The Triumphant Savior (Rev. 19:11-21)
Last week when we looked at Matthew 16 together and what it means to follow Christ, we had occasion to consider the Transfiguration of our Lord. This is the moment when the future glory of Christ was revealed to Peter, John, and James, as our Lord’s visible appearance for a moment changed so that he radiated like the sun in brilliant splendor. It occurred to me as I thought about it some more that it is surely important that what the disciples saw on the mount was not a preview of their glory but of the glory of Christ. Now it’s not that the disciples themselves will not someday be glorified; the word of God assures us that all God’s people will participate in the glory to come. And in particular, that we will share, by God’s sheer grace and mercy, in the glory of the Son of God. Here is the way the apostle Paul put it to the Philippians: “For our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).
But this is not the preview the disciples were granted. Rather, they were granted the preview of the glory of Christ. That is what they needed to see. And the reason they needed to see that is that whatever glory we will enjoy in the age to come, it is only a copy of his. His is the original and ours the copy. Our glory will be given in union with him and in dependence upon him. His glory comes from his own nature, whereas our future glory is a glory gotten by grace as a gift, the culmination of our salvation.
Or here is the way the apostle Paul put it to the Colossians: “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4). We will only appear in glory if we are in Christ, if we are with Christ, if Christ is our life.
So here is another contrast between the Christian message and the message of our culture. What does the culture say? It is constantly telling you how great you are. As a result, it is constantly telling you outright lies, like you can be whatever you want to be, whether you want to be an animal or an astronaut. It is telling us that our hopes and dreams ought to center around our own ambitions and our own glory. It is telling us to say to ourselves, “My will be done be on earth, and let heaven say yes to that.” It is telling us to look at ourselves and to admire ourselves and to preen over ourselves.
But what has this got us? It has got us to a place where people are actually mutilating themselves and the culture admires them for it. We are truly a nation under the judgment of God, given over to insanity and sin. We need to stop looking at ourselves. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as gods. We need to turn and find salvation and life and glory in Jesus Christ.
This is why the text we are looking at this morning is so helpful. You will notice that the armies of heaven are mentioned in verse 14: “And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” It’s not clear whether these are angels or redeemed humanity or both, but the fact of the matter is that Christ is the one who is doing battle here; the army just follows in the wake of his victory. The final triumph over sin is not got by us; it is accomplished decisively and comprehensively by Christ alone.
One of the things I find almost amusing is the way the narrative almost makes you expect to see a great battle unfold, like Waterloo or Gettysburg, but then in a very anticlimactic fashion it just skips to the ending. John writes: “And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army” (19). Here you have all the enemies of Christ gathered together to do battle with the Lord, this battle which was predicted back in chapter 16 (“For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” Rev. 16:14), and of which we are reminded in chapter 17 (“These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” Rev. 17:14), and now finally we are at the moment when it is going to take place. But instead of seeing a great battle unfold, we are simply told the end: “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” (19:20-21).
I think the reason that we just see the end is that the battle will be so short. The enemies of Christ are no match for him. It’s like sending horse cavalry against modern tanks or sending up WW1 biplanes against F-35s. No matter how much ingenuity and power the forces of evil have, in the end they will not be able to stand up to the Lord. We’ve already seen how that even the power the beast has – remember that the beast is the Antichrist prefigured in the wicked rulers of every age – even it has been given to him. And though it is true that it is given to him by the Dragon, Satan, yet even so ultimately it is power that comes from heaven itself. The enemies of Christ live on borrowed time. God has allowed their predominance for a limited time, as he did with Pharaoh, in order to make his power and glory known in their utter and complete destruction and ruin in the end.
And note here the complete ruin of the enemies of God and the complete triumph of the Lamb. The beast and the false prophet – the political and religious Antichristian leaders– are “cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.” This is Gehenna, which historically was a valley south and west of Jerusalem, were pagan worship and human sacrifice had been done in Israel’s past. But over time, in Jewish literature Gehenna became the symbol of the final judgment of the wicked. This is not the same as Hades or Sheol (which is also sometimes translated as “hell” in the KJV), which refers to the intermediate state between death and the final judgment, but to the final judgment of God upon the wicked. It is the place that our Lord was speaking when he said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]” (Mt. 10:28). This is the place where the wicked are not rehabilitated but ruined and destroyed.
We are told that all the wicked are not yet put here, just the beast and false prophet, whereas “the remnant were slain with the sword.” This is because, I think, the final judgment of all the wicked is yet to come. And yet this does not mean that the victory is not complete. It is; there are no enemies left to stand against Christ on the field of battle. He has vanquished all foes, which is expressed, though rather grimly, in the call to the birds to feast on the flesh of the fallen enemies of God and his people (19:17-18).
Now the reason for the totality of the defeat of the beast and the false prophet and their army and the reason for the victory of God’s people over their enemies, is because it is Jesus Christ who is at the head of the army of heaven. And the reason for this passage of Scripture in Revelation is to help us see that. It is to help us so to see the glory of Christ that we will put our hope in him rather than in other things. As Mounce puts it, “Nowhere in Revelation is the victorious Christ portrayed in symbols and language more likely to convince the reader that in spite of Satan’s best efforts God and the Lamb will emerge triumphant in the end.” [Mounce, Revelation, p. 351].
So this morning I would like us to consider the extended description of Christ our Lord especially carefully in verses 11-16. And what I hope it does for you and me is to strengthen our confidence in Christ and our love for him and our hope in him and our commitment to him. He is truly the Triumphant Savior and worthy of our trust and devotion. In particular, I would like us to contemplate and meditate for a while on three attributes of our Savior which are highlighted in this text: his appellations, appearance, and acts.
The Appellations (Names) of Christ
There are four names given to our Lord here in this text. Unlike many of the names we give, the names of our Lord don’t just identify him, but they actually describe him. They tell us something about who he is and what he does. Hence we are told in verse 11 that our Lord “was called Faithful and True,” meaning these are names for him which also describe his character. In verse 12, we are told that he has an unknown name. In verse 13, that his name is the Word of God. And, finally, in verse 16, that “he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Faithful and True
These two words are probably synonymous and describe our Lord’s faithfulness. He is true in the sense that he is true to his word. He keeps his promises. He does what he says he will do. He faithfully does his Father’s will in accomplishing the salvation of his people whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world. And this means not only rescuing them from their own sins by bearing the guilt of their sins upon himself and satisfying the justice of God on their behalf, it also means that he rescues them from all their enemies. This latter reality is probably what is most in focus here, given the context.
One of our problems is that we often judge our Lord’s faithfulness to his promise to give us future glory and rest in light of the present suffering we are experiencing. But the NT perspective is to us to do the opposite: we are to interpret our present suffering in the light of the promise of future glory. The pattern is clear all throughout the Bible: suffering now and sweetness later, groaning now and glory later. And just as the former is sure, so is the latter. However, there is a huge difference: the present suffering is very temporary whereas the glory to come is eternal.
One of the points of the book of Revelation is to remind us of this fact. All who belong to Christ will in fact inherit eternal glory in the age to come. This is not because of anything special about us. It is not because we are wise or powerful. It is because Christ always keeps his word. And this is because that is who he is. He is the one who is faithful and true.
How can we be sure of this? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is that he came the first time, in fulfillment of the many promises made in the OT. Of the two comings, surely we can agree that the first coming for Christ must be the most difficult. The first was a coming in humiliation, whereas this coming, the coming announced here and promised in these verses, is a coming in exaltation. If he has kept the promise of his first coming, we can be sure that he will keep the promise of his second.
But then there is the fact that all who belong to Christ by faith experience his daily faithfulness. He gives us daily grace, and in his providence he has provided for us and guided us, and even put trials in our lives for our good. All things work for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28). His Spirit dwells within us even now, sealing us and giving us the earnest of our future inheritance. He grants us at times such comfort and assurance that we cannot doubt. And even in those moments when it feels darkest, even then we know that he is with us. He has promised it; the saints in every age have experienced it, and our own lives bear witness to his faithfulness that daily bears us up.
The Unknown Name
We are told in verse 12, that “he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.” There is some disagreement among the Biblical scholars as to what this means. But the fact that several times in the OT, the angel of the Lord, that mysterious person who was probably the preincarnate Christ, refused to say his name to those who asked, indicates here not only the mysteriousness of Christ but also his divine status. We are thinking, of course, of the time Jacob wrestled with the man before meeting his brother Esau. Even though the angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel, when Jacob asked him his name, he simply replied, “Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there” (Gen. 32:29). We are told that Jacob’s response to this episode was to call “the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (30). Or one thinks of the time the parents of Samson asked the angel of the Lord his name and he responded by saying, “Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?” (Judg. 13:18). Again, the response of Manoah, Samson’s father, is instructive: “And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God” (22). In both cases, this angel of the Lord with a secret name is identified with God. Even so, when our Lord is identified as having a secret name, we are probably, in light of the OT background of Revelation, to see this as pointing to the divine power and status of Jesus Christ.
Certainly, it points us to the mystery of his person. We must acknowledge this: if Christ is God then there must be mystery to his person. God cannot be found out. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways than our ways. He is holy; he is transcendent. He alone is self-existent, the one who was, and is, and is to come. You cannot exhaustively know God, and you cannot know him at all unless he reveals himself to you. This is just what our Lord said: “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Mt. 11:27).
An implication of this reality is that you cannot control God. You cannot manipulate him. He is sovereign; we are not. We must bow to his will and to submit to him. But thank God for that! I am thankful that we do not serve one of the species of pagan gods who were said to be constantly manipulated by their devotees. Rather, we humbly trust in the one who is highly exalted and sovereign and therefore triumphant over all his enemies.
The Word of God
In verse 13, we read, “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.” There is some dispute among scholars whether Revelation was written by John the apostle or by another otherwise unknown early Christian by the name of John. I argued at the outset in our series of messages on this book that the John here is John the apostle. The earliest (and, I would say, reliable) attestation to the authorship of this book is to say that it was written by him. But another reason I find this plausible is that the only other books in the NT where our Lord is called the Word of God is in the gospel of John and the first epistle of John, both written by John the apostle. Here in Rev. 19:13, we find it again. So I take it as another piece of evidence for the apostolic authorship of this epistle.
But what does John mean by referring to Christ as the Word of God? Well, when John introduces our Lord by this title in his gospel, there is a very clear allusion to the opening words of Genesis. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:1-3). In other words, here is the Creator of all things, the one who made the universe by his own Word: “And God said…” (Gen. 1:3,6,9,11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Jesus is that Word.
But there is more. Not only did he create the world, but he entered into the world by becoming a man, by taking human nature to his divine nature, in order to save the world: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Because he himself is God, he alone is the one who alone can reveal the God the Father to us: “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (18).
He is the divine person who carries out and effects the Father’s will in creation, providence, and salvation. Because he is the Word of God, we can be sure that what he says and what he does will indeed come to pass. No one can thwart God’s word. No one can overcome or successfully stand against the Lord Jesus.
King of kings and Lord of lords
“And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (16). I love this, don’t you? If you don’t love this, you should fear because it means that you are at yet hostile in your heart to Jesus Christ. And if that’s the case, it means that you are on the side of those who are described in verses 17-21. If you are an enemy of Christ, you will not fare well in the end, my friend. You need to repent of your rebellion against Christ, lay down your arms, stop your futile and foolish effort to resist his sovereignty over your life. Because the fact of the matter is that all of us will bow to him, either willingly or unwillingly, but you will bow.
But if Christ’s kingdom has come into your hearts, how this statement thrills the soul! We rejoice that there is no king on this planet (or any other, for that matter) who is not infinitely below Christ. Christ sits on his throne, and his sovereignty, his right and power to rule, extends over every other sovereign, king, emperor, dictator, president, prime minister, chief, or warlord, or whatever.
He is King of kings and Lord of lords in his right to rule. So many monarchs and political rulers have grasped power that didn’t belong to him or her. But Christ is the rightful Lord and King of all men of all times and in every place.
He is King of kings and Lord of lords in his power to rule. There are instances in history where someone may have had the right to rule, but they never got a chance to exercise it. There are kings who have been forced to bow to the power of another king. One thinks, for example, of how Alexander the Great humiliated the Persian emperor Darius in a series of stunning military defeats. But, my friend, no one can topple Christ from his throne. No one can match his power to exercise his reign and rule anywhere he wants, whenever he wants.
Brothers and sisters, this is Jesus Christ. His names are truly wonderful: they tell us he can be totally relied upon, that he cannot be controlled, that he accomplishes the will of God in the world, and that his sovereignty is matchless. He is worthy to be trusted, loved, and obeyed. If you don’t trust in him, you should. And if you do, you should trust him more!
The Appearance of Christ
Here the appearance of Christ has as much to tell us about himself as his names. He appears here on a white horse (11), with flaming eyes and crowned with many crowns (12), clothed with a vesture dipped in blood (13), followed by the armies of heaven (14), and a sharp sword coming out of his mouth (15).
Mounted on a white horse
This is the symbol of victory. In ancient Rome, victorious generals were given white horses to ride in the parades that celebrated their conquests. Our Lord appears at the very outset of this vision on a white horse. Even before the battle of Armageddon, the great battle of the day of God, has happened, the outcome is certain. I remember reading about a soldier during the American Civil War who, before a great battle, wrote in his diary, “I died today.” His dead body was later found on the battlefield. Well, that kind of certainty is fitting for the enemies of God. Our Lord doesn’t just ride his white horse after the battle; he rides it into battle, he is that certain.
Brothers and sisters, we need to remember that it is still certain that our Lord will in the end overcome all his and our enemies. We also need to remember that this vision is not written in a Pollyannish type of novel, but in the realism of Scripture. Revelation reminds us that the saints will suffer now. It reminds us that there is a beast and a false prophet and a dragon and that these individuals have real power. There is no promise that if we just keep our nose clean we will avoid pain and trouble in this world. Rather, the promise of Revelation is that God is glorified even in our suffering and that we are more than conquerors through him that loves us, that all who belong to Christ will enjoy, not the fruit of temporary victory, but eternal victory.
When WW2 ended, there was a sense in the West that justice had been done. But that war was followed by the Iron Curtain and for many years the nations of Eastern Europe lived under the oppression of communism and the shadow of the Soviet Union. The reality is that many crimes against humanity were done after the war as before and during it. A Cold War followed that lasted another fifty or so years. Wars in this age never end in everlasting peace. But the victory portrayed here is a lasting one.
With flaming eyes
What does this mean? Well, our Lord has appeared this way at the beginning of this book (1:14). When he rebukes the church of Thyatira for its sin, he does so as one “who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire” (2:18). It denotes the penetrating gaze of one who is holy, who not only sees the wicked but who will punish those who refuse to repent as well. It means that none of the deeds of the wicked, even those that have been hidden behind seemingly impenetrable barriers of deceit, will be hidden forever. That which has been done in the dark will be brought into the light. On the other hand, it also means that the good deeds of God’s people that often go unnoticed and unappreciated have also been seen by Christ and will be rewarded in God’s good time.
On his head many crowns
We are told that the dragon has seven crowns (12:3), and that the beast had ten crowns (13:1). But upon the head of our Lord are not a seven or ten, but many crowns, indicating that the sovereignty our Lord exercises infinitely exceeds that of his competitors.
Clothed in a vesture [robe] dipped in blood
This language comes from the book of the prophesy of Isaiah, where we read: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come” (Isa. 63:1-4).
What this means is that the blood in which the robe of Christ is dipped is not his own blood, but the blood of his enemies and the enemies of his people. It may shock some of us to hear our Lord described in these terms. Some just want a gentle Jesus meek and mild. Others want to believe in a universalism that brings everyone into heaven in the end.
Part of our problem is that we are bombarded with statements all the time that people are ultimately good. If that’s the case, why would you want to trample them down like this? But that is wishful thinking at best. God’s word is far more realistic. This is what the Bible tells us: “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18). It should therefore not surprise us that there are some people out there who are evil and who will, given the chance, do unspeakably wicked things. History is replete with examples, and Hitler and Stalin don’t even scratch the surface of the multitude of moral monsters who have defiled human history.
The fact of the matter is that if this shocks us, it is probably because we have lived very sheltered lives. If your children were fed to the lions by pagan persecutors, I suspect you would feel differently. This would not only not shock us, it would be the only thing that would make the world we live in make sense. The fact of the matter is that much unspeakable evil has been done and is being done in the world. The wicked often go down to their graves with little or no retribution in this world. But what God’s word tells us is that this will not always be the case. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord (Rom. 12:19), and he will repay.
He is followed by the armies of heaven.
The title of King is not an empty title for Jesus. He is followed, willingly, by the armies of heaven. It is said that in WW2, the Russian armies would have a line of soldiers behind the front lines whose purpose was just to shoot anyone retreating to the rear. The front-line troops were made to advance from fear. But this is not the case with our Lord. The armies of heaven not only follow him, but do so willingly and fearlessly. They too ride on white horses for they share the victory of their King. They are dressed in fine linen, white and clean – their garments are not soiled by the blood of their enemies because Christ does all the fighting for them.
He has a sharp sword coming out of his mouth
Once again, we are reminded that we should not take the imagery of Revelation overly literal. This is a picture that is meant to make a point. And the point is the power of his words. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). He does not need to cast about for a weapon, for the fulness of power lies in himself. He need only speak, and all his enemies will be toppled.
The Acts of Christ
In these verses, our Lord is not only described in terms of his appearance, but he is also described in terms of his acts. In these verses, we see him judging and making war (11). He is the one who smites the nations and rules them with a rod of iron, treading the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God (15). What we see here is that our Lord’s acts are consistent with his names and his appearance. He is named King of kings, he is arrayed for war, and that is what we see him actually doing. He smites the nations, conquers them, and rules over them. His garment is dipped in blood because he has been treading the winepress of the wrath of God.
In other words, our Lord is not the kind of person who makes us think he is one thing when he is really something else altogether. He is not a conman. He is faithful and true. He will overcome all his and our enemies and we will by grace enjoy the fruits of his victory of sin, death, and the devil.
So, brothers and sisters, look to Christ. See him not only promised in the OT, see him not only born of a virgin, see him not only hanging on a cross and lying in a tomb. See him not only ascending into heaven. But see him returning again. See him fulfilling all the promises of God to us and for us. See the glory of Christ foretold here in these images and visions. One day we will see that there was never any advantage to embracing the sinful pleasures that the world promises to give us if we just go along, if we just blend in, if we just walk the way everyone else is going. One day Christ will appear in heaven and everyone on earth will see. One day the judgment will come. One day Babylon will fall. One day the beast and the false prophet will be thrown alive in the Lake of Fire. On that day we will be able to say that no matter what we suffered for Christ, it was worth it.
Where are you this morning? Are you trusting and obeying the Lord Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords? Or do you care less? Can it be that you are bored with God? Or do you hate the things of God? My friend, I am here in front of you this morning in the providence of God to tell you, on the basis of God’s word, that there is no hope for you beyond the grave if you remain in that condition. You must repent, you must turn from your lifestyle of rebellion against God. Do not think that you can shrug this off like the skeptic who said, when he was about to die, that if the God he had lived denying really existed, he would forgive him anyway since it is the business of God to forgive. But it is not the business of God to forgive. He does not have to forgive anyone, least of all you or me. That’s what it means to be saved by grace, which is what the Scriptures teach. If God saves you, it is an act of sovereign grace. And it can only be received in the way therefore that God prescribes. And that way is the way of conviction of sin, repentance of sin, faith in Christ, receiving him as Lord and Savior – in other words, receiving Jesus for who he really is. My prayer and my hope for you is that you will do this today.
And I encourage anyone who wants to follow Jesus but who has not yet been baptized and joined the church, to take the necessary steps to do that today. Put on Christ. Identify with him. Walk with him with us. Talk to Elder Bradley or myself. We welcome all who are welcomed by Christ, all who embrace him with humble faith and repentance.