RPM, Volume 18, Number 31, July 24 to July 30, 2016

To the Ends of the Earth

God Destroys Babylon (5)
Revelation 19:11-21

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

We have seen that various interpretations of Revelation (futurist, preterist, progressive dispensationalist) drastically affect the way we understand certain passages. This becomes crucial in this vision of Christ that begins at verse 11. The preterist, for example, sees this passages as already fulfilled in the coming of Christ in judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 a.d. A close examination of similar passages in the New Testament will indicate that it is difficult to sustain the preterist viewpoint (e.g. Matt 24:30-31/Mark 13:26-27/Luke 21:27-28; 2 Thess. 2:8; Tit. 2:13-14; Jude 14-15). Additionally, as we have already seen, the preterist viewpoint is closely tied to the identification of Babylon as Jerusalem, and first century Jerusalem at that. Romans 19:11-21 therefore describes, according to this viewpoint, the coming of Roman invasion. The beast of Revelation 17:16-17 is Rome; the harlot upon whom the beast sits is Jerusalem.

The destruction of Babylon (17:1-19:3) which we have just studied was only a partial conquest of the forces of evil. In 17:12-18, we noted that God's agent in defeating Babylon was the beast and his forces. These forces, too, must be destroyed in order for the victory to be complete. It is only as evil is utterly destroyed that the "testimony of Jesus" (19:10) — that the true intent of all prophecy has been to vindicate the Lordship of Jesus — will be sustained. Chapter 19 ends, therefore, with a description of the defeat of the beast and the false prophet. Chapter 20 will describe the defeat of Satan.

From the imagery changes from that of a meal of celebration (19:9), to a meal of war (19:17). Salvation cannot be purchased apart from battle. The love of Christ is won at the expense of His own crucifixion.

The message

Revelation 19:11-21 portrays a battle of the beast, the false prophet and the kings of the earth allied together against the rider on the white horse, Jesus Christ. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords proclaiming his final victory. The imagery here is of Jesus riding a white horse, robed in garments which make him resplendent. It is a picture of triumph over every conceivable evil.

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 makes war.

The description of Christ in this passage "spills off the map." It is hard to conceive in all of its details. There are all the elements of apocalyptic description here, in which multi-layered imagery spills into each other. It is not the details so much as the overall image that becomes important. As with much of Revelation, we must not lose sight of the whole in our desperate attempts to grasp the minutiae.

The overall message cannot be clearer: Christ will be victorious. It is the theme of Christus Victor, made prominent by the Lutheran theologian Gustav Aulen early in the twentieth century. Jesus Christ has come into this world in order to destroy the works of the devil (c.f. 1 John 3:8). The battle described here in chapter focuses upon its attack upon Christ. Earlier in Revelation, the same battle, "the battle on the great day of God Almighty" (16:14), is described as it focuses on its opposition to God. In the next chapter, it will focus on its opposition to "the camp of God's people, the city he loves" (20:8). It is the battle of "Armageddon" (16:16), the battle of "Gog and Magog" (borrowing the language of Ezekiel 38; 20:7-8). It is history's final war.

As we have see, the beast is first described in detail in 13:2-10. It comes out of the sea and earlier assisted the dragon (Satan) in his attack upon the woman and her seed (12:1-17). The beast represents the spirit and empires of the world, who work hand in hand with the seductive woman, Babylon. The false prophet, first described in 13:11-17, and called "the beast of the earth" aids in the false worship of the beast of the sea. The identification of these two beasts has had an interesting history all of its own, one or other of the beasts being identified as the Antichrist, whilst the other aiding in his activities. It seems best to regard the two as different manifestations of the same opposing force, antichrist. The beast of the sea having predominantly political powers whilst the beast of the earth having religious intensions

As we come to the end of the Book of Revelation, we are to grasp the message that our salvation has been acquired only at the cost of the fiercest opposition. Evil forces are fiercely determined to prevent the accomplishment of God's design. Revelation is a wake-up call to every believer to prepare themselves for the battle that lies ahead. We do not live a neutral zone. There are "powers" (Rom. 8:38), rulers (1 Cor. 2:8), thrones (Col. 1:16), and dominions (Eph. 1:21) arraigned against us. The picture of the Christian life, now and prior to Christ's return, is one of contest. Think of some of the great classics of Christian literature that describe it: The Holy War, Precious Remedies against Satan's Devices, The Christian in Complete Armour.

John has been telling us that it is always best to live in the light of certain victory, rather than a feared defeat. Christ has, after all, "disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Col. 2:15). Though the actual war depicted here takes place in the future, that does not in any way lessen our response to it. We dare not write it off as irrelevant. Not least are we to draw the conclusion that, in the midst of the fiercest of battles, the Lord is one doing the fighting on our behalf.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.

The description of Christus Victor is always worth pausing over. He sits on a white horse (19:11), symbolic such thoughts as purity, righteousness, and truth. He is called "faithful and true" (a similar phrase in the plural occurs 21:5 and 22:6). He comes to judge and to make war. "With justice he judges" (19:11) is a favourite expression of the Psalms (Psa. 9:2, 9; 71:2; 95:13; 97:9). His eyes are "like blazing fire" (19:12), an expression we have seen twice before (1:14; 2:18). Its allusion is that Daniel 10:6 where the Son of Man's eyes are likewise portrayed. It is a figure of judgment. His head bears many crowns. The dragon and the beast are said to wear crowns, too, but in parody of their status (12:3; 13:1). Christ alone is the true king. Christians, too, will wear crowns, showing their identification with the Saviour-King (2:10; 3:11; 4:4).

The secret name which the rider bears, known only to himself (19:12), seems to allude to Isaiah 62:2-3. Coming as it does before the memorable picture of the blood-stained warrior from Bozrah (Isa. 63:1-3), the figure of Isaiah 62 is that of Jerusalem being given a "new name." It is the new covenantal relationship that she will have with her Lord in the end time. It is Jesus Christ who now fulfills this prophecy.

It has been suggested that the name which Christ bears is that of the Hebrew name of God, commonly translated Jehovah and recently Yahweh. The name was considered so holy that the Hebrews refused to pronounce it. Even today, scholars still debate how it should sounded (Hebrew vowels were inserted only after the Babylonian exile when the language had largely fallen into neglect). Immediately following the expression "he has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself," Christ is identified in the next verse as, "his name is the Word of God" (19:12-13), and later as "King of kings and Lord of lords" (19:16; cf. 17:14). Clearly, John is playing with symbolism. His name is known (Word of God) and not known (Yahweh). To those in covenant fellowship, his name is known. "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear." But to others, those upon whom he comes in judgment, he is not known, — certainly not known as the LORD.

Christ is accompanied in this battle by the "armies of heaven" who also ride upon white horses and dressed in white (19:14). These might be angels, but earlier in chapter 17, a similar description of the war of the beast and false prophet against Christ indicates that Christ is accompanied, not by angels, but by the saints: "They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings (19:16) and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers" (17:14).

The language is reminiscent of the prophecy of Psalm 2:

The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together against the LORD
and against his Anointed One.
"Let us break their chains," they say,
"and throw off their fetters."
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
Then he rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
"I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron scepter;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
(Psalm 2:2-9)

Interestingly, in Revelation 2:26-27, the saints are also said to fulfill this prophecy:

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end,
I will give authority over the nations
"He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery'—
just as I have received authority from my Father.

The depiction of the defeat of the opposing forces is graphic: predatory birds are invited to come and eat their flesh (19:17)!

The battle that precedes the Second Coming of Christ and the judgment that it entails is now described as that of Gog and Magog. Earlier it has been identified as Armageddon. It is referred to as the battle; it is well known because the Old Testament has already identified it (c.f. 11:7; 16:14; 19:19; 20:8). The background here is Ezekiel 39.

The end is decisive:

But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh (19:20-21).

The description, as 20:10 suggests, is not one of annihilation, but of a conscious endurance of covenantal cursing that lasts for ever. The "fire and brimstone" picks up the judgment theme pronounced upon Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38:22. Those who have been seduced by the false prophet to follow the beast will also endure a similar punishment. It is in keeping with the prediction of Jesus on Mount Olivet: "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" (Matt. 25:41).

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