Poole on Revelation 6:2: The First Seal, Part 2

Verse 2:[1] And I saw, and behold (Zech. 6:3; Rev. 19:11) a white horse: (Psalm 45:4, 5 in the Septuagint[2]) and he that sat on him had a bow; (Zech. 6:11; Rev. 14:14) and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

[Behold, (understand, appeared [Beza, Piscator]) a white horse] There are in Zechariah 6 horses red, black, white, multi-colored, which signify, as we said there, the Chaldeans, Persians, Alexander, and the Kings both of Syria, and of Egypts, from Seleucus and Lagus.[3] But there the horses are joined into chariot teams in a warlike manner; here κέλητες/coursers or individual ones, to signify a speedy journey with power. Therefore, in Psalm 45:4, in the place of רְכַב/ ride, the Greeks put βασίλευε/reign. And in Ecclesiastes 10:7 and Zechariah 10:3, the horse is put for a sign of power. Ἵππος εἰς ὕψος καὶ ἀξίωμα ἐκρίθη, a horse is distinguished for grandeur and honor, Achmet’s Oneirocriticon 233. In the place of multi-colored horses in this Prophecy will come a pale horse (Grotius). That the horses are to be taken metaphorically here, is evinced by both the prophetic style itself, and especially that death sits on a horse, verse 8. Those that accomplish anything with powerful vigor and an elevated and fervent spirit, are called horses in a mystery. Whence also Angels go by the name of chariots and horses, as in 2 Kings 2:11; 6:17; Zechariah 1:8; Hebrews 1:7 (Cluverus). Others: Horses denote calamities, as a most suitable instrument of military service (Cotterius). Others: It is a symbol of power to be carried by horse, as it is evident from Deuteronomy 32:13; Psalm 66:12; Isaiah 58:14; the Greek of Psalm 45:4; Revelation 17, where the Woman riding upon the beast is explained as πόλις ἔχουσα βασιλείαν, the city having dominion (Mede’s Works 547). In Ὀνειροκριτικοῖς or Fulfillments of Dreams, which Apomasar,[4] or according to others, Achmet the Arab, gathered out of the ancient records of the Egyptians, Persians, and Indians, these things are had in chapter 223, A noble horse in dreams is referred to eminence and dignity. To be carried by a nimble and fleet horse signifies the most distinguished reputation, etc. Now, since we are not unwilling to learn from those nations, formerly neighboring the Hebrew people, by their more closely related customs and use speech, the use of words and phrases in the Sacred books; why would we refuse the same here in the significations of prophetic figures and images (since according to the Hebrews a dream is the dropping of prophecy) (Mede’s Works 559)? The white horse denotes, either, 1. the Gospel (Grotius, thus Forbes), and its preachers, the Apostles and others (Menochius, thus Ribera); and its rapid course (Pareus); its state, pure (Camerarius) and flourishing and spreading itself widely (Durham, thus Pererius); or, the kingdom of Christ (Pererius, similarly Mede), who, the tyranny of persecutors, etc., not withstanding, set up His own Kingdom throughout the entire Roman empire (Pareus), and subjected the world to Himself (Menochius). The color white is a symbol, either, of truth (Forbes), or, of purity (Pareus, Forbes, Grotius), or, of consolation and joy (Durham), or, of victory and triumph (Durham, thus Ribera, Forbes, Piscator). Others: This opinion does not satisfy (Gravius, Anonymous), for it is not able to be reconciled with the time and other circumstances (Gravius). For, 1. The Preaching of the Gospel had already long since increased through the entire earth, Colossians 1:23 (Gravius, Anonymous). 2. This will continue unto the end of the world, Matthew 28:20, and consequently this first seal would never end. 3. This is no Symbol of the Gospel here, but of War and Victory. But if the victory of the Gospel be here denoted, yet the whole earth was the scene of that, not (as Grotius maintains) the narrow limits of Judea, whence it had been removed before this Prophecy, Matthew 21:43; Acts 13:46 (Anonymous). Or, 2. the Empire of Rome or Pagan Emperors, who assaulted Christians for three hundred years, and (with respect to the body) conquered. Whiteness was a sign both of justice, under the pretext of which they persecuted Christians, and of the Majesty of the Emperors, who made use of white horses in triumphs and inaugurations (Gravius).

[Who was sitting upon that] This horseman, leader of a procession, was (Grotius), either, 1. Christ Himself (Grotius, Zegers, Ribera, Cluverus, Menochius, Durham, Hammond, Lightfoot’s Harmony, Chronicle, and Order of the New Testament 156, Mede’s Works 547, Pareus), as it is proven out of Revelation 19:11-13 (Grotius, thus Pareus), whose harness Evangelical preachers accept, directing their course as the One seated moves them (Menochius). But there [in chapter 19] Christ acts the part of a warrior, but here in chapters 1, 4, 5, under the semblance of a Prophet, King, and Priest, He shows Himself, and predicts future things. Therefore, the Visions are diverse, and have diverse objects (Gravius). In the next place, Christ is here denoted by the Lamb; therefore, the horseman is someone else (Anonymous). But, Christ is now seen, not as a Lamb, but as a King (Grotius). Also the crown that was to be received by this horseman, had already previously been given to Christ (Anonymous). Or, 2. the Roman Emperors (Gravius). The other horsemen that follow are Angels, ministers of Divine providence (Grotius).

[He had a bow] A type of weapon (Forbes), most common among the ancient Hebrews (Ribera), striking unexpectedly even remote objects (Forbes), and penetrating deeply (Durham). The bow threatens before it strikes: so also Christ. See Psalm 7:12; 11:2; 60:4 in the Greek:[5] where by bow Basil[6] understands Threats. All things which harm are metaphorically called arrows, as plague is called by Homer. See Deuteronomy 32:23; Psalm 18:14; 38:2; 64:3; 77:17; etc. (Grotius). To have a bow is to fight fiercely, and to conquer enemies (Ribera). By bow here he indicates, either, 1. the power of Evangelical preaching (Ribera, similarly Zegers, Piscator, Durham), or the word of the law and of the Gospel (Pareus); or, the Sacred Scripture, of which as many as are the words and sentences, so many are the arrows (Menochius), wounding some unto life, some unto death (Menochius, similarly Pareus); or, a passion for fighting in Christ (Cluverus). Or, 2. the greatest swiftness of the persecutions undertaken against Christians throughout all the Provinces of the Empire (Gravius).

[A crown was given to him] As to a victor (Grotius), a sign of royal power (Menochius, Cluverus, thus Hammond, Gravius), or of victory (Menochius, Cluverus, Zegers, thus Forbes, Durham, Gravius).

[And (καὶ/and here is αἰτιολογικὸν/causal, Therefore he was crowned, because he had conquered and did conquer [Grotius]) he went forth (either, from the book, or from the seal [Pareus], or from the Father [Zegers]; or from Judea and Jerusalem [Cotterius, thus Zegers], into the world [Piscator]) conquering, etc., νικῶν, καὶ ἵνα νικήσῃ] Conquering and so that he might conquer (Beza, Piscator, etc.), that is, so that He might convert men (Ribera); conquering the hearts of the elect and the consciences of reprobates (Piscator): so that He might be a conqueror, and always remain such (Cluverus, similarly Ribera, Cotterius, Pareus, Durham, Menochius). The doubling of the verb denotes a present and future victory. Christ conquered sin, hell, Satan, the world, despots, idolaters, heretics, etc. (Pareus). He had conquered many Jews by the power of His word, Acts 2 and following; and He will conquer the contumacious by His many and various darts. The darts of God are chiefly three, War, Famine, and Pestilence, Leviticus 26:17-46; Jeremiah 14:12; 15:2; 21:7; 24:10; etc. Christ imitates the providence of God. These things are the beginnings of sorrows, Matthew 24:8. War is wont to precede; from war Desolation is wont to be produced, and thence poor nourishment; and from poor nourishment Diseases. Now, often these evils, either by twos, or by threes, come together at the same time (Grotius). The first state of the Roman Empire, and certainly notable, is the first beginning of the Victory of Christ; by which the Roman Gods begin to be vanquished, and their worshippers to be pierced by the arrows of the Gospel, to defect everywhere, and to submit their necks to Christ as conqueror: conquering and so that He might conquer, that is, He has not yet now fully conquered, but has laid the foundations of victory, henceforth more and more to be completed. Now, the interval of this Seal is to be commenced from the ascent of the horseman, that is, of the Emperor, onto the horse to ride, namely, from the glorious exaltation of Christ, etc. Now, with this seal turned back, the oracles of the Gods were silent throughout the entire Roman world, etc. (Mede’s Works 547). The first Seal reveals Christ as a warrior going out against the Jewish nation, hostile to Him. The three following Seals reveal the way in which He destroyed them, that is, by those three plagues so often mentioned by the Prophets, namely, the Sword, Famine, and Pestilence. The fifth reveals the cause of His vengeance, the killing of the Saints, etc. The sixth shows the very Ruin of the Nation and City (Lightfoot’s Harmony, Chronicle, and Order of the New Testament 156). This does not satisfy, for this destruction was completed before this Apocalypse was given (Anonymous).

Some, by this white horse, understand the gospel; others, the Roman empire. And by him that sat thereon with a bow, some understand Christ going forth with power to convert the nations; others (and in my opinion more probably) the Roman emperors, armed with power, and having the imperial crown, carrying all before them. So as that which God intended by this to reveal to Saint John, was, that the Roman emperors should yet continue, and use their power against his church. Those that understand by the white horse, the gospel, or God’s dispensations to his church under the first period, and by the rider, Christ, (amongst whom is our famous Mede,) think, that hereby all the time is signified from Christ’s ascension, which was in the thirty-fourth year after his incarnation, till the time that all the apostles were dead, that is, the first hundred years after Christ (for so long histories tell us John lived). It was the age then current, and so may take up part of the vision of things that were to come. The history of all but forty of those years we have in the Acts, till Paul was carried prisoner to Rome. In this period ruled Augustus Caesar, (in whose time Christ was born, Luke 2:1,) Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero, Galba, Otho, Flavius Vespasianus, Titus, and Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan, ten or eleven in all. They went on conquering, and to conquer the world. But till Nero’s time, about the year 66, they did not begin to persecute the Christians; nor did Vespasian and Titus much rage, nor Domitian, till he had reigned eight years: so as I leave it indifferent to the reader, whether to understand by the white horse and his rider, God’s dispensations of providence to his church these first years, causing his gospel to prevail much, and conquering many to the profession of it, or the Roman empire, with those that ruled it: what is said is true of both.

[1] Greek: καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδού, ἵππος λευκός, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ ἔχων τόξον· καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ στέφανος, καὶ ἐξῆλθε νικῶν, καὶ ἵνα νικήσῃ. [2] Psalm 45:4, 5: “And in thy majesty ride (καὶ ἔντεινον, καὶ κατευοδοῦ, καὶ βασίλευε, and bend [thy bow], and prosper, and reign) prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; wherebythe people fall under thee.[3] Lagus (fourth century BC) is said to be the father of Ptolemy I, and hence progenitor of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Seleucus I Nicator (c. 358-281 BC) was a Macedonian officer of Alexander the Great and progenitor of the Seleucid dynasty. The Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt (305-30 BC) and the Seleucid dynasty of Asia (312-63 BC) were rivals and fought a series of six wars, known as the Syrian Wars. [4] Ja’far ibn Muhammad Abu Ma’shar al-Balkhi, also known as Apomasar (in Byzantine Greek) and Albumasar (in Medieval Latin) (787-886), was an Iranian-Afghan mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, author, historian, and Islamic philosopher. [5] Psalm 60:4: “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth (לְהִתְנוֹסֵ֑ס מִ֜פְּנֵ֗י קֹ֣שֶׁט; τοῦ φυγεῖν ἀπὸ προσώπου τόξου, that they might flee from the bow). Selah.” In the Authorized Version, לְהִתְנוֹסֵס is related to נסס, to be high, and קֹשֶׁט/koshet is rendered truth; but in the Septuagint, לְהִתְנוֹסֵס is related to נוּס, to flee, and קֶשֶׁת/keshet, to bow. [6] Basil the Great was a fourth century Church Father and stalwart defender of Nicean Trinitarianism.


Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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