The simultaneous style of visualization employed by this unknown Flemish artist not only evokes the deterministic nature of Revelation, but also helpfully allows the viewer to contemplate the different aspects of Jesus Christ that we are presented with in the text.
The dominant image of Christ found in Revelation is that of the Lamb. He is the archetype of passive resistance and of unlikely salvation, first introduced in Revelation 5 and recurring in Revelation 7, 14, and 21–22. The marriage of the Lamb to an ‘Israel’ here read as the Church is depicted in the top left-hand corner of the image. However, as in the central scene in this image, Christ also appears in Revelation 19 (and to an extent in Revelation 1:12–20) as a messianic warrior figure, trampling his victims underfoot. At other points in the text Christ and God use the same language to refer to themselves: ‘the Alpha and the Omega’, ‘the beginning and the end’ (Rev 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13), an indicator of Revelation’s very theocentric outlook whereby the distinctions between God the Father and God the Son often appear to have broken down.
No attempt is made by Revelation’s author to synthesize these varied aspects of Christ (that of victim, victor, and God) and broadly this is reflected in this image of the Lamb, God/Christ, and the Rider on the White Horse. The White Horse is more prominent in this image, due to the artist’s faithful adherence to the text but elsewhere in the series the Lamb is clearly the dominant figure. We, the viewer, are therefore left to puzzle over the inconsistences inherent in this trifold presentation of the Christ figure, inconsistencies that the author of Revelation and the Flemish artist were apparently untroubled by.
Meditating on this image could thus become an exercise in contemplating not only the scriptural text, but also the differences between our contemporary interpretative outlook (with our desire to impose rigorous consistency on text and images) and those of our forebears, who were seemingly content to allow the many faces of Christ to exist happily alongside each other.
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. 13He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. 15From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18to 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.” 19And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army. 20And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur. 21And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.