Christian tradition holds that the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. The book gives us a heavenly perspective on many earthly events, and some believe we see the birth of the Christian Church in chapter six.
In chapter five, the Apostle John is taken up to heaven. He sees a scroll that no one is able to open—a scroll sealed with seven seals—and he begins to weep. As tears fill his eyes, he is interrupted by an elder, who says, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:5). John looked up to see a Lion who looked like a Lamb who had been slain.
This is Jesus, the crucified one, the one who laid down his life for the sins of the world. In that moment, the weeping stopped and the worship began. The angels cried out, “You are worthy… because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased people for God” (5:9). And then Jesus, the Savior, opened the first seal.
The Apostle John writes, “I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”
The identity of the rider on the white horse is controversial. Some say the rider is Satan, the deceiver, the one who leads the whole world astray, but the other four horsemen of the apocalypse are plain personifications—war is war, injustice is injustice, and death is death… so the rider on the white horse, who is given a crown, is a king. Irenaeus—a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John, the author of the book of Revelation—says the rider on the white horse is the Lord. Lutheran theologian R.C.H. Lenski associated the rider with the Lord as well, but said it can’t be Jesus as we know him, because it is Jesus who opens the seal. Lenski believed the rider on the white horse to be the Word of God.
When the first seal was opened, the disciples down below on the earth were afraid. They were hiding, when suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God began to move forth into the world to conquer—and all are conquered. Those who hear the Word and reject it are conquered for judgement, and those who hear the Word and receive it are conquered for salvation.
The weapon carried by the rider is as controversial as the identity of the rider. He carries a bow. Why a bow? The simplest theory is probably the right one. It’s because no one outruns the arrow. In the Apostle John’s day, the bow was the weapon of choice to reach those at a distance—and the rider on the white horse, the Word of God, is going to the ends of the earth.
It has been said that God’s Church doesn’t have a mission, so much as God’s mission has a Church. We are the Church, and we are sent to our neighbors near and far—that they may know the eternity-changing truth of Jesus Christ.
When I had the opportunity to visit our mission field in Chad, Africa, I was blessed to worship at a Chadian church on a Sunday morning. I was struck by the words of the pastor. He said, “We are overwhelmed by refugees fleeing from war. We are hungry from a weak harvest. It feels like the end times.” His words startled me. It feels like the end times? I didn’t feel it! Maybe you don’t feel it. But the pastor was right. The Scriptures tell us that the hour is drawing near (James 5:8). We are in the end times.
The whole world knows war. The second horse, the red horse, has been set loose. Can you hear the hoofbeats?
The gap between rich and poor is growing. We in North America are the haves in a world of have nots. The third horse, the black horse, is here. Can you hear the hoofbeats?
We, as believers, rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ for our salvation, but we know the final horseman—death—is coming, and there is still work to be done.
Maybe you’re afraid. Maybe you’re worried what people might think if you live out your faith. We don’t want to be those crazy people always talking about someone who rose from the dead… or do we? Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
If you are afraid, fear not! He is sending you, but you are not alone. He has promised to be with you (Matthew 28:20). Rest in that! Find peace in that, but feel the urgency, because God’s mission has a Church, and the final rider is coming.
Hear the hoofbeats.
Rev. Troy Tysdal serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.