1 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. – Revelation 6:1-2 ESV
John saw a vision of Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain, now standing in the throne room of heaven and taking the sealed scroll from the hand of God. As Jesus begins to open the seven seals, John will be given a glimpse into the future. This is in keeping with the instructions he received at the beginning of his book. “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this” (Revelation 1:19 ESV). With the opening of each successive seal, another aspect of God’s future judgment of mankind will be revealed and released upon the earth. One of the keys to making sense all that John will see and record is to understand that the church is nowhere mentioned. While chapters two and three dealt extensively with the seven churches, there will not be another reference to the church until the end of the book, where Jesus will explain that the messages contained in it were for the benefit of the church, but not about it.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16.
John is being given these insights into future things in order to encourage the body of Christ, those who have placed their faith in Him, by informing them of God’s future plans for the restoration of all things. As the church suffers persecution and trials in this age, God is letting them know that there is a day coming when all things will be made right. That day is most often referred to as in Scripture as “the day of the Lord.” Paul warned the Thessalonian believers about that coming day, but let them know that it was not intended for them.
2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5 ESV
Believers will not be surprised by that day, because they will not be around to experience it. Earlier in his same letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul told his brothers and sisters in Christ:
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV
Christ will one day return for His church. This is not His second coming, which will be explained in great detail in this book. It is the rapture of the church, which will bring an end to the church age or what is also referred to as the age of the Gentiles. It is the removal of the church that will set the stage for the coming day of the Lord. That is why Paul goes on to encourage the believers in Thessalonica “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV). He is letting them know that the church will be delivered from the wrath to come. And it is the wrath to come that Jesus is about to make known by the opening of the seals and the subsequent revelation of the scroll’s content. With each seal broken, a new aspect of God’s judgment on the unbelieving world is made known. And as the book of Revelation progresses, the judgments will increase in intensity, all the way up to the day of the Lord’s return.
What we are about to see is not intended to scare or intimidate us. As members of the body of Christ, His church, we will not experience any of these judgments. They are meant to give us hope and to cause us to trust in the sovereign will of our God. As bad as things may get on this earth during our stay here, we can know that God will one day restore all things to a state of order and righteousness. The wicked who, in this life, seem to escape God’s judgment, will one day find themselves having to face the wrath of God. And the book of Revelation is intended to give us a glimpse into what is to come.
With each of the first four seals, John hears a voice cry out, “Come!” This seems to represent a divine command, calling forth all that John sees. They are being summoned to do God’s bidding. The seven seals represent the official nature of the document and its content. As long as the seals remained intact, what was written inside the scroll remained a mystery. And it could not be released or revealed. In essence, it was held captive or in check until such time as “the one who was worthy” broke the seals. And with each successive seal, a new portion of the scroll gets revealed and a new aspect of God’s future judgment made known. They appear to reveal a timeline, with each event following the one before it in chronological order.
With the breaking of the first seal, a rider on a white horse appears. He is carrying a a bow, but there is no mention of him holding any arrows. He is also given a crown to wear, signifying power and authority. But who is this rider? It would be easy to assume that, because he is riding a white horse, he must represent someone good or righteous. And while the color white is often used in Scripture to signify holiness or purity, it can also be a symbol for victory. This rider’s appearance on a white horse gives him the appearance of being victorious and righteous, but it will prove to be a deception. Not all who claim to be righteous prove to be so. And this individual carries a bow, a symbol of warfare, but he has no arrows. So, he appears to have the threat of military might, but will initially have no real power to back up that threat. It is important to note that he is given a crown (stephanos), which represents authority, but that authority is given to him. The apostle Paul reminds us, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1 ESV). This rider will be given the right to rule by God Himself. But this does not mean he will rule righteously or in keeping with the holy demands of God. Like so many of the wicked and immoral kings of Judah and Israel, this man’s rule will be marked by rebellion against God.
John reveals that this rider “came out conquering, and to conquer.” He will be intent on conquest. His agenda will be that of war and nothing but war. But who is he? There has been much debate as to the identity of this rider. But it would seem that the most likely explanation would be that he represents the coming Antichrist. In His Olivette Discourse, Jesus warned that, in the future, there would be those coming who claimed to be the Messiah, the Christ.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” – Matthew 24:5 ESV
He warned that there would be false prophets and false teachers. But there would come one particular individual who would surpass them all in terms of his lies and wickedness. Paul gives us a glimpse into this individual’s character in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica.
3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV
He will be the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction. He will set himself up as a god and suppress any and all other religions, demanding that he alone be worshiped. He will be anti-Christ and anti-God, opposing them at every hand. The prophet Daniel predicts that “He shall speak words against the Most High” (Daniel 7:25 ESV) and “through his shrewdness He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; And he will magnify himself in his heart, And he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes” (Daniel 8:25 ESV). And Daniel adds yet one more feature to this man’s reign, indicating that he “will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods” (Daniel 11:36 ESV).
One of the things that will become clear as the book of Revelation unfolds, is that the interpretation of its contents is totally dependent upon the rest of Scripture. It is not intended to be a stand-alone book, but is included in the canon of Scripture and as a supplemental text that works in conjunction with other prophetic passages found elsewhere in the Bible. So, to understand much of what is found in the book of Revelation will require a careful study of God’s Word. And the scenes which John writes about as he watches the breaking of the seals, are incomplete in nature. He only describes a rider on a white horse, carrying a bow and wearing a crown. But there will be more details to come. These seven seals are like an outline of the rest of the book. They provide an abbreviated introduction for all that is to come. This one who came out conquering and to conquer, will do just that and we will see it in great detail. His appearance sets up all that is to come in the rest of the book. This rider will play a major role in the unfolding drama surrounding God’s future judgment of the world.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.