Saturday, September 4, 2010

Revelation 19

Rejoicing over the fall of Rome (vs. 1-10)--The ultimate collapse of the Roman Empire was still a few centuries away (476 A.D. is the "official" date because that is the last time a Roman sat on the imperial throne), but so sure is that collapse that it is spoken of in the past tense--"He [God] has judged the great harlot...and has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her" (v. 2). This is a cause for great rejoicing, which takes place all through this section. A few noteworthy points. The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures of chapter 4 are still around worshipping God (v. 4). As noted in that chapter the twenty-four elders perhaps represent the redeemed of all dispensations, while the four living creatures indicate that everything in the natural world worships and praises God. Again, I say "perhaps" because we must be careful not to be dogmatic about the specific symbols and events of apocalyptic literature. The word "Hallelujah," found in three verses (vs. 1, 3, and 6) means "praise the Lord." God is worthy of "glory and honor and power" (v. 1), His judgments are "true and righteous" (v. 2), He is "Lord" and "omnipotent" (v. 6). He has prepared a marriage for the Lamb (cf. Matt. 22:1-14), and those who are called to it (those who have accepted the gospel) are "blessed." "His wife has made herself ready" (v. 7). This is very possibly a reference to the church, which is referred to as the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5:30-32. The wife was clothed in "fine linen, clean and bright" (purity, v. 8); the "fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (v. 8). God sees our works and rewards us for them. John was so overcome with what he saw that he fell down and worshipped the messenger, who corrected him and told him to worship only God. The last statement in verse 10 is interesting: "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," which almost surely means that the ultimate purpose of the preaching/writings of the Old Testament prophets was to speak of the coming of the Messiah.

The defeat of the two beasts (vs. 11-19)--It's interesting to note that Satan was introduced first (chapter 12), then the two beasts (chapter 13), and then the harlot (chapter 17), but their overthrow is in reverse order--the woman first, then the two beasts, then Satan. Whether there is any significance to this or not, I do not know, except the devil, being the ultimate enemy, would--and will be--the final foe defeated. If the harlot represents the totality of the Roman Empire and the first beast, as I suggested, represents the emperor, then, in the order of things in Revelation, we have the empire overthrown before the emperor. I don't think the "chronology" here is important. In apocalyptic literature, anything can happen at any time, and chronology is of little or no importance. It's the ultimate message that is significant.

Jesus appears from heaven (v. 11). That this is Christ is unquestionable. He is "called Faithful and True" and He judges in righteousness (v. 11). He was clothed in a robe dipped in blood (probably a reference to His own redeeming work), and "His name is called The Word of God" (v. 13). See John 1:1-2 for an exact parallel to this. A sharp sword (the word of God, Ephesians 6:17) came out of His mouth, and that will be His tool to "strike (judge) the nations" (v. 15). He, indeed, will judge mankind by His Word (John 12:48). And if there remains any doubt as to the identity of this individual, verse 16 should totally remove it: On his robe and thigh were written "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS," which is exactly what Paul calls Him in I Timothy 6:15. His judging responsibilities are further indicated in verse 15: "And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." On His head He wore "many crowns"--not just one, to indicate His authority over all the earth (Matt. 28:18). In verses 17-18 an angel calls out "to all the birds [scavengers in this case] that fly in the midst of heaven" and tells them to get prepared "for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great." The slaughter of the Lamb's enemies will be great. There was indeed a great battle (v. 19); the wicked fight mightily against the Lord, but the outcome is never uncertain. The two beasts were captured and "cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone" (v. 20), and all those who had followed them were likewise dispatched, "killed with the sword" and food for the birds (v. 21). As always, we must ask, how would John's readers understand this, and the answer would surely be in reference to their current conditions--persecution by the Romans, something that would continue, sporadically, for another two+ centuries. Trying to relate all of this to events 2,000 years later would be of only limited benefit to 1st century Christians. It's nice to know that Satan would ultimately be defeated (they knew that anyway); what they needed was some assurance that their earthly enemy would also be punished, and that in a temporal way. John gives them that assurance as the book draws to a close.

Incidentally, this coming of Jesus is not the 2nd coming. This is a "coming" in judgment upon Rome; the war is made against her and those who supported her. The final three chapters do speak of the ultimate overthrow and defeat of Satan and the eternal home of the saints, but they simply "telescope" ahead to insure all of us that he who is trying to destroy our souls in hell will eventually end up there himself.

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