Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God:XIX.
THE CHORUS OF THE HEAVENLY MULTITUDE REJOICING OVER HER FALL.
(1-3) And after these things I heard . . .—Or, I heard, as it were, a mighty voice of a great multitude in the heaven, saying. The saints who were bidden in the last chapter to rejoice are now heard raising their songs as in one great voice of praise. The song is as follows:—
The salvation, and the glory, and the power
Are our God’s,
Because true and righteous are His judgments,
Because He judged the great harlot, who corrupted the
earth in her fornication,
And avenged the blood of His servants out of her hand,
This last “Alleluia” clearly belongs to the song or chorus. It is separated from the body of it by the descriptive words (Revelation 19:3), And again they said, Alleluia; or better, and a second time they have said. The Evangelist, as he writes, seems to hear once more the strains of the anthem: he writes down the words. and, as the final “Alleluia” bursts forth after a musical pause, he writes, “once more they have said Alleluia.” The word Alleluia occurs in this passage no less than four times (Revelation 19:1; Revelation 19:3-4; Revelation 19:6): it is nowhere else used in the New Testament; but it is familiar to us in the Psalms, as fifteen of them begin or end with “Praise ye the Lord,” or “Hallelujah;” and the genius of Handel has enshrined the word in imperishable music. The song here does not begin with ascribing “salvation, &c.,” to God, as the English version suggests: it rather affirms the fact: the salvation, &c., is God’s. It is the echo of the ancient utterance—“Salvation belongeth unto God.” It is the triumphant affirmation of the truth by which the Church and children of God had sustained their struggling petitions, as they closed the prayer which Christ Himself had taught them, saying, when too often it seemed to be otherwise, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” So here they give a threefold praise: the salvation, and the glory, and the power are all God’s. The manifestation of His power is in the deliverance of His children from the evil, from the great harlot, and in the avenging the blood of His servants out of her hand, “forcing, as it were, out of her hand the price of their blood.”
And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.(4) And the four and twenty . . .—The twenty-four elders, the representatives of the Church, and the four living beings, the representatives of nature, fell down and worshipped God who sitteth (not “sat,” as in the English version) on the throne. These, too, join in the chorus of praise.
And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.(5-7) And a voice came.—From the direction of the throne there came a voice bidding all God’s servants rejoice. We are not told whose voice it is. Some have assumed that it is Christ’s: it is better to leave it indefinite. In response to the bidding, the voice of praise is heard (like the voice spoken of in Revelation 14:2), as it were, the voice of a great multitude; and, as it were, the voice of many waters; and, as it were, the voice of mighty thunders. All nature’s tones seem mingled in this voice of praise: it is human, it is majestic as the sea, and glorious as the thunder.
For the Lord reigned,
The God, the Almighty.
Let us rejoice and exult,
And we will give the glory to Him,
Because the marriage of the Lamb is come,
And His wife hath made herself ready.
In this anthem the word for “reigneth” is not in the present tense, as in the English version; but, though it is translated here “reigned,” we must not understand it of the past only: it expresses the exultation of the servants of God that the Kingship of their God is manifested, and vindicated against those who denied, or hated His rule. His reign never ceased; and He has showed that His was a real sovereignty. Their joy rises also from the prospect of the nearer union between the Lamb and His Bride. This close union is more fully spoken of later: here the glorious close is for a moment anticipated: the morning glow announces the coming day: it is near even at the doors. The image of the marriage is familiar. It entered into our Lord’s parable (Matthew 22:2-10; Matthew 25:1-10): we catch it in the Psalms and in the Epistles (Psalms 45, and Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:30; 2Corinthians 11:2.)
And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.(8) And to her was granted . . .—Better, And it was given to her that she should be clothed in fine linen, bright, pure; for the fine linen is the righteousness (or, righteousnesses; the word is plural) of the saints. This verse is not to be taken as part of the song. The song closes with the announcement that the Lamb’s wife has made herself ready. Then follows the explanation of this readiness: she is adorned in fine linen. Her apparel is in contrast to the harlot: it is not purple and scarlet (Revelation 17:4; Revelation 18:16), but pure white. The symbol is explained: “the fine linen is the righteousness (or, righteousnesses) of the saints.” The raiment is that which strikes the eye: it has its character, and it indicates the character of the wearer. The harlot attracts by ostentatious colours, the tokens of qualities more conspicuous than abiding, more dazzling than helpful; the Lamb’s wife is robed in pure and stainless white, the token of those high, moral, spiritual qualities by which she has been known. The source of these righteousnesses is divine: it is given to her to be so arrayed. It is no fictitious righteousness: it is real, it is hers, though it would never have been hers but for Him without whom she can do nothing (comp. John 15:4-5, and Philippians 3:8-10): and it is through the wearing of this white flower of a blameless life that she has borne witness for her Lord, and against the spirit of harlotry and sin (Matthew 7:16-18).
And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.(9) And he saith unto me . . .—Who is the speaker? The general and simplest opinion is that it is the angel mentioned in Revelation 17:1 who speaks. The speaker bids the seer write: “Blessed are they who are bidden to the supper of the marriage of the Lamb.” This is one of the six benedictions of the Apocalypse (Rev. Revelation 1:3; Revelation 14:13; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:14): it is founded on our Lord’s parables (Matthew 22:1; Matthew 25:1; comp. also Revelation 3:20): the blessing of the call to the marriage supper is more clearly realised now that the day of joy is at hand. We must not draw too sharp distinctions, as some have done, between the bride and the guests: the imagery is varied to give fulness and force to the truths which no emblems can adequately express. The Church of Christ will rest, and feast, and reign with her Lord; and in all the peace, gladness, and triumph of that joy-time God’s servants will share. A solemn confirmation of this follows, as in Revelation 21:5; Revelation 22:6 : “these words are true (sayings) of God.”
And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.(10) And I fell at his feet . . .—The impulse to worship the messenger who had unfolded such visions was not unnatural: the immediate checking of it here and in Revelation 22:8-9, on the part of the angel, supplies an indirect evidence of the genuineness of the whole book, and gives it a moral tone immeasurably superior to the vision-books of pretended revelations. And he saith to me, See (or, take heed) not (i.e., to do it); I am a fellow-servant of thee and of thy brethren who have the testimony of Jesus: worship God; for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. One bond of service unites angels and men: to be servants of God is the highest title they can attain; worship is for God alone. The words “worship God” are most emphatic: “to God give thy worship, and not to me, who am but thy fellow-servant.” The angel is his fellow-servant, and at that time he was emphatically so, as he and the Apostle were engaged in one common work—“the testimony of Jesus.” The Apostle’s work in the world was the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 1:2; Revelation 1:9), and the Spirit of prophecy which moved (2Peter 1:21) the angel was likewise the testimony of Jesus. One work and one worship belong to both. He whom Apostles worshipped unrebuked (Matthew 28:9; Matthew 28:17) was the one whom all the angels of God were bidden to worship (Psalm 97:7; Hebrews 1:6). It is wonderful, with this emphatic witness to our Lord Jesus Christ, any should have undervalued this book of Revelation, as one which failed to honour Him.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.(11) And I saw heaven opened . . .—Better, And I saw the heaven opened (not “opening,” but set open, already opened, as in Revelation 4:1), and behold a white horse, and (behold) one that sitteth upon him called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judgeth and warreth. The description reminds us of the opening of the first seal. Again we have the white horse, and the rider. That early vision of a conquering Christ had been first a hope and then a despair, as age after age interposed its obstacles to the manifestation of the sons of God; but now, with added splendour, the vision is renewed: the hopes of the waiting shall not perish for ever. Once more the victorious rider appears, and His name dispels all fear, though the vision has been long in tarrying. At the end it speaks and does not tarry (Habakkuk 2:1-4), for He who rides upon the heavens, as it were upon a horse, has His name Faithful and True (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 10:36-38). This name combines two characteristics: fidelity to promises, trustworthiness; and the power to satisfy every legitimate desire which has been awakened in the hearts of His people; for in Him all hopes find repose, and every ideal is realised. He is further pictured as a warrior. This warrior bridegroom carries us back to Psalms 45, where a similar combination of marriage joy and martial triumph is found. Righteousness marks His progress in war, as faithfulness is manifested towards those who trust Him (Isaiah 11:4-5). Here is comfort on the threshold of a vision of deliverance. The book has shown us war, conflict, confusion: the passions of men surging against one another, and dashing like vain waves against God’s immutable laws; the world history is written in blood. We blame men for these cruel and desolating wars; but another question rises imperiously, Why does an all-good ruler allow these heart-breaking scenes? If earth’s groans pain and trouble us, do they not grieve Him? Where is He that He permits all this? The answer is, “In righteousness He judges and makes war.” The worked-out history of the world will make this plain. The righteousness of God is being revealed: all will see it one day; but now the just must live by faith in Him who is faithful and true, and who preserves the germ of all divine life in the history of the world.
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.(12, 13) His eyes were as a flame . . .—Or, rather, And His eyes are (as) a flame of fire, and upon His head many diadems—(He) having names written, and a name written which no one knows but He Himself—and clothed in a vesture dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. On the description here and in Revelation 19:5, comp. Notes on Revelation 1:14-16. There is no doubt who is before us in this vision. These flame-like eyes have been fixed upon the moving scenes of human life, and have been reading the hearts of men, and the true meaning of all events and actions. All things have been naked and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). He wears many crowns—diadems—crowns rather of royalty than of victory. Some have thought that the crowns He wears are crowns taken from the heads of the kings who have made war with Him (Revelation 19:12-13, and Revelation 19:19). It is needless to suppose this; their crowns were His before they were discrowned. The diadems He wears proclaim that not only over a worldwide empire He is king, but of all nations He is truly king. He is not as an emperor among kings, the head of a federation of princedoms; but He is truly King—King of history, King of life, King of human hearts, King everywhere, over each realm and over all realms, King of kings, and Lord of lords. He has names written, and a name. The clause having “names written” is omitted in the English version. The authority for its insertion is not entirely satisfactory; but perhaps the balance of evidence is in its favour. He has many names which may be understood, besides a name which no one knows. This is fitting in One who is known to men as Shepherd, Redeemer, Saviour, Prince of Life, but the fulness of Whose love and power none can exhaust, and the depth of Whose wisdom none can fathom. “He knows our names. Thanks be to God, we cannot fathom the depths of His.” There is more yet to be known of Him in the world to which we go. His vesture is dipped in blood. The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 63:2) probably supplied the foundation of this description. (Comp. Revelation 19:15.) The blood-red vesture is a fit token of the work. He comes to destroy those that destroy the earth—to tread the winepress of the wrath of God; but we cannot forget that He who comes for this came first to shed His own blood. He is, too, “The Word of God.” Again we hear this name; it is a name which is, besides other things, significant of Christ’s mediating work. He is the Word who was with God, who was God, and who declares God to man. (Comp. John 1:1-4; John 3:13; John 14:9.) The title the Word, the Word of God—used here and in the Gospel of St. John (Revelation 1:2; John 1:1; 1John 1:1)—is a token of their common authorship. (See Introduction and Excursus A: The Doctrine of the Word, in Commentary on the Gospel.)
And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.(14) And the armies . . .—The words “which were” should be omitted. The armies in heaven followed Him. Some would limit these to angels. The apparel which they wear—the fine linen (byssus) “which is the righteousness of saints” (see Revelation 19:8)—is conclusive against this limited view. The saints who have fought the good fight here, and who loved not their lives unto the death, will share the triumph of their king. (Comp. also Revelation 17:14.) The horses upon which they are seated are white. The raiment they wear is white, pure. (Comp. Revelation 19:8, and Revelation 3:4; Revelation 7:14.) The hue of triumph is here, but it is the triumph of righteousness. (Comp. also Ezekiel 38:4.)
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.(15) And out of his mouth . . .—Translate, And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with (literally, in) it He may smite the nations: and He (Himself) shall shepherd them with (literally, in) a rod of iron: and He (Himself) treadeth the winepress of the wine of the wrath of the anger of God the All ruler. The sharp sword is the same that we have read of before (Revelation 1:16); there it was called the two-edged sword. The omission of the epithet in this passage, which describes the Word of God as the conqueror and the judge, is not without significance. The sword is now wielded for but one work—the word that Christ spoke will judge men at the last day (John 12:48). The power of this word found an illustration in the falling back of the hostile band which came to take Him in the day of His humiliation (John 18:5); yet more gloriously will the power of His word be felt (comp. Isaiah 11:4; Jeremiah 23:29; 2Thessalonians 2:8) when He will slay the wicked with the word of His mouth. The passage in Psalm 2:9 must be borne in mind. Christ comes as King; His is a rule in righteousness; those who oppose this kingdom of righteousness find the shepherd’s staff as a rod of iron; the stone rejected falls upon the builders, and grinds them to powder. It is thus that the winepress of God’s wrath is set up, and the righteous King appears as one who treads it out. (Comp. Isaiah 63:1-3.) He Himself (the emphasis lies here) treads it. We have again the figure of the vintage made use of. (Comp. Revelation 14:20.) It is the harvest of retribution; the wicked are filled with the fruit of their own doings; so is the work seen to be the work of the All-Ruler.
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.(16) And he hath on his vesture . . .—The King rides at the head of His host. On His robe, where it spreads out from the waist, His title is inscribed; it proclaims Him to be the one who is the true supreme King of all. Inscriptions on the outer garments were sometimes used by distinguished personages. The title anticipates the final victory; His power is irresistible, his Kingship is universal.
OVERTHROW OF THE WILD BEAST AND OF THE FALSE PROPHET.—The birds of prey gather beforehand (Revelation 19:17-18). The beast, and the kings of the earth hostile to the King of kings, gather for war (Revelation 19:20). Their defeat and fate (verses 21, 22).
(17, 18) And I saw an angel . . .—Better, And I saw an (literally, one) angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a great voice, Hither be gathered together to the great supper of God, that ye may eat flesh of kings, and flesh of captains of thousands, and flesh of mighty men, and flesh of horses, and of them that are seated on them, and flesh of all, of free and of bond, and of small and of great. The angel stands in the sun—the central spot to summon the birds, and the spot where he stands bathed in the sunlight, the symbol of the divine presence. (Comp. Revelation 1:16; Revelation 10:1; Revelation 12:1.) The birds of prey are assembled beforehand; the adversaries of the righteous King have a name to live, but the eagles and vultures are gathered together as though the carcase had already fallen (Matthew 24:28; comp. Ezekiel 39:17-20). The supper or banquet is the chief meal in the day, the meal to which guests would be invited. The banquet or supper here is in contrast with the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), and with the great supper (Luke 14:16-24) from which the invited guests turned away. All classes—the great and small, the master and slave—are mentioned. Those who follow the world-power, and array themselves in hostility to the true King, belong not to one class, but may be found among all. The war is not between class and class, but between righteousness and unrighteousness, truth and falsehood, Christ and Belial. We must remember that the vision is a great figurative representation of the defeat of the anti-Christian powers and principles in the world; this will save us from misapprehending its purpose, and from a bondaged literalism.
(19) And I saw the beast, and the kings . . .—Rather, I saw the wild beast. The wild beast and the kings are gathered to make or wage not merely “war,” but “the war” (the definite article is used; comp. Revelation 16:14; Revelation 17:14) against the King of kings. It has been noticed that the true King is followed by His army—one army, united by one bond, and under one King. The wild beast is supported by diverse armies, owning allegiance to diverse kings, and united only in hostility to good.
(20) And the beast was taken . . .—Or, And the wild beast was taken, and with him the false prophet who did the signs in his presence . . . Again the definite article (“the signs” or “miracles”) recalls to our minds what was before described (Revelation 13:13); the false prophet is the second wild beast of Revelation 13. He succeeded in deceiving those who received the mark. See Notes on Revelation 13, where their work of deception is described; here our thoughts are fixed upon their doom. Alive they were cast, the two, into the lake of the fire which burns with brimstone. The two—the wild beast and the false prophet—who are the anti-Christian leaders are cast into the fiery lake. These leaders are not to be, as we have seen, regarded as particular individuals. It has, indeed, often happened, and will doubtless again happen, that an individual personage places himself at the head of a great anti-Christian movement; yet, in the eye of the seer, such would be but subordinate leaders. The wild beast and the false prophet, directed by the dragon, are the true spiritual chiefs of all such movements. The world-power, whether coarse, ignorant and brutal, or cultured and intellectual, is seized, and consigned to the lake of fire. The imagery here is based upon the Old Testament: the lake, the fire, and the brimstone bring back the geography and the incidents attending the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrha. (Comp. Numbers 16:32-34; Isaiah 5:14.) The lake of fire is mentioned here for the first time; we hear of it more frequently afterwards (Revelation 20:10; Revelation 20:14-15; Revelation 21:8). The flames and brimstone, smoke, and other volcanic forces indicating the existence of subterranean fire, might well lead the ancients to place their Tartarus and Gehenna in the under-world. (See Note in Moses Stuart on Revelation 14:10.) These supplied the imagery which has become crystallised in the language of after-generations.
(21) And the remnant were slain . . .—Better, And the rest were slain with (literally, in) the sword of Him who is seated on the horse, which (sword) proceeded out of His mouth; and all the birds were filled with their flesh. The rest (i.e., the human beings, the kings and the great and small, who have been led away by the world-powers) were slain with the sword of the King. No human being is described here as being cast into the lake of fire—only the two great leaders, the ideal representatives of evil principles, receive that punishment. The sword which goes out of the King’s mouth (comp. Revelation 19:15 and Revelation 1:16) slays the human allies of evil. That word which is quick and powerful (Hebrews 4:12), that word which Christ spoke in the days of His humiliation, that word which is mighty and life-giving (James 1:18) as well as death-giving, wins at the last. The birds devour the flesh. The pride and beauty of men, their apparent strength, the confederations and systems which they have made so strong for themselves, when their heart was fat as brawn, are proved to be worthless and strengthless; all the men whose hands were mighty find nothing (Psalm 76:5-6). Thus, while all flesh is seen to be but grass, and all the goodliness and pride of it but as the flower thereof, the righteous word of the Lord stands for ever, and at the last rises up as a sword to smite down and to slay its enemies. “They were killed,” says Bengel. “with the destroying sword of Christ, which is not of steel or iron, but goes out of His mouth, and so is a spiritual weapon of resistless might.”