35 - The Glorious Return of Jesus Christ
|The Glorious Return of Jesus Christ |
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And 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 he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.”
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (19:11–21)
Intro. A century ago most people believed that history was progressing inexorably toward a man-made utopia. The Industrial Revolution, the march of scientific discovery, and the increasing pace of social reform seemed to augur nothing but brighter days ahead. Today, however, two world wars; innumerable regional, civil, and national wars; countless acts of terrorism and senseless violence; and the nearly complete collapse of moral values make such rosy optimism seem quaintly naive.
§ The Bible teaches that things will be wonderfully better, but only after they become unimaginably worse.
§ There is only one solution for the world’s problems: the return of its true King, the Lord Jesus Christ, to establish absolute monarchy and unilateral authority in His earthly kingdom.
§ Only under His rule will there be peace instead of war, justice instead of inequity, and righteousness instead of wickedness.
§ But that glorious event will not occur without fierce opposition from Satan, his demon hordes, and the world of wicked sinners.
§ The Tribulation, the seven-year period immediately before Christ’s return, will see the greatest of all human world empires, headed by the evil genius known as Antichrist.
§ The earth will be infested with demons, those who have been here all along, those cast from heaven with Satan (12:9), and those released from imprisonment during the Tribulation (9:1–10, 14–20).
§ The Tribulation will also be a time of escalating human wickedness, despite the unprecedented outpouring of God’s wrath in the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments. Stubbornly hardening their hearts against the truth of the gospel, people even then will obstinately refuse to repent (9:20–21; 16:9, 11).
§ Even the destruction of Antichrist’s magnificent capital city of Babylon (chaps. 17–18) will provoke loud laments, but no repentance.
§ But while chaos and turmoil reigns on earth during the Tribulation, the raptured church will be presented in heaven.
§ The church, the bride of the Lamb, will be eagerly awaiting the marriage supper of the Lamb in the millennial earth (19:7).
§ But before that wonderful celebration can take place, the warrior King must win the final battle.
§ The forces of heaven and hell will meet in the climactic slaughter of human history, the Battle of Armageddon. At that final holocaust, man’s day will end, all of Christ’s foes will be vanquished, and His kingdom will be established.
§ God’s people throughout redemptive history have eagerly anticipated the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to defeat His foes and set up His kingdom.
§ That will be the time when
a. the destruction of Satan is completed (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20),
b. when the true King receives the ruling scepter (Gen. 49:10),
c. when God will establish the throne of David’s greater Son (2 Sam. 7:13; Isa. 9:7),
d. when the Son will rule the earth with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:6–9),
e. when the armies of Gog and Magog will be shattered (Ezek. 38–39),
f. when the nations will be judged (Joel 3:1–2, 12–14) after their defeat in battle by the returning King (Zech. 14:3–4),
g. when Jerusalem will be the center of Messiah’s kingdom (Zech. 12:3–9),
h. when the angels will gather the wicked for judgment (Matt. 13:41–42; 25:41),
i. when the wicked will face God’s wrath and indignation (Rom. 2:5–9), and
j. when the Lord Jesus Christ will descend visibly (Rev. 1:7) from heaven in flaming fire, bringing retribution on the persecutors of His people (2 Thess. 1:6–9; cf. Rev. 6:9–11).
§ The second coming of Jesus Christ is thus the culmination of redemptive history.
a. Believers of all ages have eagerly anticipated that glorious event (cf. Isa. 64:1–2).
b. In fact, the apostle Paul defined Christians as those “who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).
c. Many believers, however, are enamored by the things of the world and do not love Christ’s appearing as they should.
d. Certainly the Tribulation believers will have no such problem. They will be persecuted, hunted outcasts (cf. 13:17), living constantly under the sentence of death (13:15) in an unspeakably vile, demon-infested world. Christ’s coming will be what they long for and pray for.
§ So important is the second coming of Christ that the Bible lists several compelling reasons why Jesus must return to earth.
a. First, the numerous promises of God in Scripture, such as those noted above, demand Christ’s return.
b. Likewise, the promises of Jesus Himself also demand His return (e.g., 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20; Matt. 24:27, 30, 37–44; 25:31; 26:64).
c. The guarantee of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), is another reason that Jesus must return, since He inspired the New Testament writers to write of Christ’s return (cf. 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:16–17; Heb. 9:28; James 5:7–8; 1 Pet. 1:13; 5:4; 1 John 3:2).
d. If Christ does not return, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would be guilty of making false promises—which, of course, is impossible, since God is incapable of lying (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18).
e. God’s plan for the church also necessitates Christ’s return. He must take her to heaven to present her in preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7–10).
f. Jesus must also return because of God’s plan for the nations—their judgment (14:14–20; Joel 3:1–2, 12–14; Matt. 25:31–46), and for Israel—the salvation of the remnant of believing Jews (Ezek. 36:25–35; 37:1ff.; Rom. 11:25–27).
g. Christ’s humiliation at His first coming, when He was scorned, hated, and despised (Isa. 53:3; Matt. 26:67; 27:27–31), demands His return to display His glory (Matt. 25:31).
h. Satan’s exaltation is another reason Jesus must return to earth. The “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4; cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19) will not be permitted to keep his usurped throne (cf. Luke 4:5–6) forever. The rightful Heir to earth’s throne must return, defeat the usurper, and take what is rightfully His (cf. 20:1–3, 10).
i. Finally, the hope and expectation of God’s people demands that Christ return (6:9–10; Titus 2:13; 1 John 3:2–3).
§ The Second Coming must be distinguished from the Rapture of the church prior to the seven-year Tribulation; the differing biblical descriptions of the two events indicate that they are distinct from each other.
a. At the Rapture, Christ comes for His saints (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:16–17); at the Second Coming, He comes with them.
b. Furthermore, at the Rapture, Christ meets His saints in the air (1 Thess. 4:17) to take them to heaven (John 14:2–3); at the Second Coming, He descends with them from heaven to the earth (Zech. 14:4).
c. There is not even a hint of judgment in passages describing the Rapture (John 14:1–3; 1 Thess. 4:13–18), but judgment plays a prominent role in the Second Coming (cf. 19:11, 15, 17–21).
d. The dramatic signs accompanying the Second Coming, the darkening of the sun and moon and the disruption of the “powers of the heavens” (Matt. 24:29–30), are not mentioned in the passages describing the Rapture.
e. In its description of the Second Coming, Revelation 19 does not mention either a translation (rapture) of living believers (1 Cor. 15:51–52), or a resurrection of dead believers (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16).
This monumental, climactic passage may be divided into four sections: the return of the Conqueror, the regiments of the Conqueror, the rule of the Conqueror, and the victory of the Conqueror.
1. The Return of the Conqueror
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. (19:11–13)
1. As it did in 4:1, heaven opened before John’s wondering eyes. But unlike 4:1, heaven opens this time not to let John in, but to let Jesus out.
2. The time has come at last for the full, glorious revelation of the sovereign Lord. This is the time to which all of Revelation (as well as all of redemptive history) has been pointing, the time of which Jesus Himself spoke in Matthew 24:27–31: “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
3. As the dramatic scene unfolds, John stands transfixed, his attention riveted on the majestic, regal, mighty Rider. Jesus, the One who ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9–11) where He has been seated at the Father’s right hand (Acts 5:31; 7:55–56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22), is about to receive the kingdom that the Father promised Him.
4. In an earlier vision, John saw Jesus receive the title deed to the earth: I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (5:1–7)
5. The Lamb of that vision has become the conquering King.
6. No longer is Jesus portrayed as He was in His humiliation, “humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).
a. Instead, He rides the traditional white horse ridden by victorious Roman generals in their triumphal processions through the streets of Rome.
b. White also symbolizes the spotless, unblemished, absolutely holy character of the Rider.
c. The horse, like the crowns (v. 12), the sharp sword (v. 15), the rod of iron (v. 15), and the wine press (v. 15) is symbolic; Christ’s coming is reality.
d. The symbolic language represents various aspects of that reality—Christ’s victory over His enemies, His sovereign rule, and His judgment of sinners.
7. Continuing his description of the astonishing scene before him, John notes that He who sat on the white horse is called Faithful and True.
a. There is no more appropriate name for the Lord Jesus Christ, who earlier in Revelation was called “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14).
b. He is faithful to His promises (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20) and what He speaks is always true (John 8:45–46; Titus 1:2).
c. Though some would like to pick and choose which teachings of Jesus they wish to accept, He is just as faithful to His promises of wrath and judgment as He is to His promises of grace and salvation.
d. The description of Jesus as Faithful and True is in marked contrast with the unfaithfulness and lies of Satan (12:9), Antichrist’s evil empire (18:23), and wicked people (2 Tim. 3:13).
e. The very fact that He is coming again as He promised confirms that Jesus is Faithful and True.
f. Because Jesus is faithful to His word and righteous character, it follows that in righteousness He judges. His holy nature demands a holy, righteous reaction to sin.
g. And because He always does what He says, He must judge the wicked (Matt. 16:27; 25:31–46; John 5:22, 27; cf. Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom. 2:16; 2 Thess. 1:7–9; 2 Tim. 4:1). Jesus came the first time as Savior; He will return as Judge.
h. When He came the first time, wicked people, including Pilate, Herod, Annas, and Caiaphas judged Him; when He returns, He will judge all wicked people (Acts 17:31).
i. And He will not only be their judge, but also their executioner (vv. 15, 21). Angels may gather the wicked for judgment (Matt. 13:41), but the Lord Jesus will pass sentence on them.
8. No longer the Suffering Servant of His incarnation, the Lord Jesus Christ is seen in this vision as the warrior King who wages war against His foes. He is the executioner of all ungodly, unbelieving sinners.
a. The only other reference in Scripture to Jesus waging war is in 2:16, when He warned the worldly church at Pergamum, “Repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
b. This is not out of keeping with God’s character, however. After their deliverance from the Egyptian forces at the Red Sea, Israel sang, “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3; cf. Pss. 24:8; 45:3–5).
c. John Phillips writes: The Lord is a man of war! It is an amazing title for the Son of God. Says Alexander White, comenting on Bunyan’s Holy War, Holy Scripture is full of wars and rumours of wars; the wars of the Lord; the wars of Joshua and the Judges; the wars of David, with his and many other magnificient battle-songs; till the best known name of the God of Israel in the Old Testament is the Lord of Hosts; and then in the New Testament we have Jesus Christ described as the Captain of our salvation.… And then the whole Bible is crowned with a book all sounding with battle-cries.… till it ends with that city of peace where they hang the trumpet in the hall and study war no more. The Lord is a man of war! In righteousness He judges and makes war. The judging has been going on throughout the breaking of the seals, the blowing of the trumpets, and the pouring out of the bowls. Now He makes war. He, who for long centuries has endured patiently the scoffings, the insults, the bad manners of men; who for ages has contemplated Calvary and all that it displayed of human hatred and contempt; and who, through the millennia has made peace through the blood of that cross, now makes war over that blood. (Exploring Revelation, rev. ed. [Chicago: Moody, 1987; reprint, Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1991], 232)
d. Jesus’ adversaries this time will be the hardened sinners who have defied His judgments and scorned the gospel message during the Tribulation.
e. Despite all the devastating judgments they will have experienced, and the powerful gospel preaching they will have heard, they will stubbornly refuse to repent (9:20–21; 16:9, 11).
f. Since neither judgment nor preaching moves them to repent, Jesus will return to destroy them and send them to hell.
9. Unlike other conquerors the world has seen, covetousness, ambition, pride, or power will not motivate this Conqueror.
a. He will come in utter righteousness, in perfect holiness, and in strict accord with every holy interest.
b. Heaven cannot be at peace with sin, for God’s “eyes are too pure to approve evil, and [He] can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13).
c. There is a limit to God’s patience. Justice cannot always tolerate injustice; truth cannot forever tolerate lies; rebellion cannot be permitted to go on forever.
d. Incorrigible, incurable, hardened sinners will face destruction; mercy abused and grace rejected will ultimately bring judgment.
10. Describing the personal appearance of the majestic, awe-inspiring Rider,
a. John writes that His eyes are a flame of.
b. Nothing escapes the notice of His penetrating, piercing vision.
c. He can see into the deepest recesses of the human heart, because “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
d. Those eyes had reflected tenderness and joy as He gathered little children to Himself. They had reflected compassion when He observed distressed and dispirited people, wandering aimlessly through life like sheep without a shepherd.
e. And they had reflected forgiveness when He restored Peter, who had been crushed by guilt over his shocking denial of his Master.
f. The eyes that wept over the fate of unrepentant Jerusalem and over the sorrow, suffering, and death in this sin-cursed world, John sees flashing with the fire of judgment.
11. On His head John noted that Christ wore many diadems, a transliteration of the Greek word diadēma, which refers to a ruler’s crown (cf. 12:3; 13:1).
a. In this case, they are worn by Jesus to signify His royal rank and regal authority.
b. Many indicates His collecting of all the rulers’ crowns, signifying that He alone is the sovereign ruler of the earth.
c. Collecting the crown of a vanquished king was customary in the ancient world.
d. After defeating the Ammonites, David “took the crown of their king from his head … and it was placed on David’s head” (2 Sam. 12:30).
e. Christ alone will be sovereign, since He alone is “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (v. 16), and “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (11:15).
f. The many crowns Christ will wear are indeed a fair exchange for a crown of thorns (cf. Phil. 2:8–11).
12. Further, John notes that Jesus had a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.
a. All speculation as to the meaning of that name is obviously pointless, since the text plainly states that no one knows it except Jesus Himself.
b. Even the inspired apostle John could not comprehend it. Maybe it will be made known after His return.
13. Describing the final element of Christ’s appearance, John writes that He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood.
a. The blood is not representative of that which He shed on the cross; this is a picture of judgment, not redemption.
b. The blood is the blood of His slaughtered enemies. The imagery of this passage is similar to that of Isaiah 63:1–6: Who is this who comes from Edom, With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah, This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? “It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? “I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment. For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come. I looked, and there was no one to help, And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; So My own arm brought salvation to Me, And My wrath upheld Me. I trod down the peoples in My anger And made them drunk in My wrath, And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
c. The question arises as to why His garments are blood spattered before the battle has begun. But this is not His first battle; it is His last battle. He has fought for His people throughout redemptive history, and His war clothes bear the stains of many previous slaughters. At that day, they will be stained as never before when He “treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (v. 15).
14. That the Rider’s name is called The Word of God identifies Him unmistakably as the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1).
a. The second Person of the Trinity, the incarnate Son of God is called The Word of God because He is the revelation of God.
b. He is the full expression of the mind, will, and purpose of God, “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3).
2. The Regiments of the Conqueror
And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. (19:14)
a. The Lord Jesus Christ will not return alone, but will be accompanied by the armies which are in heaven (cf. 17:14).
b. Four divisions make up these glorified troops.
c. Earlier in chapter 19 the bride of the Lamb (the church) was pictured wearing fine linen, white and clean (vv. 7–8). Those glorified believers will accompany Christ.
d. So will the Tribulation believers, who are also pictured in heaven wearing white robes (7:9).
e. The third group is the Old Testament saints, who are resurrected at the end of the Tribulation (Dan. 12:1–2).
f. Finally, the holy angels will also accompany Christ (Matt. 25:31).
g. The white horses ridden by the heavenly cavalry are not literal horses, anymore than those ridden by hell’s cavalry in 9:7 and 16.
h. Unlike the Lord Jesus Christ, the heavenly army is unarmed; He alone will destroy His enemies. The saints will come not to fight with Jesus, but to reign with Him (20:4–6; 1 Cor. 6:2).
3. The Rule of the Conqueror
From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (19:15–16)
a. The rule of the King is described in graphic, powerful imagery.
b. John notes first that from His mouth comes a sharp sword.
c. The apostle had seen that sword in an earlier vision (1:16), where it was used to defend the church against the onslaught of Satan’s forces.
d. Here it is the sword of judgment, the flaming sword dealing death to the King’s foes.
e. That the sword comes out of His mouth symbolizes the deadly power of Christ’s words. Once He spoke words of comfort, but now He speaks words of death. As previously noted, the armies that accompany Christ when He returns carry no weapons. He alone wields the sword with which He will slay the wicked.
f. And Christ will wield that sword with deadly effect as He strikes down the nations. His elect, both from the Gentile nations and from Israel, will be preserved; the wicked He will slaughter instantly.
g. The dead will include all those gathered for battle at Armageddon; none will escape. The rest of the world’s unredeemed people will be judged and executed at the sheep and goat judgment (Matt. 25:31–46) that follows Christ’s return.
h. This is the final stroke of death in the Day of the Lord (cf. Isa. 66:15–16; Ezek. 39:1–4, 17–20; Joel 3:12–21; Matt. 25:31–46; 2 Thess. 1:6–9; 2:8).
i. The stern, swift judgment that marks the onset of Christ’s kingdom will be the pattern of His rule throughout the Millennium. During His thousand-year reign, He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (cf. 12:5; Ps. 2:8–9); He will swiftly judge all sin and instantly put down any rebellion.
j. All people will be required to conform to His law or face immediate judgment.
k. Using the same imagery of ruling with a rod of iron, Jesus promised that believers would rule under Him in the kingdom: “He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father” (2:26–27).
l. Returning to the judgment at the outset of Christ’s rule, John writes that He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. That vivid symbol of God’s wrath comes from the ancient practice of stomping on grapes as part of the wine-making process.
m.The splattering of the grape juice pictures the pouring out of the blood of Christ’s enemies (cf. 14:18–20).
n. The imagery of a wine press also portrays judgment in the Old Testament. Isaiah 63:1–3 describes Messiah’s destruction of Israel’s implacable foe, Edom, which represents the God-hating world: Who is this who comes from Edom, With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah, This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? “It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? “I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment.”
o. Joel 3:12–14 also uses the wine press imagery to depict Messiah’s judgment of His enemies: Let the nations be aroused And come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, For there I will sit to judge All the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.
p. In a final look at the returning King, John saw in his vision that Christ wore a banner around His robe and on His thigh (across His chest and hanging down on His upper leg as He rides), on which He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (cf. 17:14; Deut. 10:17; 1 Tim. 6:15).
q. This is the third name given to the Lord Jesus Christ in this passage. The incomprehensible name of verse 12 may express the mystery of His essential deity. Verse 13 calls Him the Word of God, expressing His incarnation as the Son of God. The name “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” expresses His sovereign triumph over all foes and His absolute rule in His soon to be established kingdom.
4. The Victory of the Conqueror
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (19:17–21)
a. Once again an angel plays a key role in one of the end-time scenarios described in the Apocalypse. John saw this angel standing in the sun; that is, in the proximity of the sun, possibly in front of it, partially eclipsing it. He stands in a conspicuous, prominent place to make this important announcement.
b. Evidently the worldwide darkness associated with the fifth bowl (16:10) has been lifted, since the sun is again visible. The lifting of that earlier darkness would also explain how the smoke from Babylon’s destruction was visible at a distance (18:9–19).
c. However, darkness will soon blanket the earth again, accentuating the flashing, brilliant glory of the returning Christ (Matt. 24:29).
d. As angels have frequently done in Revelation (7:2; 10:1–3; 14:15; 18:1–2), the angel cried out with a loud voice. He addresses all the birds which fly in midheaven (cf. 8:13; 14:6), inviting them to feed on the results of the carnage that will shortly ensue. The angel thus declares Christ’s victory before the battle is ever fought. His invitation to the birds is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:27–28: “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (cf. Luke 17:37).
e. The angel commands the birds to come and assemble for the great supper of God. This will not be the first time birds have feasted on human carrion in Scripture. Isaiah 18:6, describing the results of judgment on Cush (modern Ethiopia), reads, “They will be left together for mountain birds of prey, and for the beasts of the earth; and the birds of prey will spend the summer feeding on them.” Jeremiah relates that, after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, “the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away” (Jer. 7:33). In a striking parallel to the present passage Ezekiel wrote,
f. “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘Speak to every kind of bird and to every beast of the field, “Assemble and come, gather from every side to My sacrifice which I am going to sacrifice for you, as a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, as though they were rams, lambs, goats and bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. So you will eat fat until you are glutted, and drink blood until you are drunk, from My sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you. You will be glutted at My table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all the men of war,” declares the Lord God.’ ” (Ezek. 39:17–20)
g. The brief but catastrophic Day of the Lord destruction will result in an unprecedented slaughter, with uncounted millions of dead bodies strewn throughout its entire two-hundred-mile length (14:20). Even after the birds have gorged themselves, it will still take seven months to bury the remaining corpses (Ezek. 39:12).
h. It is an important fact to consider that every year millions of birds of many species migrate south from Europe to Africa. They fly over the land of Israel on their journey. The numbers of these birds and their migrating patterns has been the special study of the Israeli government because of the threat they pose to aircraft. This can certainly answer the question as to where such vast numbers of birds will come from. The geographical setting of Israel, situated between the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the vast expanse of barren desert to the east, forms the natural corridor for these migrating birds.
i. At the great supper, the birds will eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great. That all-inclusive statement reveals the worldwide extent of the slaughter. To have one’s unburied body left as food for birds is the ultimate indignity, especially for proud kings and mighty military commanders. That same ignominious fate awaits all the proud, God-hating rebels everywhere in the world, both free men and slaves, and small and great (cf. 11:18; 13:16).
j. Commentator Joseph Seiss writes about this awful scene, This tells already an awful story. It tells of the greatest of men made food for the vultures;—of kings and leaders, strong and confident, devoured on the field, with no one to bury them;—of those who thought to conquer Heaven’s anointed King rendered helpless even against the timid birds;—of vaunting gods of nature turned into its cast off and most dishonoured dregs. And what is thus forintimated soon becomes reality. The Great Conqueror bows the heavens and comes down. He rides upon the cherub horse and flies upon the wings of the wind. Smoke goes up from his nostrils, and devouring fire out of his mouth. He moves amid storms and darkness, from which the lightnings hurl their bolts, and hailstones mingle with the fire. He roars out of Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, till the heavens and the earth shake. He dashes forth in the fury of his incensed greatness amid clouds, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun frowns. The day is neither light nor dark. The mountains melt and cleave asunder at his presence. The hills bound from their seats and skip like lambs. The waters are dislodged from their channels. The sea rolls back with howling trepidation. The sky is rent and folds upon itself like a collapsed tent. It is the day for executing an armed world,—a world in covenant with Hell to overthrow the authority and throne of God,—and everything in terrified Nature joins to signalize the deserved vengeance. (The Apocalypse [reprint; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1987], 441)
k. Zephaniah also prophesied of this terrifying scene: Near is the great day of the Lord, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of trumpet and battle cry Against the fortified cities And the high corner towers. I will bring distress on men So that they will walk like the blind, Because they have sinned against the Lord; And their blood will be poured out like dust And their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold Will be able to deliver them On the day of the Lord’s wrath; And all the earth will be devoured In the fire of His jealousy, For He will make a complete end,Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zeph. 1:14–18)
l. As the next stage in his incredible vision unfolded, John saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
m.The beast is Antichrist (11:7; 13:1–8), leader of the last and greatest empire in human history. The kings of the earth are the ten kings who rule the ten sectors into which Antichrist’s worldwide empire is divided (17:12–14).
n. Their armies have assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse (v. 11) and against His army (v. 14; Zech. 14:5). The formidable and seemingly invincible armed might of the beast, with all its firepower, awaits the arrival of the Rider.
o. But before there is any battle, it is all over. In an instant, the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image (13:11–17). These two demonically empowered political and religious leaders of the world are dealt a horrible blow; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire.
p. This is the first mention in Scripture of the lake of fire, the final hell, the ultimate destination of Satan, his angels, and the unredeemed (Matt. 25:41).
· Isaiah described it as the place where “their worm shall not die and their fire shall not be quenched” (Isa. 66:24), a description echoed by the Lord Jesus Christ in Mark 9:48.
· In Matthew 13:42 Jesus added that it will be a place where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
· Revelation 14:11 says of those who suffer there, “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night.”
· Apparently, these two don’t die, but are transformed miraculously into eternal form to burn in hell. They are the first of millions of men (20:15) and angels (Matt. 25:41) to arrive in the lake of fire.
q. Hell has always existed, but this is its final form. Unlike Hades, the lake of fire is not a temporary holding place (cf. Luke 16:23) but a permanent place of incarceration and punishment. Brimstone is frequently associated with the fire of judgment (cf. 9:17; 14:10; 20:10; Luke 17:29). That the beast and the false prophet are still in the lake of fire a thousand years later when Satan is cast there (20:10) is a convincing refutation of the false doctrine of annihilationism. As the two most evil, vile, blasphemous people who have ever lived, it is only fitting that these two be the first to arrive in that awful place. The New Testament is clear on the eternality of punishment (cf. 14:10–11; Matt. 13:40–42; 25:41; Mark 9:43–48; Luke 3:17; 12:47–48).
r. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. Bereft of their commanders, Antichrist’s leaderless forces will then be destroyed, as the rest of those gathered to fight against Christ were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. As noted earlier in the discussion of verse 15, the rest of the unredeemed throughout the world will be judged at the sheep and goat judgment, which takes place at this time. Then, just as the angel foretold, all the birds were filled with their flesh. Describing the almost inconceivable carnage, John Phillips writes:Then suddenly it will all be over. In fact, there will be no war at all, in the sense that we think of war. There will be just a word spoken from Him who sits astride the great white horse. Once He spoke a word to a fig tree, and it withered away. Once He spoke a word to howling winds and heaving waves, and the storm clouds vanished and the waves fell still. Once He spoke to a legion of demons bursting at the seams of a poor man’s soul, and instantly they fled. Now He speaks a word, and the war is over. The blasphemous, loud-mouthed Beast is stricken where he stands. The false prophet, the miracle-working windbag from the pit is punctured and still. The pair of them are bundled up and hurled headlong into the everlasting flames. Another word, and the panic-stricken armies reel and stagger and fall down dead. Field marshals and generals, admirals and air commanders, soldiers and sailors, rank and file, one and all—they fall. And the vultures descend and cover the scene. (Exploring Revelation, 236)
s. The prophet Zechariah filled in more of the details of this frightening scene: Behold, a day is coming for the Lord when the spoil taken from you will be divided among you. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. And it will come about in that day that living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter.And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one. All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin’s Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s wine presses. People will live in it, and there will be no more curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security. Now this will be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth. It will come about in that day that a great panic from the Lord will fall on them; and they will seize one another’s hand, and the hand of one will be lifted against the hand of another. (Zech. 14:1–13)
t. These sobering truths serve as a warning to unbelievers to repent (2 Pet. 3:9), and also to stimulate believers to godly living (2 Pet. 3:11). “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:12–14).
cf. confer (Lat.), compare
MacArthur, J. (2000). Revelation 12-22 (209). Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.