Rev. 6:1 –Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer (HCSB).
Now that Jesus has received the scroll – possibly the title deed to the earth – He opens the first seal. When He does, one of the four living creatures speaks with a thunderous voice, “Come!” (or, possibly, “Come and see!” or “Go!”).
But to whom is he speaking? John already is nearby and sees what takes place. If the command is to go, where is John to go? The living creature doesn’t say.
Some commentators argue that the living creature is calling on the Lamb to come; we see throughout the New Testament a strong desire for Jesus to step into the clouds of heaven and return to earth. Interpreters who hold this view see Jesus as the rider on the white horse.
Others believe the command to “come” or “go” is directed at the riders on their respective horses. This view seems consistent with the text and does not require Jesus to be the rider on the white horse. In any case, the living creature’s thunderous voice lets everyone know something significant is about to happen.
One other note about the living creature: Some scholars believe the living creatures speak in order – the first, like a lion, for example (see Rev. 4:7). The creature’s bold proclamation is like a lion’s roar and ushers in a succession of great revivals beginning in Jerusalem and spreading throughout the world. But this framework is hard to match to all four horses and their riders. It may be better to understand that the living creatures share in the responsibility to pronounce the stunning events to follow; the order of their speaking is not made clear to us and therefore is not of great significance.
Now, John sees a white horse, the first of four horses in this chapter. Again, the ESV Study Bible aids our understanding: “The horses’ colors generally reflect those of the horses in Zech. 1:8–10 and 6:1–8, symbolizing emissaries sent by God to patrol the earth. Only by the Lamb’s permission and under his direction can the forces symbolized by these horses and their riders inflict death through sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. The seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments all have a format of four (judgments on the earth) plus three (cosmic judgments).”
Who is the rider?
But who is the rider on the white horse? We already have mentioned that some commentators think this rider represents Christ, the sword-wielding “Word of God” who rides a white horse in 19:11–16. However, this rider is armed with a bow, which is significant to first-century readers. The Parthians, a frequent enemy on the Roman Empire’s eastern border, are outstanding bowmen, so it’s more likely that this rider symbolizes the quest of neighboring political and military powers to expand their empires, leading to war (red horse), famine (black horse), and epidemic disease (pale horse).
Still others – predominantly futurists – think this rider on the white horse represents the Antichrist.
So how should we see the appearance of the white horse and its powerful rider? First-century Christians certainly could have seen this as an indication of political and military battles that ultimately lead to the fall of Rome and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, thus fulfilling Christ’s promise to deal harshly with those who persecute His followers. But political and military conquests have been the norm throughout human history, not just the early days of the church. Even more, the New Testament warns us that the world will become more evil in the days preceding the return of Christ – unprecedented days of persecution and wickedness. The futurist says we have not yet seen these days. Which view is correct? Or are they both right?
Perhaps a better question is: What does God’s Word say to me today? The truths of Revelation remain the same today as they were 2,000 years ago. We know that evil will run rampant throughout the church age; that Christians will be persecuted; that antichrists will oppose the Lamb and seek to take His place (see 1 John 2:18-19); and that one day the Lamb of God will appear as the Lion of the tribe of Judah to make things right. Let’s keep that perspective as we explore a variety of views about the order of events unfolding in Revelation.
Next – A bow and a crown (Rev. 6:1-2)
Previously – Blessing, honor, glory and dominion (Rev. 5:13-14)
Rev. 6:1 – Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer (HCSB).
The opening of the first seal prompts the widest divergence of interpreters’ viewpoints of Revelation thus far. The preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist now follow their own paths that will not meet again until the final chapters of this apocalyptic text:
- Preterists see the seal, bowl and trumpet judgments as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age, either at the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or at both the fall of Jerusalem and later at the fall of Rome in the fifth century.
- Historicists view these events as unfolding throughout the course of history, generally equating the papal system of Reformation times with the Apostle John’s vision of the Antichrist.
- Futurists argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22. More specifically, many see the opening of the first seal as the beginning of a seven-year tribulation period, to be followed by the return of Christ.
- Idealists see these chapters setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – a battle that continues throughout the church age.
- Meanwhile, a fifth group of interpreters, the eclectics, gleans the strengths of the other four views while avoiding their pitfalls.
While this study avoids championing any of these views to the exclusion of the others, or getting bogged down in interpretive squabbles, it does attempt to draw out of the text clear truths that speak to first-century readers as well as to us today. With that in mind, let’s proceed cautiously as we join John in witnessing the opening of the first seal.
The ESV Study Bible sets the stage: “As the vision of the Son of Man introduced edicts to seven churches (chs. 2–3), so the vision of the Lamb’s receiving the scroll (4:1–5:14) introduces a series of seven visions as the scroll’s seals are broken. These visions introduce instruments employed by the Lamb to bring his enemies to justice (seals 1–4), the rationale for his righteous wrath (seals 5 and 7), and the climax of judgment at history’s end (seal 6).”
As Jesus opens the first seal, it’s important to understand what is meant by the word “seal.” In this context, a seal likely is a piece of wax or clay that has been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. It identifies the one who has authorized what’s been written, and the seal may be broken only by the designated authority. Just as the Father is the Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe, the Lamb is worthy to take possession of the earth and exercise both judgment and reward because of His slaughter on our behalf (see Rev. 5:6, 9, 12). Likely, each seal, as it is broken, allows a portion of the scroll to be opened, until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed. Seals of a larger kind are placed on entrances to prevent the unauthorized from entering. There is, for example, a seal on the lion’s den into which Daniel is thrown (Dan. 6:17), and a seal over the sepulcher into which Jesus is laid following His crucifixion (Matt. 27:66). Neither of these seals is successful in fulfilling their purpose. But the breaking of the seals in Revelation 6 is in perfect accordance with the divine will and good pleasure of Almighty God.
Next – A white horse and his rider (Rev. 6:1-2)