The Messiah “shepherds” the nations by the “word” that proceeds out of his mouth in preparation for the final battle – Revelation 19:11-16.
The vision now anticipates the destruction of the “beast” and the “False Prophet” by introducing the warrior figure riding a “white horse.” The groundwork for the coming “battle” was laid with the announcement of the victory of the “Lamb” over the “beast” and the “kings of the earth” in chapter 17 (For he is “Lord of lords and King of kings”).
The image reinterprets messianic expectations in unexpected ways. For example, the rider rules the nations by “shepherding” rather than pulverizing them. The only weapon he wields is the “sword” that flashes from his mouth. And, although his robe is sprinkled with blood, the bloodstains are present BEFORE he engages in battle with the “beast” and his allies.
- (Revelation 19:11-14) – “And I saw heaven set open, and behold, a white horse, and he that was sitting thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness is he judging and making war, and his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems, having a name written, which no one knows but himself, and arrayed with a mantle sprinkled with blood, and his name hath been called the Word of God.”
“Faithful and True” identify the figure as Jesus, the “faithful witness,” and link him to the God who judged “Babylon” (“For true and righteous are his judgments; for he has judged the great harlot” – Revelation 1:5, 19:2).
“Sitting… He is judging and waging war.” The sentence uses three PRESENT TENSE participles to describe the activities of the “rider,” each signifying action in progress. “Sitting” translates the same participle applied previously to God, the one who “is sitting on the throne.” The three participles indicate an ongoing process of “war” against Christ’s enemies and not necessarily a single future event.
The “rider” is identical with the “son of man” who also possessed the sword of his mouth with which he waged war against the deceivers within the “seven churches,” and with the “Lamb” who wages war against the “beast” – (Revelation 2:16, 12:7, 13:4, 17:14).
“His eyes are a flame of fire… many diadems.” In the first vision, the “son of man” had eyes “like a flame of fire,” another link to the “rider on the white horse.” In contrast to the “beast” with its “ten diadems,” this figure has “many diadems,” for there are no limits to his sovereignty.
“A name written that no one knows.” The clause parallels the promise of the risen Jesus that he would “write my new name” on the one “who overcomes.” Thus, overcoming believers participate in whatever that “name” represents. The description echoes the passage from Isaiah, originally a promise to Zion that is 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 goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. And the nations shall see your righteousness, and all kings your 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.”
“Robe sprinkled with blood.”The rider’s robe was sprinkled with blood BEFORE the battle commenced, and therefore, it was not from any blood that was shed by him in his “war” with the “beast” and its allies. The image alludes to another passage from Isaiah, originally, a judicial pronouncement against Edom. Also, in view is the previous image from chapter 14 of the one who was “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 my anger, and made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” – (Compare Revelation 14:19-20).
“His name is called the Word of God.” This is his only weapon, and it is not a literal sword with which he slays his enemies. Instead, it points to the victory achieved through the proclaimed word. Elsewhere in the book, the “word of God” is linked to the “testimony of Jesus” given by his servants – (Revelation 1:2, 1:9, 6:9, 12:11).
- (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 scepter of iron, and he is treading the wine-press of the wrath of the anger of God the Almighty. And he has upon his mantle and upon his thigh a name, written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
The “armies were following” him. Previously, on “Mount Zion,” the 144,000 males who were “redeemed from among men” were following the Lamb wherever he went. They were the “first-fruits” of the harvest “for God and the Lamb.” The “armies of heaven” that now follow the “rider” parallel those 144,000 males on Zion – (Revelation 14:4).
They were “arrayed with fine linen, white, pure,” the same description applied earlier to the “wife” of the “Lamb.” That means the “armies of heaven” represent overcoming saints. As to their being “in heaven,” previously, living saints were called “those who tabernacle in heaven” in contrast to the “inhabitants of the earth” – (Revelation 13:5-7, 19:8).
“And out of his mouth is flashing a sharp sword.” Once more, the progressive present tense is used – the sword was in the process of “flashing.” Previously, the “son of man” possessed the “sharp two-edged sword” that flashed from his “mouth,” and with it, he waged “war” against deceivers and “false apostles” in the “churches.” The image echoes the messianic prophecy from Isaiah – (Isaiah 11:1-5, Revelation 1:16, 2:12, 2:16).
“And he will shepherd them.” The clause is from the second Psalm, a passage about the future reign of the Messiah:
- (Psalm 2:8-9) – “Yahweh said to 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 parts 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 is applied to Jesus several times in Revelation. Each time, it follows the Greek text from the Septuagint, not the Hebrew, in which “break” the nations is replaced in Greek by the term for “shepherd.” The same verb was applied also to the care of the “Lamb” for the “innumerable multitude” – (“For the Lamb will shepherd them” –Revelation 2:27, 7:17, 12:5).
This is how Jesus “reigns” over the “nations.” Since Christ “overcame” by his Death and Resurrection, he now rules from the “throne,” whence he “shepherds the nations.” Faithful saints “overcome” in the same manner, thus qualifying to reign with him – (Revelation 3:21, 12:11).
“He is treading the wine-press.” Another progressive present tense verb is used. Even now, he is “treading” the winepress of God’s wrath. This must be read in the context of the “rider” who is “judging and making war” even now. All three activities, judging, warring, and treading, are ongoing.
“A name, written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” This is the “name written,” that only the “rider” knows. And previously, the nations allied with the “beast” were said to suffer defeat at the hands of the “Lamb” because “he is Lord of Lords and King of kings” – (Revelation 17:14).
His status as the “King of kings” was stated at the outset of the book when Jesus was called the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” an elevated rank he holds already. So here, also, the statement is in the present tense – He “is” the King and Lord over all things, his victory and exaltation were achieved by his past Death and Resurrection – (Revelation 1:4-6).
In the vision, the picture is of the Messiah who is “conquering” his enemies by means of the testimony that “proceeds out of his mouth.” His “armies” follow him and participate in that endeavor. This does not mean there will not be a final judgment and punishment of the wicked; however, one’s eternal fate is determined in the present by how one responds to the word of the “Lamb,” the true and present “King of kings,” that is propagated on the earth by his “servants.”