Chapter 19 is divided as follows.
19:1-5--Continuation of the chapter 18 as heaven rejoices over the destruction of Babylon; this was discussed in a previous post
19:6-10--Announcements of the marriage of the Lamb and marriage supper of the Lamb
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:
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.
These armies are angels.
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.
Crossway Books. English Standard Version Study Bible. Good News Publishers, 2007.