In Revelation 13, John sees a vision of a seven-headed beast who rises from the sea, and he describes that scene in part by noting that the beast has “blasphemous names on its heads” (v. 1). In verse 6, the beast “opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling.” Likewise in chapter 17, John writes of “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names” (v. 3). On the forehead of the woman “was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations’” (v. 5). John makes this observation in 18:3 about the fall of this woman (the “great city” of 17:18 that has dominion over the kings of the earth): “all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her.” Both the beast and the woman have names on their heads that aptly describe their character, out of which flows the actions consistent with their names. The beast and the woman are symbols of the satanic forces at work in the earth, filling it with evil and immorality. While the beast is the embodiment of the hatred, rebellion, and violence against God and His saints, the woman represents the spirit that seduces fallen humanity into sexual immorality, greed, and pride.
God’s Word recorded by John in Revelation has, at the very least, a threefold intent. In the first place, John is writing to encourage and comfort the seven churches (and us) with reminders that Christ is presently enthroned in the heavens and that He is present among His churches. Christians may endure much suffering and many temptations in this world, but we are neither alone nor without strength to endure. Secondly, John reminds his readers that the discharge of our duties to be faithful witnesses, to render worship unto God, and to love our neighbors is set against the backdrop of the evil influences of the beast and the woman. Thirdly, John constantly reminds us that evil in this world will be dealt with absolutely and decisively by the Lord who is enthroned, who is Lord of all creation, and who is also the redeemer and sustainer of His saints.
The theme of the new cycle of visions — the exacting of divine justice, the triumph of righteousness, and the vindication of the saints — begins at 19:17. The harlot’s fall is recorded in chapter 18 with the resultant celebration recorded in 19:1–10. But verse 11 opens a new vision that emphasizes the one who triumphs. The victorious one in verses 11–16 (Christ) is clearly set in contrast with the evil forces that have ravaged the earth. This contrast is seen particularly in two things. First, the issue of Christ’s position is addressed. As the heavens are opened, John sees one sitting on a white horse. This heavenly location is in contrast to the one beast rising from the seas, the other rising from the earth, and the harlot sitting on the waters. The fact that the white horse rider proceeds from heaven is indicative of His preeminence and superiority over the inferior and subordinate forces that have troubled the earth in their rebellion against His dominion. It is He who is enthroned in the heavens (1:4) and rules over the kings in the earth who now rises arrayed for battle against those who have opposed His heavenly reign.
Secondly, the point of contrast is seen in the names ascribed to this warrior who descends from His heavenly throne. We have already seen how the names ascribed to the two beasts and the woman are consistent with their evil deeds and character. This warrior from heaven is given four names, one of which “no one knows but himself” (v. 12). The revealed names are: “Faithful and True,” “the Word of God,” and “the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (vv. 11–16). Space will not allow me to expound upon each of these names. I will, however, view them collectively in terms of what they communicate to the saints. This climactic scene of Jesus seated on a white horse in heaven preparing to wage war against the forces of evil is the hope and confidence of all who possess faith in Him. It is the vindication of all who have suffered for His name and have endured much affliction for the sake of the gospel. What is revealed here is that the sovereign Lord of heaven is exalted above all other powers. And although it may appear at times that evil will prevail, the purposes of God will never be frustrated. The songs of worship in 4:11, 5:9–10, and 12–13 extol the virtues that are prominently displayed in chapter 19. We know that we have salvation in the name of Jesus (Matt. 1:21), but this fuller disclosure reveals our Savior in the fullness of His majesty and His retributive justice. Jesus is true to the names ascribed to Him in this passage and this is our confidence in the face of our tribulation.