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Revelation 19: The grandeur of Christ’s return (part 1)

Unsplash/Helena Lopes
Unsplash/Helena Lopes

In the annals of world history, there were figures whose names became synonymous with hope and liberation. Their actions resonated with a people’s collective yearning for freedom. Giuseppe Garibaldi, a valiant leader of the Italian Risorgimento, was one such beacon for a nation yearning to be delivered from its political fetters. During Italy’s darkest hours, Garibaldi’s name was whispered over and again as a promise of salvation, an assurance that their captivity was soon to be ended. The rallying cry, “Garibaldi is coming!” was echoed across the land, bringing with it the prospect of a brighter, united Italy.

Revelation chapter 19, verses 11-16, predicts an even greater deliverer is on the horizon. He is a world deliverer, whose arrival will transcend political boundaries and usher in a kingdom of eternal significance. Unlike any other before him, he will be the desire of every nation, the embodiment of every hope. Jesus Christ is coming. Christ’s reign promises not only liberation but unparalleled joy, enduring peace, and boundless blessings for everyone who awaits His arrival.

Here is what the Bible tells us:

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Then I saw Heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords (Revelation 19:11-16).

Unquestionably, this verse is the culmination of everything that has previously been said in the book of Revelation. The late M.R. Dehaan in his commentary, Revelation, has written:

“In this brief but highly descriptive and clear passage we have the pointed account of the consummation of all the ages, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in glory to set up his kingdom upon the earth. In this chapter, we approach not only the climax of the entire book of Revelation but the climax of the entire Bible as well. All the prophets looked forward to this event. When Jesus was here on the earth, the disciples asked him again and again concerning this event. It is the hope of Israel, the theme of all prophecy, the consummation of the ages, and the vindication of the humiliation of his first coming.

“The discussion of the Tribulation is concluded in Revelation 19, the wedding of the Lamb has occurred, and the time has come for Christ to return to take the kingdoms of this world and to make them his own. This is the event for which believers have been praying …‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’ This is the event of which believers have sung throughout the centuries of the history of the Church as they lifted their voices in happy anticipation.”

Yes, amen and amen! One of my favorite hymns from my teenage years when I first gave my life to Christ, and remains as such to this day, has a verse that still thrills me:

“Praise him! Praise him! Jesus our blessed redeemer!’
Heavenly portals loud with hosannas ring!
Jesus, Savior, reigneth forever and ever;
Crown him! Crown him! Prophet and Priest and King!

“Christ is coming, over the world victorious,
Power and glory unto the Lord belong:

“Praise him! Praise him! Tell of his excellent greatness!
Praise him! Praise him! Ever in joyful song!”

Christ is coming and his entry into the world again is going to be an extraordinary event. The text says that “heaven will be opened” (vs. 11).

History says that when George IV was crowned as King of the United Kingdom in 1821, a lavish and highly symbolic coronation procession took place in London. The streets were cleared, and thousands of spectators gathered to witness the event. The route was meticulously prepared, with decorations, arches, and grand displays along the way. The king was dressed in splendid regalia, and the procession featured horse-drawn carriages, military escorts, and dignitaries. This grand spectacle symbolized the king’s authority and was a demonstration of the monarchy’s power and prestige.

What king has ever displayed such authority, command, and distinction that Heaven, the sky, and the clouds part, perhaps even celestial bodies, the sun, moon, and stars will have to clear the way for Christ’s arrival here on earth? This world has never seen such ‘pomp and circumstance — never witnessed such a display of grandeur, magnificence, and ceremonial splendor as will be witnessed on the day of his return.

The Lord Jesus, says the apostle John, will come again riding on a “white horse” (vs. 11).

Most Americans can identify with the arrival of a cowboy on a white horse in an old Western movie. Riding on the white horse symbolizes that the rider is the hero or the protagonist. It’s a visual cue that signals to the audience that this character is the central figure, and he will play a significant role in resolving conflicts. The use of the white horse in cinema represents moral clarity and a strong sense of justice. When the cowboy comes riding into town on a white horse, someone like the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers, it means that this individual will oppose and overcome the dark and villainous characters. Riding the white horse means the cowboy is the hope of a new beginning, a positive change, redemption, and renewal.

The Lord Jesus riding a white horse as he comes back is expressive of much of the same. It signifies he is the central, conquering, and triumphant figure of history. He comes to set everything right. He will have absolute victory over evil, sin, and all opposing forces. On that white horse, Christ is a stark contrast between the dreadful and distressing rulers of this world. Mounted on his white horse, Christ Jesus is seen for what He is — the long-awaited promise that despite the trials and tribulations which the righteous face, He secures victory and vindication.

He is called “Faithful and True” (vs. 11). Christ is faithful and unwaveringly true to the promises of God. He is utterly reliable and trustworthy.

The Scripture says, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he never spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19). The Scripture also says, “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory” ( 2 Corinthians 1:20). In other words, the entirety of God’s promises find their fulfillment in Christ, and in him, we find the assurance that they are completely trustworthy.

Christ is the very embodiment of truth. He said, “I am … the truth” (John 14:6). In a world filled with falsehood and deception, Christ is the ultimate source of truth and the perfect standard of right and wrong.

Revelation chapter 19 verse 11 also says that the Lord who comes again “judges in righteousness and makes war.”

Typically, most people never think of the Lord as one who wages war. Nevertheless, this is one way that Revelation describes Christ. We should be careful not to take such passages to mean the Lord Jesus is a promoter of violence and warfare in the sense of human conflicts. On the other hand, neither should we depict the Lord as someone who is against any warfare.

Some passages of Scripture describe the Lord as a warrior:

“The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!”(Exodus 15:3). “Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, invincible in battle” (Psalm 24:8). “Praise the Lord, who is my rock. He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle” (Psalm 144:1).

The late Dr. Lorraine Boettner, a tremendous Presbyterian writer, has probably written one of the simplest books on Christianity and war. It’s titled, The Christian Attitude Toward War. Boettner succinctly states:

“Sometimes we hear it said that all war is wrong – wrong for the defenders as well as the aggressors – and that even when waged with the sincere purpose of restraining evil, it tends to produce greater evils than those against which it is directed. Those propositions, we submit, simply are not true. We hold that there is such a thing as a just war — just on the part of those who defend their lives and their homes against unprovoked aggression, but sinful on the part of those who make the attack.

“To cite only a few instances: If the people of Europe had not resisted the Mohammedan invasions, Europe would have been conquered and, humanly speaking, Christianity would have been stamped out. If at the time of the Reformation the Protestants had not resisted the Roman Catholic persecutions, crimes such as were practiced so freely in the Spanish and Italian Inquisitions, would have become common over all of Europe, and Protestantism would have been destroyed. If the American colonists had not fought for their rights, this country would not have gained its independence.

“In international affairs, as in individual affairs, it often happens that there is an innocent party and a guilty party, although in most cases the guilt is not altogether on one side. And of course, there have been many senseless, stupid, inexcusable wars in which neither side was at all concerned about righteousness.

“We want to be neither pacifists nor militarists…It should not be necessary to say that we hate war as do all right-minded people. We hope that our country may never have to engage in another. We desire peace, but we realize that there are some things worse than war. We desire peace, but not the kind that is found in the slave camp or the cemetery.

“It is true that Christ came as the Prince of Peace, and that his followers should strive to promote peace by all lawful means. And for that reason, it may seem strange that any professed Christian should enter a protest against a modern pacifist movement. Anyone who does speak against it doubtless will be misunderstood by some. We believe, however, that that movement is dangerous, and that it has no necessary or legitimate part in the evangelical program.”

Many Christian theologians and leaders saw World War II as a struggle against evil and tyranny. They invoked passages from the Bible to emphasize the belief that God was on the side of the Allies and that their cause was just. Ephesians 6:12, which speaks of spiritual warfare against the “spiritual forces of evil,” was sometimes invoked to emphasize the need to confront and defeat the Nazi regime. Biblical themes of liberation and rescue were also used. The liberation of concentration camps and the ending of Nazi atrocities were seen as a righteous mission. Passages such as Isaiah 61:1, which speaks of bringing good news to the oppressed and setting captives free, were rightly cited in this context.

Christ is indeed the one who brings peace. Nevertheless, there is another side to his nature. He is a “man of war” who will wage war against evil and finally secure peace throughout the whole world.

The rider on the white horse is said to have “eyes as flames of fire,” and he wears “many crowns” (vs. 12).

In the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, the “Ancient of Days” is described as having hair as white as wool and “eyes like blazing fire.” This symbolizes God’s eternal wisdom and righteous judgment (Daniel 7:9). Not even the darkest recesses of the human soul can escape the fiery eyes of him who sees and knows everything.

In other passages such as Revelation 1:14, Daniel 10:6, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, and Psalm 18:8, the same kind of imagery is employed to convey God’s divine indignation and the seriousness with which he views sin and rebellion.

When I was a youngster in school, corporal punishment was still being practiced. One day I got in trouble for something I actually didn’t do. The teacher who paddled me went overboard, humiliating me in front of the class, and beating me so badly that I had severe bruising and even bleeding on my buttocks. When my father found out about what happened to me, there was a fire in his eyes like I had never seen before nor ever saw again. He went looking for that teacher, and fortunately for the teacher, my father didn’t find him.

When Christ comes again, he will come with fiery eyes to seek out those who have marginalized his children, humiliated them, beaten them, and shed their blood. And he will find them, and they will know the fullness of His wrath.

Christ, the one on the white horse, wears “many crowns” (v. 12). In the context of Revelation, Christ’s many crowns symbolize his victory over sin, death, and evil. This includes his victory over the forces of darkness and his triumph over the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.

Other diadems that rest upon the brow of the Son of God would also include these nine:

1. The Crown of Creation (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16).
2. The Crown of Salvation (Hebrews 2:9).
3. The Crown of Righteousness (I John 2:1; I Corinthians 1:30).
4. The Crown of Victorious World Conqueror (John 16:33).
5. The Crown of Grace (Ephesians 2:8,9).
6. The Crown of the Great Shepherd (John 10:11).
7.  The Crown of Judge (2 Timothy 4:1).
8.  The Crown of Everlasting Life (John 3:16).
9.  The Crown of King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).

Furthermore, the apostle John says, “A name was written on him that no one understood except himself” (v. 12).

In his commentary on the book of Revelation, William Barclay has suggested several interpretations:

He says that some suggest that the undisclosed name is “Lord,” emphasizing Jesus’ divine authority (Philippians 2:9-11). Others say it might be IHWH (YHWH), the Jewish name for God, signifying its holiness. Various scholars contend it’s a name that can only be revealed when the believer has finally entered into the life of Heaven. He says it might also be a relic of the old idea that knowing a divine being’s name is to have a certain power over him.

But perhaps the most compelling idea, says Barclay, is the one put forward by H.B Swete which says in the essence of Christ’s being there must always remain something beyond man’s understanding. “Notwithstanding the dogmatic helps which the Church offers, the mind fails to grasp the inmost significance of the Person of Christ, which eludes all efforts to bring it within the terms of human knowledge. Only the Son of God can understand the mystery of his own being.”

These interpretations emphasize the enigmatic nature of Christ’s identity.

Glory to God! This cosmic Christ is coming back. There is even more to see about this One who rides the white horse to forever save.

Christ’s nature is vaster than the universe itself. It cannot be fully measured.

Nevertheless, for everyone who has come to know Him as Savior and Lord, there is the promise of spending all of eternity exploring the beauty of his person and character.    

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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