One of the more awesome scenes in the final book of the Bible reads as follows:
“And I saw the heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. And his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself. And he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:11-16 – ASV).
The scene begins with John using that expression which asserts that his message is of divine origin. He saw “heaven opened” (see 4:1; cf. Ezek. 1:1). Moreover, the events of earth are under the sovereign control of him who orchestrates his will from heaven, and the apostle was given a preview of the final conflict.
John uses his characteristic “behold” (idou – 26 times in Revelation) to enliven the narrative, to awaken attention to what he is about to describe.
The Holy Warrior
The primary subject of the vision was on a “white horse.” “White” in Revelation can suggest either purity (3:18) or victory (6:2); here the latter sense seems implied – particularly in view of the astounding conquest that is described subsequently (see Jackson, p. 13-14).
The rider undeniably is Jesus Christ. He is designated as the “Word” of God, whom the apostle elsewhere identifies as the Lord Jesus (cf. Jn. 1:1,14; 1 Jn. 1:1). Christ is the divine Word (logos) because he is the thought and voice of Heaven to humanity (cf. Jn. 1:18; 14:8f). The will of God for mankind cannot be ascertained apart from the revelatory mission of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Lord is further characterized as “faithful” because he ever was loyal to the will of his Father (Jn. 8:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 3:2; 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22). It was Jesus’ perfect life that qualified him to be the atoning sacrifice for sin (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Moreover, he is “true” as to his witness of the will of God to our blighted race (cf. Rev. 1:5; 3:7,14).
The Purpose of His Mission
The apostle sets forth the mission of the heavenly warrior. In righteousness he judges and makes war!
When Jesus came to earth the first time, his purpose was to inaugurate a system of redemption for Adam’s fallen family. As he himself said: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17). Once that mission of mercy was implemented, no further plan was to be offered. Aside from Jesus, there is no other sacrifice for sins (cf. Heb. 10:26).
In this latter instance, however, the Lord has not come on a mission of mercy; rather, he has arrived for judgment and the destruction of the ungodly. It is important to note the connection between “judge” and “make war.” The two occur simultaneously. The war is the day of judgment! See 2 Corinthians 5:10 and 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.
One can hardly consider this context without referring back to the scene in chapter 16, when, in the graphic symbolism of the narrative, wrath from heaven is poured out as a prelude to a holy war. The major enemies of truth (the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet) were gathered “unto the war of the great day of God” (16:14). Figuratively, it was designated as “Har-Magedon” (i.e., the hill of Megiddo). Megiddo, the most famous battlefield in history, thus becomes a symbol for the conflict that is to take place on the final day of this globe’s existence. Observe that this is “the great day of God,” which corresponds to “the day of God” described by Peter in the third chapter of his second epistle (v. 12). It also is referred to as “the day of the Lord” (v. 10), or the time of “his coming” (v. 4).
According to the vision in 16:13ff, the forces of Satan are gathered for a mighty confrontation with the Sovereign of the universe. The actual conflict is viewed in chapter 19 – together with the predictable result.
Significantly, it is affirmed that the Lord will act (judge and make war) in “righteousness” (v. 11), i.e., consistent with the ultimate standard of a just Deity. Abraham once expressed confidence in the fact that God would treat humanity fairly, distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked. He asked: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). The theme of divine justice is common to this book (cf. 16:5,7; 19:2). The final judgment will be fair in that it will:
- take into consideration one’s level of personal knowledge (Lk. 12:47-48);
- be consistent with one’s individual abilities (Lk. 19:13ff);
- be rendered in light of one’s unique opportunities (Mt. 11:20ff);
- be cognizant of the law-system to which one was amenable (Heb. 10:28-29).
There are many aspects of Heaven’s judgment that we cannot appreciate from our current, limited vantage point, but on that final day, called “the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5), our questions will be resolved, and the whole of humanity, in one fashion or another, will acknowledge the Creator’s justice (cf. Rom. 14:10-12).
The Warrior Described
John said of the Conqueror: “His eyes are a flame of fire” (Rev. 19:12). This descriptive has occurred twice previously in this book (1:14; 2:18). The symbolism likely highlights the deep, penetrating insight of the Son of God, suggesting that he is perfectly qualified to judge. All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Heb. 4:13).
Upon the Lord’s head were many “crowns” (KJV), or “diadems” (ASV). There are two words for “crown” in the New Testament. There is the stephanos, the wreath of victory (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25), with which Christ is adorned in the scene of 14:14, and which faithful saints are promised (Rev. 2:10). Yet, in this case, the term is diadem, the crown of royalty. The picture is that of the regal authority of the Son of God. He has the divine right of judgment and conquest.
The apostle says the warrior “had a name written which no one knows but himself.” This phrase is obscure. It is generally taken to mean that there are mysteries associated with Jesus which the human mind can never fathom (cf. Barclay, p. 232).
The Lord is here arrayed with a garment dipped in blood. “Dipped” (from bapto) is supported by the better manuscript evidence than is “sprinkled” (rhantizo – ASV). But whose blood is it that so saturates this garment, that it almost looks dyed (Arndt, p. 132)? While some would argue that the imagery points to the shed blood of the Lamb (Johnson, pp. 574-5), it is more likely that the graphic is borrowed from the Old Testament – specifically Isaiah 63:1-6. In this sacred narrative, the prophet sees a strong and majestic being, who is returning from a devastating slaughter of the Edomites (enemies of the Lord’s people). His garment is soaked in blood – stained like one who has trod the winepress. The blood is that of those rebels who flaunted his will. God has had his “day of vengeance” upon them. No one was able to deliver these rogues from his mighty hand.
So similarly, the Son of God shall destroy those who have resisted his grace (Mt. 10:28; 2 Thes. 1:7ff). Unatoned wrongs will be addressed on the final day of history (cf. Lk. 18:7-8; Rom. 12:19; Rev. 6:9-11).
It is intriguing to note that later in chapter 19, the beast and the kings of the earth are represented as being gathered together to make war against the Lord and his armies (v. 19). Some suggest this indicates that the blood cannot be the enemies’; they are alive still. But, as Mounce notes, such an argument “misunderstands the nature of apocalyptic writing” (p. 345). The picture emphasizes that the battle is over before it is ever engaged! Such is the Lord’s power!
A Shared Victory
The conquering Christ is followed by heavenly armies who also are mounted on white steeds. Moreover, they are clothed in fine linen, pure and white. This celestial army consists of the redeemed, who, by their obedience, have washed their robes in the Lamb’s blood, making them white (Rev. 7:14). They share in the Lamb’s victory because they were willing to commit their very lives to the Master’s cause (cf. 12:10ff).
The Destruction of the Enemy
The weapon employed by the Faithful and True One is that of a sword, a sharp sword, that kept on proceeding from his mouth (v. 15). This is an obvious allusion to his powerful word (cf. Heb. 4:12).
Scripture is replete with references to the incomprehensible power of the spoken word of God. No less than ten times in Genesis 1 Moses employed the verb “said” in describing the creative acts by which the universe was fashioned. Later, the Psalmist expressed it like this: “By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. . . for he spake and it was done” (Psa. 33:6,9). In maintaining the world, the writer of Hebrews observes that the Lord Jesus upholds all things “by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).
And so, at the time of judgment, the Savior will wage no carnal conflict with his enemies; he will merely speak the word, and they will be banished to eternal punishment (cf. Isa. 11:4; 2 Thes. 2:8).
When John describes Christ as ruling his enemies “with a rod of iron” (v. 15), the picture is one of crushing judgment. The Psalmist speaks of the conquering role of the Messiah when he says that he shall “break [his foes] with a rod of iron” and “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psa. 2:9; cf. Rev. 2:27). It is interesting that the original term for “rule” hints of a shepherd’s club, by which he not only destroys the predator, but also saves the flock.
The Messianic-warrior will tread the winepress of “the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty” (cf. 16:19). The “wrath” of God should not be interpreted in terms of an emotional outburst, as with frail humans; rather, it is a measured response of divine justice to human arrogance and rebellion. Too, it must be viewed against the backdrop of the Creator’s amazing love – so hatefully rejected by the masses. In 14:10, the apostle speaks of the “wine of the wrath of God, unmixed [i.e., undiluted, full strength] in the cup of his wrath.” This judgment will forever demonstrate that he is KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
The most common impression of Jesus, entertained by devout Bible students, is that of a loving, tender, compassionate Savior. These qualities must never be minimized. But there is another side to that “coin” – the one portrayed in Revelation 19:11ff; that of the righteous warrior. Don’t trifle with the Son of God!