Revelation 19: 11-21
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 wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron sceptre. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS
And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in mid-air, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.’
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshipped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
As you read through Revelation, when we see God’s people, most often do you notice what they are doing – they are worshiping. Twenty-four Elders worship, 144,000 saints worship, angels worship, nations worship. They see what God is doing in the world, how He is acting – and they fall on their faces in worship.
What about us as we read this book – what do we do?
Often we’re wincing, we’re squirming, we’re uncomfortable and not feeling great about a lot of what we read. It’s like when you were a teenager watching TV with your parents and a naughty scene came on the screen – it was just awkward.
We don’t like talking about good and evil. We definitely don’t like talking about God’s judgement and wrath.
When’s the last time you sang a song about God’s judgement and wrath? Don’t write one, it’s not going to sell.
We sing of God’s love and faithfulness and goodness and grace. And that’s right – we should. We tend to see all of the wrath and judgement and punishment stuff as Old Testament, the stuff of a different, more angry God, who’s always in a bad mood and unleashes His fury on anyone He doesn’t like.
We read it and think that he sounds nothing like the Jesus we follow. We prefer Jesus, He seems so much nicer than Old Testament God, He’s kind and gracious to everyone. So we’ll stick with the New Testament, thank you very much.
And yet, what could be more New Testament than the book of Revelation? It’s the very last book of the Bible, and as we read at the very start:
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” (Rev 1: 1)
This all came from Jesus. Everything you read here came from the same Jesus who was born in a manger, who healed the sick, did miracles, loved the tax collectors and sinners, hated religion, preached the sermon on the Mount, died on the cross, rose from the grave. This same Jesus gave us Revelation.
We don’t have two Gods – the nasty, mean Old Testament one who is all about wrath and the nice, kind New Testament one who is all about love.
It’s ONE God, the same God, who has always offered love and grace and forgiveness, but also who has always been holy, righteous and hates sin.
From an earthly perspective, we don’t like much of what we read here in Revelation. It sounds harsh, it sounds brutal, its disturbing and uncomfortable and takes us back to the worst of church stuff from our past that we want to leave behind. I get it, I understand.
And yet, all along I’ve said that this book is not about an earthly perspective on life – it’s giving us heaven’s perspective. It’s pulling back the curtain and showing us what’s really going on in the world, not what we see physically, but what is actually happening. There’s more to life than meets the eye.
Behind what happens in this world – the reality is that there are dark, evil, spiritual forces whose only goal is to destroy creation, cause chaos, kill the church, and steal worship from Jesus.
And when something is so evil, so destructive, so wicked and unrepentant – there is only one option, and that is to destroy it, get rid of it completely. You can’t play with evil, you have to remove it completely.
It’s like watching surgery to remove something harmful from the body. It looks brutal and devastating, and yet, it stops the spread of something which is much worse.
And so, as we get to the end of Revelation, we see God acting decisively to remove and destroy everything that is evil and destructive and won’t repent. Everything that is anti-God.
First of all, the prostitute, the harlot is destroyed. In the end, it is actually one of her own who turns against her.
“The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.” (17: 16)
Nice bedtime story language right there.
Next to be destroyed is the beast and the false prophet. They come out to fight against Jesus.
I’ll not go into the details, except to say that right from the start, things weren’t looking great for them. Look at how Jesus enters the ring:
“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 wages war.” (19:11)
In those days, when Kings won a battle and came back and held a victory parade, they rode a white horse as a symbol of their victory. Jesus comes out to fight on the white horse – that’s because the battle is already over, the victory has already been won.
Verses 19-21: “….the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet…The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur.”
Then the devil himself gets what’s coming in 20:10:
“…the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
And finally, death itself is thrown into the lake of fire, along with anyone whose name was not found in the Book of Life. In other words those who willfully and constantly reject Jesus grace and rebel against God’s love.
“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (20: 14-15)
The temptation not to write about or preach this stuff is huge. Just skip over it, pretend it’s not there. That’s honestly what 99% of preachers do today because we don’t want to put people off, we don’t want to make anyone feel scared of God, we want you to know how much God loves you and draw you with His grace.
And yet, it’s here. Yes, it’s symbolic, it uses imagery like the rest of the Book – but like the rest of the Book, the imagery is saying something, it is painting a picture to make us see and experience what really happens.
One day God is going to act swiftly and decisively against evil, wickedness and sin. He will destroy all that destroys, He will remove all that violates His creation, he will purify all that contaminates. The old has to go, to bring in the new.
What’s the alternative? Imagine getting to heaven and finding strip clubs and adult movie channels and thieves who steal your stuff and people who want to hurt and abuse you.
That’s not heaven. Heaven is a place without that stuff, and so if we want the heaven God promises, that stuff has to go somewhere else. Paradise and evil cannot co-exist.