Earlier this morning, as I was getting ready for work, I received a series of messages from one of my loyal (if busy) readers, who asked me very simply what Revelation 19:15 meant. I’m not quite sure what prompted this question or what the context of it was, but here at this particular blog, we (eventually) get around to answering the questions and requests of our readers and this is an example of the sort of biblical question that has a lot more going on to it than meets the eye, and so as is common in this series , we will take a somewhat obscure verse of the Bible and explain what it means and put it in a context that it may be better understood, beginning, of course, with the verse itself: “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”
Let us note to begin with that the verse itself contains three visual elements that are worth considering concerning the returned Jesus Christ. First, Jesus Christ has a sword going out of his mouth which He will use to strike the nations. Second, the verse says that Jesus Christ will rule the world with a rod of iron. Third, Jesus Christ HImself treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of the Almighty God. Each of these statements is worth unpacking individually. Before we do so, however, it is worthwhile to understand the context of this particular verse as part of Revelation 19:11-16, which includes verse 15 as part of the larger picture of a Jesus Christ prepared for warfare against rebellious mankind: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Looking at this passage as a whole, we can readily see that the fierce elements of Revelation 19:15 are part of a bigger picture of a Jesus Christ very much unlike the picture of a helpless child in a manger or of Jesus Christ on the cross. Instead, we see a Jesus Christ that is prepared to fight to establish His kingdom. While this picture is very different from what many people think of the nature and personality of Jesus Christ, it is very much in line with what He told Pontius Pilate in John 18:33-38: “Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.”” It is clear that Pilate did not understand at all what Jesus Christ was getting at here, but it has a lot to do with how Jesus Christ is portrayed in Revelation 19. We note that Jesus Christ did not say that His servants were to be complete pacifists, but rather that they were to fight only if and when Jesus Christ’s kingdom was of this world, and once Jesus Christ’s role as king of kings and lord of lords is announced, at that point He and His servants are prepared to fight to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Likewise, this kingdom (in stark contrast to the nations of this present evil age) is to be based on truth and is to include as citizens those who are of the truth and who hear and respond to His voice.
With that necessary context, let us turn to the three elements of Revelation 19:15 and deal with them one by one. Ephesians 6:17-20 points out the need to be armed with the sword of the spirit: “ And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Here Paul comments that the sword in the mouth of Jesus Christ is the word of God, and that it allows us to speak the truths of God with boldness. The author of Hebrews reminds us that this sword is a two-edged sword in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Likewise, John in Revelation 1:16 points out that Jesus Christ has this same two-edged sword coming out of his mouth: “He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” Here again we see that Jesus Christ is armed with the Bible in order to execute righteous judgment on a world that has proven to be intractably hostile to His ways, something that ought to greatly concern those of us on this earth whose conduct is not in line with the standard of the scriptures.
The second symbol spoken of in Revelation 19:15 is a rod of iron. This symbol is a relatively frequent one in Revelation, and when we compare Revelation 19:15 with other times this symbol appears in the Bible, we can understand what Jesus is to do with this rod of iron. First, let us look at Psalm 2:9, which tells us: “You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” This verse tells us that Jesus Christ will break apart the nations of the world and shatter them like a clay jar broken in bits. Whether this means merely that the power of the corrupt rulers of the nations will be shattered or whether the nations of the world will be broken up into their constituent parts and no longer joined together by force and fraud as is common in our world is not explicitly said. However, Revelation 2:27 reminds us that Jesus Christ is very well aware of the purposes of the rod of iron: “‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’— as I also have received from My Father.” Likewise, the picture of the rod of iron is given in Revelation 12:5 when the birth of Jesus Christ is stated in that inset chapter: “She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.” In all of these cases the rod of iron and its role in governing the nations is repeated, so that we can see that when Jesus Christ returns, He has an agenda to pursue with the rulers of the nations of the world that they are not going to like very much.
Finally, we come to the third picture, that of Jesus Christ as treading the winepress of God’s fury against the evil of humanity and its rulers. As we might imagine, this picture of Jesus Christ was stomping over the wicked of the earth in the same way that people trample the grapes in a winepress is an image that is repeated frequently in scripture. Most relevant to our discussion is the fact that (unsurprisingly) it is discussed in Revelation 14:19-20, which tells us: “So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.” Here we see why Jesus Christ’s robe was stained with the winepress, because it was the blood of the wicked that have been judged by the returning Jesus Christ. This image is not limited to Revelation alone but is used frequently in the prophets of the Old Testament. Lamentations 1:15 tells us: ““The Lord has trampled underfoot all my mighty men in my midst; He has called an assembly against me To crush my young men; The Lord trampled as in a winepress the virgin daughter of Judah.” Isaiah 62:2-3 tells us: “Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?” “I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes.” The relationship of wine to the Feast of Tabernacles and the winepress to God’s fury demonstrates that the fruit of the vine is not only one that brings joy and gladness to us at the feast, but is also a demonstration of the fact that the great harvest that accompanies the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His kingdom on this earth will come with a lot of blood that is related to wine in a similar fashion as the blood of Christ is symbolized by the wine taken by believers at the New Covenant Passover.
And with that we can come to an understanding of what John is telling us in Revelation 19:15 about the return of Jesus Christ. We see that Jesus Christ will return to this earth and judge mankind according to the standard of behavior contained in His word, and will break apart the nations of the world and their corrupt leaders with a rod of iron that has been given to him to smash the pottery of this earth. Likewise, the wrath of Jesus Christ against those who are rebellious to His laws and His ways will involve a large amount of death among the wicked, so much so that it will stain His otherwise white robes and demonstrate that Jesus Christ will not return as a meek and humble lamb but as a roaring lion intent on establishing His rule over the entire earth. How to feel about that scene will depend on whether we are in the army of God, or whether we are among the unbelievers who are to face His entirely justified and appropriate wrath about the wickedness and rebelliousness of mankind at the time of His return. Let there be no question, though, that God takes His righteous and holy ways as written in the Scriptures deadly seriously, and so should we.
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