Thursday, October 15, 2020

SURVEY OF REVELATION 19:17-19

 REVIEW OF 19:11-16:  In verse 19:11, John saw a rider and His horse.  Verses 19:11-13, 15-16 are mostly devoted to a description of this rider.  From the description, we can infer that He is the same person that John saw and heard in 1:9ff, the Son of Man, who is also the “first and last...and [is] alive forevermore…” (1:17-18).  Moreover, we can infer that He is the Lamb, whom John saw in 5:6ff.  From these references and others throughout Revelation, we can infer that this rider is the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Moreover, considering various references to the Second Coming, or Parousia, of Jesus, we can identify the appearance of this rider and His armies (19:14) with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  This conclusion would need considerable study to verify.  I write that because the references to Jesus’ Parousia each are unique in detail.  They do not necessarily contradict the description in Revelation 19, but they do contain material that gives a different emphasis or impression than the present description.  For example, consider the statement of the angels in Acts 1:11:  … “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  Notice that the statement in Acts does not mention a horse nor armies nor a battle.  We can say, however, that the Acts statement does not rule those details out.  The emphasis in Acts is simple:  The physical presence of Jesus was removed from those witnesses.  Someday that presence will be restored.  The description in Revelation 19 emphasizes the fact that the Jesus that Christians have believed in and followed as Lord is the Almighty Lord of all the earth who will destroy His enemies and reign supreme.  He will do that when the promise of Acts 1:11 is fulfilled.

Verses 19:11-16 have mostly been descriptive.  The following verses focus on action.  The great King of kings and Lord of lords has come with His armies.  Now let us see what happens!  

VERSE 19:17-18:  The picture that John draws is worthy of an epic movie:  an angel standing in the sun.  This figure for a moment dominates the scene.  First, he dominates by his position:  he is in the sun.  That is to say, he stands tall and broad with his back to the sun.  All who are there see him and their attention is fixed.  Second, he dominates by shouting.  All can see and all can hear.  Third, he dominates by those he addresses.  For he does not address people, though people are the subject.  He, rather, addresses the birds.  

Birds always seem to be around.  They have a very unique ability, one that is singled out in John’s description:  they fly.  This enables them to escape predators, espy sources of food, be aware of the entire physical situation of the environment--having a bird’s eye view.  And birds seem to be in constant motion.  They are flying, alighting, pecking, taking wing, calling to others of their species, building nests, feeding young, ever, ever in motion.  Jesus called our attention to them, reminding us that our heavenly Father feeds them (Matthew 6:26).  It is obvious that birds have to work to make a living, but they are never laid off, for their Employer sees to it that they always have something to do.     

So, this powerful, dominant figure, upon whom all eyes are focused, chooses to address the lowly birds and to issue to them an invitation.  They are invited to a unique opportunity:  to feed at God’s banquet table.  This is not the banquet that is referred to in Revelation 19:9, the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”  Rather, it is a “great supper” that will serve up the bodies of humans.  The birds will be the means by which death becomes the great leveler.  For they will feast without discrimination on kings, high-ranking officers, powerful individuals, whether they are military or civilian, ordinary freemen, and slaves, along with the horses that carry the mighty into battle.

This invitation is an ironic and dramatic statement of what is about to occur:  The enemies of the Lamb of God will be utterly defeated.  A very similar passage may be found in Ezekiel 39:17-20, in which Ezekiel is told to speak “to the birds of every sort and to all the beasts of the field, ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing…”  There is controversy about when the battle of Ezekiel 38-39 occurs and whether it corresponds to this great battle of Revelation 19.  I, with frankness, must say that I cannot answer that question.  Nevertheless, when one considers the language in the invitation to wildlife to feast on the dead, the similarity between the two passages is intriguing.  

VERSE 19:19:  The invitation to the birds has been issued, and now the promise of their feast is to be fulfilled by the defeat of a vast army.  We have already seen one side in this conflict--Jesus Christ and the armies of heaven.  Now we see the other side.  In command is the Beast.  This Beast has been mentioned in the following passages:

  • 11:7:  The Beast from the Abyss kills the two witnesses who are described in 11:3-6.

  • 13:1-10 and 12, 14, 15, 17, 18:  A description of the Beast and his activities:

    • He has 10 horns and 7 heads and 10 diadems. 

    • He has the characteristics of a leopard, a bear, and a lion.

    • He receives a mortal wound, which is healed, which gives the world wonder.

    • The world worships the devil because of the Beast.

    • He (the Beast) has a reign of 42 months.

    • He utters blasphemy.

    • He fights the saints.

    • A second Beast has great authority and forces worship of the first Beast.

    • The second Beast brings in worship of the first Beast by deception.

    • An image of the first Beast is made.  It can speak.

    • Everyone must bear the Mark of the Beast, which is the name of the Beast or its number.

  • 14:9-11:  An angel warns that anyone who worships the Beast and receives its mark will experience torment forever.

  • 15:2 John saw a group of people standing beside a sea of glass; these people had conquered the Beast, its image, and the number of its name.

  • 16:2 When the first bowl of wrath is poured out, those who have the Mark of the Beast and worship the image of the Beast will be given harmful and painful sores.

  • 16:10  When the fifth bowl of wrath is poured out, the throne and kingdom of the Beast is plunged into darkness.

  • 16:13  When the sixth bowl of wrath is poured out, three unclean spirits come forth, one from the mouth of each of the following--the dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.

  • 17:3-17 The great Prostitute is seen riding on the Beast.  The Beast has a timeline:  it was, is not, and is about to arise from the Abyss, and then it will go to destruction (perdition).  The earth-dwellers will marvel at the Beast.  The seven heads of the Beast represent seven kings.  But the Beast himself is an eighth king, who will go to destruction.  The Beast and the 10 kings will rebel against the Prostitute and destroy her.  In league with the Beast, they also will make war on the Lamb, but He will conquer them.

Together with the Beast are the kings of the earth.  In 17:12-14, and 17:16-17 the focus is on ten kings.  These are involved with the Beast in the following ways:

  • They receive royal power for “one hour” along with the Beast.

  • They put their power at the disposal of the Beast.

  • They make war on the Prostitute, also known as Babylon,  and destroy her.

  • They make war on the the Lamb, who will conquer them.

This last action of the ten kings is very likely alluded to in 19:19.  However, the appellation “ten kings” is not used.  Rather, simply the “kings of the earth” are pictured as in league with the Beast.  We can resolve this in one of three ways.  (a) It could be that many more kings join with the ten kings and the Beast.  (b) It could be that the “ten kings” of 17:12-17 is a representation of the “kings of the earth.”  I believe that the first solution is more likely.  The “ten kings” seem to be a special group who come to power within their countries for a brief period in association with the rise of the Beast.  These form a powerful bloc of nations that enhance the power of the Beast.  One result is that many other nations--most of those on earth--join with the Beast and the “ten kings.”  It is this entire group, with their armies, which is now arrayed against the One on the white horse and the armies of heaven.

THE LOCATION OF THE GREAT BATTLE:  In 16:12-16 the results of the sixth bowl of wrath is described.  Those verses are summarized below:

  • 16:12:  The bowl of wrath is directed to the Euphrates river so that it is dried up.  This “prepares the way for the kings from the east.

  • 16:13:  Three evil spirits procede from the the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet (the “second beast”).  

  • 16:14:  These spirits “perform signs” for the kings of the earth to bring them together for a battle on “the great day” of God.

  • 16:15:  In the midst of this narrative there is a sudden interjection, that is very likely coming from Jesus.  He warns that He is coming like a thief.  He commends those who stay awake and will not be caught naked when He comes.

  • 16:16:  The narrative resumes by stating the place of the battle:  a place called Armageddon.

The following is part of a brief entry on “Armageddon” in the on-line Britannica encyclopedia.  It was written by Robert E. Lerner:

“The Palestinian city of Megiddo, located on a pass commanding a road connecting Egypt and Syria, was probably chosen as a symbol for such a battle, because it had been the scene of many military encounters owing to its strategic location. (Megiddo was also the site of a crucial battle in 1918 during the First World War and lent its name to the victor: Lord Allenby of Megiddo.) The term Armageddon has often been used by Protestant fundamentalists to refer to an impending cataclysmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. (See apocalyptic literature.) It has also been used figuratively, often by peace activists, to describe a possible nuclear world war.”

My focus in this post is on the Great Battle of Revelation 19:11-21.  This great battle is described without mention of Armageddon.  Yet, it seems a natural conclusion that this battle takes place at the place where the armies of the earth are gathered--a site that is designated in 16:16 to be Armageddon.  This is the only mention of Armageddon in the Bible, yet it is a focal point for our imagination.  However, I do need to provide evidence that Armageddon is the location of the Great Battle in  chapter 19.

The lengthy discussion which follows, I hope, accomplishes the following:

  • It defends the idea that the great battle of 19:11ff occurs at Armageddon.

  • It defends the literary integrity of the book by demonstrating that the proleptic devices that are mentioned serve important purposes in the arrangement of material in the book.


The armies are gathered at Armageddon (16:16) at the completion of the sixth bowl of wrath.  The material that follows this moves the focus away from these armies.  In 16:17-21 the consequences of the seventh bowl of wrath are described.  Those consequences do not involve the Great Battle nor Armageddon; instead, they include:  lightning and thunder, an earthquake, the breaking apart of the “great city,” the fall of the cities of the nations.  Then, God will make Babylon to drink of the cup of His wrath.  Then there is hail with hailstones that weigh 100 pounds.  The material that follows the seventh bowl of wrath focuses mostly on BabylonChapter 17 is a detailed description of Babylon and information about the Beast that supplements the information of chapter 13.  There is a brief mention of the defeat of the ten kings by the Lamb. (17:14)  The mention of their defeat is a forward look at the Great Battle.  Chapter 17 ends with the destruction of Babylon, and chapter 18 celebrates that destruction.  Chapter 19 continues the celebration and then refers to the Marriage of the Lamb and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.   Finally, in 19:11-21, comes the Great Battle.  

The problem of interpretation is that the description of the gathering of the armies which are arrayed against the Lord is found before the destruction of Babylon:  the gathering is in 16:16, but the material on Babylon and its destruction is in 16:17-21 and chapters 17 and 18 and the first part of 19.    

I believe that this depiction of events is consistent with “proleptic” statements that are found throughout the book.  It is my observation that such anticipatory statements create two results.  One result is to complete the information at hand.  So, in 16:17-21, the main focus is on the deception that leads to an amalgamation of world forces.  The deception and amalgamation will ultimately lead to the kings’ gathering at Armageddon.  However, the destruction of Babylon--which employs the Beast and his allies, the ten kings--occurs first.  The second result of a proleptic statement is to develop anticipation.  This anticipation is not merely artistic.  It is a powerful communication that helps hold the book together.  

Verses 16:17-21 anticipate a battle.  It provides information that links to two passages.  In chapter 17:12ff, the ten kings are discussed.  The kings are linked closely to the Beast to whom they make their power available (17:13).  They rebel against Babylon, the Prostitute, and destroy that city (17:16).  And they make war on the Lamb, who conquers them.  (17:14)

Note that the two military actions that the ten kings are involved in are presented out of order in chapter 17.  It is obvious that the kings cannot defeat Babylon after the Lamb has defeated them.  In this case, the defeat by the Lamb is part of the “career arc” of the ten kings, an arc that ends in their defeat by the Lamb.  The defeat of Babylon is part of the “career arc” of Babylon.  The subject of Babylon is returned to in 17:15 and is largely in focus to the end of the chapter.  In 17:16 the ten kings are the primary actors who destroy Babylon.  The Beast, of course, maintains the leadership role in 17:16-17.  So, in the rhythm of the chapter, which mostly swings back and forth between Babylon and the Beast, the ten kings are included, first to round out the description of the Beast, in 17:12-14 (in which the Beast’s ten horns are described as ten kings), and then to complete the story of Babylon, in 17:16-17 (in which Babylon is rebelled against by the ten kings and the Beast).  So, we see, not carelessness, but well-designed description that provides the logic of placing the defeat of the ten kings out of order. 

In the same way, the gathering of the kings at Armageddon (16:16) seems out of order in the chronology that includes the destruction of Babylon (which is mentioned in 16:19b).  However, the gathering completes the current subject, which is the demonic deception of the kings of the earth--a component of the sixth bowl of wrath 16:12-16).  This picture also produces anticipation of the final battle.  The fact that all the armies of the world are gathered in one place appears to be a giant “power play” of the Beast, but it also creates the opportunity for the defeat of the evil forces throughout the world.  

There are, of course, seven bowls of wrath.  The seventh bowl and its effects are described in 16:17-21.  It is a complex series of events that includes the destruction of Babylon.  If we are thinking of chronology, we can think of these events occurring after the events of the sixth bowl.  However, we should recognize that the sixth bowl includes the sending forth of the three demonic spirits (16:13).  The outcome of their deception is the gathering of the armies at Armageddon.  This outcome, it seems obvious from chapter 19, takes place after the events of the seventh seal.  The outcome is included in the description of the sixth seal in order to complete the subject matter--which is the sending forth of the demonic spirits.  The description of the gathering also creates anticipation for the final battle.  In the list of rhetorical devices of literature, this would be labeled “preparation-realization.”  The following table presents a summary of the observations from the preceding material:



Passage

Focus of material

Proleptic material

Purpose in context

Anticipa- tion

16:12-16

Sixth bowl of wrath

16:16:  Gathering of armies at Armaged-

don

Complete results of demonic deception

Armies of the Great Battle are gathered

17:12-14

Description of ten horns of Beast

17:14:  Defeat of ten kings by the Lamb

Complete the career ark of ten kings

The Great Battle in which the Lamb is the victor

Passage

Focus of material

Material seeming out of order

Purpose in context


16:17-21

Seventh bowl of wrath

16:19c:  Fall of Babylon (after mention of armies in 16:16)

Complete the seven bowls 


17:15-18

The fall of Babylon

17:16:  Fall of Babylon (after mention of defeat of ten kings in 17:14)

Complete the career arc of Babylon


CONCLUSION:  I realize that I have devoted much space to this subject.  I do believe that it is important.  From this study, I make the following conclusions:

  • The gathering of the kings and their armies to Armageddon in 16:16 appears to be “out of order,” but it is a proleptic statement which completes the description of the deception of the demonic spirits by explaining that the outcome is the gathering of the armies.  It anticipates the Great Battle of chapter 19:11ff.

  • The defeat of the ten kings in 17:14 appears to be “out of order,” but it is a proleptic statement that completes the description of the ten kings.  It anticipates the Great Battle of chapter 19:11ff.

  • From the viewpoint of the gathering of the armies, two events in the narrative appear to be out of order:

    • The fall of Babylon in 16:19c is listed after the gathering of the armies.  However, this completes the description of the seventh bowl of wrath.  It is in the correct order, but the gathering of the armies is out of order in 16:16.  This gathering is a proleptic statement.  

    • The defeat of Babylon in 17:16 also is listed after the defeat of the ten kings in 17:14.  The defeat in 17:16 completes the career arc of Babylon and is consistent with the arrangement of the material of chapter 17.  

  • The gathering of the ten kings in 16:16 at Armageddon is part of the preparation for the material of 19:11ff.  Thus, it is consistent with the narrative of the book to identify the place of the Great Battle as Armageddon.  The Great Battle is, indeed, the Battle of Armageddon.

Monday, September 14, 2020

SURVEY OF REVELATION 19:11-16

 Chapter 19 is divided as follows.

  1. 19:1-5--Continuation of the chapter 18 as heaven rejoices over the destruction of Babylon; this was discussed in a previous post

  2. 19:6-10--Announcements of the marriage of the Lamb and marriage supper of the Lamb

  3. 19:11-21--The great battle (probably “Armageddon”) between the Lamb and the Beast:  I shall discuss the first 6 verses of this passage


I describe 19:11-21 as “The Great Battle.”  However, the battle is hardly described.  The main focus is on the “one sitting” on a white horse.  Some conclusions seem pretty obvious from the first few verses of the passage.  The conclusions are 

  • The rider on the white horse is Jesus Christ

  • He is moving from the sphere of heaven to the sphere of earth

  • He will be triumphant

VERSE 19:11:  “Then I saw…”  Throughout Revelation John SEES things.  We are reminded again and again that John had a long series of visions.  These were revelations of the present (John’s present) and the future.  “Revelation” is the English translation of the Greek “Apocalypsis,” which is the first word in the book.  The book begins:  “The revelation of Jesus Christ…”  These revelations are, I believe, a heavenly--or, one might say, a spiritual--perspective of what was occurring or will occur. How those events might be perceived by humans on earth is not always clear.  

Today we are in a “pandemic,” a world-wide epidemic of the coronavirus or COVID-19.  We are perceiving these events in terms of a virus that brings about a disease that may be asymptomatic, mildly discomfiting, or horrific in consequence, even fatal.  It has possibly affected every nation on earth, with varying intensity.  In the United States it is the main topic of the network evening news every night.  What is the spiritual dimension of this pandemic?  How does heaven perceive it?  I would not claim to know, but I would dare to make some generalizations.  I think that this disease has had several consequences and created several questions:

  • The disease has demanded that it be taken seriously.  There have been many who have tried to call it a hoax or of little consequence, but the death tolls continue to rise to the point that no one can ignore it.

  • The disease has become a political issue in the United State.  It has tested leaders from the local, state, and federal levels and forced them to make decisions.  

  • The disease has brought death to many.  Death of a loved one is always a spiritual crisis of greater or lesser degree.

  • The disease has challenged the medical community to find within themselves courage, stamina, leadership, and wisdom.

  • The disease has forced ordinary citizens to decide what their reactions will be.  Will they wear a mask, “socially distance,” obey stay at home orders, practice good hygiene?  Will they go to parties and concerts and bars where they run the risk of infection?  Will they react with anger at others who have made opposite decisions to their own--yelling at someone wearing a mask or yelling at someone demanding that they wear a mask?

  • The disease has brought financial crisis to many.  Many have lost their jobs and, although they may have received government aid, they have been unable to meet all of their expenses.

  • In all of these crises, persons have been confronted with their own faith or lack of faith.  They have either been driven to humble repentance and deep prayer for themselves, their families and friends, and their country, or they have cursed the virus and what it is doing to life as they once knew it.  As with all of life and its vicissitudes, the human heart has been tested.  The Lord God knows our hearts, but He uses these kinds of events to make manifest the secrets of our hearts.  

  • Did God send the coronavirus?  I believe God allowed the pandemic to take place in order that our hearts might be tested.  So, while we have simply observed the story of the pandemic from an earthly perspective, heaven has seen the spiritual consequences.


John sees a vision, and it begins with “heaven, which has been opened…”  Heaven, which we think of as a place far away and far above, is opened up in order to unveil who and what is coming next.   A young man told me about how he believed that he confused a preacher by asking about how heaven can be up on opposite sides of the earth.  The answer, I believe, is that heaven is not “up,” it’s sideways.  By that I mean that it is another dimension (or set of dimensions) that do not conform to our ideas of up and down.  So heaven may be right beside you.  So, when heaven opened, it did not reveal Jesus riding down a rainbow onto earth.  It simply revealed Jesus, present and ready to conquer.  

John sees a white horse and its rider.  The focus is on the rider.  Two sets of descriptors are linked together.  First, He “is called faithful and true.”  Second, “in righteousness he judges and makes war.”  This is a power moment for this rider.  He is about to make war and to judge.  But what He does is connected to what He is.  He is faithful and true.  His character guides His actions.  I think it is also significant to note that His act of judgement precedes His act of making war.  So, I think we can discern the following sequence:  His character is to be faithful and true.  Therefore in righteousness He judges.  As a consequence of His judgment, He makes war.  This is a holy war upon unholy people who have temporarily dominated the earth.  Now, the Deliverer is coming to end that domination.

VERSE 19:12:  The rider has eyes “like a flame of fire.”  This description is also found in Revelation 1:14.  In that passage, the person whom John saw seemed to have a more priestly function compared to the function of deliverance, ruling, and judgment that is described in chapter 19.  Nevertheless, some of that earlier vision is duplicated--enough to give us confidence that both passages describe the same person.

The rider is crowned with many diadems.  A diadem was the crown worn by the Persian rulers.  It consisted of a tiara of metal adorned with a blue and white strip called the fillet.  It was the sign of royalty.  The other kind of crown in the New Testament is the stephanos, which was a wreath that was given to the winner of a race.  It is the sign of achievement.  Thus, the rider is displaying his legitimacy as royalty by wearing many diadems.  The only other use of “diadem” is in the descriptions of the Dragon in Revelation 12:3 and of the Beast in 13:1.  The Dragon had seven heads and seven diadems.  The Beast had seven heads and ten horns.  It had a diadem on each of the ten horns.

The rider has a name, but only He knows that name.  According to Leon Morris:  “Those who practised [sic] magic in the first century believed that to know a name gave power over him whose name it was.  John may well be saying that no-one has power over Christ.  He is supreme.  His name is known only to Himself.” (Morris, 230) 

VERSE 19:13:  The rider has a robed dipped in blood.  Does this represent His own blood, shed on the cross, or does it represent the blood of His enemies which He spills in battle?  The former is probably correct, but the latter may also be implied.  Is it possible that the two are intertwined, that Jesus spilled His blood in atonement to save those whose blood will be spilled at Armageddon?  Incidentally, this raises the question of the universal versus the limited atonement.  Arminianists believe that Christ died for all, but not all receive that atonement by faith.  Calvinists believe that Christ died only for the elect, all of whom receive the atonement by faith.  I believe in the universal atonement.  Note that the universal atonement is not equivalent to universal salvation.  

In contrast to verse 19:12, verse 19:13 reveals a name of the rider.  I use “a” rather than “the” as the article, but the verse uses “the.”  We could interpret this two ways.  First, we could understand that “a” is implied.  This means that this name that is revealed is one of several alternative names by which the rider is known.  To get ahead of the story, we know that this person is Jesus Christ.  And He is known by more than one name.  We could name at least the following:  Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, the Son, the Word, the Logos, the Word of God, and probably several others.  Some function more as titles, some more as descriptors, and some more as names, but all could be called names.  So, it is appropriate to understand that this name--the Word of God--is “a” name for the rider.  That would mean that there is no contradiction of this part of verse 19:13 and the latter part of 19:12.

Another interpretation is that “the” name that is revealed in 19:13 is the name referred to in 19:12.  John is revealing that name which no one knows.  I do not think that is a likely explanation.  I have listed a large number of names by which Jesus Christ is known.  So, the facts--that “the Word of God” is one of those names and that there is one name that only He knows--fit the understanding that there are several names that are applied to Jesus.  That one that only Jesus knows will remain a secret.

I took a side trip and now I’m back to the more important business of considering this amazing name of Jesus:  the Word of God.  This term and the ideas behind it are especially important in the writings of John.  The prologue to John’s gospel (John 1:1-5) focuses on the Word.  We have the following information:

  • The Word was in the beginning.

  • The Word was with God.

  • The Word was God.

  • We combine the first two statements: He was in the beginning with God.

  • All things came into being through Him.

  • Life (zoe) was in Him.

  • This life gave light to people.

  • That light shined in darkness, which could not overcome it.

Here is some of the most amazing information that is known.  In the words of the hippies, it blows your mind.  We are given information about a person who was both with God and was God.  When everything started, He was already there.  Creation took place “through Him.”  He was the instrument of creation.  He had the life of God in Him.  That life is a beacon of hope and a revelation of the truth about God.  The light that came from that light cannot be overcome by the darkness of the world.

That is the background that prepares us for the punch line of John 1, which is in verse 1:14:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”  The blowing of our minds continues.  Not only are we introduced to this amazing person--the Word--but also we are informed that that Word has become human (which is what “flesh” means in this context).  As we continue to read the Gospel of John, we soon figure out that this Word who became human is one and the same Jesus of Nazareth.  Notice that:  a man who came from the town of Nazareth, a carpenter who went to synagogue school and had brothers and sisters, who ate and drank and went to the bathroom (pardon the familiarity, but it is just true)--this Jesus was the Word of God.  

The mind-blowing goes on.  In the fourth chapter of John, Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman and tells her (John 4:14):  “...whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  There are two words for “life” in the New Testament.  The word used here and in John 1:4 is zoe.  It is used in some cases to mean ordinary physical life, but it also is used in the New Testament to represent a unique kind of life.  This is how Arndt and Gingrich, in their dictionary, describe it:  “the supernatural life belonging to God and Christ, which the believers will receive in the future, but which they also enjoy here and now.”  

So, observe three “movements,” if you will:  The Word was in the beginning and He had zoe in Him.  The Word became human and dwelt among us.  The Word can impart to people the zoe that is in Him.  

It is this Word of God who is now riding on a white horse coming out of heaven into the midst of human affairs.  No longer does He sit next to the Father on the throne (see Psalm 110:1ff).  He has come to vanquish His enemies, which are also the enemies of those who love and follow Him.  Because He has been in the business of imparting eternal zoe to people for over 2000 years--life that cost Him His own life on the cross, now He has earned the right to reign over the nations.  That reign will be in “real time,” on earth, visible to all.

VERSE 19:14:  Behind the Word, riding white horses just as He does, are the “armies of heaven.”  They dressed in fine, white, pure linen.  So, now we have a mystery to be solved:  who constitute these “armies of heaven”?  I propose three answers:

  1. These armies are people who are saved and resurrected or raptured, either the New Testament church or the New Testament church plus the Old Testament saints.

  2. These armies are angels.

  3. These armies are a combination of 1 and 2.

The evidence for answer number 1 would be the description of their clothing of fine, white, pure linen.  This would reflect back to verse 19:8, in which the clothing of the Bride is described in the same way.  

However, angels are sometimes described as wearing white or referred to as a “host” (army) or as constituting legions (military units).  See the following descriptions of angels:  

  • Wearing white:  Matthew 28:2-3, John 20:12, Acts 1:10, Revelation 15:16  

  • Referred to as “host” or as constituting legions or as engaging in spiritual warfare:  Luke 2:13, Matthew 26:53, Revelation 12:7

There are also declarations that angels will accompany Jesus at His Second Coming and that they will be engaged in warfare.  See Matthew 25:31 and II Thessalonians 1:5-7.  But it is also true that the resurrected and raptured saints will accompany Jesus at His Second Coming.  See I Thessalonians 4:13-18.  

As I consider the evidence, it seems to me that the army of troops with Jesus may be a combination of angels and resurrected people.  These people are the same ones who are identified as the Bride of Christ in 19:7-8.  It seems odd to us that a bride would join her groom in a battle on her wedding day (assuming that this is indeed her wedding day).  But Revelation is an odd book.  

VERSE 19:15:  Next, we have a further description of the lead rider:  He has a sharp sword coming from His mouth.  I have seen cartoon-like drawings from the time of Luther that depict Christ with a stack of crowns on His head and a sword protruding from His mouth.  (These were “cartoon-like,” but they were not meant to denigrate Christ.)  This is a precise depiction of the wording in this chapter.  Note the significant associations in this verse (19:15)

First, the sword is mentioned in the first chapter of Revelation (1:16).  In the earlier description, the sword is two-edged.  The description in 19:15 perhaps uses the sword to help the reader identify the rider on the white horse with the “Son of Man” (1:13) of chapter 1, just as the mention of “eyes...like a flame of fire” also refers back to the same description in 1:12-16.  This sword is also mentioned in Revelation 2:12 and 16.  In this latter reference, Jesus warns that He will fight against false teachers with this sword.  Now, in 19:15, the same sword will strike down nations.  We also must keep in mind that the word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).  Thus, this sword, which comes out of the mouth of the rider, is the word of God which is spoken in power to destroy the mightiest army.   

Then, there is the mention of the “rod of iron” with which the rider will rule the nations.  This idea is first mentioned in the Messianic Psalm 2:7-9:

“I will tell of the decree:  The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession.  You shall break [LXX rule] them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  It is also mentioned in the letter to the church at Thyatira, in the Lord’s message to those who do not hold the teaching of “Jezebel,” a false prophetess.  Those who “conquer”--that is, withstand the environment of sin and deception in the church--are promised “authority over the nations” and the power to “rule them with a rod of iron…” (Revelation 2:27)  In Revelation 12:5, the male child, who is born to the special woman “clothed with the sun…” (12:1), is identified as “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.”  So, the phrase “rod of iron” is a pregnant phrase reminding the reader of the destiny of Messiah and, as it is used in Revelation 2:27, signalling to the reader the amazing share in the rulership that is to be granted to the faithful disciple.  Now, in 19:15, the expression serves to identify the rider on the white horse as none other than the Messiah.     

Finally, one other allusion is employed in 19:15:  It is said of the rider on the white horse:  “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”  This refers back to Revelation 14:14-20.  In that passage, two harvests are depicted.  In one, 14:14-16, Christ uses a sickle to harvest the earth.  It is not specified what kind of harvest he reaps.  However, no details such as those in the second harvest are given.  It seems natural to assume that this is a harvest of people for the Lord.  Verses 14:14-16 reflect back to John 4:35:  “Do you not say, there are yet four months , then comes the harvest.”   

In Revelation 14:17-20, a second harvest is depicted.  This time, grapes are harvest.  The grapes are thrown into the “great winepress of the wrath of God.”  These grapes are trod “outside the city, and the blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles according to ESVSB].”  In Revelation 19:15, the rider on the white horse “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”  There seems to be a direct connection between the “harvest” of wrath in 14:17-20 and the action of the rider on the white horse in 19:15.  We also can make a connection between the “robe dipped in blood” in 19:13 and the obviously bloody trampling of the grapes of wrath.  [I have noted in another post the uses made of these vivid word pictures:  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and the reference in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe to “trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.]  Finally, we find an Old Testament parallel in Isaiah 63:1-6 (thanks to Bible Gateway):

Who is this who comes from Edom,

    in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,

he who is splendid in his apparel,

    marching in the greatness of his strength?

“It is I, speaking in righteousness,

    mighty to save.”

Why is your apparel red,

    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,

    and from the peoples no one was with me;

I trod them in my anger

    and trampled them in my wrath;

their lifeblood spattered on my garments,

    and stained all my apparel.

For the day of vengeance was in my heart,

    and my year of redemption had come.

I looked, but there was no one to help;

    I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;

so my own arm brought me salvation,

    and my wrath upheld me.

I trampled down the peoples in my anger;

    I made them drunk in my wrath,

    and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”

VERSE 19:16:  Twice on His person is a name written:  “King of kings and Lord of lords.”  Notice the multiplicity of identifications of this rider:

  • Faithful and true (19:11)

  • A name that no one but He knows (19:12)

  • The Word of God (19:13)

  • King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16)

This person is greater than any single name can encapsulate.  We find in these names character, mystery, the full expression of God, royal majesty, nobility.  As He rides into the scene of human cruelty, domination, perversion, deception, hate, fear, madness, frailty, and need, He comes to destroy the enemies of the human soul and to establish true shalom.  He does not come to carry out any particular vengeance harbored in any particular heart.  For human vengeance is selfish and short-sighted.  He does not come to trample out the grapes of the wrath of people.  For human wrath comes out of ignorance and disobedience and impatience.  He comes to avenge the injustices that plague the weak, the widow and the orphan.  He comes to trample the grapes of God’s wrath against every sort of sin and hate and injustice.  

In these days of Black Lives Matter and COVID-19, we humans are pointing fingers and demanding retribution, but we do so with eyes that do not know the full picture.  It is not that racial injustice must be ignored or pushed off to the side.  It is simply that all of us must meet injustice with a deep sense of humility and recognition that we do not know all the answers.  We must recognize that ultimately God is our hope for racial justice and deliverance from all of our enemies.  This is a time that calls for repentance and love.

REFERENCE:

Crossway Books.  English Standard Version Study Bible. Good News Publishers, 2007.