King of Kings and Lord of Lords

As North Americans we may be fascinated with British royalty when it involves princesses, princes, and weddings, but we have a history of being less appreciative of kings. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted a declaration, which alleged: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.” Included in the list that follows was, “He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” One might wonder what the members of that Congress would have thought of our present Federal bureaucracy in comparison to the one that triggered their war, but I digress. Although Independence Day is this week, this morning’s message is not about that event. Rather, it is about the great, final battle fought by the King of kings, as recorded in Revelation 19:11–21. Our history may make it difficult to appreciate the importance of a true king, but both Lewis and Tolkien, with strong Christian roots, make clear in their fiction that for things to go right, the true king needs to be on the throne: sons of Adam and daughters of Eve on the four thrones in Cair Paravel, and Aragon in Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor.

Your King makes war with justice. This is the final battle. Various important visions have been introduced by John seeing something open in heaven: Revelation 4:1; 11:19; 15:5 This opening describes an aspect of the final battle that will give way to John seeing the new heavens and earth. The white horse is the color of one ridden by a victorious king. The description of this true warrior-king contrasts with the beast of Revelation 13:1, showing that the authority of the latter is an usurped power. Language of Psalm 2, Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah, is all borrowed to portray the power and just rule of this King. The Rider is the warrior-king. God had come as the great warrior at various times in the history of his people, perhaps most notably in the celebration of Exodus 15, but evident also in many other victories he gave his people. Isaiah 62 and 63 present the Lord as the one who has to do battle in order to redeem his people. The destruction of the enemy is pictured as the Lord trampling the grapes in the winepress.

This is the war of final vindication. All the other battles of the Lord on behalf of his people lead up to this final battle. Yes, the crucial victory was won at the cross. Revelation 12 give that compressed triumph, but the dragon, having failed to devour the Child, rages against the woman and her children. But now all of that is ended. The triumph of the Lamb is complete. He defeats his and our enemies. War is ugly. Often there is unjust, undeserved suffering, sometimes inflicted intentionally, sometimes dismissed as collateral damage. But this King wage war justly, as his rule is perfectly righteous. His is a victory in which you can rejoice. “The wars of earthly armies typically leave much unjust suffering and destruction in their wake. This war, however, is utterly just, because of the supreme power and justice of the One who wages war.” (Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King, p. 174).

An angel announces judgment on God’s enemies. Judgment comes suddenly. Judgment is announced, as in Revelation 18:1, by a majestic shinning angel (this one standing in the sun!), reflecting the glory of heaven, and announcing judgment in a loud voice. This one pronounces doom against the beast and the false prophet, and their followers. They are defeated in battle. Earlier John had introduced the dragon, then the beast and the false prophet, and finally, Babylon. In reverse order, Babylon has fallen (Revelation 18), the false prophet and the beast are thrown into the fiery lake (here, Revelation 19), and Satan will join them (Revelation 20). Dennis Johnson makes the point that, like the notation Exeunt in Shakespeare’s plays, the major evil characters are removed from the stage and meet their judgment.

A grim banquet invitation marks judgment. This is a battle, not just between Christ and Satan, but also between the leaders and their followers. The warrior-king on the white horse has the armies of heaven, also on white horses, wearing fine linen, white and clean, joining in his victory. And the followers of the dragon and the beast meet their doom. “Throughout Revelation we have been forewarned that the cosmic conflict is not only between Satan and his beast and God and his Christ. Rather, each stands in the midst of a community, and the destiny of each community rests with the success or failure of its champions. . . . [J]ust as Christ’s white horse promises his certain victory, so the white horses of the riders who follow him assure the church that his triumphs will be ours as well.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 275). The language of Ezekiel 39:17ff is used by the angel to invite the carrion birds to a feast—a feast that is a parody of the wedding banquet described earlier in the chapter. Jesus, through John, is making clear that there is no neutrality. Either you follow the rider on the white horse, or you follow the beast to destruction. Either you are a guest at the wedding banquet of the Lamb, or you are subject to destruction in the grim feast for the birds of prey.

Listen to the names of your King. He is Faithful and True. The expression, “faithful and true,” is used in a prayer recorded in 2 Maccabees, as Israel prays for God, in his faithfulness, to defend his name by judging the persecutors of Israel. Here the Messiah is the answer to that prayer, and to all of the prayers of God’s suffering people.

He has an unknown name. While it is possible that this refers to a name that belongs to Jesus but is utterly unknown to anyone else, that doesn’t seem to fit with the revelation of other names in the immediate context. Looking back to Revelation 2:17 and Isaiah 62:2–3, and it a book full of symbolism, the name seems to refer to the coming victory of the Savior. Further, the name is known to him, and not to others, indicating that he is sovereign and not under the control of any other. “[T]hat no one knows the name mentioned here except Christ means that the prophecy of Isaiah 62 and 65 has not yet been consumately fulfilled. But Christ’s ‘name’ will be known to his people when they experience the fulfillment of prophecy in a new, consumated covenantal marriage relationship with Christ.” “In the OT to know a name means to have control over the one named. Therefore, the confidential nature of the name here has nothing to do with concealing a name on the cognitive level, but alludes to Christ being absolutely sovereign over humanity’s experiential access to his character.” (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, pages 953, 956).

He is the Word of God. He is called by this name, as is true of the first. “Word of God” is associated with the phrase, “the testimony of Jesus.” Remember that John is the one who begins his Gospel by describing Jesus as the Word.

He is King of kings and Lord of Lords. Here is an explanation of that name that was known only to him. This title indicates that the Messiah is Lord and King above all other rulers, real or imagined. He is absolutely sovereign. No one can stop him. Suffering Christians, remember his title! When you are tempted to sin, when you find obedience difficult, remember who your King truly is, and bow to his will. This title belongs to Jesus, not simply because he is the sovereign God from all eternity, true as that is. But it is an additional title given to him as the conquering warrior. He became the Lamb and was slain. But now he lives, and he overcomes all of his and your enemies.

Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords. Refuse to acknowledge that title, reject his authority, and catastrophic judgment comes. But his invitation, his command to you today is to follow as part of his army and to share in his triumph.