To answer this question,
What one has to remember is the blood on the robe that the rider on
the white horse wears,is symbolic and the verse is to be interpreted
symbolically(taken from here)
Since what the rider wears is symbolic(or figurative-representitive of another reality), therefore the horse he rides on is also figurative.
Both riders ride on "White" horses; "white" is to be understood as the color of purity,
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which
are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?
14And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are
they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes,
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb
A "white" horse is a horse that carries truth which is pure. Since the "Antichrist" or Beast of Rev. 12:3 is red,
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red
dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his
It can be infered that the "Beast" of Rev. 13:1 is also red(some translations use scarlet), since the only difference between the 2 Beasts is the placement of their crowns.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the 1st rider is not the Antichrist. Another passage which also supports this truth is from Isa. 1:18,
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins
be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like
crimson, they shall be as wool.
The question therefore becomes, "If it is not the Antichrist, then who is it"?
Sometime ago I recorded an answer to this question in which I quoted an author who described 4 different methods(or hermeneutics) of eschatological interpretation. Depending on which one you use, will depend on the answer(or non-answer) you have. I will discount both the Idealist and Preterist/Covenant Theology interpretation for this discussion, because neither remotely suggests the 1st rider as being the "Antichrist".
Dispensational eschatology has mostly been attributed as seeing the 1st rider as the "Antichrist". A main expositor for Dispensationalism writes,
“From what has already been plainly found, the time here is that of
the earliest stage of Antichrist’s times. It has been learned from 2
Thess. 2:7-8 that his open revelation succeeds the removal from the
earth of the restraining agency of the overcoming saints. And from
Dan. 7:8, 20; 8:9; and 11:40-43, it is made plain that Antichrist
first conducts in the earth a period of sweeping, victorious warfare.
The field of conflict will be the territories of the restored northern
(Syrian), southern (Egyptian), and eastern (Mesopotamian) kingdoms of
the old Grecian Empire. The figure of a white horse, and of his rider
seated erect with drawn bow and with victor’s wreath upon his brow, is
the favourite oriental symbol of the military conqueror” (taken from A
Revelation of Jesus Christ by John F. Walvoord)
Dispensationalism MUST make this rider the "Antichrist" because it sees the church as being raptured after the last letter to the churches in Rev. 3,
After chapter 3 of the book of Revelation, the church is not
mentioned by the apostle John until Revelation 19:7-11. It is
important to understand the underlying reason for this. The most
reliable reason is that the church will be raptured to the Heaven
before the opening of the "Seven Seals" in Revelation 6. That is to
say, the church will not undergo the 7 years Tribulation Period. In
this connection, it is worthwhile to examine the reasons for the
church will not undergo the tribulation period before proceeding to
chapter 4 of the book of Revelation.
For more information in this topic, please read Dr. J. Dwight
Pentecost, Things to Come, A Study in Biblical Eschatology, Zondervan
Dwight Pentecost is another major proponent of Dispensationalism.
To summerize Dispensationalism's view, the "white" horse cannot be 'truly white' since,
1) It is not Christ
2) It comes after the church is Raptured
This is because their hermeneutic forbids them any other consideration.
Another view is "Historicist", and basically states that eschatology 'historically' unfolds throughout the centuries. There is much disagreement as to what the various symbologies mean, so it is not the most popular; but I believe it is the most honest, as it doesn't 'bunch-up' all the interpretations of Revelations at the beginning of the church age, as Preterism/Covenant Theology does, nor does it 'bunch-up' all the interpretations of Revelations beyond Chapter 3 into the last 7 years, as Dispensationalism does. It sees significant prophetic fulfillment throughout church history, therefore the focus is not on "which end of the spectrum" but revelation-an unfolding of God's plan.
So to answer the question, "Who is the rider", let's examine the whole verse,
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. 2And 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.(Rev. 6:1-2)
The Lamb opens the seal, so it stands that the Lamb is not riding the horse-we see the Lamb(Word of God) in Rev. 19:11. But the "rider is riding a white horse", who is it?
Since it is figurative, it is representitive of another reality; the 'white horse' is a 'vehicle' for the righteous to ride on, and that 'vehicle' is the Gospel.
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for
a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.(Matt. 24:14)
'witness'μαρτύριον, μαρτυρίου, τό (μάρτυρ (cf. μάρτυς)), (from Pindar,
Herodotus down), the Sept. for עֵד, עֵדָה, more often for עֵדוּת (an
ordinance, precept); most frequently for מועֵד (an assembly), as
though that came from עוּד to testify, whereas it is from יָעַד to
appoint; testimony(Thayer's Lexicon)
is a ordinance and testimony, by which the world is judged. Therefore, the gospel must go out, so that God's righteous judgements apply, or men would not know from what they are being judged. But who is the 'rider' and why does he have a 'bow' and why is a crown given to him?
When Constantine said,"In hoc signo vinces"(under this sign, conquer), this rider went forth, conquering, and to conquer. It 1st swept the Western European Nations, then throughout the whole earth(Asia, Africa, Mid-East, North America, South America) where governments 1st conquered, then sent forth missionaries to evangelize the people. Pres. McKinley said in 1903,
"When I next realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I
confess I did not know what to do with them. . . And one night late it
came to me this way. . .1) That we could not give them back to Spain-
that would be cowardly and dishonorable; 2) that we could not turn
them over to France and Germany-our commercial rivals in the
Orient-that would be bad business and discreditable; 3) that we not
leave them to themselves-they are unfit for self-government-and they
would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's
wars; and 4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them
all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and
Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by
them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died(from here)
McKinley was only representitive of the previous world rulers, who saw it their duty to, "Christianize" the worlds they conquered, and rule until they did. Thus we see the 'bow' as an weapon of long distance sending, whereas the 'crown', of which ONLY this rider wears, denotes governance.
What is important to see is the rider didn't necessarily wear white(doesn't say what he wore). But HIS PURPOSE(the White Horse), was to "conquer" to enable the Gospel, and that purpose has been fuflfilled.