Previously: I fell at his feet to worship – Revelation 19:10
Rev. 19:11 – Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a fiery flame, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. 13 He wore a robe stained with blood, and His name is called the Word of God. 14 The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. 15 From His mouth came a sharp sword, so that with it He might strike the nations. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. 16 And on his robe and on His thigh He has a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (HCSB)
Then I saw heaven opened
For a second time in Revelation, John sees both heaven opened and a white horse. But the visions are not the same. In Rev. 4:1, after obeying the command to write to seven churches in Asia Minor, John sees an open door in heaven and is invited to “Come up here” where he is shown what must take place after this. Now, in Rev. 19:11, he sees heaven opened once again and views the climax of these events. In a similar fashion, John has seen a rider on a white horse in Rev. 6:2, and he sees a rider again now. But they are very different riders.
While some commentators argue that the riders in both passages depict Jesus, the differences between the riders indicate otherwise. In fact, the only similarity is that both characters are riding white horses. It’s more likely that the rider in Rev. 6:2 symbolizes the quest of Rome’s neighbors, particularly the Parthians, to expand their empires, leading to war (red horse), famine (black horse), and epidemic disease (pale horse). Or, as futurists contend, the rider depicts the Antichrist of the end times.
Let’s look at some key differences:
- The rider in Rev. 6:2 carries a bow, while the rider in Rev. 19 wields a sharp sword that proceeds from His mouth. With the sword He smites the nations.
- The rider in Rev. 6:2 is given a crown – a stephanos, or laurel wreath, while the rider in Rev. 19 wears many crowns – diademata, or kingly crowns.
- Finally, the rider in Rev. 6:2 goes out as a victor to conquer, while the rider in Rev. 19 “judges and makes war in righteousness;” is followed by the armies of heaven; shepherds the nations with an iron scepter; and tramples “the winepress of the fierce anger of God.”
There is little disagreement among scholars that the rider in Revelation 19 is Jesus. The majority view is that this passage foretells His second coming in which He judges the earth and sets things right. However, some contend that these verses describe the victory of the Word of God on earth between Christ’s first and second comings. Those who hold this view point out that nowhere else in scripture is Jesus shown riding a horse. Further, after His ascension into heaven, the angel tells Jesus’ followers that Christ will return “in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven,” that is, without the aid of a beast of burden (Acts 1:11).
Certainly, the Bible – the Word of God – is accomplishing much on earth today. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “The word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart” (Heb. 4:11-12). At the same time, the Word of God – Jesus – is accomplishing much on earth as well. His finished work on the cross is proclaimed to the nations and results in the plundering of Satan’s goods as people are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light.
Yet it appears that Revelation 19 describes a more final judgment of the earth’s wicked, leading to the great white throne and the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15) and to the creation of new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21-22).
“The white horse is a sign of His coming triumph. It was customary for a triumphant Roman general to parade on the Via Sacra, a main thoroughfare of Rome, followed by evidences of His victory in the form of booty and captives (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14). The white horse is thus a symbol of Christ’s triumph over the forces of wickedness in the world, the details of which follow” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 19:11-13).
R.J. Utley writes that John is describing Jesus’ coming as the Jews expected Him the first time – a powerful military general. This is somewhat different from Paul’s description of the Second Coming (the Parousia) found in I Thess. 4:13–18. “For a group of persecuted Christians this is an extremely encouraging metaphor. Interpreters must remember (1) that this is not a full and complete discussion of the Second Coming; (2) that it is clothed in symbolic, apocalyptic language, but (3) that it is true; our God, in Christ, is personally coming again to receive His own and to judge all mankind according to their deeds” (Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Study Guide Commentary Series, p. 129).
The rider on the white horse
Let’s look more closely at 12 ways John describes this rider on the white horse.
1. He is called Faithful and True (v. 11). These names are in clear contrast to the rider in Rev. 6:2, who speaks “boasts and blasphemies” and who blasphemes God’s “name and His dwelling” (Rev. 13:5-6). “He is faithful and true to his covenant and promise, he is righteous in all his judicial and military proceedings, he has a penetrating insight into all the strength and stratagemsof his enemies, he has a large and extensive dominion, many crowns, for he is King of kings, and
Lord of lords” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 19:11-21). In contrast to the beast, who is unfaithful and false, Jesus is Faithful and True. “Suffering saints need to be reminded that God is faithful and will not desert them, because His promises are true” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 19:11).
2. He judges and makes war in righteousness (v. 11). The Son of God is neither weak nor aloof. His holiness demands justice. His sovereignty demands warfare against the ungodly who seek to usurp His throne. Some commentators point out that it is appropriate for Jesus to be depicted riding a white horse. Kings ride horses when waging war. Jesus clearly is making war against the world’s wicked people. He rides triumphantly into Jerusalem on an ass, a symbol of peace, but He returns on a steed, an emblem of war.
3. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v. 12). This describes His piercing holiness and His searching judgment that sees all. In John’s vision of the risen Lord in Rev. 1:14, he sees “One like the Son of Man” with “eyes like a fiery flame.” And in the opening lines of the letter to the church at Thyatira, Jesus describes Himself as “the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame” (Rev. 2:18). There is an Old Testament tie here. The angel who appears to Daniel to tell him what will become of the Israelites in the last days has “eyes like flaming torches” (Dan. 10:6). While this is not the pre-incarnate Christ, it is a holy angel who engages in battle in the unseen world and whose appearance strikes fear in the eyes of mortals like Daniel. Perhaps the Jewish readers of Revelation are reminded that God has not abandoned His people, whether they are in exile in Babylon or scattered throughout the Roman Empire.
4. Many crowns are on His head (v. 12). “Monarchs who claimed authority over more than one country wore more than one crown. The kings of Egypt were crowned with the Pshent, or united crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. When Ptolemy Philometer entered Antioch as a conqueror, he wore a triple crown, two for Egypt, and a third for Asia. John saw Him who was ‘King of kings and Lord of lords,’ and ‘on His head were many crowns.’ Thus, in a beautiful figure, the universal dominion of our blessed Lord is set forth” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p. 552).
5. He has a name written that no one knows except Himself (v. 12). This reminds us that the Lord has not revealed everything about Himself and His plan. In Deut. 29:29 we’re told, “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.” From the perspective of other nations, when they see Israel defeated in battle and its people carried into captivity, they assume the covenant between God and His people has been cancelled. But they fail to see that the Lord, who keeps His promises, is working through human history to bring His people to repentance so they will enjoy unending fellowship with Him.
In the letter to the church at Pergamum, Jesus promises the victor a white stone inscribed with a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it (Rev. 2:17). “In this, as in all other respects, the disciple is made like his Lord. The Lord’s own ‘new name’ is to be theirs, and to be ‘in their foreheads’; whence we may infer that His as yet unknown name also is written on Hisforehead; as the high priest had ‘Holiness to the Lord’ inscribed on the miter on his brow.
John saw it as ‘written,’ but knew not its meaning. It is, therefore, a name which in all its glorious significancy can be only understood when the union of His saints with Him, and His and their joint triumph and reign, shall be perfectly manifested at the final consummation” (R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, D. Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Rev. 19:12).
6. He wears a robe stained with blood (v. 13). Commentators disagree as to whether this blood is Jesus’ redemptive blood shed on the cross, or the blood of His enemies. Possibly it is both. The passage may refer to His sacrificial death, by which the multitudes in heaven have made their robes white (Rev. 7:14). It also may look forward to His treading the winepress of God’s wrath (Rev. 19:15). We should note that Isaiah records a similar vision in Isa. 63:1-6. There, the Lord comes in “crimson-stained garments,” having “trampled the winepress alone.” He speaks, “I trampled them [the nations that have exploited God’s people] in My anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered My garments, and all My clothes are stained. For I planned the day of vengeance …”
7. His name is the Word of God (v. 13). The Word of God “indicates His incommunicable Godhead, joined to His manhood, which He shall then manifest in glory” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Rev. 19:13). Warren Wiersbe comments: “’The Word of God’ is one of the familiar names of our Lord in Scripture (John 1:1–14). Just as we reveal our minds and hearts to others by our words, so the Father reveals Himself to us through His Son, the incarnate Word (Rev. 14:7–11). A word is made up of letters, and Jesus Christ is ‘Alpha and Omega’ (Rev. 21:6; 22:13). He is the ‘divine alphabet’ of God’s revelation to us…. Just as the Word was the Father’s Agent in Creation (John 1:1–3), so the Word is His Agent for judgment and consummation” (Wiersbe, Rev. 19:11).
8. The armies in heaven follow Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen (v. 14). Note that John sees more than one army, indicating that both angels and saints accompany Jesus. Old Testament passages such as Zech. 14:5, and New Testament references such as Matt. 13:41; 25:31; Luke 9:26; and 2 Thess. 1:7 make is clear that angels play a key role in the Lord’s return. In addition, His saints appear with Him as He executes judgment upon the earth’s wicked and establishes His kingdom (see 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10). Angels in scripture sometimes are depicted wearing white (John 20:12), and the saints are clothed in white robes signifying both the righteousness of Christ and their good deeds (Rev. 6:11; 7:13-14; 19:8; see also Phil. 3:9). It should be noted that some commentators exclude angels from this heavenly host, citing Rev. 17:14, in which these armies are “called, chosen, and faithful,” terms never used to describe angels.
9. A sharp sword comes from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it (v. 15).
It should be clear to us this is figurative language describing the powerful spoken word of our Savior. The word translated “sword” is rhomphaia and is used of an unusually long sword, or even a spear, indicating a piercing action. John may be referring to Isa. 11:4 in which a future Davidic king will “strike the land with discipline from His mouth, and He will kill the wicked with a command from His lips.” John also draws from His description of Jesus in Rev. 1:16 in which a sharp double-edged sword proceeds from His mouth. And He may be referencing Heb. 4:12 in which the word of God, sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrates as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is able to judge the thoughts and ideas of the heart. No doubt, the spoken word of Christ, which has the power to create (see Gen. 1:3 ff; John 1:3; Col. 1:16) also has the power to judge.
10. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter (v 15). We have encountered the rod of iron before. Rev. 2:27 quotes the Messianic prophecy in Ps. 2:9 – “and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery.” And Rev. 12:5 tells us the woman’s (Israel’s) Son “is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter.” This symbolizes Christ’s justice as He rules the earth. “The word shepherd may be a reflection that, as Christ will tenderly shepherd His people, there is another side to that role – shepherding the unbelievers among the nations with an iron scepter” (HCSB Study Bible, p. 2215). While the Lord entrusts all people with the ability to make real choices for which they are held accountable, those that rebel against God and persecute His people will not be permitted to perpetually harm the saints or blaspheme their Creator.
11. He will trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty (v. 15). This reference is rooted deeply in Old Testament imagery. We see it in Isa. 63:2-3 (as a future Davidic King judges the nations); Jer. 51:33 (as God punishes Babylon); Lam. 1:15 (as God judges Judah); Joel 3:13 (as the Lord judges the nations). We also see the imagery in Rev. 14:14-20, where Christ, or an angel, harvests the earth’s wicked. The color of crushed grapes vividly depicts the blood that is shed when Christ comes in power and glory to take vengeance on those who reject Him and revile His people.
12. He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (v. 16). This is Christ’s exalted and victorious name. In Rev. 17:13-14 this name is meant to contrast that of the beast, who receives power and authority from the kings of the earth – to no avail; “the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings.” This name also brings to mind references such as Dan. 2:47, in which Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges, “Your God is indeed God of gods, Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries.” It also harks back to the words of Moses to the Israelites in Deut. 10:17: “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God.” The apostle Paul also used this title for Jesus in 1 Tim. 6:15: “He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; no one has seen or can see Him, to Him be honor and eternal might.” R.J. Utley writes, “It is interesting to note that this phrase in Aramaic adds up to 777, in contradistinction to the number of the beast, which is 666. Ultimate perfection versus ultimate imperfection” (p. 132).
Next: The beast and his armies defeated – Revelation 19:17-21