Beware of the White KnightBlog, Featured — By Larry Shallenberger on September 27, 2011 at 8:00 am
I’m doing some character research for an upcoming book and have been looking a quartet of characters in Revelation we commonly refer to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Interpreters generally see the four horsemen as personifications of “conquest”, “war”, “pestilence/ or famine”, and “death.” They seem to have the same function as did the ten plagues in Egypt that preceded the Exodus. John seems to indicate that these calamities are meant to warn the world that a more ultimate judgment is coming and that there is time to change.
I was fascinated by how much disagreement there is among Christian interpreters over the morality of the Rider of the White Horse. Billy Graham believed the White Rider was the Anti-Christ who was a counterfeit to Jesus, who we see riding a white horse in Revelation 19. Other interpreters see the Rider as being Jesus, himself. Irenaeus popularized this view in the second century.
Not surprisingly, the church historically embraces the White Rider during times of war. When Spain was at war with the Moors, they recast their adopted patron, St. James, as being the White Rider. James “the Just” was depicted as a general going offer to slaughter the infidels who threatened to destroy their Christian way of life. The myth grew until James was re-envisioned as a conquistador, on a white horse. He was known as “St. James the Moor Killer.”
The church placed a second saint on the white horse. St. George became venerated for being martyred for refusing to renounce his faith at Caesar Diocletian’s order. George was a valued officer in the Roman army, but his refusal to recant his faith left Diocletian no choice but to order his execution.
The Crusaders revived St. George’s legend of slaying a dragon. This dragon, historically, was probably a large crocodile that harassed a village. But the crocodile was expanded to be a proper dragon, and St. George was mounted on a white horse, as we can see in this painting:
Images of St. George battling the dragon were embossed on shield and flags and became the guiding image the church used to explain its war against Muslims.
Looking backward through history, its easy to see the excesses of the church and how it used the book of Revelation to legitimize its conquest. By creating a champion on the white horse, their cause became a crucial event in the end times. They were able to borrow the morality of the White Rider and make it their own. These governments possessed the necessary imagery to cast their opponents as the forces of evil. Just War was achieved through clever iconography. The end result was the church being co-opted and manipulated by the state for its own purposes.
During this election cycle, I’m sadly reminded of how these dynamics play into our politics. I am an Evangelical. I’m also a Republican. But I’m saddened by what’s happened at the intersection of those two circles. My party has a history of demonizing its opponents and setting its champions on the white horse of conquest. We talk about taking “America back for God.” We’ve trotted out homosexuals and single mothers and recast them as the dragons needing slain before our families are safe again. Bachmann and Perry have taken up the culture warrior mantle for the party this season, while more sensible candidates such as Huntsman are ignored.
This election season, be suspicious of the candidates painted on the white horse of conquest. Be doubly suspicious when they borrow the language of our sacred scriptures. The church should resemble many things, but the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is not one of them.