The Study of Last Things
"And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. Revelation 19:11
You will look in vain for the word "coming" (parousia, 3952) anywhere in the book of Revelation. Nevertheless, no one disputes that Rev. 19:11-21 describes the Second Coming of Christ.
John saw heaven opened, and he saw a white horse. There was a rider on this horse (Rev. 19:11). That the horse was white in color is not insignificant. The Book of Revelation uses the word "white" (leukos, 3022) more than any other NT book. Jesus' hair and head were as white as white wool (Rev. 1:14). Conquerors will be given a white stone (Rev. 2:17) and will walk with Jesus in white garments (Rev. 3:4, 5, 18). The elders in heaven wore white garments (Rev. 4:4). Martyrs in heaven were given a white robe (Rev. 6:11; 7:9, 13). The Son of Man was sitting on a white cloud (Rev. 14:14). The Faithful and True rider is seated upon a white horse (Rev. 19:11). The armies in heaven who follow this rider on the white horse are themselves clothed in fine linen, white and clean, and they also sit astride white horses (Rev. 19:14). The only time "white" is used in a negative context occurs in Rev. 6:2, in connection with the breaking of the first seal. That rider on the white horse probably represents the Antichrist and his sinister regime. He goes forth conquering and to conquer. He will gobble up authority over as many nations as he possibly can. He will appear to bring peace, but it is a deadly peace in which all his subjects eventually lose their freedom (see Rev. 13). In that case, the Antichrist will appear, as does the Devil, as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14-15), but he will turn out to be an evil deceiver and a law-breaker (2 Thess. 2:3, 8-12). The fact that there is a rider on a white horse (in Rev. 19:11) sounds ominous. The common Jewish people of the Apostle John's day did not typically own horses. The more well-to-do might own an ox or two, or perhaps a donkey. But it was kings who had horses. Horses were meant for mobility and power and speed in warfare. This instance in Rev. 19:11-21 is no exception.
The rider on the white horse is never called "Jesus the Messiah," but other descriptions provide us with clues. First of all, he is called "Faithful" (pistos, 4103) and "True" (alŕthinos, 228). Furthermore, he goes about his business "in righteousness" (dikaiosunŕ, 1343) (Rev. 19:11). These ethical components sound beyond the reach of mere mortals! The business in which this Rider is occupied grates upon the sensibilities of Western leftist academic, political, and ecclesiastical proponents -- He is judging, and He is waging war! How much more politically incorrect could He be? And how intolerant! John stated the business of the Rider in what the aforementioned leftists would call an oxymoron -- it is in righteousness that He judges (krin˘, 2919) and wages war (poleme˘, 4170)! The two words "judges" and "wages war" are proleptic presents. He is not yet judging and waging war but He is just about to do so. In fact, as the rest of the passage reveals, He and the armies of heaven are on their way to earth to accomplish both agendas.
John moves from the Rider's ethical characteristics to His physical attributes. It is difficult to look at this Rider. His eyes are a flame of fire (Rev. 19:12; cf. Rev. 1:14). On His head he wore many diadems (diadŕma, 1238). A diadem is a band, usually colored, worn around the head as a sign of royalty. Others who are but pretenders have worn diadems. Satan was seen wearing seven diadems (Rev. 12:3), and the Beast coming out of the Sea, the Antichrist, was seen wearing ten of them (Rev. 13:1)! We are not told how many diadems the Rider on the White Horse is wearing. They are described as being "many" (Rev. 19:12).
The Rider has a name written down which no one but He Himself knows (Rev. 19:12). This perhaps signifies that there are some things about this Rider that are ultimately unknowable. He transcends human understanding. Though we do not know this particular name, we are not left without descriptive labels. He has already been entitled "Faithful" and "True" (Rev. 19:11). There will be more titles that follow.
The Rider wears a robe dipped (or "immersed" - bapt˘, 911) in blood (Rev. 19:13). This is not His own blood, shed for the sins of the world. This is the blood of His enemies, viewed proleptically in anticipation of the battle about to commence on earth. This bloody robe is to be equated with the bloody robe of the Warrior identified in Isaiah 63:1-6. It is clear that in His bloody battles, this Rider will not be acting on His own initiative. His name "has been called" (a literal translation of the perfect tense) "the Word (logos, 3056) of God" (see also John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1). When He speaks destruction (Rev. 19:15, 21), it is not merely a personal vendetta. He is echoing the will of God. With this revelation that His name has been called "The Word of God," the reader is no longer in any doubt whatever of the identity of the Rider on the White Horse. He is none other than the God-Man, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.
The Royal Rider is not on alone on His journey from heaven to earth (Rev. 19:14). The armies (strateuma, 4753) "in the heaven" (en t˘ ouran˘, 3772) were following (imperfect tense [= durative action in past time] of akolouthe˘, 190) . The term "the heaven" (t˘ ouran˘) probably refers to the third heaven, the abode of God, not the heaven in which the sun, moon and stars reside. Strateuma appears in the plural. This need not mean that the Rider has more than one standing army based up in heaven. The plural rather signifies the many individual soldiers who make up His army. The word is probably used in the same sense in Matt. 22:7. In Luke 23:11; Acts 23:10, 27, the translation "troops" would be appropriate. The term strateuma need not be limited in number. The number of troops comprising "armies" in Rev. 9:16 is staggering! The beast, the world ruler, or Antichrist will marshal his own armies from all over the world to oppose this alien King with His armies descending from heaven (Rev. 19:14, 19).
The armies (or troops) in the heaven following the Rider are themselves also mounted on white horses (Rev. 19:14). Though their leader is wearing a robe whose original color cannot be determined because it has been dipped in blood (Rev. 19:13), these soldiers following are clothed in fine linen, white and clean. This is not accidental. The white of their horses and the white of their garments symbolizes their ethical and spiritual purity (Rev. 19:8). This is to be a holy war on a scale which the world has never before witnessed. But the fact that these troops' garments are white and clean while their leader's robe is soaked in blood suggests that their activity during the upcoming battle will be something other than actually killing human enemy combatants. They will be at war, but it appears that the Rider alone will actually be killing the enemy troops.
Who are these heavenly soldiers (Rev. 19:14)? It is tempting, because of similar (but not identical) language, to identify these troops as individual members of the Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8). These individual participants in the corporate role of serving as the Bride of the Lamb are also identified as "the holy ones" (t˘n hagi˘n, 40). Thomas Constable connects these riders with the Bride of the Lamb in part because of the clothes they wear (Rev. 19:14; cf. Rev. 19:7-8). But we already have an example of angels clothed in flax linen "clean and bright" (Rev. 15:6). So that argument does not completely hold up. It is unlikely that any warrior would bring his new bride along to engage in warfare. Most likely these soldiers are angels who will fight in the upcoming battle on a spirit warfare level with the hordes of demons who follow Satan (cf. 2 Kings 6:15-17; Dan. 10:12-13, 20; Rev. 12:3-4, 7-9). They will certainly aid the Rider, but it appears only He will actually kill the human adversaries. Let us remember that in the OT, God is frequently, especially in the book of Jeremiah, identified as "Yahweh of Troops" (tsaba, 6635) (see, for example, Jer. 2:19; 5:14; 6:6, 9, etc.). At His First Advent Jesus refused to ask for angels to deliver Him from death (Matt. 26:53). But at His Second Advent He has apparently already received permission from his Father for the assistance of legions of angels in His battle to conquer the world. Apparently this army of angels will also assist the Rider in gathering out and eliminating from His kingdom all the evil people from all over the world for the judgment and destruction to which they will eventually be consigned (Matt. 13:39-43; 49-50).
If the angels' clothing suggests they are not directly involved in the killing of human enemies of the Messiah, who will accomplish this righteous task (Rev. 19:11)? The answer is given in Rev. 19:15. From the Rider's mouth issues a sharp sword (hromphaia, 4501). If previous references hold true, this is a double-edged sword, of the type that Roman soldiers used (Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16). The reader must remember that John is seeing things that are highly symbolic. But the symbols have a literal reality. When the Rider actually returns to earth, I doubt that we will see a sword protruding from His mouth. But the sword stands for His deadly, fatality-inducing speech. What it means is that when He returns, the Rider will command enemy combatants to die. And die they will. We are not told in this passage exactly how they die, but one of the prophets gives us at least an idea. More about that later.
What will the Rider do with His sword (speech)? With it He will "strike down the nations" (Rev. 19:15). That means He will kill them with His speech (Isa. 11:4; 2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:21). I once had occasion to discuss with a pacifist pastor this aspect of Jesus' return. He was incensed with that kind of Jesus. He much preferred a Jesus who is loving and forgiving. His reaction is exactly that of a host of people within Christendom and without. The loving, forgiving Jesus is the Jesus of the First Advent, but He is not the Jesus of the Second Advent. This Jesus will kill the enemy combatants who attempt to engage Him in warfare. It will not be pretty. But it will happen. It is no wonder that the great bulk of people alive on earth at the time of His return will mourn in terror at the sign of His coming (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7).
The next phrase gives us a glimpse of the Rider's reign: "and He Himself will shepherd (poimain˘, 4165) them with a rod of iron" (Rev. 19:15, author's translation), i.e., "with strict, merciless rule" (Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament). Here John borrows from a phrase found in Psalm 2:9. Unquestionably, the person who is the subject of Psalm 2:6-9 is the Messiah, the King of Israel. He will be given all the nations of the earth to rule as His possession and His inheritance. And the rule will take place from Mount Zion, in the city of Jerusalem, capital of Israel.
The following phrase reverts back to Christ's deadly, retributive Second Advent. "And He Himself will tread on the winepress of the wine of the anger of God the Almighty" (Rev. 19:15, author's literal translation). Here John draws on imagery found in Isaiah 63:1-6. Once again the Rider, the Messiah, is executing the will of God the Almighty. This is a holy war the likes of which the world has never seen before.
Though we are not told the unknowable name of the Rider, we are told another name which He has. On His robe and on His thigh there exists a name having been written by someone, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Rev. 19:16)! He is the King to which all other kings must and will submit. He is the Lord or Master to whom all other lords or masters must and will submit. This has an ominous portent for the hundreds of thousands of troops assembled on earth below to fight Him.
John has seen the third heaven opened (Rev. 19:11) - the abode of God. Now his attention is captured by something in the second heaven, the abode of the sun. He "saw one angel having been stationed in the sun" (Rev. 19:17, author's translation). This angel "cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds - the ones flying in midair, 'Come! Be gathered together unto the great dinner of God!'" (Rev. 19:17, author's translation). And what is God's great dinner? Some have completely misinterpreted the word "dinner" (deipnon, 1173) here, supposing it to be identical to the Marriage Dinner of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). The people invited to that Dinner are blessed. The people who attend this dinner are the meal! It is the birds who do the eating! What is the menu? The birds are invited to attend this dinner "in order that you may eat flesh of kings and flesh of chiliarchs (chilarchos, 5506, commanders of a thousand troops) and flesh of mighty men and flesh of horses and those sitting astride them and flesh of all - both of free men and of slaves and of small and of great" (Rev. 19:18). What a ghastly invitation is given by this angel in the sun to all the birds flying in midair! This invitation signifies that death of humans and steeds will stagger the imagination. The carnage will incredible, and it will be widespread when Jesus Christ returns to this earth!
Now John’s attention was directed to the earth. He saw the world ruler, along with the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the Rider and with His armies, whom they see approaching earth (Rev. 19:19). Here’s how he describes it: “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make the war with the one sitting upon the horse and with his armies” (Rev. 19:19, author’s literal translation).
This beast is one of the major characters of the latter part of the book of Revelation. He is a human, but he is inspired by hell, as it were. We see him first in the Apocalypse in Rev. 11:15, where his origin is said to be the abyss. He will kill God’s two witnesses (Rev. 11:1-14). There is extensive information about him and his assistant, later called “the false prophet” in Rev. 13:1-18. He will be instigated and empowered by Satan (Rev. 13:1-2). It appears he will be resurrected, which will inspire worship from the whole world (Rev. 13:3-4, 8). He will arrogantly blaspheme God (Rev. 13:5-6). He will seek to destroy all believers as he gains authority over the entire earth as a dictator (Rev. 13:7, 9-10). He will be supported by a second beast who will have miraculous powers that deceive (Rev. 13:11-15). This second beast will enforce worship of an animated image of the first beast on pain of death (Rev.13:15) or economic isolation (Rev. 13:16-18). Worship of the dictator beast will ultimately earn humans an eternity in the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 14:9-11). In the Tribulation beast worshipers will be the targets of terrible plagues from God (Rev. 16:1-2, 10-11). For a time the dictator beast and his ten global administrators will cooperate subserviently with the wealthy false religion of Babylon (Rev. 17:1-12). The dictator beast and his ten assistants will wage war the Lamb, but the Lamb will overpower them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14). Ultimately the dictator beast and his ten subordinates will turn against the false religion of Babylon and burn her with fire (Rev. 17:15 – 18:24). So the world dictator beast and the kings of the earth will finally be rid of the constraints of the religion of Babylon. For a brief time they will gain control over the whole world. Part of their quest will be to solve the Arab-Israeli problem permanently. For that reason they will finally gather in the holy land with their combined armies and seize control of the land of Israel (Zech. 12:1-3). But it will be a trap set by God Himself. He will lure them to Israel in order to destroy them (Zech. 12:4, 8-9; 14:2). With all the combined United Nations troops in and around Israel, led by the dictator beast, suddenly their attention will be riveted skyward. Instantly, their focus will change from subjugating Israel to attempting to destroy the Rider on the White Horse and His army as He begins His descent to earth (Rev. 19:19).
The battle will be short-lived. None of the United Nations forces will be able to vanquish the Rider on the White Horse. All will be helpless against Him. The global dictator beast will be seized. So also will be his assistant, the second beast, here called his deceiving false prophet (Rev. 19:20; 16:13). These two will be cast alive into the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 19:20). Thus will Satan's plan to set up His False Messiah, the Antichrist, be thwarted!
What about the United Nations armies who followed the beast dictator and his ten subordinates? "And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh" (Rev. 19:21). John does not go to great lengths to describe this destruction. The prophet Zechariah adds some detail. The Rider on the White Horse will dismount and stand with His own feet on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4). That event will trigger a great earthquake. The Mount of Olives will split from east to west. This will create a valley through which the beleaguered Israeli survivors can escape from the Anti-Semitic UN troops (Zech. 14:4-5). In the person of the Rider, Jesus, Yahweh will smite the UN troops with a gruesome plague. Their eyes will rot in their sockets and their tongues in their mouths (Zech. 14:12). A panic attack commanded by Jesus will seize the troops and they will destroy one another with friendly fire (Zech. 14:13). This plague of fast-rotting flesh will also strike the livestock in the possession of the UN troops (Zech. 14:15).
Jesus, the Rider on the White Horse will gain control of the entire earth. After a series of judgments, in which He eliminates all who have not aligned themselves with Him (Ezek. 20:33-38; Dan. 12:1-3; Mal. 3:1-6; Matt. 25:1-13; 14-30; Luke 19:11-27; Matt. 25:31-46), He will reign as King over all the earth (Zech. 14:9)! He will have no competition! During Jesus' Kingdom, people from nations all over the world will pour into Jerusalem to worship the King and learn of His laws (Isa. 2:1-4; Mic. 4:1-3). Nations who do not arrive to worship the King at set times will suffer drought and famine (Zech. 14:16-19). They will learn! Peace, Justice, and Righteousness will prevail (Isa. 2:4; 9:6-7; 11:1-10)! The Golden Era of human civilization will have arrived! How will mankind respond? That is the subject for another discussion at a different time.