We Christians of the Reformed persuasion do not do well with end-times biblical prophecy. Part of this is due to the fact that many of us do not believe in a future thousand year reign or rapture; and part is due to our belief that Jesus’ return will be immediate, sudden and total. Such is to our disadvantage but I digress.
However, not all of us in this theological camp believe this way, and some of us look forward to Christ’s coming as a systematic, methodical return of Christ complete with the need to grapple with the horrible and terrible tribulations and judgments that loom in the New Testament – particularly the Book of Revelation. I think a fair reading of the prophecies surrounding Israel’s revitalization as first a nation and then as a nation hungering after God begs to us to believe that much of the Book of Revelation is still yet future.
Since the first three chapters pertain to the Church at the time of John’s writings, one needs to start any investigation with Revelation 4 and then reflect from there on how these scriptures harmonize with the rest of Scripture. Specifically, an analysis needs to be undertaken to see whether the seals mentioned in Revelation 4 and 5, that are then opened in Revelation 6, speak of things past or things yet future.
I would argue that the seals, trumpets and bowls of Revelation are all things that pertain to future events. One of the biggest reasons I believe this is that full control of Jerusalem was not achieved by Israel until 1967, and is arguably still not under complete Jewish control as the Dome of the Rock still sits upon the Temple Mount site. Both Daniel 9 and Thessalonians 2 speak of a temple that performs sacrifices and offerings that will cease these offerings due to the authority of the one Paul called the Son of Destruction and the Lawless One who will “take his seat in the Temple of God” and then be destroyed by breath of Jesus mouth at his second coming. Since no event in history aligns with these prophecies in a direct, recognizable way, it seems reasonable to conclude them unfulfilled and yet still coming by the One who never lies and never fails to uphold his promises.
But it is the first seal that gets the ball rolling and the question what or who is it? Revelation 6 says that the first seal is opened in this way:
Now I watched 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!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.
So that’s it. Two lengthy, mysterious chapters describing the glory and worthiness of Jesus to open the scroll, but at the crucial moment when the scroll is finally opened we have a little more than 50 words to inaugurate the opening salvo of God’s great tribulations and wrath upon the earth. Why is there so little detail? Why is there so little explanation?
Is the rider a military conqueror? Or is he a man of peace, who then turns to war and conquest? Is the rider a man at all? Could he be the depiction of a nation or a movement that ushers in the Son of Destruction that Paul reviles in 2 Thessalonians? I believe that the lack of detail is obviously brief and vague for good reason, we have enough people running around with all sorts of crazed theories about who the white horse conqueror is and what he intends. But the limited detail still gives us much to contemplate.
To John’s contemporaries, a white horse would have been immediately attributed to a victorious conqueror consistent with Roman generals past and of the day. And we see how the text immediately validates this symbolism as the rider is introduced as a conqueror with a bow in his hand who goes out conquering. There is no stalking-horse Antichrist making a fragile seven year peace pact directly in view here, there is only an unidentified conqueror that may or may not be the individual in Daniel 9, 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13.
Global Implications & Analysis
With any conqueror comes the pretext of war and with any impeding war (or wars as the text opens the door for multiple conflicts or a sustained regional or global war) comes the collapse of markets. Such a shaking of the financial markets would be exacerbated by the collapse of global markets that are over-extended due to irrational investor exuberance – such as during the dot com boom of 1998-2000.
It is not hard to imagine that with just the threat of war, let alone an actual large scale conflict, that global markets would be affected. Today, even mildly bad news (such as the Ebola scare in West Africa of 2014) can drop markets over 10% in just a few weeks’ worth of trading. As we saw with the financial crisis of 2008, such protectionism can push global markets to the brink of a full scale financial collapse, depress economies and trigger massive layoffs and corporate restructuring. And just a 20% drop of most major markets would trigger a major shift in the psychology of consumer spending, bank lending and investors from that of investing to excessive protection.
In 2008, a full scale collapse was avoided, but such avoidance seems less likely here unless the conqueror begins his campaign in the wake of a financial crisis sparked by the region he is attacking. The 2008 financial crisis was due in large part to the over extension of lending credit to subprime real estate in the United States, that when coupled with bond issues in Europe (such as in Greece, Italy and Spain) forced large banks to slow and even stop lending. But should the white horse conqueror of Revelation 6 attack an area of current or future global economic importance, such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia, India, China or North America today, the same risk contagion that spread in the United States and Europe would very likely reoccur as financial institutions assess the risk of lending into a global market with a high degree of uncertainty. Even without a war, which we see is impossible given the seals that follow, the threat of hyper-inflation and rising price of commodities and precious metals would only heighten tensions as the world looks to the conqueror’s next move.
The arrival of the white horse conqueror will signal not only the beginning of the end, but an opportunity for God’s saints to preach the Good News of Jesus to rattled souls and troubled hearts. Prepping for such a financial collapse is largely useless and counter-productive as the progression leading up to these events will likely be accompanied by Christian persecutions including the confiscation of possessions including any gold, food stores and make-shift bomb shelters. There is no doubt that the last days of this earth will be terrible for saint and unbeliever alike, but far more terrible is the judgments to come on those who reject the free offer of salvation given by Jesus.
The arrival of this white horse conqueror will come swiftly. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus said that the end will come like a flood just as the Great Flood came in Noah’s day. In our social media driven age, it’s not hard to imagine how a major international figure could arise in just a few weeks’ time.
Though the end of the age is at an hour when not even our Lord Jesus knows, the constant drumbeat of technological change, persecution of both Jew and Christian alike and the rise of humanism should alone be enough to drive the Church to pray for unbelieving friends, family and neighbors.