On “the Word of God” in Rev.19.13
Revelation 19:11-16 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Though trinitarians generally want to assume that Rev.19.13 refers to Christ, a better exegetical case can be made for it as referring to Yahweh Himself as “the Lord of Hosts (armies)”, as seen by His armies in 19.14. Moreover, the full title “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19.16) occurs elsewhere in the NT only in 1Timothy 6.15 where it refers to “our only Sovereign”, God the Father. The context of 19.13 echoes other OT prophesies which have reference to Yahweh.
It is true that in Revelation 17.14 the title in the reversed form “lord of lords, and king of kings” is applied to the Lamb who was exalted by God. But the term “the word of God” appears 5 times in Revelation apart from 19.13 (in 17.17 as “the words of God”) and, as in the rest of the NT, it means the message of God as given in the Gospel.
It is argued that “the Word of God” in 19.13 refers to Jesus because of his being “clothed in a robe dipped in blood”, it being assumed that the blood is his own blood. But he who “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (19.15) is more likely to have his garments dipped in the blood of God’s enemies.
R.H. Charles, in his massive two volume Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Revelation of St. John, also rejects the notion that the blood on the rider’s robe in Revelation 19.13 is his own blood, and writes:
A comparison with Isaiah 63.1-3—which passage is in the mind of our author—confirms this conclusion: ‘Who is this that cometh from Edom, with red garments from Bozrah?...2. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? 3. I have trodden the winepress alone…yea, I trod them in my anger… and their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments.’
There is no doubt whatever that in this context the subject of this passage is Yahweh. The result of Yahweh’s treading of the “winepress” of judgment is seen in Rev.19.17f:
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”
This event is seen in the prophecy of Ezekiel 39.17f:
17 And as for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field: “Assemble yourselves and come; Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal which I am sacrificing for you, A great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel, That you may eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You shall eat the flesh of the mighty…”’
And the purpose of all this is set forth in the following verses in Ezekiel 39:
21 I will set My glory among the nations; all the nations shall see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them. 22 So the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD (Yahweh) their God from that day forward.
The glory of Yahweh is proclaimed to all nations through His righteous judgments against all evildoers.
Even so, Rev.19.13 could refer to Jesus, the Lamb, as Yahweh’s chosen Messianic agent of His actions in the world. But it should be remembered that the trinitarian argument based on the words “the Word was God” can cut both ways: it could mean that “the Word” was actually God or Yahweh Himself, that is, “Logos” could be a title of God as self-revealing (which is what “word” does), as immanent. This self-revealing aspect of God was always an essential aspect of God (as the whole of His Word, the Bible, reveals); it was always “with Him” and, for us, it is undoubtedly the most important aspect of God, for without it we could never know Him. This also means that there is no reason why “the Word of God” as a metonym for Yahweh could not also be used here as a title of Yahweh, that is, as the One who is always revealing Himself whether in His saving mercies in Christ or in Judgment as in 19.11ff. The picture of Yahweh here would then be that of Yahweh as a “man of war” familiar from the OT (Ex.15.3; Isa.42.13).
Thus, without being dogmatic or insistent, it can be shown that, on the basis of exegesis, it is very likely that 19.13 refers to Yahweh rather than to Jesus, and that its application to Jesus is based primarily on the trinitarian interpretation of John 1.1. But did we not say that 19.13 could also refer to Jesus? Yes, because 19.15, “he will rule them with a rod of iron” seems clearly to reflect the Messianic verses Isa.11.4 and Psalm 2.9. If so, how is the verse to be understood after all? It would evidently be best to understand it in the same way as the “incarnation” of Yahweh “in Christ” (2Cor.5.19, etc.) is understood in terms, for example, of 1Timothy 3.16, “He (God, mentioned twice in the previous verse) was manifested in the flesh”. That is to say: Just as Yahweh came into the world to save it, so also He will come at the end of this age to deal with all who in the hardness of their hearts reject His saving mercies and defy His sovereignty as our Creator and Lord.
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