Revelation 19

Chapter 19

“After this” marks another section. We have come across the “voice of a great multitude before.” In 7v9 we concluded this represents the redeemed just before the return of Christ. It is unlikely John has jumped in reference from the 1st century from the previous verse, so once more we must conclude the fall of Babylon is not the fall of Rome per-se but of the centre of ungodly society just before the Parousia. John tells us the sound “seemed” that of a multitude as he doesn’t see them. They are in heaven. But what he hears is the declaration “Hallelujah” – meaning “God be praised.” It’s a celebration that with Babylon’s judgment comes final salvation, as the world is finally being rid of all evil.
            The declaration is to “our” God, affirming the multitude as his people. To say the three things “belong” to him  is to say they are found in him. “Salvation” here is not from wrath as such, but from persecution. “Glory” refers to the display of all God’s excellence, and “power” to the means he has to work his purposes. Yet here they refer to the glory and power exercised in judgment. It’s a reminder that this terrifying work should elicit our praise too.
            “For” as connective makes the link. God is praised as his kingly judgments are not tyrannical, but just and so right. And this is seen in him judging “the great prostitute” of ungodly society for two things: First is the way she has led others into sin by her immorality – i.e. the way she enticed and pleasured them with seductive and unholy alliances, causing them to do evil and oppress so many for material gain. Second is her persecution of God’s “servants” that is now “avenged.” Painful punishment is sometimes right. Those who do harm must receive it in return even if they are irreformable. It is a principle of justice, for the sake of victims. Indeed, it is this that keeps them from taking their own vengeance. “Vengeance is mind” says the Lord (Rom 13), and on the last day it will be administered to whoever deserves it.
     v3: The repetition here highlights the relief and joy. Again the redeemed cry out praise to God, here that the smoke of Babylon's torment goes up forever and ever. 14v11 uses the same language to refer to the worshippers of the beast - the inhabitants if Babylon. It is not a warped delight in pain, but in the irreversible and fitting nature of this judgment. There will be no end to Babylon's destruction, and so no way for ungodly society to reappear. It is worth noting that if this simply referred to Rome there would be little comfort, as persecution would so speedily reappear from another source. The comfort expressed here is only meaningful because such organised oppression will be no more.

Excursus : The 7s

The language of these verses alludes to 6v10-11 showing the cry of the souls under the altar is being fulfilled. In a real sense then, chapter 19 resolves the tension that has been felt in the book ever since the fifth seal was opened. The “little longer” the souls were told to wait was not until the destruction of Jerusalem that preterists think, but the final judgment and the marriage of the Lamb to his bride. This is another factor that strongly suggests the trumpets and bowls are largely chronological judgments rather than mere recapitulations as the idealists suggest. The seals detail the tribulations to mark the whole church age, but with God’s people spiritually protected. The sixth seal heralds the beginning of “the day of wrath,” and as the seventh is opened its first stage begins to be felt in the trumpets as the “mystery of God” is fulfilled. As the seventh of these is blown giving a last warning, the final and more severe expression of God’s temporal wrath is poured out in the bowls, bringing down Babylon herself. And then Christ returns. Each 7 therefore anticipates what is to come. The sixth seal anticipates the sort of cosmic events outlined by the trumpets, like the first gusts of a coming storm. And as warnings, all the trumpets anticipate the more severe expression of their judgments in the bowls. The sixth bowl then anticipates the battle of Armageddon which is the last event before Christ comes. With real genius the structure speeds us through history, always stressing both the nearness of the end and God’s restraint in giving more time.

     v4-5: We recall now that whereas the multitude are before the throne, the 24 elders and 4 living creatures are around it. Is the sense that John is with them all throughout? They now join in praising God for what they've witnessed, falling down and saying an "amen" to what the redeemed have declared. Then a voice from the throne calls all "servants" who fear God, whether insignificant or great to praise him. This must be the voice of an angel as it urges praise of God and addresses him as “our” God not “your” or “my” as would be the case if the Lamb. In the book "servants" always refers to Christians, but we've already heard from them as the multitude. It could be this call is a more personal one to the readers to join in the worship – the wider group of the redeemed whether in heaven or on earth. Alternatively, it could be a case to the multitude to continue as they do from v6 - a somewhat liturgical order of praise. Whatever the case we should praise God in anticipation of this great end.
     v6-8: Now the multitude speak again. The waters and thunder emphasises how many and perhaps their glorified state. They praise God for his reign as the almighty one who can bring all this to pass, and whose reign is in some sense re-established in judging evil and renewing all things. What joy to know he is “our” God. Reflecting the horizontal dimension to worship they call each other to rejoice and celebrate, honouring God for the fact that (finally) the Lamb's marriage to the church as his bride has come (cf. 21v9ff). We might wonder why at the end considering the church has been with Christ in heaven. The answer given is that only then is the bride fully ready - her numbers complete as the "multitude" and her clothing right being her "righteous deeds." They are described as "fine linen, bright and pure" stressing with each word their purity in contrast to the garish attire of the prostitute. And linen was the garment for priests being seen as appropriate for God's presence. So the saints are dressed for service.
     It is easy to jump to the idea of imputation to explain such purity, but the plain sense is that these are the actual deeds of the "saints." Their works are certainly an emphasis in the seven letters. Yet these are robes given the saints (6v11) and that they have washed in the blood of the lamb (7v14, 22v14). The best resolution is that they represent actual righteous deeds from which the dross has been washed off by Christ's blood so that they are seen as perfect. In this sense their truly righteous element signifies that the saint is actually looking to Christ for atonement. This is how the bride makes herself ready, by looking to her groom for the garments to wear.
     1st century marriage needs understanding here. The church age may be the time of betrothal when the parties were to be faithful as in marriage. The marriage proper then begins with the groom coming for his bride as Christ at the parousia and taking her and his guests to his house for a feast - here the subsequent eternal banquet within the new creation (Matt 22v2ff). However, chapter 21 portrays him coming with his bride, so it may be better to see his first coming as coming for her, the church age as his time with her before bringing her to earth in the parousia for the feast. But the former seems best to fit Christ's own teaching (Matt 25v1-13).
     v9: The angel’s command to write brings emphasis. The declaration of a blessed group has come a number of times in terms of endurance. With 20v6, now we see that group see something of the blessing they will receive. They are those who have been “invited” through the gospel to the marriage supper of the Lamb and his bride. The blessing here is therefore to be at that celebration. One things of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22. Yes, the guests together are the bride. But it’s an illustration, stressing the joy to be found in witnessing the union of Christ and his people at his return, and the table fellowship we enjoy with God. Being told “these are the true words of God” again emphasises its reality and the importance of responding to the invitation by persevering faith. It’s a joy we think little on. There is real happiness to see a bride and group happy in each other on their wedding day. How much more when the church is finally with Jesus.

Excursus : The 7 Beatitudes of Revelation

This is the 4th of yet another 7. Seven statements: “blessed is…”

  1. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (1v3)
  2. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!” (14v13)
  3. “Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (16v15)
  4. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (19v9)
  5. “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” (20v6)
  6. “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22v7)
  7. “Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (22v14)

The number stresses complete and perfect blessedness, ie. joy from God. And they remind the reader that although tribulation may be their lot in this life, happy bliss really does await if they will only continue to trust Christ. This reflects the same concern of the beatitudes in Matthew 5.

     v10: It’s interesting to ponder what causes John to fall down at his guide’s feet here. Perhaps thankful relief to finally witness the culmination of all things. Whatever, the angel is clear that he is not to be worshipped as he is simply a fellow servant. The note that believers “hold to the testimony of Jesus” which is “the spirit of prophecy” may again be here to highlight the certainty of these things. What is believed in the gospel is God’s word and so certain. And this is why God and not the angel is to be worshipped. What encouragement to the weary. This really is what awaits us. And for it God is to be praised. The argument makes it unlikely the angels words finish after “worship God” as the ESV implies. Rather, after “spirit of prophecy.”
     v11-12: Twice we have had the temple and sanctuary in heaven opened (11v19, 15v5). But now it is simply heaven that is opened, perhaps because there is no longer going to be a temple. John urges on our imaginations with his call “behold.” The “faithful and true” witness is Christ (see 3v14), again stressing the certainty of what he has promised. And here he is seen coming out of heaven on a pure war horse, ready as king to judge and conquer in righteousness – ie. in a manner that is entirely right and just. His flaming eyes (1v14) signify his penetrating knowledge of all and the consuming holiness with which he looks on evil. As with the beast, his “head” signifies his kingly rule, and the many diadems perhaps its supremacy, with him as king of kings (v16). We have seen throughout the book that bearing a “name” written on oneself describes who one is, and that name is then born by others who give that individual their allegiance (13v17, 14v1, 17v5, 22v4). But we are told this first name born by Christ is known only to him. This may signify his unique and unfathomable relationship with his Father – the name that denotes that, and perhaps his submission to his Father’s will. Perhaps we need grasp nothing more from it, than that there is more to Christ than has been made known. There is still mystery.
     v13: What we do know, however, is that he comes in judgment as his clothes are dipped in blood. And the name he is openly called is “the Word of God,” yet again stressing that what he has taught and promised in his gospel or testimony is true. And so, it is as the Word that he comes in judgment, judging people according to their response to his word and its heralds. It’s a reminder that this is the key factor, making our own response so critical.
     v14-16: With him comes a heavenly army. This may be angelic as the scriptures consistently portray Christ returning with his “holy angels” (Mt 13v39-49, Mk 8v38). However, they are dressed as the redeemed in garments fit for God’s presence and signifying purity (19v8). So more likely they are God’s people (the bride herself), on their own horses as they come to play their own part in the judgement of the nations. This seems confirmed by verse 15. The sword of judgement comes from Christ’s mouth as it is his words that judge (as v13). They will be the determiner of people’s destiny. But here we are told he will rule them with a “rod of iron” (Ps 2v9), an act the book has already told us believers will share in (2v26-27). As verse 19 pictures the beast and his earthly army gathering against Christ’s, it seems most likely Christ’s army does not represent the souls with him in heaven but the church at that time on earth.
     With the language of the OT prophets we are told Christ will tread the winepress of “the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Every word in that phrase stresses the terrifying power and extreme outrage of God’s wrath. Just as the wine is crushed out of grapes so will blood be crushed out of the nations! And so it is on the very robe, covered in this blood from his conquering judgement, and on his thigh, that Christ’s name is written. He is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” That means the nations are ultimately accountable to him, which is why he has authority to judge them for the evil that they’ve done. We should be encouraged that there is a higher throne than every merely human one. That whatever autonomy rulers or peoples feel they have, they will one day face the High King and have to give an account. How much we should seek to serve and honour only him.
     v17-19: Another angel, standing in the sun – an image perhaps of the glory of heaven, or of his impending judgment that turns it to darkness. Certainly it is because of those he addresses. He calls “birds” to gather “for the great supper of God” (Ezek 39v17-20). It’s a horrific picture of carnivorous birds being readied to feed on the flesh of slain human beings as would be well known in the aftermath of battles. Yet the list of those to be slain includes not only military categories but all types. These are those John sees gathering with the beast and his kings to make war on Christ on his horse and his army, the church.
     v20-21: Now we see Christ’s victory. The beast-ruler of the last days is captured. With him “the false prophet” who is identified as the second beast who promotes worship of the first (13v11ff) – most likely a key individual. He was in his presence just as the church was in Christ’s. He had done false signs that deceived those from the nations, who had received the mark of belonging to the beast and who worshipped the image the false prophet had set up. As “the beast” here is a reappearance of what was once evident in a key Caesar, it’s possible the “beast” is the principle of Satanic rule rather than an individual, and the “image of the beast” is the end-time anti-Christ ruler who conforms to that pattern. These verse confirm the ideas of chapter 13 should be understood to span the church age.
     After all the distress and longing of the book and of all history we now see the end of these two diabolical characters. It’s brief showing how easy it is for Christ. They are “thrown alive” in the “lake of first that burns with sulfur.” 20v14 tells us it is “the second death” where all the wicked will eventually reside, that is hell. This is the language of Sodom and Gomorrah and so of judgement and permanent destruction. But “thrown alive” stresses agony under this judgment, which we know from 14v11 will continue everlastingly. The imagery is of eternal torment under the wrath of God.
     “The rest” are the kings and peoples who following them. Their end here is different. They are “slain by the sword” from Christ’s mouth (1v16). The point is that Christ’s words judge and condemn them to death. It is because of their rejection of his gospel that they are slain, and suffer the humiliation of being feasted on by birds.

     It is difficult to quite discern the chronology here. The language of the last battle in chapter 19 is that of “Gog and Magog” from Ezekiel 39, which we are told takes place at the end of the millennium (20v8-10). So 20v1-10 must cover the church age leading to this key event. This suggests that the beast and false-prophet are demonic entities as their judgement is different to that of their human followers and coincides with Satan being cast into the same lake of fire (20v10). So we’re reading of the final destruction of Satanic powers as Jesus comes and defeats the earthly armies gathered against his people – a destruction that precedes, though briefly, the final judgment when the souls of their followers join them: those involved in the last battle, together with those throughout history.