The Rider on the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

The Return of the KingVirtually everyone agrees this passage describes the triumphal return of Christ. But as David Aune notes, the imagery used is not derived from other early Christian traditions concerning the return of the Lord (Revelation, 3:1046). The description of the return of Jesus as conquering king are drawn from a wide variety of texts in the Old Testament and Second Temple literature. In fact, the rider on a white horse is the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.

The rider is described in somewhat familiar terms to those who read apocalyptic literature. His eyes are like a fiery flame (v 12).  Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings, as in Dan 10:6 (Theodotian LXX). He has many crowns (diadems) on his head (12). In the Greco-Roman world, multiple crowns is an indication of sovereignty over territories.

Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has many crowns, perhaps so many they are not counted. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13). Normally blood is associated with the atonement, but this is not the case here.  The blood is that of the enemies of God, and is likely an allusion to Is 63:1-3.

A sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a). This is a reference to the power of his word (Rev 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21), but the image appears elsewhere in Jewish apocalyptic.

4QIsaiah Peshera 8-10 iii 15-19 (tr. García Martínez, Dead Sea Scrolls, 186): [He will destroy the land with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he will execute the evil] ? [The interpretation of the word concerns the shoot] of David which will sprout [in the final days, since with the breath of his lips he will execute] his enemies.

The rider has several names. First, he is named Faithful and True. These titles are used for Jesus in Revelation 1:5 and 3:14. Second, he has another name inscribed which he alone knows (12b). Divine beings sometimes had a secret name or were unwilling to give their true names. In Gen 32:29, for example, God does not give his name when asked. Third, his name is “the Word of God” (13b), reminiscent of John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word. Finally, on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed: King of kings and Lord of lords (16).

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

Mantiklos Apollo with inscription on its thigh

James Edwards has recently published several examples of writing on the thigh of statues. The article includes photographs of statues of Apollo found in Miletus (fifth century BCE) and Claros (sixth century BCE) with writing on Apollo’s thigh indicating who offered a sacrifice to Apollo. These two statues date centuries before Revelation was written, but there are literary references to inscribed statues in Cicero and Pausanias indicate the practice of inscribing a name to honor the donor was well-known. Since all but one of his examples are dedicated to Apollo, Edwards argues this is an allusion to the Apollo cult, something he argues appears in Revelation 12 (Edwards, 529-535). For Edwards, the name on the thigh is therefore a “divine rejoinder to the inscription on the forehead of the great harlot” (535).

In Jesus the Bridegroom, I suggested Isaiah 49:14-26 adapted elements of Lamentations and Jeremiah 2 into a complaint song. In Isa 49:14 Lady Zion complains that her husband has forsaken her. The Lord protests, however, stating that he has in no way forgotten his bride. The Lord cannot forget his bride Zion because her name is “inscribed on his palms.”

While the vocabulary is different, “inscribing on the arm” is an indication of love in Song 8:6. Fox sees a parallel between Song 8:6 and the Cairo Love Songs (COS 1.150) in which a young man expresses his desire to always be near his beloved: “If only I were her little seal–ring, the keeper of her finger! I would see her love each and every day.”  As Marvin Pope suggests, anatomical descriptions in poetry are quite flexible. An “arm wearing a ring” in Song 8:6 should likely be understood as a hand.

But there is considerable difference between a mark or symbol on one’s hand and a name inscribed on one’s thigh. However, in the context of the final chapters of Revelation, the rider on the white horse is coming to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-8). In Isaiah 49:18, the Lord swears an oath that Zion will adorn herself as a bride once again as her children return to Jerusalem. These verses are likely an allusion to Jeremiah 2:32, “can a girl forget her ornaments?”

I suggest, therefore, that the name on the thigh is part of the marriage imagery present in Revelation 19-22 and draws on the rich imagery of Israel’s marriage relationship with God in the Hebrew Bible. As in Isaiah 49, God has not forsaken his bride Israel and is now returning to rescue her from her oppressors.

The rider has come in order to judge in righteousness (11b).  That the messiah will be God’s righteous judge is a theme of several texts in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 98, 72:2, 96:13, Isa 11:4). He will wage war in righteousness (11b) and smites the nations with the sharp sword (15a).  He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (15b). That the Messiah will be something of a true shepherd is common in the Hebrew Bible (Ps 2:9) as well as Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25.

Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25 See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God.  Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; to smash the arrogance of sinners like a potter’s jar; To shatter all their substance with an iron rod; to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth; At his warning the nations will flee from his presence; and he will condemn sinners by the thoughts of their hearts.

John describes this judgment as treading “the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” This is yet another familiar metaphor for the anger of God in Revelation and the est of the prophets. John has already used this metaphor in Rev 14:19.

The Rider on the White horse therefore represents the culmination Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom. God intervenes in history by means of a mighty warrior who renders justice. He will punish the enemies of Israel, destroying them utterly. But he will also vindicate those who have suffered on behalf of their testimony for Jesus: they are raised to new life in Rev 20.


Bibliography: James R. Edwards, “The Rider on the White Horse, the Thigh Inscription, and Apollo: Revelation 19:16,” JBL 137.2 (2018): 519-536.Long, Jesus the Bridegroom: The Origin of the Eschatological Feast as a Wedding Banquet in the Synoptic Gospels (Pickwick, 2013).





22 thoughts on “The Rider on the White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16

  1. The way that Revelation 19:11-16 describes Jesus is definitely the culmination of the Jewish expectations of the Messiah. This is portrayed in his military leadership-like qualities. He is riding a white horse, makes war (v. 11), his robe is dipped in blood which might be the blood of his enemies (v. 13), he is one who leads an army (v. 14), and one who strikes down the nations (v. 15). This Messiah is pictured as vengeful and judgmental. Jesus is clearly portrayed here as the Lion of Judah; the person who the Jews expected to come to earth the first time.
    The modern church, in the dispensation of grace, seems to portray Jesus more similarly to the analogy of the Sacrificial Lamb. The symbol of the Christian faith is the cross. This could not be clearer as to how the church sees Jesus. He is the one that teaches us to love one another (Matt 22:37-40). He is the one that has shown us grace how to live sacrificially (Matt 6:14, John 3:16). Jesus is clearly well known more for his sacrifice rather than his judgment, vengeance, and triumph in the church today.
    Which one is more important? Both. Ultimately, Jesus, our Messiah is both the Lion and the Lamb. He is the one who teaches us our virtues as well as the one who gives us hope in the future. It is and will always be a both/and. The balance is necessary for ecclesiology and eschatology. Our doctrine of these two things rides on the fact that Jesus is the Lamb and the Lion. He is the Suffering Servant and the King of Kings. Both need to be taken into account because both are equally important.

  2. Honestly, I think it is pretty obvious that this is Jesus. For the sake of comparison, shall we?
    “Just as the dragon had seven crowns and the kings to come had crowns, so the rider has “many” crowns…” (P. Long). If we follow the structure of the pattern of the Christian faith, many times we are caught in comparison of Christ and Satan. If we are viewing this situation through that lens–the dragon being Satan (as stated in Revelation 12:9, 20:2) and Christ being the “opposite” of him–it is fairly clear to see that this “Rider” is Christ.
    There are so many reasons, as you stated: The name “Faithful and True” has already been used to describe Jesus. The Rider judges “in righteousness” (Revelation 19:11). As stated over and over in Revelation, the Lamb (Jesus Christ) will be the one to judge in the last days. Perhaps two of the most key pieces of evidence that this is, in fact, Jesus Christ, are these: He is described as the “Word of God.” John 1:1 states that Jesus is the Word. How much more obvious could this be? The next piece is that his thigh is inscribed with the phrase “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). Jesus is described with this title in many areas of the Scriptures. In addition, we know that if the Bible is talking about God or Jesus, and the writer was being very definite in their description of it being Jesus or God (i.e. Him, He, His), they usually capitalize it; “King” and “Lord” are both capitalizing, leading us to believe that the Rider knew that this was Jesus, himself, coming in to take back what is His. Yes, I agree with you: the Rider is the Messiah, coming to restore and vindicate (P. Long).

  3. When John describes the rider coming into the scene, his name was called “Faithful and True” (revelation 19:11). He came riding on a white horse and brought justice to the world. He also had another name, “the Word of God” (19:13). Many people know that this rider is Jesus because on his thigh and robe is also the name “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (19:16). Christ is coming to bring the wrath of God and to complete the end of the prophecy. What I find interesting is that he is riding on a white horse. Could the white horse resemble the washing away of our sins because Jesus carried our sins so that we can be with God? Also, his robe was dripping with blood which could possibly mean the blood of our sins which he has taken on the cross, but some people think of it as the enemies of God. In Revelation 19:15, Jesus will rule the nations with a rod of iron and this is also mentioned in Psalm 2:9. But, it is also mentioned in Revelation a few times including 12:5 when it talks about a woman giving birth to a male child who will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

  4. Ever since I was a really young kid, I always found this description of Christ and His return to be super cool and in many ways quite cinematic. It seems like the epic entrance that would be expected when Christ returns and perhaps similar to what the Jews had anticipated the first time Christ came to earth. He seems like this ultimate warrior with fire in His eyes and crowns and a blood-stained robe. It just seems super epic. I like that you pointed out how we should interpret the sword coming out of His mouth. I always had the imagery of a sword-swallower and got really weirded out by it and a little confused as to what the point of it all was. I like that you mentioned it is a reference to the mere power and might of His word. This kind of reminds me of the way in which I thought of my parents when I was a kid. When they raised their voice or told me to do something, I knew that if I did not listen, the consequences would be more than I would want to deal with. The power of words is often seen as not as awesome but in actuality can be much more powerful.

  5. Again, as we read about the rider and the white horse, we notice the power that he has in his eyes with the fire inside of them. although it might represent the Jewish messiah as Christians, we know that this is Jesus on this horse, and he is destroying sin and the penalty of death. I think that this is what it is talking about when it talks about destroying its enemies. As Christians we know that the enemy is Satan and the sin of this world. And when Jesus comes again, he is going to completely crush the head of Satan and of sin. So, as I think of the rider and the white horse I think of the power of God soon to come.

  6. As disturbing the imagery is in Revelation 19 of Christ, My book titled “Reading Revelation in Context” by Blackwell, Goodrich, and Maston supports this imagery by giving information on another Book: The book of Psalms of Soloman. Soloman was David’s son that took over the thrown of Jeruselum after David. A psalm of Saloman is not in our Bible, but it is divided into two different books now. This old literature book also describes the God of being a violent – malintent warrior. The Messianic Jews believed in this description of God.

  7. While reading this passage, there is a possibility of someone interpreting the rider as someone other than Jesus, but for me it lines up perfectly with Jesus and there is no disputing it. The fact that the rider has fiery eyes implying that he is a heavenly being, as well as having many crowns directly implies for me that it is Jesus. Who else is a heavenly being and has the power to rule over everyone? Also the fact that the robe that was worn was dipped in blood represents he blood of those he defeated. I had a second thought that maybe the blood could represent the blood he shed for us on the cross depicting him as the lamb. He also has a sword coming out of his mouth representing the word of God and the power that it has.

    In addition to all of the previous elements, this rider has been given many names alluding to God as well such as “faithful and true,” “word of God,” and king of kings and lord of lords.” There is no denying that these names are talking about Jesus because no one else is worthy of those titles.

  8. The image of the rider on the white horse is obviously one of victory as he is depicted as coming in and slaying his enemies, their blood staining the hem of his garments. Anyone who knows the gospels is able to identify the rider as Jesus. The one thing that really stands out to me about this description is the imagery of the sword coming out of Jesus’s mouth. In many passages, such as Ephesians 6:17, swords are a metaphor for the word of God, the Bible. It makes me wonder then if Jesus will be defeating the nations solely through the words of scripture or his own words. No, actual physical fighting, but through the power of his words. If this is that case, this is another proof that Jesus is God as his actions would reflect the creation of the world back in Genesis. God spoke the whole universe into existence and with Jesus being God, he would be able to take out his enemies with a single word. We have already seen an example of this in the Bible in the Garden of Gethsemane. In John 18:4-6, when Jesus was being arrested, he responded to those looking for him with “I am he” and immediately the whole army feel to the ground. The simple words of declaring “I am he” was so powerful because he was revealing his true identity as God declaring “I am”, the name of God. So, I think that Jesus will not be using a real sword at all, but that his weapon, in the end, will be the words from his mouth.

  9. This passage in Revelation really gives us a glimpse into God’s nature. When we picture God, we tend to see him as all of one thing, and devoid of a contradictory characteristic. We like to only focus on God’s love, or only on his anger, or only on his righteousness. In reality, he is completely all three at once, which is evidenced in this passage. The idea of the blood on his robe certainly evokes the image of a victorious warrior, someone who slaughtered his enemies, which gives us a glimpse of his anger. Also, the “wine press of the fury of the wrath of God” certainly shows the anger that God has. But in his victory, there is also righteousness. He judges the earth because of the sins that they have committed, with every person being given what they deserve. But then we also see his love and faithfulness, because he saves those who are true to him and restores the kingdom. So while we have these seemingly contradictory characteristics, we see that in what he does, God is all three at once. He doesn’t change with each action he takes, but is the same through it all.

  10. The true return of Jesus Christ to establish his kingdom on Earth is perhaps my favorite passage in Revelation. After the many, many years of waiting, the Messiah that the Jews have long awaited this Messiah, the one who would rescue His people from the nations that sought to harm them. I am particularly drawn to the description of his eyes, which are “like flames of fire” (Revelation 19:12). I never tire of John’s references to other prophets, and this potential reference to the angels of the book of Daniel is no exception. What perplexes me most, however, is that this rider on a white horse has a name that no one knows, in addition to his many other titles. I don’t think it does much good to speculate on what this title is, as if we were permitted to know it, then surely John would have been enlightened to write it down. If nothing else, perhaps this provides another link between Jesus and God the Father, and the Father does not share His name with humanity either. Perhaps it points to the deity of Jesus Christ as God’s son, that he was given a divine name like his Father has.

  11. Reading this makes me wonder how Jesus will actually come again. It is said he will come riding on a white horse, a mighty warrior to defeat his enemies. I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus can come like this; yet the first time the messiah came, they got it all wrong. They thought this was how he was going to come, a political leader ready to defeat their oppressors. Obviously, we have some more background knowledge now, but it still makes me wonder; will he come in a way unexpected again? Will some of us not realize just like before? Yet, I can see how Jesus would come unexpectantly the first time he comes just because of the nature of what had to be done; a perfect humble and obedient lamb led to be slain, and then the next time he comes, he comes the way everyone had expected him to come the first time. Like a mighty warrior who everyone knows is the messiah and God!

  12. I think there should be little to no debate as to who the rider is on the horse. I think when this rider is described as “the Word of God” and “King of Kings” that it is pretty clear who is being described here. Jesus is indeed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords so in my opinion, he is the only one who could be referenced here. Also, the fact that he has come to judge righteously then he must be the one who has the power to do so.
    Also, the way that this rider is described he is the one who the Jews would think of as the victorious one who is going to return and judge the world. He is the one who they have been looking forward to for hundreds of years. If you think about it this is the type of triumphant entry that the Jews thought was going to happen when Jesus came to the earth. They were very confused and disappointed when Jesus came as the opposite of what they thought. But here we see the triumphant entry the way they foresaw it.

  13. This chapter fantasizes me with so much details that involved with this White horse rider being Yehoshua Messiah. He is only a rider on the white horse, but he is interpreted the Messiah who is a violent and is victory by war and word (Blackwell 153). Many times, we as believers have stay on the side of positivity and view Yehoshua (Jesus) merciful, peaceful, gracious, redeemer, which they are all true, but we also need to understand the righteous judgment side of him. He will come violent, he will come to judge with fiery flames, His word will penetrate even to core of both heavens and earth. Nothing and no one will be able to hide or die. I think it is important to keep in mind, the drastic size of catastrophic the end will be. We also need to keep in mind have joy during tribulations and to keep our eyes focus on the main prize. We shouldn’t be afraid in what is taking place.

  14. “When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.” – Genesis 32:25

    Perhaps the name on the rider’s thigh has something to do with relocating, or rather, reconnecting with Jacob; namely, Israel?

  15. He wears a robe dipped in blood (13) is character description based on an experience in the rider’s life. A sharp sword comes out of his mouth (15a) describes when he speaks the truth it will pain those who have lied or misrepresented themselves.

  16. I like the Lord of the Rings reference. It makes me want to liken the return of Christ to the scene of Gandalf’s return at the battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. This is the sort of scene I like to imagine when I think of Christ’s return. The forces of evil turn to see an army led by a rider on a white horse atop a hill. The two armies clash and the white rider’s army breaks through the evil army’s lines. This comparison is all good fun, but it also presents a powerful visual for Christ’s return as the Jewish messiah, the conquering hero and savior of Israel.

  17. First off, I am absolutely giddy that King, my king, King Aragorn is the featured image for this blog. But he is a powerful visual metaphor as a gateway for us as readers to begin and understand the implications and meaning of what this rich passage of Revelation has to offer. I love how this meaning is summed up brilliantly towards the end of this blog: “The Rider on the White horse, therefore, represents the culmination of Jewish expectations for a restoration of the kingdom.” This is so true, a beautiful picture is painted for us in the text that God will intervene like a mighty warrior, and He will bring justice. He is a just God after all, and frankly, we need that reassurance as believers. God has the victory. He will win in the end. I love the vivid imagery that is used: “His eyes are like a fiery flame.” And I enjoy the comparison made to Daniel 10 in the blog as well: “Eyes like flaming torches are associated with heavenly beings.” This is a powerful metaphor and I love how we have literacy pieces such as The Lord of The Rings to present these metaphors powerfully in textual and visual mediums.

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