Rider on a White Horse

SYNOPSIS – The Messiah “shepherds” the nations by the “word” that proceeds out of his mouth - His “armies” participate in his present reignRevelation 19:11-16

White Horse - Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
The narrative anticipates the final destruction of the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” by introducing Jesus as a warrior figure riding a “white horse.” The groundwork for this climactic “battle” was laid in Chapter 17 with the announcement of the impending victory of the “Lamb” over the “Beast” and the “kings of the earth,” for he is “Lord of lords and King of kings” - (Revelation 17:14-18).

This next picture reinterprets Old Testament images in unexpected and paradoxical ways. For example, this messianic figure rules the nations by “shepherding” rather than pulverizing them. The only weapon he wields is the “sword” of the Word of God that flashes from his mouth. And, although his robe is sprinkled with blood, the bloodstains are present BEFORE the “Rider” engages in battle (verses 17-21). The “armies” that follow him do not carry weapons or engage in combat.

The picture is symbolic, not literal. Heaven is not populated with horses and the millions of men and women who do not repent before the end are not “crushed” in a giant winepress by a man trampling them with his feet.

The “Word of God”
  • (Revelation 19:11-14) – “And I saw heaven set open, and lo! a white horse, and he that was sitting thereon, [called] Faithful and True; and, in righteousness, doth he judge and make war; and his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems, having a name written, which no one knoweth but himself, and arrayed with a mantle sprinkled with blood, and his name hath been called —The Word of God.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Behold, a white horseFaithful and True.” “Faithful and true” identifies this figure as Jesus and links him to the God who judged the Harlot - (“For true and righteous are his judgments; for he has judged the great harlot” – Revelation 1:5, 19:2).

He that is sitting upon itIn righteousness he is judging and waging war.” The sentence uses three PRESENT TENSE Greek participles to describe the activities of the “Rider,” each signifying action in progress. “Sitting” translates the same present tense participle applied previously to God, the one who “is sitting on the throne.” The present tense participles indicate an ongoing process – An ongoing “war” - Not a single event in the future.

The “Rider” who “wages war” is identical with the “son of man” who also wages war with the sword of his mouth against the deceivers within the churches, and with the “Lamb” who wages war against the “Beast.” Note the following parallels:
  • (Revelation 2:16) – “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will wage war against them with the sword of my mouth.”
  • (Revelation 12:7) – “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels waged war against the dragon; and the dragon waged war and his angels.”
  • (Revelation 13:4) – “And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to wage war with him?
  • (Revelation 17:14) – “These shall wage war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.”
His eyes are a flame of fire and upon his head are many diadems.” In the first vision of the book,  the “son of man” had eyes “like a flame of fire,” a verbal link that identifies further the “Rider on the White Horse” with Jesus, the one who walks among the seven churches. In contrast to the “Beast” and its “ten diadems,” the “Rider” has “many diadems” - There is no limit to his royal authority.

A name written that no one knows but himself.” This name is revealed in verse 16. The clause is parallel with the promise to the “overcomer” to “write my new name” upon him. Overcoming believers participate in what this “name written” represents - (Revelation 2:17, 3:12, 14:1-4).

The description of the “Rider” alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah that originally was a promise to Zion, though now applied to Jesus:
  • (Isaiah 62:1-3) – “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. And the nations shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory, and you shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh shall name. You shall also be a crown of beauty in the hand of Yahweh, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.”
Clothed with a robe sprinkled with blood.” Note well - His robe is sprinkled in blood BEFORE the battle with the “Beast” and its allies even begins - (verses 17-21); therefore, it cannot represent any blood about to be shed in that confrontation.  The image alludes to another passage from Isaiah, originally a judicial pronouncement against Edom. Also, in view is the previous image of a figure “treading the winepress of God’s wrath.” Note the following:
  • (Isaiah 63:1-6) – “Who is this that comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?...Wherefore are your garments like him that treads in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the peoples there was no man with me: yea, I trod them in my anger, and trampled them in my wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my raiment. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come…And I trod down the peoples in mine anger, and made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
  • (Revelation 14:19-20) – “And the angel cast his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vintage of the earth, and cast it into the winepress, the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and there came out blood from the winepress.”
His name has been called the Word of God.” This is his only weapon and it is not a literal sword with which to slay his enemies. It points, rather, to victory achieved through a proclaimed word or message. Elsewhere, the “word of God” is linked directly to the “testimony of Jesus,” as follows:
  • (Revelation 1:2) – “Who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
  • (Revelation 1:9) – “I John…was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
  • (Revelation 6:9) – “And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.”
  • (Revelation 12:11) – “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.”

His “Army”
  • (Revelation 19:14-16) – “And the armies which were in heaven were following him upon white horses, clothed with fine linen, white, pure; and out of his mouth is going forth a sharp sword, that therewith he may smite the nations, — and he shall shepherd them with a sceptre of iron, and he treadeth the wine-press of the wrath of the anger of God the Almighty. And he hath upon his mantle and upon his thigh a name, written — King of kings and Lord of lords” – (The Emphasized Bible).
And the armies which were in heaven were following him upon white horses.” While the vision draws on the warrior figure from Isaiah 63:1-6, there are differences.

In the present vision, “armies were following” the “Rider.” In contrast, the passage from Isaiah stated that the warrior who attacked Edom - “Of the peoples there was no man with me.” Previously, on “Mount Zion,” the 144,000 males who were “redeemed from among men” were following the Lamb wherever he went, the “first-fruits” of the harvest “unto God and to the Lamb.” The “armies of heaven” that now follow the “Rider” parallel the 144,000 males on Zion who were “following the Lamb” - (Revelation 14:4).

The armies were “arrayed with fine linen, white, pure.” This is the same description applied before to the “wife” of the “Lamb,” and thus, identifies the “armies of heaven” as the overcoming saints, not angelic beings - (“And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright, pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” - Revelation 19:8).

Thus, the overcoming “saints” are represented by the image the “army.” As to their being “in heaven,” elsewhere in Revelation, living saints are described as “those who tabernacle in heaven” to contrast them to the “inhabitants of the earth” - (Revelation 13:5-7).

Gospel - Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

And out of his mouth is going forth a sharp sword, that therewith he may smite the nations.” Once more, a progressive present tense verb is used - It is in process of “going forth.” Earlier, the “son of man” possessed a “sharp two-edged sword” that flashed from his “mouth” - With it, he waged “war” against erring believers in the “churches” who refused to repent - (Revelation 1:16, 2:12, 2:16).

The image of the sword “flashing from his mouth” alludes to a messianic prophecy from Isaiah. Note well - The several verbal parallels to the present passage:
  • (Isaiah 11:1-5) – “And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. And his delight shall be in the fear of Yahweh; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.”
And he will shepherd them with a scepter of iron.” The clause is from Psalm 2:8-9, a messianic prophecy about the future reign of the Messiah. It is linked verbally to Isaiah 11:1-5 by the reference to “striking the earth with the rod of his mouth.” Note also, the further parallels:
  • (Psalm 2:8-9) – “I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said unto me, You are my son; This day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, And the uttermost pares of the earth for your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
The passage from the second psalm is applied to Jesus several times in Revelation. Each time, the book follows the Greek text of the Septuagint, not the Hebrew original. “Break” the nations from the Hebrew text is transformed by the Greek into a figure who “shepherds” the nations. The same Greek verb was applied to the innumerable multitude of saints from all nations that John saw standing before the “Lamb” – (For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them” –Revelation 2:27, 7:17, 12:5).

This is how Jesus “reigns” over the “nations.” Since he “overcame” in his Death and Resurrection, he now rules from his Father’s throne to “shepherd the nations” - (“The faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” – Revelation 1:4-5). Faithful saints “overcome” in the same manner and, thus, qualify to reign with him:
  • (Revelation 3:21) – “He that overcomes, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, just as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.
  • (Revelation 12:11) – “And they overcame the Dragon because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.
He is treading the wine-press of the wrath of the anger of God the Almighty.” Again, a progressive present tense is used. Even now, this figure is “treading” the winepress of God’s wrath. This must be read in the context of the “Rider” who is “judging and making wareven now - (Revelation 14:19-20).

And he has upon his mantle and upon his thigh a name, written — King of kings and Lord of lords.” This is the name only the “Rider on the White Horse” knows (Verse 12).  The proclamation is a link to Revelation 17:14-18 where the nations of the earth allied with the “Beast” were said to suffer defeat because “he is Lord of Lords and King of kings.” That “battle” is about to be described in verses 17-21 of Chapter 19.

And he has” Another present tense verb.  His position as the “King of kings” is one he already possesses. This was stated at the outset of the book when Jesus was declared to be the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” an elevated rank he holds because of his past death and resurrection - (Revelation 1:4-6).

The picture in this vision is of a Messiah who is “conquering” his enemies by means of the testimony that “proceeds out of his mouth.” His “armies” follow him and participate in this endeavor.  This does not mean there will not be a final judgment and punishment of the wicked; however, the determination of that final outcome is made in the present by how one responds to the “Lamb,” the true “King of kings.”

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