I Know Who the Winner Is

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Revelation 19:11-16
Revelation 20:11-15

I don’t know exactly how the game of life will play out, but I know who the winner is – and I know I’m on his side!

The book of Revelation consists of a series of visions. Visions are not the same as photographs or videos. They are more like dreams; in fact, they are very much like dreams. I think it helps us to understand Revelation by thinking of the whole book as a series of visionary scenes that have many dream-like characteristics. As in a dream, the location of the scene can shift rapidly, without any explanation or apparent reason. One minute John is seeing something on earth; the next he is in heaven.

Dreams also do not follow a consistent chronology. In a dream, time can move backwards as well as forwards; it can speed up or slow down. Just so, in the book of Revelation scenes may be set in the past, present or future, and just because one vision follows another on the pages of John’s writing does not mean that these events occur sequentially during the course of history.

Perhaps the way in which Revelation is most dreamlike is in the phantasmagoric array of figures and characters that populate the visions John received. Symbolic shapes and sounds abound; characters pop up and then disappear or change appearance without warning. Symbols do not always mean the same thing from one vision to the next. Thrones and well-sealed scrolls, living creatures, trumpets and bowls of wrath, angels and beasts, prophets and witnesses, the Anti-Christ, Michael the archangel, Satan, the great dragon, the whore of Babylon – all these and more parade across the pages of John’s fantastic book. As a result, the meaning of John’s visionary dreams is not always easy to discern.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand them, or that only a professional biblical scholar is capable of grasping what John is trying to convey. Although some of the details may be perplexing, I believe we can discover the main points of John’s message – or rather of God’s message given through John. I think we can read him loud and clear.

THE MEANING OF HISTORY

Revelation opens with John’s vision of the risen and glorified Christ. There is absolutely no suspense in this book, at least with respect to the final outcome of things. The game may not be quite over yet, but we already know who the winner is. He is Jesus Christ the Lord. “Do not be afraid,” the risen Christ says to John right at the outset. “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). Jesus didn’t just escape from Satan, death and hell. He broke their power. When he burst from the three-day prison of the grave, Jesus took the keys with him!

In his next vision John sees the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – seated upon heaven’s throne, surrounded by the whole worshiping creation, and holding in his hand a scroll on which was written all of human history and every human’s destiny. The scroll is closely sealed, with seven seals in a row. No one can open it because no one can fully understand the purposes of the Almighty Sovereign God of the Universe. But the Lamb is found worthy to open the scroll. Jesus Christ has the power and authority, by virtue of his willingness to sacrifice himself as the Savior of the world, to bring the plan of God for all things to its victorious conclusion. And so he begins to break the seals, one by one.

As he does so, the world is shaken by its death-throes, which are at the same time the birth pangs of the age to come. So the drama intensifies as each successive seal is broken and we get closer and closer to the great consummation when history will be brought to its close and salvation will be completed. The book of Revelation depicts the approach of that consummation in various dramatic scenes throughout the next 13 chapters. The message running through them all is that Christ’s people should not be afraid, come what may. If they remain faithful, the Lord will protect them and see them through. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. The battle is not over yet, and suffering may still be in store for us, but we know who the winner is. The meaning of history is that God is redeeming his people through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus is gathering his church, from every nation, tribe and tongue. He will preserve all who belong to him from all evil, and win the final victory for them over all the forces of darkness. This is certain!

THE VICTORIOUS LORD

As we near the end of the book, Revelation shows us the scene of final victory. Chapter 19 opens with singing (there’s a lot of singing in the book of Revelation!) Here is another rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus”:

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 . . . Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”

Revelation 19:1, 6

The single most important thing we learn throughout the entire book of Revelation is that God really is in charge of the world. At the center of everything is our sovereign God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John repeats here in Revelation 19 what he has faithfully reported all along, namely, that God is on the throne of the universe.

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne.

(19:4)

This is a symbolic way of saying that God is in control, God reigns over everything and everyone – “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns” (v. 6), sing the redeemed of heaven.

Think about this for a moment. Who do you believe is really running the world? Is it the American government? Not likely; the job is way too big for us. Is it the United Nations? That would be giving them a little too much credit, I think. Maybe it is a secret cartel of international corporations, a giant conspiracy of the super-rich and powerful? No. I don’t think so. Or could it be that no one rules the world? Everything is determined by chance, or, alternatively, by physics? No, says Revelation, it is none of these things.

This marvelous book offers us a peek behind the scenes, providing a look at the Director who is actually managing all of the action that unfolds in the drama of the world’s stage. “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,” sing the heavenly hosts, “and he will reign for ever and ever.” (That’s from Revelation, chapter 11 verse 15 – another part of the heavenly Hallelujah Chorus.)

According to the Bible, there are two kingdoms in existence right now, and they are locked in a fight to the finish. The “kingdom of this world” means all human power and authority, every earthly regime and secular institution, every opposing religion or ideology whether in New York or London, Tokyo or Moscow, Jerusalem or Baghdad. The kingdom of this world, the worldly kingdom, also includes the spiritual powers and forces that lie behind the human institutions. These have all been placed in subjection to the authority of the other kingdom, the kingdom of God; they “have become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.” Although Jesus does not yet reign openly throughout the world, although peoples and nations and demons continue to oppose him, still he is Lord, and one day that will be made obvious to all. Even now the Lord God omnipotent rules, everywhere and over everyone, despite the fact that we can’t see his reign clearly.

But one day we will see it. We will see it with our own eyes. We will know it, not just by faith, but by sight. Here is how John, near the end of the book of Revelation, describes the final appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ when he will come at the end of time. He will return to the earth to complete his victory over sin, death, and all the powers of evil and darkness:

I saw the 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. 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. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” 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.

(19:11-16)

THE LAST BATTLE

John’s vision here in Revelation 19 is a bookend to his vision at the very beginning of the book. Both scenes picture the exalted and glorified Lord Jesus, who blazes with a flaming majesty that is dazzling to human comprehension (v. 12). Here at the end Christ is arrayed for war, mounted on a magnificent white charger, riding at the head of heaven’s hosts. One last battle is to be fought. The outcome is not in doubt for the decisive victory was won already on the cross. Colossians 2:15 says that “having disarmed the powers and authorities [Christ] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Every evil authority, every human and demonic power that has set itself in opposition to God, was defeated when Christ laid down his life as a sacrifice on the cross.

But though the decisive battle has already been fought and won for us, the final conquest of evil is still in the future. For that we must wait for the Lord’s return, when he will finish the job once and for all. Though these closing chapters of Revelation speak of the last battles when the wrath of God will be poured out and the beast (the anti-Christ) and the false prophet (vv. 19-21) and the devil himself (20:7-10) will be overthrown and destroyed, there really isn’t very much combat in them. The Lord and his army, John says, are clothed in white robes (vv. 13-14), not armor. The enemies of God are brought down by the sword coming out of Christ’s mouth (vv. 15, 21); a symbol of the truth and the word of God, not a literal sword. In the end, Satan and his hosts are not destroyed in a literal, physical battle. They are “devoured” by fire from heaven, as John describes in Revelation 20.

So the basic outline of the future is clear. Christ will finally and fully triumph over every enemy. But as to specifics, a particular timetable, a definite where and when and who and how, I don’t believe God gives us that information. Despite all that has been written about the battle of Armageddon, despite all the different nations whose armies have been nominated to fill out the roster of the devil’s troops, despite all the various Middle-Eastern scenarios that have been suggested for triggering the end of the world, I can’t help but feel that John’s vision suggests that we be cautious in our assumptions. I don’t think we can be sure exactly how the end times will unfold, but don’t worry; we can be more than certain that our Lord will win the final struggle. And because we know who the winner is, we will be winners too.

In the end, there will be everlasting glory, joy and delight. The last sounds of the world will not be screams of anger or fear, cries of pain, moans of despair. The last sounds will be songs of praise and rejoicing. “Hallelujah . . . for the Lord God omnipotent reigns . . . King of kings, Lord of lords . . . and he shall reign forever and ever.”