One of the most popular images from the Book of Revelation is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first of the horsemen wears a crown and is holding a bow.
Have you ever wondered where the rider’s bow came from? Let’s first look at the actual scripture where the description is found:
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. (Revelation 6:1-2)
The imagery holds some clues to the character of the rider. First, he’s riding a horse. He’s wearing a crown, and he “came out conquering, and to conquer.” There’s a bow in his hand. Have you ever seen the Lord of The Rings movies? Look at this image of Aragorn from Return of the King:
He’s carrying a sword, but it wasn’t uncommon in ancient days for fierce warriors to wield bows, as depicted in this Assyrian art.
So St. John shows for us a conquering warrior on horseback, who wears a crown. He’s a warrior-king.
But where does the bow come from? For the answers, let’s return to the Book of Genesis. After the Flood, and after smelling the pleasing aroma from Noah’s sacrifice of burnt offerings made from the clean beasts and fowl (those fresh off of the ark), the Lord’s wrath was appeased. He told Noah:
“This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. “ (Genesis 9:12-15)
We recognize God’s bow when we see rainbows in the sky after a freshly-fallen rainstorm. God went to war with the earth, and then after his wrath was appeased he hung his bow in the clouds as a reminder that he would never again flood the earth to destroy it.
Where else is God’s bow discussed? Let’s find out what Ezekiel saw during his prophetic vision when he was raptured into God’s throneroom:
And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. (Ezekiel 1:26-28)
Ezekiel, upon being carried up into God’s throneroom, saw God sitting in his throne and above and around him was the bow “that is in the cloud on the day of rain.”
When St. John was carried into the throneroom during his vision, the bow was still there:
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. (Revelation 4:2-3)
O Lord, I have heard the report of you, (Hab. 3:2)
and your work, O Lord, do I fear…
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows.Selah
You split the earth with rivers… (Hab. 3:9)
The sun and moon stood still in their place
at the light of your arrows as they sped,
at the flash of your glittering spear… (Hab. 3:11)
Habakkuk describes the Lord as a warrior king, riding out in anger against those who persecute his people, crushing the heads of their enemies and firing arrows into the heads of the wicked. He was predicting the coming of the Messiah and His salvation of his people.
In St. John’s vision, the Lamb steps forward and takes the book (scroll) of the New Covenant out of the right hand of God the Father who sits in his throne (Revelation 5:7). The Lamb is Christ, who was offered as a living sacrifice for all of our sins. When he takes the scroll, He also reaches up and takes his Father’s bow.
He conquered so that He may be worthy to open the Book, and He continues to conquer throughout all of the world. As David Chilton wrote in Days of Vengeance, “He rode forth at His Resurrection and Ascension as the already victorious King, conquering and to conquer, extending the applications of His once-for-all, definitive victory throughout the earth.”
The apostate, covenant-nation of Israel had joined forces with the heathen Roman Empire to persecute Christians. God’s covenant people had become apostate and turned to the left and the right. As is written in Hebrews, Chapter 10, the Israelites trampled Christ under their feet, regarded Christ’s blood of the New Covenant as unclean, and insulted the Spirit of Grace.
“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Christ had come and conquered. He was now, with the opening of the first of the seven seals, riding out against his enemies in judgment, to destroy them for their sins and rescue his people, his bride, his Church, from their wicked tyranny.