The Final Victory Of The Lamb Over Antichrist - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.
12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
16 And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God;
18 That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.
19 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.
20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
Once more we must caution you against the view that the events which are described in the words of the present passage historically follow those of the preceding verses. As I have said before, there are many interpreters who entertain this view. First there is the destruction of Babylon, the great city; then the supper and the marriage of the Lamb follow immediately upon the destruction of the great harlot in time; and then follows the battle of Armageddon. According to this view, then, the marriage and supper of the Lamb is a special event that will be terminated by the battle of Armageddon. This is, however, not our view; and I do not believe that this interpretation is tenable. As I have said before, the picture of the marriage and of the marriage supper symbolize the same thing; and they both signify the final and complete union of the church of all ages with Christ. It is a picture of eternity, or, if you please, a picture of the inauguration of eternity. In connection with that view, we stated that Chapter 17, verse 1, to Chapter 19, verse 10, belong together and constitute one vision. The words of the angel who is evidently the medium in revealing these things to John, "These are the true words of God," did not merely refer to the marriage and the marriage supper, but to the entire vision in these chapters, from Chapter 17 on; and they constitute the close of the vision. It was a vision which pictured to us the destruction of the false church, but also the glory of the true church, - a vision which is based upon and finished with this contrast. And in our text a new chapter really ought to have been begun, for the simple reason that it introduces a new vision, as is plain from the very introduction, "And I saw the heaven opened."
Let us, therefore, briefly review the entire context. In Chapter 16 we were given a picture of the seventh vial, which was characterized by the fact that it finished all things. Naturally, when that last vial is poured out, there is nothing left any more; history is finished. The Book of Revelation might have been closed there, except for the picture of the new heavens and earth and the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. With this seventh vial Babylon is destroyed, the battle of Armageddon is fought, Antichrist is consumed, and Gog and Magog are judged. The whole picture of that seventh vial is very plainly the picture of the end. After that nothing remains any more of history. And therefore it is plain that the chronological order cannot be maintained as the true one. What now is the case? In the rest of the book we are given separate pictures of the end of various agencies and powers which are destroyed by the seventh vial.
First of all, we are given a picture of the harlot, the false church, and her end in the great city. Then in our text we are given a detailed picture of the end of Antichrist and the false prophet and the victory of the Lord over them. In the next chapter the vision pictures the history of Gog and Magog and of the devil. And finally, after the judgment is pictured, we see a picture of the new heavens and earth, especially of the New Jerusalem that comes down from God out of heaven. And when this is all finished, the book closes with an epilogue. All these things belong to the seventh vial. They all carry us to the end. They are all closely connected; but they simply are detailed pictures of the same scene and the same time.
Our vision, then, that is, the vision in the words of the present text, carries us to that end, and pictures the battle of Armageddon, as a comparison with previous passages will immediately show. Of this battle we receive a brief announcement in Chapter 14, verses 17 to 20, where we were told of the great vintage and the picture was given us of the treading of the winepress of the wrath of God, enveloping a vision of a tremendous battle, so that the blood even reaches to the very bridles of the horses. Further, we found the preparation of this battle pictured to us in the emptying of the sixth vial, when the great river Euphrates was dried up, and the evil spirits proceeded out of the mouth of the dragon and of the beast and of the false prophet, in order to gather the people together for the great battle of God Almighty; and thus the nations were gathered together for battle on the field of Armageddon. Finally, we also received a picture of this battle itself in the pouring out of the seventh vial, when all is finished and great hail falls upon the terrible battlefield. It is of this same battle that we receive a more detailed picture in the passage we are now discussing, especially with a view to the victory of Christ and the judgment of Antichrist and of the false prophet.
The Army Of The Enemy
Also in regard to this portion of Revelation there are interpreters who delight to understand the entire passage in the literal sense of the word. They refuse to see any symbolism in the whole scene. What we have here, according to them, is the literal description of the coming of Jesus and the literal picture of the attempt of the nations under Antichrist to strike at Him and to subdue Him. He shall come exactly as pictured, seated on a real white horse, or at least the real appearance of one, with a real diadem on His head, and with garments sprinkled with blood. In a word, He shall come exactly as described in the text, according to this view. The saints also shall follow Him from heaven, as described, being seated on white horses, riding behind their great Captain to meet the enemy. But in the same way we must also take the order of the text and understand the purpose of the nations under Antichrist to be no other than to fight against and overcome the Lamb and the glory of His coming. There are interpreters who take the most extreme delight in that concrete picture. The Antichrist also knows that Jesus is coming. And therefore he hurriedly musters his forces in the valley of Armageddon, in order to strike down the living and glorified King as soon as He sets His feet on the earth. For the text says that they are gathered together for the purpose of making war against the Christ and His people.
However, this is not our view at all. Mark well, this is not because we think anything is too great and too wonderful for the Lord to accomplish, as some of these literal interpreters love to accuse us; but it is simply because, in the first place, the text tells you that again you have a symbolical representation of things, and, in the second place, because there is nothing so wonderful in that literal interpretation of what is meant to be symbolism. Let us notice, in the first place, that John once more sees a vision. He does not directly prophesy, but he plainly informs us that he receives a vision: he "saw heaven opened;" he "saw the angel standing in the sun;" he "saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together." He saw this all. It is therefore a vision. And the entire form in which the vision is presented shows very clearly that it is symbolism. If nothing else, the portion which describes the angel standing in the sun and the portion which tells us of the supper of God prepared for the ravenous birds of the air should be sufficient to emphasize the truth of this conception, that is, the truth of the conception that here we have symbolism. Surely, we too believe that here we have a picture of the final return of Jesus Christ. But the picture is clothed in the form of symbolism that must be interpreted.
Especially the view that the nations of the earth under Antichrist must be conceived of as being purposely assembled here for the purpose of fighting against Christ when He comes from heaven in His final appearance in glory must be condemned. First of all, let us notice that it is against the Word of God. The Scriptures never leave the impression that all the world shall, as it were, expect the coming of Christ. Nor do they leave the impression that the people of the world shall be bold enough to strike at
Him or assemble for battle against the Christ in His second coming. On the contrary, we are given to understand that the world does not believe in the coming of Jesus. They marry and are given in marriage and merrily live along from day to day, even in the midst of the terrible visitations of God on the earth. And they never expect that the end will come. So it was in the days before the flood and in the days of the destruction of the wicked cities of the plain. Those times are typical of these latter days. In the second place, history of the present day corroborates this presentation of Scripture. There is nothing from which the world as such weans away more and more than from the idea of a second advent of the great King. And even now, in the midst of the visitations of God on the whole earth, people are blind to the fact and repent not. In the third place, it is simply absurd to suppose that even if they did expect the coming of Christ towards the very last of time, they would have the courage to gather their armies in order to fight against Him Who shall come in glory. No, the nations of the earth shall be filled with consternation and fear, so that they shall never conceive of battling with Him Who cometh in glory.
In order to obtain a clear conception of the entire scene that is here presented, we will do well to picture it before us in the historic order. We must understand that John does not .do this. When his eyes open upon the scene, things are all prepared for the final struggle. The armies of the nations already have gathered in the valley of Armageddon for the last battle; and the heavens are open already, from the which issues forth the Lamb with His heavenly host following Him. And the angel standing in the sun calls to the birds that fly in midheaven to gather themselves together for the supper of God. The entire scene presents itself as a painting appears before our eyes. Now John describes what he saw in that prophetic vision. And he does so, not picturing every object in the order in which it actually appears on the scene, but rather speaking first of all of what is most obtrusive and striking. In this scene the great King on the white horse, issuing forth from the open heaven, draws his attention first of all. Naturally, this is the most glorious, the chief element in the entire vision. And therefore, Him he mentions and describes, first of all. Next he has his attention fixed on the wonderful scene of the angel in the sun and his message. And last of all, he notices that the armies have been gathered for battle in the field of Armageddon.
But we must not make the mistake of thinking that this is in reality the order in which these various powers appear on the scene. Then, if that were the case, the fact would be that the powers of the world expected and saw Christ in His coming and hurriedly gathered their hosts to battle against Him. But, as we have said already, this is absurd. That cannot be the order.
On the contrary, we must understand that the armies of the nations have gathered in Armageddon first of all. This is clear from Chapter 16. Let us recall this for a moment. The infernal trinity, - the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, - have sent their missionaries into all the world, to the nations of Gog and Magog, the nations that live on the four corners of the earth, the heathen nations, in order to gain them for their cause and make of the whole world a kingdom of Antichrist, (vs. 13). The result is, however, that under their influence these nations are aroused to battle against Antichrist, upon whom they look as being true Christianity. As I have said before, they think that they war against Christendom; but in reality they muster their forces against the powers of Antichristendom. Thus the armies of the whole world are gathered for battle. It is merely a tremendous war that has broken out, a war far more universal than we have witnessed in the recent past. A war it is in which the outwardly Christian world will be pitted against the heathen world. The intention of the heathen is to strike at Christendom, at Christ and His people. And to do this they have been aroused by the spirit of Antichrist. Outwardly, then, this war shall appear like any other war. They do not expect Christ from heaven. Nothing of the kind can even be supposed here. The people of God on earth have been oppressed by Antichrist. And now the heathen imagine that they strike at those same people of Christ. That is their sin. In principle they intend to fight against Christ and His people. In principle they have always done this. But that Christ personally is to appear on this last battle-scene is far from their minds. But this is the last battle. What they did not expect at all happens. Christ comes personally with His saints from heaven in order to give battle to Antichrist and to Gog and Magog both and to consume them by the breath of His mouth.
Hence, if we ask when Christ shall come for the second time, the answer of our text is that He shall come on the scene of one of the most tremendous battles that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Not when all is peace and the whole world is gained for the Savior and for His kingdom, but, on the contrary, when the people of God have been removed from the scene and all the nations of the earth have gathered for the great war, the Son of Man shall appear in glory to have the final victory over all His enemies. For the same reason I have no faith in the realization of a final and lasting peace in the world, no matter how beautiful this may seem from a natural point of view. Already the world begins once more to preach its idealism. And although one of the most disastrous wars the world has witnessed has just come to its close, the humanistic idealists assure us nevertheless that this will be the last war, and that after peace has been officially declared there shall be no war any more. But is this possible? Shall there be peace in a world which refuses to bow before the Almighty God? Shall there be peace in a world at war with the Holy One? Shall there be outward peace without the inward peace of reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ? No, positively not! It is impossible. Is it, - and this is the weightiest of all, - is it in harmony with the Word of God to expect a final and lasting peace on earth in this dispensation? Not at all: the Word of God tells us that we must expect war to the end. The final coming of Christ shall be to appear on the scene of one of the most terrible and universal battlefields ever seen in history.
The Appearance Of The Victor
For Christ appears on the scene. As the nations, rising in rebellion against the Christ but not at all expecting to see Him in person, are gathered on the field of Armageddon, of a sudden He appears. In glory He is arrayed, followed by a long train of attendants. He appears in every detail as a victorious warrior and as a righteous judge.
For, in the first place, He is seated on a white horse. In a former connection we have called your attention to the fact that the horse is preeminently the animal for battle, the war steed, irrepressible in his onslaught, undaunted in courage. The Lord, therefore, comes for war. He does not come on the colt of an ass, but on a horse. When He comes again, - and He shall come surely, - it shall not be as the Man of Galilee, proceeding through the country doing good, meek and lowly, to save the lost sheep; but it shall be to offer battle to all who have opposed Him. On the horse He comes. And we also have said before that white is the color of victory. The white of the horse indicates that He comes not only to fight, but to gain the victory. That is the meaning of the color white throughout Scripture, as we have said in a former connection. He will meet His enemies as the great victor, Whose victory is assured. This is also plain, in the second place, from His personal appearance. His eyes are like a flame of fire. With them He penetrates the darkness and the deepest corner of iniquity; and nothing remains hid before the Lamb when He comes for judgment. Upon the wicked world He comes. And He evidently comes to reign and to judge. And besides, these flaming eyes picture to us the holy wrath that burns in His bosom at this moment, now that the measure of iniquity is filled. On His head He wears many diadems, royal crowns, symbolic of victories won in the past. This is not the first time that He has won the battle. Spiritually He already has overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion. And therefore, many crowns that formerly belonged to the enemy He has already placed on His own head. The battle of Armageddon is only the grand climax of the holy war this captain has fought throughout the ages. The same idea is indicated by the fact that His garments are already sprinkled with blood. This does not refer to His former suffering: for the garb He wears is the garment of battle and of victory. But it symbolically indicates that the Man from Edom, with sprinkled garments as from Bozrah, has judged many an enemy before, all through the history of the world, while now the final scene has come, in which He shall tread the winepress of the wrath of God for the last time. And, finally, this is also indicated by the sharp sword that proceeds out of His mouth. He shall surely not deign to fight as the princes and great of the earth fight, with their swords and spears in hand. No, as also is indicated in other parts of the Word of God, He shall simply consume the enemy by the Word of His mouth. His Word is His sword. For it is a word of power. By it the enemies are defeated. By it they are judged. By it their punishment is executed to the full. And therefore, He is now come as He was pictured long ago in Psalm 2, for the purpose of ruling the nations with a rod of iron and to tread the winepress of God all alone.
That it is really the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who here comes to battle is raised beyond all doubt by the names which are given Him here.
He is called, first of all, the Faithful and True. Of course, He is the Faithful One as He now comes on the clouds of heaven according to His Word. All the saints have been looking for that coming. The coming of the Lord was the object of their hope. If He should not come, all their hope would be vain. For then their trials and tribulations have been in vain, and their every hope would come to nought. Of that coming all the prophets had prophesied ever since the time of Enoch. But that coming seemingly tarried. Century after century elapses, and generation after generation passes away. Dark and troublesome times ensued. And yet the Lord did not come. His church suffered persecution because they held the testimony and the Word of God. They were poor and despised. And the souls under the altar increased from year to year. Yet He did not come. Is He then not the Faithful One? Most surely He is: in His final appearance He shall prove to be what all the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament have told us that He was. Faithful He is, and He shall surely avenge His ,people quickly. But He also is True. In distinction from the powers that oppose Him, He is the true Prophet and the true King. Antichrist claimed that he was the Christ, the prophet and the king of the whole world. He was the Christ, so they claimed. Many false Christs arose in His absence, according to His Word. But He is the True One, the fulfillment of all prophecy, the Christ. He is to come in glory, according to His own promise.
Still more, He is to come as The Word of God. Especially in this name do we recognize our Lord and our Savior: The Word, which denotes Him as the eternal Son of God, the express image of the Father, God of God, the manifestation of God's power and glory. As such He appears. He appears in the glory of His Godhead, though also as the man Jesus Christ.
For besides this name, The Word of God, He still has another name, which no one knows but Himself. It is a name peculiar to Him alone. It is His Mediator's name, the name which exalts Him above every name that is named in heaven and on earth, among the creatures in the sea and on the land. The Mediator's glory is all His own. No one shares it. Not even His brethren can bear that name. And therefore He also appears here with that name in all the glory of His Mediatorship. As such He is the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. Many a king and lord has appeared on the scene of history in His absence. Kings and lords have refused to bow before His sovereignty; and they have aimed at nothing short of the possession and control of the whole world. And the very incarnation and climax of all these worldly lords and kings is there in the form of Antichrist on the field of Armageddon. But now He appears. And He appears as KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. And His very appearance and names indicate that it shall go ill with the lords of the world, who have refused to recognize His authority of the Word of God.
But He is not alone. We read that the armies that are in heaven follow Him. Who are they? Some have it that they are angels; and I have no doubt but that also the holy angels shall appear with Jesus on the scene of His final coming and victory. But it is not to be maintained that these are the only ones. Yea, it is not even to be defended that they are especially mentioned in this instance. The way they are described informs us differently.
In the first place, like their Captain Who leads them, they also are mounted on white horses. And therefore, there is a certain similarity between them and their great King. But especially the fact that they are pictured as being clothed in fine linen, white and pure, makes us think that this army is not constituted of the angels in heaven, but much rather of the saints who are with Christ. For this garment of fine linen, white and pure, denotes that they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, as well as that they have been faithful to their King and performed righteous acts. They are garments which have been given them of grace. Arid this is not applicable to the angels, but only to the saints of Christ.
Nor is there anything new or strange in the idea that Christ shall come accompanied by His saints. Already to the faithful in Sardis the Lord had promised: "They shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy," (Rev. 3:4). And more particularly, unto those that overcame of the church of Thyatira the Lord had given the assurance, "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father," (Rev. 2:26, 27). Specifically, therefore, the promise is given to the saints of Christ that they shall share in His honor. And that this ruling of the nations with a rod of iron does not refer to a fancied millennium of a thousand years in which Christ shall exercise earthly dominion over imperfect nations is plain from the fact that in the text Christ is represented as coming to rule the nations with a rod of iron now, in the field of Armageddon. In I Corinthians 6:2, 3 the holy apostle writes to the congregation of Corinth: "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" There is absolutely nothing new in the idea that the saints shall come with Jesus to judge the nations gathered for battle against Him. Exactly how this shall be we know not. But a little of it we can understand if we bear in mind, as I have stated before, that the transformation of the living saints and the removal of the church from the earth shall take place immediately before the coming of Christ and the turmoil of the battle of Armageddon.
The Outcome Of The Battle
Thus, then, the contending armies in this last battle are pictured:
Antichrist and Gog and Magog, assembled for this final struggle and principally fighting against Christ and His people, on the one side; Christ and His armies, coming from heaven in glory and unexpectedly appearing on the scene of battle, on the other side. The world-power is now face to face with the reality of all its aspirations, and they shall have a chance to meet the King Whom they have always opposed in person.
What shall the outcome be? The question is absurd.
The victory of the One Who is mounted on the white horse is first of all announced by the angel who stands in the sun. That he stands in the sun is symbolic of his task. He is to call all the fowls of the heaven together and partake of the supper of the great God. The meaning of this passage is plain. It symbolizes the complete victory of Him Who sits on the white horse and the shameful defeat of the enemy. As we know from the Old Testament, to give one's flesh to the birds of heaven for meat is expressive of the most complete defeat and shameful subjection of the enemy conceivable. So here, the Lord is to have the victory, complete and final victory. And the birds of heaven are called together to partake of the flesh of the vanquished hosts of the enemy.
But also in actual fact the victory is assured, and the victory is pictured as belonging only to Him Who sits on the white horse. We read, first of all, of the beast and the false prophet that they are cast alive into the lake of fire. There is no question of the fact that they are here represented as very concrete and individual persons. But this does not necessarily indicate that there shall be but one person who is the Antichrist and another individual who is the false prophet. It denotes rather, in the first place, that here we have the end of all the deviltry and rebellion and antichristian power. Without any form of trial they are destroyed forever. From the lake of fire there is no return. But besides, among this host of the Antichrist there are leaders and followers. The great and the powerful and the wise of this world lead, and the great masses follow them and their power and counsel. So also in this case: no doubt there is a difference indicated in our text between those who led and deceived the whole world, - the preachers and the great and the wise and the giants of thought and science, - and those who followed, the masses of the earth who wondered after the tremendous system of the antichristian power. This difference also becomes plain in their punishment. Even as there shall be degrees of glory, so there shall be various shades of punishment. Not all have sinned in like degree, and not all shall be punished with like measure. The leaders are cast alive into hell; but the rest are killed there and then, to await the final day of judgment, with the sword that proceeds out of the mouth of Him Who cometh.
And thus we have arrived once more at the very end of all history. It is at this moment that all the powers of iniquity are vanquished. At this moment it is that Antichrist and all his host perish, that the heavens and the earth are set afire in order to make room for the new heavens and the new earth that are to come. It is the end of this dispensation, to be followed by nothing else than the eternal glory in the new creation. Nothing shall take place in history after this. This must be kept in mind, now and in the future. In the second place, let us also not forget that here we have the climax and a clear picture of the climax of the coming of our Lord in glory.
Behold, He cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him! Here we see no continuing city. Let us be ready for His coming, when the continuing city shall be created in the new heavens and the new earth.