Image from WikiMedia Commons; “The Rider on White Horse” early 14th century; British Library digital collections. Public Domain.
We often assume events and persons are given in chronological order, but John often presents events and persons in a literary order, not in chronological order (see Poythress, below).
“The most transparent use of the divine-warrior motif in the book of Revelation is 19:11–21.” (see Longman and Reed, p. 146, below.)
The theme of Revelation 19:11-16 is
Jesus Christ, The Divine Warrior, will bring justice for His people and punishment to His enemies in the end!
I. The Divine Warrior (Jesus Christ) will enforce His victory, which was already won on Calvary, at the end.
vs. 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
The victorious conqueror rode into his city seated on a white horse in Bible times. This image was used once before in Rev. 6:1. There it was symbolic of conquest that leads to war. The rider had a victor’s crown (Greek is stephanos) on his head. (image left is a stephanos a few branches of laurel bush intertwined and given to the winner of an athletic contest.) Laurus nobilis is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is used as bay leaf for seasoning in cooking. (See Wikipedia under laurel wreath.)
The figure on a white horse in Rev. 19 is Christ. He wears a diadem (in Greek diadēma)—the crown of a King. It could be made of linen like a band around the forehead. (Image right is by Wolfgang Sauber; Diadem. Gold. Greek, probably made in Alexandria, Egypt, 220 – 100 B.C.)
Christ is described as “faithful and true.” “True” is alēthinos (-inos ending means “made up of
something). It means that which is genuine in contrast to that which is false, e.g. Rome and its made-up narrative. The verbs “judges” and “makes war” are present tense stressing the fact that this is Christ’s permanent character. Most men and nations allow passion to flare out against someone. This leads to war and vengeance. Christ is not like this. He wars from a steeled disposition of justice. The image of the warrior messiah is taken from Psalms 45:3-5—
3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty! 4 In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds! 5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.
Dante’s words over the entrance to hell.
III. The Divine Warrior will not permit evil empires and persons to escape.
vs. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.
The first image connects this with the vision in chapter 1:14. Christ’s view of things is all-searching.
The reference to a “name that no one knows” means that Christ cannot be fully grasped by finite beings. There will always be mystery when it comes to God. We know him only through revelation. Often in surrounding cultures, secret names of idols were used to get favor or fortune. If a person knew that secret name, they could use it to get what they wanted. This is often called “name magic.” In the ancient world, a god’s name was a means for manipulating him/her. Knowledge of the god’s name meant shared power. The fact that he will share that name with his people means that his people will share his rule.
vs. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
This imagery is drawn from Isaiah 63:1-3—
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.” 2 Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the wine press? 3 “I have trodden the wine press 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.
There are two possibilities for the source of the blood stains on Christ’s clothing: (1) the blood of his enemies; (2) his own blood. It seems best to see the source of the blood coming from his enemies. The fluidity of apocalyptic allows for blood from battle on garments before the battle has been commenced. He is further described as the Word of God. The Greek word is logos—”God in action, in creation, in revelation, and in the redemption of his people” (see Bruce, below). This word ties the Revelation to the other Johanine writings. It most certainly validates the fact that Revelation is the product of the Apostle John as tradition holds.
Dante’s etching of defeated cast into hell.
vs. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
A favorite name for the Lord in the Old Testament is Yahweh Sebaoth—Lord of Armies. Several suggestions have been made as to who makes up the army—(1) a human army; (2) an army of angels; (3) the stars and heavenly bodies; (4) the sum total of all created beings. Gerhardus Vos, suggests that the army is made up of angels (see Vos, pg. 243, below). The fact that the army rides horses like Christ and they wear what he wears has lead many to conclude that the army is made up of redeemed humans, rather than angels. In any case, the riders of the other horses share in Christ’s victory. It does not matter whether they are angels or humans. They do not fight the battle. Christ alone does this.
vs. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the wine-press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
The sword out of Christ’s mouth is the rhomphaia—the large broad sword of the foreign hordes which surrounded the Roman empire. Just as the Lord created the world with his powerful word, he also destroys his enemies with that same powerful word. John quotes Psalm 2:9—”You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
The word “rule” is poimainō—“to shepherd.” The reference to treading the wine press is an allusion again to Isaiah 63:1-3 (see the quotation above). His name indicates that he is Absolute King of everything in this universe.
The Rider on a White Horse (early_14th_Cent.)
IV. The Divine Warrior will enforce His rule over all His enemies.
vs. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
The name on the thigh is significant since this was the usual spot to carry one’s sword (Exodus 32:27) and to place one’s hand when swearing an oath (Genesis 24:2-3; 24:9; Genesis 47:29). (see Beale, p. 414, below.)
“King of kings and Lord of lords” is a title that indicates One who is over every other royal person on earth or in hell.
Next time we will proceed to the Feast of Vultures feeding on the corpses from Armageddon.
(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation)
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Bruce, F. F. (1983). The Gospel and the Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co.
ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com
Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).
Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
Longman,T; and Reid, D. G. (1995). God Is a Warrior (Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology Series). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Poythress, V. (2000). The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
Vos, G. (1934). Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments. Philadelphia, PA: Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church.
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