Over the past two years, many churches and pastors and Christian writers and leaders have been preoccupied with the burning social justice issues of the day and cultural fads. They have allowed themselves to be swallowed up by the whirlwind of the world's problems. In the summer of 2020, on a hot August Sunday, a prominent local pastor and author in San Antonio, Texas, got down on his knees to beg forgiveness for his and his white ancestors’ acts of racism and inaction. Claiming his racism must nauseate God, he even admitted to using a derogatory word for Mexican immigrants in the recent past. I'm thinking that if this guy had held such offensive racist beliefs, he needed to resign from the ministry to begin a process of restoration. Otherwise, it's just style over substance; I call it evangelical kabuki. In that same summer of discontent, churches in Lenawee County held sidewalk vigils with signs proclaiming the obvious, among them the sentiment that "hate doesn't live here." I certainly hope not. Preoccupation with the issues at hand drives too many churches and church leaders to compromise with the world. As we'll see in our next series on the letter of James, that is a dangerous thing to do.
One of the reasons so many are preoccupied with the world is the absence of any realistic expectation for the return of Jesus Christ. Some think our job is to fix the world. If we reform institutions and governments, the world will become a better place. How has that worked out in the past 100 years? Unless one is firmly grounded in The Book of Revelation, one loses sight of the fact that this is a fallen world. We are lurching slowly but surely deeper and deeper into sin. When churches…and entire mainline denominations…lobby for abortion rights, we know the world is disintegrating more and more under the pressure of evil. Here's something you might want to write down:
OUR HOPE IS NOT IN FIXING THE WORLD - OUR HOPE IS IN THE RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST.
These middle verses of chapter nineteen reveal a warrior-Jesus that many are unaccustomed to reading about. He will exact messianic judgment on the wicked and bring the fulfillment of Christian hope. Remember -Maranatha - "Come, Lord Jesus." While Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as the Prince of Peace and gave us images of lions lying down with lambs, here we're going to see the first step toward that promise. This is the Warrior-
I love how British novelist Doris Lessing once put it:
"People have the habit of dismissing large parts of the Bible because Jehovah does not think or behave like a social worker."
With that in mind, let's look at verses eleven through sixteen:
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.
That is a stunning vision. It marks the end of the world as we know it. It answers the question people have asked from the beginning of the human race. Will things in our troubled world ever get better? Will there ever be an end to war and hostility and racism and inequity and crime and chaos? And what is the answer? YES. But only when Jesus Christ comes to rule; when he returns to be King. The Book of Revelation has drawn our hopes and expectations to this promise for two thousand years. And here's the ultimate strength in this expectation. Every devoted follower of Jesus Christ who embraces the expected return of Jesus Christ has great joy, and the church has great joy. We have brighter hope about the future. We have profound endurance in times tumult, turmoil, and trouble. Jesus will return. History will come to an end.
Here's the next thing you might want to write down:
GOD TRIUMPHANTLY CLEARS THE BATTLE FIELD AND SWALLOWS UP HIS ENEMIES IN DEATH.
Pay attention to the appearance of the Conquering Lamb. There's fire in his
eyes and his words are really clear. They are the eyes of a champion. The
enemy is defeated. As if the promise of Jesus as a warrior going forth to battle isn't jarring enough for some, verse thirteen shows us that the blood stains on his robe is not his own but the blood of the enemy shed in conflict.
It's a beautiful scene. The Bridegroom - Jesus - of the previous section - becomes the Warrior King. And he brings his bride…that is, the church triumphant…those raptured into heaven in preparation for his return…they are the first fruits of those he will bring with him to the new earth. And it will happen after Jesus destroys what is evil and in rebellion against God.
Listen to what Paul writes to the believers in 1Thessalonians 1:9-10:
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us
from the wrath to come.
Everything is coming under God's judgment. All of the opened seals and the trumpets and plagues were leading to this final outpouring of the bowl of God's wrath. Everything of this fallen world has come apart under the force of God's judgment.
One day, two weeks ago, as I was driving to the coffee shop, and thinking about today's passage, as well as how 1 Thessalonians anticipates The Book of Revelation, a classic song by U2 came on the radio, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." It's about spiritual longing and being torn between belief and questioning. Interesting thing is how many songs by diverse artists touch on a better future and meaning beyond this life. My favorite line from the U2 song is this:
I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
bleed into one
But yes I'm still running
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believe it
Many people understand that evil will never be vanquished by human endeavor. We love God, we love each other, we love our community, we serve others in order to make our little corner of God's world a better place, but the kingdom is not brought in by human effort. Evil ends on God's command.
Make no mistake. Jesus' return is cataclysmic. It is not long and drawn out. We remember, back in chapter six, the martyred saints asked how long God was going to refrain from judging. They cried out, "How long are you going to allow blasphemy?"
They get their answer in verse eleven. The heavens open, and that's it. "And I saw heaven opened." Boom. That's it. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, the heavens open and Jesus returns. Nothing gradual happens. Nothing in stages. The bringer of the end of history arrives with fury and viciousness. In a decisive and divisive second, human history is over. And
it's a grand and glorious thing. God is good all the time.
Finally, verse sixteen gives us the name of the Warrior Messiah:
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
This name emphasizes the universal sovereignty of the warrior Christ.
Here's another thing you might want to write down:
THE WARRIOR CHRIST TRIUMPHS OVER ALL THE ENEMIES OF GOD.
Remember how verse fourteen of chapter fourteen envisions this moment:
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.
I love how John shares with us the urgency of understanding what's going to happen. Boom…it's all over.
Let's finish with three quick points.
The Return of the Conqueror.
This moment bookends his birth with the final full and glorious revelation of Jesus Christ on this earth. All of history was moving to this moment. Judgment has reached its final act. Here's how Jesus put it in Matthew 24:27, "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." Jesus returns quickly and decisively.
Jesus Comes to Make War.
The Greek word used in verse eleven is polemei. It's where we get our word, polemics, which is a "strong verbal or written attack." In the strongest sense, it means to go to war. Jesus first came to feed the hungry, minster to the needy, heal the sick, cast out demons from the oppressed, give peace to troubled hearts…but not now. Not this time. I like how Bible translator John Phillips framed it:
"Human sin has reached a high water mark and must be put down by force of arms. But there will not be much fighting when the battle is joined. It will all be over in a flash."
Here's another thing to write down:
HEAVEN CANNOT BE AT PEACE WITH SIN.
God has acted patiently. He has been gracious and merciful in His love. But
God's kingdom cannot exist on earth as it is in heaven if there is still sin on earth. So wickedness is done away with.
The Name Declares The Sovereignty Of Jesus.
Even during the tribulation, God was openly blasphemed. Even under promised judgment, God's grace and mercy were rejected. But such wickedness will no longer stand. All foes are vanquished. And so Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords.
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone