First Seal: Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
Beginning with chapter 6, we will study the prophetic part of Revelation. As we enter this prophetic part of the book, keep in mind the fact that the three different series of judgments . . . the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the vials of the wrath of God . . . will take place between the gathering of the Church to the Lord, and the time when He comes with the Church. These judgments will take place during Daniel’s seventieth week of prophecy. . . a period of seven years. The first half of this will be mild, but the last half will be known as the Great Tribulation—a time of blood, death, torments, and suffering on this earth such as has never been known, nor ever will be known again after the Tribulation.
Before we look at the text, we should examine a very real problem, namely, whether the details are to be regarded literally or symbolically. This is the question which all students of this book must face. This book must be studied the same as any other book in the Bible. The question of literalness or symbolism must be determined by language and context. Are the horses and the horsemen literal or symbolic? Personally, I feel that they are symbolic of the nature of the judgments and calamities which are to come upon the earth.
1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
The “LAMB,” Christ, opened the first of the seven seals. As each seal was opened, events signaling the end of the world took place. With the breaking of the first seal came four riders on horseback, the first of which John saw in this verse. One of the four living creatures said in a voice like “THUNDER,” “COME!” Another controversy—for some say it was the voice of Christ that John heard. This voice as a Clap of “THUNDER” sounds the beginning of the tribulation period, the time of Jacob’s trouble—“How awful that day will be! No other will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it” (Jeremiah 30:7)—the time when the church and people of God, the true Israel of God, shall be saved from those great tribulations, and taken to a very happy and comfortable place. The creature was probably beckoning the rider on the horse to come forward because, when John looked, he saw a white horse (a mighty warhorse) with a rider holding a bow. As John watched, the rider was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. We note that when the subject concerns Heaven, the elders speak, and when it concerns the earth, the living creatures speak.
John wants us to know that he was an eyewitness to what he is writing about: “And I saw . . .” (Revelation 6:2). “AND I HEARD . . . (Revelation 6:1). John both heard and saw these things, he was there, and he knows firsthand, because he was an eyewitness.
2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
This is the only rider who didn’t bring catastrophe (the others initiated warfare, famine, and death); this rider was “bent on conquest.” But who is He? There is much debate over who or what this horseman represents:
• Some have suggested that this rider symbolizes the proclamation of the Good News of Christ. They see the “WHITE HORSE” as being “good” and therefore the rider on a good mission.
• Others believe that the rider on the “WHITE HORSE” is Christ Himself, for Christ later appears on a “WHITE HORSE” (19:11). Jesus is closely associated with the color white in Revelation (see 1:14; 6:11; 14:14).
• Still, others, believe him to be the Antichrist—Satan’s man.
• A few commentators believe the rider on the “WHITE HORSE” represents sinful mankind’s desire for conquest; when this occurs, many suffer.
• Finally, there is the opinion that he represents the Gospel, its power, its goals, and its peaceful conquest of the globe.
Obviously he cannot be all of these. The context provides the needed clue, for the Holy Spirit Himself interprets the symbolism of the fourth horseman: he is death, and Hades follows hard on his heels. The horsemen, therefore, are not persons, but personifications. Moreover, they are personifications of things very unpleasant indeed. Here, then, is a rider who personifies one of these factors which undermined the world and prepared it for God’s final judgment. He is all-victorious and wins his victories relatively peacefully. He represents the blasphemous philosophies of the last days, those anti-Christian ideologies which prepare men’s minds for the devil’s gospel and the ultimate reception of the strong delusion, the great lie (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).
In the scripture, a “HORSE” is often used as a symbol for war. At the end of the Apocalypse, for example, the Lord Jesus Himself returns on a great “WHITE HORSE” to settle the issues of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-16). The “WHITE” color of the “HORSE” suggests that the rider wins victories without bloodshed. Peaceful victory is implied—what we would call “cold war.” The bow suggests that far-reaching objectives are in view, and the “CROWN” makes it clear that whatever is represented under the symbolism of this seal will be successful and victorious. Notice here that this crown is presented before victory, and is therefore not a victorious “crown.” The “CROWN” indicates that royal dignity and imperial power is bestowed upon this distinguished rider of the “WHITE HORSE,” who offers to the world peace without bloodshed; and during the first three and a half years of the reign of the Antichrist, there will be no bloodshed. Those years will be a time of peace and prosperity. He will make a covenant with the Jews in their homeland, and all will be peace—until three and a half years have gone by, and then all hell will break loose!
At the command to “COME” the rider spurs forward both “CONQUERING AND TO CONQUER.” That is, victory after victory, conquest after conquest was his without defeat. His reign was marked with victory on every hand, and of course, he became the idol of the nations who had rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely, he was worshipped as the one who had finally brought world peace. The fact that this “WHITE HORSE” and its rider precede three other horsemen who wreak havoc on the earth, however, suggests that the “WHITE” horseman might represent the lust for conquest. When mankind is bent on conquest, the result is warfare, famine, and death. The color “WHITE” could correspond, then, to conquest.
The rider of the “WHITE HORSE” is not the Lord Jesus Christ. This rider is not the King of kings and Lord of lords riding forth in mighty conquest. Psalm 45 and Revelation 19:11 show us that this rider could not be the Lord Jesus Christ. The scriptures prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the rider on the “WHITE HORSE” is certainly someone else besides the Christ. The Psalmist and John declare that when Jesus rides out of the sky in great conquest, He will set on the throne, He will assume the sovereignty of the world; but when this seal is opened there are many, many years before the kingdom of the Lord Jesus is set up in power. Therefore, this rider could not be the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus rides out of the sky it will be on a mighty, “WHITE HORSE”—but with Him will be a host of other riders clothed in “WHITE” and riding upon “WHITE HORSES” (Revelation 19:1-11).