THE WHITE HORSE V. CHRIST

PMT 2014-002 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

white horsemanIn 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).


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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).


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2 thoughts on “THE WHITE HORSE V. CHRIST

  1. Manna Jesus Centre January 3, 2014 at 8:05 am

    This White Horse could be our Christian culture’s influence on the West-our laws, social conflicts and customs and our ever vanishing Christian culture being replaced. Just a thought to put the “White Horse” in context.

  2. Kenneth Gentry January 3, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I concur that our “Christian” culture is dying in the West (even while expecting its eventual revival). But I don’t see the white horse of Rev 6 having any relationship to that point — for all the reasons stated in the article. John’s prophecy is tied to the first century (Rev 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10) and Rev 6 is specifically linked to near-term expectations (Rev 6:11).

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