Rider on a White Horse

SYNOPSIS – The Messiah is “shepherding” the nations by the “word” that is proceeding out of his mouth, and his “armies” participate with him in his present reign – Revelation 19:11-16.

Rider - Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash
Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

The narrative prepares for the final destruction of the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” by introducing Jesus pictured as a warrior figure riding a white horse. The groundwork for this climactic battle was laid in Chapter 17 with the announcement of the Lamb’s impending victory 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 and ways. For example, the messianic figure riding the white horse rules the nations by “shepherding” rather than pulverizing them. The only weapon wielded by the Rider 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, at least, not according to anything described in the text.

This 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.

  • (Revelation 19:11-16) – “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. 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” – (Source:  The Emphasized Bible).

Behold, a white horseFaithful and True.” The description, “faithful and true,” identifies this figure as Jesus (compare - Revelation 1:5, 3:7, 3:14). It also links the Rider to the God who judged the Harlot (“For true and righteous are his judgments; for he has judged the great harlot” - Revelation 19:2).

He that is sitting upon itIn righteousness he is judging and waging war.” The sentence uses three PRESENT TENSE participles in describing the activities of the Rider. The Greek present tense signifies action in progress in the present. “Sitting” translates the same present tense participle applied to God, the one who “is sitting on the throne.” Taken at face value, these present tense participles portray an ongoing process or “war,” not a single and final event in the future.

The Rider who “wages war” is identical with the one “like a son of man” who wages war with the sword of his mouth against deceivers within the churches of Asia, and with the “Lamb” who wages war against the Beast and its allies. Note the following parallel passages, especially Revelation 17:14:

  • (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” (verse 12). In the opening vision of Revelation, the glorious figure like a son of man had eyes “like a flame of fire,” a verbal link that identifies the “Rider on the White Horse” with the risen Jesus who walks among the seven churches. In contrast to the Beast that has “ten diadems,” this Rider has “many diadems” - There is no limit to his royal authority.

Rider - Photo by Alex Wigan on Unsplash
Alex Wigan on Unsplash

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

The description of the “Rider” in alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah that originally was a promise to Zion, however, now it is applied to the “Rider on a white horse”:

  • (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 begins (verses 17-21); therefore, it cannot represent blood that is shed in that (subsequent) confrontation.  The image alludes to a passage from Isaiah, originally a judicial pronouncement against Edom. Also, in view is the previous image of an angelic figure treading the winepress of God’s wrath:

  • (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 the Rider’s only described weapon and it is not a literal sword with which he slays his enemies. It points 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.”

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 on a white horse.” In contrast, the passage from Isaiah says of 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” following the “Rider” parallel the 144,000 males on Zion who follow the Lamb (Revelation 14:4).

Paul Preaches in Ephesus
The armies were “arrayed with fine linen, white, pure.” This is the same description applied previously to the “wife” of the Lamb and, thus, identifies the “armies of heaven” as overcoming saints, not angels (“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, overcoming saints are represented by the images of a bride and an 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). It does not follow automatically that the present passage describes dead saints who are now glorified and leave heaven to accompany Jesus to the earth. The contrast is between those who belong to the Lamb and those who belong to the Beast.

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.” In the book’s first vision, Jesus is the “son of man” figure out of whose mouth went “a sharp two-edged sword.” With it, he waged “war” against erring believers who refused to repent (Revelation 1:16, 2:12, 2:16).

The image of the rider with a sword flashing from his mouth alludes to a messianic prophecy from Isaiah. Note well the several other 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 God’s anointed one. 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 parallels below:

  • (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 was used previously for Jesus.  In each case, the book of Revelation follows the Greek text of the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew original; “break” or “smash” the nations is transformed into a messianic figure who “shepherds” the nations. The same Greek verb was applied to the innumerable multitude of saints from all nations seen standing before the Lamb (Revelation 7:17 – “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them” – [Revelation 2:27, 12:5]).

In Revelation, this is how Jesus “reigns.” 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 qualify to reign with Jesus on his throne and, in this way, participate in his rule:

  • (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 war” (Revelation 14:19-20).

Paul Preaches to Gentiles
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 in the war against the Lamb 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.

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

The picture is one of a Messiah who is “conquering” his enemies by means of the testimony that is proceeding out of his mouth, and his “armies” follow him in this endeavor.  This does not mean that there will not be a final judgment and punishment of the wicked, but 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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