Summary: Who is the rider on the white horse in Revelation 6? Some say Jesus, some say the antichrist! And there are many other suggestions. We look at the possibilities.
Today we meet ‘the four horsemen’. The first of the horsemen is described as follows (Rev. 6:2):
And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
Who is this? Why is he conquering? When will it happen? These are not easy questions to answer. But we need to have a go. I’ll start with ‘who’.
A whole range of possibilities has been suggested. Here is a set suggested by David Aune, author of a well-regarded commentary on Revelation.
a) Christ, the ‘Divine Warrior’
b) The victorious progress of the gospel
c) Some other positive interpretation
a) Military conquest
b) The Antichrist or false Messiahs
c) The sun god Mithras
Actually, as we dig deeper, we find that there are many more interpretations! It’s remarkable how divergent they are. One interpretation is that the rider is Christ and another is that he is the antichrist!
Let’s first take a view on whether the rider is good or evil. Here are four reasons for thinking the rider is good.
a) The appearance of the riders follows the decision of the heavenly court in chapter 4. The riders are sent out by one of the four living creatures – a member of God’s court. Therefore, the sending of the riders is the will of the court, which is God’s will, and is therefore good.
c) The horse is white. Every other use of the word white in Revelation is in a context where it is clearly good.
d) Aune points out that ‘the image of the celestial cavalier is widely understood in the Greco-Roman world as a savior who delivers people from various types of trouble.’ The people of John’s time would therefore have seen the rider as good.
An argument against the rider being good is that the other riders might seem to be bad. After all, they bring famine and death. But God clearly can cause such things!
The first argument above seems incontrovertible. The riders must be good.
In that case, which of the three variants is most persuasive? Is the rider Christ, or ‘the victorious progress of the gospel’, or ‘some other positive interpretation’ – for example, an angel of judgement? Here are some reasons for thinking he may be Christ:
a) He is given a crown. The commentators say that ‘crown’ is probably not the best translation, ‘wreath’ is better. But only one out of 59 English translations of the Bible uses the word ‘wreath’!
b) He may be the same person as the rider on a white horse in 19:11-16. There’s no mistaking Jesus there.
c) In Revelation the word ‘conquer’ almost always refers to Christ or to believers.
However, some commentators don’t like the idea that this rider is Christ. They think it’s too soon for Christ to appear on the scene, they don’t like the fact that Christ is associated with things such as famine and death, and they don’t like the fact that Jesus is opening the seals and is part of the outcome at the same time. None of these objections is insuperable.
The idea that the rider ‘the victorious progress of the gospel’ is not very persuasive. It doesn’t seem to fit with a time of judgement, a time of God’s wrath. It’s difficult to imagine how ‘the victorious progress of the gospel’ can be given a crown. And there’s a deeper problem. We haven’t looked at it yet, but it seems that the victorious progress of the gospel is going to run into difficulties…
Could the rider be an angel? Why would the angel be given a crown? Admittedly, in Revelation, others apart from Christ have crowns.
These arguments point towards the rider of the white horse being Jesus. It was the view of Irenaeus in the 2nd century and the view of a majority of Christians until about the middle of the 19th century. Since then, many commentators have moved away from this view. In the middle of the 19th century the view that the rider is the antichrist became popular. Today, there are many different views, and no view commands a clear majority.
In our next Reflection we’ll look at why the horsemen are sent out.
Have a good day!