This passage shows Jesus at the end of this age, returning in victory. It is an event witnessed by the whole earth as “heaven opened”. First, John noticed the white horse. White is the color of victory. For example, Jesus previously said “to the one who conquers.. I will give a white stone…” (2:17)
This image may come from Roman history, as conquering generals would parade through Rome on a white horse or a chariot drawn by white horses.
On this horse is one called “Faithful and True”. The rider is Jesus. Faithful and true are titles given to him, representing his character. In 1:5, John called Jesus “the faithful witness”. Jesus called himself truth. He said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:6)
He is not coming to save at this point, but to judge. Of his first coming Jesus said “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him”. (John 3:17) But his second coming is one of judgment. John said he judges in righteousness. Jesus will judge, not arbitrarily, but according to the standards he has set forth in his word. That is judging righteously. In verse 12, his judgment is shown by his eyes like a flame of fire. Fire symbolizes judgment.
Jesus also comes the second time to defeat his enemies. It is part of judgment. John wrote he “makes war”. Those who oppose him have gathered to make war on him, but he has come to make war on them and bring them to judgment. We will see two pictures of this. First, we will see the war from the perspective of the defeat of the people who have the mark of the Beast, and the two Beasts: the Beast from the sea and the Beast from the land, or the false prophet. This is shown in 19:11-21. Later we will see the war from the perspective of the defeat of the dragon, or Satan in 20:7-10.
Jesus will also return as a king. On his head were many diadems, or crowns. (19:12) When Jesus ascended to heaven, he was enthroned at the right hand of the Father. (Hebrews 1:3) He was to sit at the Father’s right hand until all his enemies were put at his feet. (Hebrews 1:13) He reign is forever. Hebrews 1:8 says “your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom”.
As king, he is sovereign. No one has power over him. He has a name no one knows but himself. (13) Maybe this is the name that the Father gave him that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father. (Philippians 2:9-12) To know someone’s name was to have some power over them. So, although he has many known titles, he has a name no one can know to get power over him. Remember when Jacob wrestled the angel in Genesis 32? The angel knew Jacob’s name and even changed his name, showing his authority and power over Jacob. But when Jacob asked the angel’s name, the angel would not give it to him. The angel, likely the Lord, only asked why Jacob wanted to know. I think this implies that Jacob wanted to get on equal footing with the angel, to have something on him so to speak. But he would not allow it.
I think this also shows that no one can totally comprehend Jesus, as no one can totally comprehend God the Father. Much has been revealed to us. But we cannot fathom the depths of his knowledge, wisdom and understanding. He is God. We are not. Paul, who knew a lot more than most of us, wrote: “Oh, the depth of the reaches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are this judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
Jesus came the first time as a servant. He was poor, he was meek. But, in his second coming, he does not appear as lowly Jesus, meek and mild. He will appear as the king, judge and warrior that he is.
Jesus will wear a robe dipped in blood. The blood is that of his enemies. Verse 15 says he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. So, the picture is Jesus standing in a winepress stomping on grapes and crushing them. The winepress is God’s fury and wrath, the grapes are men and women who oppose God and the wine is their blood as they are crushed, destroying them and staining the robe of Jesus with the grape juice, which symbolizes their blood. This is the true grapes of wrath.
Jesus is called the Word of God. As he was the Word in the creation of the world, he is now the Word of God in its destruction. (13)
Jesus is not alone in this coming, either. The armies of heaven are with him. They are the saints. They are also victors, having endured suffering and conquered Satan by keeping the faith. They also ride white horses. They are pure, having been made righteous by Christ. This is shown by their clothes, which were fine linen, white and pure. (14) This is the clothing of the Bride, the church, as shown in verse 8.
It is not mentioned here, but Jesus will also be accompanied by an army of angels. 2 Thessalonians 1:7 speaks of God’s vindication of the saints when “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
Jesus began the defeat of Satan when he died on the cross. Colossians 2:15 says that Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them on the cross. Jesus will compete his victory and Satan’s defeat with this second coming. He strikes down the people Satan, through the Beast, has rallied against Jesus. From commoners to kings they are defeated and destroyed. These are the nations of verse 15.
There is no real battle of Armageddon. Jesus will destroy them with a word. This is the sharp sword which ones from his mouth and strikes down the nations. (15) We also saw that sword in the opening vision of Christ, the Son of Man. (1:16) This was prophesied by Isaiah, who wrote “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked”. (Is. 11:4)
There is no fight, no battle, for there is no one who is the equal of Jesus. He has let Satan have some authority on earth for a time, but that time ends with the second coming. Jesus now rules with a rod of iron: there is no mercy for his enemies, only devastating judgment. This was prophesied in Psalm 2:9: “you shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
This is the one who, in chapter 12, was the baby whom Satan sought to kill. But he was caught up to God and to his throne. He is the “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron”. (12:1-6) His ascent to heaven is actually turning point, the beginning of the end for Satan. He expelled Satan from heaven to earth (symbolically, for he took away Satan’s ability to accuse believers whom he (Jesus) has clothed in righteousness”. Now he drives Satan from earth to hell.
The devastation of the defeat of rebellious men is further shown by the graphic image of birds called by an angel to feast on the bodies of the dead. (17) The angel resembles the angel whose glory illumined the earth, described to us in 18:1 as he announced the fall of Babylon. This angel appears “standing in the sun”, which would also make him appear very bright. Both angels announced in strong, or loud, voices. This begins the first view of Christ’s victory, shown in verses 17-21. This battle is the fulfillment of the battle prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39. There the Lord defeated Gog of the land of Magog. He is portrayed as the ultimate pagan power.
As in Old Testament fashion, their humiliation is shown by their not only being killed, but their bodies desecrated rather than buried. This is the picture of Ezekiel 39:4 & 17 where God, through Ezekiel, says Gog and Magog will fall and be eaten by birds of prey and beasts of the field.
The Beast and the False Prophet will be captured. They will be thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. (20) That lake is Hell, where all of the wicked will be tormented for eternity. This fulfills Ezekiel 38:22, God’s judgment on Gog. After the Beast and False Prophet are gone, the rest of humanity was slain by Christ. This fulfills Ezekiel 38:21, where the Lord said he would slay Gog’s army with a sword. There are no humans left except those who are with Christ.
The Great Prostitute, the Beast and the False Prophet are all removed at this point. The Great Prostitute is destroyed on earth, for she represents a worldly system of pleasure and greed. The Beast and False Prophet are sent back to the Pit, from which they came. These will not be in the new heavens and the new earth created for God’s people. Only one enemy remains: the dragon, the serpent, Satan.
This terrible judgment may sound harsh to those of us who have never suffered persecution to any significant degree. But to those who have been martyred or who have lost loved ones to death, torture and prison, this is their vindication. For those who were attacked, but turned the other cheek, this is God striking on their behalf. For those who did not take vengeance because God said “vengeance is mine”, this is righteous vengeance. This is justice. And God, we know, is just.
It also shows us the terrible consequences of rebellion against God, of sin. While there is still time, repent and receive Christ as Savior and Lord if you have not. While there is still time, call others to repent.
With the end of this battle, the Lamb has fully triumphed. The seven bowls are poured out and God’s wrath is finished. We will get a short second look at this in 20:7-10, seeing Satan defeated.