A Guide to Revelation

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The Creation Concept


On the chiastic structure of Revelation


The First Seal

False teachers, coming in the name of Christ, was the first of several things mentioned by Jesus when his disciples asked him what would be the sign of his coming, in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24. This may be what is represented by the first seal in Rev. 6, the rider with a bow, mounted upon a white horse. 

Matthew 24:3-5
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

Why a white horse? And what is the symbolism of the bow and the crown? The armies who follow Christ in Rev. 19:14 all ride on white horses. The false teachers are mingled together with the followers of Christ.

This is what Peter said in 2 Pet. 2.

2 Pet. 2:1
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

John said the first horseman carried a bow. This implies arrows as well. The meaning is given in Psalm 64:3, "Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words:"

The rider's crown shows that he has had many conquests; false teachings would prevail.

John said, there were already "many antichrists" in his time.

1 John 2:18
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

History confirms many conquests by the armies of the nations of Christendom in Western Europe. Much of it was done allegedly to "spread the gospel among the heathen."

John N. Darby thought the first horseman of the Apocalypse represented "imperial conquests," presumably referring to the Roman Empire. He wrote: "The first seals are simple; nor have I anything to offer very new upon them: first, imperial conquests then wars, then famine, then pestilence, carrying with it what Ezekiel calls God's four sore plagues (sword, famine, pestilence, and the beasts of the earth)." [John Darby's Synopsis]

Darby's idea that the first horseman representing conquests by Roman Emperors was dismissed by his friend William Kelly. In his lengthy discussion, Kelly contrasted the white horse with the red one which followed. He contrasted the horseman of the first seal with the picture of Christ in Revelation 19. He wrote:

Furthermore, there are two frequent figures or symbols used in scripture to express power; the one is the throne, and the other is the horse. Thus we have already seen the supreme throne above, and now we have the horse with the rider on earth. The same thing is seen in chaps, xix. and xx. The symbol of horses in the one chapter, and of thrones in the other. ...

Kelly tried to find a symbolic meaning for "horse," but failed to provide a scripture-based meaning! Zechariah said Judah will be the Lord's "horse."

Zechariah 10:3
Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.

Kelly wrote:

When Christ is going to put down His enemies, He is seen in the vision of chap. xix. on the horse, used to represent the exertion of His power to subdue; when the subsequent sway is meant, thrones appear in chap. xx. It would be quite weak, of course, for persons to confound this symbolic use with a material horse or throne. The idea of the former is power to subdue, and of the latter is dominion after the victory has been gained.

In scripture, horse are symbolic of those who lack understanding, or those who are carnally minded [Psa. 32:9, Jer. 5:8].

Kelly wrote:

Of course we cannot apply the four horses and their riders to the great empires, three of which had long disappeared. Equally untenable at least is the notion that four successive religions are intended, especially when one hears it gravely laid down, that Infidelity closes the list, which primitive Christianity opens, followed by Mahomedanism and Popery. It is hard to say whether such thoughts are most opposed to time or place, to congruity or context. Again, it is agreed that it is harsh in the extreme, and in almost every point of view, to understand the first seal of Christ or the church in early gospel triumphs, and then the three subsequent ones of the Roman empire or emperors.
Abstractly, then, the horse cannot be regarded as the necessary national badge of Rome, or emblem of the Roman empire. Whether it be referred to here must depend on contextual considerations. And here it appears to me that the fourth seal rises up conclusively against such a view, the four seals being providential judgments homogeneous in character but differing in form. The Roman earth may be the sphere, but this has nothing to do with the symbolic force of the horse in the passage.

Without further discussion let me state my own view. We have a regular series of providential judgments. The first is the white horse, the symbol of triumphant and prosperous power. "He that sat on him had a bow" (verse 2). The bow is the symbol of distant warfare. His course is evidently that of unchecked victory. The moment he appears, he conquers. The battle is won without a struggle, and apparently without the carnage of the second judgment, where the sword, the symbol of close hand-to-hand fighting, is used. But this first conqueror is some mighty one who sweeps over the earth, and gains victory after victory by the prestige of his name and reputation. There is no intimation of slaughter here.

But the second judgment is of a more appalling character. There went out a horse that was red, and the one who sits upon him is not the proudly prosperous victor to whom people tamely submit, but one who, if he wins, waves his standard over heaps of slain. Accordingly, he has a blood-red horse--the symbol of power connected with frightful carnage. The result of the first seal (i.e. of the victorious career of the white-horse rider) may have been peace and comparatively bloodless changes; but all is sanguinary under the second seal (ver. 4). Tlie fiery-red horse, the peace taken from the earth, the mutual slaughter, the great sword, are tokens too plain to be misunderstood.

[Lectures on the Book of Revelation by William Kelly, p. 133]

Another dispensationalist writer, Harry Ironside, thought the seals will not be opened until after the "rapture" of the church. He wrote: "The rider on the white horse evidently pictures man's last effort to bring in a reign of order and peace while Christ is still rejected. It will be the world's greatest attempt to pull things together after the church is gone. It will be the devil's cunning scheme for bringing in a mock millennium without Christ How long will it last?"

[Lectures on the Book of Revelation, by H. A. Ironside. Western book & tract Co. Oakland, Cal., 1919. p. 103]

John F. Walvoord gave the following account of the first seal in The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

6. The Beginning Of The Great Day Of God's Wrath

Following the historical school of interpretation, David N. Lord suggests that the rider on the first horse represents the true minister of the gospel. The rider on the second horse, who takes peace from the earth, represents the succession of Roman rulers in early Christian centuries, many of whom were usurpers. The rider of the third seal represents the excessive taxation of the Roman Empire. The fourth seal represents Roman rulers who destroyed by execution and famine those who opposed them. The strained nature of such interpretation is apparent, and there is no real support in the text for it.

McIlvaine makes the penetrating observation that the authority given to the riders of the four horses to kill with sword, famine, death, and wild beasts extends to all four equally or as a group. This would make impossible identifying the first rider as Christ and the succeeding riders as forces of evil, but would tie them together. Mcllvaine says,

It is in these words that we find our Seer's interpretation of the first seal...it would be very surprising that no one seems ever to have thought of reading this closing statement as a paragraph by itself, and consequently as referring, not exclusively to the last, but to all of these four seals... Here, then, according to the Seer's own interpretation, this rider upon a white horse, with a crown and bow, and called forth by the lion-like living creature, is the symbol of the plague of wild beasts ... all the members of a class must be of the same sort, so that they can be obtained by one principle of analysis; and this principle in three of these, war, pestilence, and famine, is that of a judgment or scourge; consequently, in the remaining one, that of the first seal, it must be a judgment or scourge; otherwise the laws of thought are violated in the classification.

Though McIlvaine's historical interpretation of this passage as having been fulfilled in the early centuries of the Christian era should be considered inadequate, his observation that these four seals form a unit has a good deal of merit and would seem to forbid making Christ the rider on the white horse... While the dispute as to the identity of the rider cannot be finally settled, especially in the brief compass of this discussion, the conclusion identifying him as the world ruler of the tribulation, the same individual described as the beast out of the sea in Revelation 13, is preferred.

Chuck Missler claimed the horseman riding the white horse is a coming world ruler. He suggested this person will be an intellectual genius, orator, politician, military leader, and a "religious guru." He wrote: "He will be able to appeal to Jew and Muslim alike!" Missler even suggested that this alleged individual may be a "hybrid," citing "bizarre possibilities" based on some "strange activities of Genesis 6."

Note: Arthur W. Pink rejected dispensationalism, and exposed it as a delusion.

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