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B. W. Johnson
Vision of the Ages (1881)



The White Horse.--The Crowned Warrior.--An Epoch of Triumphant War.--Is Christ Meant?--
Why Not.--The Era of Trajan.--The Greatness of the Empire; its Conquests and
Prosperity.--The Significance of the Bow.

      If the reader has followed the preceding chapter he is ready to behold the sweep of vision beginning with the opening of the first seal. Let it not be forgotten that the sealed book is the book of destiny, and that as it is opened the symbolical map of the future is unrolled. The sixth chapter opens with these words:

      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.

      As the first seal was broken a vivid scene was stamped upon the apostolic vision. There swept along a white horse, upon which sat a crowned [62] warrior, armed with a bow. And he went forth conquering and to conquer. This is what John saw. We are to remember that it is a picture of some event or events of future history. We are to remember that it is symbolical, and that, instead of looking for a literal fulfillment, we are to ask the meaning of the symbols. There are several features of the vision that fix our attention: 1. The horse. 2. His white color. 3. The armed warrior. 4. His crown. 5. His bow. 6. His mission. It is certain that none of these features would have been named if they did not possess a significance.

      THE WHITE HORSE.--1. What does the horse signify in Bible symbolism? Any symbol dictionary will inform the reader that the horse is a symbol of war. He was never used by the Jews or Orientals as a beast of burden. The ox and the ass were devoted to that office, and the horse was reserved for war. Whenever the horse is mentioned by the prophets it will be found in connection with war-like employments. For the reason that he was solely a war-like animal, the multiplication of horses was forbidden to the Jews by the law of Moses. In the sublime description of the horse found in Job 39:19-25, there is only notice of those qualities which pertain to war. Hence this symbol points to a period of war, though it alone does [63] not declare whether the conflict is carnal or spiritual, is triumphant or disastrous.

      2. As there are three more horses in succession under the three following seals, each of different colors, the color must have a meaning. White must have a different significance from red, or black, or pale. What is indicated by the color of the first horse? White is the color of prosperity, of happiness. When the generals of that great empire of which Paul was a citizen, and John a subject, returned to the Roman capital from victorious campaigns over the enemies on the distant frontiers, they halted, without the city walls, until the, Senate decided how they were to enter. If it was voted that the general was entitled by his victories to a triumph, milk-white horses wore attached to his chariot, and, drawn by these, followed by the spoils of war and a long line of captive princes or generals, he entered the gates and marched through the streets of the imperial city. The white horse indicates conquering war. As a symbol it always indicates triumphant war. In the nineteenth chapter, when the mighty wearer of many crowns moves upon the nations with the two-edged sword of conquest, he is represented as riding upon a white horse.

      We also know that the bearer of the bow, whoever or whatever may be signified, is a [64] conqueror. He went forth conquering, and he continued to conquer.

      THE WARRIOR.--The facts already noted declare the mission of this warrior. His mission is to conquer. The language and symbols all point to a period of triumphant war. The bow is a warlike weapon. It could be an emblem of only two things--of hunting and of war. In this connection it certainly means the latter. There were bowmen in all the ancient armies; but if we can find any race whose national weapon was the bow, this symbol would seem to point to such a race. The crown upon the head of this conqueror indicates that he shall be a crowned monarch. Nor shall he be crowned as the result of his conquests. The crown shall be given him before he goes forth to conquer. The special mission of the warrior will be considered under the interpretation.

      THE MEANING.--We have now determined the meaning according to the laws for the interpretation of prophetic symbols. It remains to ask whether, near the period when John wrote "shortly," there are events, in history which would correspond with the symbols. These events, too, must be within the, scope of prophecy. They must refer to the Church, or to the Roman Empire, within whose vast boundaries the Church was confined. The events will [65] show that the reference in several of the seals is directly to the Empire and indirectly to the Church.

      As this is the first seal, it is of the utmost importance to a correct interpretation of what follows, that its true meaning should be learned. A mistake made at this point will be fatal. He who starts wrong cannot escape the consequences of his error. I shall therefore take an unusual amount of space to determine its meaning beyond a reasonable doubt. John has indicated the time when the march of history symbolized in Revelation would begin. He has said that the events must shortly come to pass. This language implies that they would begin within a few years, at most, of the time when he wrote. As we have found that the date of his banishment to Patmos was about A. D. 95-96, it is therefore to be expected that the first epoch would begin about the commencement of the second century.

      Many interpreters have held that the seal symbolizes the progress of the Church, and that the crowned conqueror is Christ. I dissent from this view for reasons that I will indicate. (1.) Christ appears often in Revelation, and there is always something symbolical about the manner in which he is represented. In the fifth chapter he appears under the [66] symbol of a Lamb; and again, in chapter XIV., it is the Lamb who stands on Mt. Zion. In the fourteenth verse of the same chapter one "like the Son of Man" is seen upon a white cloud, with a sharp sickle in his hand, to indicate that the harvest time has come, when the earth shall be reaped. In chapter I., the Son of Man is seen, radiant as the sun, with a two-edged sword proceeding out of his mouth. In chapter XIX. one sat upon a white horse, who was called Faithful and True, wearing upon his head many crowns, clothed in a vesture dipped in blood, and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp sword, emblematic of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The sword, the weapon by which the Roman soldier had conquered the world, is constantly used as a symbol of the Word, which is Christ's instrumentality for reducing the world to his sway. The conquering Savior is constantly pictured forth with the sword proceeding out of his mouth, but never appears with a bow. His conquests are effected with the sword of the Spirit.

      The bow must possess a significance. He who rides upon the second house has a great sword, and the rider of the third horse carries a pair of balances. If these symbols have a meaning, so also must the weapon carried by [67] the rider of the white horse. It is evident, from the bow, that the rider is not Christ. I assign still another reason why Christ is not meant. There follow in succession, as the seals are opened, four figures riding upon horses of different colors. It cannot be that these kindred symbols refer to entirely different realms. If the first horseman represents a spiritual power, the three others cannot represent material agencies; yet nearly all interpreters admit that the red horse is a symbol of carnage; the black, of mourning, caused by distress and oppression; and the pale horse, of famine and pestilence. It therefore follows that the white horse also must represent some kind of an earthly agency. It must refer to some period of prosperity and triumphant war closely following John's exile to Patmos. As it has an earthly signification, it is probable that we must look for an epoch in the history of the Roman Empire, beginning near the opening of the second century. I ask the reader to study the history of this period.

      THE EPOCH OF TRAJAN.--I hold that those symbols are surprisingly fulfilled by an epoch beginning with the reign of the emperor Nerva, of which Trajan is the principal figure. John was an exile on Patmos in the last year of the reign of Domitian, A. D. 96. In that year the [68] tyrant was slain. The humane Nerva succeeded him upon the Roman throne. With his reign begins a new epoch, it once the most brilliant and the most prosperous in Roman history. He was the founder of a new family of Cæsars. He adopted, as his son and successor, the warlike Trajan, and four years later that distinguished warrior and conqueror received the crown. His reign, beginning some four or five years after John wrote, constitutes one of the most remarkable eras in Roman history. He went forth "conquering and to conquer." His incessant wars were uniformly triumphant, and during his reign the Roman Empire reached its greatest dimensions, since a great part of his possessions were resigned by his successor, never to be recovered. Vast is were the limits of the empire under Julius and Augustus Cæsar, the empire ruled by Trajan was much more vast. The mighty kingdom of Parthia, in the heart of Central Asia, which had before successfully hurled back the Roman armies, was laid prostrate at his feet, and his victorious legions then turned southward, until they stood upon the shores of the southern seas. The terror of the Roman name was carried into kingdoms that had never before seen the face of a Roman soldier. While his greatest conquests were in Asia, in Europe, also, he ruled a vaster [69] empire than any Roman, either before or after him. The fierce nations in the dark forests of the vast regions north of the Danube and east of the Rhine had, until his time, successfully resisted the progress or the Roman arms; but his legions forced the passage of the Danube, and, after five years conflicts, conquered the kingdom of Dacia, occupying the regions now marked upon the maps as Hungary and Roumania.

      I will quote from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Vol. I., page 7. The edition of Gibbon that I use, and from which all my reference, will be made, is Milman's Gibbon, in six volumes. After an account of the the conquests of Trajan north of the Danube, the historian speaks of his campaigns in the East:

      "The praises of Alexander, transmitted by a long succession of poets and historians, had kindled a dangerous emulation in the mind of Trajan. Like him, the Roman emperor undertook an expedition against the nations of the East; but he lamented, with a sigh, that his advanced age scarcely left him any hopes of equaling the renown of the son of Philip. Yet the success of Trajan, however transient, was rapid and specious. The degenerate Parthians, broken by intestine discord, fled before his arms. He descended the river Tigris in triumph, from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian Gulf. He enjoyed the honor of being the first, as he was the last, of the Roman generals who ever navigated that remote sea. His fleets ravaged the coasts of Arabia; and Trajan vainly flattered himself that [70] he was approaching the confines of India. Every day the astonished senate received the intelligence of new names and new nations that acknowledged his sway. They were informed that the kings of Bosphorus, Colchos, Iberia, Albania, Osrhoene, and even the Parthian monarch himself had accepted their diadems from the hands of the Emperor; that the independent tribes of the Median and Carduchian hills had implored his protection; and that the rich countries of Armenia, Mesopotamia and Assyria were reduced into the state of provinces."

      This remarkable period of conquest the period when the mighty empire of Rome reached its greatest magnitude, when a Roman emperor followed in the track of Alexander and stood upon the banks of the Arabian Sea, when his armies reached, and the nations obeyed his decrees, from the shores of that Southern Ocean which a Roman had never seen before, to the far distant waters of the Northern Ocean that bathed the British isles, is certainly fitly represented by the symbolism of the vision. Let it be remembered that these events did not follow in some distant age. It is the first seal of the book of the future that was opened. The visions under this seat represent the first events in the order of time that are the subject of prophecy. Those events, it is stated in the opening verse of the book, were "shortly" to come to pass. Trajan was a distinguished general when John wrote. Before John had passed from earth Trajan had [71] received the diadem, and before a generation had passed he stood, the mightiest conqueror of the Roman name, save Julius Cæsar, upon the shores of the Southern Ocean. His age was not only an age of conquest and triumph, fitly symbolized by the white horse and his rider, but an age of internal peace and prosperity. Gibbon (vol. 1. p. 95) declares that "If a man was called upon to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most prosperous and happy, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus." Of this happy period, Trajan, who ascended the throne four years after the death of Domitian, is the chief figure.

      We have found that the symbols are strikingly fulfilled in the epoch of Roman history, known as the age of Trajan, or of the Antonines, beginning with the reign of Nerva. 1. It began immediately after John wrote. 2. It was a period of prosperity. 3. It was the period of the mightiest extent of Roman power. 4. It furnished one of the mightiest conquerors of the Roman name. 5. He was a crowned conqueror, after he received his crown, went forth to conquer. 6. This fulfillment is within the scope of prophecy, which embraces the Roman Empire. [72]

      There is one circumstance, however, that has as yet found no fitting explanation. The rider of the white horse was armed with a bow. This significant fact indicated that Christ was not signified, nor was the bow a Roman weapon. The Roman conquered the world with the short sword. The only weapons he carried to battle were the javelin, which he throw from a distance, and the sword, which he used at close quarters. There were bowmen in Roman armies, but they were not Romans. The bow marks some one else than a Roman warrior.

      There were two races on earth at that time who were famed as bowmen. The bow was the national weapon of the Parthians beyond the Euphrates, and of the Cretans. These islanders were the most famous archers of the world. In all Grecian history the bowmen of their armies are Cretans. The Rhodian slingers, the Thessalian horsemen, the Spartan spearmen, and the Cretan bowmen are constant features of Grecian history. The bow, the national weapon, might signify some one connected with Crete.

      Now I am ready to indicate the astonishing historical accuracy of the prophecy.

      The bow was not a Roman weapon. The national weapons of the Romans were the javelin and the sword. Though there were bowmen [73] in their armies, they were not native Romans. If a Roman soldier was symbolized, he would not be represented as armed with a bow. This weapon would indicate that we must look elsewhere for its fulfillment than to a soldier of the Roman race. A remarkable historical fact is illustrated by the bow. Beginning with Julius, the "Twelve Cæsars" who ruled the empire in succession were all of pure Roman blood. Domitian, the last of the "Twelve Cæsars," the persecutor of John, was of the Roman stock, but he was the last emperor of an old Roman family that ruled for ages. He was succeeded by Nerva, the founder of a family that furnished five Cæsars in succession, Trajan being the adopted son and successor of Nerva, as was Adrian, of Trajan, Antoninus, of Adrian, and Aurelius, of Antoninus. Nerva, the first emperor of this new family, the inaugurator of this epoch of Roman history, was not of the Roman blood. Dion Cassius, a historian of that age, states that he was of Greek descent; and another Roman historian, Aurelius Victor, says that his family came from the Greek island of Crete; or, in other words, he was a Cretan. We have already found that the national weapon of the Cretans was the bow, and that they were famous as bowmen in all the ancient armies. The sharpshooters employed in almost every [74] campaign were Cretans, and they were as famous for their skill with the bow as the Rhodians were for their use of the sling, or the Romans with the short sword. Let it be distinctly noticed that the first Emperor of this epoch, and founder of a family of emperors, was an alien--the first alien who ruled Rome; that his family was of Cretan blood, and that the national weapon of the Cretans was the bow.

      With all these facts before the mind it is not possible to have a reasonable doubt concerning the signification of the first seal. We have therefore solid ground from which to start in our interpretation of the other seals. [75]

[VOTA 62-75]

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B. W. Johnson
Vision of the Ages (1881)