‘[Yehowah] said to me: “You are My son, I have fathered you this day. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your domain.”’” [Daniel 7:9,13; Psalm 2:4-8 NJB, JPS]
Both Peter and Paul give inspired interpretations of the Second Psalm and apply it to the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. [Compare Acts 4:24ff and Acts 13:33.]
It would appear that Daniel and John are seeing the same thing: the entrance of Jesus Christ into the Celestial Throne-Room upon his ascension to heaven. [Acts 1:9-11] Stephen, in his near-death experience, related his own vision just before his martyrdom: “Stephen, filled with holy spirit, gazed into heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right hand of [The] God. ‘Look! I can see heaven thrown open,’ Stephen said, ‘and the Son of man standing at the right hand of [The] God.” [Acts 7:55-57 NJB, NCMM] This would be that moment after Jesus had “conquered,” as he himself had said, “I have conquered the world.” [John 16:33]
Paul gives his own description of the enthronement of Jesus in Ephesians 1:19-23 --
This power results from the highly controlled energy exercised when The God raised the Christ from the dead, enthroning him at His own right hand in the celestial realms. Christ reigns over every government, authority, dynasty and lordship. His entitlement ascends above every title ever given. This is so, not only now in this period of time but also in that New Age in the future. The God of our Lord subordinated the entire universe beneath Christ’s feet. The Father gave him complete control and leadership over his Body the Church in everything. Thus Christ is the completion and perfection of every fulfillment in everything. [NCMM Paraphrase]
With this background we now rejoin John in the Celestial Throne-Room. The newly slaughtered but victorious Lamb is about to open the first of the Seven Seals which kept the Small Bible closed. John reports, “And I saw when …” and we begin to wonder “when” was this? We remember that Revelation 1:1 began, “A revelation of Jesus Christ -- which The God gave to him - to show his slaves those things bound to occur.” [NCMM] It seems fair to conclude that Jesus received this “revelation” some time after his ascension to the Celestial Throne-Room as Revelation 5:1ff seems to indicate. But, what, exactly, is this BIBLION, or small book which the Lamb begins to open?
Revelation 5:4 uses the Greek BIBLION [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 975, a diminutive … book … writing] which is the source of the English “Bible,” from the Egyptian city where papyrus materials were prepared for writing. Here it means “little book” or “booklet,” and since it is written on front and back it must be a true codex or book and not a scroll. (Revelation 5:1) This Small (Apocalyptic) Bible contains all the information to follow in the Apocalypse for the Seven Seals lead to the Seven Trumpets, which lead to the Seven Plagues. Therefore, it is the Apocalypse the Lamb opens, the actual Book of Revelation from chapter 6 onward.
John describes what he sees at the moment of the opening of the First Seal: “Look! a white horse. The one riding it had a bow. A crown was given to him. He went forth conquering so he might finish his conquest.” We can identify several elements in this First Seal:
Of course, we are most interested in this white horse and its rider. First, we wonder if such a “white horse” is seen elsewhere in this “small Bible,” or Revelation? There is only one other occurrence of a white horse in Revelation 19:11-13 and there the rider is identified as “the Logos of the God.” [John 1:1] The context in Revelation chapter 19 would seem to confirm that this rider of that white horse is the Lamb, [Revelation 19:7] the “King of kings.” [Revelation 17:14] Can there be any question that this white horse and its rider is Jesus Christ the Lamb?
This connection alone would seem to argue this first rider on the white horse is the victorious Lord, Jesus Christ. In Revelation 6:2 this first rider is described as having a “crown” and a “bow.” Is there any other place in the Bible where such a king is described as riding a horse with a bow? Indeed there is and it may be this Hebrew Bible text is the source of the imagery here in Revelation. Consider a Psalm quoted by Paul:
“In your glorious majesty, O Mighty One, gird on your sword and bend your bow. In your majesty ride forth victoriously for the cause of truth and in defense of righteousness - your sharp arrows flying, nations beneath your feet, the courage of the king’s foes melting away.” [Psalm 45:3-5 LXX, RSV, NEB] Paul quotes Psalm 45:6, 7 at Hebrews 1:8-10 and thus makes an inspired interpretation to he glorified Son, Jesus Christ. The inspirational vision in the Messianic hymn has a king riding with a bow going forth in conquest. It would be difficult not to draw a parallel between this Psalm and Revelation 6:2.
The crown of the rider on the white horse seems to point to Jesus Christ. In Revelation Jesus has already identified himself as a King. [Revelation 1:5; 2:26, 27; 3:21] In the context of the future subjection of earth’s inhabitants, Paul identifies Jesus Christ as “crowned.” [Hebrews 2:5-9] Revelation 6:2 breathes of Christ as king. Using the Second Psalm and the quotes of it by Peter (Acts 4:24-27) and Paul (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5) it ought to be clear that Christ was enthroned as king upon his ascension to heaven in 33 AD. A study of Daniel 7.13 and Daniel’s location in the vision (Daniel 7:10, 16) would argue for an ascension during the Roman period as Acts 1:6-11 portrays. [Compare John 6:62; 17:13.]
Paul shows Christ “crowned” at Hebrews 2:9 and Christ must “rule” until all his enemies are subdued or conquered. (1 Corinthians 15:25) Christ does not ‘wait’ to rule. He ‘rules . . . waiting.’ (Hebrews 10:12, 13; Psalm 110:1) Christ has full authority upon his ascension. (Matthew 28.18; Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 2:10; Revelation 3:21) Therefore, this white horse begins its run with its victorious rider in the year 33 AD. John’s visionary experience parallels that of Daniel. (Daniel 7:9-16) In Daniel the reign of the King begins during the 4th kingdom of Rome.
Finally, this rider is described as having “conquered.” We have already noted that the Lamb which opens the First Seal is one who has “conquered.” [Revelation 5:5] Christ’s conquest began with John 16:33 and was confirmed by his victorious ascension to the Throne of God. (Revelation 3:21) This conquest presses on to final and complete victory with milestones mentioned at Revelation 19:19, 20; 20:2, 10, 14. [1 Corinthians 15:24-28.]
The evidence would seem to strongly suggest that the rider on the white horse is Jesus himself and not Satan the Devil, or the Antichrist. Biblical evidence presented above confirms Jesus began his ride as a king who has conquered upon his ascension to heaven in 33 CE. Paul shows that this conquest is not yet complete. [Hebrews 2:5-9] Revelation describes a final victory over the political powers of the earth in Revelation 17:14 and Revelation 19:11-21. Complete conquest over the “last enemy” [1 Corinthians 15:24-28] occurs at the end of the Thousand Years when all the dead are resurrected. [Revelation 20:12-14]
We rejoice at this revelation which has occurred during the opening the First Seal. We are overjoyed to know Christ’s conquest will go onto victorious completion. However, will the beginning of Christ’s reign on his white horse mean instantaneous peace and satisfaction for humanity? Or, can humankind expect something else throughout this period of Christ’s reign. For the answer we look to the three remaining Horsemen of the Apocalypse in future articles.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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