The Way It Happened

Revelation 6:1, The White Horseman of Revelation

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.

//This is a topic that comes up often in discussion, so I’m repeating most of a blog post from early in 2011. Did John of Patmos have a particular person in mind when he wrote of the white horseman? 

This horseman speaks of a warrior “bent on conquest.” Because of the color of the horse, many interpreters imagine the horseman to be Jesus himself. Jesus arrives later in Revelation riding a white steed. But Jesus just doesn’t jibe with the atmosphere of the other three horsemen. These horsemen appear like four faces of evil.

In this light, many have wondered if the white horseman intentionally mimics Christ. Could he be the Antichrist? No, that doesn’t quite fit either. You may be surprised to learn that Revelation never once mentions an antichrist; only a “Beast of the Sea,” which later became associated with the Antichrist, or the Son of Perdition. But the white horseman seems in no way related to the Beast.

Who, then? In light of Revelation’s description of the war of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., one name stands out above all others: Vespasian, the Roman general who stormed through Galilee and Judea terrorizing villages as he approached Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus proclaimed Vespasian the Messiah, so John of Patmos seats him on a white horse, mimicking Christ, the true Messiah. Vespasian also imitated Christ as a healer: he healed a blind man with spittle, a lame man, and man with a withered hand. These events would have occurred around the year 69 or 70, about the time Mark penned his Gospel describing how Jesus performed exactly the same miracles.

John tells how this white horseman was given a crown, and how he rode out as a conqueror. David Aune, author of three scholarly tomes on Revelation, suggests that a more accurate interpretation of today’s verse may be “the conquering one left to conquer even more.” As history buffs already know, Vespasian did just that. Bolstered by Josephus’ vision of him as Messiah, Vespasian broke off the attack on Jerusalem (handing it over to his son, Titus) and returned to Rome, to claim by force an even greater place. He was crowned king over the entire Empire.

More about Vespasian’s role in Revelation can be found in my book, Revelation: The Way It Happened.

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