JESUS CHRIST – KING OF KINGS, LORD OF LORDS - [4] King of kings and Lord of lords [Revelation 19:11-21]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

Previously John has seen a symbolic tabernacle or temple ‘opened’ in heaven. Now he sees heaven itself standing open. And in this vision he does not see Jesus as ‘the Lamb’. Rather he sees him as a rider on a white horse.

A. THE RIDER ON THE WHITE HORSE [19:9-16]

We have seen this ‘white horse’ and its rider before, riding forth ‘as a conqueror bent on conquest’ when the ‘first seal’ was opened [6:2] – Jesus the Victor, taking his Gospel throughout the world by the testimony of his servants, rescuing individuals from the dominion of darkness.

Now we are given more information about this rider.

A.1 He is called Faithful and True.
These words, either singly or together, are used to describe Jesus in the following texts:

He is ‘the faithful witness’ [1:5].
He is ‘holy and true’ [3:7].
He is ‘the faithful and true witness’ [3:14].

That he is ‘faithful’ means that he is totally committed: he can be depended upon. Faithfully he carries out what the Father has entrusted to him. Faithfully he completes what he has promised to do. He will bring salvation to its ultimate completion. He will bring down the enemies of God completely. He will complete the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Because this work has been entrusted to him, and to this work he is committed. His faithfulness ensures that God’s eternal purpose prevails. The evil one, through Peter, sought to make him unfaithful to that purpose [Matthew 16:21-23].

That he is ‘true’ means that there is no lack of integrity in him. He is utterly trustworthy. The evil one tempted him to establish the kingdom by putting integrity aside [Matthew 4, Luke 4]. In addition, all that he does is according to truth. [This reflects the ‘just and true’ judgments of the Almighty spoken of several times in Revelation.]

In this ‘faithful and true’ he is what the Father is.

Suggested readings:
Deuteronomy 7:9
Psalm 31:5; 33:4; 36:5; 40:10,11; 54:5; 71:22; 89:1-33; 91:4; 96:13; 100:5; 119:75,90;
Isaiah 25:1
Lamentations 3:23

Note that in a number of the above verses, God’s faithfulness or truth is linked with his justice, and it is justice that is particularly in focus in this chapter.

A.2 With justice he judges and makes war
This is closely related to the name ‘Faithful and True’. When this Rider judges it is according to truth. When he makes war, it is according to truth. His judgments and his ‘war’ are totally just. Indeed, the punishment and the judgments he imposes are strictly in keeping with his faithfulness and trustworthiness, as indicated in a number of the Old Testament references above. It is because he is faithful to the covenant promises that justice is enforced. This implementation of justice is one of the themes of Revelation.

A.3 His eyes are like blazing fire …
This affirms both his truth and his justice. We have seen these ‘eyes like blazing fire’ before in 1:14; 2:18. These eyes see everything, penetrate everything, exposing the truth, bringing everything, even hidden things to light. Even the dark places of the human heart cannot be hidden from these eyes.

Suggested reading:
Psalm 139:11,12
Luke 12:2,3
1Corinthians 4:5

A.4 … on his head are many crowns
These are not the crowns of victory that we have seen before, but the crowns of royalty – the diadems. He is, as we have been told in 17:14 and will be told again in 19:16, the Kings of kings. It is as the King of kings and Lord of lords that he now comes on this final ride to this final battle. All those kingdoms of men that have opposed him he now makes his own [compare 11:15]. All those enemies of his with their usurped ‘crowns’ he now disposes [12:3; 13:1]. All the legitimate crowns are his. They are already on his head. There is no real need for us to sing that glorious song ‘Crown him with many crowns’ – for he is already crowned: he rides forth here with those many crowns that are rightfully his already in place.

A.5 He has a name … that no one knows …
We are given quite a number of ‘names’ of Jesus in Revelation 19:11-21, but apparently there is a name written on him that he alone knows. So there is no point trying to guess what it is.

A.6 … a robe dipped in blood …
Scholars are divided as to whether this is his own blood shed for us for the remission of our sins, or the blood of his enemies. In this vision he has not yet at this point encountered those enemies. However, in human history, human time and human space, he has already conquered the enemy by shedding his blood for our salvation, redeeming us with his blood. And that battle, that victory, was the decisive one. His own blood splattered over the robe of this Rider on the white horse is a stark reminder to these enemies that this Rider is indeed the conqueror and that their current combined attack is doomed to failure. It cannot be otherwise. Here comes the one who has conquered sin and death and Satan … here comes that descendant of Judah who has washed ‘his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes’ [Genesis 49:11].

But this blood-spattered robe is surely also indicative of the immanent and certain final defeat of the enemies.

As mentioned very early in these studies, some Old Testament prophecies concertina time – describing as one event what actually takes place in two events according to human time. In Isaiah 63:1-8 we have one such compression of time. When we read these verses some of them seem to be about the death and victory of Christ on the cross, others about the battle about to unfold in Revelation 19.

Pause for a moment and read those verses from Isaiah 63. Note the repeated references to the bloodied garments. Note the solitary nature of the Victor – he did it all alone. He established salvation and redemption all alone. He is robed in splendour, he is mighty in his strength, he is mighty to save. He also has trodden the winepress of his wrath, bringing vengeance to the nations. Salvation and redemption, and wrath and judgment, all spoken of as one event, but in human time separated by the interim of witness and suffering.

His robe is dipped in his blood shed on the cross, and that blood speaks of his victory, that blood speaks of the defeat of his enemies, that blood speaks of their blood. He was dead, but now he is alive for ever and ever. Death could not hold him, indeed he holds the keys of death. Nor is it possible for these enemies to overcome him. They are already defeated. They have already lost. See the blood spattered garment. See the risen conquering Lord. See the Rider on the white horse – white for victory.

A.7 … his name is the Word of God
Now here is something we recognize. Here we are taken to the beginning of John’s Gospel – ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ [John 1:1,2,14]. It also takes us to the beginning of John’s first letter – ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life’ [1John 1:1].

The Word of God is God. The Word of God is the Creator. The Word of God became flesh … incarnate, visible, touchable. The Word of God revealed the glory of the Father – full of grace, full of truth. This is the Rider on the white horse. This Jesus who lived and talked and walked among us. This God who created and sustains the whole universe.

This Word of God who called the universe into existence cannot fail. He speaks and light appears. He speaks and life appears. No power can stand against him, unless he permits it to do so. The defeat of his enemies is inevitable.

A.8 The armies of heaven were following him …
Here is another point at which scholars are divided: are these ‘armies of heaven’ the angelic hosts or the redeemed? In 17:14 those with him are the redeemed, but that verse is not necessarily speaking of the same event as 19:11-21. The fact that the armies of heaven are ‘dressed in fine linen, white and clean’ does not help us for in Revelation both the redeemed and angels are so described. The redeemed are not normally called ‘the armies of heaven’. Maybe it is both. In any case, they are immune from the judgment that is about to fall – this is indicated by the ‘fine linen, white and clean’. Nor can they be defeated – this is indicated by the ‘white horses’ of victory.

As we continue to work through this chapter we will realise that as far as the battle goes, these armies of heaven are totally unnecessary.

A.9 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword …
We have seen this sword before – it is a double-edged sword [1:16; 2:12], which Christ uses to fight against the unrepentant [2:16]. We are told here in 19:15 that Christ will ‘strike down the nations’ with this sharp sword. That is its purpose. Ephesians 6:17 teaches us that the ‘sword of the Spirit … is the word of God’. Isaiah 11:4 states that the Messiah will ‘strike the earth with the rod of his mouth’ and that with ‘the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked’. Isaiah 23:1 looks forward to a day when God will ‘punish with his great sword … the gliding serpent …’ and ‘slay the monster of the deep’. In Isaiah 49:2 the suffering servant states ‘he made my mouth like a sharpened sword …’

The sword of the Rider is his word. By his word, not by the armies of heaven who accompany him, he will bring down his enemies. He speaks, and it is done.

A.10 He will rule them with an iron sceptre
As noted above Isaiah 11:4 refers to the ‘rod of his mouth’ by which the Messiah strikes the earth. The ‘sharp sword’ and the ‘iron sceptre’ are two symbols of the one reality: that the word of Jesus Christ is his weapon of both judgment and punishment.

Suggested reading:
Psalm 2:9 [where the word translated ‘rule’ means ‘break’]
Matthew 8:16
Luke 4:36; 7:7
John 12:48
Revelation 12:5

That same Word of Christ that sanctifies and gives life to those who receive it [John 6:63, 17:17] brings the judgment of God upon those who reject it. Paul, aware of this dual impact of the word of Christ, wrote ‘For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death, to the other, the fragrance of life’ [2Corinthians 2:15,16].

This dual impact is also contained in the word ‘rule’. The Greek is poimaino which means to ‘shepherd’. The rod by which a shepherd ‘comforts’ his sheep [Psalm 23:4] is the rod which he uses to deter and destroy those who would attack his flock.

[Note: the English translation of poimaino as ‘rule’ is confusing. It infers a continuity of ruling. However, the clear teaching of Revelation 19:11-21 is not an on-going rule but final out-pouring of God’s wrath. The impact of this on the nations – ‘the inhabitants of the earth’ – has already been described in Revelation 14 and 16.]

A.11 He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty
We have also seen this before – the ‘winepress’ in 14:19,20; the ‘wrath’ in 6:16,17; 11:18; 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19; and the ‘fury’ in 14:10 and 16:19 – according to the NIV translation.

As indicated in an earlier study there are two Greek words – thumos and orge – the first referring to wrath in terms of the fierce passionate emotion involved, the second referring to wrath in terms of a fixed, just and deliberate hatred and opposition. The English translations do not make it clear when these two words are used in the Greek. Leaving aside the three texts in which thumos is used to refer to the anger of the dragon or the harlot, the Greek uses the two words in referring to the wrath of God or the Lamb as follows:

thumos – 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,19; 19:15.
orge – 6:16,17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15.

Note that there are three texts in which both words are used. Note also that thumos is not used in the first three of the parallel sections, where the enemies of Christ and of man are not the primary focus. Neither is used in the final parallel section, where the primary focus is on the redeemed in the presence of God.

As indicated above in the notes on the ‘robe dipped in blood’, this passage of Revelation connects with Isaiah 63:1-8. The fury of the wrath of God Almighty is in focus in both passages. And, as indicated in Isaiah 63:3 that fury and wrath is also the fury and wrath of the one whose garments are stained crimson. Revelation 6:16,17 identify it as ‘the wrath of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come …’

As we have seen earlier, this is the wrath that all humans have incurred. This is the wrath that is revealed against all the godless and wickedness of men. This is the wrath that the redeemed have escaped by the blood of Jesus.

This one riding out to conquer with his robe dipped in blood has himself felt the full fierceness and fury of this just wrath. When he died in our place for our sins he bore this same wrath for us, so that we could escape it here. He came to seek and save us, the lost. He came to bear this wrath for us. This action in which he is now engaged in this vision is not without heart. It is not the action of an unfeeling outraged deity. His choice was to save us from this wrath: in choosing to reject him the ‘inhabitants of the earth’ chose this wrath.

Suggested reading:
Matthew 11:20-24; 12:39-45
Luke 13:34-35
John 3:16-20,36
Romans 2:1-5

A.12 … this name was written …
The name ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ is written his robe and on his thigh. [Compare 17:14, which tells us that this is who the Lamb is.] In Revelation 5:5,6 John looked for a King – ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David’, and saw ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain’. Now that Lamb, that sacrificial victim spattered with blood, appears as King, not just ‘a’ King, but ‘the King of kings, the Lord of lords’. How foolishly and ignorantly the forces of evil range themselves against this King! How foolishly the inhabitants of the earth ignore this Lord and reject his urgent commands to repent and believe!
In setting themselves up in opposition to this King, in refusing to live under his authority, they have set themselves up for his wrath.

 

B. THE LAST BATTLE – Revelation 19:17-21

So sure is the outcome of the symbolic ‘battle’ that is about to occur that an angel summons all the birds together to ‘eat the flesh’ of the fallen enemies.
These are described in verse 18 as kings, generals, mighty men, horses and their riders, and ‘all people, free and slave, small and great’. They are further described in verse 19 as ‘the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies’. Verse 20 adds ‘the false prophet who had performed miraculous signs’ on behalf of the beast.

All of these ‘gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and his army’ [verse 19]. [We have seen this symbolic gathering of the enemies in 16:16, and we will see it again in 20:7-9.]

Then there is that small word ‘but’.

But there was no war. There was no battle. ‘Armageddon’ is nothing as far as battles go.

Two things happen in this vision of the ‘end’:

[1] the ‘beast’ and the ‘false prophet’ [the second beast of Revelation 13] are ‘captured’ and thrown into the ‘fiery lake of burning sulphur’ where the devil is also thrown [20:10]. These fierce persecutors of the redeemed are removed forever.

[2] the ‘rest of them’ were ‘killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse’ [verse 21] – that is, by the word of Jesus Christ, the King. We have already seen visions of the judgment of these inhabitants of the earth. We will see more of their fate in Revelation 20.

The King spoke, and it was done. That was all that was needed.

How weak the enemy! How inappropriate his arrogance! That same word by which they were created now destroys them. That same word which longed to acquit them, here judges them. That same word which, had they received it, would have given them life, here brings death.

Suggested reading:
Psalm 33:6,9
Psalm 104:29
Colossians 1:17
2Thissalonians 2:8
Hebrews 1:3
Hebrews 4:12,13

Now we have seen visions of this same ‘end’ several times, each focused on different aspects of the enemy. All that remains to be shown in the form of a vision is the end of the devil. That vision is given in Revelation 20.

Note: Leon Morris includes Revelation 20 in the sixth parallel section, which he sees as 17-20. William Hendriksen and AA Hoekema include it in the final parallel section, 20-22:6. These studies will follow the latter. Either is acceptable.