I note that the sword of Revelation is often a ῥομφαία (rhomphaia), Rev 1:16, 2:12, 16, 6:8, 19:15, 21. Outside of Revelation it only occurs in Luke 2:35.

I also note that ῥομφαία (rhomphaia) is consistently depicted as (symbolically) coming from the mouth of Jesus, Rev 16, 2:12, 16, 19:15, 21.

For consistency:

  • Is the sword in Rev 6:8 also from the mouth of Jesus, or at least wielded on behalf of Jesus?
  • Is the killing with the sword in Rev 6:8 related to the killing with the sword in Rev 19:15, 21?

Rev 6:8 - Then I looked and saw a pale green horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed close behind. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill by sword, by famine, by plague, and by the beasts of the earth.


4 Answers 4


The sword of Revelation is not always ῥομφαία (rhomphaia). In Rev. 6:4 a different word is used, which means ‘a great sword’ – wielded by the rider on the red horse: “and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.” This rider has but one symbol of death to wield – a great sword – massive compared with the short swords Roman soldiers generally used.

Of note, the rider of the pale horse has four means of death to deal with a fourth of the earth; the sword, hunger, death, and the beasts of the earth. This is reminiscent of the prophecy in Ezekiel chapter 14. God warned of his judgments on Jerusalem, sending famine, causing beasts to pass through the land to render it desolate, bringing a sword upon the land, then pestilence. “For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast? (vs. 21).

Unsurprisingly, the prophetic vision of God’s judgments upon the world in Revelation chapter 6 uses the same imagery. Now, you ask specifically about the sword, but – really – why pick on one symbol for death when other ones are used?. Certainly, the sword is referred to quite often in the whole of the Book of the Revelation, but if that writing teaches us anything, it is that all of such figures of speech are symbolic and not literal. Jesus does not literally have a sword coming out of his mouth, any more than robes become white by dipping them into the blood of the Lamb (the risen Christ). You have already stated that you know the sword coming from the mouth of Jesus is symbolic, of course, so that is understood.

In that case, your two specific questions require symbolic answers. The first one, ‘Is the sword in Rev 6:8 also from the mouth of Jesus?’ The text does not say that it is. The rider on that pale horse appears with his sword already in his hand. So, No, is the answer. You add, ‘or at least wielded on behalf of Jesus?’ The riders of the red, black, and pale horses are symbolic of what is to happen on earth after the Lamb opens the second, third, and fourth ‘seals’ (Rev. 5:1-8). These start the judgments of God, from when the glorified Christ in heaven started opening those seals, from when he rode forth to triumphantly conquer with a bow (yet no mention of arrows – Rev. 6:2). Once Christ rides forth on his white horse, the other horsemen follow. Those who acclaim Christ’s triumph of the cross and the resurrection are conquered by his love, not by force. But others who disdain Christ begin to suffer the effects of the other horsemen. In every generation, every century, large swathes of the population have been struck with various forms of violence that they symbolise. As one writer puts it:

“A lifeless corpse is pale: likewise the colour of the horse; and Death the name of the rider, whose companion with him is called Hell. The Lamb opens the seal, and these canter forward into time on their grisly errand over all the earth, with power given to them from Almighty God to kill the fourth part thereof, again and again, generation by generation. “Death effects this and by four means, for the earth, the whole earth, is that from which the fourth part is reaped by the grim reaper, and meanwhile Hell drawing the souls into its habitations until the resurrection at the Last Day… The cause is from above; only the means is from below. But fallen man sees nothing but the means… and three quarters of today’s people barely notice their passing. Barely notice. Nor yet at all do they hear the hoof-beats of the pale horse at their own heels.” The Revelation of Jesus Christ by John Metcalfe, pp161-163

So, the rider wields death to a quarter of earth’s population as an agent of God’s judgment, is the answer to the second part of your first question.

Your second question, ‘Is the killing with the sword in Rev 6:8 related to the killing with the sword in Rev 19:15, 21?’ seems to me to be ‘No’. That is because Revelation chapter 19 has moved on in time to Christ’s return to earth in glory, with hosts of angels, to destroy all the wicked. All the angels are on white horses (vs. 14). No mention is made of red, black, or pale horses now. They have completed their grisly ride. All the horses now are white. This is when the grapes of wrath are gathered and cast into the vat, to be trampled on. This is the culmination of all the plagues of judgments that have gone on before, throughout the generations, in all the centuries from Christ’s ascension till his return. This is when the unseen satanic forces at back of all earth’s turmoil are “cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (vs. 20). The last trump has sounded, and time is no more. The first heaven and the first earth have passed away, replaced with a new heaven and a new earth, and then comes the marriage of the Lamb. Hallelujah!

  • 1
    Many than for this thoughtful response - I corrected the erroneous statement in the question.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 13, 2021 at 21:37

I'd say it's unlikely that Jesus is holding the sword himself, It's most likely ῥομφαία being used because of the implication of the word ῥομφαία with grief and dominance. Traditionally it was the white horse that was associated with Christ as proposed by Irenaeus but technically in the context of Revelation 6, all of seals including the horsemen are being released by the Lamb, traditionally a symbol for Christ (John 1:29)

"When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” (Revelation 6:7) NIV.

I don't think there's enough evidence to suggest that Jesus is holding the sword himself but more that the sword is being used on behalf of the lamb.


Different Types of Sword
Translations of "sword" throughout Revelation mask the original language which has two types of swords: ῥομφαία, rhomphaia, and μάχαιρα, machaira. A primary difference is size. Machaira is a small sword or large knife and 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). Rhomphaia is never in the hands of a person and outside of Revelation is used only in Luke (2:35, see below).

Here is how the two words are used throughout Revelation:

Verse  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

It is unusual to describe either as two-edged, and if "great" is meant to describe size, it too would be unusual. The rhomphaia is associated with Christ and is placed in the mouth and/or called the Word of God, except in verse 6:8. Both type of swords are used in Chapter 6, which are the only uses typical of the Old Testament message of judgement (see below):

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, and as both swords usually have a single blade, death comes by the edge of two swords; taken together it is symbolic of double-edged use.

This 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 change alludes to the only other NT use:

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)

The rhomphaia conveys the sense of judging.

Revelation is purposeful to maintain the distinction between rhomphaia and the machaira as found throughout 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." In Revelation Christ alone possesses the rhomphaia Word of God.

This symbolic use of the double-edged sword represents the effect of the Gospel. The Word of God which is sent to bring salvation causes 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

A move 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 judgement at 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. (LXX-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

Some of Revelation's imagery may originate here. Devout people have the exaltations of God in their throat and the two-edged rhomphaia in their hands. Revelation changes the image placing the two-edged rhomphaia in the mouth of Christ, but there is a two-fold result. One is to bring salvation and unarmed people glorying in God, rejoicing, and proclaiming the exaltations of God. The other is judgement for those who reject Christ.

Both types of swords in chapter 6 bring physical death to the earth; neither sword is used by Christ or on His behalf, except indirectly in which death will have the tendency to move survivors toward self-examination and an eternal perspective.

Death in Revelation 6 is symbolic of physical death. There is no explicit mention of the eternal salvation of those who die. Death in Revelation 19 represents judgement Jesus describes:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

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


The Sword of Revelation 6:8

Is the sword in Rev 6:8 also from the mouth of Jesus, or at least wielded on behalf of Jesus? "NO"

Revelation 6:8 NET

8 So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it[ was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.

The name of the fourth rider of the pale green horse is "Death" and Hades with the symbolic sword were given authority over a large portion of the earth to kill with famine, plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

In a way not mentioned Hades,the common grave of mankind follows closely behind to receive the dead from the afflictions, the scriptures state that those in hades will be resurrected:

Revelation 20:13 NASB

13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them; and they were judged, each one of them according to their deeds.

Authority from Whom? On behalf of Christ ?

Ezekiel prophesied that the unfaithful Jerusalem would be punished :

Ezekiel 14:21 ASV

21 For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the evil beasts, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!

The symbolic riders of Death and Hades [ grave] were given authority -- simply God allowed the scourges to occur.

Is the killing with the sword in Rev 6:8 related to the killing with the sword in Rev 19:15, 21? "NO".

Revelation 19:15. THe answer is "NO"

The answer is "No". Since the rider of the white horse is named as "Faithfull and True" in verse 19:11, which is none other than Jesus Christ, who judges in righteousness. The NASB has the subheading "The Coming of Christ", Rev. 19:11 and the NET Bible"The Son of God Goes to War "

Revelation 19:11 NASB.

The Coming of Christ

11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness, He judges and wages war.

Revelation 19:21. NET

The NET Bible has the subheading for verses 19;17-21 "The Son of God Goes to War ", which is Jesus Christ that will execute God's judgment on the ungodly. John continues and says, he sees the wild beast and kings of the earth gathered with their armies to do war with the rider of the white horse [from Vs 11]. Where ? At Armageddon.[This is not a literal place, but worldwide]


Revelation 19:19-21. NET

The Son of God Goes to War

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. 20 Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. 21 The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh.

Revelation 19:19-21 refers to Armageddon [Rev. 16:16] in which war the kings of the earth are deceived by false propaganda, go to war against the King of God's Kingdom-Jesus. The one seated on the horse is Jesus and is carrying out God's righteous judgement on the corrupt world of mankind.


In the parable the sheep and the goats, Jesus says to goats on his left, "Depart from Me, you accursed people, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;" [Matthew 25:41 NASB] and in Vs 41, John states: " These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Eternal punishment means that there is no hope of resurrection.[Read 2 Peter 3:7 and Malachi 4:1] and since the devil and his angels cannot be literally burned up, the expression, "eternal fire" does not mean hell, but everlasting death.

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