Meditation Mondays: Revelation 6:1-2: Jesus on the White Horse
6 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer." (NKJV)
Herein lies the introduction to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Welcome. Back in the latter part of chapter 5 of Revelation, John reminded us of the authority of Christ by asserting that Jesus alone is worthy to open the scroll. Now here in chapter 6 we come to the seals. The seals must be opened before the scroll is open and Jesus is the one with all authority. In other words, only Jesus can open the seals and the scroll and what John is about to describe to us happens after all seals are open and the scroll is unrolled.
It is here that you will see the interpretive differences between pastors and commentators. Instead of wading through the differences here, I will detail what I see going on. Remember John is writing a letter (a Revelation from Jesus Christ) to seven specific churches in Asia Minor about things which must "soon take place" (Revelation 1:1). John is not writing about some futuristic situation many many years after the death of everyone in those churches. The letter has relevance to them at the moment of John's writing to them. Furthermore, this is a revelation. That means that John is revealing not concealing.
Now, what is John revealing in this passage? John is telling the seven churches about a judgment coming in their future. Jesus (not the anti-christ) who has all authority is coming on a white horse (as he does in Revelation 19:11-16), with a bow (Habakuk 3:9, 11), wearing a crown (Revelation 14:14; 19:11-13). Jesus in his incarnation did not come in this way. He came as a baby not seemingly as a king. But what does the white horse, bow, and crown mean? John interprets this in the latter part of verse 2: Jesus is the conquerer which means that He is victorious (the crown) and is judging and further conquering (the bow).
Now, these four horsemen have an Old Testament background in Zechariah 6 (Four Chariots). In that Old Testament passage, Zechariah prophesies about these chariots (interpreted as four spirits or winds) that go North, South, and West patrolling the earth executing God's judgements. Like the four chariots in Zechariah, we have the four horsemen that are to execute God's judgement on the nation of Israel during the lifetime of John and those he's writing.
Milton Terry in his book "Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures" says, "The true interpretation of these first four seals is that which recognizes them as a symbolic representation of the 'wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes' which Jesus declared would be the 'beginning of sorrows' in the desolation of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:6-7; Luke 21:10-11, 20)." [pp. 329).
I would add also that Jesus said these things (wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes) would happen before the generation he was speaking to in Matthew 24 passed away (Matt 24:34). John is saying that a war is coming to Jerusalem and it is going to be apocalyptic. This war resulted in the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.
Only Jesus is the one who conquers in this way. Some interpreters would have you think this rider on the white horse is the anti-christ. That is not so. Jesus is victorious (crown), and he conquered (bow).