Victory of the Trinity - Revelation 19:11 - 20:14
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
~~The Victory of the Trinity
1989 has been widely described as the ‘year of the century.’ With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, a surge of optimism swept around the world. The images which stuck in the minds of many were the scenes in Wenceslas Square in Prague, where night after night a quarter of a million people were stirred by the mesmerising speeches of the slim, boyish, moustached figure of the then dissident but later President, Vaclav Havel. As speaker after speaker drew the contrast between themselves-the revolutionaries and the totalitarian regime, the Czech crowd broke out into a chant: ‘We- are- not- like them!’ The ‘them’ being the Soviet regime described as ‘People of lies and propaganda.’ The ‘we’ were the revolutionaries describing themselves as ‘people of truth.’ The motto of the Charter 77 Movement of which Havel was a leading member was, ‘Truth prevails for those who live in truth.’
Of course at the time it seemed that Soviet tanks were going to be far more persuasive than calls for truth. But we all know what happened. The whole rotten system came falling down like the unstable house of cards it was.
The same claim had been staked
out by the one man dissident movement, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who in his Nobel
Prize speech declared, ‘One word of truth outweighs the entire world.’
Of course, standing for truth invariably means a price has to be paid. Truth, like grace, is never cheap. Both Solzhenitsyn and Havel suffered imprisonment. But truth cannot be imprisoned. Sure, attempts will be made to suppress it or distort it, but no matter how intensely such purges of truth occur, Reality will win out in the end.
And it is the victory of Truth, or to be more precise the God who is Truth, that we see coming to a climax in the passage we are looking at this morning in the Book of Revelation.
So far we have seen the first two stages of the victory of the Triune God carried out by the Son, at the behest of the Father who is the one ‘who is, and who was and who is to come’, applied by the Holy Spirit. Stage one is the faithful witness of the death of the Passover Lamb who initiates a new Exodus by way of his sacrifice on the cross. It was there that Satan, the deceiver and death itself had been effectively defeated. You see this especially in chapter 5 and 12. Stage 2 is the creation of a people drawn from the nations who have purified themselves by the blood of the Lamb which Christ has formed into a kingdom of priests- chapters 1 and 5. It is by their witness to the Truth in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, that people are set free and the kingdom extends over the earth- chapter 11. And for some this will be a witness made all the more glorious and effective in martyrdom as they are opposed by the beast and the false prophet and ultimately, Satan, who stands behind them- chapters 12 and 13.
This morning we come to the third and final stage of the victory of the Lamb when he returns to consummate his kingdom, deliver his judgement and abolish evil from his universe.
First, the triumph of the faithful -vv11-16
‘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. 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. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.’
This is not a matter of John having access to heaven through a door, rather heaven itself is opened and a figure comes down to earth. We are told that this heavenly figure rides a white horse- white being the symbol of victory, but also such a stallion would have been considered befitting a ruler. And then we are given the identity of the figure, he is ‘Faithful and True’. And we know this to be Jesus because he is given a similar title in chapter 3:14, ‘the faithful and true witness.’ But here the idea of ‘witness; has been dropped. Why is that? Well, during his time on earth, and through the work of the Spirit through his people, Jesus bore testimony to the Truth of God as Creator and Redeemer in order that people might repent and be saved. But now, the time of witness is over because the end of time has come and it is too late. Instead of coming as Saviour, he comes as Judge who will judge people according to the Truth, ‘with justice he will wage war.’ Now, although war imagery is used here, it is modified by judicial imagery-judging and so subduing and defeating God’s enemies. We need to get this right, because as someone has said, ‘This is not the slaughtered Lamb turned slaughterer, but it is the witness turned judge.’
You see, Satan leads the world astray through lies. Jesus, ‘the Word of God’ judges the world in truth. The sword he slays with comes from his mouth- which means it is a word of judgement (v15). His eyes are like blazing fire (v12) - so he is a divine judge who sees infallibly, burning away all false pretence and hypocrisy, exposing the true thoughts of our hearts. Notice, he wears many crowns which is a symbol of his status- a superlative king, which is literally spelt out on his robe at thigh height, ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ (v16). Also, since to know someone’s name, especially that of a deity or demon, was in this culture thought to possess a power over him, he has a name which in known to him alone- which is a way of saying, Jesus can’t be overpowered by anyone or anything. Do you see?
Furthermore, he is now revealed for all the world to see that he is the promised Messiah of Psalm 2, who will rule the nations with an iron sceptre’, and will execute God’s wrath which is why his robe appears to be dipped in blood (v13).
What is interesting is that all of this vision is written in the present tense. This means that although it lies in the future- Christ’s second coming, it is so certain that it can be written down as taking place now- it is a done deal.
Those who make up his army in verse 14 are the saints, who also ride white horses and are dressed in white, clean linen, symbols of victory and purity. But what is so striking about this army is that it doesn’t actually do anything. Did you notice that? Why? Well, because Jesus has done and will do it all. He is the one who saves and he is the one who judges and this army doesn’t have to lift a finger, it is simply there in attendance to watch Jesus put the world to rights and right all wrongs.
Let me ask: why is it important that Jesus is the one who judges and the saints are the ones who watch?
Throughout the Bible God promises future judgement. In the Book of Revelation, organised anti-God human rebellion is spoken of as ‘Babylon’ the great Prostitute. When it is embodied in the form of governmental powers it is the beast. And what do they do? They flout God’s laws in immorality and shed the blood of Christians in persecution- 18:24ff, ‘In her [Babylon] was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people, of all who have been slaughtered on the earth…He has condemned the great prostitute who has corrupted the earth by her adulteries.’ So when that takes place, as it is in many parts of the world today, how are Christian meant to respond? We have already seen it in earlier chapters- they are to persevere, remain faithful and witness in love. The temptation, of course, will be to become bitter and seek vengeance. No, the way of the early Christians was modelled by a 22 year old African girl. Perpetua in AD 203. With a baby at her breast she was martyred for her faith in Carthage. He father had tried everything to make her renounce her faith. First, he was rough with her, but found that had no effect. Then he turned to appeals; his grey hairs, her mother and her own tiny son who would not survive without her. All of these were thrown into the scales to induce her to change her mind and deny Christ. But she followed the way of her Saviour. Very quietly, and with great dignity and courage she went to her death.
But that does not mean that the longing for justice will not be met eventually. It will be, but not by us but by the Lord Jesus himself who alone is eminently qualified to judge. He can’t be accused of acting capriciously in a fit of rage, as he has been patient as through his people he has been reaching out to a rebellious world to lay down its arms and come to him for forgiveness. He alone in the world has been perfectly faithful and true to God the Father and so the Father hands over to him the divine prerogative to judge, to ensure that justice is carried out on all those who have inflicted such pain and misery in the world and have seemed to have got away with it.
And although it may seem strange to us with our weakened concept of punishment and justice in the West, we are told at the beginning of chapter 19 that the saints will actually rejoice when this happens, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Over two hundred and fifty years ago, the American theologian Jonathan Edwards commenting on this passage struck the right note when he said this, ‘Indeed [the saints] are not called upon to rejoice in having their revenge glutted, but in seeing justice executed, and in seeing the love and tenderness of God towards them, manifested in his severity towards their enemies.’ God so loves his children that like any parent his anger is aroused when bad things happen to them. Jesus said the same, ‘If any man offend one of these little ones, it would have been better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.’(Mtt. 18:6) - that’s Jesus speaking! What we are seeing here is that anger which has been delayed in time eventually breaking out at the end of time, and God’s people will see that he really does love them and that he really is concerned with justice, bringing the two together in the final judgement.
Secondly, we have the fate of God’s foes, vv 17-18
‘And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in mid-air, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”
Whereas the previous vision focused on Christ, this zooms in on the fate of those who reject Christ. The great angelic messenger is shining so bright that even though he is standing in the sun, he outshines it- which means this is an angel of great importance. And he is, for he makes a pronouncement regarding the ‘big supper of God’.
The scene is of the aftermath of a battlefield, with the vultures circling overhead- ‘mid-air’- and they are the ones addressed by the angel and called upon to basically gorge themselves on what is left lying around after the judgement of Christ has been delivered, as we see in the next vision in verse 21. This scene is a variation on another prophecy in the Bible, Ezekiel 39:17-20. What it depicts is the complete defeat of those who oppose God which it is universal in scope- notice it talks about all people- free/slave; great/small. Social status and prestige will mean nothing on that day. The only thing that will matter will be whose side you were on- God’s or the devil’s- there is no neutrality.
Then we quickly move on to the third vision concerning the folly of God’s enemies-vv 19-21; ‘Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.’
We are still dealing with the same scene- what is being portrayed in apocalyptic imagery as a final battle- but the focus has switched again to - the fate of the beast and its false prophet. The beast represents a state enforced overthrowing of God and his ways, and the prophet is the aid of false religion which can appear as an ideology. You see this for example in communism. So you have false prophet (Marx), false Bible (Das Kapital), false doctrine (dialectical materialism), false apostles (Lenin, Stalin, Mao,) and false hope (the arrival of a communist utopia). But there are other variants of the same theme throughout history.
The irony is that so confident are the God-opposing forces that they decide to go for an all-out assault on Christ and his followers-v 19. It is the same misplaced confidence that General Custer displayed as he rode into the Little Big Horn with his seven hundred troops only to be taken down by 2,500 Sioux and other warriors. The result- total annihilation.
But what is interesting here is that there is no final battle as such! You simply have it recorded that ‘the beast was captured and with it the false prophet.’ It’s almost an anti-climax. It’s like watching a film of D- day, with all the preparations being made, the 8,000 aircraft flying overhead, the 7,000 ships crossing the channel, and just as you were waiting for the landing on the beaches when the film cuts to troops entering Berlin! You might feel cheated. But John is making an important point by presenting it like this. In the original language John uses what is called ‘the divine passive’ to get over the fact that it is all of God’s doing. Without wishing to sound irreverent, the victory is so easy that God doesn’t even break into a sweat. And for all the deception, and all the enslavement of people’s minds, and the ruining of lives and in many cases the annihilation of countless millions through wars and mass killings in concentration camps and the like- those responsible are themselves destroyed in the most frightening way imaginable, ‘The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur.’ It is abrupt and as jolting as that. ‘Alive’ speaks of conscious torment and ‘burning with sulphur’ adds stench to the pain. Sure, these are metaphors being used- picture language, but that doesn’t lessen the seriousness of what is being portrayed, it heightens it, because in reaching for these word pictures, they all fall short because the reality is going to be far, far worse. And as for those referred to as the ‘rest’, presumably those who have followed such anti-god ideologies- well they are judged by Christ, with ‘the sword coming out of his mouth’.
see, at the moment in this world, lies and deceit, bullying and coercing, seem
to have the upper hand. The Orwellian nightmare of ‘doublethink’,
being forced to say 2 plus 2 equals five because the rulers say so, or that
there are more than two genders, when as a matter of fact there is male and
female, but saying that could lose you your job or get a visit from the thought
police is pretty much our world, the world of the beast and false prophet.
But on that Last Day no such blurring or twisting of the truth will be allowed,
not when faced with the God of truth. There will be no arguing with him because
to many people’s everlasting shame, the Truth which they had for so long
denied and derided, will be there for all to see in person and there will be
no escaping him. Solzhenitsyn will be shown to have been right, ‘One
word of truth outweighs the entire world.
The end of the battle is not in doubt; but what is often in doubt is on which side are men and women to be found. We are surrounded by people who are good pagans; decent, nice, everyday folk whose lives would not be much different if all religion disappeared from the earth tomorrow. To them God may be a reasonable possibility but never a ruling reality. They may want God on the sidelines but never at the centre. Jesus Christ is optional, expendable, perhaps admirable but certainly not King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The thing is: we have grown used to this but heaven hasn’t and the whole Book of Revelation is an exposure and a protest against it. The imagery is gruesome and deliberately so because the rebellion against the glory and kindness of God is so great that the judgement of God which will eventually come must match it. So let me ask: which side are you on?
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.