Commentary on Revelation 19:11-21

Notes (NET Translation)

11 Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war.

In 6:1-2 a conqueror rode out on a white horse. This rider is a different conqueror, Christ. The names “Faithful” and “True” were applied to Christ in 3:14 (cf. 1:5; 15:3; 16:7; 19:2). The names sum up Christ’s character: he is faithful to his calling and true in his justice. This passage is another scene of judgment (16:12-16; 20:7-10). It is likely describing the final judgment in different language than other passages in the book. Unlike the beast, Christ acts justly.

12 His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself.

The eyes like a fiery flame match the description of Christ in 1:14; 2:18. The many diadems symbolize Christ’s royal authority. The text does not say where the name was written.

It was common in the ancient world to believe that all beings, celestial as well as earthly, had a hidden name that contained their true essence. This is what the demons were doing when they called Jesus “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24 par.; cf. 5:7 par.) and other titles. They were trying to gain power over Jesus by uttering his true name (see Twelftree, DJG 166). Therefore, the “new name no one knows except he himself” is a title reserved for eternity, the name that will reveal the true nature of the Godhead in a way beyond our finite ability to grasp. As Moses could not see the face of God and live (Exod. 33:20), so we cannot at this time know the true essence of God. That awaits his final revelation. When we combine this with Rev. 2:17, a new, exciting truth emerges. At the parousia, we will first learn the new name of Christ (19:12) and then will be given that new name for ourselves (2:17). It is written on Christ, and then he will write it on us! (Osborne 682)

Therefore, the symbolic meaning of the “unknown name” is the affirmation that Christ has not yet consummately fulfilled the promises of salvation and judgment, but will thoroughly reveal to all his character (i.e., his name) of grace and justice when he comes to carry out those promises in vindication of his followers. Though all will perceive his grace and justice, only his people will experience the full revelation of his grace, whereas his opponents will experience the full expression of his justice. (Beale 956)

13 He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word of God.

It is tempting to say that, since Christ has not yet entered battle, the blood on his clothing is from his death on the cross (Rev. 1:5; 7:14). But we should be careful in forcing the vision to conform to our logic. It is also possible that the blood is from his enemies (Isa. 63:1-6; Rev. 14:14-20). Jesus may be called the Word of God because he speaks for God and his message is from God. Yet, in Hebrew thought, the Word of God was also sometimes like an active agent carrying out God’s will (Wis. 8:15-16; Heb. 4:12). In this passage, Christ carries out God’s judgment.

14 The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses.

The description of the clothing suggests that the armies are made up of human saints (3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14; 19:8). Rev. 17:14 also implies that the saints will accompany the Lamb in battle. However, perhaps angels also accompany Christ. The linen clothing symbolizes the character of the saints since it is not normal battle attire. In the following verses it is not said that the armies participate in the battle. But 2:27 says believers will rule the nations with an iron rod and like clay jars break them to pieces.

15 From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful.

The sharp sword echoes the description of Christ in 1:16; 2:12 (cf. Isa. 11:4; 49:2; 2 Thess. 2:8). It is the double-edged sword of his word (Heb. 4:12-13). The rule with an iron rod recalls Ps. 2:7-9. The treading of the winepress echoes Rev. 14:19-20.

16 He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.”

“This name is written on the rider’s garment and thigh, either in two different places or only once, on a part of the garment that draped over the thigh” (Beale 963). The thigh is a prominent place for someone on a horse. Christ alone, not the beast or the kings of the earth, is the true king and lord.

17 Then I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he shouted in a loud voice to all the birds flying high in the sky: “Come, gather around for the great banquet of God, 18 to eat your fill of the flesh of kings, the flesh of generals, the flesh of powerful people, the flesh of horses and those who ride them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slave, and small and great!”

Verses 17-18 echo Ezek. 39:4, 17-20 where the birds and wild animals feast on the slain troops of the army of Gog. To remain unburied in the ancient world was dishonorable so this is a vision of dishonor and destruction. This scene is the antithesis of the Lamb’s banquet (19:9). Everyone who fights with the beast will be punished regardless of social status (6:15-17; 13:16). This message assumes the outcome of the battle is known before it starts.

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army.

This preparation for battle echoes the preparation for battle at Armageddon (16:14, 16; cf. Ps. 2:2). But no description of battle follows. It’s as if it’s over before it begins.

20 Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf – signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur.

The lake of fire is the final destination of those to be destroyed (20:10, 14; 21:8). A lake of fire burning with sulfur would not only be incredibly hot but also fetid (cf. Ezek. 38:22).

21 The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh.

The others are killed by the word of God, not by traditional weapons (cf. Isa. 11:4; 49:2; 4 Ez. 13:9–11; 2 Thess. 2:8; Heb. 4:12–13). It is a judicial act phrased in military terms.

There is another aspect of lex talionis here. In 11:7–10 the beast slays the two prophets and then refuses them burial (11:9). The same indignity is now shown the dead army. Aune (1998b: 1067–68) shows how terrible this was, calling it “an ancient curse formula” that has now been actualized. In several OT texts (Deut. 28:26; 1 Sam. 17:44, 46; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:24), being eaten by dogs or birds is the ultimate degradation, and in Jer. 7:33; 16:4; 19:7; and 34:20, this became a prophetic curse. In 1QM 11.1 those destroyed in the final eschatological battle will remain unburied. This was the ultimate humiliation in the ancient world. Thus, God is returning upon the heads of the unbelievers what they have done to the saints. (Osborne 691)

The kings of the earth re-emerge in Rev. 21:24 to bring their glory to the New Jerusalem.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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