Revelation: The Time is Near
Please pick up a Bible and turn to Revelation 19. You will find that chapter starting on p. 1039 and continuing onto p. 1040. It will be my delight to read this section of God’s Word for you before I preach from it. Listen to the way that the scenes in this chapter blend what we think of as contrasts: reverence and joy; solemnity and celebration; wrath and worship.
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 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. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:1–21)
So many of the world’s great stories end with a feast, an elegant dinner. So often the fairy tales that we love to tell our children end this way – the bad guys are done in, the hero rescues his princess, they enjoy a big wedding which culminates in a banquet, and all live happily ever after (except the bad guys). We love this plot because, deep down, we long for it to come true. We want it to be more than a fairy tale.
The Bible’s story is not just another fairy tale but the true story to which all the fairy tales testify. God gives us his word that all our true longings will one day become reality.
Revelation 19 depicts the ending of the human story. It ends with two very different feasts. Every person who has or will live on earth will attend one of the two banquets. You are destined for one of these dinners.
The first is a wedding feast. The scenes of 19:1-16 depict this feast. The second is a doomsday dinner (19:17-21). At the first, guests gather to enjoy the feast. At the second, those who gather are the feast. Majestic music is the soundtrack for the first. The cry of vultures sounds over the second. The woman of the first feast is a beautiful bride. The woman of the second feast is a humiliated prostitute.
Which feast will you attend? At which feast will you gather? When the time comes, you cannot switch from one to the other. You will not want to leave the first. You will not be able to escape the second. Now is the time to direct your destiny. Today is the day of preparation for these feasts.
The Wedding Feast
If you are a Christian, the wedding anticipated in Revelation 19 is your wedding. Look forward to it. Prepare for it. Let the excitement grow. Contemplate four features of your wedding feast from vv. 1-16. There is the Music, the Bride, the Invitation, and the Groom.
First, the music. I count five songs in this first section of Revelation 19. Perhaps these are five verses of the same song. The first begins at the end of v. 1 and continues through v. 2. The second takes up v. 3. The third comes at the end of v. 4. The fourth is v. 5. And the fifth runs from the end of v. 6 to the middle of v. 8.
The first song begins with the word “Hallelujah.” Three more times in these songs the word reverberates. This is the only chapter in the New Testament to use the word. Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that has migrated into every language that embraces the biblical faith. We don’t translate it. We transliterate it. We sound it out in English the way it sounds in Hebrew.
Hallel means praise. And “Jah” is the short form of the personal name for God, Jehovah or Yahweh. The word simply means “Praise Our God.” But it means so much more than that. God’s personal name (Yahweh) refers to his Eternal Existence. The word derives from the Hebrew verb “to be.” Our God is. He always is. There has never been a time when God was not and there will never be a time when God is not. He simply is.
Which means he is self-existent. He does not depend in any way on any other being for his existence. He needs nothing to extend his existence except what he is in himself. Which means he is infinite. All else that exists owes its being to this eternal God. Which means he is sovereign over all things. All else is dependent on him.
Yet he is a personal God. He has a name. His people praise his name. The wedding music of Revelation 19 calls those who are anticipating the wedding feast to praise the personal, eternal, infinite, self-existent, sovereign God who secures their place at the coming feast.
According to these songs, salvation belongs only to this God. He alone has the power and glory to judge and destroy the prostitute who tries to steal affection away from the Groom. Those who anticipate attending this wedding feast sing because God has dealt decisively with this woman, the world system (as we saw last week). No longer will she seduce or slaughter the Groom’s faithful servants. This God is Almighty and he alone reigns over human history.
These songs appear in the text to remind us that those who plan to attend the final wedding should sing in anticipation. Are you singing in anticipation of that day? Do you gather here in anticipation to sing to and about your beloved Groom and his Father? Did your heart soar to sing about the True and Better One this morning? Did you treasure your true Love more as you addressed him in song as the High King of Heaven? Did you feel some sense of urgency when you heard your brothers and sisters challenge you, “Go meet him as he cometh with alleluias clear”? Did you lament life in a fallen world as you sang to the Refuge of your soul who is coming to rescue you?
I fear for those here who do not or will not enter sing. Are you not expectant for this feast to come? Is not the One who is preparing the feast worthy of your praise? The book of Revelation has taught us that Christians are singing people. They sing together. They carry a song in their hearts. They sing with every kind of emotion and in every situation. I encourage you to fill your soul and your mouth with the music of heaven. Sing as a family. Learn new songs. Cherish the best of the old songs. Let our praise to God be bold and beautiful as we prepare for our wedding feast.
The strangest feature about this wedding is that the guests are the bride. The invitation is a blessing because to respond to it is to claim an identity as the Bride of Christ. In chapter 21 we will see the Bride again and she will be described as a whole city.
Here in chapter 19, the emphasis is on the Bride’s preparations. The song that begins at the end of v. 6 and continues into v. 8 worships God for providing the Bride’s dress. She has clothed herself in righteous deeds that belong to the saints.
A saint is another name for a Christian. It refers to someone declared holy in God’s sight because he or she belongs to Jesus Christ. He or she is part of the Bride and so is granted (or given the grace) to wear her wedding gown. You cannot become a saint by doing righteous deeds. You do righteous deeds because you are a saint through faith in Jesus Christ.
The whole of your Christian life is like sewing your own wedding dress. Every obedient act is another stitch in the beautiful garment. You cannot see the finished product here in this world. You sew by faith. Every sacrificial expression of love, every inch of progress along the paths of righteousness for Christ’s name sake is preparation for your wedding. The Christian life is not conformity to a list of rules or the application of a set of principles but the engagement in a relationship with a person who seeks deeper intimacy with you as your prepare for the day when you will be wedded to him forever.
A woman preparing for her wedding takes great pains to make sure her dress is just right. But she doesn’t want people to see it until her wedding day. So it should be for us when we do what is right in this world. We act to honor Christ and not to be seen by people.
An angel draws John’s attention to a third feature of your wedding in vv. 9-10. It is the invitation.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:9–10)
This is a strange sequence of circumstances. An angel commissions John to pass along a blessing to those who are invited [and presumably intend to come] to this marriage feast of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. The angel assures John that these words of blessing come from God and so are completely true. John reacts by worshiping the angel, but the angel rebukes him and insists that he must worship God alone. The angel identifies himself simply as a fellow servant of Jesus with John who along with other believers holds to the testimony about Jesus. John then adds that the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
What is going on here? John considers receiving a word from God such a precious treasure that he wants to worship. The angel understands that those who have received an invitation to attend this wedding feast hold to the testimony about Jesus. They trust God’s word and remain faithful to it. And all the prophecy that God has revealed focuses on Jesus. The whole prophetic word is filled with a spirit that testifies about Jesus.
There are two points of application for us. The whole Bible is about Jesus and we treasure it to worship Him. Wherever we are reading in the Bible, we look for Jesus Christ. He is the point of the whole Bible. When you open the Bible for reading or study, pray that you might know Christ better, whether you are in the gospels or the Psalms. Work hard at understanding the Bible as the testimony of Jesus.
Then hold to that testimony. Treasure it. Receive it with awe and gratitude. Worship Jesus with your obedience. Hold to the testimony. Effectively, the whole Bible is your invitation to the wedding. Holding to it is the mark of one who intends to be there. This is another way of describing the righteous deeds that beautify the Bride.
The fourth and most important feature of this wedding is the Groom. In vv. 11-16 he is pictured as the conquering Prince coming to rescue his Bride and vanquish all her enemies. The picture of Jesus confirms that he is God the Son. He is celebrated for his faithfulness, his truth, his righteousness, his justice, his wrath, and his sovereignty.
His flaming eyes (v. 12) symbolize his omniscience (that he knows all things). He shares a name with God (v. 12) that only he knows. No one else can claim it. He is the Word of God. And His word is the sharp sword that strikes the nations (v. 15). In this scene, the beautiful Bride is following her Prince (v. 14).
Christian, this is the portrait of the One to whom you are betrothed. This is a wedding picture of the Groom. This is the One who will rescue you from all your enemies: from your own sin, from Satan, and from the surrounding world system. This is the One who will escort you into his eternal kingdom.
Those in front of this Prince are crushed by his wrath. Those behind him are welcomed into his palace. What’s your perspective on Christ? Are you facing him or following him?
The Doomsday Dinner
That question leads us to consider the contrasting feast of Revelation 19 in vv. 17-21. It is the Doomsday Dinner that awaits those who will not submit to Jesus as his loving Bride. V. 17 calls it the great supper of God. But God is not partaking in this feast. He leaves the dead for the vultures. The birds of prey gather for this dinner.
The armies of the earth also gather. The beast and false prophet who deceive the people of earth lead the rebellion. They intend to amass their forces and fight against Jesus Christ.
But the battle never materializes. V. 20 simply says that the beast was captured. Jesus exercises his sovereignty without a shot fired or a sword swung by anyone except the Lord Himself. His sword is the sword of judgment that he wields over every human being.
Note back in v. 18 that all classes of people come under his judgment. Kings down to slaves. No one is too important or too insignificant to escape Christ’s judgment. At the end of history, you will not be evaluated by your status among men but by your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Those who face down Jesus will meet Him as a Conquering Prince. Those who take him as their beloved Groom meet Him as the Lamb. They anticipate the marriage supper of the Lamb. It is His feast.
Those who enjoy it with Him remember that this feast cost him his life. He had to be killed to win the love of his Bride. He accepted the wrath of his Father so that we could receive the blessing. He paid the bride price with his own blood to secure an eternal covenant marriage with all who will turn from sin and trust Him.
You don’t have to face Christ in judgment. You can follow Him. You don’t have to fear his return. You can anticipate his return as a Bride waits for her Groom to escort her to their wedding. The return of Jesus will find you at one of these two feasts. Which one will it be for you?