Chapter 19: The Feasts of the Kingdom

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:1-10)

  1.  After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying: Hallelujah! Salvation and power and glory belong to our God;
  2. because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great Harlot who was corrupting the earth with her fornication, and He has avenged the blood of His servants at her hand!
  3. And a second time they said: Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!
  4. And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the Throne saying: Amen! Hallelujah!
  5. And a Voice came from the Throne, saying: Praise our God, all you His servants and those who serve Him, both the small and the great.
  6. And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying: Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
  7. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready.
  8. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
  9. And he said to me, Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are the true words of God.
  10. And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren who hold the Testimony of Jesus; worship God! For the Testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.

There are several similarities in language between this passage and that in 11:15-19, the announcement of the seventh angel’s theme of the completion of “the Mystery of God”: the opening of the Kingdom and the heavenly Temple to the whole world in the New Covenant. We can easily see the message of these verses as an expansion of that idea when we take note of the parallels:

11:15 – loud voices in heaven.


19:1 – a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven.


11:15, 17 – He will reign forever and ever. … Thou hast taken Thy great power and didst reign.


19:1, 6 – Hallelujah! Salvation and power and glory belong to our God… Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.


11:16 – The twenty-four elders… fell on their faces and worshiped God.


19:4 – The twenty-four elders… fell down and worshiped God.


11:18 – The time came for the dead to be vindicated, and the time to give their reward to Thy servants the prophets and to the saints.


18:24-19:2 – In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints…. His judgments are true and righteous; for… He has avenged the blood of His servants.


11:18 – Thy servants… those who fear Thy name, the small and the great.


19:5 – All you His servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.


1l:19 – There were lightnings, noises, thunderings….


19:6 – The voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder….


The appearance of the Bride, prepared for marriage, is thus equivalent to the opening of the Temple and the full establishment of the New Covenant. These same images are brought together again at the close of this series of visions, when the City of God descends from heaven, “made ready as a Bride adorned for her Husband; and I heard a loud voice from the Throne, saying: Behold, the Tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them…. ” (21:2-3). The Church, the Bride of Christ and City of God, is the New Covenant Temple – or, rather, “the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its Temple” (21:22).

1-2      God’s people had prayed for Jerusalem’s destruction (6:9-11). Now that their prayers have been answered, the great multitude of the redeemed breaks out into antiphonal praise, in obedience to the angelic command in 18:20: “Rejoice over her, O Heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has judged your judgment against her!” We should note carefully what St. John is doing here. The Revelation is a prophecy, and therefore intended “for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3): Its readers were commanded to “heed the things that are written in it” (Rev. 1:3). In revealing the heavenly Church’s imprecatory prayers against her enemies, St. John was instructing his brethren on earth to do the same; now, having revealed the certain destruction of the Harlot, he shows the Church of the first century what their duty must be when Jerusalem falls. They are not to mourn her passing, but to praise God for the execution of His vengeance upon her. God’s will is to be performed on earth as it is performed in heaven. In showing the pattern of heavenly worship, St. John reveals God’s will for earthly worship as well.

The antiphonal liturgy is divided into five distinct parts. The number five is, as we have seen (cf. 9:5), connected with strength, especially in terms of military action. Appropriately, this five-part song is a “battle-hymn,” based on Old Testament songs of triumph over the enemies of God and the Covenant. The heavenly multitude sings: Hallelujah! The only New Testament uses of this Hebrew expression (meaning Praise ye the LORD!) are in this passage, where it occurs four times, in praise for the divine reconquest of the earth. As Hengstenberg notes, “the preservation of the Hebrew word, as in the case also of Amen and Hosanna, serves like a visible finger-post to mark the internal connection between the Church of the New Testament and that of the Old.”[1] The word itself recalls the Old Testament Hallel-psalms (Ps. 113-118), songs of victory that were sung at the festivals of Passover and Tabernacles. These psalms celebrated the greatness of God, especially as revealed in the deliverance of His people from Egypt and their restoration to true worship; and they look forward to the day when all nations will praise the Lord. Except for minor allusions to a couple of Hallel-psalms in verses 5 and 7, St. John does not construct this liturgy on their pattern; rather, the use of Hallelujah! alone is enough to make the connection. The first Biblical occurrence of the expression, however, is in Psalm 104:35, which strikingly parallels the juxtaposition of judgment and praise in Revelation:

Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
And let the wicked be no more.
Bless the LORD, O my soul.

The destruction of apostate Jerusalem on behalf of Christ and His Church will be the demonstration that salvation and power and glory belong to our God – a phrase that recalls David’s exultation when the preparations for building the Temple had been completed: “Thine, a LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Thine is the dominion, a LORD, and Thou dost exalt thyself as head over all” (1 Chron. 29:11; Christ also alluded to David’s text in the Lord’s Prayer, Matt. 6:13: “Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever, Amen”). The song also quotes David’s celebration of the Law’s all-embracing authority in Psalm 19:9: “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” In the fulfillment of the Law’s curses on the apostate city, God’s new Israel takes up the chant, affirming that His judgments are true and righteous.

Israel’s destruction is the showcase of God’s righteousness. God’s honor could not endure the blasphemy of His name occasioned by the rebellion of His people (Rom. 2:24). The proof that “His judgments are true and righteous” is precisely the fact that He has avenged Himself upon His own people, rejecting those who had been called by His name: for He has judged the Great Harlot who was corrupting the earth with her fornication, and He has avenged the blood of His servants at her hand! This establishes the connection between the Harlot and the “Jezebel” who was seeking to destroy the churches (see 2:20-24). Jezebel, the harlot queen (2 Kings 9:22), had drawn Israel from the worship of the true God into a cult of statism and idolatry (1 Kings 16:29-34). She had persecuted and murdered the prophets (1 Kings 18:4, 13), and raised up false witnesses to slander the righteous in court (1 Kings 21:1-16). Thus Jehu was ordained by God’s messenger to destroy the house of Ahab, “that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD, at the hand of Jezebel” (2 Kings 9:7). Israel’s adulterous flirtations and dalliances with paganism are likened by the prophets to Jezebel’s “harlotries and witchcrafts” (2 Kings 9:22): just as she “painted her eyes and adorned her head” in a futile attempt to ward off her destruction (2 Kings 9:30-37), Israel vainly did the same:

And you, O desolate one, what will you do?
Although you dress in scarlet,
Although you decorate yourself with ornaments of gold,
Although you enlarge your eyes with paint,
In vain you make yourself beautiful;
Your lovers despise you;
They seek your life. (Jer. 4:30; cf. Ezek. 23:40)

Nothing short of repentance could have saved Jerusalem. This she adamantly refused to do, and so God took vengeance on her for her persecution of the righteous. Again it must be emphasized that Jesus specifically marked out Jerusalem as the object of God’s vengeful wrath. Speaking of the outpouring of covenantal curses which would culminate in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem, He said: “These are the days of vengeance, in order that all things that are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:22). Through Moses God had warned of Israel’s future apostasy, when they would make Him jealous by serving other gods (Deut. 32: 15-22), bringing certain destruction upon themselves and their land (Deut. 32:23-43). Four times in this passage God threatens that His vengeance will overtake the apostates: “Vengeance is mine, and retribution” (v. 35); “I will render vengeance on My adversaries, and I will repay those who hate Me” (v. 41); “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on His adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people” (v. 43).

3          In the second division of the song, the great multitude repeats the refrain: Hallelujah! The reason for praise is, again, a godly rejoicing at the destruction of the Church’s enemy, for her smoke rises up forever and ever. As we have noted (see on 14:11; 18:2, 9), this expression is based on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28), while the specific phraseology is borrowed from Isaiah’s description of the punishment of Edom (Isa. 34:10). It is used here to indicate the permanent nature of Babylon’s fall.[2]

4          The third section of the liturgy finds the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures – representing the Church and all the earthly creation (see on 4:4-11) – taking up their distinctive part in the song. First, we are told, they fell down and worshiped; again we notice the importance of posture, of physical attitude, in our religious activity. The modern Church’s affliction of “spiritualistic” neoplatonism – not to mention simple laziness – has resulted in her all-too-casual approach to the Most High. At the very least, our physical position in public, official worship should be one that corresponds to the godly fear and reverence which is appropriate in those who are admitted to an audience with God who sits on the throne.

5          We are not told whose Voice pronounces the fourth section of the liturgy from the Throne. It could be that of one of the elders, leading the congregation from a position close to the throne; but it is more likely to be that of Jesus Christ (cf. 16:17), calling upon His brethren (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11-12) to praise our God (cf. John 20:17, where Jesus says, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God”). That this is addressed to the Church as a whole is clear from the description of the worshipers: His servants, those who fear Him, the small and the great.

6-8      As the entire Church responds to the officiant’s invitation, she speaks with the familiar Voice of the Glory-Cloud (cf. Ex. 19:16; Ezek. 1:24), indicating her full identification with the glorious Image of God: St. John hears, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder. The Cloud has assumed the Church into itself.

The first Hallelujah! of the “great multitude” had praised God for His sovereignty, as shown in the judgment of the great Harlot. The fourth Hallelujah!, in this fifth and final portion of the liturgy, praises God again for His sovereignty, this time as shown in the marriage of the Lamb to His Bride. The destruction of the Harlot and the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride – the divorce and the wedding – are correlative events. The existence of the Church as the congregation of the New Covenant marks an entirely new epoch in the history of redemption. God was not now merely taking Gentile believers into the Old Covenant (as He had often done under the Old Testament economy). Rather, He was bringing in “the age to come” (Heb. 2:5; 6:5), the age of fulfillment, during these Last Days. Pentecost was the inception of a New Covenant. With the final divorce and destruction of the unfaithful wife in A.D. 70, the marriage of the Church to her Lord was firmly established; the Eucharistic celebration of the Church was fully revealed in its true nature as “the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (v. 9).

The multitude of the redeemed exults: His Bride has made herself ready! The duty of the apostles during the Last Days was to prepare the Church for her nuptials. Paul wrote of Christ’s sacrifice as the redemption of the Bride: He “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word; that He might present to Himself the glorious Church, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul extended this imagery in speaking to the Corinthians about the goal of his ministry: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one Husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” Yet there was the danger that the Church would be seduced into fornication with the Dragon; the Apostle was “afraid, lest as the Serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3). As the crisis of those days was drawing to its conclusion, when many were departing the faith and following after various heresies, Jude penned a hurried emergency message to the Church (see Jude 3), in which he enjoined the Bride to remain faithful to her Lord, committing her “to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

But now St. John sees a vision of the Church in her glory and purity, having successfully met her trials and temptations, having passed through great tribulations into her possession of the Kingdom as the Bride of Christ. Contrary to the expectations of Rome, the destruction of Jerusalem was not the end for the Church. Instead, it was the Church’s full establishment as the new Temple, the final declaration that God had taken to Himself a new Bride, a faithful, chaste virgin who had successfully resisted the seductive temptations of the Dragon. She had made herself ready, and this was her wedding day. The early Christians learned well the lesson that was later stated by the third-century bishop St. Cyprian: “The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If anyone could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. The Lord warns, saying, ‘He who is not with me is against me, and he who gathereth not with me scattereth’ [Matt. 12:30]. He who breaks the peace and the concord of Christ, does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathereth else where than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ…. He who does not hold this unity does not hold God’s law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation.”[3]

The song of praise continues: And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. We have already seen linen used as a symbol (15:6; cf. 3:4; 4:4; 7:9, 14); now, its symbolic meaning is explicitly stated to be the saints’ righteous acts.[4] Two important points are made here about the saints’ obedience: first, it was given to her – our sanctification is due wholly to the gracious work of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts; second, she was graciously enabled to clothe herself in the linen of righteous acts – our sanctification is performed by ourselves. This dual emphasis is found throughout the Scriptures: “You shall sanctify yourselves…. I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Lev. 20:7-8); “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

9          St. John is instructed to write the fourth and central beatitude of the Book of Revelation: Blessed are those who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. God’s people have been saved from the whoredoms of the world to become the Bride of His only begotten Son; and the constant token of this fact is the Church’s weekly celebration of her sacred feast, the Holy Eucharist. The absolute fidelity of this promise is underscored by the angel’s assurance to St. John that these are the true words of God.

It should go without saying (but, unfortunately, it cannot), that the Eucharist is the center of Christian worship; the Eucharist is what we are commanded to do when we come together on the Lord’s Day. Everything else is secondary. This is not to suggest that the secondary things are unimportant. The teaching of the Word, for example, is very important, and in fact necessary for the growth and well-being of the Church. Doctrine has long been recognized as one of the essential marks of the Church. Instruction in the faith is therefore an indispensable part of Christian worship. But it is not the heart of Christian worship. The heart of Christian worship is the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is assumed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 11:20-34. We can see it reflected in Luke’s simple statement in Acts 20:7: “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread….” It is also described in the Didache: “But every Lord’s Day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”[5] Justin Martyr reports the same pattern as the standard for all Christian assemblies: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying, Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.”[6]

The greatest privilege of the Church is her weekly participation in the Eucharistic meal, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is a tragedy that so many churches in our day neglect the Lord’s Supper, observing it only on rare occasions (some so-called churches have even abandoned Communion altogether). What we must realize is that the official worship service of the Church on the Lord’s Day is not merely a Bible study or some informal get-together of like-minded souls; to the contrary, it is the formal wedding feast of the Bride with her Bridegroom. That is why we meet together on the first day of the week. In fact, one of the primary issues in the controversy of the Protestant Reformation was the fact that the Roman Church admitted its members to the Eucharist only once a year.[7] Ironically, the practice of the Roman Church now excels that of most “Protestant” churches; on the issue of frequent communion at least, it is Rome which has “reformed.”

Commenting on the dictum of the German materialistic philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach that “man is what he eats,” the great Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote: “With this statement… Feuerbach thought he had put an end to all ‘idealistic’ speculations about human nature. In fact, however, he was expressing, without knowing it, the most religious idea of man. For long before Feuerbach the same definition of man was given by the Bible. In the biblical story of creation man is presented, first of all, as a hungry being, and the whole world as his food. Second only to the direction to propagate and have dominion over the earth, according to the author of the first chapter of Genesis, is God’s instruction to men to eat of the earth: ‘Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed… and every tree, which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat…. ‘ Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into his body and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all-embracing banquet table for man. And this image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. It is the image of life at its creation and also the image of life at its end and fulfillment: ‘… that you eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom.'”[8]

The Eucharist is at the center of our life, and all of life flows out of this central liturgy. The “shape” of the eucharistic liturgy, therefore, gives shape to the rest of life, the daily liturgy we follow as we pursue our calling to exercise dominion over the earth. The “rite of life” is patterned after the central ritual of communion, which is itself patterned after the liturgy of creation set forth in Genesis 1: God took hold of the creation, separated it, distributed it, evaluated the work, and enjoyed it in sabbath rest. And this is the pattern of Holy Communion, as James B. Jordan observes: “When we perform this rite on the Lord’s Day, we are becoming readjusted, rehabituated, retrained in the right way to use the world. For Jesus Christ, on the night of His betrayal, (1) took bread and wine, (2) gave thanks, (3) broke the bread, (4) distributed the bread and wine, naming it His body and blood; then the disciples (5) tasted and evaluated it, eleven approving of it, and one rejecting it; and finally (6) the faithful rested and enjoyed it.

“It is because the act of thanksgiving is the central difference between the Christian and the non-Christian that the liturgy of the Christian churches is called ‘Holy Eucharist.’ Eucharist means Thanksgiving. It is the restoration of true worship (thanksgiving) that restores the work of man (the six-fold action in all of life). This explains why the restoration of true worship takes primacy over cultural endeavors.’[9]

10       St. John falls at the angel’s feet to worship him, and the angel tersely replies: Don’t do that! Why is this incident (repeated in 22:8-9) recorded in the Book of Revelation? While it might seem to be unrelated to the great, cosmic issues of the prophecy, it actually comes close to the heart of St. John’s message. At first glance, it appears to be a polemic against idolatry, certainly a central concern of the Book of Revelation. On closer inspection, however, such an interpretation presents serious difficulties. In the first place, we must remember that it is an inspired Apostle who performs this act of worship, in the course of receiving divine revelation; while it is not absolutely impossible that St. John would commit the crime of idolatry in such a situation, it seems highly unlikely. In the second place, the angel’s reason for refusing worship seems strange. Why does he not simply quote the commandment against having false gods, as Jesus did (Matt. 4:10) when the devil demanded that He worship him? Instead of this, he launches into a brief explanation of the nature of prophecy: I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the Testimony of Jesus; worship God! For the Testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.

The solution is to be found, first, in the fact that the term worship (in Greek, proskuneō) simply means “the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, the ground, etc.,”[10] and can be used not only for the homage paid to God (or, sinfully, to a false god), but also for the proper reverence due superiors (see, e.g., the LXX usage in Gen. 18:2; 19:1; 23:7, 12; 27:29; 33:3, 6-7; 37:7, 9-10; 42:6; 43:26, 28; 49:8). It was completely appropriate for Lot to “worship” the angels who visited him, and for the sons of Israel to “worship” Joseph. Matthew uses the word to describe a slave’s obeisance before his master (Matt. 18:26), and St. John employs it to record Christ’s promise to the faithful Philadelphians, that the Jews would be forced “to come and bow down [proskuneō]at their feet (Rev. 3:9).

Assuming, therefore, that St. John was not offering divine worship to the angel, but rather reverence to a superior, the angel’s reply can be more clearly understood. A common theme throughout the Book of Revelation is that “all the LORD’S people are prophets” (cf. Num. 11:29). All have ascended into the Lord’s presence, taking their places at the heavenly Council around the throne in the Glory-Cloud. Before Pentecost it was appropriate for mere men to bow down before angels, but no longer. “Don’t do that!” the angel cries: I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the Testimony of Jesus. The angel is on an equal level with St. John and the rest of the Christian community; thus he urges St. John to worship God, to “draw near with confidence to the Throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). The fact that St. John’s brethren hold the Testimony of Jesus demonstrates that they are members of the Council, indwelt by the Spirit; for Jesus’ Testimony is the Spirit of prophecy; the Spirit is wherever Jesus’ Testimony is held and proclaimed.

“With perfect justice, therefore, does Bossuet remark, ‘that the angel rejects the worship in order to place the apostolical and prophetical ministry on a footing with that of the angels.’… The dissuasion is not based on the consideration that the worship trenches on God’s glory, but on the consideration that it trenches on John’s honour. It is as if it were said, go directly to God with thy worship, so that thou mayest not throw into the shade the glorious dignity bestowed on thee, and represented by thee.”[11]

But what is it about the angel’s proclamation that induced St. John to bow at his feet in the first place? “It is the eucharistic reference which it contains. The primitive Church consecrated the eucharist by the great thanksgiving-prayer which names the rite. Lifting their hearts to heaven, they blessed God for his mighty acts of salvation, thereby both assuring their ultimate possession of Christ, and making real the foretaste they were about to receive in his sacramental body and blood. The exultation of victory has passed into eucharistic prayer in 19:1-8, but it is the angel’s beatitude which first makes explicit the allusion to that blessed feast eaten in the kingdom of God and anticipated in the Church. St. John falls to adore, and every intermediary vanishes between himself and Christ.”[12]

The Son of God Goes Forth to War (19:11-21)

  1. And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and the One sitting upon it called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
  2. And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written which no one knows except Himself.
  3. And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called the Word of God.
  4. And the armies that are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.
  5. And from His mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron; and He Himself treads the wine press of the wine of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
  6. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: 
  7. And I saw one angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in mid-heaven: Come, assemble for the great supper of God;
  8. in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.
  9. And I saw the Beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against the One sitting upon the horse, and against His army.
  10. And the Beast was seized, and with him the False Prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the Beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.
  11.  And the rest were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the One sitting upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.

11       This begins the final section of seven visions, each one opening with the phrase kai eidon, And I saw (19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1). With the revelation of the Holy Eucharist St. John sees, as he has not seen before, heaven opened, and, as Farrer observes, “every intermediary vanishes between himself and Christ.” It is the invitation to Communion with Christ that opens heaven to the Church and reveals her Lord.

St. John sees a white horse, the symbol of Christ’s victory and dominion (6:2; cf. 14:14). It is important for the proper understanding of this passage to note that the One sitting upon it is called Faithful and True: Christ rides forth to victory in His character as “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14), as “the Word of God” (19:13). St. John is not describing the Second Coming at the end of the world. He is describing the progress of the Gospel throughout the world, the universal proclamation of the message of salvation, which follows the First Advent of Christ. The connection with the message to Laodicea (3:14-22) is further established when we understand that this part of the prophecy contains several parallels with the Laodicean message. Farrer says: “The ill-founded boast of present possession made by the Laodicean angel in 3:17 is echoed by the boast of the Jezebel-city in 18:7ff. And St. John has no sooner done with Jezebel in 19:3 than he provides the saints with pure raiment (19:8, 3:18), invites them to the supper of the Lamb (19:9, 3:20), and, opening the doors of heaven, reveals Christ as the Amen, the Faithful and True (19:9-13, 3:14).”[13]

In righteousness He judges and makes war: Christ rides forth to do battle in the earth, subduing us to Himself, ruling and defending us, “restraining and conquering all His and our enemies,” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says (Q. 26), rendering justice throughout the world according to the law of God, in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies:

He will judge Thy people with righteousness,
And Thine afflicted with justice. (Ps. 72:2)

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy

Before the LORD, for He is coming;

For He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness,

And the peoples in His faithfulness. (Ps. 96:11-13)

He will not judge by what His eyes see,

Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;

But with righteousness He will judge the poor,

And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;

And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,

And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
(Isa. 11:3-4)

Behold, days are coming, declares the LORD,
When I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as King and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness. (Jer. 23:5-6)

12       The figure on the white horse is the same as the Son of Man, the First and the Last, the Living One, of St. John’s first vision, for His eyes are a flame of fire (cf. 1:14): He is the omniscient Lord whose discerning scrutiny is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This majestic figure is already victorious, many times over, as symbolized by the many diadems He wears.

The gold plate on the forehead of the high priest bore the sacred Name of the LORD; appropriately, after taking note of the many diadems on Christ’s brow, St. John sees that He has a name written. But this is a name which no one knows except Himself. How are we to understand this? As we saw at 2:17, the New Testament use of the words for know (ginōskō and oida) is in8uenced by a Hebrew idiom, in which the verb to know acquires related meanings: to acknowledge, to acknowledge as one’s own, and to own (see, e.g., Gen. 4:1; Ex. 1:8; Ps. 1:6; Jer. 28:9; Ezek. 20:5; Zech. 14:7; Matt. 7:23; John 10:4-5; Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 8:3; 2 Tim. 2:19),[14] Thus, the point in this verse is not that no one can know what the name is (for in fact, as we shall see, we do “know” the name, in the cognitive sense), but that He alone properly owns the name; it belongs only to Him. This is reinforced by the chiastic structure of the passage:

A. He has a name written which no one owns except Himself (v.12b)

     B. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood (v. 13a)

          C. His name is called the Word of God (v. 13b)

          C. From His mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword (v. 15a)

     B. He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God (v.15b)

A. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (v.l6)

The sharp, two-edged sword of 15a answers to 13b’s characterization of Christ as the Word of God; 15b’s information that Christ treads the wine press of wrath explains how His robe became stained with blood in 13a; and 16 tells us the name that 12b says Christ uniquely owns.[15]

13       As we have noted above, Christ’s robe dipped in blood is explained by v. 15b. The blood is, clearly, that of Christ’s enemies, the “grapes of wrath”; yet (as we saw on 14:20), there is a sense in which the bloody robe is stained by Christ’s own sacrifice of Himself as well. For the vision is truly an allegory of the Incarnation: Here alone in Revelation, as in the Prologue to His Gospel (John 1:1, 14), St. John calls Christ the Word, speaking of His pre-existence and divine nature, and of His becoming flesh, tabernacling among us. In the passage before us, moreover, we have not only an allegory of His Incarnation, but of His Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension, and Enthronement as well. This is not “only” the story of the outpouring of wrath on Israel. It is the story of Jesus Christ, the King of kings. We see here the Advent of the Son of Man: The heavens are opened, and He descends to earth to do battle with His enemies; stained with blood, He wins the victory.

14       But Christ is not alone in this victory. He is followed by the armies that are in heaven, “the called and chosen and faithful” who are with Him in battle (17:14). Again we must remember that from the perspective of the New Testament, the Church is “in heaven”: We are God’s tabernacle in heaven (7:15; 12:12; 13:6), we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), we have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in festal assembly, and to the Church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven (Heb. 12:22-23). The armies are composed of Christians (it is possible that angels are in view here as well), riding on white horses with their Lord in His aggressive and triumphant campaign through the earth. bringing the Word of God to the world. Because the armies of heaven are the Bride, they are clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

15       From the mouth of the incarnate Word of God proceeds a sharp two-edged sword. St. John has used this imagery before 0:16; 2:16); the sword (especially as it comes from the mouth) is a clear Biblical symbol for the powerful “prophetic word which is creative and dynamic and brings to pass what it pronounces. The word of a true prophet, such as the rider, transforms word into action; that of the false prophet, such as the second beast, is ineffectual.”[16]  The Word of God is used not only in battle, to slay God’s enemies (Eph. 6:17), but also in the Church, to cut apart the sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2): “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12-13). The pre-incarnate Christ says:

Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The LORD called Me from the womb;
From the inward parts of My mother He named Me.
And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword. (Isa. 49:1-2)

In the same way, God wields His prophets like a sword:

I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of My mouth. (Hos. 6:5)

Christ uses the Sword of the Spirit to smite the nations: He conquers by His mouth. Again, it is not the Second Coming that is portrayed here, but rather Christ’s defeat of the nations by His bare Word. In Matthew 24:29-31, it is “immediately after” the destruction of Jerusalem that the conversion of the nations begins, as Christ sends his angels/ministers throughout the world to gather in the elect.[17]

The Wisdom of Solomon 08:15-16) speaks of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt with imagery similar to St. John’s picture in this passage: “Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven out of Thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction, and brought Thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and standing up filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth.” As Isaiah wrote, “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked” (Isa. 11:4). “The ‘mouth like a sharp sword’ is the symbol of the prophet, whose utterance has a cutting edge to it, because he speaks the word of God…. Thus the only weapon the Rider needs, if he is to break the opposition of his enemies, and establish God’s reign of justice and peace, is the proclamation of the gospel.”[18] Thus “the whole course of ‘the expansion of Christianity’ is here in a figure: the conversion of the Empire; the conversion of the Western nations which rose on the ruins of the Empire; the conversion of the South and the far East, still working itself out in the history of our own time. In all St. John would have seen Christ using the Sword of His mouth; the white horse and his Rider, the diadem-crowned head, the invisible armies of heaven.”[19]

Christ conquers the nations in order to rule [or, shepherd] them with a rod of iron. “The work of the Pastor, the Guide and Ruler of souls (1 Pet. 2:25), follows that of the Evangelist; the heathen are first to be reduced to obedience, and then brought under the discipline of Christ.”[20] His Father had commanded Him:

Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.
Thou shalt rule[21] them with a rod of iron,
Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware. (Ps. 2:8-9)

Psalm 2 goes on to declare that the kings of the earth must submit to the Son or else perish under His wrath. Christ has come into His inheritance; He has received His Kingdom from the Father (Dan. 7:13-14), having been installed on His heavenly throne “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21). As universal Sovereign He Himself treads the wine press of the wine of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (cf. 14:19-20):

Who is this who comes from Edom,
With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah,
This One who is majestic in His apparel,
Marching in the greatness of His strength?
It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.
Why is Your apparel red,
And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press?
I have trodden the wine trough alone,
And from the peoples there was no man with Me.
I also trod them in My anger,
And trampled them in My wrath;
And their juice is sprinkled on My garments,
And I stained all My raiment.
For the Day of Vengeance was in My heart,
And My year of redemption has come.
And I looked, and there was no one to help,
And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold;
So My own arm brought salvation to Me;

And My wrath upheld Me.
And I trod down the peoples in My anger,
And I made them drunk in My wrath,
And I brought down their juice to the earth. (Isa. 63:1-6)

The text in Isaiah emphasizes that Christ singlehandedly accomplishes this work: “I have trodden… alone”; “there was no one to help”; “My own arm brought salvation to Me,” etc.; St. John similarly uses the expression He Himself twice in this verse, stressing that while Christ is accompanied by His heavenly armies, the victory is based on His work alone. The work of salvation is performed solely by the Lord Jesus Christ; the blessings and judgments that attend the salvation of the elect are set in place by Him.

Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire. (Ps. 46:8-9)

“We are thus bound to believe that those occurrences by which guilty nations are scourged and chastised for their sins, are not merely brought about in providence, but ordered and directed by the Mediator. And whether, therefore, we behold the desolating sword cutting off the inhabitants, or the blasting mildew destroying the crops, or commercial stagnation obstructing the sources of wealth, or wasting disease stalking with ghastly power over a land, or the upheavings of popular commotion overturning the foundations of social order, we recognize the wisdom, and might, and righteous retribution of Prince Messiah, carrying into execution the divine decree, The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish: yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted” (Isa. 60:12).[22]

16       St. John sees Christ’s title “which no one knows except Himself” (v. 12) written on His robe and on His thigh, the place where the sword is worn (cf. Ps. 45:3). “The title is the ground, not the result, of the coming victory; he will conquer the monster and the kings because he is already King of kings and Lord of lords.[23] Riding out on His war-horse, followed by His army of saints, He conquers the nations with the Word of God, the Gospel. This is a symbolic declaration of hope, the assurance that the Word of God will be victorious throughout the world, so that Christ’s rule will be established universally. Jesus Christ will be acknowledged everywhere as King of all kings, Lord over all lords. From the beginning of Revelation, Christ’s message to His Church has been a command to overcome, to conquer (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21); now He assures the suffering Church that, regardless of the fierce persecution by Israel and Rome, He and His people will in fact be victorious over all enemies.

All nations are absolutely required to be Christian, in their official capacity as well as in the personal character of their individual citizens. Any nation that does not submit to the all-embracing rule of King Jesus will perish; all nations shall be Christianized some day. It is only a matter of time. Jesus Christ is the universal Sovereign, and He will be recognized as such throughout the earth, in this world as well as in the next, in time as well as in eternity. He has promised: “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10). The LORD of hosts is with us.

17-18 This is the second of the final seven visions, each of which begins with the phrase And I saw; thus, while it is certainly related to the subject of the previous vision, it is not simply a continuation of it. As we have seen, the chapter begins with a feast, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the sacred Eucharistic meal of the Church before her Lord. But another great feast is proclaimed here. The Sun of Righteousness has arisen, with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2); but He also brings an angel standing in the sun (the ruler of the Day, Gen. 1:16) who issues an invitation to all the birds that fly in midheaven, the birds of prey. We have seen “midheaven” as the place in which the Eagle warned of woe (8:13), and in which an angel invited the rulers of the earth to embrace the eternal Gospel (14:6). Now the angel invites the eagles to the Great Supper of God, where they may glut themselves on the flesh of Christ’s enemies: the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great. We noted at 8:13 that a basic curse of the covenant is that of being eaten by birds of prey (cf. Deut. 28:26, 49). Israel is now a sacrificial corpse (Matt. 24:28), and there is no longer anyone who can drive away the scavengers (cf. Gen. 15:11; Deut. 28:26).[24]

St. John’s language is borrowed from God’s invitation through Ezekiel “to every bird and beast of the field” to devour the corpses of His enemies, the armies of the heathen who had made war upon Israel:

Assemble and come, gather from every side to My sacrifice which I am going to sacrifice for you, as a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of mighty men, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, as though they were rams, lambs, goats, and bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. So you will eat fat until you are glutted, and drink blood until you are drunk, from My sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you. And you will be glutted at My table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all the men of war, declares the LORD. (Ezek. 39:17-20)

The meaning is clear: Those nations that refuse to submit to the lordship of Christ, as Psalm 2 commands, will be utterly destroyed. God requires of all men and institutions nothing less than complete subservience to His ordained Christocracy.

Peter J. Leithart observes that the feasting of the scavengers in Ezekiel 39 has a cleansing effect on the Land. “The expanded invitation to the birds of prey in verses 17-20 comes immediately after a discussion of cleansing the land through the burial of the dead (cf. Deut. 21:22f). Perhaps the birds help to cleanse the land by feeding on the dead bodies which defile it. Moreover, the Lord invites the birds to eat a sacrificial meal. Sacrifice implies cleansing and restoration. Thus, in Ezekiel 39, the image of the birds of prey not only emphasizes the totality of the judgment, but also points to the obverse of judgment, cleansing and redemption.”[25]

Leithart continues: “Is the idea of cleansing found also in Revelation 19:17-18? There is no direct mention of cleansing, nor of sacrifice. Still, for several reasons, the Revelation passage can be understood as a cleansing. First, the events of 20:4-6 suggest that by His victory, the Warrior cleanses the earth of the influence of the beast and the false prophet, and this, combined with the fall of Babylon and the binding of the dragon, inaugurates a period of unprecedented power for the Church. Second, the totality of the Warrior’s victory is so great that not even the slain bodies of His opponents remain. All traces of the beast’s armies are obliterated. Finally, considered systematically, judgment never occurs apart from accompanying grace. The judgment of Pharaoh is the liberation of Israel. So also here, the judgment of the beasts and their armies cleanses the earth of their idolatry and liberates the saints.”[26]

19-21 The third vision in this section, marked again by the words And I saw, reveals the defeat of Leviathan and Behemoth in their war against the Kingdom of Christ: The two Beasts are seized and thrown alive into the lake of fire, the fiery Laver (cf. 15:2) which burns with brimstone. The imagery is borrowed from the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (“fire and brimstone”) combined with that of the rebels Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who with their households were swallowed up by the earth’s mouth: “So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Num. 16:31-33). St. John’s point, therefore, is not to provide a detailed personal eschatology of the Beast and the False Prophet; still less is he attempting to describe the Fall of Rome in 410 or 476. Rather, the Lake of Fire is his symbolic description of the utter defeat and complete destruction of these enemies in their attempt to seize the Kingdom: The evil personifications of pagan Rome and apostate Israel are ruined and overthrown. Rome, like Sodom, is destroyed by fire and brimstone; Israel’s false prophets, like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, are swallowed up alive.

There is one notable contrast, however: Whereas the rest of Korah’s followers were consumed by a blast of fire “from the LORD,” the rest of the Beasts’ followers – the kings of the earth – are killed with the sword that came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse. The message of the Gospel, the Word-sword of the Spirit, goes out from Christ’s mouth and destroys His enemies by converting them, piercing them to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, judging the thoughts and intentions of their hearts. The Beasts are doubly losers: Not only are they defeated, but the very nations that they led in battle against Christ are conquered by His victorious Word.

At their very worst, Leviathan, Behemoth, and their co-conspirators could do no more than fulfill the decrees of the sovereign God (17:17). He ordained their every move, and He ordained their destruction. The nations rage, but God laughs: He has already set up His King on His holy mountain, and all nations will be ruled by Him (Psalm 2). All power in heaven and earth has been given to Christ (Matt. 28:18); as Martin Luther sang, “He must win the battle.” As the Gospel progresses throughout the world it will win increasing victories, until all kingdoms become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever. We must not concede to the enemy even one square inch of ground in heaven or on earth. Christ and His army are riding forth, conquering and to conquer, and we through Him will inherit all things.

[1] E. W. Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St. John, two vols. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Co., n.d.), vol. 2, p. 238.

[2] The phrase thus cannot be pressed into service as a literal description of the eternal state of the wicked in general. The actual flames that consumed “Babylon” burned out long ago; but her punishment was eternal. She will never be resurrected.

[3] Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, 6; in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, reprinted 1971), Vol. 5, p. 423.

[4] The Greek word is generally used in the New Testament to mean God’s “statute” or “ordinance” (Luke 1:6; Rom. 1:32; 8:4; Heb. 9:1, 10; Rev. 15:4); the related meaning, used here, is “fulfilment of God’s statute” (cf. Rom. 5:18). A further meaning is the “judicial sentence that one has met God’s requirement” and hence “justification” (cf. Rom. 5:16). While some have argued for “justification” as the proper meaning here, both the context and the fact that the plural form of the word is employed indicate its most natural meaning to be “righteous acts.”

[5] The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, xiv.1, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, reprinted 1971), Vol. 7, p. 381.

[6] Justin Martyr, The First Apology, chap. lxvii, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, reprinted 1971), Vol. I, p. 186.

[7] See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, iv.xvii.43-46; cf. idem., Selected Works: Tracts and Letters, ed. by Henry Beveridge and Jules Bonnet, seven vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprinted 1983), Vol. 2, p. 188.

[8] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), p. 11.

[9] James B. Jordan, “Studies in Genesis One: God’s Rite for Life,” in The Geneva Review, No. 21 (August 1985), p. 3; cf. idem, “Christian Piety: Deformed and Reformed,” Geneva Papers (New Series), No.1 (September 1985); on the centrality of worship, see idem, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), pp. 10f., 41f., 217f.

[10] William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 723.

[11] E. W. Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St. John, two vols. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Co., [1851] 1972), Vol. 2, p. 256.

[12] Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), pp. 195f.

[13] Ibid., p. 85.

[14] See the brief discussion in Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 130.

[15] Ibid.

[16] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1975), p. 323.

[17] See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 103ff.

[18] G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 245.

[19] H. B. Swete, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, [1911] 1977), p. 254.

[20] Ibid.

[21] The Hebrew verb can be read either as break or rule (shepherd), depending on the vowel-points used. The LXX translated it as rule, and this reading was adopted by the New Testament writers.

[22] William Symington, Messiah the Prince: or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ (Philadelphia: The Christian Statesman Publishing Co., [1839] 1884), p. 224.

[23] Caird, p. 246.

[24] Genesis 15 describes the ratification ceremony of God’s covenant with Abram. After Abram cuts the sacrificial animals apart and arranges the halves opposite each other, the unclean birds of prey descend to attack the carcasses, and Abram drives them away (v. 11). Gordon Wenham interprets this as a promise that Israel, through Abramic faith and obedience (cf. Gen. 26:5), will be protected from the attacks of unclean nations; Gordon Wenham, “The Symbolism of the Animal Rite in Genesis 15: A Response to G. F. Hasel, JSOT 19 (1981) 61-78,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 22 (1981), 134-37.

[25] Peter J. Leithart, “Biblical-Theological Paper: Revelation 19:17-18,” Westminster Theological Seminary, 1985, p. 11.

[26] Ibid., p. 12.