I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Revelation: Three Identities Considered

Identity of the Four Horsemen of Rev. 6:1—8

In some measure, the general identity of the four horsemen is somewhat bound up in the more particular question concerning the identity of the first horseman, he that rides the white horse.  I understand this to be none other than Christ, who has conquered, is the Conqueror, and is coming as Conqueror in the unity and context of the book (Jn. 16:33; Rev. 1:13ff.; 2:26—27; 3:21; 5:5; 6:2, 16; 11:15; 12:11; 14:1, 14; 17:14, and of course 19:11).  As Hindson noted, this view has some historical traction.[1]  That notwithstanding, I would argue that it has the most promising exegetical traction as well. 

All perspectives, even those opposed, recognize that there is as obvious correspondence between the color of the horse ridden in 6:2f. and that of the pony in 19:11, where Christ is clearly identified as the rider.[2] Hindson, however, argued that apart from the color of the horse “there is no point of similarity between Christ and this [in 6:2f.] rider.[3]  However, consider the parallels between the contexts (from which the meanings arise).  In 19:11f. Christ “judges and goes to war” (cf. 6:4ff).  In both contexts, the rider is wearing a royal-victor headdress (6:2; 19:12); a blood issuing from judgment is highlighted (6:12; 19:13); white linen/robes occurs in both passages (6:11; 19:14); the judgment involves a sword in both contexts (6:4; 19:15), and both are understood to be the result of the Lamb’s/God’s wrath (6:16; 19:15).  So, yes, there are other similarities. 

Although Hindson seems to minimize the significance of the horse’s color as a clue to the rider’s identity, Ladd makes much of it.  As Ladd mentioned, “white is always a symbol of Christ, or of something associated with Christ, or of spiritual victory.”[4]  The antichrist in white is oxymoronic and counter to a most important motif in the book. 

Ladd himself denies that Christ is the rider.  Rather he understands it to represent the victory of the gospel.  “The rider is not Christ himself but symbolizes the proclamation of the gospel of Christ in all the world.”[5]  I know of no other instance were the victory or proclamation or expansion of the gospel enjoys the device of personification, which would be required here, if Ladd were correct.  It seems to me that Ladd is confusing the Who of the passage with the means of accomplishment.  Indeed, Christ rules with the Word of his mouth, the gospel; however, the text indicates the Rule, not how he rules.  What’s more from the context is judgment.  Of course the apostate world’s rejection of the gospel brings judgment, the context here suggest direct judgment for idolatry and the persecution of the saints.  

Furthermore, in his argument against this position and for the view that the future antichrist is the rider, Hindson remarked, “This rider’s [of 6:2] crown is called a stephanos, “victor’s wreath,” whereas, Jesus wears the diadema, “royal crown” (19:12).  This much must be granted; however, it is not very significant.  In 3:11, the word-keeping saints at Philadelphia were promised a stephanos that no one could take, as those worn by the white-linen clad twenty-four elders in 4:4, 10.  In 12:1, the remnant-woman of Israel is said to have had a stephanos of twelve stars.  And in 14:14, the Lord Jesus is wearing a stephanos.  On the contrary, as Hindson pointed out, in 19:12, Christ is wearing many diademata; but, so is the seven-headed dragon in 12:3, as is the seven-headed beast in 13:1.  Therefore, Hindson’s objection, based on the differences in headdress between Christ and the antichrist, is question-begging. 

Many other positive arguments point to Christ as the rider in 6:2.[6]

From the premise that Christ is the rider, it would seem that the three subsequent horsemen signify the various means by which Christ executes his judgments (cf. Lev. 26:18—28; Eze. 14:12—23; Zech. 1:8—15; 6:1—8 for formative OT background). 

The Identity of the 144,000 of 7:4—8, 14:1—5

Like Nathaniel, these are “Israelite(s) indeed, in whom is no guile” (Jn. 1:47; Rev. 14:5).  It must be agreed with Hindson, that “it is clear that these are literal Israelites.”[7]  The reference to mount Zion in 14:1 points plainly to Jerusalem.  In earlier chapters, the Revelator had scotching words for the blasphemous Jewry, “they that call themselves Jews, but are not,” rather they “lie” and are of the “synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9).  The 144,000 therefore represent true Israel, the remnant church, which serve as a foil to these apostate Jews.  YHWH had promised to gather to himself the remnant of Israel, who would be settle among a throng from the nations.  As YHWH announced through the prophet Micah, “I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men” (2:12).  And, again, as Zephaniah described them, “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth” (3:13), so too here in Revelation 14, for “in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless” (v. 5). 

However, my perspective is greatly at odds with Hindson’s, regarding when these “firstfruits” were/are harvested.  Hindson pushes this group into the indefinite future of a yet-to-come tribulation period.[8]  In contradiction, first, I believe the number is figurative rather than literal, whereas Hindson tends toward a literal reading.[9]  The remnant’s number is the tribes of Israel squared and multiplied by a thousand (12 x 12 x 1000), which is clearly symbolic, especially being found in the foremost symbolic and numerological book in the entire canon.  The number signifies Israel consummated, complete, and perfected.  The thousand multiple is likely based on the most basic military division used of the camp of the hosts of Israel in the OT (see Num. 10:2—4, 35—36; 31:1—5, 48—54; 2 Sam. 18:1; 1 Chron. 12:20; 13:1; 15:25; 26:26; 27:1; 28:1; 29:6; 2 Chron. 1:2; 17:14—19; Ps. 68:17).[10]  It is also worth noting that twelve and one thousand are later multiplied in the dimensions of eschatological City of the New Jerusalem, which is measured 12,000 cubed (Rev. 21:16).  Does this mean that the consummated Temple[11] will have the literal floor space of 2,250,000 square miles?  No.  Rather it is 12,000 times 12,000, which provides the sum of 144,000,000.  It is symbolic. 

Secondly, James addressed his epistle to the “twelve tribes in the dispersion” (1:1), which were the Jewish Christians that made up the primitive church, especially that in Judea.  These, said James, made up a “kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Gk. aparchē; cf. Rev. 14:4).  In the context of the Paul fleshing out the redemptive-historical relationship between Jews and gentiles under the new covenant economy, he refers to the Jews as “firstfruits” (Rom. 11:16).  Elsewhere, Paul alludes to the firstfruit motif by referring to the first generation of Jewish converts to Christ as “we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12).  Therefore, I understand the 144,000 to be the first generation of Jewish converts to the Messiah, and that their number is symbolically representing that of completion. 

Babylon the Great of Rev. 17 – 18

The epithet “Babylon the great” is likely based on Daniel 4:30, which couches it in worldly pride set in opposition to God’s kingdom.  Frankly, at this point I am divided between the view that posits Babylon as either the Roman Empire or the geographical Jerusalem of John’s day.  Although it is not without its difficulties (as though any view of the Apocalypse is!), I lean toward the latter, first century Jerusalem. Granting that no other book of the NT contains more OT allusions and echoes that Revelation, that must play an important interpretive role.  She is also called the “Mother of Harlots” (Rev. 17:5).  This title is said to be written on her forehead.  The forehead being a sign of hardhearted obstinacy toward YHWH (Eze. 3:6—9).  In Jeremiah 3:3, apostate Israel is said to have a “whore’s forehead.”  John’s most frequent appellation for Babylon, however, is the “great city” (Rev. 14:8; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, and 21).  In 11:8 John said that “the great city…is where our Lord was crucified.”  This is clear reference to Jerusalem.  So, if Babylon is the great city, and the great city is Jerusalem, then it necessarily follows that Babylon is Jerusalem.  For a very competent consideration of the evidence for this position see D. Ragan Ewing’s “The Identification Of Babylon The Harlot In The Book Of Revelation,” especially chapter four.[12]   

While I have my reservations with either Rome, which has the vast majority of historical support, or Jerusalem, I am relatively sure that the Babylon of the Revelation is not some speculative revived Roman confederacy, as popularly held by many.  As Hindson recognized, Revelation is a sort of Tale of Two Cities.  “It sets forth the contrast between the…the city of the great harlot, and the city of the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem.  The great harlot is portrayed in direct opposition to the Bride of Christ.”[13]  If, however, the earlier observation that the true Jews, the 144,000 serve as a foil for the “synagogue of Satan,” then if Babylon is old Jerusalem it would specially serve as the foil for the New Jerusalem.  What I find most interesting is the view that posits Babylon as the apostate church.  What is interesting about this is that the same perspective argues that by Revelation 4:1, the true church is raptured out of the world.  One of the arguments for this is the idea that the church is not explicitly mentioned (by name I guess?) anywhere after that point in the text.  If that is the case, however, how then would these identify the false church here in chapters seventeen and eighteen?  Both conclusions rest on very shaky ground. 

[1] Edward Hindson, Revelation: Unlocking the Future (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 81.

[2] See, e.g., Hindson, ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1972), 97—98.  For an exhaustive list of the “white” stuffs in Revelation, see 98.

[5] Ibid., 99.
[6] Not least, there are strong parallels in the construction of the opening phrases. See, e.g.,
Καὶ εἶδον…καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος λευκός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπ᾿ αὐτὸν…διαδήματα (19:11, 12)
καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος λευκός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπ᾿ αὐτὸν…στέφανος (Rev. 6:2)

[7] Hindson, Revelation, 89.  As an aside, it bears pointing out that Hindson’s description of amillennialism on the same page, which began, “This approach sees no millennium of any kind on the earth.  Rather, amillennialists tend to view so-called millennial prophecies as being fulfilled in eternity,” is one of the poorer caricatures I’ve personally read.  

[8] Ibid., 93. 
[9] “The number seems to be literal.” Ibid., 89.

[10] David Chilton, Days of Vengence: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Horn Lake, MS: Dominion Press, 2006), 206—207.

[11]Note that the only other cube mentioned in the entire Bible is the holy of holies of the Solomonic temple (1 Kg. 6:20), which is where YHWH dwelt with his people, so too here.  

[13] Hindson, Revelation, 173. 


  1. Interesting comments supported by genuine scholarship. While I am one who thinks the white horse of 6:2 represents Rome and the siege of Jerusalem, all four are sent by Christ, and, in one sense, represent Him.

    Yours is the second comment I have read recently that views Revelation as referring primarily to Jerusalem. I am very interested to see how you relate that to the fact that the churches addressed in the early chapters are Gentile churches beginning to experience persecution, and that the persecution is beginning to come from Rome.

    While my own view follows those who see Jerusalem in chapters 5-11 and Rome in 12-19, you make a good case for your view. I am in complete agreement that a revived Roman confederacy is entirely foreign to the symbolism of Revelation.


    1. Bishop Campbell,

      I am very interested to see how you relate that to the fact that the churches addressed in the early chapters are Gentile churches beginning to experience persecution, and that the persecution is beginning to come from Rome.

      You raise a good and interesting challenge. My cursory response would begin by stating that I take an early date on the book. That being said, I believe that Nero’s persecution was neither systematic nor widespread, although intense and wicked. So, that would cause me to question how direct and localized the Roman persecution was for the Asian churches at the time of writing. Secondly, with respect to the seven churches, John specifically mentioned the “synagogue of Satan,” “Jews” in the context of that slander, persecution and tribulation, and imprisonments that the saints were experiencing (see, e.g., Rev. 2:9—10; cf. 3:9). We know from both Scripture and the patristics that the Jewry was one of the fiercest persecutors of the primitive church, often colluding and instigating the Romans against the church. So, these early remarks by John act to flag the opponents as Jews, at least in some respects. Finally, the last clause of your remark seems to beg the question a bit, implying that the persecution was indeed coming from Rome and not Jerusalem. As I tried to intimate in the post, I am rather loose handed with this view, as my lack of substantial defense here proves. Again, I would suggest Ewing’s piece on this (http://bible.org/series/identification-babylon-harlot-book-revelation). He has truly thought through the issues pretty carefully.

      Thanks for another good comment, and the challenge!