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THE RETURN OF THE KING
Several weeks ago, I bought a T-shirt off the internet. I did so hoping it might become a conversation starter with strangers. My hope was more than fulfilled. Not once in all the times I’ve worn it have I failed to receive a comment or compliment about it. In fact, when I wore it last, my radiologist wanted to know where she could get one for her husband. If you look at its picture below, you’ll see why it draws such attention.
You and I live in a day of superheroes – Superman, Batman, Ironman, Spiderman, etc. Of course, not one of them is real. Yet they have captured the attention of my grandson and millions of other children. So, I use the shirt to explain to those who comment that while it’s fun to pretend that superheroes are real, there is only One Superhero who has ever lived – Jesus, who really did save the world, but the way He did so was by dying for our sins.
That is the event we celebrate at Christmas. We celebrate the first coming of Jesus who died on a cross to save us from our sins. That may not win Him the glamor of comic book heroes, because what comic book heroes specialize in is power. But again, they like their victories, are fictitious. The only supernatural feats ever achieved by a human being were through the power of Jesus Christ who stilled a storm, fed a multitude with a few loaves and fishes, healed people of incurable diseases, and then following His crucifixion rose miraculously from the dead. Furthermore, what the world forgets is that the coming of Messiah was prophesied to be in two parts – the first, to deal with sin; and the second, to deal with His enemies. Hence, Jesus is coming again. This time not as the meek and mild Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world but as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who will judge His enemies and set up a kingdom of righteousness that will last forever.
That is the focus of this study. In Revelation 19, we witness the Return of the King. At the Rapture, you remember, Jesus will return in the air for His saints to save them from the wrath of God to be poured out on the world. But in Revelation 19, Jesus returns to the earth with His saints to end the Tribulation and set up His kingdom. In so doing, two great themes stand out. The first is the vindication of God’s people. The second even more important theme is the vindication of Christ’s glory.
- THE VINDICATION OF CHRIST’S PEOPLE
For 2,000 years, Lucifer has been allowed to tempt, slander, persecute, and counterfeit Christ’s church. I think of that now as the world celebrates the first coming of Christ at Christmas. I wonder how many celebrants truly love Jesus. But it is not mine to worry, for one day soon the devil’s deceptions will end and those who genuinely love Jesus will be honored as the true worshipers of God, while those who hate His church will be punished for their sins. Notice three ways Christ will vindicate those who worship Him.
A. He Will Judge Our Enemies
Verse 1 begins, “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in Heaven shouting: 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, and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants.’ Verse 6 adds, ‘Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah for our Lord God Almighty reigns.’”
Ever since Handel wrote the “Hallelujah Chorus,” it has been regarded as the most sublime expression of praise performed by man. God’s hand was seen in that it took Handel but three days to write the chorus. But here that earthly chorus is eclipsed by the Heavenly choir that inspired his song. What does “Hallelujah” mean? “Praise the Lord!” a phrase found only here in the New Testament, and used four times in six verses to describe the ecstasy of Heaven’s worship. What inspires such feelings? John points to two things:
- The end of false religion
Verse 2 reads in the original language, “True and just are His judgments, because He has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her fornication.” Because gives the reason for heaven’s joy. In chapter 17, we learned that the great prostitute is the city of Babylon who gave birth to the false religions of the world and is the force behind the persecution of the saints. Therefore, it is fitting that before Jesus introduces His bride the church, He should judge false religion and that the church in Heaven should rejoice. In fact, God commands it in Revelation 18:20. “Rejoice over her, O Heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! For God has judged her for the way she treated you.”
Imagine! No more cults twisting Scripture or distorting the person of Christ. No more ACLU opposition to the mention of God in government or the public schools. No more persecution of God’s people anywhere! Whomever you talk to in that day will instantly agree: “Jesus is Lord!” We’re not to relish the judgment of sinners, but we are to long for the day when Christ will receive the glory that He alone deserves.
- The beginning of the Kingdom
Verse 6 literally reads, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude . . . shouting: ‘Hallelujah for our Lord God Almighty has begun to reign.’” It’s not that Heaven’s throne is inactive today. God is still on His throne ruling and overruling to accomplish His will. It’s that the church’s prayers for a kingdom are finally being answered. God’s kingdom will now come and His will is done on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matt. 6:10)
B. He Will Introduce His Bride
The multitude continues in verse 7, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory for the wedding of the Lamb is come and His bride has made herself ready.” To appreciate this event, we must understand the wedding customs in John’s day, which consisted of three phases. First, the betrothal. This was a binding legal contract between the parents of the bride and groom, which meant the two parties were legally married though the marriage would not be consummated for many years. That was the relationship between Mary and Joseph when Mary was found to be child with by the Holy Spirit. During this period, the bride prepared her trousseau and the groom prepared an extra room to his father’s house where they would live. Then, following the betrothal, the groom would return for his bride, surprising her with a shout and escorting her to the room he prepared for her. There the wedding was conducted with a marriage feast to which many were invited.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of our relationship with Jesus? Right now we’re in the betrothal period. Legally, we belong to Him and love Him, though we have not yet seen Him, because He saved us and and purchased us with His own precious blood. During this period, important preparations are being made. Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2. Meanwhile, we the bride prepare our trousseau here on earth.
Of what does this trousseau consist? Verse 8 says, “fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints. Don’t misunderstand! The devil is a liar. Before we accept Christ, he tells us that we must earn our salvation– something the Bible denies. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). But then we accept Christ, and what does the devil whisper next? “Now that you’re saved by grace, you don’t have to do anything about it!” But that’s wrong too. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10). In other words, once we are saved, we began to prepare for ourselves the garments we will wear forever. No believer will be naked in that day. Jesus promised if we love Him, we will be clothed in white garments.” (Rev. 3:5). But the degree of glory with which those garments shine is the result of “the righteous acts” we perform today.
In John’s day, men wore two pieces of clothing — a robe-like undergarment called a tunic, made of plain white linen. That represents the righteousness of Christ, which He gives each follower as a gift. No one will be allowed into God’s presence without that spiritual covering. But on the outside of the tunic, there was also a loose, dressy robe, known as a toga. That’s analogous to our righteous deeds as Christians. 1 Corinthians 3:12 suggests that we can adorn it with gold, silver, and precious gems, if we serve Him faithfully. But if not – if we live foolishly and selfishly – we will lose our rewards and be rather shabby in appearance. So be careful! What you sew today, you will wear for eternity!
Following the betrothal period, two events will occur. First, Jesus will return for His church. In John 14:3, He said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” 1 Thessalonians 4 adds, “The Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout . . . Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together . . . in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Second, after the rewarding and wedding of the church to Christ in heaven, will follow the marriage supper of the Lamb on earth. That’s what’s announced here: “Rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7)
When and where will this feast take place? Some say it’ll happen in Heaven before Jesus returns to earth. I disagree. Remember what Jesus said at the institution of the Lord’s Supper: “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matt. 26:29) For that reason, I believe it’ll be the first order of business when the kingdom begins. That’s why verse 9 says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” They are blessed because they get to enter the kingdom. Matthew 8:11 refers to this: “Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven.” In other words, it isn’t only church age believers who will be there. It will be believers from every age who are invited because of their love for Christ.
Take a moment to check yourself before we go on. Can you say with confidence that you will be present when the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place? If so, will the garments you’ve prepared for yourself bring you joy or shame?
3. HE WILL WELCOME OUR WORSHIP
In verse 10, John is so overwhelmed by what he sees that he falls at the angel’s feet in worship. From a human standpoint, this is understandable. For this is no ordinary angel. Revelation 18 says he fills the whole earth with his glory. Yet God accepts no substitutes in worship. So John is quickly corrected. “Do not do it!” Why not? Because as glorious as the angel is, the only one worthy of our worship is Jesus. The angel says. “I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Hebrews adds, “When He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.”
What an important warning in this day of spiritual superstars and religious counterfeits! Take the Roman church. I’m grateful for the way it’s preserved many of the key doctrines of our faith through the centuries – the Trinity, the inspiration of the Bible, etc. – but honesty forces us to recognize it’s also been a proponent of false worship. Members and clergy alike offer prayers to Mary and other departed saints. Popes themselves have also shown a willingness to receive the worship of their followers. I will never forget the Pope’s visit to America in 1987. We were in Florida at the time, and the reaction was incredible – even among non-Catholics! I remember hearing one woman in the crowd remark, “Now I can die in peace, for I have seen the Holy Father!”
The Mormon church is another example. For what’s the ultimate goal of every Mormon male? To become a God and populate his own planet with spiritual children, who will worship him as Heavenly Father. The slogan is, “As God is, you may be!” Add to this the New Age nonsense about “finding the God within,” and it’s clear that man’s most basic spiritual problem today is finding the proper object of worship. But the true Church (made up of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ) knows that there is only one proper object of worship, and that’s the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I AM (the Hebrew name of God), you will die in your sins.” Why is the Bible so adamant about this? Because Jesus went on to explain, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) How crucial this truth is becomes even more obvious as we turn to the second great theme of this chapter.
- THE VINDICATION OF CHRIST’S GLORY
Revelation 19:11-21 is unquestionably one of the most exciting passages a Christian can read. For here it’s not merely the church, but Jesus Christ who is vindicated. I write this article in the month of December watching the world celebrate the birthday of our King, who came the first time as the meek and mild Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Because the world mistakes meekness for weakness, He was rejected as their Savior. After all, who is attracted to a man dying on a cross? What the world wants is a conquering hero who takes the world by storm! But make no mistake. When Jesus comes again, no longer will He be the meek and mild Lamb of God; He will be revealed as the glorious Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who executes judgment on all His enemies.
- His Glory Will Be Revealed in His Names
Notice three names in these verses. Verse 12 says, “He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself.” This is a reminder of Christ’s incomprehensibility: He is so glorious that there are some things about Him that we will never understand. Sometimes a believer will say, “I can hardly wait to get to Heaven. There all my questions will be answered.” Not so! The truth is, that which is finite can never fully understand the Infinite. God is ultimately incomprehensible to the human mind – even in heaven! Only what is necessary for our joy and well-being will be revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Verse 13 adds, “His name is the word of God.” This is John’s favorite title for Jesus. His gospel begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made . . . And the Word became flesh and dwell among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In his book, There’s a New World Coming, Hal Lindsay explains the meaning of this phrase:
“Just as my words reveal my invisible self to you, so Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. God clothed all His thoughts toward man in the person of Jesus. In that sense, Jesus is the ultimate communication of God to man. He’s called “the living Word” because in His person, Jesus embodies everything God has to say to man about how to obtain eternal life.”
Finally, verse 16 says, “On His robe and on His thigh, He has this name written: ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords.’” This is Jesus’ title found nowhere else in Scripture. What does it mean? It means He is sovereign over every ruler – both human and angelic. To stress this, the Greek text puts it in giant capital letters: ‘KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Vicar Frederic Farrar, shared the words of Queen Victoria following his sermon on the Lord’s Return. “O, how I wish the Lord would come in my lifetime!” the queen said to the dean. “Why does your Majesty feel this great desire?” The preacher said. With queenly countenance lit up with deep emotion, she replied, “Because I should so love to lay my crown at His feet.” You and I will have that opportunity one day, along with all the kings and queens of the earth. For one day the Bible says, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:11)
B. His Glory Will Be Revealed in His Appearance
Several facts are emphasized about Jesus appearance in these verses, each one intended to reveal something about His glory. Let me highlight four of them.
- His horse
Verse 11 says: “I saw Heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse.” This is in contrast to the humility Christ displayed at His coming. On Palm Sunday, He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. But when He returns He will be sitting on a great white stallion conquering everyone who stands in His path.
2. His crowns
In Revelations 6:2, we read about another rider on a white horse who wears a crown on his head. Remember that when we studied Revelation 6:1, I argued at that time that this is a false Christ – the antichrist. How can I tell? Because according to Revelation 19:12, when Jesus returns, He won’t be wearing a single crown. He’ll be wearing many crowns on His head – proof that He is indeed the king of every tribe, tongue and nation. Furthermore, the word crown in chapter 6 was stephanos, which means a crown of victory, whereas this word is diademata, which refers to royal crowns that only king are allowed to wear.
3. His sword
Verse 15 continues: “Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” This is not the small sword of Hebrews 4, which convicts our hearts of sin. This is a giant sword (hromphaia) used to decapitate one’s enemies.
4. His rod
Verse 15 goes on to say, “He will rule them with a rod of iron.” This is the royal scepter with which Jesus will rule the nations during the millennium. Some may recoil at the use of these weapons. But let’s not forget what verse 11 says. When Jesus judges and wages war, He will do so “in righteousness.” In other words, there will be no injustice in His kingdom. The only ones who need to fear punishment are those who intend to rebel against Him, for they will be punished severely for their crimes. The Bible teaches that believers who live through the tribulation will enter the kingdom in natural human bodies, which means they will bear children and new generations will grow up with the potential of rebelling against the Lord.
C. His Glory Will Be Revealed in His Victories
Christ’s conquest of Earth takes place through three successive victories over His enemies: 1) His defeat of the beast and the false prophet in Revelation 19:22 2) His defeat of Earth’s armies in Revelation 19:21 3) His defeat of Lucifer in chapter 20. Our study concludes with His first two victories in verses 20 and 21.
- His victory over the Beast
Verse 19: “Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the Rider on the horse and His army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf.” “The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” This victory takes place just prior to Christ’s judgment of Earth’s armies, and it’s significant because it means the followers of the beast and prophet will be forced to watch as their heroes are caught and cast into the lake of fire. What humiliation and perfect punishment! Earth’s greatest sinners become the first two residents of hell.
All other sinners will await final judgment in Hades, a temporary place of punishment. But these two villains are so vile they require no final judgment. They’ll immediately be “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” Furthermore, if anyone asks if there’s a second chance for those in hell, remind them that the lake of fire is not a place of temporary punishment. For next week, when we read of Satan’s judgment in chapter 20, we find that even after 1000 years of burning, the beast and false prophet are still in the lake of fire, suffering “torment day and night forever.”
- His victory over earth’s armies
Verse 21 concludes, “The rest of them (that is, the armies of the beast and false prophet) were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the Rider on the horse and all the birds gorge themselves on their flesh.”
This is the battle of Armageddon, at which Earth’s armies gather together in a final, mad attempt to blow the Creator out of the sky. Until now, man has put his faith in the beast, believing that he is superior to Jesus Christ. But now they realize how wrong they were. For just as quickly as Christ called the world into existence, Jesus now kills the armies of the earth with the Word of His mouth, preparing the way for the great supper of God. This is in contrast to the marriage supper of the Lamb. For while believers are feasting in the kingdom, unbelievers will be consumed by the birds of prey. Six times John uses the word “flesh” in this passage warning man not only of the great carnage ahead, but also of the danger of his fallen nature. Man fails because he is flesh and relies on the flesh, whereas those who love Christ overcome because they are filled with the Spirit of Jesus.
The other fact that stands out is the description of those who return with Christ. Verse 14 says that those who follow Him will be “riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.” What does this reveal about the glory of Christ’s victory? Tim LaHaye offers this helpful comment:
“The most significant truth is the garb of this army. They are ‘clothed in fine linen, white and clean. Military men are issued fatigue uniforms for battle dress not only for camouflage but also because war is so dirty that light-colored clothes would be severely soiled. Here, however, the Commander-in-Chief of the Heavenly forces clothes His army in white, a practice unheard of in the history of warfare. The reason should not be overlooked: no member of the armies that come with Christ in His glorious appearing will do battle. Not one of us will lift a finger, for the battle will be won by the spoken word of our Lord.”
I began our study by reminding you that there are two parts involved in God’s invasion of the Earth. He came humbly the first time – that meek and mild Lamb of God who died on a cross to pay for our sins. But not so the second time. For almost two thousand years now, His followers have been praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” You may have prayed that prayer yourself. But C. S. Lewis added this warning about that prayer. He wrote:
“God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”
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