The breaking of the first seal reveals “…a white horse. Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown. He rode out as conqueror to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2). A rider on a white horse must be good, right? In chapter 19 there is another rider on a white horse, but this time he is given the title “Faithful and True” and the rider is clearly Jesus Christ.
If we are going to positively identify the rider in chapter six we need to establish a number of important anchor points. (For the hundredth time, Sigve Tonstad’s book, “Saving God’s Reputation” was so helpful to me in understanding this – read it!)
1. The book of Revelation is the story of the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan.
Every previous article has reinforced this point. To recap: Revelation revolves around chapters 12-14 which tell the story of a “war in heaven” that began before the creation of our world. Last time we discussed the throne room scene in chapters four and five and that this should be understood in the context of a throne that has been challenged by a rival (Isaiah 14:13) who has subtly questioned God’s worthiness and right to rule. What is revealed by the seven seals, trumpets and bowls of wrath are the ongoing events in the struggle between Christ and Satan and with planet earth (whether we like it or not) and all the angels of heaven actively engaged.
2. It is important that we view the seven seals, trumpets and bowls of wrath as intimately related to each other. They reveal both repetition as well as a progression.
This concept is very important since the seven seals cannot be fully understood unless we have also incorporated the meaning of the seven trumpets and bowls of wrath back to the seals and vice versa.
“It appears more persuasive to hold that the author’s technique combines recapitulation and progression, and that the repetition also indicates gradation.” (1) For example, “The trumpets are worse than the seals, the bowls are worse than the trumpets.” (2)Elizabeth Fiorenza would refer to this as a “dramatic motion picture [analogy] whose individual scenes portray the same person or action each time from a different angle or perspective, while simultaneously adding some new insight to the whole.” (3)
A. Repetition and Overlap
The seventh seal ends with a scene at “the golden altar of incense” (Revelation 8:3) and with “…rumblings and peals of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:5) Likewise, the seventh trumpet ends with a scene at “the Covenant Box” and with “flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” (Revelation 11:19) And finally the seventh plague ends with “A loud voice from the throne in the temple” and with “flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder, and a terrible earthquake.”(Revelation 16:17-18)
With the sixth trumpet the command is given to “Release the four angels who are bound at the great Euphrates River!” (Revelation 9:14) As a corollary to this, the sixth plague involves an angel pouring “out his bowl on the great Euphrates River.” (Revelation 16:12)
Notice also that the order in which the first four trumpets are poured out is on the:
- rivers and springs
- sun, moon and stars
The order for the pouring out of first four bowls is precisely the same:
- rivers and springs
- sun, moon and stars
The point here is that when we seek to understand something like the identity of the rider on the white horse when the first seal is opened, we also need to incorporate our understanding of what is happening with the trumpets and the bowls of wrath. The three cycles of seven (seals, trumpets, and bowls) need to be read together.
This means that there is more than merely a repetition of the same events, but also progression in the story line. For example:
The fourth seal involves a rider on a pale-colored horse. “They were given authority over one fourth of the earth, to kill by means of war, famine, disease, and wild animals. (Revelation 6:8)
Notice that “one fourth” of the earth is involved.
What follows are the seven trumpets, in which one third of the earth, sea, rivers, sun, moon and stars are involved.
And finally in the seven plagues there are no more fractions – everything is complete and total and when the second bowl is poured out “EVERY living creature in the sea died.” (Revelation 16:3)
In other words, from one fourth, to one third, and to everything!
Also, during the seven seals, the four angels are, “holding back the four winds” because the people are not yet sealed. (Revelation 7:1-3) During the seven trumpets, however, the people are now described as sealed. They have “the mark of God’s seal on their foreheads” (Revelation 9:4) and now the winds are no longer held back – “release the four angels” (Revelation 9:14). Finally, when we arrive at the bowls of wrath, this passage opens by telling us that “…with them the wrath of God is ENDED” (Revelation 15:1).
The point again is to highlight the progression and gradation of severity.
The last point on gradation involves the big picture in the war between Christ and Satan. As we have said previously, the storyline of the book begins with the “war in heaven” in chapter 12. This chapter reminds us of “the morning star” in Isaiah 14 who once dwelled in God’s very presence but “was thrown down to the earth.” (Revelation 12:9, Isaiah 14:12). The third trumpet brings us back to “A large star, burning like a torch, [which] dropped from the sky…” (Revelation 8:10). The story line moves forward with the fifth trumpet, “I saw a star which HAD fallen down to earth, and it was given the key to the abyss.” And, in case we hesitate in connecting the dots with “the ancient serpent of old” who fell to earth in Revelation 12: “His name in Hebrew is Abaddon; in Greek the name is Apollyon – meaning ‘the Destroyer’” (Revelation 9:11).
The book of Revelation eventually moves forward to a time when Satan’s plunge downward is complete and now he loses the key and is thrown into the abyss: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent – that is, the Devil, or Satan – and chained him up…the angel threw in into the abyss, locked it and sealed it…” (Revelation 20:1-3, see also Isaiah 14:15).
In other words, the book of Revelation reveals the ongoing story in the conflict between Christ and Satan which culminates in the defeat of Satan (heaven to earth to the abyss) and the vindication of God.
To summarize this concept of repetition and gradation:
“Numerous elements serve as indicators of continuity between the two ‘halves’ of Revelation [before and after chapters 12-14, which forms a chiasm]. A striking first indicator in this respect is the repeated cycles of seven, two of which occur in the first half [seals and trumpets] and one in the second [bowls of wrath]. This pattern prioritizes the view that repetition in terms of structure signifies narrative and thematic continuity and thematic recapitulation, and it applies to all [of] the three explicit cycles in this portion of Revelation. The close similarity in content between the trumpet cycle and the bowl cycle is one of the most specific and compelling features bolstering the case for narrative continuity in the two ‘halves’ of Revelation. While the differences between these two cycles should not be overlooked, the similarities contribute strongly to the impression that what precedes Revelation 12 and what follows it play out in the same territory within the storyline…The differences between the trumpet and the bowl cycles are chiefly of a kind that enhances the sense of progression in the retelling of the same story…while the repetition suggests recapitulation, it also denotes progression in extent, intensification in quality, and a terminal sensation of finality.” (4)
Previously I suggested that a master symphony by Beethoven or Mozart which have a recurring theme that gradually adds more details and melody until finally there is a climax is perhaps a better way to understand the book of Revelation.
With this foundation established, back to the seven seals!
3. The Old Testament anchor for the seven seals is Ezekiel chapters one and two
The vision of God on his throne in Revelation chapter four has so many obvious and clear parallels with Ezekiel’s vision in the first chapter. Both describe God in all his glory and surrounded by four living creatures that have the faces of a human, lion, bull and eagle. There are blazing torches, colors of the rainbow, and flashes of lightening. And, both visions describe a “middle” or “center” of the throne – “the dazzling light which shows the presence of the LORD.” (Ezekiel 1:28)
In this context it is significant that after receiving this vision, both Ezekiel and John are presented with a scroll that was “covered with writing on both sides…” (Revelation 5:1). The book of Ezekiel goes on to clarify that there is pain inside this scroll, “I saw that there was writing on both sides – cries of grief were written there, and wails and groans.” (Ezekiel 2:10)
The opening of the seals reveals something awful and painful. If we read the trumpets and bowls of God’s wrath in parallel with the seals, they also reveal something that sounds terrible! Destruction and death is the repeated theme of these three cycles of seven which would support Ezekiel’s interpretation of “cries of grief…wails and groans.”
4. The seals, trumpets and bowls reveal and expose the kingdom of Satan
Last time I included the wonderful quote by Dr. Tonstad which pointed to the challenge and difficulties involved in defeated a crafty liar and deceiver whose method of operation is slander and character assassination. Here is the key portion: “If the deceiver is partly to be unmasked by the evidence of his own actions, it means that he will be granted the opportunity to bring his design to fruition. Satan must be allowed to commit evil for his evil character to be manifest.” (5)
Unfortunately, it seems that most interpretations on the book of Revelation understand the terrible events to represent the judgments of God against sin. We sometimes talk about the “God of the Old Testament”, but the “God of Revelation” seems to go even a step further – fire and brimstone, painful plagues and unending torture! But this understanding of Revelation does not read into the storyline a cosmic conflict and with an enemy that is given the freedom to establish his own violent “survival of the fittest” kingdom on earth. In addition, this view also fails to incorporate the Old Testament metaphors and symbolism and takes a more literal approach (much more on that later).
I would also add that beyond God giving Satan the freedom to establish his kingdom (for the purpose of exposing and defeating his kingdom), the first humans literally handed the keys to planet earth to Satan when they believed his lies about God at the tree. Most of what we see around us every day is a reflection of Satan kingdom, not God’s. Jesus referred to Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31) and Satan still maintains his grip on our planet.
The book of Revelation describes God as “holding back the winds” and then finally allowing Satan to rule. He “was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. It was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. Everyone living on earth will worship it…” (Revelation 13:7). This is not an arbitrary decision on God’s part but rather because many have chosen and will chose to believe “the father of lies” and “the inventor of the lie” about who God is (John 8:44). The results have been catastrophic.
At the end of the seven bowls of God’s wrath, what becomes abundantly clear is that Satan’s kingdom not sustainable. It doesn’t work! It is self destructive and consumes itself from within. At the end of the great controversy, no one will ever follow Satan’s path again, not because there is fear of a God who will punish them if they do, but rather because Satan’s road is exposed as a dead end and filled with potholes and dangerous landmines.
5. The rider on the white horse is Satan
I realize that not many would share this perspective of the rider on the white horse, but it seems to me that this is the most logical conclusion if we really have incorporated a cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan into every chapter of this book, and if we believe that the seals, trumpets and plagues complement each other and need to be read in parallel in order to be understood.
At the beginning of the conflict between God and Satan, it was not entirely clear who was telling the truth. 1/3 of the angels sided with Satan, as did Adam and Eve. Paul clarifies why: “Well, no wonder! Even Satan can disguise himself to look like an angel of light!” (2 Corinthians 11:14) The pretender “angel of light” needed to be exposed and so he was given a crown and allowed to ride out and to conquer. “I looked, and there was a white horse. Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown. He rode out as a conqueror to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2)
I think it is significant that Ezekiel (which forms the basis for understanding the seven seals) devotes so much attention to the Adversary (see Ezekiel 28, “the King of Tyre”). The book of Ezekiel concludes by also describing another rider with a bow. Previously we read in Isaiah that the “King of Babylon” (Satan) tried to occupy “the north where the gods assemble” (Isaiah 14:13). In Ezekiel the enemy with the bow is “Gog” who is allowed to conquer from the north:
“So the Sovereign LORD sent me to tell Gog what he was saying to him: ‘Now while my people Israel live in security, you will set out to come from your place in the far north, leading a large, powerful army of soldiers from many nations, all of them on horseback. You will attack my people Israel like a storm moving across the land. When the time comes, I will send you to invade my land in order to show the nations who I am, to show my holiness by what I do through you.’” (Ezekiel 38:14-16)
It’s significant that he was allowed to conquer, “in order to show the nations who I am…” The storyline goes on to describe that this rider will be defeated:
“The Sovereign LORD said, ‘Mortal man, denounce Gog, the chief ruler of the nations of Meshech and Tubal, and tell him that I am his enemy. I will turn him in a new direction and lead him out of the far north until he comes to the mountains of Israel. Then I will knock his bow out of his left hand and his arrows out of his right hand.” (Ezekiel 39:1-3)
Likewise, within the seven seals Satan is revealed to be a fraud and his kingdom is proven to be unsustainable. While he initially rides out as a hero on a white horse “to conquer”, his agenda soon becomes clear:
“A second horse went out. It was fiery red. Its rider was given the power to take peace away from the earth and to make people slaughter one another. So he was given a large sword. (Revelation 6:4)
By the time we arrive at the fourth seal we see Satan for who he is:
“I looked, and there was a pale-colored horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades followed close behind. They were given authority over one fourth of the earth, to kill by means of war, famine, disease, and wild animals.” (Revelation 6:8)
Satan has nothing to offer – no positive pleasures, no fruit that will elevate to a greater level (as he suggested to Eve). He brings an end to peace and he is named “Death, and Hades followed close behind.” The natural consequences of choosing Satan to be the “prince of the world” were shown to be “War, famine, and disease.”
Insurance policies may still classify earthquakes and hurricanes to be “acts of God”, but the book of Revelation suggests that these are the out workings of the demonic rule on this planet. The result of allowing Satan to rule our world is obvious when we consider the disastrous consequences revealed by the seven seals, trumpets and plagues. It won’t be until the very end of the cosmic conflict, however, that it will become plain to everyone that “an enemy has done this.” (Matthew 13:28)
It’s true that most take the position that the rider on the white horse stands in distinction to the other three riders and may represent the early Christian church (which would not seem to parallel the meaning of the four horses in Zechariah). In subsequent articles I think that the evidence for also interpreting the trumpets and plagues as demonic in nature will help to reinforce the likelihood that “The rider on the white horse appears as a part of a group that acts as demonic agents of destruction.” (6) And from Tonstad’s book, “Allen Kereslager takes the white horse to signify deceptive and counterfeit activity on the part of its rider.” (7)
Again and again, the book of Revelation contrasts between God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom, God’s character and Satan’s character. The rider in Revelation 6 goes out with a bow to conquer; in Revelation 19 the rider is named “Faithful and True.” Perhaps implied in this is that the rider in Revelation 6 is not faithful and true. While the rider in chapter 6 conquers with a bow, the Rider in chapter 19 has a sword coming out of his mouth which represents “truth” as God’s primary weapon. In addition, he has a “robe…covered with blood” (Revelation 19:13). This does not represent the blood of his enemies, but rather his own blood. The meaning is that Satan attempts to conquer the world by using the methods of coercive power and violence. God, however, won the war by becoming a human being and by laying down his own life for others. Quite a contrast!
The point is this: Be very careful which rider on a white horse you put your trust in!
– Written by Dr. Brad Cole
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, 22
- Lambrecht, “Structuration”, 103
- Fiorenza, “Vision”, 33 and 36
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, pg 108,109
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation” pg. 129
- Mathias Rissi, “The Rider on the White Horse”, Int 18 , 414-416
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, pg 132 (footnote number 47)