Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotes are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
The description of the end of the world and its whole world system (chapter 18), is followed by a celebration in Heaven, which is covered in the first six verses of this chapter.
This chapter gives us two views. Both follow the judgment of the world:
View one: The eternal blessings of God’s people, which is seen in the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” This is our uniting with Christ as one people, that time when we are finally all together as one people in Christ, where we will spend eternity in His presence.
View two: The eternal punishment of all those who reject and die without Christ.
The first part of this chapter shows us the outcome of the redeemed that follows the judgment of the world of chapter 18. The second part of this chapter shows us the outcome of those who reject Christ, which also follows the judgment of the world as shown in verses 11-21. Chapter 18 gives us one view of the judgment of the world, while chapter 19 gives us another. The first view of the judgment of the world is followed by the outcome of the redeemed, while the second view of the judgment is followed by the outcome of the lost, those who die without Christ.
Therefore, we’re not to view the return of Christ and His judgment upon the world of this chapter as different from the judgment of the world of chapter 18. They are the same event, but with different views of it. Likewise, we see different views of this judgment in the following passages:
A study of each of these passages gives us a complete picture (as revealed in this book) of the final judgment of the world. It’s a disastrous mistake to understand these passages as different events. It’s only as we piece these events together that we get a full understanding of God’s judgment upon the world and of those who belong to it. To understand them as different events does nothing but promote wild ideas about what occurs at the end of time. It becomes a confused mess.
The judgment of the world in this chapter is in the context of the return of Christ. The “war of Armageddon” (Rev 16:12-21) is the final war between God’s people and the people of the world (also see commentary on Rev 11). That is what we see in this chapter, verses 11-21 (also Rev 16:12-21). This war begins with a worldwide assault against Christians. A significant number of God’s people are killed, but then He brings them back to life via the resurrection for all the world to see. Those Christians who are still alive at that time, will be caught up with them. Again, see commentary on Rev 11. This is followed by the outpouring of God’s wrath upon the world, which is what we see in this chapter. All of chapters 16 and 18, and nearly all of chapter 14, are about this same judgment. Again, study the whole list of passages above for a complete picture.
The beast and its image, and false prophet: The judgment of and end of the beast and the false prophet are highlighted in this chapter. If you’ve been following along in this commentary, you know that the beast is the kingdom of darkness, and the false prophet is the combined rulers of that kingdom (Satan and his demons). The image of the beast is the kingdom of the world. The kingdom of darkness casts its image upon the world (see commentary on Rev 13). Thus this chapter highlights the judgment and end of that which deceives and rules the people of the world—namely those who die in their sins without Christ.
The judgment and end of Satan is highlighted in chapter 20. The focus of this chapter is on the beast and false prophet.
(Rev 19:1) – 1 After these things I heard as it were a great voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, Hallelujah; Salvation, and glory, and power, belong to our God:
This heavenly celebration (verses 1-6), which connects the events of chapter 18, reveal more than the celebration of the defeat of a certain city or belief system. This is obviously a celebration much greater in scope.
(Rev 19:2) – 2 for true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great harlot, her that corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.
This “great harlot,” which is “Babylon the great,” is judged because she “corrupted the earth with her fornication.” This harlot is responsible for the corruption of the entire earth. This cannot refer to a single city or belief system, but can only describe a world system that impacts all people. Furthermore, John says that God “avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.” This refers to all of God’s servants who were persecuted and martyred for Christ. This cannot possibility be due to a single city or a single belief system. The shed blood of God’s people all around the world, throughout history, can only be attributed to a worldwide system that opposes the truth of Christ and His people.
(Rev 19:3) – 3 And a second time they say, Hallelujah. And her smoke goeth up for ever and ever. 4 And the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God that sitteth on the throne, saying, Amen; Hallelujah.
Compare the celebration and worship in the passage below ( ch 11, seventh trumpet) with this passage in chapter 19. The “twenty-four elders” and God’s “reign” (verse 19:6) are mentioned in both passages. A careful comparison of both passages reveal that this celebration and worship of God is the very same event, which is clearly God’s judgment upon the world and its whole world system…..not just a single city or single belief system. Both reveal the end of the world and the beginning of God’s eternal reign:
(Rev 11:15-19) – 15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever. 16 And the four and twenty elders, who sit before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces and worshipped God, 17 saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign. 18 And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear thy name, the small and the great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth. 19 And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.
(Rev 19:5) – 5 And a voice came forth from the throne, saying, Give praise to our God, all ye his servants, ye that fear him, the small and the great.
If “Babylon the great” was a particular city or a particular belief system that only affected one group of people during a certain time in history, why would “all” of God’s servants be instructed to “give praise to our God?” That wouldn’t make any sense. What does make sense is that they all have a common enemy – throughout history – and that common enemy can only be a general worldwide system that is in opposition to God and His people. “Babylon the great” has to be that world system. It has to be the whole world.
(Rev 19:6) – 6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah: for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth.
Again, the mention of God’s “reign” that is also in Rev 11:15,17, indicates that the two passages are dealing with the same event, which is God’s judgment upon the world….the end of the world. It’s the end of the “kingdom of the world,” and the beginning of “kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11:15), which is the Eternal Kingdom of of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21 & 22).
(Rev 19:7) – 7 Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
NET – 19:7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
“The wedding celebration of the Lamb” is our uniting with Christ as one people, that time when we are finally all together as one people in Christ, where we will spend eternity in His presence. The Church is the “bride” of Christ (Eph 5:22-33). This is the same bride that is mentioned in Rev 21:1-2, and includes all the redeemed in Christ throughout history:
(Rev 21:1-2) – 1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
It’s the people of God, all the redeemed who are the “holy city, new Jerusalem.” But to be clear, the “New Jerusalem” is both the “bride” of Christ and the eternal city (see commentary on Rev 21). While the “bride” is commonly understood as the Church – as those who are in Christ – the bride is to be regarded as all of God’s people throughout history.
I believe the “wedding celebration of the Lamb” takes place after the judgment of the world and the judgement of Rev 20:11-15, where all individuals stand before Christ. It makes sense that this wedding celebration would occur after everything that is old is done away with, and all things have become new. Again, that would include the full judgment of the world and its entire evil system (Rev 18), the judgment of Rev 20:11-15, along with the destruction of the old universe (2 Pe 3:10-13). I believe that’s what Rev 21:1-2 indicates. So to be clear, I believe the wedding celebration occurs right after the creation of the “new heaven and new earth,” preparing us for life in the Eternal Kingdom.
It doesn’t make sense to me that our wedding celebration with Christ would occur immediately following our resurrection, while this world of sin still exists and no one has yet to stand before Christ in judgment. A true celebration would be when all of the old life and the old world is behind us, and we are beginning our eternity in the presence of God. When a marriage between two people occurs, it signifies a brand new beginning of life together. The old life is left behind, and a new relationship and a new way of living one’s life has begun. Thus the idea that this marriage between Christ and His people takes place during this current world order, before the judgment of the world and the judgment of individuals (Rev 20:11-15), is completely out of harmony with all that marriage represents.
Premillennialism teaches that this “wedding celebration,” this “marriage supper of the Lamb,” takes place prior to the beginning of the so-called millennial (1000 year) kingdom. However, as we’ve already discussed, that wouldn’t make any sense. It doesn’t fit what a true marriage represents. Furthermore, nowhere does the New Testament teach or make room for a millennial kingdom. For a better understanding of that, I encourage you to read my “Kingdom of Christ” series.
The fact that the premillennial timing of the wedding celebration is out of harmony with what marriage represents, is a strong argument against the idea that there will be 1000 year kingdom on earth prior to the Eternal Kingdom. It doesn’t fit.
(Rev 19:8) – 8 And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
This verse is easy to interpret, for John tells us himself what the “fine linen, bright and pure” means. It represents the “righteous acts of the saints.”
Also, these wedding garments represent our salvation, as Jesus Himself reveals in Rev 3:4-5 and Rev 3:18 (also Rev 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13,14 – see commentaries). Thus the “righteous acts of the saints” speaks of our salvation. You may ask, “isn’t that a works salvation?” The answer to that, of course, is an emphatic no! The Bible doesn’t teach salvation via works or even works-plus-faith. Salvation is completely via faith in Christ. However, the Bible teaches that true faith is characterized by faithfulness. That’s exactly what James teaches in James 2:14-26. Furthermore, true saving faith is not a single act of a single moment, but a faith that endures throughout one’s life. We see that taught in this one book alone, particularly in Jesus’ address to the seven churches (see commentaries on chapters 2 and 3).
(Rev 19:9) – 9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are true words of God.
NET – 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
Those who are invited to this “wedding celebration,” this “marriage supper of the Lamb,” are all believers throughout history. To limit this wedding celebration to a particular group of believers (for example, Church-age believers) is senseless. All believers are united with Christ, through a common faith in Christ. This is the celebration of all believers as we all enter into the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2).
We’re reminded at this point, that “these are the true words of God.” This is not some fairy tale that we’re reading. It’s not too good to be true. No, this is a wonderful reality to look forward to for those who are in Christ.
(Rev 19:10) – 10 And I fell down before his feet to worship him. And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren that hold the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
NET – 19:10 So I threw myself down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “Do not do this! I am only a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony about Jesus. Worship God, for the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
It’s a bit difficult to understand why the Apostle John would fall down at the feet of this angel in worship, but he did. It was a severe mistake in judgment, and he was rebuked for it. This revelatory angel reminded him that worship is reserved for and deserved by no one but God alone, and that he too is but a “fellow-servant” of the Lord, just as John was. (see Col 2:18)
“that hold the testimony of Jesus”
“who hold to the testimony about Jesus”
NET Notes – The genitive ᾿Ιησοῦ (Ihsou) has been translated as an objective genitive here. A subjective genitive, also possible, would produce the meaning “who hold to what Jesus testifies.”
Considering that the book of Revelation is largely a book about our witness for Christ before the world, I believe that the NET has it right, that the correct understanding of this statement should be “our testimony about Jesus,” and not the testimony that Jesus Himself gives. However, our testimony is, of course, based on His testimony about Himself. Without His own testimony, we have no testimony as His followers.
It should also be pointed out that this angel may have been referring to the other Apostles and prophets, and not Christ-followers in general. But I lean toward all Christians.
“for the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
This is a difficult statement to interpret. However, the book of Revelation is a book of prophecy—of things to come. Jesus is central and key to all of prophecy. From beginning to end, all things revolve around Christ as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (vs. 16), as Creator and Ruler of the universe. All people are accountable to Him. All people will stand before Him either as Savior or as Judge. People will either spend eternity in His presence or will be cast into the “lake of fire” away from His presence (Rev 20:11-15).
Therefore, I believe the “spirit of prophecy” should be understood as Jesus being the central focus of, and key to understanding it. There is no correct understanding of future things in this world or of eternity apart from Christ.
In the context in which this is given, this angel was reminding John that Jesus alone is worthy of worship, and is therefore, central to the prophecy of this revelation that he was given the honor of seeing. It was important that John kept things in proper perspective.
(Rev 19:11) – 11 And I saw the heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.
NET – 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war.
NET Notes – “Or ‘in righteousness,’ but since the context here involves the punishment of the wicked and the vindication of the saints, “justice” was preferred.”
From this verse to the end of the chapter, the final judgment of the world is in view. This is commonly known as the “War of Armageddon” (see commentary on Rev 16:16). To make sure we’re clear on the order of events, I believe Armageddon begins with a world-wide assault against the followers of Christ, where believers are killed on a large scale. They’re then brought back to life via the resurrection for all the world to see. This would, of course, include believers who are still alive (see commentary on Rev 11). So what we’re seeing in this chapter is the final victory over all the enemies of God’s people. This is the end of the war of Armageddon.
Whichever rendering is correct, Christ “judges and goes to war” in righteousness and in justice. God is just and righteous in all that He does. Therefore, the judgment of the world of rebellious sinners is just. There is no unrighteousness in God by punishing those who are sinful and reject Christ as their Lord and Savior. He is a pure and holy God, and there can be no fellowship with God as long as sin separates them. Therefore, God cannot allow sin to dwell in His eternal presence. Heaven (Eternal Kingdom – Rev 21-22) is a place that is totally absent of sin. To obtain a right relationship with God, and to dwell in His eternal presence, people must be forgiven of their sins and be born-again into the family of God (John 3:1-8). The way of salvation has been provided, and sinners must respond in faith.
“a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True”
A literal “white horse” is certainly possible. However, I believe that it’s symbolic of the King of the universe leading all His people in triumph over all His enemies. I don’t believe that there are horses in Heaven, and that they travel through the whole universe to come to earth. Nevertheless, it’s possible that this is how the people of the world are made to see it.
For sure, the return of Christ is both literal and visible, for all the world to see (Rev 1:7; Acts 1:9-11; Matt 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62). In Acts 1:9-11, the two angels told the eleven Apostles that Jesus would return in the same way that they saw Him leave. Jesus did not leave on a white horse…..but He did leave physically, and in a “cloud.” I believe this cloud refers to angels, that Jesus was accompanied by angels as He went back into Heaven. Therefore, while I don’t believe that Jesus returns on an actual horse, He does return with all His holy angels. How exactly Jesus does that, or how it looks to the people of the world, I don’t think we can know for sure. But again, it very well may be that the picture given to us here in this passage is how the world will see Him.
“Faithful and True”
Jesus is “faithful” to His word and in everything that He does. He is totally faithful to fulfill the will of His Father. In context, He is faithful to fulfill all that He taught about this day of judgment against His enemies. He is faithful to work on behalf of His followers to bring judgment upon those who persecuted, tortured, and killed His people who were faithful to Him.
He is also “true.” Jesus is the truth. He stands in contrast and in opposition to every false way. He is against the false system of the world, which is what this judgment is about. This is a “war” between all that is true and all that is false. This is the final judgment of the world, against all that deceives and turns people away from the true God. This is the final judgment against those who rebel against the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Rev 19:12) – 12 And his eyes are a flame of fire, and upon his head are many diadems; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself.
NET – 19:12 His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself.
“Eyes are a flame of fire”
(See commentary on Rev 1:14)
Refers to His authority as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (vs 16). He has a right to “judge and make war,” for He is the Ruler of the universe, and all are accountable to Him. Furthermore, as the Ruler of the universe, He cannot lose.
“a name written”
John tells us that no one knows what this name is except Jesus Himself. So any suggestions to what this name may be, is no more than a guess. However, here is what James Coffman and Albert Barnes says about this name:
There are two excellent interpretations of this, either one of which, or both of which, may be correct. “The unknown name of Christ comports with the fact that his nature, his relationship to the Father, and even his relationship to humanity, transcend all human understanding.” Barclay thought it might be, “The sacred tetragrammaton, the sacred YHWH, the unpronounceable, unknown name of God.” The status of Christ as God in the New Testament makes this altogether reasonable and logical. The sacred Hebrew word for God is still not known to any man; and it would be appropriate enough applied to Christ.
This cannot here mean that no one could read the name, but the idea is, that no one but himself could fully understand its import. It involved a depth of meaning, and a degree of sacredness, and a relation to the Father, which he alone could apprehend in its true import. This is true of the name here designated – “the Word of God” – the “Logos” – Λόγος Logos and it is true of all the names which he bears.
(Rev 19:13) – 13 And he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
“sprinkled with blood”
This could refer to the blood that Christ shed for mankind. However, within the context of this judgment, it’s more likely that this refers to the blood of mankind that is shed in this judgment against them (Rev 14:19-20). Jesus avenges the blood that the world shed against His people (Rev 19:2).
(Rev 19:14) – 14 And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure.
The “armies which are in heaven,” should be understood to include both all the angels and all the saints in Christ (Matt 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 2 Th 1:7; 2 Th 3:13; 4:14).
Throughout the history of the world, both angels and the people of God have been involved in spiritual warfare and in dealing with the enemies of God. Therefore, this victory over all the enemies of God is shared by all who have served Christ—both angelic beings and the redeemed.
“followed him upon white horses”
Again, I don’t believe these are literal horses, but are symbolic of a mighty army that is going forward against the enemy. I don’t believe heavenly horses really exist (vs. 11).
“clothed in fine linen, white and pure”
As it relates to the saints, this is symbolic of salvation—forgiven and cleansed and made white in the blood of the Lamb (vs. 8. Also see commentaries on Rev 3:4-5; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,14). In regard to these holy angels, they would naturally be clothed in these garments, for they have never known sin. In other words, these are heavenly garments shared by all that dwell in the presence of God.
(Rev 19:15) – 15 And out of his mouth proceedeth 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 of the wrath of God, the Almighty.
“a sharp sword”
This obviously refers to the Word of God (see commentary on Rev 1:16). This is not much of a “war,” for with only His word, Jesus judges and defeats “the nations.”
“shall rule them with a rod of iron”
Christ will “rule” His enemies, not as their King, but as their judge—as He “treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty.” He will rule them in the sense that He will have absolute authority over them as He carries out His will against them. “With a rod of iron,” gives us a picture of total demolition, as an iron rod against a clay pot.
“the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty.”
(See commentary on Rev 14:14-20)
(Rev 19:16) – 16 And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
I love this title. Our Lord and Savior is truly the “King of kings and the Lord of lords.” He is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, and we have Him as our God. The world may mistreat us and attack us and torture us and kill us, but in the end, WE WIN! Jesus will defeat all those who oppose Him and His followers, and we will spend eternity in His glorious presence, while His and our enemies are cast into “outer darkness” (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), forever and ever away from the presence of God. Therefore, we must live our lives with eternity in view, as we keep our eyes on our King.
(Rev 19:17) – 17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in mid heaven, Come and be gathered together unto the great supper of God;
“the great supper of God”
There are two suppers mentioned in this chapter, the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (vs. 9), and the “great supper of God” of this verse. These are contrasting supper-gatherings. One is the gathering of believers as one complete people in Christ, and the other is the gathering of God’s enemies for judgment. This judgment of the world will be followed by the judgment in front of Christ before they’re cast into the “lake of fire” (Rev 20:11-15).
The word “supper” has the idea of satisfaction. When we eat, our hunger is satisfied. Thus God’s wrath upon His enemies is satisfied. God is a God of love, but He is also a God of wrath. Many people have a difficult time believing that, but it’s true, for He is a just God, and He therefore, must punish sin. If He didn’t, He would not be a just God.
(Rev 19:18) – 18 that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses and of them that sit thereon, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, and small and great.
I believe this image of “birds” eating the flesh of those gathered against the enemies of Christ, is mostly symbolic, especially when we consider the inclusion of “horses.” In today’s world, horses are not normally used in battle. Furthermore, this judgment upon the world is not a war in the true sense of that word. There is no real battle between God and His enemies. A war indicates a struggle on both sides, but there is no struggle on God’s part. What we’re seeing here is the judgment and defeat of all the people of the world—all those who are outside of Christ.
However, since I believe that God’s judgment of the world may involve the release of nuclear weapons (see commentaries on Rev 16 and 18), the imagery of birds eating the flesh of all the people of the world, may be interpreted literally. In that case, this would be in the beginning stage of this judgment, for eventually all life – which would include birds – will be destroyed by the time Jesus returns at the end of this judgment.
(Rev 19:19) – 19 And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army.
We need to be clear about what’s going on. The gathering of the world against Christ that we see here, is the beginning of what is known as the “War of Armageddon.” This is where the world of unbelievers move against the Christians of the world with the purpose of destroying them. As Rev 11 reveals (see commentary), a large number of believers will be killed. However, God brings them back to life for all the world to see via the resurrection. Therefore, this gathering that we see in this verse is the beginning of this so-called war.
“make war against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army.”
This is not to be understood as a gathering against Christ Himself, but against His followers. In other words, it’s not that the world sees Christ and His army on horses, and then moves against them. That is nonsense. No, when the world makes war with His people, they war against Him. Thus when the world-wide assault against the Church occurs, in a true sense, it’s an assault against Christ, whom we as believers represent.
The pre-trib rapture view of prophecy teaches that the “rapture” occurs before the “great tribulation” of the world. However, I believe those who are clinging to that belief, will be not only shocked, but ill-prepared for what will come upon Christians before the return of Christ. I’ve made the case elsewhere that the New Testament doesn’t teach a pre-trib rapture, but has to be assumed based on a positional bias. Not only does the NT not teach it, but it’s an American or western understanding. We have it so good in our country that we can’t imagine a worldwide persecution against Christians. Furthermore, we can’t imagine that God would require us to go through such horrible tribulation. But again, that’s a western understanding, because there are a huge number of Christians in other countries who are going through this same type of tribulation now—being tortured and put to death in unimaginable ways. Premillennialists may have a hard time convincing those Christians of their position of a pre-trib rapture.
(Rev 19:20) – 20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought the signs in his sight, wherewith he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast and them that worshipped his image: they two were cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone:
“the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet”
ESV – “And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet”
The fact that the beast and false prophet were “taken” (captured) instead of being killed like the “rest” (humanity – vs. 21), confirms that the beast is the kingdom of darkness and that the false prophet is the demonic rulers (all together as one ruler) over that kingdom. Since we’re talking about a kingdom and demonic rulers, they can’t be killed like human beings. Therefore, they must be “taken.” Satan and his kingdom of fellow-demons are taken and cast into the eternal lake of fire. The “rest,” the people of the world, will all be killed in this worldwide judgment.
Upon the return of Christ, when all people of the world are killed, and God’s judgment upon the world is complete, then all will be resurrected to stand before Christ in what is known as the Great White Throne Judgment of Rev 20:11-15. In this verse (19:20), the focus is on the judgment of the Kingdom of darkness (and its rulers) and the kingdom of the world—which is the “image” of the beast.
To be clear, as discussed in chapter 13, “the beast” is the kingdom of darkness. The “false prophet” is the combined rulers of darkness (Satan and his army of demons). The “image of the beast” is the kingdom of the world (the whole world system). In other words, the kingdom of darkness casts its image upon the world. The “mark of the beast” is the symbolic mark of identification of those who belong to Satan and his kingdom. It’s not a physical mark, but a symbolic identification of all unbelievers that God sees. The rejection of the truth that is in Christ is the unbeliever’s identification with Satan and his kingdom, whether they realize it or not.
Note: The “eighth king,” the “man of sin” of Rev 17:11 and 2 Thessalonians 2 (see commentaries on Rev 11, 13 and 17) is viewed as “the beast,” who appears just before the return of Christ. In other words, the beast is viewed as a king, rather than a kingdom (see commentary on chapter 17). He will embody all the kings and kingdoms that came before him. He will be completely indwelt and controlled by Satan, and will lead the worldwide assault against Christians before Jesus comes back in judgment against them.
(Rev 19:21) – 21 and the rest were killed with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, even the sword which came forth out of his mouth: and all the birds were filled with their flesh.
The “sword,” of course, is the word of Christ, and not a literal sword. By His word the people of the world are killed. Jesus speaks, and it’s done. An expanded viewpoint of this judgment is seen in Rev 16, where the bowl judgments are poured out on the world. It’s not clear how everything will work together, exactly. There are a lot of unknowns about this judgment and how it all comes together.
I believe the imagery of the birds feeding on the flesh of unbelievers is mostly symbolic—symbolic of the defeat and death of the enemies of Christ. In the beginning of the judgment, there will surely be birds feeding on the flesh of the dead, but eventually all life-form on earth will be dead, which obviously includes birds.