By Bill McFarland

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I read recently of a fellow who told about having met an old Scottish professor in Glasgow by the name of McDonald. Professor McDonald told this writer about something that happened in the closing days of World War II. Professor McDonald along with a man who was serving as a Scottish Chaplain at the time had bailed out of an airplane behind German lines. They were captured and soon put into a prison camp where a high wire fence separated the American prisoners from the British. And the Germans made it next to impossible for these two sides to communicate with one another. Well, McDonald says that he was put in the American barracks and the Scottish friend who bailed out with him was housed with the Brits. And every day the two men would meet at the fence and exchange a greeting.

Unknown to the German guards, the Americans had a little homemade radio and were able to get news from the outside - something that, of course, was precious in that prison camp. Every day McDonald would take a headline or two to the fence and share it with the Chaplain in the ancient Gaelic language which, of course, was indecipherable to the Germans. One day news came over that little radio that the German high command had surrendered and the war was over. McDonald took the news to his friend at the fence and then stood and watched that fellow disappear into the British barracks. And a moment later a roar of celebration came from inside those barracks and life in that camp was transformed. Prisoners walked around shouting and waving at the guards and even laughing at the dogs. When the German guards finally heard the news three nights later, they fled in the dark leaving the gates unlocked. And the next morning, Brits and Americans walked out as free men, and yet they had truly been set free, the fellow says, three days earlier by the news that the war was over.

That communication in an unknown language that set men free in their hearts is an illustration of what takes place in the great book of Revelation. Here are believers in Christ who are being worn out by doubts inflicted on them by the pressure of worldly power which opposes all that they hold dear, by the temptations of worldliness and then by the eroding doubts of false religion working hand in hand with world power and world temptation. And by using code language that would have been known to believers who were familiar with the Bible and would have been indecipherable to people like the Romans who were not familiar and were not believers, the inspired writer takes in hand the task of creating freedom in the hearts of people who are often prisoners to the pressure of the world.

Beginning in Revelation 12, we are introduced to the great dragon who represents the old serpent Satan, the devil. And then in the next chapter or two we meet a beast - first a beast from the earth and then one from the sea - which works hand in hand with that old dragon. That beast apparently represents world power which is used to oppress and try to destroy believers in Christ. And then we meet a false prophet who works with the beast to enforce the falsehoods of that power and to lead people astray from the precious faith. And then we meet a great harlot who is guilty of all the lasciviousness and all the lust that the world can muster, which is used to try to tempt believers and draw them away under the pressures that they already are feeling from the faith that they hold dear. Believers, of course, are crying out to God, "How long will this go on? Please, please vindicate our blood upon those who dwell on the earth."

Then beginning with about Revelation 18 the Lord shows John how beginning with the last one of those threats against believers, working toward the first who caused them all, the Lord grants judgment. First the great harlot, the worldly temptation, is judged. And then amid five courses of alleluia in Revelation 19, we meet one who comes forth riding on a white horse to deal with the beasts and the false prophet at the end of Revelation 19. These are ways of saying in a language that believers would embrace - "don't worry - your victors all ready." Notice if you will from the passage Tom read earlier, that John sees heaven open. What is described here is something that is taking place in heaven and not something which is going on on the earth, necessarily. What is being described here is not some terrible war on earth but this is the victorious conquering Christ. What John is saying here is what the Lord is doing and always is doing in behalf of his people.

Then notice that all attention is quickly focused on that rider. "Behold," he says, "a white horse and one sitting on that white horse." And the message that sends to me when I read it is this. When you struggle with doubts, when your faith is made weak by the pressures that are attacking you, it is time right then to focus your attention on Jesus Christ. It is not time to look around at the pressures of the world and not even time just to examine yourself and discover your own weaknesses more. It is time to look at Christ.

So this morning let's take a look at the rider on the white horse and let's let our faith be strengthened and renewed in the work he is doing on behalf of his people. First look at the identity of this rider. The identity of this rider is without any doubt the Lord Christ, the glorified Christ as he is at the right hand of the father on high. Notice that he is called first in verse 11 the faithful and true. Earlier in this book of Revelation Jesus is introduced as the faithful and true witness in Chapter 3:14. In other words, he is the one who in this confusing world is absolutely trustworthy and genuine. He is the person upon whom a man may stake his life and not be disappointed. His word will come to pass. Matthew 24:35, he himself said that even if heaven and earth passes away, my word won't. And Peter says in I Peter 1:25 that his word lives and abides. This faithful and true witness will vindicate the faith of all who have placed confidence in him and who live in loyalty to him.

Notice next that he has a name written which no one knows but he himself, verse 12 says. Several possibilities about the meaning of that phrase have been suggested. There are some who think it goes back to the first century idea, even among pagans, that if you knew the name of a spirit then you had power over it. And if no one knows this name, what it is saying is nobody, absolutely nobody, has power over the rider on this white horse. Others have suggested that this name might even refer to the unpronounceable name of God, that four letter word that sometimes you will hear phrased Jehovah or Yaweh, but which is more often put in English with just a capital LORD - Lord in our English versions. Another idea that this is that name above every name at which every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father as we read in Philippians 2. This phrase may just be saying that the person of Jesus is beyond human comprehension. There is nobody like him and no way for our minds to fully plumb the depths of the meaning of the Son of God.

Third, in verse 13, his name is called the Word of God. In John's writings in the New Testament, we are familiar with this phrase. In John I the Word is the one who existed from the beginning and who was with God and who was God. When Jesus came forth, it was the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. And when people beheld him they were beholding the glory of God the Father full of grace and truth. In other words, this is saying to us that here is the one who is the representation of the nature of God. In I John 1 we discovered John using the phrase "the word of life." He and the other apostles had beheld and had touched and had seen the word of life who dwelt among us. So God's word reveals his will. God's word reveals manhood. God's word goes forth to accomplish his purpose in the world. This rider on the white horse is the one who revealed God in the flesh, who guarantees that God's purposes for man will be achieved, who brings to all of us the hope of life.

And then the last phrase says that his identity is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Verse 16. This name is written on his robe and on his thigh. And the idea is that as he rides this white horse his garment falls in such a way that everybody who looks at him can see the announcement of his office. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Rev. 17:14 mentions this phrase, "they will make war on the land and the land will conquer them for he is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and those who are with him are called chosen or called and chosen and faithful." King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then, is used to mean that he conquers. Here is the conqueror. James Burton Coffman, in a New Testament commentary, wrote, "Throughout the Bible the kingship of Jesus Christ occupies a central and dominating position. The Royal prophet Isaiah, hailed him as the coming king. John the Baptist preached the approaching king. Paul proclaimed the crucifying king, and the Book of Revelation presents the glorious vision of the enthroned king." That is the identity of this rider on the white horse. He is not just one who will have a throne. He is one who occupies a throne. That is his identity. That is the Lord that you and I have remembered this morning. That is whose glory we have been singing about. That's in whose name we have prayed. That's whose word we are studying. The rider on the white horse.

His characteristics as they are described for us in this passage - this beautiful picture - are intended (each characteristic) to tell us of his ability to fulfill his office. There would be one thing for someone to claim "I am King of Kings and Lord of Lords" and then not be able to conquer. Each detail of his character that we have emphasizes his perfect ability to do what he sets out to do.

The first thing to notice about his characteristic is that he rides a white horse. Any of you who ever watched old cowboy movies knows something of the meaning of that. He is the good guy. But the book of Revelation goes a little further. White is the color that signifies purity and victory. The white horse is the symbol of the conqueror because the Roman generals of that day when John lived rode white horses when they celebrated a triumph. When they had been off fighting in some war and they conquered the land and they brought home captives as prisoners to be slaves, the Roman ruler who had lead those forces would straddle a white horse and would ride down the main street of the city with all the good that he had captured, all the people that he had captured and his troops who had fought along side him. That glorious animal of triumph is what this rider rides. It is a little different, isn't it, from the colt or the donkey upon which the son of David rode into the city to shouts of Hosanna just a few days before he offered himself up for us. He will never offer himself again. That has been done once and for all and now he rides instead of a colt or a donkey, the white horse of the conqueror and we are being told here that if we are following Jesus, then we are following the victor.

The second characteristic mentioned is that his eyes are like a flame of fire. Verse 12. Nothing is hidden from his eyes, and again it draws on passages earlier in this book. His all-seeing eyes look with burning penetration into the hearts of his enemies. He doesn't judge just by outward appearances. You don't fool him. He has clear insight into the true character of a person. Those of us who try to put up a front and who fool people are brought face to face here with reality. And those who have ever been mistreated and who feel like the wrong appearance has been left are comforted here by the knowledge of the rider on the white horse.

And then we notice that upon his head are many crowns. As you know, the Greeks had two words for crowns. One was a victor's crown - a little wreath maybe that would have been granted to one who won a race. But then there was the royal crown of the ruler, and that is the word that is used here. This is the ruler's crown. And notice that he has not one, not seven or ten, as the beasts have had earlier, but many. And the idea is that this rider has an authority and a sovereignty which has no limits. The extent of his rule is past understanding. In Ephesians 1 Paul wrote that God raised up his Son from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And that is the point that this picture is meant to convey. He has authority to do the work that God gives him.

And then next observe that he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood. And, without taking a lot of time, we just mention to you that there are those who think this is a reference to the blood of the lamb - that blood that washes us clean, that we wash our garments in, that blood that purchases a people in the kingdom for himself. It seems to me more likely, though, that this speaks of a picture that has an image in the Old Testament, Isaiah 63, in the first few verses, where the servant of God comes back from having trampled the wine presses of God's wrath against some enemy of his people back then. And so this is the idea here that this is one who has already done the work that is going to tell the story. Either way, I suppose though, it is an assurance of victory again. The outcome is not in doubt.

And then a sharp sword proceeds out of his mouth, verse 15 says. It is this sword which he uses to make war against those who teach his people idolatry and immorality back in chapter 2:12, 16. In other words, this sword is symbolic not of the Lord's saving word but of his judging word. His word which is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword because it can discern between the thoughts and the intentions of a person's heart, Heb. 4:12 says. The Lord's sharp, two-edged sword will be able to hold his enemies accountable, not by fighting at Armageddon, simply by saying the word. And when he says the word there won't be more war. There won't be any place for the enemy to hide - chapter 20 shows. There will simply be judgment and accountability.

His characteristics are in keeping with his identity. He is able to do what he comes to do. So what is it that he comes to do? The work that the rider on the white horse does is such as what would comfort hearts of his followers who are particularly burdened and troubled by oppression and by doubts and by temptations that might lead them to give up. You notice in reading the New Testament the thought of the Lord's judgment is a threat only when you are his enemy. When you are his friend and you follow him and life bears down on you and tries to crush faith out of you, then his judgment is a wonderful gift. If you read Luke 18, the first seven or eight verses, you will notice people crying out for justice to be given. Even earlier in this book at chapter 6 and verses 9-11, all they cry out for is for the Lord's true and righteous acts. Now, notice in this passage that that comes true. He comes and judges and makes war in righteousness verse 11 says. Here's that theme. Righteous judgment. In view of the injustice these readers have experienced, righteous judgment is a welcome thought. For right to be shown to be right, for darkness to be held accountable for what it is is the thought. And since they were persecuted by the mighty, the thought of a strong helper who makes war and judges in righteousness was great comfort.

The rider on the white horse also leads the armies of heaven. verse 14 says. They are said to be, if you notice in this verse, arrayed in the fine linen, white and pure, also riding white horses. There have been all kinds of guesses about who they are. One view is that they are the hosts of heavenly beings who minister to the Lord. Twelve legions of which Jesus could have called if he had chosen to do so as he was about to offer himself. But the other view is that they are the victorious saints whom the Lord leads. The called and chosen and faithful we read about in chapter 17, verse 14 awhile ago. If you just back up through this passage here, it is interesting that when there is the vision of the marriage supper of the lamb in verses 6 through 8, that those who are bidden to the marriage supper of the lamb are said to be the bride. The bride has made herself ready. It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, pure and bright, it says for the fine linen is the righteous deed of the saints. It makes sense to me that these who ride on white horses clothed in fine linen are those people - the victorious believers in the Lord who have been loyal and faithful to him. And the point is that heaven's triumph is guaranteed by this one who leads this column.

He rules the nations with a rod of iron, verse 15 says. That identifies him as the Messiah. We could go all the way back to Psalm 2:9 and point that out. But the idea is that he rules like a shepherd who protects his sheep from danger with a rod that was tipped with metal. His authority, in other words, blesses those who submit to his rule but it is hard and unyielding to those who would resist him and reject him.

And then he treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of almighty God, verse 15. The figure of wrath or anger appears 13 times in Revelation 6-19. And it indicates the full and complete overthrow of those who have worn out God's people in this world. They are destined to drink the cup of the wine of the fierceness of God's wrath. Chapter 16:19. His wrath is not fit of temper and it is to be understood against the backdrop of his sacrificing love but it is saying to us that God judges finally. And for that cup to be drunk, the juice has to be squeezed out of grapes and the one who gets down in the wine press and tramples the grapes under his feet prepares that wine to drink is the rider on this white horse - my Lord and Savior.

The Hebrew writer encouraged weary Christians in Hebrews 12 by telling them to be looking to Jesus. And in this passage it seems to me that is what John is helping us to do - to look to Jesus and to see him as he is now - a rider on the white horse who leads his people to victory and assures their comfort. And that is why the book of Revelation calls on all who love the Lord to be faithful even unto death, to be watchful and establish the things that remain, and to be zealous and repent if that is necessary. None of us want to be found in opposition to the rider on the white horse.

Norman Gipson wrote a little poem several years back: "Many war against the lamb, but their struggle is in vain. He shall overcome them. He shall overcome them all. He in triumph leads his train. For the lamb is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the mighty one. None shall stay his onward march until the victory is won. Ye are called to hear his word; chosen ones his will to do; be ye faithful to the Lord; standing firm, steadfast and true; captured is captivity; Christ now leads him on his train; all who truly serve their Lord shall in glory with him reign; you shall overcome with him; you shall join him on that shore; and that wondrous heavenly land you shall sing forever more."

That is the Christian hope. To be with then we need to be with him now. The gospel invites us to choose sides - to place our faith in Christ, to be baptized into him for the forgiveness of our sins and to live for him from that point on. If you need to make that beginning today, I wish you would choose. And if you are someone who needs to come home to the rider on the white horse, think about that today and we invite you to act right now.