Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Horsemen of Revelation 6

by Peter Leithart

Who are the horsemen riding the white, red, black, and green horses that are summoned when the Lamb breaks the first four seals? (Revelation 6:1-8).

Perhaps a grammatical/syntactical observation will help. Nowhere in the Old Testament is anyone said to “sit” on a horse. People “ride” horses, or don’t ride, as the case may be (Genesis 49:17; Exodus 15:1, 21; 2 Kings 18:23; Jeremiah 17:25; 22:4). Outside Revelation, no one in the Bible ever “sits” (Greek kathemai) on a horse. There, it is said frequently that so and so sat on a horse (6:2, 4, 5, 8; 9:17; 19:11, 18-19, 21).

We might get a clue just there: By the time we see the first horseman “sitting” on his horse, we’ve already heard about a “sitting-one” seven times (4:2, 3, 9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13), not to mention the twenty-four enthroned elders (4:4). God sits on His throne; riders are enthroned on their horses. Perhaps “riding” a horse is an act of ordinary mortals and soldiers; but “sitting” on a horse is the act of a king.

Further: In Revelation, further, the word “horse” (hippos) is used sixteen times, nine times in the plural (9:7, 9, 17 [2x], 19; 14:20; 18:13; 19:14, 18) and seven times in the singular (6:2, 4, 5, 8; 19:11, 19, 21). In every case, the rider on the singular horse is said to “sit” on the horse. (An interesting aside: The armies of heaven “follow” [akoloutheo] rather than “sit” on their horses, a term used throughout the New Testament for discipleship.)

In three cases the one who “sits” on a singular “horse” is clearly Jesus, the Faithful and True, who fights with a sword from His mouth (19:11, 19, 21). In 19:11, Jesus rides a white horse, which takes us back to the first of the four horsemen of chapter 6 (v. 2).

What can we conclude from this? Most simply, we can conclude that the horsemen are royal figures, kings who “sit” on horses as if they were mobile thrones. It seems pretty certain that we should identify the first horsemen on the white horse with Jesus. But then who are the other three? The most daring interpretation is to say that they are all Jesus too: The horsemen represent Jesus in various guises, as Victor, as Divider, as Depleter, as Lord of Death, Jesus the White, Jesus the Red, Jesus the Black, Jesus the Green.

This may be supported by the fact that each of the horses is summoned by a living creature. The Lion-Lamb displaced the living creatures as the throne (5:6); He is the true cherub. As the living creatures call Him, He comes out, enthroned on horses, as a series of horse-man combinations, which correspond to the four creatures.

It’s only a clue, but perhaps it’s a helpful clue.

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