“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.” Revelation 6:2
“Our daily rituals are often the same, day in and day out. Wake up. Get up. Wash and dress. Eat breakfast if there’s time. Dash off to school or work or other activities. We expect our routines to be the same every day. However, each one of us has experienced an unexpected disruption along the way. A flat tire, a sick child, a fender bender, a phone call out of the blue relaying tragic news: Situations like these interrupt our routines with unwelcome stress, even severe trials. Occasionally these unexpected events can overturn our entire lives.
“For most people, God’s end-time judgment will be unexpected and unwelcome, disrupting life’s routine with more than just minor irritation. The Great Tribulation of Matthew 24:21 will affect more than just one family, city, or nation. The period of God’s final judgment will affect the whole world (Luke 17:26-30; 1 Thes. 5:1-3; Rev. 3:10).
“Some people completely deny that God would ever judge anybody for anything. After all, they reason, isn’t God a loving God? Doesn’t He abound in mercy? Whatever happened to divine compassion and forgiveness? Clearly, God’s coming judgment strikes at the very heart of our theology, our view of the nature and character of God Himself. It’s no wonder that people find much that is disturbing to them in the book of Revelation. Yet when we discover that God’s mercy and wrath work hand in hand and that God will bring about redemption through judgment, we will have a much clearer and more balanced understanding of the God we love and serve.” 1
In Revelation 4 and 5, John saw God the Father sitting on His throne in His heavenly throne room holding the seven-sealed scroll containing judgments to be unleashed on rebellious humankind during the early part of the Tribulation period on earth (Revelation 6:1-8:2). Only one Person in the universe – Jesus Christ – was found worthy to take that scroll, to open its seals, and to begin the process of taking control of the world from evil and forever conquering sin and death. However, the steps necessary for preparing the world for His Kingdom on earth would involve a period of unparalleled judgment and suffering. 2
The subject of Revelation 4 and 5 was worship in heaven. But beginning in Revelation 6 the subject changes to wrath being poured out on the earth. 3
“With the opening of the first seal, the tribulation period begins on earth—a seven-year span following the rapture of the church in which God brings judgment to earth in order to reclaim it. Once the church is in heaven and worshiping around God’s throne, divinely wrought calamities will come upon the earth.” 4
In the book of Revelation, there are three distinct series of judgments that will take place during the seven-year (Daniel 9:27) Tribulation period on earth: seal judgments, trumpet judgments, and bowl judgments. The seventh of each series brings the judgment to a close and opens a new vision, in which the next series begins. 5 The seven-seal judgments take place during the first half of the Tribulation (6:1-8:1) followed by the trumpet judgments beginning in the middle of the Tribulation (8:2-9:21, 11:15-19). The bowl judgments refer to the most severe judgments near the end of the Tribulation (16:2-21).
“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.’” (Revelation 6:1). When “the Lamb opened” the first of the seven “seals,” John “heard one of the four living creatures” say, “Come and see.” The “voice like thunder” alludes to the intense storm of God’s judgment that is about to come on the earth. 6
Next John writes, “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.” (Revelation 6:2). Among the numerous interpretations of this verse, the two most common understand the white horseman to refer either to Jesus Christ 7 or to the Antichrist. 8
It is best to understand that the rider on this “white horse” is the Lord Jesus Christ for the following reasons: 9
1. None of the symbolic elements of this first horsemen are found anywhere else in the Bible describing the world-ruler or Antichrist. However, every feature of this vision is found elsewhere in the Bible in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Zechariah 1:7-11; Psalm 45:4-6; Revelation 19:11-21).
2. The vision of the four horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8 is like the visions of Zechariah 1:7-11 and 6:1-8 which provide a Scriptural prototype that divine, not Satanic, agencies, are in view (cf. Zechariah 1:10-11 and 6:5). The vision in Revelation 6:1-8 has the four horsemen intimately connected with God’s throne in Revelation 5 and are therefore, the only active agents of judgment which are directly summoned by the living creatures surrounding the throne of God.
3. When comparing the first vision of Zechariah with Revelation 6:1-8, it is significant to observe that the first “man riding on a red horse” that “stood among the myrtle trees” (Zechariah 1:8), was none other than “the Angel of the Lord” or the preincarnate Christ (cf. Zechariah 1:11). Hence, the first horseman of Zechariah’s vision is the Son of God.
4. Psalm 45, a Messianic Psalm, is parallel in thought to Revelation 6:2 (“he went out conquering and to conquer”) when it reads, “And in Your majesty ride prosperously” (Psalm 45:4). This parallel becomes more noteworthy when the Psalmist describes this prosperous ride with the words, “Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; the peoples fall under You” (Psalm 45:5), for the first rider of Revelation 6 is armed with a “bow” (6:2). The ultimate victory of the rider of Psalm 45 is no different than that for which the first horseman of Revelation 6 goes forth, for the Psalmist continues, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” (Psalm 45:6). These words, applied to the Son of God in Hebrews 1:8, can also be seen in the first horseman of Revelation 6 being connected to God’s throne in Revelation 5. The first horseman of Revelation 6 can be seen advancing the cause of God’s throne whereby the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ would then be in the final and eternal establishment of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
5. The most obvious parallel is that the first horseman of Revelation 6:1-8 rides “a white horse” (6:2) just as the last horseman of the book of Revelation does: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” (Revelation 19:11). The horse was “white,” symbolizing victory, righteousness, and holiness. White has these connotations in other places in Scripture. A Roman conqueror typically rode a white horse in a triumphant procession. 10 The first horseman of Revelation 6 goes forth at the beginning of God’s judgments on the earth and the last horseman of Revelation goes forth at the consummation of these judgments. The first horseman of Revelation 6 represents “victory in prospect” – “he went out conquering and to conquer” (6:2) – and the last horseman of Revelation 19 “represents victory realized.” 11
6. The differences between the first horseman of Revelation 6 and the last horseman of Revelation 19 can be adequately explained. First, there is the matter of the first horseman having a “bow” (6:2) in contrast to the last horseman having a “sword” (19:15). “The bow is the weapon of long-range warfare, whereas the sword is the weapon used in close combat with the enemy. If the rider of 6:2 represents Christ as the Initiator of all God’s judgments upon His enemies, it is clear that throughout the Tribulation He fights with them, so to speak, at long range. For the judgments of the Tribulation are such as fall from heaven to earth while the King is absent. But in chapter 19, the King comes personally to earth and now the conflict with the forces of evil is waged at close quarters and, with the sword, the last battle is won. And just quite naturally the sword is thought in connection with His Word – for it proceeds out of His mouth – so also may the bow be linked with the same Word. As the prophet Habakkuk has written, 12
“Your bow was made quite ready; oaths were sworn over Your arrows.” (Habakkuk 3:9). Hence, the judgment-bringing Word of God is seen first under the figure of a “bow” foreshadowing Jesus’ conquests over His enemies from long range in heaven (6:2) until the final battle when He returns in chapter 19 as the last, white-horsed Rider fighting and winning at close range with a sword in His hand (19:11-21). 13 The purpose of these long-range judgments from heaven is to bring Christ’s enemies into submission to Him (Hebrews 1:13) and to bring the nation of Israel to repentance (Daniel 9:24-27; Romans 11:26-27).
Another difference between the first and last Rider on a white horse is the one “crown” (stephanos) of 6:2 and the “many crowns” (diadēmata) of 19:12. It is important to realize that the first appearance of this Rider is separated from His last appearance by seven prophetic years. The stephanos is no less appropriate than the diadēmata, for the writer of Hebrews sees the Son of God already “crowned” (the verb form of stephanos, stephanoō) in glory and honor before His final victory (Hebrews 2:9). 14 The stephanos refers to “the crown of victory both for the victorious athlete in the games and for the triumphant general in war.” 15 The use of stephanos in Revelation 6:2 is appropriate in connection with the victory which is ascribed to this first horseman who goes “out conquering and to conquer.” His victory is certain and therefore He is crowned beforehand. But the “many crowns” of Revelation 19:12 representing kingly authority, 16 are equally appropriate where the emphasis falls upon the royal identity of the last Horseman Who is “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (19:16).
The single “crown” (stephanos) represents the final all-conquering victory which the first Rider will achieve (6:2), while the “many crowns” (diadēmata)of 19:12symbolize the multiple victories over the kings and lords of the earth which flow from this victory. Hence, the “crown” (stephanos) of ultimate victory is followed by the “many crowns” (diadēmata) of universal authority. Regardless of whether it be the stephanos or diadēmata, it belongs alone to our Lord Jesus Christ. May God speed up His wearing of them both! 17
Prayer: Father God, as we watch the world spin out of control with evil and wickedness, we are encouraged to read this vision of the first Rider on a white horse representing the Lord Jesus Christ. His wearing of one crown reminds us that His victory over His enemies is certain. Following His removal of the church from the earth, He will begin a series of long-range judgments using His bow from heaven against rebellious humankind on earth to bring them into submission to His kingly authority and to bring the nation of Israel to repentance. His universal kingship will be fully realized when He returns to earth to defeat His enemies at close range using a sword at the end of the Tribulation period to establish His universal reign on the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords! Lord Jesus, we not only look to You to conquer evil and sin in the future, but we also trust You to lead us into victory over evil and sin in our own lives. In Your mighty name we pray King Jesus. Amen.
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 148-149.
2. Ibid., pg. 149.
3. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 277.
4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2381.
5. Swindoll, pg. 149.
6. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1521.
7. Zane C. Hodges, “The First Horseman of the Apocalypse,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 119:476 (October 1962), pp. 324-34; Jack MacArthur, Expositional Commentary on Revelation (Eugene, Oreg.: Certain Sound, 1973), pg. 137.
8. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, pg. 86 cites J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1990), pg. 250; Evans, pg. 2381; John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
9. Adapted from Hodges, pg. 324-334.
10. Constable, pg. 84 cites Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol 6 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 340.
11. Hodges, pg. 328.
12. Ibid., pg. 333.
13. Ibid., pp. 333-334.
14. Ibid., pg. 334.
15. Ibid., pg. 334 cites J. H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, pg. 589; cf. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 943-944.
16. The diadēmata (“many crowns”) represent kingly authority (see Constable, pg. 86; Walter Bauer, pg. 227; Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes [E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition], Kindle Locations 227973-227977). Hence, the last horseman’s vast kingly authority as “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16)is represented by thediadēmata of Revelation 19:12.
17. Hodges, pg. 334.