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Who is Christ’s Avenging Army? Angels or Saints?

Why would Jesus teach us to lay down the sword and to turn the other cheek, only to have us rise up in the bloodiest battle of history?
Read Time: 14 minutes

At times a comment made during discussion with brethren will remain occupying my mind long after the discussion ends. One such case involves a segment from Psalm 149:

Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to wreak vengeance on the nations and chastisement on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 149:5-9 RSV).

The brethren concerned viewed the Psalmist’s words as proof that the saints will engage in hand-to-hand combat to assist Christ in the slaying of the wicked hordes of the Gogian host. The thought of wielding a sword and taking vengeance upon the enemies of Israel seemed to be an exciting prospect to some participating in the discussion.

Reflection upon this thought was and remains disturbing to me. Why would Jesus teach us to lay down the sword and to turn the other cheek, only to have us rise up in the bloodiest battle of history? Why would the Master teach “thou shalt not kill” to be the letter of the Law but “don’t even be angry with your brother” to be the true spirit of the Law, if we are to yet wreak vengeance on the nations?

There is no question that Almighty God is the judge of all the earth, and when His righteousness is rejected, His commands disobeyed and His worship ignored, He does require men’s lives as the penalty for their sin. Under his Divine rule, Israel was the arm of His judgment over the nations, and even David in obedience to God’s commands, did slay his tens of thousands.

In Christ, however, warfare is not the conduct that the LORD originally ordained. Jesus as king of the coming Kingdom of God is to bring a restoration of peaceful Eden to a war-weary world. As his subjects we have been trained to be faithful servants exhibiting the fruits of the spirit and not vengeful warriors.

Naturally, brethren have asked me, “If the LORD God asked you to take up the sword for his sake, would you refuse?” Of course not!” was my reply, but it would be something that I would dread rather than relish. What is the truth, brothers and sisters? What does Jesus expect of us at his return? Will we be asked to become killers? Or will he expect us to act as he has taught us: to continue in gentle and meek service to him?

What does Jesus expect of us at his return?

Does Psalm 149 really teach that in the Last Days, we will be joining a vast army to execute God’s wrath? I don’t think so. If we consider the passages from Psalm 138 onward, the words of David are being read. These verses are the refrain of that great King of Israel who was anointed by God to defeat the wicked nations round about him and to keep Israel obedient to the Almighty’s laws.

He was specifically charged by the command of God to execute judgment in the land and on the nations. There is nothing in this series of Psalms to suggest that Psalm 149 is at the time of the end. Rather, Psalm 149 is a call to arms for the men of Israel to follow David and support him in battle. It is not a call for the saints in the Last Days to take up arms for Christ.

Turning next to Revelation, we find a chapter often used by brethren to demonstrate the belief that the saints shall accompany Christ into battle:

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure —for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
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.
His 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.
He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 
And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses.
From 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. (Revelation 19:7-15 RSV).

This is a magnificent scene of the Lord Jesus Christ riding into battle on a white horse, followed by all the armies of heaven. Many brothers and sisters understand those arrayed in fine linen who slay the kings and captains of the wicked nations to be the saints. My question brethren remains, “Is this really what is going to happen?”

Much of the Book of Revelation is symbol and allegory. That being the case, do we see the following depictions as literal or symbolic?

Is Jesus’ robe actually dipped in blood?

Are His eyes really a flame of fire?

Is a sharp sword coming out of his mouth?

Are we to actually tread the winepress of blood?

Clearly the imagery represents the destruction of evil and the victory of the righteous, but hardly in a literal war. In fact, the most powerful weapon that Jesus uses is that sharp sword in his mouth.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).

Without doubt, the sword that Jesus uses is the “word of God.” The “word of God” reveals truth and exposes error. It judges rightly and exposes evil. But the question remains, “Who are the armies of heaven? Are they the saints (the bride of Christ in verses 7 and 8) who are clothed in fine linen? Or are they the angels of God—his heavenly host?”

Throughout Scripture, angels are frequently described as being clothed with fine linen. Consider these three examples:

And out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. (Revelation 15:6 ESV).
And someone said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream, “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (Daniel 12:6 ESV).
Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”  (Ezekiel 9:3-4 ESV).

To my mind, the “armies of heaven” conveys a very different message than a multitude of saints. God’s armies are, in fact, the heavenly host of angels that surround Him and are prepared to do His bidding, whether it be bringing judgment, delivering his commands, or warring against the nations. Jacob and Elisha were privileged to momentarily see this host:

Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; and when Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s army!” So, he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” Genesis 32:1-2 RSV.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire [angels] all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17 ESV).

When Israel was in the wilderness, the LORD and His armies of angels came from Sinai:

And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints [holy ones ESV]: from his right hand went a fiery law for them. (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV).

When God delivered the Law to the children of Israel from Sinai (which is what this verse is about) did He really bring “ten thousands of (immortalized) saints” with Him? Surely that is impossible, for all of the deceased saints were, at the time, still dead and buried. There had been no resurrection. The word “saints” must then mean something else and indeed, in most modern versions, “saints” is translated as “holy ones.” Thus, the ten thousands of “holy ones” were God’s angels; his heavenly host come to do his bidding.

“Heavenly host” or “LORD of hosts” (Hebrew: “armies”) refers to the army of angels mentioned both in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, as well as other Jewish and Christian texts. The account of the birth of Jesus by Luke serves as an example:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2: 13-14 ESV).

The LORD of Hosts is a very common description of the Almighty because it assigns to Him the whole host of heaven as His army. The word for “hosts” has a military orientation. Strong makes the following entry regarding its meaning:

HOST—H6635 tsâbâ’ tsebâ’âh

From H6633; a mass of persons (or figurative things), especially regularly organized for war (an army); by implication a campaign, literally or figuratively (specifically hardship, worship): – appointed time, (+) army, (+) battle, company, host, service, soldiers, waiting upon, war [-fare].1

This same Hebrew word (tsâbâ) is used in 1 Kings to describe how the LORD God is surrounded by His angels:

And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left. (1 Kings 22: 19 ESV).

As we learn from the New Testament, our Lord Jesus taught that, while the Creator has the charge of His army of angels, the newborn children of God in Christ are blessed with an entirely new mission. While we are still to combat evil and to defend the way of the LORD, our weapons are neither made of steel nor utilize arrows. He tells us, in fact, that we are to lay down the sword:

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26: 52-53 ESV).

What then are the weapons of war that the saints will actually be using to overcome wickedness? They are none other than the armor of God which the Apostle Paul commended to the brethren of Ephesus:

Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6: 13-17 RSV).

This is our warfare. We take on the whole armor of God and with these spiritual weapons we defeat the enemy, which is sin in the flesh. Jesus was clad in this armor as well and used his sword; namely, the words of his mouth, to defeat sin and to punish evil.

When we turn our attention to Revelation 1 and 2, we will see how the imagery and many symbols are used to convey this message:

And in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast;
his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow;
his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters;
in his right hand he held seven stars, from his [Jesus’]mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1: 13-16 RSV).
And to the angel of the church in Per’gamum write: “The words of him [Jesus] who has the sharp two-edged sword… But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. 
So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola’itans. Repent then.
If not, I [Jesus] will come to you soon and war [spiritually] against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:12, 14-16 RSV).

Jesus tells his ecclesias to repent. If they fail to do so, he will make war against those who bring in false teachings with the sword of his mouth; that is the word of God.

Jesus tells his ecclesias to repent.

I reference two more passages that I have heard used by some Bible students to imply the saints will join Christ in the latter-day warfare. The first was spoken to the brethren at Thessalonica:

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints [Holy Ones–Gk. Hagios just means holy]. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 RSV).

“Increasing and abounding in love” and being “unblameable in holiness” does not sound like a call to arms. In the NIV, verse 13 is translated as “holy ones,” which in the Old Testament is frequently the term denoting the angels.

The second verse I have heard used to defend the saints’ participation in war is from Zechariah:

Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints [holy ones, Heb. qadosh] with thee. (Zechariah 14:3 -5 KJV).

In regard to the term “saints,” Strong has the following notation:

saints—H6918 (holy ones ESV)

qâdôsh qâdôsh

From H6942; sacred (ceremonially or morally); (as noun) God (by eminence), an angel, a saint, a sanctuary: —holy (One), saint.2

Again, in the ESV and the NIV, the last line of verse 5 reads “holy ones,” not “saints.” Interestingly, in both Hebrew and Greek, the root words for “saints” simply means “holy,” and being an adjective, it is always translated to describe something. For example, holy things, Holy Spirit, holy people and holy angels.

I suggest therefore that in the two passages examined, the term “holy ones” refers to God’s holy angels who will accompany Jesus when he returns.

Now, let’s see what the rest of Scripture says about the coming of Jesus. The Scriptures do seem to bear out the belief that it is the angels who accompany Christ at his return. Repeatedly, we read of their involvement in the events of the advent:

Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24: 30-31 RSV).
He answered, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers [judgment]. (Matthew 13: 37-41 RSV).
For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done [judgment]. (Matthew 16: 27 RSV).
When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats [judgment]. (Matthew 25: 31-32 RSV).
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels [judgment]. (Mark 8: 38 RSV).
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering– since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus [judgment]. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 RSV).

The angels are tasked with executing God’s judgments upon the nations. We are to spend our lifetime in training for the Kingdom, not in preparing for war, but in loving our enemies and reaching out to all who do not see the light of the gospel. Our lives are to be examples of the mind of Christ Jesus as evidenced in us by the fruits of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 RSV).

May this mission constantly occupy our minds.

Al Hussey,
Niagara Ecclesia, ON


This  article is an excerpt from a book Bro. Hussey has published, called “Bible Studies on the Book of Revelation and the Last Days.” It is currently available on Amazon as a paperback, and as a Kindle eBook.

  1. Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. (New York, New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1890)
  2. Ibid.
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