This is a sneak preview excerpted from my book The Book of Revelation: A Prewrath Commentary (forthcoming, spring 2014).
(11) Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. (12) His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. (13) He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. (14) And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. (15) From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (16) On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev 19:11–16)
There are four reasons why I believe the “armies of heaven” refers to God’s people.
First, Revelation 17:14 describes God’s people being associated with the anticipated battle of Armageddon: “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Rev 17:14).
Second, the “armies of heaven” in v. 14 are described as “arrayed in fine linen, white and pure.” This attire is strikingly similar to the attire that is described in the immediate context describing the Bride: “for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:7–8).
Third, v. 14 says the armies were “following him on white horses.” This idea of “following” suggests redeemed people. Notice that this “following” is associated with the notion of purity (“arrayed in fine linen, white and pure”). This “following” by pure ones connects back to Revelation 14:4, “These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from humanity as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev 14:4).
In addition, notice that they follow the Lamb “wherever he goes.” Why would this not also include “following him on white horses”? This does not necessarily mean God’s people will actually participate in combat; the Armageddon passage does not specify this. It would certainly be a safe place to follow the Lord while he swiftly and single-handily slaughters his enemies!
Fourth, in the battle of Armageddon, Revelation 19:15 says, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev 19:15). Elsewhere in the book of Revelation, it says the overcomer (believer) will be given authority to do the same: “And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations— he will rule them with an iron rod and like clay jars he will break them to pieces” (Rev 2:26–27). So this similar language and context indicates that believers will not only accompany Christ into the battle of Armageddon, but it also suggests that believers will be participating in combat—with, of course, a certain outcome, victory.
Finally, I do not want to rule out that angels as well will accompany Christ at Armageddon. They helped administer the trumpet and bowl judgments; why not be associated with the battle of Armageddon? There is nothing that requires that it must be either/or; it could be both/and, God’s people and angels accompany their Creator into battle. And the plural “armies” may suggest both groups of angels and the redeemed. In any event, it most likely refers to the redeemed people of God—not as if Warrior Jesus needs our help!