Tonight, we will be reading through Revelation 18-19. In these verses, John gives us a celebratory dirge over the Fall of Babylon the Great followed by a heavenly Hallelujah chorus. John will also give us a picture of Jesus as the judge of the world.
Chapter 19 begins with a Hallelujah chorus of four verses in the throne room of Revelation 4 with the twenty-four elders and four living creatures present. This hymn is similar to that of Revelation 5:11-14 and builds upon the two hymns of Revelation 14:1-3, and 15:3-2. Here in chapter 19, those before the throne sing of the final eschatological victory of God and the Lamb. The final chorus of this hymn celebrates that God’s reign has now been firmly established (v.6b) and that the marriage of the Lamb and his Bride (Christ and his Church) will now occur (v.7). This is the marriage, as Jesus teaches, which takes place before the great and final judgment. Matt. 25.
At the end of the Hallelujah hymn, John describes the Bride as wearing “fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of saints.” (v.8) Just as the woman of Revelation 12 stands in stark contrast to the Whore of Babylon so does the Bride here. Babylon is clothed with the power and wealth that this world brings – arrayed in purple and scarlet and bedecked with jewels. Rev. 17:4, 18:16. The Bride, however, is clothed simply in the righteousness of the saints. See, 1 Tim 2:9-10. This section ends with John’s fourth of the seven beatitudes (v.9) in Revelation: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The Whore has been overthrown, and her replacement has been brought forth – blessed are those who dwell in her.
The remainder of chapters 19 through 20 are about God’s Judgment. God’s Judgment is simply a final manifestation of God’s Wrath that we discussed several weeks ago. Judgment is not about unrestrained divine vindictiveness but about setting things right. Read this section closely. In his vision, John uses the imagery of war, violence, and vengeance (particularly drawn from Ezekiel 38-39) but the specifics belie this imagery. Remember, the hero of the story is not Chuck Norris, but the Lamb who was slain. Rev. 5:6. It is through the blood of the Lamb and the testimony that the saints that victory is obtained. Rev. 12:11.
Judgment in the Hebrew Scriptures:
In chapter 2 of his book, Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis writes how judgment in the Hebrew Scriptures is different than how we in the modern world understand judgment. For us, judgment is always bad. We think of judgment in the criminal context when someone is adjudicated guilty or not – either the person in the dock is found guilty and goes to jail or is found not guilty and goes home. The best case is the status quo. In this criminal context, a guilty verdict and punishment of the guilty is the teleological purpose of the judgment.
In the psalms, however, judgment is a time for rejoicing. See, Pss. 35:24, 67:4, 96:13. This is because judgment is about setting the world right and just, particularly for those, like the poor, who are on the receiving end of injustice. Pss. 9:8-12, 68:5-6, 72:2-4, 82:3. Think about the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8) where the woman demands a judgment to set things right or the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt. 25:31-46) where the separation of the sheep and the goats is not based upon any crimes that they have committed, but simply upon the justice towards the least in society that they have omitted. In this more civil law context, making social relationships right and just is the teleological purpose of the judgment, not punishment.
This idea of judgment, therefore, is about setting the world right through the dismantling of the systems of political power and economic exploitation and the leveling of the power dynamics in society. For those in power, however, the deprivation of that power or wealth may feel like punishment. This is what we see in Revelation. Once the unjust political and economic systems are dismantled in Revelation 18-20, then a just and righteous world emerges in Revelations 21-22. Punishment and destruction are not the purposes of the judgment, but, like the removal of a cancer, may be required in order to achieve the wholeness and perfection that God desires.
Means of Judgment:
When we read Revelation 19 closely we see that the Jesus described to us in the Sermon on the Mount or in the Passion is the same self-emptying, love-your-enemy Jesus that we see in Revelation. Although John describes Jesus as a sword-wielding, bloody-clothed warrior, he is not Braveheart.
Jesus is clad in a robe dipped in blood. (v.13). This blood, however, is not the blood of his slaughtered enemies, but his own. He is the Lamb that was slain. Rev. 5:6, 12:11. It is this blood that he gave as a ransom to free us from the bonds of slavery to sin and death. Rev. 5:9. This is the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20) which has cleansed us from all sin (Heb. 9:11-22) and brought us nearer to God (Eph. 2:13). It is not the blood of the ungodly that Jesus sheds, rather it is his own blood that he sheds the ungodly. Rom. 5:6.
Jesus also brandishes a sword with which he will smite the nations, rule them with a rod of iron, and tread the wine press of his fury and wrath. v.15. This sword, however, does not come from a sheath and is not made of any metal. Rather, this sword comes out from Jesus’s mouth. v.15, 1:16, 2:16. The judgment is spoken by Jesus who has full divine authority. It is his words that hold the power of life and death.
The judgment Jesus speaks is a warning of what the opposition will reap if they did not stop sowing seeds of rebellion. To reject Jesus’ words of life is to die. This image in Revelation is intended to be Christ’s last call for repentance.
Lake of Fire:
This part of John’s vision ends with the beast and the false prophet being thrown into the lake of fire. In other words, the beast of the corrupt system of the violent political power and exploitive economic oppression of the empire and the false prophet who promotes the same are consumed. As Malachi also foresaw on the day of the Lord, fire is an integral part of the final judgment. Like in the refinement of metals, the purpose of this final fire is to burn off and destroy all impurities. Mal. 3:3. For God to bring about a final and complete restoration of his creation, the impurities within creation – the beast, the false prophet, and all they represent – must be refined out of creation. Anything that prevents us from reflecting the image of God must be removed as if by fire.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is ginger-glazed baked cod. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.1 Corinthians 3:11-15