(11) Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
A new scene commences as John sees “heaven opened,” conveying the idea that the picture which we are about to see is not of this world, nor is it of earthly origin. It is a scene far above mankind’s actions and abilities. It is not earthly, but spiritual. The one seen in this vision is not earthly, but spirit. And as we just heard that the testimony of Jesus is the very thrust of prophecy (19:10), a new prophetic vision occurs, and it is the testimony of Jesus. Jesus the victor! Jesus the king! As the vanishing away of the old covenant consummated the new marriage covenant, so the we see the full consummation of the Lord as King over all. The rest of this chapter and the next will develop this spiritual picture of the King under new covenant rule.
“A white horse!” We saw the white horse in one of the early visions of the book (see comments on 6:2). The horse is a symbol just as much as white is a symbol. White is not a color but contains all the wavelengths of visible light; therefore, it is the perfect figure to convey the idea of glory. The horse is merely a vessel which is used in the vision to complete the picture that the rider is a warrior who “makes war.” The full figure of the white horse is that the rider moves by his glory. Holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, and goodness is his vessel by which he moves, acts, “judges and makes war.”
“The one sitting.” We were given details of the rider in 6:2. He was seen with a warrior’s bow in hand, and a stephanos (victory crown). Here we see the consistency of the figure, as the one sitting on the horse “makes war.” Previously we saw him go out “conquering and to conquer” (6:2); therefore, from the first moment we saw him, he was already conquering – hence the victory wreath on his head – but we heard that he had come out “to conquer” again. Now, in 19:11, after the judgment and destruction of the unfaithful city, the rider is seen again, having conquered that which he came out “to conquer” in 6:2. In the previous vision of the white horse, the rider was not given a name, but now he “is called Faithful and True.” This is certainly in reference to the faithfulness which he has demonstrated in fulfilling the requirements of the old law against the unfaithful covenant people; and to the faithfulness he has shown to his servants in avenging their blood.
(12) His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.
“A flame of fire.” His eyes were also described this way in the first vision of the Lord (see 1:14). It must be a multifaceted picture of the purity by which he sees all things; the penetration of his eyesight into all things and all matter; and the perfect view by which he commits fiery judgments.
“Many diadems” are seen on his head. A diadem is a crown of royalty. The picture is that he has many crowns of rule and authority on his head. It is certainly a picture of the Christ as King over all kings.
“He has a name written that no one knows but himself.” Contextually, this is a name that is written on his head. We are given many names for the Lord throughout the scriptures, each one being a description of his identity. The name spoken of in this verse is also a description of his identity; although we are not given the name, that’s really the point. He is too high, too wonderful, and this unknown name is a symbol of his greatness above all.
(13) He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
“Dipped in blood.” This is probably not his own blood in consideration, but in closer keeping to the context of this vision, this is likely the blood of his enemies. In the previous chapter he had accomplished his task of putting down the old covenant people, treading upon them as if in a winepress (14:20; Isaiah ). And he emerges, covered in blood, to continue his victories over evils. This is further confirmed in verse fifteen (see comments there).
“The Word of God.” Another name is given to express his identity, “the Word of God.” There is only one whose identity can be “the Word;” it is our Savior!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14).
The conclusion as to the identity of the rider on the white horse is inescapable; it is the one and only who created us by the word of his mouth, who took upon flesh and dwelt among his creation so that he could give himself up for us. Here he is seen in a fantastic display as one who is not just still active for us, but the one who is in the forefront, working tirelessly and constantly to help us and save us from our enemies. He is certainly faithful to his identity as the “Good Shepherd” who cares for his sheep (John 10).
(14) And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.
The armies of heaven could be referring to a host of angelic beings; for they could certainly be described as “white and pure.” But it might also be including the saints on this earth who are also described elsewhere of being in the Lord’s army. The fact that this is the “armies of heaven” does not necessarily subtract the church from the host in any way. Revelation has consistently shown the church to be not earthly but heavenly, in the most holy place, dwelling with God (4:4; 5:8-14; 7:9-17; 14:1-5; 15:2-8; 19:4-6). Even while restrained in the flesh, the church is sitting with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). Given that the church is also given the identity as the army of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10-17; Romans 13:12; 2 Corinthians 6:7, 10:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:8), the church is the natural interpretation to this scene. Nevertheless, angels are also described in similar language (Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Jude 1:14). So then, is this an army of angels, the church, or both? It could be both, for they both serve the Lord in this capacity. However, the focus is likely on the Church, clothed in its bride attire of “fine linen, white and pure.” The church who is given the duty to spread the word and fight for the truth. This is all a heavenly, spiritual theme. The church’s fight is not physical,
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12).
Although many refuse to accept this point, the following battles in Revelation are not physical, but spiritual.
(15) From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
This is the same description of the Lord that we saw in 1:16, and the comments on that verse focused on the angle of his power and ability to divide and discern our thoughts and intentions (see also Hebrews 4:12). However, in this context, we must focus on another aspect of the sword which comes from his mouth. The sword is still the breath and word of Christ which comes “from his mouth;” but the connection that he will use the sword “to strike down the nations,” shows that his word is not just a discerner of thoughts. But it is the world that executes the Lord’s power and authority over all. This is also how the figure of his mouth is seen in 2:16 and 12:5.
“To strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.” It is important to recognize that his action of striking down the nations is not to cast them into inexistence from the earth, but to “rule them with a rod of iron.” This section is addressing the king’s reception of his inheritance. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 2:8-9
“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
The Father has granted all nations to the resurrected Son. He has inherited “the ends of the earth” as his possession. Striking down the nations is not a literal scene but paints the picture of a king obtaining another land by his power. This does not mean that all will now submit to him, but it does mean that he has all authority over them.
“Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15).
(16) On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
His name was written on his outer garment, but also on his thigh – probably on his inner garment which covered his thigh. The description provides commentary on the unfolding scene. John can see the name on the thigh, manifesting that the King was riding in pursuit; therefore, his outer garment was flowing by the horse’s wind, revealing the name on his thigh.
“King of kings.” This name written on his robe and thigh is distinct from the name that is written on his head, the name which no one knows but himself (19:12). We were given the name “Word of God” in verse thirteen, and now we have another title, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” This is in perfect harmony with this context which is describing Christ as the possessor of all nations; therefore, his is the King over all the kings of the nations.