Revelation presents a Satanic consortium which is destroyed by the Rider. However, here we see no sign of the Beasts whom the Rider defeats in Revelation 19:20. In their place are a pile of distorted human bodies, the forgotten collateral damage of the battle of Armageddon. It seems as if the ‘real’ victims are not the members of the Beast’s evil consortium but rather ordinary humans. In terms of Revelation, their deaths are necessary for the establishment of the New Jerusalem but it is fascinating that Max Beckmann draws such attention to them.
The Rider himself bears some of the features of the original text: light radiates from the sides of his eyes, he wears a multi-pronged crown, and he brandishes two swords (although they do not emanate from his mouth). But overall he seems hollow-eyed and rigid, especially in comparison to the fleshly bodies upon which his horse tramples. Is this then a critique of the militaristic side of Revelation? This would hardly be a surprise given Beckmann’s own traumatizing experiences in both the First World War as a soldier and during the Second World War as an exile from his native Germany. His own image of the New Jerusalem, in which an angel wipes tears from John’s eyes, privileges a future reality based not on militaristic victories but on human relationships.
Thus, in some ways this is a confronting image (especially when placed in the context of the entire series) in which viewers are asked to question not only their reading of Revelation but also their own self-understanding, and their own sense of the victim/perpetrator dynamic that this book of the Bible harnesses even while seeking to transcend it.
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.