The Final Battle

Original Date: 
Sunday, July 26, 2015

Revelation 19-20 Jesus Wins: The Final Battle

I wonder if you have heard the word “TEOTWAWKI.” I think that’s how it’s pronounced: “teo-twa-kee.” It’s an acronym using the first letters of the phrase “The End Of The World As We Know It.” That’s a song from the 80s by a band called REM. The phrase, and the abbreviation, have become internet slang used by people who are preparing for the end of the world.

There is a whole corner of the interweb dedicated to TEOTWAWKI. Survivalists, preppers, militias, predictors and debunkers. There are reality TV shows like “Doomsday Preppers,” “Apocalypse Preppers” and “Hillbilly Preppers” as well as fiction shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Falling Skies.” Apparently, there are a lot of people who take very seriously the imminent collapse of society and it would seem that the recommended strategy for being prepared is to be heavily armed and to have a significant stockpile of canned food.

And, of course, a lot of these TEOTWAWKI predictions draw heavily on the book of Revelation from the Bible. Many people think of Revelation as the book that contains all the answers to when the world will end.

We have spent the last 3 months looking at Revelation, and I hope by now that I have convinced you that this is not just a book about the future. I hope that you have seen that this is a book that speaks to our current situation today, and one which has a lot of wisdom and encouragement for us as we seek to follow Jesus in a world that is often hostile to faith.

As I’ve said repeatedly, it is a mistake to treat Revelation like an almanac that sets out a timeline of events that leads to the end. If you are trying to use Revelation to make a prediction about when Jesus will return, you are probably using it incorrectly.

That being said, Revelation does talk about the end of the world. In its description of the war between God and Satan this book wants to make it clear to us that Jesus wins. And so, as we draw near the end of the book we get a description of the Last Battle. That’s what we’re going to look at today.

Courting Controversy
Now, to be sure, anytime you start talking about the end of the world you are courting controversy. Even among well-meaning, Bible-believing Christians there are all sorts of disagreements about what the end times will look like and how best to interpret the verses in front of us. I’ll touch on some of that controversy as we go along today.

But, at the same time, I feel that there are some basic truths that all Bible-believing Christians can agree on. And those truths can be summed up in this sentence, which will serve as my outline today as well: Jesus is coming back, Satan will be defeated, and everyone will be judged.

Those are the things we need to know. And they are made clear in our scripture today.

Two Battles?
Before we turn to the scripture, however, I need to point something out. I said that this is about the Last Battle but we’re going to find, as we look at Revelation 19 and 20, that there are two battles. Or, at least two pictures of battle.

This is part of the controversy: it is my conviction that these are two different pictures of the same event.

I’ve already mentioned that I think there are several references to this final battle throughout Revelation. Chapter 6 talks about the great day of God’s wrath (6:15-17). Chapter 14 pictures the great harvest of the earth (14:14-16). Chapter 16 talks about kings of the earth gathering at a place called Armegeddon (16: 14, 16). And chapter 17 talks about the triumph of the Lamb and the destruction of Babylon (17:14-18). We can attempt to read Revelation chronologically and expect each of these events to be a distinct event in world history; or we can recognize the cyclical nature of Revelation and see these scenes as repetitions of the same event.

I lean towards the second option. The analogy I’ve been using is that of different camera angles. When a sports network broadcasts a football game, they use all kinds of cameras. They put one at the 50 yard line, two more in each endzone, and some down at field level. Some cameras stay on the head coach the entire game, others focus on the quarterback or other star players. Then, after each play, they can show replays from different angles to get a better picture of what happened.

And that’s what I believe is happening in Revelation. Many of these scenes build on what comes before, but also give us unique views of the final victory of Jesus. So please keep that in mind as we work through chapters 19 and 20.

Now, again, the things we need to know about the end: Jesus is coming back, Satan will be defeated, and everyone will be judged. We’ll take them one at a time.

The Rider on the White Horse
First: Jesus is coming back. Revelation 19:11-12:

11 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. 12 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.

This is one of my favorite images of Jesus in the Bible. This is Jesus as Divine Warrior. There’s a scene in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I think it’s in the second movie, where many of the main characters are involved in a desperate battle that they are on the verge of losing. Just as the battle looks its worst, the sun begins to rise in the east and Gandalf the Wizard, dressed in blazing white robes, appears at the front of a huge army and rides in to the save the day. That scene always reminds me of this passage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if J.R.R. Tolkien had this scripture in mind when he wrote it.

White horses symbolize triumphant military achievement. The first horseman of the apocalypse rode a white horse, and we mentioned then that Caesar rode a white horse at his victory parades. The blazing eyes remind us of the cosmic picture of Christ back in chapter 1. The descriptions of the dragon said he had 7 crowns and the description of the beast said he had 10, but here Christ is said to have “many crowns.” There is no comparison. Verses 13-15:

13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is 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.

The robe dipped in blood is not Christ’s blood, but the blood of His enemies. He has been treading the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God, which is a call back to chapter 14, which is itself a reference to Isaiah 63. This picture of Christ is all about Jesus destroying his enemies. This is not a picture of redemption, but a picture of judgment.

Christ has a sharp word coming from His mouth, another reminder of chapter 1. And He will rule the nations with an iron scepter, which is a quote from Psalm 2 and was also used to describe the child born of the woman in chapter 12. This is clearly the Messiah, Anointed One of God, who possesses the ends of the earth (cf. Psalm 2:7-9).

And, of course, Christ does not ride alone but is accompanied by the armies of heaven. All dressed as He is. These may be angels, or even the “called, chosen and faithful followers” who have already died (cf. 17:14). But, at any rate, they have little to do with the coming battle. The achievement and glory belong all to Christ, and all attention is rightly focused on Him. Verse 16:

16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

Much is made of Christ’s names in this vision. On the one hand, verse 11 says He is called “Faithful and True” and verse 13 says His name is the Word of God; but on the other hand verse 12 says “he has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.” Names were thought to have power in the ancient world. They described who a person was, and yet at times to know a person’s name was thought to give some advantage over them. So the Divine Warrior is both named while also keeping some aspects of His name from us.

But one thing is certain: to Him belongs the title that puts Him above all others. Even kings must bow their knees to Him. No Lord is as strong as He is.

The point is: Jesus is coming back. And His second coming will be nothing like the first. In the first He came humbly and as a servant, born in poverty and killed in humiliation. That first arrival was all about the salvation that came through His being the Lamb who slain.

But His second coming will be all about the Lion, where He will throw off his humility and be seen as the glorious Lord He is. His second arrival will be all about putting His enemies in their place.

Which leads to my second point: Satan (and his minions) will be defeated. There is no doubt about the end of this last battle. Revelation 19:17-18:

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 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.”

This gruesome invitation to the birds in preparation for the outcome of the battle is a reference to Ezekiel 38 and 39, which describes the destruction of God’s enemies known as Gog and Magog. What’s about to happen is going to be the total annihilation of those who oppose God—from the mightiest kings to the most insignificant slave. If you do not follow God, this will be your reckoning: the birds will pick apart your bones. Verse 19:

19 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.

The gathering of the kings of the earth is mentioned in chapter 16, verses 14 and 16, where the battleground is called Armegeddon. The parallel is pretty striking, which is one of the reasons I believe these are multiple pictures of the same battle.

The beast is determined to fight it out with Jesus, but in the event the battle is over in the snap of a finger. Verse 20:

20 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 worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21 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.

We’ve already seen in Revelation that there are four primary enemies of God. The Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet—the unholy trinity—along with their wicked consort, the Prostitute Babylon. Now, one by one, they are being removed from the stage. First Babylon, whose destruction we witnessed last week. Now the beast and the false prophet.

The battle isn’t much of a battle, they are seized and thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. They stand no chance against the King of kings and Lord of lords.

From here we change chapters, and we get a camera change. Now we come to some of the most debated verses in Revelation. Revelation 20:1-3:

1And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

The only enemy left on the stage is the dragon. The ancient serpent (reminding us of Eden) who is explicitly called the devil, or Satan. This is the account of what happens to him.

And the controversy has to do with the thousand years. What exactly does it mean for Satan to be bound for a thousand years? When, in the timeline of history, will that be?

The Latin word for 1,000 years is a millennium (remember we just started a new millennium in 2000?). So the different schools of thought on Jesus’ return are usually thought of in terms of the millennium. Generally speaking, we have three options:

Pre-Millennialism says that Jesus’ physical return to earth will take place before the 1000 years begins. Before the millennium.

Under this view, chapters 19 and 20 should be read chronologically. Jesus will return as described in chapter 19 and then remain on the earth. At this time, Satan will be bound and there will be a long period of peace and prosperity—perhaps for a literal 1000 years but certainly for a very long period of time. During this time Christians will receive resurrection bodies and reign alongside of Christ, but it won’t be heaven yet. There will still be death, and there will still be those who are rebelling (secretly) against Christ. At the end of the millennium, Satan will be set free and there will be one final rebellion (as described later in chapter 20), at which time Satan will be fully and finally defeated and history will come to a close.

Many who hold to a pre-millennial view also believe that there will be a rapture of all Christians from the earth at some point before Christ’s re-appearance (usually 7 years prior). These raptured Christians will make up the ranks of those who ride with Christ in chapter 19. The seven years in between the rapture and the return are called the Tribulation and will see many turning to Christ even in the midst of terrible persecution. This is the scenario described in the Left Behind books.

A second option, Post-Millennialism, says that Jesus’ physical return to earth will take place after the 1000 years. After the millennium.

Proponents of this view tend to read chapters 19 and 20 symbolically as describing a period of great progress for the gospel. Under this system, it is believed that conditions on earth will get better and better as more people believe in Jesus and evil is defeated. Again, 1000 years may be literal or symbolic, but the belief is that as more and more people believe in Jesus He will be recognized as the King he truly is. At this point, then, Jesus will return in triumph and heaven will be ushered in.

This is a very optimistic understanding of world history, and was especially popular at the end of the 19th Century. But then World War I and World War II happened and there are a lot few post-millenialists today.

A third option is a-millennialism. When you add the prefix “a” to a word it negates what follows. So the word “apathy” means a person doesn’t care. Or the word “asphyxia” means a person cannot breathe. So a-millennialism is basically the view that says there is no 1000 years. No millennium.

That’s not entirely accurate though, because someone who holds this view would say we are living in the millennium right now. Under this view, the binding of Satan took place at the cross and the empty tomb (cf. Col. 2:15). The thousand years, then, is symbolic for the current age, the age of the church.

Now, of course, it doesn’t seem like Satan is bound right now. We see plenty of evidence of his dirty influence in the world. But if we remember that Revelation is very symbolic, and that it likes to mix its metaphors, we can see how Satan could both be raging away on the earth as described in Revelation 12 even as he is being held on a leash by God in a way that will prevent him from being ultimately triumphant over the Church. As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16, the gates of hell will not be able to overcome the church. So Revelation is reminding us to be alert against the devil while at the same time reassuring us that he cannot win.

I would classify myself as an amillennialist. Again, most of the numbers in Revelation are symbolic. And I think it makes more sense to read Revelation as repeated pictures of the same event than to try for force these events into a chronological timeline.

The point of Revelation 20, then, is that Satan will be defeated. I take the line about him not “deceiving the nations anymore” to mean that the gospel will go out to every nation on earth. Again, Satan has influence, but he won’t be able to stop the church.

And yet, there is going to be a brief time, near the end, when Satan is going to get loose and wreak effort. Verses 7 through 10:

7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

The reference to Gog and Magog comes from Ezekiel 38 and 39, which was also referenced in chapter 19 with the invitation to the birds. This is another reason I think this is a different camera angle on the same battle. Again, we see the enemies of God lining up for battle against the forces of God. And again, we see the battle ending in a flash. This time with the added detail of fire coming down from heaven. It is clear that God’s enemies have no chance.

And again, when it is over, the devil joins the beast and the false prophet in the lake of burning sulfur. Now all four of God’s major enemies have been removed from the board. Now it is clear that Satan and his minions stand no chance against the rider on the white horse, the one who is called Faithful and True.

As I’ve said, this is all plenty controversial. And well-meaning, Bible-believing Christians take all kinds of different positions on what these verses mean. There’s no way I can cover all the different arguments in any sort of comprehensive way in the time we have available. Revelation doesn’t always lend itself to precise interpretation. But, as Vern Poythress writes: “The major point is that Satan will be finally defeated, and that even before that time God takes care of his saints and gives them enjoyment of the benefits of his triumphant rule. This assurance ought to comfort us, whatever our millennial position.” (The Returning King, p. 178).

The Great White Throne
Which brings us to our third truth: Everyone will be judged. Whatever timeline you use for putting the events of Revelation together, whether you are pre-mil or post-mil or a-mil, everyone agrees that the story ends the same way. Everyone who has ever lived will stand before God and face final judgment. Verses 11 and 12:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

Whenever we recite the Apostle’s Creed and we talk about Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, “from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead” this is what we are talking about. When the final curtain is finally drawn on history, this will be the final scene: Christ seated on a great white throne, with the book of life opened beside him, and every person who has ever lived standing before Him.

It’s a scene Jesus described in the parallel of the Sheep and the Goats, and that’s a pretty good image of what will happen. Everyone will be sorted, the sheep separated from the goats, and their eternal destinies will be determined.

It can be a rather frightening prospect. Imagine this huge courtroom where literally everybody is put on trial. Notice that there are two sets of books. And the first one contains everyone’s deeds. Everyone will be judged “according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” That should terrify us. If we are judged according to our deeds, no one has any chance. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

But it’s not meant to be frightening, at least not for those who belong to Jesus. For those who belong to Jesus, there’s another book, the Book of Life which, according to Rev. 13:8, belongs “to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”

The Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer number 52 puts it like this:

Q. How does Christ’s return “to judge the living and the dead” comfort you?

A. In all my distress and persecution
I turn my eyes to the heavens
and confidently await as Judge the very One
who has already stood trial in my place before God
and so has removed the whole curse from me.
All his enemies and mine
He will condemn to everlasting punishment:
but me and all his chose ones
He will take along with him
into the joy and glory of heaven.

If you belong to Jesus, then the one who is judging you has already stood trial on your behalf. He has already carried the weight of the curse on your behalf. If you belong to Him, then you need not fear, because your name is written in the book of life.

But for those who are not, the final outcome is clear. Verse 15:

15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

This “is the eternal and irreversible destiny of those who worship the creature instead of the Creator, who bear the beast’s brand rather than the Lamb’s seal.” (Dennis Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 299) You want your name written in the book of life.

And I think that’s a good place to end this message. That’s the only and best way to prep for the end of the world as we know it. You don’t need to join a militia. You don’t need to horde food. You need to come to Jesus.

There’s a lot of speculation about what the end will look like, and we can’t know everything. But here’s what we can be sure of: Jesus is coming back, Satan will be defeated, and everyone will be judged. Be ready.