The King’s War (Rev. 19:11-21)

John is given another vision of the war that is taking place between Jesus and his opponents. It is not a literal war – after all Jesus does not ride into battle sitting on a horse. Nor do believers or angels, depending on who his army is composed of. If we interpret this passage literally, we will have to imagine a literal battlefield at which all the opponents are slain by a sword that comes out of the mouth of Jesus. Instead what we have here is a description of Jesus and his eventual victory over all his enemies.

Several interpreters regard this passage as focussing entirely on the second coming of Jesus, with the Saviour being presented as marching out to the Battle of Armageddon or to the Day of Judgement. It is obvious that the passage ends with a description of a final conflict, but it seems to me that the previous part of the passage is concerned with the age-long spiritual war that Jesus had been engaged in since his ascension and enthronement.

The description of Jesus mentions four names that he has, the cause for which he fights, and the outcome of his campaign. There are clear references to several Old Testament prophecies of the reign and activities of the Messiah. Some of the activities are connected to what he does for his people and others to what he does to his enemies.

The description of Jesus
John observes that Jesus is seated on a white horse and this posture is a threatening one. Military commanders often rode on white horses into battle. Jesus is not described as about to take part in a ceremonial parade. Rather he is on the march in a war. When did this war begin? It commenced with his ascension and will last until all his enemies are defeated.

What is he called? Earlier we mentioned that four names are given to him in this passage. The first one is ‘Faithful and True’ and this name reveals his character. He is also called Faithful and True in the description of him in chapter 3:14, in the message to the church in Laodicea, a church that he had threatened with judgement for their lukewarmness. Since he is called Faithful and True, we need to ask to what or whom he is faithful and true. The answer is that he is faithful and true to his Father and his will, which means that he is also faithful to his people, because their deliverance is his cause. Therefore, the war in which he engages follows the Father’s plan for their salvation, which involves the defeat of his enemies. His character is revealed in his righteous actions. We should note the order of his actions – first, he judges and, second, he deals with the enemies. Therefore those whom he punishes deserve it.

What would a commander need in ancient warfare? He would need good eyesight to observe everything that his opponents were planning and to see what would be the best positions to fight from. Moreover, he would need to have authority from his king or emperor to engage in whatever strategy he chose to implement. When it comes to the leader of God’s army, Jesus has unusual vision because not only does see all things visible he can also see all things invisible. Therefore his enemies can hide nothing from him. Indeed, he knows all possible responses by them as well as all actual activities in which they engage.

How much authority does Jesus have? In the vision, he has many crowns on his head. Of course, in real life, a king can only wear one crown at a time. Yet it is possible to be the ruler of more than one kingdom, and some monarchs have a list of countries over which they rule. Jesus having many crowns in the vision is a way of saying that he has full authority, and he has received this authority from his Father. The Saviour is not like the beast who wore temporary crowns, with temporary describing a very brief period in contrast to the permanence of the reign of Jesus.

What is his second name? Connected to his authority is a special name that he possesses. His name is a secret of some kind. John cannot mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit don’t know what the name means. Instead he must mean that no creature knows about it. Moreover, what is meant by knowing here? Does it mean lack of information about the name or does it mean a lack of understanding of the name? Maybe it is the name ‘Son of God’, and no creature knows the full meaning of that divine name. Perhaps the name is Lord, and who apart from God can fully grasp what that name means for Jesus? If it is the name Lord, then we are reminded also of the place Jesus was given at his ascension when he was enthroned at the Father’s right hand. Whatever this second name is, it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus because there are aspects to his person that are beyond human discovery.

What is he wearing? John sees that the royal robe of Jesus is bloodstained and is connected to the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 63 where the prophet predicts that he would defeat the enemies of his kingdom. This would suggest that the war had started, and what John sees is a king already engaged in battle, with the blood of his opponents already on his garments. From an external viewpoint, the persecution that was affecting John and other believers at that time did not seem as if Jesus was doing much to prevent what was happening. But that assessment would only be made by those who could not see the full situation. In contrast, the king was at war already defeating some of his opponents.

What is his third name? John is then told that Jesus is also called The Word of God. This could be a reminder of who Jesus is as the eternal God. In John 1:1-14, Jesus is called by this name. As the Word, Jesus spoke the universe into existence and as the Word he maintains everything in existence. And he did not cease to be the Word when he became a man. He is the almighty God. This is a reminder of the incredible power that he possesses, and later on in this passage we will see that he can defeat his opponents by the power of what he says. All he will have to do to ensure judgement will be to announce it.

What about his army? We are told that his soldiers are holy and pure, riding on white horses. It is difficult to work out if these soldiers are angels or saints. Elsewhere in the book, angels are depicted as riding on horses. Recorded in the Bible are numerous occasions when angels dealt with the enemies of God’s people. Yet the description of the army is similar to how believers are described in the preceding section about those called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. So I would say that here we have a picture of the justified people of God engaged in righteous activities, because that is how they engage the enemy. They do so by following their King and imitating his love of righteousness.

What is his weapon? His weapon is unusual because it is said to be a sword that comes from his mouth, in other words, his powerful pronouncements. Through the use of this weapon, Jesus will bring judgements to his opponents because of their behaviour. He does this to implement God’s just anger against the behaviour of those who oppose him.

What is his fourth name? Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Here we are reminded of a truth about Jesus that was once prominent in our outlook, which is that he is King of the nations as well as the King of his church. So from this position or power he executes judgments on those who disobey his will.

It is important that we have this reality before our minds when we see all the injustices taking place on the earth, whether in the past or in the present. We are not to imagine that the only activity that Jesus supervises as King is the spread of the gospel. In addition, he functions as a Judge, and sometimes before the final day of judgement he brings strong judgements to bear on governments and others that oppose him. This would have been a powerful message for the persecuted Christians of the first century as they faced the might of the Roman Empire. It would have been hard for them to believe that one day the powerful empire would be gone. But it did, and so will all forms of opposition to the King. He does it at his own timing and when he does nothing can stop him because he rules with a rod of iron.

The Final Battle
John hears a second invitation to a supper, this time a very different supper from the marriage supper of the Lamb, and this time a call to birds of carrion to have a very large meal. It is pictured by use of a description of an ancient battlefield. We are told the outcome in terms of that kind of situation, not the processes of the battle. John mentions the gathering together of the enemy forces, and then describes their destruction. He may want to stress how weak they were against Jesus even when gathered together. The leaders of the enemy are captured alive and then given a special punishment and the troops that followed them are all slain. We have a description of what will be the state of things regarding his opponents once Jesus has finished his campaign for righteousness.

We should remember that the beast and the false prophet don’t refer to specific individuals but to the political and religious systems that opposed the reign of the King. Their being thrown into the lake of fire tells us that their influence will come to an end and will never reappear. Those who followed them will all be destroyed by the word of the King, which is a graphic way of him pronouncing judgement and experiencing total victory. We are not to deduce that the statement of them being slain suggest annihilation in the sense of avoiding conscious eternal punishment – that would be to take a detail of the illustration and make it contradict clear statements elsewhere in the Bible.

Lessons
We can take a message of hope from this passage because Jesus is going to win. He is able to fulfil all the promises made about the conquering Messiah. Sometimes he conquers sinners graciously. The rest will be defeated by him. At the end of the day, or should we say the night, he will emerge totally triumphant.

Second, we should always remember too that all attempts to defeat Jesus will fail. It does not matter how strong they seem. This is one way we can look at history. Consider how powerful the enemies of Jesus seemed in the past at different times. Then consider how powerful his contemporary enemies appear to be. This passage shows how impotent they are against Jesus even when they are all gathered together.

Third, Jesus is going to win by himself. The description presents a group of powerful people ranged against the Saviour. Yet it does not matter how many of them there are. They may be mighty, but he is always almighty. He has defeated many and will defeat the rest through his divine authority.

Fourth, Jesus is going to associate his people with him in his victory. They are described as marching behind him. Yet they don’t contribute much to the victory and nothing apart from the King. Any involvement they have requires his power to implement it. This is how we are to understand this holy war.

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