Most of Jehovah’s witnesses are familiar with the explanation given by the WT society regarding the four horsemen of Revelation. Although the explanation seems logical, we can ask questions regarding the identification of the rider of the white horse.
Does white always mean righteousness?
Apparently when the brothers of the society were reading Rev 6:2, which mentions a white horse they concluded that the rider of this horse should be righteous and since he’s wearing a crown he has to be Jesus. It seems they think that there is only one type of white horse and it is related to righteousness.
Look how it is mentioned in the public WT 2017 (no 03, p4):
The white horse is an appropriate symbol for warfare justly carried out by God’s Son, for the Scriptures often use the color white to symbolize righteousness.—Revelation 3:4; 7:9, 13, 14.
Who is the rider of the white horse? The key to his identity is found in the same Bible book, Revelation, which later identifies this heavenly rider as “The Word of God.” (Revelation 19:11-13) That title, The Word, belongs to Jesus Christ, for he acts as God’s spokesman. (John 1:1, 14) In addition, he is called “King of kings and Lord of lords” and is described as “Faithful and True.” (Revelation 19:16) Clearly, he has authority to act as a warrior-king, and he does not wield his power in any corrupt or abusive way.
The description in Rev 6:2 however is very limited and doesn’t mention a lot about the rider:
“I saw, and look! a white horse, and the one seated on it had a bow; and a crown was given him, and he went out conquering and to complete his conquest.”
Although white is often used in God’s Word as a symbol of righteousness, it is not always the case. The expressions ‘white as snow’ or ‘white like snow’ are mostly used as symbol for spiritual cleanness, but still it is also used in two occurrences as a description of leprosy, in both cases a result of God’s judgement (Numb 12:10, 2 Ki 5:27). So we should not hastily conclude that a white horse automatically indicates righteous warfare.
The first horseman compared to Jesus
What do we know about the first rider? He has a white horse, has a bow and gets a crown and has the ambition to succeed. From the context we know he is the first of four riders. This is important as we will see later.
If you look at the references in the Bible they refer to texts that support Jesus as rider. The most obvious is the reference to Revelation 19. But looking at the context in Revelation 19 we notice a huge contrast with the description in Rev 6:2. Rev 19 gives a lot more information about Jesus.
11 I saw heaven opened, and look! a white horse. And the one seated on it is called Faithful and True, and he judges and carries on war in righteousness. 12 His eyes are a fiery flame, and on his head are many diadems. He has a name written that no one knows but he himself, 13 and he is clothed with an outer garment stained with blood, and he is called by the name The Word of God. 14 Also, the armies in heaven were following him on white horses, and they were clothed in white, clean, fine linen. 15 And out of his mouth protrudes a sharp, long sword with which to strike the nations, and he will shepherd them with a rod of iron. Moreover, he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his outer garment, yes, on his thigh, he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
The description in the above text is very clear and no doubt talks about Jesus, the Lamb of God, who prepares for the battle with the wild beast (Rev 19:19; 17:13, 14). Compare this description with Rev 6:2 and it is astonishing how little is told about the first rider. It doesn’t mention that the first rider:
- Carries war in righteousness
- Is followed by armies in heaven
- Expresses the wrath of God
- Has identifying characteristics on his outer garment
- Is addressed with one of Jesus’ names
The only thing we know is that the first rider is a conquering king on a white horse. The lack of information regarding this rider leaves room for another interpretation of this text.
Some cult leaders say that the rider refers to the leader of their cult. We’ll see that these claims are false since the Bible points to a different explanation.
Proof from other texts
Let’s look at some other texts (which are not referred to by the references). Are there other texts which mention white horses? Yes, indeed and several which are in line with Rev 6:2. The book of Zechariah has a lot in common with Revelation.
The “Inspired” book mentions the vision of the four horsemen of Zechariah on page 169, but doesn’t link the rider on the white horse to Jesus. It also doesn’t mention that the rider is righteous since he is riding on a white horse, maybe since it is not the first horseman or maybe since there is no reason for this. Yet the context (Zech 1:8-12) shows that these riders are linked to the 70 year judgment on Judah and Jerusalem.
Zechariah sees a similar scenario in another vision (Zech 6:1-7):
Then I looked up again and saw four chariots coming from between two mountains, and the mountains were of copper. 2 The first chariot had red horses, and the second chariot, black horses. 3 The third chariot had white horses, and the fourth chariot, speckled and dappled horses.
4 I asked the angel who was speaking with me: “What are these, my lord?”
5 The angel answered me: “These are the four spirits of the heavens that are going out after having taken their station before the Lord of the whole earth. 6 The one with the black horses is going out to the land of the north; the white ones are going out beyond the sea; and the speckled ones are going out to the land of the south. 7 And the dappled ones were eager to go out to walk about through the earth.” Then he said: “Go, walk about through the earth.” And they began walking about through the earth.
Note that this scenario has four sets of horses, similar to Revelation having four riders. The white horses are at the third chariot. Again there is no connection made with the white color of the horses and potential righteousness. It looks like the horses have different colors to make distinction between the different directions they’re going. These horses are again mentioned in the context of Babylonian captivity (Zech 6:10), so related to Gods judgements.
Gods four punishments
Let us take a look at the four riders and four chariots to see if they indeed refer to judgments of God. Please look at Leviticus 26 and note what Jehovah mentions what will happen if Israel would ‘walk in opposition’ to Jehovah. The items mentioned are four punishments which always come back in prophecy:
- Wild animals (wild beasts according to reference bible) (vs 22)
- Sword (vs 25)
- Disease (pestilence according to reference bible) (vs 25)
- Famine (vs 26)
Also note Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding Jehovah’s judgment via Babylon (Jer 27:6-8):
6 And now I have given all these lands into the hand of my servant King Neb·u·chad·nezʹzar of Babylon; even the wild beasts of the field I have given him to serve him. 7 All the nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his own land comes, when many nations and great kings will make him their slave.’
8 “‘“‘If any nation or kingdom refuses to serve King Neb·u·chad·nezʹzar of Babylon and refuses to put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence,’ declares Jehovah, ‘until I have finished them off by his hand.’
Ezekiel prophecies “because it was my sanctuary that you defiled with all your disgusting idols and with all your detestable practices” (Eze 5:11) Jehovah will do the following:
17 I will send against you famine and vicious wild beasts, and they will bereave you of children. Pestilence and bloodshed will overwhelm you, and I will bring a sword against you. I, Jehovah, have spoken.’” - Eze 5:17
Look at what Jehovah himself says regarding “a land (that) sins against me by acting unfaithfully” (Eze 14:13), in this text:
21 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah says: ‘So it will be when I send my four punishments —sword, famine, vicious wild animal, and pestilence —against Jerusalem to cut off man and animal from it. – Eze 14:21
(footnote punishments: Or “my four injurious acts of judgment.”)
Please note what the reasons are for these four punishments, ‘a land that sins against Jehovah by acting unfaithfully’ or ‘defiling God's sanctuary with disgusting idols’ or ‘walking in opposition to Jehovah’.
In Revelation chapter two and three the apostle John reports that during the ‘Lord’s Day’ some congregations would be in a disappointing state.
Revelation 11:2 mentions that God’s spiritual temple sanctuary would be inspected (to be measured). The courtyard outside of the temple sanctuary doesn’t conform to God’s standards and it is given to the nations, to be trampled for 3.5 years.
The Apostle John’s account
Let’s go back to Revelation 6 and check how this all connects to the first rider. It’s important to let the Bible explain itself and this is especially true for the context. Let’s consider the context of this text – Rev 6:1-8
And I saw 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 saw, and look! a white horse, and the one seated on it had a bow; and a crown was given him, and he went out conquering and to complete his conquest.
3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say: “Come!” 4 Another came out, a fiery-colored horse, and it was granted to the one seated on it to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another, and he was given a great sword.
5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say: “Come!” And I saw, and look! a black horse, and the one seated on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 I heard what sounded like a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say: “A quart* of wheat for a de·narʹi·us and three quarts of barley for a de·narʹi·us; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.”
7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say: “Come!” 8 And I saw, and look! a pale horse, and the one seated on it had the name Death. And the Grave was closely following him. And authority was given them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with a long sword and with food shortage and with deadly plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.
We probably read these texts multiple times, but did you notice that after John saw the four horsemen, he says as following (vs 8)
And authority was given them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with a long sword and with food shortage and with deadly plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Here we see a repetition of the “four punishments” from Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Leviticus. The four punishments don’t relate to just one rider, but each of the punishments corresponds to one of the riders, four punishments, four riders. Notice how the ‘long sword’ corresponds with the second rider, ‘food shortages’ with the third rider and ‘deadly plagues’ with the fourth rider. That leaves the ‘wild beasts’ as the first rider. The context doesn’t support the possibility of Jesus as the first rider.
Jehovah executes the ‘wild beast’ judgment
How can the first rider be a ‘wild beast’ judgment? Surely in our modern times the risk of wild animals is minimal. We don’t hear a lot of reports of people being attacked by wild animals.
But we know based on Daniel’s prophecy and Revelation that mighty political aggressive empires are often compared to ‘wild beasts’ in the Bible. As we noticed before in the execution of Jehovah’s four punishments, next to literal attacks of wild beasts, there was also an attack of political ‘wild beasts’ in the form of the world power which was ruling at that time. This is especially clear in the above mentioned text of Jeremiah 27:6-8, when Jehovah makes clear that nations that would not want to undergo the punishing via the king of Babylon, would be punished by the other punishments/judgements ‘sword, famine and pestilence’. This implicates that the punishment via the king of Babylon represents the punishment of the ‘wild beasts’ (the wild beasts are under his control). This shows that the ‘wild beasts’ punishment represents the discipline via the ruling world power.
This helps us to identify the apocalyptic rider of the white horse. The rider gets a crown, which means he becomes king during the Lord’s day, while he was not a king before (Rev 1:10). This rules out the Anglo-American world power since these are already ruling before the start of the Lord’s day. The only other possibility is the leopard-like wild beast from Revelation 13:
And it stood still on the sand of the sea.
And I saw a wild beast ascending out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns ten diadems, but on its heads blasphemous names. 2 Now the wild beast that I saw was like a leopard, but its feet were like those of a bear, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave to the beast its power and its throne and great authority.
7 It was permitted to wage war with the holy ones and conquer them, and it was given authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation. – Rev 13:1,2,7
As part of God’s punishment he will allow the ‘wild beast’ to attack and conquer his people. Just as the ancient Israelites, a lot of God’s modern day people cannot imagine that God would allow something like that. Even Jesus’ disciples could not imagine that the Roman army would destroy the city of Jerusalem and God’s temple. Still Revelation tells us this will happen again.
The ‘wild beast’ becomes the ‘eighth king’
Revelation 12 described how the great dragon, Satan, is being thrown from the heaven. In his anger he uses all his power on earth to create a world power which will control the whole world and persecute God’s people. Satan gives the ‘wild beast’ his throne and with this creates the ‘eighth king’ or eighth world power which contains all previous political powers.
“And the wild beast that was but is not, it is also an eighth king, but it springs from the seven, and it goes off into destruction” – Rev 17:11
We already discussed that this ‘wild beast’ becomes king during the Lord’s day and not only will conquer God’s people but also will have authority over every nation in the world. This it is fitting to say that the ‘wild beast’ as the first rider, will go out conquering and to complete his conquest (Rev 6:2). In the wake of his ride, the destructive powers of the three other punishments will follow, war, famine, pestilence, symbolized by the other riders on the fiery-colored, black and pale horses.
In light of this we cannot find any beauty in any of the four riders. It looks like the white of the first horse could be an indication of the deception of Satan, instead of righteousness, as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15:
“And no wonder, for Satan himself keeps disguising himself as an angel of light. 15 It is therefore nothing extraordinary if his ministers also keep disguising themselves as ministers of righteousness…”
Yes, Satan has always tried to mislead the world and to deceive by letting people think he is a light-bringer, someone who gives knowledge and enlightenment. So his servants will likewise show themselves as enlightened people who have the best interest for all and even want to bring world peace. But what has been the result. Did anything result in world peace or was it always an excuse of the world powers to get world domination? It should not be a surprise if the eighth world power uses a similar pretense of ‘peace and security’ to install a world tyranny.
This first rider reaches the end of his ride
When the eighth king has control over the whole world Satan’s victory will seem to be almost complete. But to let the rider conquer Satan will involve all kings on the world in a battle against the Lamb, Jesus Christ:
And there are seven kings: Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet arrived; but when he does arrive, he must remain a short while. 11 And the wild beast that was but is not, it is also an eighth king, but it springs from the seven, and it goes off into destruction.
12 “The ten horns that you saw mean ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they do receive authority as kings for one hour with the wild beast. 13 These have one thought, so they give their power and authority to the wild beast. 14 These will battle with the Lamb, but because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them. Also, those with him who are called and chosen and faithful will do so.” – Rev 17:10-14
This is when the first rider will end his ride, in a final battle between God’s Son and the ‘wild beast’. Satan’s newly installed world power will be overthrown and destroyed forever. Never will it be possible for rivaling political powers to start wars. With God’s Kingdom the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ will finally bring what people couldn’t bring: Peace and Security for everyone and in all eternity.