* The text of the address given at the graduation exercises of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary on June 14, 1999 in Holland, MI.
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
Revelation 6:1, 2
The white horse of Revelation 6:2 ran in the building of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan the week of June 6.
It was wonderful to behold.
For the white horse with its rider is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And a man who had been trained by the churches was approved by examination before the synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches and was declared a candidate for the ministry of the Word and Sacraments.
Indeed, the white horse ran through all the deliberations of the Protestant Reformed synod, inasmuch as they all had as their purpose the preaching of the gospel, whether in the local churches, on the mission field, or at the seminary. This, at bottom, is what the Dordt Church Order means in Article 30 when it stipulates that in the major assemblies “ecclesiastical matters only shall be transacted.” “Ecclesiastical matters” are those that serve the preaching of the gospel.
Because the deliberations and decisions of the synod had to do with the running of the white horse, they were weighty.
Because the graduation of the seminarian is very really a stride in the white horse’s gallop, this ceremony is the occasion of celebration.
For the white horse looms large in the history of the world. It dominates. Unleashed by the Lamb’s opening the first of the seals that seal the scroll in the right hand of the triune God on His throne, the white horse with its rider is huge in the time and space of our world. Sizable as the following three horses are—war! economic realities with all their social consequences! death!—they are overshadowed by the white horse. The titanic figure of the beast in Revelation 13 is a peanut in comparison with the white horse. Even the monstrous dragon, whose tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth and who establishes an impressive world-empire of daunting power and glittering splendor, is dwarfed by the white horse and its rider.
The white horse in its running is the great backdrop of the panorama of the present age as presented by the book of Revelation. Better, it is the central figure and event in this panorama.
Christ in the Gospel
The white horse with its crowned and armed rider is the power of the slain, risen, and exalted Lamb, Jesus Christ, in the world. This power of Christ establishes, maintains, and advances His kingdom. It also defeats and destroys the kingdom of man, which is the kingdom of Satan. The white horse is the power of the exalted Christ in the world inasmuch as it is His very presence—not a bodily presence, but a real presence nevertheless.
The alternative is to explain the white horse as antichrist, or as the antichristian Roman empire. The premillennialist Harry Bultema, following C. I. Schofield, identified the white horse as the antichrist (Verklaring van de Openbaring, 1921, pp. 122-124). The present-day Presbyterians who are aggressively promoting postmillennialism basically agree with their fellow millennialists by identifying the white horse as “the Roman army victoriously entering Israel toward Jerusalem” (Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion, 1992, p. 403). Thus, antichrist, or antichristian Rome, is acknowledged as the victorious hero in history, “conquering and to conquer.” Where does this leave Christ? What does this imply concerning His power in the world, to establish and extend His kingdom? Is this not “pessimism” and “defeatism”?
That the white horse with its rider represents the powerful presence of Jesus Christ in New Testament history is evident. First, Scripture’s witness to God’s exaltation of the risen Christ makes it unlawful to say of any other person or might that he or it goes forth “conquering and to conquer.”
Second, in light of what has just been revealed in Revelation 5 of the sovereignty and power of Jesus Christ, it is impossible to think of any other conqueror in the first verses of chapter 6 than Him.
Third, the similar figure in chapter 19 of a rider on a white horse, which rider is there plainly identified as Jesus Christ, requires us to explain this symbol of Christ, not of His enemy.
Fourth, there is the color of the horse. The horse is white. The color white in Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture is not simply symbolic of victory. But it is symbolic of heavenly splendor and victory. The white horse, as white horse, represents heaven’s triumph, indeed, the triumph of the all-glorious God.
And, fifth, the Old Testament, which the book of Revelation builds on and develops, presents Jesus Christ as the mounted and heavily armed warrior, who rides victoriously in the world.
Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
And in thy majesty ride 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;
whereby the people fall under thee (Psalm 45:3-5).
The question is, “What is the power of the exalted Christ in the world to establish His own kingdom and to defeat the kingdom of the beast? How is Christ powerfully present in this world?”
Revelation 6:2 does not say.
But elsewhere Scripture makes plain that the power of Christ is His Word, rendered almighty by His Spirit, and that this Word goes forth in and through the preaching of the church in the office of the ministry of the gospel. To refer only to the New Testament, this is the line of biblical teaching that begins with Jesus’ own ministry as a preaching ministry; runs through the great commission to the apostles and New Testament church, the activity of the apostles in the book of Acts, and the injunction to the church in the epistles; and ends in the description of the calling of the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 (Mark 1:14; 16:15; Acts 1:8; II Tim. 4:2; Rev. 3:7, 8).
Inasmuch as Christ’s Word is entrusted to the church, and is proclaimed by her, Zechariah 10:3 can say that the LORD makes the congregation “as his goodly horse in the battle,” victoriously fighting the battle of the LORD in history.
White horse, rider, and bow—all together as one figure represent the preaching of the gospel, to which are attached the sacraments and from which discipline may not be divorced.
But this is the reality of the white horse only because the preaching of the gospel is truly the Word of Jesus Christ—the Word that He Himself speaks from heaven, the Word that is energized by the Holy Spirit with all the power of His resurrection-life. Take this away, reduce the preaching to a mere human discourse about Jesus, and the preaching has no power to establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ against the tremendous force of Satan on behalf of the kingdom of antichrist. Then the doubtful question must arise: “What is the power of Christ in history?” And even: “Is there a power of Christ in history?”
Since the first of the four horses of the Apocalypse is the preaching of the gospel, it was a happy coincidence of providence that the name of the public house where the early English Reformers met to discuss the gospel and the need to spread it was the “White Horse Inn.”
The preaching of the gospel by the church—this is first in the counsel of God for the present age, between the ascension of Christ and the end of all things at His return. Such is the significance of the truth that the opening of the very first seal of the scroll is the sending out of the preaching of the gospel.
The preaching of the gospel by the church—this is served by the other three horses that follow. War, economic realities of riches and poverty with their accompanying social conflicts, and death are only means by which, and ways along which, the gospel runs its victorious course.
The preaching of the gospel by the church—this results in the persecution, martyrdom, and then victory in heaven in the intermediate state of those who confess the truth of the gospel. Such is the teaching of the fifth seal (vv. 9-11).
The preaching of the gospel by the church—this, with the realities of the following four seals, continues right up to the end, immediately before Christ’s return. Such is the idea of the sixth seal, which consists of the catastrophes and terror of the revelation of the wrath of the Lamb in the great day of His wrath (vv. 12-17).
And the preaching of the gospel by the church in the office of the ministry—this lends solemnity to the synod of the PRC and joy to the graduation ceremony of a candidate for the ministry in the PRC. Look closely at the white horse, and among all its detail you will see the 1999 synod of the PRC and the gift of Garrett Eriks to the churches as a pastor and teacher.
(to be concluded)