READ : Revelation 19:6-21; 20:7-10
The returning Jesus conquers all foes and saves his people on Judgment Day.
There is much in these closing chapters of Revelation about the final victory of God’s
loving purpose in Christ. Today I want to lift up before you three moving scenes, all from
chapters 19 and 20: The announcement of the marriage supper, the Rider on the white horse,
and the judgment of the great white throne.
The Marriage of the Lamb Announced
What a sound John heard, like the roar of a mighty Niagara or the deafening thunder of
a violent storm. There was loud shouting! It’s a celebration of God’s reign and a trumpet
call to rejoice and give God glory for the long-promised, long-awaited wedding of the Lamb
has come! You’ve heard of that — “the marriage supper of the Lamb” — the supreme
feast to honor the coming to him of his bride. Remember how often Jesus is referred to as
the Bridegroom. John the Baptist called him that, and himself simply as the “friend” of
the bridegroom (John 5:29-30).
The “bride” in this imagery is the church, the fellowship of all believers who trust in
God through Christ. Listen to these words of Paul that celebrate Christ’s love for his
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it,
that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might
present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but
that it should be holy and without blemish.
And the Lord now is actually presenting to himself this glorious church, a church in
splendor, a church finally freed from spot and blemish. The church is now adorned with
fine linen, white and pure, picturing the beautiful righteous deeds of God’s people.
The apostle John is so enthralled by all this that he falls down to worship the angel
who is announcing it. But the angel stops him from this, since angels, in this one respect
at least, are like us. Their only worship, and ours, is to be directed to the living God
through Christ. Angels always reject worship for themselves, always reflect it to the
Worthy One, the One to whom it all belongs. A good pattern for us, don’t you think, when
people are inclined to praise us? The psalmist had it right, “Not to us, O Lord, not to
us, but to your name give glory, for your mercy and for your truth’s sake”( Psalm 115:1).
The Rider on the White Horse Appears
And now for the rider on the white horse. Almost without warning, heaven opens. A white
horse appears whose rider is to wage a holy war and bring the present age to a close. The
Christ is the great defender of God’s cause in the final conflict. Jesus appears as a
warring Messiah. Notice his names. He is called “faithful and true.” One of his major
titles in the New Testament is that — “the faithful witness.” He has come to bear
witness to the truth. He has another name written on him that only he knows (the mystery
of his being). His name is also “the Word of God,” which reminds us of the opening verses
of John’s Gospel. And finally, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the ultimately
reliable witness. He is the full and final revelation of God, and one with God. He is the
unrivaled sovereign ruler over all other kings and rulers. This fuller picture of who
Jesus is emerges in the book of Revelation, which always shows us the truth behind
He comes to judge with justice (Ps. 96:13) and make war against all death-dealing
destructive forces. And he strikes down the nations with the sword coming from his mouth
— God’s authentic Word. He rules all nations with an iron scepter, and treads the
wine-press of God’s wrath. All the flaming anger of God against demonic forces, human
rebellion, and man’s inhumanity to man is now to be released.
Every stronghold of wickedness will be trampled down (2 Thess. 1:7-10).
His eyes blaze with zeal for God’s cause, as they did on earth when heartless religious
leaders tried to keep stricken people from his healing touch (Mk. 3:1-6). He has “many
crowns” on his head. These aren’t numbered or described, but the crowns speak of universal
dominion. His robe is dipped in blood, proclaiming final victory through his own
self-sacrifice.He’s followed by the armies of heaven. He leads them forth from victory to victory. All are more than conquerors through him who has loved them.
The Great White Throne
And now the great white throne. With this vision, the theme of God’s judgment on evil
comes to final expression. Now the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet are gone
forever. The time has now come to judge the human race.
John sees “a great white throne.” This makes us think of Daniel 7:9-10 which uses
similar language. Again, it’s the Day of Judgment, and the books are opened. The size of
the throne here conveys the awesome grandeur of its authority. Its appearance (white or
shining) reflects the presence of God’s glory. Now imagine this: “Earth and sky fled from
before his presence, and there was no place for them.” How are we to understand that?
Earth and sky fleeing? Is it simply poetic description, the awe of the whole created
order? No, it seems to be something far more tremendous. This is the end of the whole
creation, it is dissolved! We know that because we read in the first verse of chapter 21
about a “new heaven” and a “new earth.” Perhaps that’s not novelty but the unimaginable
renewing of the created order. Somehow there before God’s throne, the old is passing away.
Yes, and the “books are opened.” Human beings, all of us, are about to be judged on the
basis of what is written “in the books.” These books apparently contain the story of each
of our lives. We will be judged according to what we have done — before God’s
all-knowing eye. Everyone will be there, small and great, from the sea, from death and
Hades, from everywhere imaginable. And apparently the judgment against all of us is
negative. It’s guilt. It’s doom. For all of us, as the Bible teaches from beginning to
end, have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “All we,” confesses
the prophet, “like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his [or her] own
way” (Isa. 53:6 KJV). That’s a powerful description of sin.
We know better, but we have made bad choices. We still the whisper of conscience within
us. We went ahead, and at times did what we knew was wrong or failed to do what was right.
Remember those lines from the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer we knew of confession: “We
have done what we ought not to have done. We have left undone the things we should have
done, and there is no health in us.”
It’s not a matter, friends, as many fondly imagine, of God weighing our good deeds
against the bad. We have absolutely no hope of being acquitted at the bar of God’s
judgment on the basis of anything we have done. Do you realize that? The books don’t lie,
and they tell our story of failure, sin, hopelessness, and death.
But, thank God, there’s another Book! It’s called “the book of life.” If our names are
in that book, then everything against us in the other books is blotted out. It will never
be counted against us. Then everything in the last two chapters of this book about the new
heaven and the new earth, about the holy city and the unveiled presence of God, that will
all be ours!
So even before God’s awesome judgment seat there is hope. What about this “book of
life”? Is my name written in it? Can I know that it is? Yes, and so can you.
The book is called also by another, fuller name. In Revelation 13, it is called “The
book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” That moving title
belongs to only one Person in the history of the world — the crucified and risen
Jesus. The book of life, friends, is his book, and those whose names are written there are
his people. And if your name is written there, that verse in Revelation 13 teaches it has
been there from the foundation of the world. Long before you were born, God had a thought
of you, and that thought was love. He loved you. He knew your name. He planned for you not
only life in this world but also life abundant, life eternal.
But how can I be sure of that? Remember, it’s the Lamb’s book of life. If you have
trusted in Jesus, your crucified and risen Savior, your name is forever there. I remember
when I was young, I heard someone say something like this. “Over the doorway into the
kingdom of God is a sign that says, `Whosoever will may come’; that is, anyone who wants
to can enter.” We’ll talk about that again in our last study. If your life is open to
Jesus, and you want him as your Savior, and you put your trust in him, you enter the
doorway. It’s open for everyone.But after you go through the doorway and look back, you see this sign, “Chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world.” Yes, loved with an everlasting love.
Friends, we will all kneel one day before that great white throne — life or death,
acquittal or condemnation, heaven or hell. But for all who trust in Jesus the judgment is
already past. It happened on that Good Friday when Jesus bore our sins and the judgment we
deserve fell upon him. As Paul writes, “God has made him to be sin for us who knew no sin
that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). In the liturgy of a wonderful communion service, it’s put like this: “He was forsaken
so that we might never be forsaken.” Thanks be to God. Amen.