The contrasting conclusions in this 19th chapter of Revelation bring much hope to suffering believers. A recording of this 23rd study in our series through Revelation will be available on the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.
As Christians we want to believe that God will (and should) protect us from hardships. Even though our news feeds are filled with the reality of hardships today and our Bibles are stories of suffering saints, we are often stunned at the sting of suffering. The early believers were warned by Peter to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice…” (1 Peter 4:13; compare Romans 5:3-5). What contrast! Yet this verse is such a good summary of the message Revelation conveyed to its first readers/hearers.
What is there to rejoice in when you suffer? Paul wrote that believers should “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Along with patience and prayer, rejoicing in hope carry believers through times of trouble (compare Hebrews 12:1-3)
Images of hope. Hope is the confidence that things will end well, an image that depicts a desired outcome. It is more than a target – these images move us deeply as they invite us to envision the promise as fulfilled reality. These images of hope give a reason to go on – the assurance that my endurance will be rewarded. To Abraham it was the stars above and sand in his toes that symbolized his offspring. To Joseph it was the dreams of his reign that kept him faithful to God through enslavement and imprisonment.
Revelation 19 paints these three pictures of hope meant to spur on the suffering saints: Babylon’s destruction; the marriage of the Lamb; and victory over the Beast and his False Prophet. Seeing these images will stir the same joyful hope in us today.
Babylon’s destruction (9:1-8). Chapter 18 depicts the fall of Babylon, representing the destruction of each and every worldly system that sets itself up against God and His rightful reign. The saints are called to “rejoice” over her destruction (18:20); chapter 19 opens with this rejoicing.
John’s hears four “hallelujah” cries, with four reasons to rejoice over the end of this evil empire. The first shout celebrates God’s justice that had been served against Babylon’s cruelty and injustice (19:1-3). The saints were redeemed from oppression and their enemy had been destroyed.
The second shout John hears celebrate Babylon’s destruction as final and eternal – perversion had been destroyed once for all (19:3-4). Creation had been fully rid of lust, greed and pride, to never seduce the world again.
The third set of shouts celebrate the end of evil’s reign on earth; God’s reign had come, having triumphed over his enemies (19:6). Righteousness, peace and joy will govern the earth forever (Romans 14:7)!
Happily ever after (19:7-8). The shouts of joy culminate in the festive sounds of the wedding feast of the Lamb: Christ has returned to marry his Bride, to be united with his people forever! The heavens rejoice because the “Bride had made herself ready… clothed herself with fine linen, bright and pure — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (19:8). The “fiery trials” of Babylon had “finished its work” in the church, presenting it “perfect, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4; compare Malachi 3:3-4).
What John hears are these shouts of joy over Babylon’s destruction and the Bridegroom’s return. When John turns to look, he sees Christ (compare 1:12-16), described like the valiant and victorious royal bridegroom in Psalm 45.
The Bridegroom (19:11-16). John proceeds to describe the Bridegroom. He sees Christ as the conquering King, a victorious one riding on a white horse, leading his army into conquest. This Bridegroom is called the Word of God – the embodiment of the scroll of God’s redemptive plan for creation – the Faithful and True witness of God’s kingdom. His clothes are stained by his own blood, making him alone worthy to champion God’s quest to redeem and reconcile all things to God. With the words of his mouth he judges the wicked nations (refer 14:13-23). He is indeed the Sovereign ruler, the “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” (19:16)
The victory over the Beast (19:17-21). Next John describes the conquest of this valiant Bridegroom against his enemies. Although the Beast with all the kingdoms on earth and their armies gather to make war against Christ and his armies, there is no contest. The Beast and False Prophet were captured and thrown into an eternal fire, while the earthlings died from the sword of Christ mouth. The shift in the scene creates great contrast as the readers hear of the bridal feast, but the only meal described is the one that the birds are invited to: to feast on the corpses of those who serve the Beast and bear his mark. (This is an allusion to Ezekiel 39:17-20, God’s victory foretold against the nation of Gog. Revelation 20 continues to draw on Ezekiel 38-39).
With this, the battle on earth is completed: the Beast (oppressive regimes), the False Prophet (deceptive ideologies) and Babylon (seductiveness of worldliness) is conquered by Christ. Now only their master, the Dragon (Satan himself) must be slain by Christ our Champion. This is what Chapter 20 describes.
Bringing it home.
This text is firstly a mirror of our world, of sin’s corruption in mankind that results in the atrocities that fill our news-feeds daily. We are terrorized by the incessant greed and seductive perversion in our culture (Babylon). We are oppressed by the corruption of power in every sinful government/ governing system, leading to injustice and abuse of the weak (the Beast). We are bombarded with the deceptive ideologies that exalts mankind and disregards God as creator and rightful ruler of the world (The False Prophet). Because of sin in society, mankind suffers greatly – especially the righteous who resist the seduction in culture and refuse to submit to ungodly ideologies and its enforcers. We crave peace and joy in a fallen world that can never deliver it.
The aim of this picturesque chapter is to cause the reader to rejoice in hope – to look through the window of this text and feel joy welling up as we look towards a world free from sin, seduction and subjection. Can you picture society without sensual seductions and its vile perversions? Can you imagine life free from competitiveness, violence and oppression? Can you imagine a world without deception and division? A world of shalomn – peace in heart and mind, and in society. This hope is the expectation of Christ’s rule in justice, peace and joy that the believer can look forward to.
This text is also a door for us, an invitation to receive joyful encouragement from God by holding these promises before us. It urges us to envision the promised victory of Christ over all earthly forces that tempt us, intimidate us, and deceive us. Imagine a world filled with peace, joy and justice. A world free from suffering, separation, and seduction. Drink it in, and let “the joy of the Lord be your strength” to endure! (Nehemiah 8:10)