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This chapter stands in the closest connection with the chapters preceding. We have seen the vials of judgment poured out upon the beast and the seat of the beast.
We have heard the declaration that Babylon is fallen. We have been shown the judgment of the great whore that rode on the scarlet-colored beast, otherwise described as "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth."
Now in the opening of the nineteenth chapter we have the rejoicing of heaven over the judgment of the harlot city. A great voice of much people in heaven says: "Alleluia; salvation, and glory, and honor and power, unto the Lord our God; for true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great whore, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand."
This is sufficient to show that we are still dealing with the series of events that occupied the book from the thirteenth chapter onwards. Let it be kept clearly in mind that the theme has not changed thus far, that the events of the story are well knit or close woven.
Verses four to six reiterate the praise of heaven. All the elders, and living ones (four beasts) and the mighty multitudes of heaven, shout with one voice, like the roar of the ocean and the roll of thunder, saying: "Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth."
Yes, the Lord reigneth, let it be uttered with the voice of many waters, and the roll of mighty thunders till all the earth hears and understands. The devil may rage, and the beast may fight, and the false prophet may join hands with both, and the harlot may entice and seduce, but all of them together are no match for the Lord, they only show their impotence in conflict with the Almighty.
Wickedness may rear its head to the skies; persecution may exploit her blandishments; deteriorating and disintegrating forces may be at work; but the Lord still lives, and he is still on the throne of the universe, and the church of God will come off victor in the conflict with the world because the omnipotent God lives in her and one like the Son of Man walks amid the seven golden candlesticks.
In the previous chapters we have seen the dragon, and the beast, and the false prophet persecuting the church, but in this chapter we see them completely overthrown, and the divine captain of our salvation leading his followers to victory. It is easy to catch the practical encouragement found in these visions, both as it affected the churches addressed and as it sings down the centuries to every well-fought battlefield of the church's activities.
In verses seven to nine we have something said about the marriage of the Lamb. But there is no marriage scene shown us either by vision or description. The things particularly stressed in this passage are the apparel of the bride, and the blessedness of those called.
The bride of Christ in Scripture phraseology, is the church. Her apparel is her righteousness. "To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints."
It is the purpose of God and the care of the church to produce a holy people, fitted by grace to be the bride of the Lamb. This moral purity, this fine linen of righteousness is the thing that bulks in the revelator's eye, and not a nuptial scene. The church must make herself ready; but the readiness consists in her moral purity. Her readiness does not consist in a curiosity as to when Christ shall come, but in the righteousness which is of God by faith, and all its spiritual results.
Verse eleven opens a new scene, but not an entirely new subject. John sees in heaven the vision of a white horse, the rider was called Faithful and True, his eyes a flame of fire, on his head many crowns, his vesture dipped in blood and his name is called "The Word of God." Out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword and on his vesture and on his thigh a name written KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. And the armies in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen white and clean.
There can be no doubt who the rider is on this white horse. There is only one who can be called KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
He is going forth at the head of an army and this implies a battle and a warfare. This is the other side of the picture which hitherto has not been put in concrete form. Now we are getting in vision and symbol the other side of the conflict. There are always two sides in a war. We saw the dragon going forth to make war upon the woman (the church) and her seed Rev_12:17 . We saw the beast and the false prophet bring all the powers at their disposal to crush the church of God. But that was only on one side of the lines. The battle was not so one-sided as that. Here is a better leader with his army. The foe will be met with a better army and a better weapon than his own, and we will see presently what the outcome of the conflict will be.
Observe that this rider on the white horse had no sword in his hand, but he had a sword in his mouth. He had no sword that could cut off people's heads, but the "sword of the Spirit which is the word of God."
Observe too that the armies that followed him had no swords or weapons of any kind; but they had something much better and more effective. They were clothed in fine linen, white and clean, which, we were just told, is the righteousness of saints, and righteousness is more effective in the battle of the Lord than all the swords in the world. Here then is the army and here are their weapons, and the battle is about to be joined. We can observe unmistakably what sort of battle it is, the battle between good and evil, between Christ and Satan; between the gospel and its enemies; between the church and her opposers.
The narrator pauses a moment before the battle begins. He shows us an angel in the sun who calls with a loud voice to the fowls that fly in the heavens, and bids them gather for a feast on the flesh of the fallen enemy. This looks to me like irony or an expression of strong contempt for the enemy, that all the vultures and buzzards and birds of prey that feed on carrion should be invited to the feast before the battle was even begun. At least it expresses absolute confidence on which side the victory would lie.
And now for the clash of the armies, verses 19, 20. "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."
The twentieth verse adds the false prophet also as one engaged in that battle. Now it is of the utmost importance to observe clearly who is fighting this battle with the rider on the white horse. We are plainly told that it is the beast, the beast of chapter 13:1, the beast having the seven heads and ten horns, and the heads identified as seven hills and also seven rulers in the Caesarian dynasty, and the ten horns as ten subsidiary kingdoms, the beast that carried that harlot woman who was said to be a "city that reigneth over the kings of the earth." There should now be no difficulty in knowing who was leading this army against the rider on the white horse. It was that same old beast. Now that beast has been always associated with another one; we saw him first in Rev_13:11 ; he had some appearance of a lamb, but spoke as a dragon. He was hand-in-glove with the beast. He gave power to the beast, and led the world to worship the beast. He was afterward called the false prophet ( Rev_16:13 ) and so he is called here.
Now, who is making war? That same old beast, that same false prophet, and the kings subsidiary to them. But what is the result? "And the beast was taken, and the (with him) false prophet. 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." The writer is very careful to keep us in mind that that sword proceeded out of his mouth.
Now I submit the question: Is this not the conquering power of the gospel and the triumph of Christianity? The sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, by preaching, and teaching, and testimony conquers the world for Christ. And for this very reason I think the writer was so particular to point out that the sword was in the rider's mouth. The world is to be conquered by the gospel. Christ said: "Go ye and make disciples of every creature baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."
It is the triumph of the gospel that we have in this nineteenth chapter. It only remains now to look at some contrary renderings of these scenes. We have already removed the Papacy from consideration in this book, not that we desire to whitewash the Papacy, but because the chronology, and the setting of the scenes do not fit the case.
But the interpretation that we are confronted with today is the premillennial, and it particularly concerns this nineteenth chapter.
According to the premillennialist, the seven churches of Asia spoken of in the second and third chapters, are seven periods of history from John's time, down till the time of Christ's return. The fourth chapter begins the Tribulation period at the beginning of which the righteous dead are raised and together with the pious living are caught up into the air to be with Christ while the Tribulation is on the earth.
There is not one syllable in the book that conveys such information, and we are not justified in making types out of plain, historical and didactic statements at the pleasure of the interpreter. The Scriptures do indeed contain many types. They are legitimate in their place; but the habitual type-maker is the despair of interpretive science.
Now according to the premillennialist all the chapters four to eighteen inclusive describe the Tribulation. No matter that Jerusalem, and the temple, and the altar are there, still unfallen; no matter that Rome is there on her seven hills, with her seven kings; no matter that the angel said: "And the harlot is that great city that reigneth (or is then reigning) over the kings of the earth." The premillennialist just disposes of all that with his usual facility. He just whips it all off into the future as something that has not yet come to pass, notwithstanding the plain indications of the book.
Now when the premillennialist comes to this nineteenth chapter he concludes that the Tribulation period, said by some to be seven years, is over. And that Christ and the church who have been in the air during these seven years, now descend to the earth, and that is what is meant by the rider on the white horse and the armies that follow him. So that the world is conquered not by the gospel, but by the second coming of Jesus Christ. And the beast is the Tribulation king, or Anti-Christ, which is to rule the world in some future age and which Christ will destroy when he comes. What are the objections to this view of the nineteenth chapter?
1st. The coming of this rider on the white horse is accompanied with a good deal of description and detail. It indicates a process rather than an event. When Christ comes it is said to be sudden, in the twinkling of an eye, like the flash of lightning from one end of heaven to another. When you read through the chapter you will see no suddenness to any of these events, but rather deliberate progress. It is unlike the Second coming in this respect.
2nd. The writer insistently holds it before us that the sword is in the rider's mouth. This sword is the weapon of conquest. Paul in describing the Christian armor says: "The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." All this picture and all its related phraseology teaches us that the weapon that conquers the world is the word of God, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not to look for the world to be converted by some spectacular cataclysm, but by the preaching and teaching, and testimony of the church that is clothed in the fine linen of righteousness. That is the way the Roman Empire was conquered for Christ as a matter of history and that is the way it will be till the end of time.
3rd. The absolutely conclusive fact comes out in the end that John shows, yea says in so many words, that this conflict of the rider was with the beast and false prophet that same old beast that we have been dealing with through all these chapters, the beast of the seven hills, and the seven kings, the beast that bore the harlot woman which was "that city," and the false prophet associated with him, viz. pagan Rome. No one unbiased by a theory could drag this out of the historical past and put it into a hypothetical future to which not one of these historical references bear any allusion. The book clearly fixes who these personages are, fixes their place in geography and history, and we would have to disrupt the whole story to admit the premillennial interpretation.
4th. The revealer repeatedly declared to John that he was to see visions of things that "must shortly be done." We submit that it is straining the meaning of words too much to make shortly mean several thousands of years.
For these reasons we conclude that the premillennial interpretation is utterly out of the question.
But does the conquest of this rider on the white horse pertain only to the Roman Empire? Must we be ever dealing with things that are dead and buried centuries ago? Is there nothing in all this that touches and vitalizes the church of the present day? or are we never to get beyond the dry dust of the catacombs?
Far from such mournful pessimism, we find the greatest encouragement. The rider on that white horse is marching still. He has gone far beyond the confines of the Roman Empire. He did not go forth to lead his armies to one brief battle, but to every battle where the conflict is fought. He led his armies through the conflict with slavery and won the day. He has led his missionary contingent to all lands in the world and is still riding at the front. He is leading his church in the fight with the rum power, and scoring victories every day.
Let the church remember that this rider on the white horse is the living Jesus, that he is in the forefront of every battle, that just as he conquered the beast and the false prophet, so he will conquer every enemy. The beast and the prophet were just one episode on the way, and the triumph of the church is just as sure as the promise of him who said: "Lo I am with you alway, even, to the end of the world."
The rider on the white horse is still riding on. Let the church follow, clothed in linen, white and clean.
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the Third Week after Epiphany