When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come!” Another came out, a red horse. To him who sat on it was given power to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. There was given to him a great sword. When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come and see!” And behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a balance in his hand. I heard a voice in the middle of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius! Don’t damage the oil and the wine!” When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see!” And behold, a pale horse, and he who sat on it, his name was Death. Hades followed with him. Authority over one fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword, with famine, with pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth was given to him.
While not as obvious as the fourth, the second and third horsemen also seem to represent phenomena—war and famine, respectively. Hence we should expect the first horseman to also represent a phenomenon. It would be inconsistent and confusing for the first rider to be of an entirely different kind than those that follow.
Remember that this scene is taking place in heaven, before the throne of YHVH, and everyone present besides John is a spirit, as far as we know. Even John is not there physically, but "in the spirit" (Rev. 6:1). Unless the first rider is Enoch or some other human who's been bodily translated into the spiritual realm, then he must be one of the heavenly host.
The theory that these four horsemen are spirits is corroborated by Zechariah 6:1-8, wherein the prophet Zechariah has a vision of four chariots which patrol the earth after presenting themselves before YHVH. An angel calls them spirits, or winds (the two are interchangeable in Hebrew). These chariots are not the same as the horses in Revelation 6, but they are probably heavenly beings of a similar sort.
White for Sanctity
As always, we should try to use the Bible to interpret itself. Where else do we find the color white as a symbol? Here's a partial list:
- The armies of heaven ride upon white horses and wear white linen (Rev. 19:14)
- Believers who overcome will be given white outfits in the afterlife (Rev. 3:4)
- The clothes of Y'shua became white during the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2)
- The throne of Elohiym is white (Rev. 20:11)
- Through the mercy of Elohiym, scarlet sins become white like snow (Isa. 1:18)
It is clear from the above verses that white stands for holiness. Things turn white, spiritually speaking, when they have been sanctified. So is the first rider a good guy? Does he stand for righteousness? Maybe, but maybe not. Let's consider the other traits of the rider.
A Bow with which to Conquer
I wouldn't read too much into the fact that arrows are not mentioned in v. 2, because they are likely implied. In the modern world, when we are told that someone is carrying a gun, we generally assume that they have ammo with it as well. The important information is that they have a weapon.
The white horseman comes out of the gate conquering. He is evidently using that bow to take people out left and right. Yet he does not stand for war, which is the identity of the second horseman. This implies that the type of conquering going on here is either diplomatic or ideological (though it should be remembered that people sometimes get killed because of ideological differences).
That's helpful information, but it doesn't get us terribly close to an answer about the identity of this rider. Let's keep going.
A Victory Crown
The fact that the rider goes forth conquering and to conquer suggests that he has already overcome some opposition in order to receive the stephanos, but now he's intent on gaining more influence over the world.
One or the Other
- A spirit with a purpose to accomplish on the earth in the last days
- Associated with (at least outward) holiness or (at least seemingly) set apart from the world
- A threat to the beliefs, cultures, and/or lifestyles of some people
- Already a victor before campaigning
Taking into consideration these four things, we can conclude that the white horseman is either:
- The spirit which presides over the true Assembly of Y'shua, whose members are said to receive victors' crowns (Rev. 3:11; 1 Pet. 5:4)
- The spirit of a false religious system which masquerades as the real thing, and which has already or will soon achieve a large degree of victory
Personally, I'm going to remain open to both of these possibilities, but I do lean towards number two. I suspect that the key to the mystery is found in the Olivet Discourse. Let's look at it now.
Many Will Be Deceived
Jesus answered them, "Be careful that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am anointed,’ and will lead many astray. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you aren’t troubled, for all this must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are the beginning of birth pains."
Y'shua reiterates the danger twice more. In v. 11 he warns that many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. Again, note the use of the word many twice in a row. Then, in v. 24, he prophesies that false anointed ones and false prophets will trick absolutely everyone except the Elect in the general timeframe of the Abomination of Desolation (3.5 years before the end of the age).
After his initial warning against deception, the next two items mentioned are war and famine. That's the same order as the Four Horsemen (death, of course, would naturally follow on the heels of war and famine). If we can draw a parallel between the beginning of the Olivet Discourse and the opening of the first seals in Revelation, then we can deduce that the first seal signifies false forms of Christianity gaining immense popularity.
I think that the spirit with the bow is Deception, and that he sits atop the horse of holiness. He's an impostor. I think that this spirit has been at work for a long time, but has been truly unleashed to conquer in recent history, and will only increase until the end.
It's possible that the first seal was broken nearly two thousand years ago. Deceivers started to come into the Assemblies of Y'shua even when the apostles were still living, and the problem only got worse after their deaths. As more and more Gentiles converted, congregations began to lose their connection to their Hebraic roots and reinterpret clearly delineated instructions, like Sabbath-keeping. This gave Satan a foothold and opened the way for further deception, which reached its first apex when the emperor Constantine yoked the Christian religion with the State, thereby spawning the Roman Catholic Church. Is that the point at which the first horseman was given his victor's crown? Perhaps so.
More members of Christendom are Catholic than not, by far. The RCC claims that the popes are anointed representatives of Messiah with the authority to speak for God. Have the popes led many away from sound doctrine? You bet. Most Catholics don't even read YHVH's word for themselves, preferring instead to let the Church tell them what to believe. Y'shua's warnings at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse were not in vain.
He Has the Victory, For Now
All along, we've collectively been practicing the Faith quite differently from how the apostles did it. For instance, we stopped observing the seven appointed times of YHVH and swapped in "Christianized" pagan celebrations. But things have been getting much worse since I reached adulthood. Scripture is badly distorted everywhere I turn, and the sinful lifestyles of congregants go completely unaddressed in the vast majority of congregations. The most popular gospel today is a gospel without repentance or continued obedience. There is no fear of YHVH.
So is the white horseman on the loose? I certainly think so. He's taking out the youngest generation of believers at a frightening pace. And the horseman of global war is not far behind.
Then again, neither is Y'shua. Bo, Y'shua, bo!