PMT 2014-002 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In a previous article I briefly commented on the identification of the rider on the white horse. In that this issue is of some particular interest to subscribers, I thought it might serve well to revisit the matter. In Rev. 6:1–2 (cp. Zec 1:8; 6:3, 6) we read: “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.”
Many ancient writers (e.g., Irenaeus, Haer. 4:21:3; Victorinus at 6:2), as well as some modern scholars (e.g., William Milligan; William Hendriksen; J. M. Vogelgesang; David Chilton; J. E. Leonard) see this as a picture of Christ. Some such as G. E. Ladd see it as a personification of the spread of Christ’s gospel. They argue that this white horse appears again in 19:11 where we see Christ on a white horse. They point out that white must symbolize righteousness, which would further underscore this identity. The following reasons, however, weigh against this positive interpretation:
First, the “white horse” is the only similarity with the vision of Christ in Rev 19 (cf. H. B. Swete; Leon Morris; Stephen S. Smalley). In fact, in Rev 19:15, 21 Christ does not even possess the bow mentioned here, but a sword. And the sword is often associated with him in Rev (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21) while the bow never is.
Also this horseman is given a victor’s wreath (stephanos translated “crown”), whereas Christ wears many “diadems [diad mata]” in Rev 19:12. The stephanos sometimes appears on evil beings (Rev 9:7) and conquering often applies to them (nika ) (Rev 11:7; 13:7).
Eschatological Themes: Postmillennialism and Preterism (7 CDs) (by Ken Gentry)
These lectures cover themes important for understanding the relationship of preterism and postmillennialism. The issues covered are not only important but fascinating as you come to realize better and better that the looming of AD 70 had an enormous influence on the New Testament.
Second, Christ’s appearance here would be awkward, even for non-logical apocalyptic imagery. Per Ladd, Robert Mounce, and George Beasley-Murray it would be strange for Jesus both to open the scroll and to be its content (Rev 6:1–2). And we must note that the Lamb is clearly the one opening the scroll: “Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals” (Rev 6:1a).
Third, it also seems inappropriate for an angel (“living creature”) to command him to “come” (Rev 6:2). And yet the rider on the white horse is in fact commanded by the living creature: ” I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come’” (Rev 6:1b). Christ is not ordered-around in Revelation but is equal with the Father in glory and power — and authority (e.g., Rev 3:21; 5:12; 22:1, 3).
Fourth, furthermore, the rider is “given” a crown: “and a crown was given to him” (Rev 6:2b). This involves a providential granting that John associates with divine permission for evil powers to perform their tasks (G. B. Caird; M. R. Mulholland). These divine-passive statements usually apply to divine authorization for non-Christian entities to operate under God’s sovereign administration (Rev 6:2, 4, 8; 9:1, 3; 11:2; 13:5, 14, 15). For these reasons, the majority of contemporary authorities deny that the rider on the white horse is Christ (R. H. Charles; I. T. Beckwith; Swete; L. Vos; Beasley-Murray; Morris; G. K. Beale; Craig Keener; Smalley; Ian Boxall; Stephen Moyise).
Nor is the white color of the horse a problem for identifying the rider as someone other than Christ. The white color of the horse certainly may represent righteousness as it does in Rev 19:11 (cp. Rev 3:4, 5, 18; 7:14; 19:14; 20:11). God will judge wicked Israel (God’s enemy in Revelation) for her rebellion and obstinacy; thus, Rome’s conquest would be righteous even though engaged by an unrighteous people. In a parable prophesying Jerusalem’s destruction, Jesus calls the Romans “his [God’s] armies” (Mt 22:7). This is like God calling Assyria the “rod of my anger” (Isa 10:5; cp. Hab 1:6), though he will punish Assyria for its arrogance (Isa 10:12). Or like God calling Nebuchadnezzar “My Servant” (Jer 25:9; 27:6; cp. 2Ki 24:2; Jer 4:11–13), though he will soon destroy this evil ruler (Jer 25:12).
But more probably this white color represents victory. I state this for four reasons: First, white commonly represents victory in antiquity (Virgil, Aeneid 3:537; Senceca, De Ira 3:21; Plutarch, Camillus 7; Herodotus 9:62; Silius Italicus 4:218; Dio Cassius, Roman History 53:14.).
Second, the text states that this rider goes forth “to conquer” (Rev 6:2b). Third, the “bow” is a symbol of victory (Zc 9:13–14), just as breaking bows is a symbol of peace resulting from ictory (Ps 46:9; cp. 1Sa 2:4).
Fourth, the color white then relates its effect — “conquering” — like the other horses’s colors reflect their results (e.g., red = bloodshed [Rev 6:4]; black =starvation by famine [Rev 6:5]; pale = death [Rev 6:8]). The Romans will certainly prevail, just as Josephus warns his fellow Jews that “they must know the Roman power was invincible” (J.W. 5:9:3: cp. 5:9:1), for “the power of the Romans is invincible in all parts of the habitable earth” (J.W. 2:16:4; cp. 2:20:7; 5:9:3). In fact, God even uses evil spirits to judge men (Jdg 9:23; 1Sa 16:14–16, 23; 18:10; 19:9; 1Ki 22:19–22).
Major Bible Prophecies (5 CDs)
Gentry conference lectures on the Millennium, Daniel’s 70 Weeks, Man of Sin, Heaven, and Unfulfilled Prophecies.