Text: Rev 19:11-21
NT Parallel Text: 1 Cor 15:20-28
Featured Verse: Rev 19:11 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.
Main Idea: The final battle is fought - and won - by Jesus.
[We have made the argument throughout that Revelation recapitulates,* that is it retells a story from a different angle. Therefore, we maintain that this is a new perspective on the same final battle which has been previously depicted as the battle of Armageddon. (Rev 16:16) The new perspective on that battle is that Jesus is the one who fights and brings deliverance for God's people.]
This Rider on a White Horse is NOT the same as the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, who also rode a white horse.** By contrast, this rider is depicted with all of the same descriptions used of Jesus in the opening vision.*** (Check out the notes below!) We have now come full circle. We started the book with a vision of Jesus among the churches, now we see him returning to bring deliverance for his people. This is the work of King Jesus - he sustains them in their earthly pilgrimage and defeats their enemies at the end of time.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks a question about how Jesus does his work as king and answered the question this way:
Christ carries out the office of a king in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies. WSC #26.
In Revelation we see how Jesus won a victory on the cross. His death and resurrection bring victory over sin and when God draws us to put our faith in Christ our sins are forgiven through his salvation. But the close of revelation also shows a different type of victory. When Jesus returns, we will come in glorious power and his arrival will bring the defeat of his enemies. This text is a pictorial display of Jesus "restraining and conquering all his and our enemies."
In some ways, it is all pretty simple. This same idea is found throughout the Bible in multiple places, but one of the strongest examples is found in 1 Cor 15:20-28 where Paul speaks of Jesus returning and putting all things under his feet.
Conclusion and Application:
Because Jesus is our king, we can live a life of faithful obedience. He has power (now) to restrain our enemies. As we wait for his return, we follow Jesus in a cruciform life. Our earthly experience is one in which we "share in his suffering" (Phil 3.) But that is not the end of the story. When Jesus returns, "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess." (Phil 2) Even his enemies will be forced to recognize his absolute power. It is hard to know how the symbolic language of Revelation would relate to real world conflict, but as the Rider on a White Horse, Jesus himself, will be personally involved in our deliverance.
* There are a lot of really significant overlaps when we look at the final battle, but this vision has one that really screams for us to make the connection. John tells us that the Rider in White has the name written on his robe, "King of kings and Lord of lords." (19:16) This is the exact same description of Jesus when he fought against the beast and false prophet in Revelation 17:14. So, unless we are to assume that Jesus came and fought two different battles against the same enemy in which he is described in the exact same way... we have to recognize the pattern of recapitulation. -- And please don't use Rocky I and Rocky II, or the whole disastrous set of third generation Star Wars movies as examples of repeated plot lines. I don't accept Hollywood sequels as a legitimate basis for Biblical Interpretation! (Please read those last comments with a wink and a nod.)
**It should be noted that this Rider is clearly different from the first horseman of the Apocalypse who also rode a white horse. That rider is associated with demonic power, while every other feature (except for the white horse and the crown) is different from the horseman depicted in Rev 19. In particular, this Rider is labeled with a title already given to Jesus: "Faithful and True." (3:7 and 3:14) For modern readers, it is natural to think that the white horses would be similar, since we see very few horses and very few horsemen. But in the ancient world, this would not have seemed as strange. By way of comparison, if someone told us a story about a white car, it would not automatically occur to us that the next white automobile in the story must therefore be exactly the same.
*** I said it was "simple", but there is a lot of very interesting stuff going on in the details. This enhances the main idea that Jesus is our long-awaited king who brings deliverance from our enemies. In particular, notice how these references tie together Jesus among the lampstands (Rev 1), with Jesus speaking to the churches (Rev 2-3), and Jesus victorious in the final battle (Rev 19:11-21). Here are some references on the details:
(v.12) "Eyes like fire." See the earlier description of Jesus (1:14) and his address to the churches (2:18.)
(v.13) "A robed dipped in blood." This is a reference to Isaiah 63:2-3 which explains that the bloody robe comes from treading the winepress, a theme which is found in verse 15, and ties back to the vision of the final harvest (16:19).
(v.13b) "He is called the Word of God." See the Gospel of John 1:1-18.
(v.14) "The armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him..." This is similar to other descriptions of the followers of Jesus. (3:4, 7:9)
(v.15) "From his mouth comes a sharp sword." This is also a throw back to the first vision (1:16) and picks up a theme written to the church in Pergamum. (2:16)
(v.15b) "And he will rule them with a rod of iron." This references one of the most famous OT Messianic Psalm. (Psalm 2:7-12.)