The Conquering King of Kings
December 13, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: Visions of the Reigning King: Jesus Christ as Portrayed in Revelation (Advent 2020)
Passage: Revelation 19:11–19:16
The Conquering King of Kings
We begin today with a question. If we identified all that is necessary for the salvation of the church, what would be on our list? What must occur in order for God’s people to be saved? Right from the start, we would say salvation requires atonement. In order to save the church, Christ shed his blood at the cross to pay for our sin. Along with atonement, salvation requires resurrection. In order to ensure life for God’s people, Christ rose from the dead. We would say that salvation requires the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. By nature, we were dead in our sins, and therefore, in order for Christ’s salvation to be applied to us, the Holy Spirit had to give us new life. Salvation also requires the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord, so God, in his grace, works by his Spirit to make his church holy. Atonement, resurrection, regeneration, sanctification – all of these – and many more – are necessary for the church to be savedBut there is another work that must occur for salvation, and it’s one that we often overlook. We’ve actually mentioned it already this morning when we recited the Apostle’s Creed. We believe Jesus Christ is coming again to do what? To judge the living and the dead. The judgment of God, as carried out by the Lord Jesus, is essential to the church’s salvation. What I mean is that salvation will be complete only after Christ dispenses divine judgment upon Satan, the fallen angels, and all those who do not know God and submit to the gospel of Christ. That final judgment is part of Christ’s saving work. It is through the final judgment that God’s justice is displayed, and it is by means of the final judgment that righteousness is made to dwell on the earth. As much as contemporary Christianity attempts to avoid this point, there is no final salvation apart from the judgment of God, as carried out by Jesus Christ.Now, I’ll admit this is not a typical Advent theme. But perhaps it should be. Let me make my case. At Advent, we celebrate the first coming of Christ, when the Son of God laid aside his glory to take on flesh for us and for our salvation. But that first coming lays the groundwork for the second coming. In fact, you could say it more strongly. The second coming consummates the work Christ began at his first coming. They are two sides of salvation’s coin. At the first coming, we see the grace of God in giving his Son for the salvation of the church, and then, like the other side of the coin, the second coming reveals the justice of God in righting every wrong and re-creating all things in truth and righteousness. Both comings – both Advents – are necessary.
Or, to put it another way, we love to sing that great line from Joy to the World – that Christ comes to make his blessing known as far as the curse is found. But in order for that blessing to come, the curse must be completely eradicated. Someone must defeat God’s enemies and bring righteousness to the earth. For that reason, Advent is actually a good time to celebrate both the first and second coming of Christ. The salvation of the church must include the revelation of God’s judgment.
And our passage this morning in Revelation 19 brings this necessity into clear relief. What we read in these verses is the final battle against the forces of darkness. Satan, through his emissaries the Beast and the False Prophet, has deceived the earth and made war against the church. But suddenly, the eastern sky splits, v11, Christ descends, and salvation comes through judgment. That’s Revelation 19 – it is the victorious return of Jesus Christ.
And in this text, we see three reasons for hope bound up in the mighty return of Christ. That’s what we’ll focus on this morning. The return of Christ reveals three great realities that consummate salvation and therefore give hope to the church. So, let’s spend our time considering these reasons for hope in the return of Christ.
The Vindication of God’s People
The first reason comes primarily in vv11-12 but also v14. The return of Christ reveals the Vindication of God’s People. Now, by vindication, I mean the act of proving someone or something right. In the book of Revelation, God’s people are those who hold firm to God’s Word, which raises the question, “Will that confidence in God’s Word prove true and right in the end?” That’s the focus of this first point – will God’s people be vindicated for their faith?
And right from the start, there is a victorious tone to the text. Notice again what John sees, v11 – “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!” In the culture of John’s day, a white horse was a symbol of victory. When a king conquered an enemy, he would ride into the enemy’s capital on a white horse, signifying that his conquest was complete. So, just from that cultural background, we know that the Rider of this horse comes to conquer.
But John then quickly adds more detail. Notice the description John gives of the One who rides the horse, again v11 – “The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True.” That is an important name for Christ in the book of Revelation. Back in ch3, when Jesus speaks to his churches, how does he identify himself? As the faithful and true witness. So, the connection is clear. Unlike Satan, who deceives the world, the One riding the white horse faithfully establishes truth on all the earth. And indeed, that is why the Faithful and True Christ is riding on a white horse – because he brings the final victory over the deceptive forces of Satan.
So, right from the start, brothers and sisters, we should be encouraged that this final battle between God and Satan is a settled affair. The outcome is not in doubt. Christ does not come with the hope of victory. No, Christ comes with the certainty of victory. As the faithful and true Savior, Jesus comes to consummate salvation.
But you’ll notice that as the text continues, John adds more insight regarding Jesus Christ. The vision expands, and each point provides more depth to Christ’s victory. Notice this detail with me. First of all, John highlights Christ’s mission. Look at the end of v11 – “in righteousness he judges and makes war.” Now, that sounds like a strange thing to say about Christ – that he comes to make war. What is this about?
This is actually a very significant point in the book of Revelation. The verb used here in v11 to wage war is also used in chapter 13 to describe the satanic Beast. The Beast makes war against the church, and terrifyingly, there is no one to fight back, John says. So, by the time you get to chapter 19, the Beast appears invincible, making war on the church.
But now, everything changes. God sees the affliction of his people, and in his justice, God sends a Warrior – the Lord Jesus – to turn the tide. In justice, Christ makes war on the Beast and its allies. That is Christ’s mission in his second coming – he comes to enforce God’s judgment, and he does so in righteousness.
But notice also Christ’s position in carrying out this mission. Look at v12 – “His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems.” We’ve already seen Christ with eyes like fire back in chapter 1, symbolizing the purity of Christ’s judgment. But now, with those eyes of fire, Christ wears many diadems, or many crowns. Only two other figures in Revelation are crowned with a diadem – the dragon, that is Satan, in ch12, and the Beast, Satan’s servant, in ch13. Both are crowned with a diadem, picturing their deceptive claims to rule the earth.
But here in chapter 19, we see that Christ is crowned not with one diadem, but with many. In other words, Christ is not a pretend King. Jesus is not a phony rule. Christ’s position is absolute. In this final battle of the ages, Christ has no rivals.
And then notice, finally, Christ’s sovereignty. Look at the last line of v12 – “and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.” There is a lot to say about this phrase, but we’ll have to focus on the primary point for this passage. In Scripture, knowing someone’s name means having control over that person. Remember how the demonic spirits in the Gospels would often cry out with Jesus’ name. It was an attempt at spiritual control, but one that always fell short.
The point here is similar. When John says that Christ has a name written that no one knows but himself, he’s talking about sovereignty. No one on earth can control the Lord Jesus. He answers to no man. In fact, in order to know Christ, he must reveal himself to you. His name – in the ultimate, redemptive sense – is known only by grace. He is absolutely sovereign.
Put all the pieces together, and you can see why the white horse of victory is the perfect image in v11. Christ’s mission is to wage war against Satan and his minions. Christ’s position is firm with no rivals. And Christ’s sovereignty is absolute – there is no one who can oppose him. Brothers and Sisters, this is the great Warrior-Champion of the church – the Lord Jesus Christ – and he returns to vindicate God’s people in their faith. That’s the connection we need to make at this point.
In fact, notice v14, where this connection is made clear. When Christ returns, notice who comes with him, v14 – “And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.” In Revelation, white linen is the wardrobe of the saints. Look up at v8 earlier in ch19. The Bride of the Lamb – that is, the church – is clothed in fine linen, bright and pure. So, the saints return with the Lord Jesus.
But that’s not all. Notice that the armies of heaven are also riding white horses, just as Christ does. In other words, the saints participate in the victory of Jesus Christ. The saints share in the spoils of Christ’s conquest. It’s a remarkable picture of how Christ acts for his church. Christ conquers, and the church shares in his victory. Christ fights, and the church receives from his spoils.
Brothers and Sisters, what makes this so encouraging is that all through Revelation, the church is persecuted for her faithfulness to God’s Word. The Beast and the False Prophet make war on the church – they attempt to crush the Bride of the Lamb. And at times, the church appears foolish for continuing to trust God’s Word. When Satan’s power is on the rise, faith in the gospel appears pointless.
And yet, when Christ returns, the church’s confidence is vindicated. When Christ returns, the people of God are revealed to have staked their lives on the one sure foundation – the Word of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a message the church in every age needs to hear. Our final vindication is yet to come, and therefore, we ought to hold fast to the end. Don’t fall for the lie that faith in Christ is foolish. Don’t listen to the deception that compromise leads to deliverance. When the Rider on the White Horse appears, those who have held fast will share in victory.
Take heart, brothers and sisters. The church’s faith is not in vain. Your faith is not in vain. This preview of the second coming should encourage us that our Champion will return, and when he does, he will vindicate God’s people.
The Destruction of God’s Enemies
The second reason for hope completes this picture. In vv13 & 15, Christ’s return reveals the Destruction of God’s Enemies. This is where we see how essential the doctrine of God’s judgment is to the salvation of the church. These verses are sobering, but they are also foundational.
In v13, John continues to describe the Rider on the White Horse. And what John sees is a mighty Judge. Notice again v13 – “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is the Word of God.” If you remember the opening of John’s Gospel, then you’ll remember that one of John’s important titles for Jesus is the Word of God – the Word made Flesh. The significance of this title is that it captures the Son’s unique role in making God known. No one has ever seen God, John says. It is only through the Son that we come to know the Father.
This is why Christianity begins and ends with the person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Word of God, Christ reveals the Father to us. This is why, in Revelation, a defining mark of the church is her allegiance to the Word of God, and specifically the gospel. In Revelation, the Word of God is nearly always connected with the testimony of Jesus. And that is what defines the church – we are those who hold to the testimony of Jesus as given in the Word of God. So, when John sees the Word made Flesh here in v13, he sees the One who comes to make God known in the final, authoritative way. He sees Christ, who, as the Word of God, creates and defines the church.
But here in v13, there is a specific aspect of God that Christ reveals in his return, and it is God’s judgment. John sees the Word clothed in a blood-stained robe. That’s certainly vivid. What’s the point?
Again we’re taken back to the OT, this time to Isaiah 63. That passage is a prophetic description of God’s judgment, which is intended to comfort God’s people. As God’s people suffer under their enemies, they should take heart that God will one day make things right. God will one day bring judgment on those who do not know him. And when that day comes, God’s robe will be tinged with blood, just as the winemaker’s robe is tinged after treading in the winepress. It’s a sobering image of judgment, as God’s enemies are crushed beneath his feet.
That is the background to v13 in our passage. As the Word of God, Christ comes bearing God’s just judgment. His robe is dipped in blood because his enemies lies crushed beneath his feet. And this point is further established in v15, where it is clear that the Son brings judgment through his word. Notice v15 – “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” That is one of the most sobering verses in all of Scripture. Christ returns, he crushes God’s enemies with his sword-like word, and he metes out the wrath of God upon the nations. Remember, the nations in Scripture often represent those who oppose God. Think of Psalm 2, for example, where the nations rage against God and against his Anointed.
When John says that Christ strikes down the nations and rules them with a rod of iron, he’s not saying Christ merely oversees the people of the world. No, he’s saying that Christ defeats, decimates, and destroys all opposition to God. Like a shepherd who uses his staff to beat back danger to the flock, so Christ will use his word to strike back against those who assault his Bride, the church.
Understand, this is essential to the good news of the gospel. Sadly, much of what passes as contemporary Christianity is sentimental mush that doesn’t fit with Scripture. Despite what many think, God’s judgment is a necessary component of his goodness and grace. If God did not judge evil, then he would not be good. If God did not enforce justice on his enemies, then there would be no category for revealing his grace to undeserving sinners. If God did not do away with wickedness completely, then there would be no basis for a new creation where righteousness dwells. Sadly, many contemporary views of God are simply idols cast in our own image. What many people follow today is not the God of Scripture; it’s the god of self. They find the Bible’s presentation of God to be too sharp, too distinct, so they recast god in their own image. But therein lies the great danger – what you end up with for God is just an amplified version of self. And since our culture prizes nothing more than the therapeutic comfort of self, that leaves no category for justice as necessary for goodness. We have no category for judgment as foundational of righteousness.
That’s the irony behind contemporary attempts to minimize God’s judgment. In the name of emphasizing God’s goodness and mercy, people end up destroying true goodness and undermining meaningful mercy. We do not want a God who refuses to destroy wickedness. We do not want a God who is indifferent to evil, for that is no god at all. And so, there is, perhaps, a needed correction for us in these verses. The God of the Bible is a God of justice and judgment, and it is through his Son, Jesus Christ, that his final judgment will come to this earth.
If you have not repented of your sin and trusted in Jesus Christ, then today is the day to do so. God’s Word is telling you very clearly what the final day holds for those who do not trust in Christ. It holds judgment. But in his kindness, God is calling you today to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely, you notice that the final day has not yet come. The return of Christ has not yet happened. Why is God waiting, you ask? Why is he delaying his judgment? The Bible tells you, friend – God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. His judgment is delayed not because he’s slow or forgetful, but because God is patient, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and faith. So, if you are hearing this passage today and you are not a Christian, then understand, this is God’s kindness to you. This is his mercy and grace – that he would warn you in advance of what will come at the end. So, won’t you trust in Jesus Christ today? Now is the time of salvation, and God’s Word calls you to believe the gospel.
Before we move to the final point, I also want to say something to believers as we consider the reality of God’s judgment in Christ. I’ll just state it plainly. This doctrine should not make us boastful or arrogant. If we read passages like this and think, “Serves them right, getting what they deserve” – if we think like that, then we have misunderstood God, Christ, and the gospel. The right response, the Christian response to the judgment of God is two-fold. One, we should be comforted that God will bring evil to an end. There is a day coming when wickedness will no longer be present in God’s world. There is a new creation coming, and therefore, we should be comforted that our Savior appears in a robe dipped in blood. He comes to destroy evil.
Second, we should be stunned at God’s grace to sinners like us. Brothers and Sisters, we were God’s enemies. We hated God and were opposed to him with every fiber of our being. And left to ourselves, we would have despised God to our final breath. We are no better than those whom Christ defeats on the final day. In fact, the only reason that we are not crushed under Christ’s feet is because he was crushed for us and in our place. The only reason why our blood is not tread in the winepress of God’s wrath is because the Lamb shed his blood to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin. Indeed, earlier in Revelation, chapter 7, those who are saved are those who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. The doctrine of God’s judgment should make us keenly and deeply aware that we live by grace and nothing but grace. I deserved to be crushed by the wrath of God, but praise God, Jesus Christ was crushed in my place. That, brothers and sisters, is the response to Revelation 19. Christ comes to destroy God’s enemies, and we are saved only by grace.
The Exaltation of God’s Son
Reflecting on God’s grace in Christ leads us to the third and final reason for hope in this passage. From v16, Christ’s return reveals the Exaltation of God’s Son. This is really the culmination of much that we’ve seen already in the text, but it is good to bring it all together here. In v16, John gives us one final name for Christ in this passage. Notice what he writes – “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” That name is an expression of absolute sovereignty, lordship, and, ultimately, deity. This title has roots in the OT – in the book of Daniel – where it is connected with God himself. Here in Revelation, the title is applied to Jesus, again signifying that Christ is God in the flesh. Compared to all the kings of the earth, Christ is the King of kings, for Christ is God. Compared to all other claims of lordship, Christ is the Lord of lords, for Christ is sovereign.
But notice how this name for Christ is revealed. It is revealed in his final judgment of God’s enemies. If we were to keep reading in chapter 19, we would see Christ cast the Beast and the false prophet into the lake of fire, v20. We would witness Christ crush the armies of the Beast, v21. And that’s how we know Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. It is through the judgment of God, as carried out by the Lord Jesus. It is through Christ’s conquest that his glory is revealed.
And so, this is the great hope for the church. Our Champion will prevail, and as he triumphs through judgment, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Far from being a doctrine to avoid, the doctrine of God’s judgment, as carried out in Christ Jesus, is part of the Father’s plan to exalt the Son to the highest place.
So, how should we respond, brothers and sisters? Each week during Advent, my aim is to give us one takeaway to focus on – one application from each vision of Christ. The first week was courage. Last week was worship. This week, the takeaway is hold fast to the Scriptures. Hold fast to the testimony of Jesus Christ. This point has been present throughout the passage. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the One who reveals the Father, and he does so through his gospel. Christ’s word is the means of his judgment, as well as the expression of his authority. The saints are vindicated in their faithful adherence to the testimony about Jesus. It’s all through the passage, and I’ll contend it is the primary takeaway of this text. As we await Christ’s white horse of victory, what should we do? Hold fast to his Word. Stand firm in the testimony of Jesus Christ.
What does that mean? It means many things. It means rejoicing in Christ’s full divinity and complete humanity – that he is fully God and fully man, and thus able to save God’s people to the uttermost. It means rejoicing in Christ’s exclusivity – that there is no other name given under heaven by which sinners are saved. It means proclaiming Christ’s sufficiency – that there is no sinner so far gone to be outside of Christ’s saving work; that there is complete forgiveness, once and for all, to those who believe. It means standing firm on the inspiration and inerrancy of Christ’s Word – that every Word in Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for our lives. It means building up Christ’s church – that the center point of God’s redemptive activity on earth is the body of Christ, the local church. It means proclaiming Christ’s gospel – calling sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It means, in short, contending for the faith once for all delivered to saints – believing that God has spoken in his Word, that his Word has been faithfully interpreted and handed down to us through the ages, and that our calling as Christians is not so much to advance the battle lines but to hold firm to what we have received.
This is our task, brothers and sisters, as we await the return of Christ. We are called to hold fast to Christ’s Word. And when that calling seems too steep, when the cost begins to feel too great, let’s remember the One for whom we wait. Let’s remember the very first name John uses in this passage. Who is Jesus Christ? He is the One who is faithful and true. Having shed his blood for his church, Christ will not fail to faithfully keep us in the truth until the day he returns. This is the miracle of grace at work in and through the Scriptures. As the church seeks to hold fast to God’s Word, Christ, through that same Word, is holding fast to his church. May God keep us faithful. Amen.