Who is the man on the red horse in Zechariah 1:8?
In the first seven verses of Zechariah 1 we read of a great call to repentance communicated by God through Zechariah. “…Return to Me…” (1:3), “…Return now from your evil way and from your evil deeds…” (1:4), “…Then they (their fathers) repented…” This is one of the strongest calls to repentance that can be found in Zechariah, along with the entire Old Testament and establishes a proper mindset when reading and studying the remainder of the book.
In Zechariah 1:8 we read the following:
I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel and white horses behind him. (NASB) [bold mine]
This takes place about 3 months after the initial vision of Zechariah, around late January, early February, 519 BC. The word of the Lord comes to Zechariah with what is called the first of 8 visions. “Word of the Lord” carries the idea of God speaking directly to Zechariah and Zechariah repeating what the Lord told him. The words that follow are not Zechariah’s, they are not the popular theology of the day, or in any way influenced by the culture. Much like Jeremiah, Zechariah repeats what the Lord has said and is willing to face the consequences by his fellow Israelites. (For a modern day example of this do an Internet search on “Pastor Justin Hoke” and see what has happened to him for speaking the truth).
“I saw at night,” a bit reminiscent of Nicodemus and Jesus (John 3:1-21). “Behold” is a powerful word that must not be neglected when reading Scripture.
The “behold” indicates that something very important is about to be revealed or seen by the recipient. “PAY ATTENTION” would be a very good way of reading the “behold”. In the New Testament we have many “beholds” but also in the same vein when our Lord says, “Verily, verily” He is conveying a similar mode of communication. This message is urgent, this message is important, do not just read over this and not pay attention to the details.
“A man was riding on a red horse.” This is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ in one of His pre-incarnate appearances. But the question remains, “how can we know this is Christ and not an angel?” A very good question that astute readers of Scripture would ask. One of the principles of Biblical interpretation is Scripture interprets Scripture. A simple definition for this principle is that we look at the Bible as a whole and do not attempt to interpret verses by themselves. Confusing passages can be clarified by comparing them with clearer passages. When we examine any subject in the Scripture we must examine all the Scriptures not just what we like or what our denominations teach. (For further study on this subject I would recommend, "An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics" by Dr. Mal Couch, general editor.)
In order to utilize the principle of “scripture interprets scripture” we must look at all passages concerning the “man riding the red horse” and see if we have any further clues. In v.9 Zechariah asks for further clarification of what he is seeing. Instead of the angel who accompanies Zechariah answering his question the “man” answers in v. 10. The “man” answers in such a way to show He is superior to the remaining horsemen, “These (He does not include Himself) are they whom the LORD has sent to walk to and from through the earth.” So we can deduct from just these few verses the following about the man;
- He is named first in the list. In the Scriptures it is a safe assumption that the first listed is preeminent in the list (Peter is always listed first in the listing of the disciples, (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6: 12-16).
- He has authority over the other horsemen. They answer to Him in 1:11. He does not report to them.
- When Zechariah asks his question he is answered by the man and not by an accompanying angel. Once more asserting His authority over the angels
Now we come to the capstone of our identification of the man on the red horse as the Lord Jesus Christ. In v. 11 the three horsemen answer the man on the red horse and He is addressed as, “the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle tree…” When we compare the two passages we see the identity of the man on the red horse revealed:
I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled and white. (KJV) [Bold mine]
And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and behold, all the earth sitteth still and is at rest. (KJV) [Bold mine]
Now we know with hard evidence that the man is the Lord Jesus Christ. By this passage alone we learn that Christ is above the angels, we learn that Christ existed before His birth in Bethlehem, and we learn that Christ is not only among Christians but among the Jewish nation (myrtle trees). This pre-incarnate appearance, along with the many others in the Old Testament, shed much light and help us develop our beliefs and teachings about Jesus Christ.
The man is not a mystery when we read the entire Scripture. If we were only to read Zechariah 1:8 we would be in confusion. The need to read the whole of Scripture is reiterated in the New Testament by Paul:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)
Do we wish to understand harder parts of Scripture? Do we want to comprehend more obscure passages of Scripture? A good starting point is demonstrated in this passage. Read on and find out what the whole Scripture says.