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Revelation 6:1–4

“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!’ 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” (vv. 1–2).

As we continue our study of the book of Revelation, it will be helpful for us to be reminded that the highly symbolic character of the book means that we need to be careful about reading the imagery of the book as a literal and chronological depiction of end-times events. If we try to read the images too woodenly, we will end up unable to make sense of Jesus’ message to us through John. An important clue to this end, one commentator notes, is the scene in Revelation 5:6–7 and John’s description of Jesus as slain Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. Without a doubt, John is not telling us that the ascended Christ now resembles some kind of mythical creature. Moreover, a lamb would not ordinarily be able to grab a scroll with hooved feet, but the Lamb in this text approaches God’s throne and takes the scroll. These are not literal descriptions of heaven but pictures used to portray the strength and work of Christ.

So, when we come to the breaking of the seven seals that are on the scroll, we are not likely reading about a series of consecutive events that proceed as they are literally described. Today’s passage describes the breaking of the first two seals, which release two horses that have specific tasks. Zechariah 6:1–8 serves as the background for these horses and those in Revelation 6:5–8, with the colors of the horses in each case largely matching one another. In Zechariah’s prophecy, the horses and the chariots they pull represent the watchful eyes of the angels as they patrol the earth and keep watch on what is going on. The horses and their riders in Revelation 6, however, do more than just keep an eye on earthly events. They are each given a specific job to perform.

The first horse is white, and it features a rider armed with a bow who is sent forth to conquer. Some interpreters have argued that the rider here is Jesus, who conquers with the gospel. Yet, even though Jesus does ride a white horse later in Revelation (19:11–16), the rider in 6:1–2 is probably not our Savior. White horses were commonly associated with the military in the first century, and the Romans feared the Parthians on the eastern border of the empire, who carried bows and sought to capture territory. The idea here seems to be that war will characterize the period leading up to Jesus’ return. That the second seal gives us a red horse with a rider who brings strife to earth seems to confirm this (vv. 3–4).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Jesus is sovereign over all, but that does not mean the period before His return is one of peace. Instead, war will characterize this era, and especially war against the people of God. When we see war all around us, we should not be surprised; nor should we be paralyzed by fear. These things must take place. At the same time, let us pray that the Lord will keep His people safe and that violence will be restrained.


For Further Study
  • Psalm 140:1–3
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1–8
  • Matthew 24:6
  • Revelation 17:12–14

Praising the Lamb

The Black and Pale Horses

Keep Reading Covenant Theology

From the October 2020 Issue
Oct 2020 Issue