I am reading in the book of Revelation at chapter 1,where John sees a vision of a man.John then goes on to give a detailed description of the man who is without question-Jesus Christ. I notice that the vision shows a sharp double- edged sword, coming out of the mouth of Jesus.

Revelation 1:16 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Further on in the book at chapter 19, there is another vision recorded where John sees a rider on a white horse.The rider is again without question-Jesus Christ, and as before in chapter 1, the sharp sword is shown coming out of the mouth.

Revelation 19:11-16 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.He will rule them with an iron sceptre.He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

Rev 19-15

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.

When i compare Rev 1:16 with Rev 19:15 i notice that, unlike the sword in Rev 1,the sword in Rev 19 is not "double-edged."

Why is the sword in Rev:19-15 not double-edged like it is in Rev:1-16 ?


4 Answers 4


There are a number of differences between these two descriptions of Christ but enough similarities to identify them as the same person, Jesus. The differences include:

  • In Rev 1 Jesus is standing/walking among the lampstands while in Rev 19 He is riding a white horse
  • In Rev 1 Jesus is alone while in Rev 19 He has an entourage of riders on white horses
  • In Rev 1 Jesus holds 7 stars in His hand while there is nothing is Rev 19
  • In Rev 1 Jesus has hair white as wool but in Rev 19 there is description of hair
  • In Rev 1 Jesus has a gold chest sash but no sash in Rev 19
  • In Rev 1 Jesus' feet are like burnish bronze but such description in Rev 19
  • In Rev 1 Jesus has no title but in Rev 19 He is called "King of Kings and Lord of Lords"
  • In Rev 1 the sword is double edged but nondescript in Rev 19

And so we could go on. Again, despite these differences the person is the same Jesus. However, the descriptions are clearly for a different purpose, specifically:

REV 1: Jesus in Rev 1 is obviously the great high priest (Heb 4:14-16) who ministers to the seven churches (Rev 1:20). The two edged sword (despite different words in Greek) is possibly an allusion to Eph 6:17 and Heb 4:12 which is pastoral in tone. The sword here is to provide discernment of spiritual truth on the basis that it represents the Word of God.

REV 19: Jesus is Rev 19 is clearly the general of the heavenly army who rules with an iron scepter. Thus, Jesus is exerting His kingly authority and Lord Messiah - a completely different function from that in Rev 1 (which is pastoral). The sword here is "strike the nations"; that is, it is a symbol of political and military authority.

While the function of Jesus in the two descriptions is quite different, I find it fascinating that if the sword (in both cases) still represents the Word of God coming from Jesus' mouth, Jesus is to strike the nations with the Word of God.

  • 1
    @Bagpipes Hebrews and Ephesians use μάχαιρα not ῥομφαία as in the verses you cite in Revelation. Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 6:13

The double-edged sword at the beginning symbolizes salvation. It is double-edged because the Word may be rejected. The Word of salvation cuts "both ways." Thus, the (single-edged) sword at the end is a different instrument. After the heavenly celebration of salvation, those "on the outside" war against the judgement the Word of God must finally bring.

The Type of Sword
The English translation of "sword" throughout Revelation masks the original language. John employs two types of swords: ῥομφαία, rhomphaia (of this question), and μάχαιρα, machaira. The physical difference is size. A machaira is a large knife or small sword. A rhomphaia is larger. Describing either as "double-edged" is unusual as they normally would have a single edge.1,2

Machaira is the common New Testament word (29 times). Outside of Revelation rhomphaia is used once in Luke (2:35) and it is never placed in man's possession. John uses both types in Revelation. He begins with a description which is at odds with their regular appearance:

      Type       Characteristic    Possession              
1:16  rhomphaia  sharp two-edged   Christ - Mouth
2:12  rhomphaia  sharp two-edged   [Christ - Mouth] 
2:16  rhomphaia  ---               Christ - Mouth
6:4   machaira   great             Rider of the red horse
6:8   rhomphaia  ---               Death
13:10 macharia   ---               Beast/men
13:10 macharia   ---               Beast/men
13:14 machaira   ---               Not specified
19:15 rhomphaia  sharp             The Word of God - Mouth
19:21 rhomphaia  ---               The Word of God - Mouth

After their atypical characteristics, each ends correctly described. With the exception of 6:8 the rhomphaia is associated with Christ and is placed in the mouth and/or called the Word of God.

Machaira is never connected with Christ (but may refer to "word" in chapter 13). The exceptional use of rhomphaia in 6:8 has no mention of word or mouth. Here only is the use typical of the Old Testament message of judgement (see below). This "sword" follows a similar use of machaira:

And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword (machaira). (6:4) [ESV]

And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword (rhomphaia) and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

When considered together, John's description of the macharia as μέγας, (megas) creates a continuum of two large swords, both which bring death to the earth. As both swords normally have a single blade, the two riders bring death by the edge of two swords, a type of double-edged use.

John's use of μέγας to describe the machaira echoes the LXX description of two great lights in Genesis (1:16). Just as God made two great lights to give light to the earth; John envisions two large swords which bring destruction:

great light        greater light
red horse          pale horse
megas machaira     rhomphaia
destruction        greater destruction

The specific megas machaira may have been taken from Jeremiah 25:38 (some versions) or Isaiah 27:1 in the LXX; a double-edge (δίστομος) rhomphaia is found only in Psalm 149 (see below).

The Symbolic Use Rhomphaia
In his commentary Gerald L. Stevens says the rhomphaia is used in a war of words:3

Mouth: sharp, two-edged sword (1:16), martial imagery allusive of war, but "out of the mouth" means not a normal war. Rather, this is a war of words, of witness and testimony. Sword imagery in biblical contexts normally implies a word of judgement.47 John uses martial imagery throughout Revelation, but some interpreters do not pick up that John's rhetoric is subversive.48 This sword is not in the hand, as in normal warfare. Rather, this sword is out of the mouth, which makes all attempts to represent this artistically somewhat clumsy.

The only weapon in this war is words. Isaiah confirms this way of framing the conflict, as the expected Davidic ruler will "strike the earth with the rod of his mouth" and will vanquish the wicked "with the breath of his lips" (Isa 11:4 NRSV)49 This conflict is of witness and testimony, the claims of Caesar versus the claims of Christ. The sword coming out of the mouth of the Son of Man is the theological equivalent of Jesus' penetrating question to his disciples in Mark 8:29 - "Who do you say that I am" - now addressed to believers in late first-century Asia Minor. John's sword has two characteristics. Being sharp, the sword cuts through anything, including Roman imperial propaganda, as in Virgil's almost euphoric celebration of the world Augustus created as savior and peacemaker.50 Being two-edged, the sword cuts two ways, negatively as judgement, but positively as salvation.51 John's uses here echoes that in Hebrews, "For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12). With this "sword out of the mouth" imagery in the Inaugural Vision of the Son of Man, we can read ahead to be sure we make the connection John intended with the rider on the white horse in Rev 19. Note that this rider "judges and makes war" (Rev 19:11), but he is entitled the "Word of God" (19:13)...this warrior is given the description "from his mouth comes a sharp sword" (Rev 19:15), which is how those defeated are slain "by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth" (Rev 19:21).

Stevens does not comment on why the two-edged sword is not described as such later. However, as he notes, a double-edged sword cuts both ways, negatively in judgement and positively in salvation. In this case, one side would be symbolic of judgement and the other of salvation.

As Stevens notes, "double-sided" recalls Hebrews 4:12. However, John replaces the machaira of Hebrews with rhomphaia. This exchange recalls the only NT use outside Revelation:

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword [rhomphaia] will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Following Luke, John's rhomphaia conveys the sense of judging. It is apparent John has been purposeful to maintain a distinction between rhomphaia and the machaira common to the NT (especially Hebrews and Ephesians 6:17). Thus, in the NT men have the "machaira of the Spirit" and proclaim the "word of God" which is sharper than any "two-edged machaira," but in Revelation only Christ possesses the rhomphaia Word of God.

This symbolic use of the double-edged sword represents the Gospel. The Word of God which is sent to bring salvation brings judgement if rejected. Commenting on John 5:24-27 Craig R. Koester says:

In positive terms, Jesus promised that anyone "who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life; he does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life" (5:24)...In negative terms, those who do not believe in him remain under divine judgement.4

The symbolic progression from salvation to final judgement is apparent in the message to the church at Pergamum:

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. (2:12) … Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. (2:16)

The sword is Christ's (1:16). He brings His "sharp double-edged" word: salvation or judgement. For those who fail to repent He will war against them with the (single-edged) sword of His mouth. The war threatened (2:16) comes later (19:21):

Sharp double-edged rhomphaia (1:16)
Sharp double-edged rhomphaia (2:12)------>[single-edge] rhomphaia (2:16)
                                          [single-edge] rhomphaia (19:21)

Likely, John intends the reader to see two distinct instruments, the sharp two-edged rhomphaia of Christ intended for salvation which cuts "both ways" and the single-edged rhomphaia of the end.

Another Two-Edged (δίστομος) Rhomphaia
There is one use of double-edged rhomphaia in the LXX:

The devout will boast in glory, and they will rejoice on their beds. The exaltations of God are in their throat, and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance among the nations, rebukes among the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with iron handcuffs, to execute among them a judgement inscribed. This glory is for all his devout. (Psalm 149:5-9 NETS)

καυχήσονται ὅσιοι ἐν δόξῃ καὶ ἀγαλλιάσονται ἐπὶ τῶν κοιτῶν αὐτῶν αἱ ὑψώσεις τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ λάρυγγι αὐτῶν καὶ ῥομφαῗαι δίστομοι ἐν ταῗς χερσὶν αὐτῶν τοῦ ποιῆσαι ἐκδίκησιν ἐν τοῗς ἔθνεσιν ἐλεγμοὺς ἐν τοῗς λαοῗς τοῦ δῆσαι τοὺς βασιλεῗς αὐτῶν ἐν πέδαις καὶ τοὺς ἐνδόξους αὐτῶν ἐν χειροπέδαις σιδηραῗς τοῦ ποιῆσαι ἐν αὐτοῗς κρίμα ἔγγραπτον δόξα αὕτη ἐστὶν πᾶσι τοῗς ὁσίοις αὐτοῦ

Much of John's imagery can be seen as originating here. Devout people have the exaltations of God in their throat and the two-edged rhomphaia in their hands. John places the two-edged rhomphaia in the mouth of Christ to bring salvation which will result in unarmed people glorying in God, rejoicing, and proclaiming the exaltations of God.

Addendum - A Two-Edged Hebrew Word Sword Picture
The two-edged sword which is the Word of God, calls a reader to both Greek and Hebrew texts. In Hebrew, פֶּה is the word for both mouth and edge. דָּבָר is word but these same consonants also make דֶּבֶר, which is "pestilence" or "plague." So the "Word" in Hebrew from the mouth of God creates an interesting picture of a two-edged sword: enter image description here One side is the mouth bringing the Word. The other is the edge bringing pestilence, plague (6:8), and ultimately death.

1. Rhomphaia
2. Makhaira
3. Gerald L Stevens, Revelation, The Past and Future of John's Apocalypse, Pickwick Publications, 2014, pp. 271-272
4. Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, Meaning, Mystery, Community, Fortress Press, 1995, p. 88
47. Anthony T. Hanson, The Wrath of the Lamb, SPCK, 1957, pp. 166-167
48. CF. David L. Barr, "The Lamb Who Looks Like a Dragon? Characterizing Jesus in John's Apocalypse" pp. 205-206 in The Reality of Apocalypse: Rhetoric and Politics in the Book of Revelation. Edited by David L. Barr, SBLSymS, Num. 39. Edited by Christopher R. Matthews, Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.
49. Isaiah's imagery in Isa 11:4 and John's imagery in Rev 1:16 echoes in the unusual description of the lawless one in 2 Thess 2:8, "whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth."
50. Ecl. 4. Ferguson pointed out the "almost 'messianic' aura that surrounded the expectations of the people in the Augustan age," Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Erdmans, 2003, p. 114. CF. Horace, Satires, Epistles, and Ars poetica, Translated by H. Rushton Fairclough, LCL 194, Harvard University Press, 1926, 2.1.15; Andrew Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church, Paternoster, 2005, p. 163
51. Cf. Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys, 2001, p. 41

  • Hi Rev Lad, you quote, "There is one use of double-edged rhomphaia in the LXX:" I Stumbled across this scripture when studying your answer-biblegateway.com/passage/…. I find this is a bit confusing.Would the correct word here be "Rhomphaia". or "Machaira".?
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 11:33
  • 1
    @Bagpipes My understanding the word here is machaira. Here is a link to a site - obohu.cz/bible/… Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 19:51

Actually, it is a double-edged sword.

A rhomphaía is a "sharp, two-edged or double-edged" sword.

If you look at the Greek in an interlinear you'll find the rhomphaía is used only in Revelation, besides one instance in prophecy to Mary mother of Christ (Luke 2:35).

Hence, this sword is known for piercing grief, literally and metaphorically.

The word still exists in use today. Since a rhomphaía by definition is a sharp two edged-sword the adjectives are optional, unless you're reading an English translation that turns all swords (máχaira) into one word, "sword".

References: https://biblehub.com/greek/4501.htm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhomphaia


romphaia (gk.) a large broad sword, generally a sword is used in Rev. 19:15 is to "with which to strike down the nations" has to do with the function of the Sword and what is about to be done with the sword. I double edge is use for more stabbing in nature, where as a broad sword in cutting down "the nations" more wide and depth.

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