The Triumph of the Word of God
One question that a lot of people ask about the book of Revelation is, Where does this book talk about what’s happening in the world today? The answer to this has three parts.
First, the section of Revelation that specifically deals with the contemporary scene is relatively short. It consists of chapter 19 and the first six verses of chapter 20. If you want to know what God is doing in the world today, this is where you should look.
Second, although the first eighteen chapters narrate events of the first century, they also give us the principles by which Jesus Christ governs the world and his church in all ages. The letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, for example, were written to specific churches of the first century, but, like the other epistles of the New Testament, they still speak to the church today. C.I. Scoffield was wrong when he limited these letters to specific periods of church history.
And third, even the last few chapters of Revelation, which describe the final judgment and the eternal order, speak to the church today. In Christ we are already raised up and seated in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). The heavenly inheritance that we will receive when we die or when Christ returns, whichever the case may be, is the consummation of God’s promises to us in Christ, which we have already begun to receive. The fact that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit is the beginning of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13–14).
On the other hand, too many Christians want prophecies that are spectacular beyond imagination, but in doing so they overlook the most spectacular promises of all. They fail to see the greatness of what they already have. These are the things we want to look at today.
The Second Coming?
On the surface, our text seems to be a description of the second coming of Christ. Christ comes, makes war and defeats his enemies. And since his coming precedes the millennium (i.e., the thousand years mentioned in Rev. 20:2–3), his coming is assumed to be premillennial.
However, there are many good reasons for thinking otherwise. For one thing, as Jesus ascended into heaven two angels informed his disciples that he would return in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:11). What was that manner of his ascent? Did Jesus ascend into heaven riding a white horse? No, he was taken up on a cloud (v. 9). Thus he will return. In fact, the Bible promises that we will meet Christ in the clouds. Paul wrote, For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (I Thess. 4:16–17). And further, I Corinthians 15:52 says that the second coming will occur in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. But what we see in Revelation 19 seems to be more of a process of deliberate advancement. It isn’t very likely, then, that Revelation 19 describes the second coming.
Another reason for doubting the common interpretation is the utter absurdity of thinking that Revelation 19 narrates a battle that uses physical weaponry. The United States probably has the most powerful weapons ever known to man. But, even so, what could these weapons possibly do against the God who governs the entire universe? Satan and unregenerate men may be so depraved that they really think victory is theirs, but if they ever stood face to face with Jesus Christ in a life and death struggle, they would crumble like a stale cookie. No matter how mighty their weapons, mere creatures cannot fight against the almighty, sovereign power of God.
What is really deficient in the premillennial view is an appreciation for the majesty and sovereignty of God. It assumes that God and Satan are, more or less, on an equal footing in the great cosmic struggle between good and evil. Some even claim that this world is currently belongs to Satan. And in their blindness they fail to see that Jesus Christ now reigns, and that Satan is almost irrelevant.
In the first eighteen chapters of Revelation, we have the revelation of Jesus Christ as victor and judge. He overcame the first two great persecutors of the church: pagan Jews and pagan Rome. Today’s text explains how he did this. We learn here that the driving force behind all world history is the sword that comes out of his mouth. With it he smites the nations (v. 15) and slays those who worship the beast and his image (v. 20).
Christ and His Kingdom
The Bible also teaches that the Messiah’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Isaiah 9:6–7 says, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder…. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. Ezekiel described the messianic kingdom as a river that at first was only ankle deep, i.e., it was small. But in time it increased until it was so large that it could not be crossed. It became a mighty river that provided health and healing to the people (Ezek. 47:1–12). Likewise, Daniel spoke of four successive kingdoms, after which a fifth one will arise which shall never be destroyed and shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever (Dan. 2:44). He later identified that as the kingdom of the Son of man.
From these verses and many others we see that, once the kingdom of Jesus Christ begins, it will have no end. But the question is, When will it begin?
There are dozens of passages in the New Testament that teach that this kingdom has already begun. John the Baptist preached, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2). He meant that it was right there. Jesus began his preaching ministry with the same message (Matt. 4:17) and later sent out the twelve to preach likewise (Matt. 10:7). He instructed his followers to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), which assumes that his kingdom was accessible to them. And when the Pharisees accused him of casting out demons by Beelzebub, he reminded them that his exorcisms, performed by the power of the Spirit, demonstrate that the kingdom of God had already come upon them (Matt. 12:28). The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 24:14). The book of Acts tells us repeatedly that Paul proclaimed the kingdom of God (Acts 20:25; 28:23, 30–31). And finally, in Revelation 1:9, John informed his readers that he was already their companion in the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
The kingdom of Christ advances gradually. As men are converted to Christ, they become citizens of his kingdom. Jesus compared the kingdom to a mustard seed, which, like Ezekiel’s river, begins very small but eventually grows into a vast tree (Matt. 13:30–31); and to the growth of an ear of corn — first the blade appears, later the head, and finally the full grain (Mark 4:28). It’s a simple fact that the kingdom of God cometh not with observation (Luke 17:20). It unfolds according to his schedule, not ours.
The King and His Sword
In our text the Messiah exercises his sovereign rule. He judges, makes war and triumphs over his enemies. The description of the rider of the white horse makes it abundantly clear that we’re talking about King Jesus. He’s called Faithful and True (v. 11). No mere man deserves these names. He has eyes like flames of fire, a description of Christ that John borrowed from the first two chapters (Rev. 1:14; 2:18). He has many crowns on his head, thus signifying that he has conquered the nations. He has a name that no one except himself knows, i.e., it describes one who is beyond human comprehension (v. 12). His clothes were dipped in blood — no doubt, the blood of his own sacrifice, and he is called the Word of God (v. 13; cf. John 1:1–4). He commands a colossal army (v. 14), smites the nations with the sword of his mouth, and rules them with a rod of iron (v. 15). The name on that John saw on his priestly robe and thigh is King of kings and Lord of lords (v. 16). No one but Jesus Christ fits this amazing description!
Even the battle shows the majesty and might of the Lord Jesus. It’s unlike any battle that we can read about in history or watch on television. For one thing, look at the army. How many armies go out to battle wearing clean, white clothes and riding white horses (v. 14)? These did, and they were completely unsoiled by the conflict. Notice also that there is no mention of them carrying weapons. They didn’t need any. Their king had the only weapons that could avail, viz., the sword of his mouth and the rod of iron. This is probably to highlight the fact that victory is ultimately his. But it is also immediately obvious that even his weapons were not to be understood literally, since his sword was not in his hand but in his mouth (vv. 15, 21). It could not cut off people’s heads, but it could cut through their hearts. The sword of Christ is his word. In Ephesians 6:17, Paul encouraged believers to equip themselves with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This sword is a spiritual weapon that we must use to have victory in our own lives. The gospel not only conveys a message of salvation to the elect, it also announced condemnation and judgment to the impenitent. Thus, in our text the gospel conquers the beast, the false prophet and all those who were deceived by them. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:8, the Lord will also consume the man of sin with the breath of his mouth (NKJV).
The New Testament testifies repeatedly to the victory of God’s Word as it was administered by the king. Have you ever noticed, for example, the numerous references to the power of God’s Word in the book of Acts? Consider the following examples. Acts 6:7 — And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. Acts 12:24 — But the word of God grew and multiplied. Acts 13:48–49 — And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. Acts 19:20 — So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. All totaled, the power and effectiveness of the Word of God is mentioned forty times in the twenty-eight chapters of Acts. Of course, we understand that the Spirit of God must energize the Word of God in order to make it effective and that God has chosen to spread his Word known through human agents, but the emphasis is on the Word itself. They speak as if the Word conquered the hearts and minds of God’s people all on its own. The church of Jesus Christ moved forward by the simple preaching of the gospel.
This is how Christ operated then. The ancient Romans were converted to Christianity because of the persistence of the Christian witness. We might wonder, then, whether the conquest recorded in our text was only a first-century affair. Are we looking at something that was over and done a long time ago and has no application to our own situation?
The answer is that Christ not only conquered by his Word then, but he also conquers by his Word in every age. Our king continues to ride the white horse and to lead his armies through every conflict. He’s in the forefront of every battle. His missionary ambassadors lead the way by proclaiming his triumph. And through them his Word marches across continents and lands, bringing countless men, women and children to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember that the assault of the beast and the false prophet, which threatened the existence of the New Testament church in its infancy, was just one episode in the eventual triumph of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Supper of the Great God
There really is no description of the battle in our text. That’s probably because there wasn’t much of a battle at all. The beast and the kings of the earth tried to muster an army to fight against the rider of the white horse. Apparently, they succeeded at gathering an army, but their army proved to be absolutely useless in battle. Christ captured the beast and the false prophet and cast them into the lake of fire (vv. 19–20). Then he finished off the rest of their army (v. 21).
The Lord prepared for this gigantic victory in advance. According to verse 17, even before the beast and the kings of the earth started to enlist an army, Christ sent an angel to summon scavenger birds to feed upon their corpses. It’s an extremely gruesome picture. The birds would feast on the putrid, decaying flesh of a massive army. They would eat the flesh of kings, captains, great heroes, horses and ordinary soldiers.
At the very least, this is a picture of human depravity and misery. Just watch an episode of People’s Court or Judge Judy and you’ll see sinners tearing each other apart without mercy. Yet, the greatest misery that sinners will know is the outpouring of God’s wrath in their eternal punishment. This is what they deserve and will receive for offending the most high majesty of God.
But what’s interesting is that John refers to the feasting of the birds as the supper of the great God in verse 17. It’s almost a celebration. It marks the triumph of God’s eternal purposes in his Son. The kingdom of Christ smashed the so-called kingdom of the beast and false prophet. They lay dead in the ruins. He rides forward on the white stallion of conquest.
People ask, Where are we today in all of this? But that’s not really the right question to ask. The right question is, Where is Nero Caesar, Domitian or Trajan? Where’s Philip II of Spain or Blood Mary? We know what happened to them. The more they persecuted the church, the more Christ triumphed over them. And the same thing will happen to every king who thinks his kingdom will trump the kingdom of Christ. It doesn’t matter whether his name is Ahmadinejad, Castro or Kim Il-Sung, the self-styled, “eternal president” of the Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea.
And where is Christ in all of this? Psalm 2 says that, when the kings of the earth take counsel against the Lord and his anointed, God will set his king on his holy hill of Zion and he will give him the heathen for his inheritance. He will govern them with a rod of iron, dashing them in pieces like a little clay pot. The psalm concludes with these words: Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him (Ps. 2:10–12).
Only those who bow before the Son and own him as their only king will survive the advancement of his kingdom. Amen.