At last we finally deal with the two ‘violent symbols’ in Revelation 19: the robed dipped in blood and the sword.
(11) I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. (12) His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. (13) He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (14) The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (15) Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (16) On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
The Bloody Robe
First of all we note that the robe of Jesus is dipped in blood. The immediate question that should come to mind since the battle has not taken place is, “whose blood?” Typically a person will have blood on their clothes after a battle, but Jesus’ robe is already bloody. That, my dear Watson, is exactly the point. The Slain Lamb, which I have earlier suggested to be one of the great interpretive keys to understanding Revelation, has not disappeared in this chapter. The blood on Jesus robe is his own. Eugene Boring observes that in Revelation 19 “No battle is described; there could be none in John’s theology. The decisive battle was won long ago.” Jesus is executing judgement upon the nations, but he is not warring with them. The war was waged, and won, on the cross long ago. It is vital that we also notice that the army following Jesus has no blood on their robes. Their robes were washed in the blood of the Lamb (7:14; 22:14) and came out white. In chapter 6 we see others who were given white robes and realize that they were not good fighters, but good martyrs. These martyrs were crying out “how long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev. 6:10) as they waited for Jesus to judge and set things right, but they were not sharpening their swords for battle. Here, some might protest with the obvious; Jesus had a sword.
I recently re-read a blog I had posted a few weeks earlier and was frustrated to find a couple of sentences that weren’t coherent. They were only a word or two off, but those off-words muddled the whole meaning of the sentence. How could I have missed that? The truth is, I know exactly how I missed it. When I know what I intended to write, it’s easy for me to gloss over a sentence and miss the finer details of the sentence structure or grammar. It is easy to make a similar mistake in our reading. Those who are looking for texts to help them justify violence as a means to peace will often mention Jesus and his sword here in Revelation 19. The picture I chose to use for this post is a good representation of what you will find if you Google image the words “rider on the white horse.” The problem with the picture (aside from it being cheesy) is that it is inaccurate. Whoever created this image read the text like I had read my own blog; feeling they knew the content and thus missing the details. If you re-read the text you will find that Jesus has no sword in his hand (as depicted above); the sword is in his mouth. I’m not sure how many successful mouth sword fighters are out there, but I’m guessing not many. So why the mouth? We get a clue in verse 13 where we are told that “his name is the Word of God.” When Jesus judges evil do we really think that he needs a sword to do it? Has Jesus ever judged and overcome evil this way in the past? In Matthew 8:16 we read that “many who were demon-possessed were brought to him [Jesus], and he drove out the spirits with a word…” (emphasis mine). This, by the way, does not somehow lighten the blow of judgement. The writer of Hebrews says that,
“the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12,13)
To stress the point one more time, I am not claiming that Jesus is not judging the nations; He is, thanks be to God, judging and putting things to rights. But, he is not waging war the way that the world wages war. Jesus is victorious through his death and resurrection and he judges the evil in the world in the same manner that he called the world into being in the first place – with his Word.
To close this post (and series) I want us to see the words written in Revelation 12. Here we find a group of Christians would did not “shrink from death” and yet overcame. How amazing that it is precisely in same way mentioned above – the Lamb’s blood and (in this case their own) word – that they overcame:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: