Monday, April 27, 2020
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. (vv. 11-16)
The Book of Revelation is the Apostle John’s account of the great visions given to him by God concerning the second advent of Jesus, the future of the church, the judgement of the wicked, the final defeat of Satan, and the inauguration of the age to come. It was originally addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The primary purpose of the Book of Revelation is two-fold. First, it is a call to the church to remain faithful to the end of the age. Second, Revelation is a word of comfort to the persecuted church that God will indeed judge the wicked and cast down the ancient serpent (Genesis 3; Revelation 20). For those generations of Christians who have been impoverished, pursued, imprisoned, and slaughtered for their faith in Jesus, this message has served as a great comfort. While the kingdoms of this world prosper now; while they seem to succeed in their wicked designs they will be brought to ruin by the righteous hand of King Jesus. As part of his triumph, the Lord Jesus who is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (vs. 16) will welcome his church, his bride into the great eternal wedding feast of the Lamb (vv. 6-9).
During the 19th and 20th centuries it became increastingly common to criticize Christianity as a religion of escapism – always looking to the future, obsessed with heaven. The highly influential philosopher Friedrich Nietzche frequently blasted Christianity as a “slave ethic,” a choice of weakness and defeat in this life in favor of a pie-in-the-sky fantasy of heaven. Those criticisms persist today.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis responds directly to those criticisms. He writes:
A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither. (p. 135)
Chapter 19 of Revelation is sober to say the least. It is a picture of the coming destruction of the wicked when Jesus returns as King. It is an ultimate putting right of all that is wrong. It is the final word against sin and wickedness and all those who remained hard-hearted in their unbelief. It is a message hated by the world (and many professing Christians) who, if they believe in God at all, expect only mercy and are scandalized by Divine justice.
This same chapter which holds such terror for the wicked also holds great joy for the people of God. The final destruction of wickedness coincides with the eternal joy and rest for the church of Jesus.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (vs. 9)
This vision of the church’s future is not merely truth for which to be thankful (though it certainly is that!). Knowledge of the church’s future ought to inform how Christians live today. We live in light of eternal realities therefore we do not cling to this world as though it is our good. We know that every injustice, every sin, every act of wickedness against God and his people will be avenged by God (Isaiah 61:2; Jeremiah 51:36; Ezekiel 24:8; Matthew 3:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Therefore, we have the freedom to never seek vengeance upon those who harm us. Vengeance is God’s business (Romans 12:19). Because of that, Christians are free to love their enemies and to pray for those who curse them. What is more, because of the terrifying prospects of God’s coming judgment, the church is to labor with great urgency to call sinners to repent.
This is the fulfilment of the great promise held within the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2 is that God has prepared for his people an eternal rest. The first 3 verses of Genesis 2 record the creation of the seventh day – the Sabbath Day. It is that day created and set apart by God for the blessing of his people. And in the age to come we will no longer wait through a weekly cycle of days looking forward to that one day specially set apart for worship and rest because life in the new creation is one eternal and joyful seventh day.
Since mankind’s tragic the fall into sin (Genesis 3) we have labored under the weight of sin and sin’s consequences. Our work is toilsome, our bodies decaying, and our relationships fraught with pain and conflict. But by God’s grace there remains for us an eternal rest in the presence our Lord; a rest whereby we will remain productive, enjoy sinless communion with one another, and best of all we will forever behold the beauty of the Lord.
The second half of Revelation 19 (vv. 11-21) is a graphic depiction of Christ’s triumph over the wicked. It is a depiction of Christ’s second advent as he returns as a Warrior King. Notice how John uses an interesting turn of phrase in verse 17. He’s already unveiled the vision of the great wedding supper of the Lamb – a picture of the church’s final redemption. But in verses 17 and 18 he writes: “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.”
God’s victory signals the vindication of his righteousness which has been mocked, questioned, and denied for generations. But the victory of King Jesus also signals that his people can finally rest from their warfare; their conflict with the principalities and powers of this present evil age (Ephesians 6:10-12).
The church’s future is one of peaceful rest. The battle will be over. The victory will be once and forever won. And just as we sing in the great hymn – “And the great church victorious will be the church at rest.”