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We continue our examination of the Book of Revelation today with selected verses from Revelation 19.

Verses 1 and 4 – 9 are read from the three-year Lectionary at Easter in Year C (e.g. in 2010).  The bulk of the chapter below is excluded, making it part of the ongoing Churchmouse Campanologist series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of the Holy Bible.

Today’s reading is taken from the King James Version.  Exegetical sources can be found at the end of the post.

Revelation 19:2-3, 10-21

2For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.

3And again they said, Alleluia And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.

10And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

11And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

12His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

13And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

15And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

16And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

17And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God;

18That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

19And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.

20And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

21And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

————————————————————————–

At the end of Revelation 18, the great city of Babylon — hotbed of sin and heresy —  came to a dramatic end.  Divine judgment had avenged the blood of the saints and martyrs.

Again, for occasional readers of the Revelation posts: this New Testament book is written largely in the style of Jewish Messianic literature of powerful imagery recalling Old Testament prophecies, e.g. Ezekiel.  Much of the imagery is symbolic and is not intended to be interpreted literally.  However, what we are called to learn from this book is the almighty omnipotence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

Many mainstream Protestant and Catholic clergy ordained over the past 30 years profoundly miss the fact that the imagery is drawn from Messianic literature.  Last year, I heard an Anglican priest say, ‘Personally, I wouldn’t have described God like that — which I why I don’t like Revelation’.  Several years ago a Catholic priest told me, ‘Don’t worry about reading Revelation.  It’s an acquired taste.  You can get along quite happily without it.’

Yet, we should be reading it to understand not only Christ’s warning to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 but because Revelation 1:3 tells us:

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

When Revelation 19 opens, heaven is full of praise for God, who has avenged their enemies which the saints and martyrs pleaded for in Revelation 6:9-11.  They proclaim that His judgments are ‘true and righteous’ (verses 2 and 3) and express their gratitude for what He has done in destroying Babylon.

The ‘fornication’ mentioned in verse 2 may be not only of a sexual kind, but also that of what Christ Jesus occasionally referred to in a figurative sense of adultery: a love affair with sin, therefore, an unfaithfulness to God (Matthew 16:4, Revelation 2:22).

The smoke rising in verse 3 refers to the world of sin burning for all eternity.

Verses 4 – 9 continue with joyous and thunderous praise for God.  The saints announce that the time has come for the marriage celebration of Christ and His bride, the Church — the culmination of the Last Days (from the first Pentecost to His Second Coming). Some Bible scholars believe that conversion of the Jewish people will occur at this time, after the fall of Babylon.  In verse 9, the angel whose voice was heard in verse 5 instructs St John to record the vision he is about to receive.

One can imagine the awe St John experienced during this revelation.  He instinctively falls to worship the angel (verse 10).  However, the angel rebukes him saying that he, too, is a servant of God.  The angel directs John’s attention towards the worship of God.  Furthermore, he indicates that Christ Jesus is the One who fulfils all Old Testament prophecy.

We now enter into more imagery of Messianic literature.  In verse 11, Heaven opens and Christ appears on a white horse.  He is about to judge Satan and the unbelievers.  The Revd Thomas C Messer, of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan, explains:

This is a spiritual battle, which has already been won by Christ. On the Last Day, when Christ returns, the victory He has already won will be seen by all, and the judgment already pronounced upon all of His enemies will be carried out in full.

The powerful imagery of Our Lord is further described in verses 12 – 14.  From them we can interpret that He sees everything, He truly is Christ the King and no man can fully comprehend His true nature.  His armour (‘vesture’) has blood on it.  By His own blood He became our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.  He also bears the blood of those who died in His Name.  His army is one of purity, saints clothed in immaculately white linen — free from the stain of sin.

Christ’s sword of verse 15 recalls His letter to the church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17).  He says:

12“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.  (Revelation 2:12)

and warns:

16Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.  (Revelation 2:16)

This is His (figurative) sword of judgment.  He has seen all the sins committed, and He will come to judge evildoers and exert His rule over them.  The winepress in that verse recalls Revelation 14:19-20:

19And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

20And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

The winepress is the place of eternal torment.

Our Lord comes in full majesty, with His title written on his armour and thigh (verse 16): ‘King of Kings, and Lord of Lords’.  Recall the significance of spiritual marks in the Book of Revelation: sealing the faithful on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3) and the ‘mark of the beast’ on the right hands or foreheads of those who follow Satan (Revelation 13:16-17).

In verses 17 and 18, an angel invites the birds of prey to feast on the flesh of sinners, who represent evildoers from every social class around the world. This invitation recalls Ezekiel 39:17-20, wherein God instructs Ezekiel to call birds and beasts to consume the sacrifice of the hordes of Gog.  Faithful Christians will escape this almighty judgment.

And yet, unbelievers are arrogant in their unrepentance (verse 19).  They prepare to do battle against Christ and His saints.  Pastor Messer says:

They will wage war, led by Satan, against Christ by attacking His Church throughout the NT era, most intensely during Satan’s “little season” before the End, which is what is in view here (the symbolic battle of Armageddon).

However, verse 20 shows us that the blasphemous beast (Satan as the the first beast representing the false Christ) and the equally blasphemous false prophet (the second beast, representing the false Holy Spirit) of Revelation 13 meet their end through fire and brimstone.  Brimstone is an archaic name for sulphur, which, as we know, has a suffocatingly horrible odour.

Pr Messer calls to our attention the fact that nowhere do we have mention of this final battle actually taking place.  The two beasts — representations of Satan — quickly meet their eternal sentence, alive, to burn forevermore.

Also note the mention of the deception of man through the blasphemous beasts.  This is another clear sign that Satan is all about falsehood: he appears as sweetness and light to us, smiling, charming, clean, presentable.  Don’t fall for it!  Not everything that glisters is gold!  Be discerning and exercise good judgment in your relationships, whether they be personal, professional or ecclesiastical.  There might be times when you need to walk away from a friendship, a family tie, an employer or a church.  Don’t be afraid to do so.  Always follow Christ.

In verse 21, we read that the ‘remnant’ — in this case, the final sinners alive on Earth — meets their fate, their flesh consumed by birds of prey.  The 17th century Bible scholar and Calvinist minister Matthew Henry warns us:

Though the divine vengeance will chiefly fall upon the beast, and the false prophet, yet it will be no excuse to those who fight under their banner that they only followed their leaders and obeyed their command; since they would fight for them, they must fall and perish with them. Be wise now therefore, O you kings, be instructed, you rulers of the earth; kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way, Ps. 2:10, 12.

Next week: Revelation 20

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Revelation – Chapter 19 Notes’ – The Revd Thomas C Messer (LCMS)

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