This is the End
When we talk about the end of the world, we get a little nervous. I think we get a little nervous for a couple of reasons. One reason might be is that we picture the drunk, homeless guy walking around the streets of downtown Seattle screaming at the top of his lungs, “The end is near! The end is near!” And that’s just a little weird, and we’re not quite sure how to handle that one. Another reason that discussions of the end times make us a bit nervous is that we’re troubled by the reality of a final judgment, and we realize that peoples’ eternal destinies are at stake. And it makes end times discussions pretty intense. And one last reason that likely makes us a bit nervous is that we really don’t know what to expect. What’s going to happen at the end? There’s a lot of confusion out there. Even within evangelical theology, there are multiple interpretations of how everything finally goes down. So in light of this confusion, I want to tell you what happens at the end.
God wins… Satan loses… the end!
God wins… Satan loses… the end. We’re in the second to last message in our Story of God series. We’ve come to the last and final chapter in the Story: reCreation. From Creation to reCreation, the Story of God is the story of the God who creates and recreates for His glory and for our good. The story has been steadily moving towards the conclusion of this great and glorious story. As we take a look at several passages within Revelation 19-20, we’ll explore three themes: (1) The Return of Christ; (2) The Rest of the Story; and (3) The Responsibility of the Church.
Theme #1: The Return of Christ (19:11-16)
For the past year, my son Jacob and I read Tolkein’s famous Lord of the Rings series. It was slow going through The Fellowship of the Ring and then The Two Towers. When We finally finished The Two Towers there was a sense of excitement as we went downstairs to our library and grabbed the last book…The Return of the King. All that work… slogging it though hundreds upon hundreds of pages… and now we’re near the end. That seems to be the way it feels in the larger Story of God. It seems that we’re slogging it though, at this point for two thousand years. And even though “slogging” it might not be the best word for what we’re supposed to be doing until Jesus comes back, let’s be honest… it feels that way many a day. But even in that slogging it day after day, we do eagerly await the return of Jesus Christ our Lord… the return of the King.
We’ve got to begin with the reality that Jesus Christ, the Risen and Exalted Lord is coming back. He is returning. Here are a couple of passages from the New Testament that promise that He’s coming back. One day this world will experience the return of Christ.
Matthew 24:29-31. This passage is from a larger section where Jesus is talking about what will happen in the end. But the punch line is in v. 30 where we will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky… He’s coming back.
Acts 1:11. Immediately after Jesus returns to heaven the disciples are told that Jesus is coming back… “He will come.”
Hebrews 9:28. Jesus will appear a “second time” and this time it’s to deliver the world from the presence of evil.
Revelation 19:11-16. All of this leads us to Revelation 19:11-16 and when Jesus actually and fully returns to the earth to finish the story. It is a scene of dramatic power. Jesus Christ, the Victorious Returning Warrior Messiah King comes in power and glory to divinely and righteously execute judgment upon an unrepentant, corrupt, and rebellious world.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
There is a dramatic unveiling (“heaven opening”) of the Returning Warrior King Jesus Christ–the centerpiece of the Story of God and the “main character” in the book of Revelation is Jesus Christ. The return of Christ is presented to us in a vivid way.
The Warrior King on a white horse who is named Faithful and True. There are two aspects here in these names and “ascriptions”: (1) for the oppressed and persecuted people of God living under the tyranny of a broken world, Jesus Christ, the exalted Risen and now returning Lord is faithful and true. He can be trusted to rescue us and bring us through the brokenness; and (2) as the Holy Judge, Jesus Himself being God, His judgment is faithful to the character and the Truth of God.
There is a figurative and vivid description of Jesus here, and the Apostle John uses many Old Testament references to once again show that this Returning Warrior Messiah is God Himself:
Eyes are a flame of fire – represents His divine judgment
“Many” diadems – divine royalty of the “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Name written on Him which no one knows except Himself – a couple of interpretive options: either His name is not known to the world/humanity or His name is simply indescribable here or maybe even a reference to God’s Covenant name in the Old Testament–YHWH–which by this time the Jewish would not pronounce. Whatever it means, it stresses His divine nature as God.
Robe dipped in blood – a terrifying image to the ancient reader. Warriors would come into villages with their clothes dipped in blood as if they had just come from a battle, and the blood was from their enemies. There is also the image of Jesus’ blood as our atoning sacrifice.
His name is called The Word of God – John 1:1. It is a reminder that Jesus is God Himself.
From His mouth comes a sharp sword (5 times in the book of Revelation) “with which to strike down the nations” and He will rule them with a rod of iron (from the messianic psalm, Psalm 2)
And on His robe and His thigh, the Returning Christ has a name written on it: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Ultimate Ruler over all kings has returned. Jesus Christ has come back.
This Jesus is worthy of your worship. This Jesus is worthy of your heart. This Jesus is worthy of your life. Even right now, as things in our world and things in your life aren’t always quite right. As things are not the way they are supposed to be, this image of the returning, all-powerful King of kings and Lord of lords is meant to give us power and encouragement to do much more than simply slog through life. Ultimately, the book of Revelation was not simply written to give us a time-line of the End, it was meant to be a letter of encouragement to the early churches as they were very literally going through hell on earth, as they were trying to live out Jesus in a hostile world.
This Victorious Risen Christ, the Reigning and Returning King of Heaven has the very unlimited resources of heaven to give you what you need each and every day to fight the good fight. It doesn’t always mean that everything works out the way that you want it to work out in your life. Bt if we see Jesus for who He truly and “fully” is with all of His dramatic power, we’ll follow Him through the brokenness of the now. We’ll worship Him even when our world is falling apart around us. And we’ll trust Him to lead us day by day. See Jesus Christ, the Returning Warrior Messiah King for who He is–the victorious Risen and Returning Christ.
Theme #2: The Rest of the Story (20:1-6)
So as Jesus comes back as the Victorious Risen King of kings and Lord of lords to ultimately defeat the power of Satan and the presence of evil, there’s the rest of the story on how it all goes down after His return. It’s what we call the Millennial reign of Christ, and it’s presented in Revelation 20:1-6:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time. Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
The term “millennial” comes from the “thousand years” that are found 6x’s in chapter 20. There are three views on the kingdom, and godly, Bible believing, evangelical men and women hold to various positions (i.e., it’s not something to fight over but to enjoy the dialogue as wrestling with the things and thoughts of God).
Premillennial: In the Premillennial position, before the literal 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ begins upon this earth, there is a seven year period called the Tribulation. Depending upon your view of the Tribulation, followers of Jesus Christ (the Church… that’s us) are raptured and either taken out of or protected from the wrath that is to be unleashed on the earth. ou might hear various positions of the rapture discussed: pre-tribulational (Jesus raptures and takes the Church out of the impending wrath), mid-tribulational (Jesus raptures the Church half way through the Tribulation before it gets really bad), and post-tribulational (Jesus does not rapture the Church from the earth, but He protects His followers as wrath is being poured out upon the earth). In the Premillennial position, the visions in Revelation are to be taken chronologically, and after the Tribulation, Christ returns in His second coming and inaugurates His visible, 1000 year earthly reign.
Amillennial: This view holds that the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 is a symbolic number, not a literal description. According to Amillennialism, we are already in the kingdom, and the visions of the book of Revelation are symbolic of what we are going through right now… throughout the entire history of the church (past, present, and future). Jesus Christ returns immediately before the eternal state (i.e., heaven and hell) to finally and ultimately defeat the forces of evil led by Satan, and then He establishes His permanent physical reign.
Postmillennial: Like amillennialism, the postmillennial position teaches that Jesus returns after (or “post”) the millennium kingdom (whether it’s a thousand years or not). In the Postmillennial position, the millennial kingdom is a period of the Holy Spirit drawing unprecedented amounts of people to Christ through faithful preaching of Christ, and during this period, the world is gradually won over by the gospel, and is marked by a period of peace before Christ returns. Postmillennialism also teaches that the forces of Satan will gradually be defeated by the expansion of the Kingdom of God throughout history up until the second coming of Christ. Good will gradually triumph over evil.
Once again, there are wise, godly, evangelical theologians who espouse all three of these positions. I do not think Scripture is crystal clear on the timing of all of this, so I don’t argue too much about this (and neither should you). As R.C. Sproul says, “sometimes God shouts and sometimes He whispers.” And much of the timing of the end is (I believe) in whispers. The point is, as all the various positions affirm, that Christ reigns and is now seated on the throne of heaven with His Father. Each position affirms that He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And oh yeah, some people (like me) hold to a fourth position: Pan-millennialism – “it will all pan out in the end.”
Theme #3: The Responsibility of the Church (20:6)
When we go to the movies, one of our favorite things is the previews of coming movies. They give us a snapshot on what the movie will be like. My wife Paige and I will look at each other after a preview, and say either “yea” or “nay” on whether we’d like to see that movie or not. Even when we rent a DVD, we’ll go to the special features section to watch the preview. We want to get a glimpse of what we are in store for.
In the same way that a movie preview gives us a glimpse of what the movie will be like, the Church, the community of Christ for the world, is supposed to give the world a preview of what Jesus’ kingdom and heaven will be like. People are supposed to get a preview, a snapshot, of the kingdom when they see us. We are the preview of the kingdom and of heaven for the world. This is our responsibility between the now and the end and into eternity. When people look at us, the Church, they are supposed to see a glimpse of eternity.
Here’s what the Apostle Paul says about us, the Church:
He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth… (Ephesians 1:9-10)
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)
We, the Church, are that “view” (the preview) in 1:10 of the “summing up of all things in Christ.” The plan of God, the “manifold wisdom of God,” the story of the God who create and re-creates for His glory and for our good, is to be lived out and on display to the world around us through the Church. This is our responsibility. “There is no Plan B!”
Notice the phrase in Revelation 20:6 “priests of God.” As we’ve talked about throughout the Story of God, the people of God are called to be a “kingdom of priests.” What does a priests do? A priest is someone who lives in two worlds. A priest is someone who goes to God on behalf of people and goes to people on behalf of God. Priests must live in the reality of God first and foremost, loving Him with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength. But then they must be in touch with the realities of broken people in a broken world. Priests go into the hurt of a broken world with the hope of God. One pastor put it like this – “priests live at the intersection of hurt and hope and direct traffic.” That’s what we are called to do–to be this kingdom of priests right here, right now, and on into the kingdom… to be a people who live at the intersection of hurt and hope and direct traffic to the One who can restore, redeem, and re-create. We have been rescued by God to be His redemptive community for the world, and in doing so, we give the world around us a preview of the kingdom and of heaven (see also 1 Peter 2:9-10)
The question that I continually wrestle with is this: do the people of our world get a picture of God’s kingdom and of heaven by watching our lives and our church? Do the broken people of our world, all around us, get a foretaste of Jesus’ reign as the King from the way that those who follow Jesus love them and serve them? Do people in the world around us get a picture of God’s kingdom now and into the future by the way that we love each other as a church body? For better or for worse, we are the preview of the kingdom for the world. On a more personal level, do people see the reign of Jesus Christ clearly in the way that you live your life… from the way that you live in school, in relationships, or in the workplace? For those of you that are married, does your marriage display the love of Jesus Christ for His Bride the Church to the world around you? This is our responsibility as the Church. We are the preview, the foreshadow, and the foretaste of the coming kingdom of God through the reign of Jesus Christ.
I love getting to the end of stories. I’m a voracious reader of fiction, and if it’s a great story, I have a hard time putting a book down as I near the end. I’ve been known to stay up until the wee hours of the morning finishing a great book. I get so immersed in the story, the characters, the plot. I want to know how it turns out. Here’s the beauty of the story of God. We know how the story turns out: God wins… Satan loses… the end. We know that Jesus is coming back. We know that He has already begun to rule and reign as the Risen Christ, but one day He will rule and reign fully and finally as the Coming King. And we are part of the rest of the story. In the meantime, we are to take ground for His kingdom and His Name until that time when He returns. We are called to be the church for the world… a group of ordinary people who make an extraordinary impact for Jesus. We are the preview of God’s kingdom for the world. So let’s live like we know the King is coming. Let’s show His greatness to our broken world–for His glory and for our good.