Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 63:1–6
The Lord’s Day of Vengeance: “Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.’ Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress? ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me. I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.’” (Isaiah 63:1–6, ESV)
Sermon Text: Revelation 19:11-21
“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. 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. He is clothed 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, were following him on white horses. 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. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to 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.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done 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 sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:11–21, ESV)
Brothers and sisters, you notice that we are rapidly approaching the end of our study of the book of Revelation. I have mixed emotions about this. I do look forward to what’s next (a carefully study of the book of Genesis), but I’ve grown to love this book that, at one time, seemed intimidating and impractical to me. Now when I think of the book of Revelation I think of a book that is relatively clear, and immensely helpful to the people of God. The thought of the book of Revelation warms my heart and encourages my soul. That is something that I could not say five years ago.
I hope to finish our study of the book of Revelation strong. These last two and a half chapters are most glorious, in my opinion. But they are also often misinterpreted (this is especially true of chapter 20, I think). And so we should not let off the throttle as we come into the homestretch of this prolonged study, but we should finish strong – concentrating; handling the book with great care; and laboring to apply the text to our own lives through to the very end.
I wonder if you would allow me to remind you of the 7 principles that have helped to guide us in our interpretation of this book over the past year. These principles were introduced to you in sermons 2 and 3 of this series (this is sermon number 55). I have reminded you of some of these principles along the way. A couple of them I have mentioned numerous times. But I would like to quickly list them for you now to remind you of them so that they might continue to be a help to us as we approach the finish line of Revelation 22:21. These principles are drawn, remember, from Denise Johnson’s commentary, “Triumph of the Lamb.”
One, we must remember that the book of Revelation is given to reveal. The name itself suggests that it’s purpose is to take things that are mysterious and to make them clear. If the book only makes mysterious things more mysterious, then perhaps you have the wrong approach.
Two, we must remember that Revelation is a book to be seen. This book communicates truth via symbol. It’s literary genre is prophetic and apocalyptic. To take the book literally whenever possible is to ignore it’s genre. Indeed, John was shown what would take place, as the first two verses of the book indicate. John saw visions, and those visions are filled with things symbolic.
Three, we must remember that numbers count in Revelation. In other words, the numbers that we encounter in this book are also symbolic. This we have seen with the numbers 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12 and their multiples, 24, 666, and 144,000. This we will encounter again in the closing chapters with the mention of the numbers 1,000, 12, and 144. Numbers function symbolically in Revelation. We should strive for consistency in our handling of the numbers found in this book.
Four, remember that the book of Revelation makes sense only in light of the Old Testament. Put another way, the key to understanding the symbolism of the book of Revelation is the Old Testament. So no, we are not free to take the symbols of Revelation and to interpret them any way we please, but we are to allow scripture to interpret scripture. The Old Testament, and in many cases the New Testament also, functions as a key and a guide to our interpretation of this symbolic book. To look to current events as the key is foolish. To look to the rest of scripture is wise, for it is clearly what the author intended.
Five, do not forget that Revelation concerns what must soon take place. And this statement is to be understood, not from our vantage point, living now in 2018, but from the vantage point of those who originally received the letter in the first century A.D., for it was to them that John wrote, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place… Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:1,3, ESV). And remember that the same thing is repeated at the end of the book: “‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’ ‘And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book’” (Revelation 22:6–7, ESV). Any interpretation that pushes the fulfillment of the majority of the prophesies contained within this book way off into the future from the perspective of the first century audience should be met with suspicion given that it contradicts what the book says about itself. Indeed, some things in this book are about the time of the end – the second coming of Christ, the final judgement, the arrival of the new heavens and the new earth – but these reference to the time of the end are easy to identify. Most of the book describes how things will be in the time between Christ’s first and second coming. So indeed the words of Revelation 1:1 are true. This book did reveal, and does reveal, “things that must soon take place”, for, more often than not, it describes how things will be in the here and the now leading up to the consummation.
Six, remember that Revelation is written for a church under attack. The objective of the book, as you have seen, is to urge the Christian to persevere in the midst of tribulation. How sad that most preachers today say that “the church will not be here to experience tribulation.” I can hardly imagine a more backwards and unbiblical teaching. No, the book of Revelation reinforces the words of Christ when he spoke to his disciples, saying, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33, ESV). The book of Revelation portrays the church as being under constant assault. The type and the intensity of the assault will vary from time to time and from place to place, but the church will always experience pressure. And the book of Revelation says, persevere! Conquer! Overcome! Remain faithful in Christ! And it shows why we should by providing us with the heavenly perspective on the things we experience in this world.
Seven, remember that Revelation shows above all else that the victory belongs to God and to his Christ. And this is the source and foundation of all of the encouragement that we receive in this book. Though it looks as if evil has won, though it looks as if our enemies are too strong, though it looks as if Christ has been defeated and the dragon has won, the truth is that Jesus the Christ has conquered and is bring all things to their God ordained end.
These seven principles were presented in sermons 2 and 3 of this series. They have been helpful up to this point in our interpretation of this book, and I pray they remain as a help to us up to the very end.
In sermon 4 I presented seven observations concerning the structure of the book of Revelation. All of them were important. I’ll remind you once more of the seventh, which was that the book of Revelation repeats. I’ve also put it this way: the book of Revelation recapitulates. In other words, the book is not ordered chronologically, as if the order of events in the book corresponds to order of events in human history. Instead, the book is ordered thematically. It provides us, time and again, with different perspectives on the same event. It provide us with different perspective on the same period of time, be it the time immediately preceding the last day, the last day itself, the consummate state, or the church age. The book repeats. Now that we are in chapter 19 I can I ask the question, “how many times has the return of Christ and the final judgement been shown to us in the book of Revelation?” I don’t have the number for you. The point is that you know we have been brought to the time of the end again and again throughout this book, the earliest picture of it being found way back in 6:12 with the opening of the sixth seal:
“…behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:12–17, ESV)
That’s Revelation 6:12-17. It describes the day when the wrath of God and the Lamb are poured out. It’s a description of the last day. And it is found, not in the closing chapters of the book – not in chapters 19, 20, 21, or 22 – but in chapter 6! And there are many other passage like this one peppered throughout the book which provide us with a different perspective of that last day. The book is not ordered chronologically, but repeats. This you have seen clearly in our study.
So why the prolonged introduction? And why the all of the review? It is so that we might finish strong. We are coming to portions of the book of Revelation – indeed we are in one now – where it is necessary to remember these things, lest we interpret them badly.
Let’s consider what is happening here now in the book of Revelation.
Notice that there is a a lot of repetition found here in chapters 18 through to the end of 20. We are, again and again, shown something of the last day when Christ will return to rescue those who are his, to pour out his wrath upon his enemies, to judge those not in him, and to make all things new. Indeed, we were shown something about this last day way back in 6:12, but here in this section references to the last day are concentrated and they are detailed.
Remember that in chapter 18 it was the judgment of the harlot, who is called Babylon, that was described to us. Ironically she is said to be judged, not directly by Christ, but will be devoured by the beast upon whom whom she once so happily sat and the kings symbolized by the ten horns of the beast. I will not here rehash the meaning of that in detail. For now recognize that at the end of time the great cities and cultures of the world, which do seduce men and women to worship the things of this world instead of their Creator, will be judged, not directly by God, but as God does permit their self destruction. The beast (and all that he symbolizes) will turn on the harlot (and all that she symbolizes) to devour her (Revelation 17:15-18). These two, who ever since the fall have worked so happily together, will in the end self destruct. This is the judgement of God poured out upon the harlot. Revelation 18 has described it to us.
Now notice that here in chapter 19 we find a description of the judgment of two other figures. Look at verse 19:
“And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done 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 sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:19–21, ESV)
And so here we have a description of the judgement of the two beasts that were first introduced to us in Revelation 13. The beast is captured. He is the beast that John saw rising from the sea in Revelation 13:1. And so too the false prophet is captured. He is the same as the beast that was seen rising out of the earth in 13:11. This is the one who deceived men and women to receive the mark of the beast and to worship its image.
These two will be captured by Christ and his army, and they will be “thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” And those who belong to them and follow them will be “slain by the sword that [comes] from the mouth of him who [is] sitting on the horse”, that is to say, Christ.
And so do you see that by the end of chapter 19 the return of Christ has again been described to us. When he returns he will pour out his wrath upon all of his enemies. All will be slain who do not belong to him.
The beast, symbolizing political powers that persecute – symbolizing nations and kings and their armies who oppose Christ and all who belong to him – will be judged – thrown into the lake of fire.
The false prophet also, who symbolizes those social and religious and economic institutions that the evil one uses to urge the worship, not of Christ, but of the beast, will also be judged – thrown into the lake of fire, we are told.
And all who follow after these two will also be slain. In verse 21 we read, “And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh” (Revelation 19:21, ESV).
You do understand that this passage describes the judgement that will come upon people at the end of time, don’t you? This passage refers to the judgement of people – that is to say, all not in Christ.
Yes, in the vision we see two beasts and the multitude of people that follow them. But we should remember that these beasts symbolize people – people who have positions of power within governments. People who are kings. People who are governors. People within armies. People who teach false things. People who use powers of many kinds to turn the screws on God’s people. These are the once who have listened to the false prophet themselves, who have bowed before the beast from the sea, and who now do their bidding. Put another way, these are the ones who have taken the mark of the beast who, at the end of time will be judged personally by Christ. This is what is symbolized here in Revelation 19.
Isn’t that what the announcement of the angel of verse 17 tells us. He cried out and “with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God, to 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” (Revelation 19:17–18, ESV).
And so notice that by the end of chapter 19 we are taken yet again to the end of time and we are shown something of what will happen when Christ returns. When he returns that harlot Babylon will have been ravaged. When he returns he will slay the beast from the sea, the beast from the land, and all who have followed after them, trusting, not in Christ, but in this world.
Who is left then to be judged? Who is left to be judged in the narrative of the book of Revelation? The beast, the false prophet, and the harlot have been judged. Who is left of the enemies of God? What other loose end need to be tied up before the new heavens and new earth can come in fulness?
The answer is that the dragon must be judged. The dragon, that ancient serpent is still roaming, as far as the narrative of the book of Revelation is concerned. Put differently, have been made to rejoice by the end of chapter 19 as the enemies of God and his people fall one by one – the harlot, the beast, the false prophet and all who belong to them and serve them – but the reader should also here stop and ask, what about the dragon who did motivate them all? What about the dragon, that ancient serpent, whom the beast, the false prophet and the harlot did serve?
Look ahead with me briefly and see that that is what chapter 20 describes. Chapter 20 does not follow chapter 19 chronologically, but it repeats and provides for us another persecutive on the dragon, his career, and his judgement. Verse 7 of chapter 20:
“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:7–10, ESV)
When will this happen? It will happen when Christ returns. It will happen on that last day when Christ returns. It will happen on the same day when the beast, the false prophet, and all who belonged to them will be judged. It will happen when Christ returns. He will return to do many things – to rescue those who belong to him who are under assault, to pour out his wrath upon the enemies of God, and to cast the devil himself into the lake of fire to “be tormented day and night forever and ever”. When Christ returns he will judge, after which he will make all things new.
If we assume that the book of Revelation is organized chronologically we will be very confused. Indeed, we will be confused throughout (not knowing what to make of all of the reference to the end peppered throughout, nor knowing what to make of the mention of the birth of Christ in 12:1), but we will be especially confused here in chapters 18, 19, and 20 as we try to fit this all on a timeline. It is far better to see that the book is organized thematically and it that it does recapitulate, providing for us different perspectives on the same period of time, in this case, the last day when Christ returns.
More broadly, the book of Revelation describes to us how things will be in the whole time between Christ’s first and second comings. It tells a story. It paints a picture, telling us about the challenges we will face in this world, and how things will go in the end. It exposes our enemies. It shows their true character. It shows their end.
Go with me to Revelation chapter 12. And notice how Revelation 12:1 all the way through to Revelation 20:10 tell a story.
In Revelation 12:1 we were introduced to a women with child. Who is this woman? Remember, she symbolizes Mary the mother of Jesus. More than that she symbolizes Israel who was indeed “pregnant” with the Christ until he did come. Even more than that she symbolizes Eve, who heard the promise of God when he spoke to the serpent who deceived her, when he said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV). So even Eve was “pregnant” with the Christ as she carried within her womb the promise of God concerning a Redeemer who would come from her seed.
This woman of Revelation 12 – who is Eve, Israel, and Mary – was pregnant with a child. And she was being harassed even before the child was born. And who was it that harassed her? “A great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” (Revelation 12:3, ESV). In 12:9 we were told that he is, “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” (Revelation 12:9, ESV).
This dragon pursued the woman. But she was kept by God, being preserved by him in the wilderness.
This dragon sought to devour the Christ child, the “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5, ESV).
But the battle between the dragon, the woman and her child was not over. “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea” (Revelation 12:17, ESV).
So there is a conflict, then. There is a battle that rages between the dragon, who is Satan, and Christ. The dragon was confined to the earth at Christ’s first coming when Christ was caught up to heaven where he is now enthroned.
On earth the people of God find themselves under assault, then. They are pursued by the dragon even still. But the dragon uses the beast from the sea (political powers that persecute), the beast from the land (false prophets), and the harlot who rides upon the beast from the sea (the seductiveness of the world), to war against the people of God. These three were introduced to us successively in chapters 13 and chapter 17.
Now notice what we have here in chapters 18, 19 and 20. Each of these enemies of God are removed from the scene in the reverse order they were introduced.
First the harlot is made desolate. The beast that she once road turned on her to devour her, and the people of the hearth lamented her fall. This is what chapter 18 describes.
Secondly, the beast and the false prophet are captured and thrown alive into the lake of fire. This is described in chapter 19.
And thirdly, the dragon himself who did motivate these three is also judged. This is described in chapter 20 with the words, “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10, ESV).
Friends, the book is ordered thematically, and not chronologically.
The enemies of God and his people are introduced:1, 2, 3, 4.
The promise is that God will preserve those who belong to him even as they are pursued, tempted, and assaulted on earth by these enemies.
And then the enemies are swiftly removed from the seen having been judged by God and his Christ: 4, 3, 2 and 1.
Do you see, then, how everything comes to focus upon Christ who is our Champion and our King?
The enemies of God seem, at first, to be so powerful, so terrifying, so ferocious. They are the seven headed and ten horned dragon, the seven headed and ten horned beast, the beast who speaks like the dragon, and the harlot who’s seductiveness made even John the Apostle to marvel at her.
And indeed, Christ seems to us to be distant. He was, long ago, caught up to heaven – crucified, buried, raised and ascended. We do not see him now. We see our enemies! We feel their power! And indeed they do look so intimidating to us! But what does God word reveal? Our Lord will one day return. And when he does he will slay all of his and all of our enemies with the word of his mouth.
John “saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse”, the kind of champion war horse that a Conquering King would ride.
“The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11, ESV). This is Christ our King!
“His eyes are like a flame of fire”, because he sees all and will judge with purity in the end.
“And on his head are many diadems” which put the ten counterfeit diadems warn by the dragon and his beast to shame.
“And he has a name written that no one knows but himself” (Revelation 19:12, ESV), for though we know Christ truly, we cannot comprehend his power and glory fully.
“He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood”, for his is the one who will tread out the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19, ESV).
“The name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13, ESV). It is God’s word that will stand in the end, friends.
And this great warrior King is not alone, but has “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure… following him on white horses” (Revelation 19:14, ESV). Who are these? They are his people, redeemed from the earth, who have been caught up with him to meet him in the air on that last day (1 Thessalonians 4:17). They are the Bride of Christ. She “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 (Revelation 19:7-8, ESV)”. These redeemed of the Lord now return with the Lord to conquer with him.
Verse 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” (Revelation 19:15, ESV).
This is in fulfillment to that great Messianic Psalm, Psalm 2, which says,
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2, ESV).
Lastly we read that, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, this is the story that followers of Christ the world over need to hear.
These truths are the ones we need if we are to stand up in the face of persecution, false teaching, and the seductiveness of the world.
Look at the end of the matter, friends.
The things of this world that seem so attractive to you – look at their end! Do not go the way of the harlot. Her end is destruction; her path leads only to death.
Think also of the end of the false prophet who’s words seem so pleasant to your ears. The false prophet will be cast alive into the lake of fire. Pay no attention to his smooth and flattering speech! Listen instead to God’s word which stands forever. Look to Christ and trust in him, for he is the Word of God; he is the one who will slay his enemies with the double edged sword which proceeds from his mouth. Give heed to God’s word. Obey the word of Christ if you wish to have life. Reject the words of the false prophet. His end is destruction; his path leads only to death.
And what about those who persecute you? Think of their end. Think of what Christ will do to those who have assaulted his beloved Bride when he returns for her on that last day.
It is popular today to only talk of the love and mercy of God. And indeed God is loving and merciful, but he is also holy and righteous and just. If you do not believe in a God who will judge in the end, then you do not have the God of the scriptures, but an idol that you have erected for yourself in the mind and in the heart. If you do not believe in a Christ who will judge in the end, then you do not have the true Christ, but a false Christ who is the product of your worldly imagination. Friends, God and Christ will judge in the end. Concerning this the scriptures are clear.
And this is a comfort to the people of God, particularly those who have experienced persecution. True, we are to pray for our enemies. True, we are to love them. And it is the knowledge that God and his Christ will set things right in the end which enables us to do so. It’s not ours to take vengeance – that is God’s job. It is not ours to pour out wrath – Christ will. Indeed, it is this knowledge that enables to love even those who persecute us.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19–21, ESV).
How comforting it is for the people of God to know that if we suffer in this world our Savior, who has himself suffered, will set it right in the end.