As the visions of the Apocalypse draw to a conclusion the Spirit presents us with a wonderful finale. Chapter 18 concluded with a picture of a mighty angel seizing a millstone and casting it into the depths of the ocean. Rome at last will be no more. The city that caused so many to stumble and fall has finally received its due judgment (Matt 18:6). In one decisive act all her music, her craftsmen, her merchandise and her sorceries are quelled forever. All that remains is a haunting silence that lingers long enough for the world to contemplate its sudden demise.

And then, suddenly, chapter 19 explodes with noise and activity filling the world with joy and leading onwards to a final crescendo. Firstly there is “a great voice of much people”, fol­lowed by the homage and praises of the twenty four elders and four living ones, followed in turn by “a voice from the throne”, commanding God’s servants to offer praise. With hardly a pause in between John then heard “the voice of a great multitude”, even the “voice of many waters” responding in praise and culminating in “the voice of mighty thunderings”.

Voices in heaven

Each voice is an echo repeating a single theme—Jesus Christ has returned to take control of the world—and they reverberate like peels of thunder booming throughout the sky. The first is a powerful voice emanating from the new ruling heavens and is framed by a column of smoke spiralling in the background. It is an ascription of praise to God for His justice in dispensing judgment on Rome and avenging the blood of His servants. Without hesita­tion it is immediately joined by sounds of absolute, yet humble agreement, “Amen” and “Alleluia”.

The next declaration is a command from the power behind the new throne. Here is the first decree of the new king—“Praise our God, all ye his servants” (19:5) and once again the voice of a countless multitude, drawn from so many different ages and walks of life, thunders forth with a sim­ple but profound acknowledgment: “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth”. He who will become mighty ones will now fulfil the purpose of the Name.

But their response to the voice from the throne is no cold, calculating answer. “We can rejoice and exult”, they exclaim, “and have given the glory to him; for the marriage of the Lamb hath come, and his betrothed hath made herself ready. And to her it hath been given that she may have been clothed with fine linen pure and resplendent; for the pure linen is the righteous actions of the saints.”(Brother Thomas’ translation in Eureka vol 3, p 640).

With thoughts of the “immoral woman” of the previous chapters quickly receding from their memory, these saints joyfully reflect on the price­less memory of being selected as the betrothed and, furthermore, of being permitted to participate in the wedding itself. They remember every last detail, especially the garments of praise and immortality that were bestowed upon them as a result of their faithful activity in the Truth. If only we could see ourselves amongst that throng of people and strive to make ourselves ready for that day. A great deal of preparation goes into a wedding; how much more time and effort should go into the preparation for the greatest event of our lives—our marriage to the Lamb.

John was next told to write this encouragement: “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb”. Whilst this supper is later defined in verses 17–21 as the final overthrow of the beast system, we would do well to consider the import of these words. Revelation is full of bless­ings for the righteous, but surely one of the greatest of these is to be granted immortality, wrest the world out of the power of the enemy and secure it ready for the kingdom age. What a wonderful hope we have been called to.

In fact John was so overwhelmed with this promise that he spontaneously fell to the ground in obeisance. He was an elderly man, used to the honour of many disciples, but he had no hesitation in understanding the enormity of the promise be­ing offered and falling at the angel’s feet. But the elohim do not seek the adulation of men. They see themselves simply as fellow-servants, happy to be identified with the brethren of all ages who “have the testimony of Jesus”, but possessing a very clear focus: “Worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (19:10).

This last phrase is most intriguing. We perhaps might have given John a different reason, but the angel’s argument had to do with the testimony (marturian—witness) of Jesus. This testimony was first delivered by Jesus at his trial and crucifixion. It was a declaration of God’s truth in the face of evil ( 1 Tim 6:13). By an extension of principle, anyone who repeats this same courage is said to be suffering “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:9). This ability to honour God in the face of the worst kind of opposition is “the testimony of Jesus Christ” and according to the angel is the spirit, or the real intention, of this prophecy. For this reason the glory belongs to God and to no one else. All that men and angels can do is to recognise this great principle and extend all the honour that is due to Him.

King of Kings and Lord of Lords

In verse 11 the scene abruptly changes. The groom is also a warrior (cp Psa 45:2–8) and the previous voices which spelt out the details of world conquest must now be carried through. We are able to catch a brief glimpse behind the scenes of God’s army preparing for battle. The central figure is the Lord himself, dominant and resplendent on his white horse, ready to take on the enemies of God through the control of a renewed Israel (cp Zech 10:3).

Whilst his eyes are burning with indignation, the Lord will nevertheless execute each campaign with righteousness. The destruction of the wicked will not degenerate into wanton and indiscriminate mas­sacres. He that was “faithful and true” in the days of his flesh will manifest the same characteristics in the day of his power.

We are intrigued by the paradox that is pre­sented in this scene. The Lord has a name that only he himself knows, yet the secret is revealed in the next verse—“his name is called The Word of God” (v12,13). The explanation is centred on the significance of the word “know”. He alone was “the Word made flesh”. He alone was the manifestation of the Father’s Word in its completeness and in this sense he alone knew the real import of the will and Word of his Father.

As the single horseman moves to the forefront of the scene, we discover that he is not alone. He is followed by the saints who have always followed him. They, too, look magnificent on their steeds, each one of them a replica of their leader; each one of them having exchanged the fine linen of the bride for the fine linen of the warrior.

Every command issued by this new world leader is to progress the campaign of world dominion. With each deft movement he smites the earth with his mouth and slays the wicked with the breath of his lips (Isa 11:4; 49:2). Every step is like moving through a winepress, crushing all resistance before him. He lifts each leg high to strike with greater force and we are able to catch a glimpse of a new name on his thigh. It is no longer “The Word of God”. It is now “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”. The defeat of the enemy in Gethsemane is now be­ing expanded to include the battlefields of the world.

The Great Supper

There is another group of people who will assist Christ and the saints in the conflict against the beast. In verse 17 we read this: “And I saw one angel who had stood in the sun: and he shouted with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls flying in mid heaven, Come hither and assemble together for the banquet of the powerful Deity, that ye may eat the flesh of kings” (Brother Thomas’ transla­tion p 654).

This is another view of the mid-heaven proc­lamation of chapter 14:6–7. The one angel in the sun is none other than the new ruling power in Zion and its voice is both an ultimatum to the na­tions and an invitation to Israel. The natural seed of Abraham are invited to “eat the prey and drink the blood of the slain” (Num 23:24), “to eat up the nations his enemies” (Num 24:7,8) and fly upon all who would oppose their return (Isa 11:13,14). Those who respond will perform valiantly. They will be like instruments of war in the hands of the saints, like birds of prey devouring all before them.

The enemy is none other than the European beast and its false prophet, together with all those nations which support their pretensions to pre eminence. Note that “they make war” (19:19) not Christ (17:14). They are the initiators of the conflict, the aggressors. They are furious that someone dares to challenge their authority. It is in some respects no different to the circumstances associated with the Lord’s first advent, except that this time the king will strike back.

We can read the words of verse 20 quickly without pausing to contemplate the enormity of this war. Whilst the whole world will be involved in the conflict, the focus of the Apocalypse centres on the European theatre of war. Since Rome has sunk into oblivion, control of the beast has now passed from a city to a single prominent man—the false prophet. His prominence is emphasised to John. He is the one who wrought the signs in the presence of the beast, leading the nations to Armageddon (cp 16:13,14). He is the one singled out by the record as deceiving the inhabitants of Europe. He is the implied survivor of Rome’s dramatic overthrow.

And the Europeans themselves, despite all their so called enlightenment and technology, are described as those who have “received the mark of the beast and worship the image of the beast”. This implies that Europe will descend into the same superstitious abyss that haunted society in the Dark Ages, because these phrases were used of Europe when it was enslaved to Rome (13:12–18). It is significant that the persecution of heretics is not included. That aspect of Papal domination passed away with the expiration of the 1260 years and it will not reappear in the future. It is Rome’s pagan grip on the minds of men that will linger on into the future.

The fate that awaits the Pope and Catholic Eu­rope is clearly spelt out. “These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (19:20). A lake is a tract of standing water and water repre­sents many peoples. A lake of fire then is a group of people in a state of destructive conflagration. Since the beast is European, the lake of fire must also be European and hence it depicts in symbol the reality of intense warfare in this region. This is supported by the prophets: “he will send a fire on Magog” (Ezek 39:6) and (Dan 7:11). This fire will not be extinguished until it has consumed all of these people alive. The rest of the world is styled, “the remnant”, and they will be subjected to a less intense form of death, but death nevertheless (v21).

The Binding of the Dragon

To reinforce the dramatic change in society as a result of this conquest, John saw “an angel come down from heaven [the new government in Zion], having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years” (20:1,2).

This is the same powerful angel who appeared in 18:1 to enlighten the world—Christ and his followers. This time he is a prison keeper and the prison he guards and controls is the “bottomless pit” or abyss—the great seething mass of nations defined as the dragon territory. It will be the honour of the saints to seize the enemy and “bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron” (Psa 149:8).

The enemy is styled “the dragon” and it is as­sociated with “the old serpent, which is the false accuser and adversary”. This language comes directly from the events recorded in chapter 12:9. Here the undivided Roman Empire under the pa­gan dominion of sin’s flesh was the deceiver and adversary of the brethren (12:10). It was finally defeated by Constantine and thrown out of active government, but the vanquishing pseudo Christian power adopted the same policies as its enemy and soon transformed itself into a similar dragon. From this time onwards it became a symbol of the eastern part of the Roman Empire.

When Christ returns, however, the divided em­pire will no longer remain in several parts. It will reunite itself under a new emperor and pope in an attempt to control the world. This time, however, it will be seized and chained; confined to the deepest dungeon. Imagine the restraint needed to imprison this system of tyranny and keep it under subjection for a thousand years!

Only then will the vail that is cast over all na­tions be removed (Isa 25:7). The false prophets and deceivers will be repressed. The law shall go forth from Zion and all men shall worship Yahweh with one lip. At last Yahweh’s name will be great amongst the Gentiles and in every place incense shall be offered to Him (Mal 1:11).

How will this change be effected? The answer is given in chapter 20:4. Justice and judgment will be given into the hands of a people who have been made perfect through suffering. They are the new monarchs who have separated themselves from everything Catholicism stood for, some even to the point of losing their lives in the process. What a reversal in human affairs! They are fit to rule because they were faithful to the end. They shall “reign with him” because they suffered because of him (2 Tim 2:12). They were once imprisoned by death but are now set free and part of their reward is to hurl their adversaries into the darkest prison and rule over them for 1000 years. How apposite are the ways of God.

There is a unique sense of blessing associated with those who are raised and found worthy when Christ returns, compared to those who are raised at the end of the millennium. This second group is styled “the rest of the dead”. But “blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests … and shall reign with him a thousand years” (20:6). Their blessing will consist of subdu­ing evil and dispensing justice throughout a world still reeling from the effects of sin. Those who are raised at the end of this reign will pass into a state of unmixed good.

The Final Rebellion

But despite the pervasion of God’s ways throughout the earth, “when the thousand years are expired, the adversary shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea” (20:7,8).

It will be exactly as Isaiah 24:22,23 predicted: “They shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited”.

If ever there was a picture of the intractable evil of human nature here it is. The force that once ruled the undivided Roman Empire will reemerge to challenge the policies of Christ and the saints. The men of that generation will have known noth­ing about the evils of human government and will doubtless express their opinion about how fit they are to rule.

Remarkably the blessings of the kingdom will soon be forgotten and overlooked. The justice and peace of Christ’s reign will be taken for granted and the words of Isaiah 26:10 will prove to be true: “Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of Yahweh”.

Brother Roberts suggests this course of events: “Human longevity will be common in those days, and therefore the immortality of the rulers will be a matter of faith with the subject populations. Doubt may at last come to be cast upon it. There will be much specious sophistry employed, we may be sure, before the nations surrender themselves to the leadership of Satan let loose. Stirring orations, self important conferences of delegates, the circu­lation of eloquent documents, will doubtless enter largely into the machinery of seduction. At last the poison takes effect. The people lend themselves to the Demagogues: they listen to the flattering doc­trines to which they have been unaccustomed for centuries. They subscribe to the movement. They enrol themselves in the battalions: secret drillings go on everywhere. As government takes no notice, the drillings lose their secrecy. The people take courage. The movement becomes an open one. From certain centres it spreads, until it commands the adhesion of entire communities; and lastly of nations” (Thirteen Lectures, p174,175).

In the end there will be two innumerable camps. One filled with agitation, the other with sadness. One the seed of Abraham, like sand upon the sea shore; the other the seed of the wicked, foaming its own shame upon another sea shore. One com­posed of rebellious mortals; the other of faithful immortals. Once more the sad infamy of history will repeat itself. It will be like the invasion of Gog and Magog a thousand years before but this time the enemy will be consumed in an instant, just like Dathan and Abiram of old. It will take a great deal of courage for any faithful mortal to stand aside from this evil and this crisis may even be viewed by God as a final proof of their obedience.

Once again a key leader will be responsible for this final resistance. He will be no different to the villains of the past. Hence he is styled in the record, “the devil that deceived them” (20:10). His fate will be identical to the papal system of our time—totally con­sumed by the ravages of war until nothing remains.

The Final Resurrection and Judgment

When the King of kings shall have put all enemies under his feet, then “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”(1 Cor 15:25,26). With this in mind, we can sense the emotion of the closing scenes of Revelation 20.

There is a great white throne representing the absolute righteousness of the king of glory. Before him the brief attempt at establishing a human government and religion dissipates ‘and there was found no place for them (v11, Dan 2:35). Like Cain, this attempt at will worship and hatred will be banished from the paradise of God.

During the millennial rule of Christ, mankind will be liberated from the dark forces of supersti­tion and ignorance to such an extent, that the great light which will dawn upon them will evoke much greater responsibilities than we can imagine. Hence, the final resurrection will take place on a much broader scale than the premillennial one. The same figurative books are opened but the accountability will be greater.

When we read that “the sea gave up the dead which were in it” we must remember that the sea is representative of the mortal population united under Christ’s dominion. Though the king reigns in glory, death still reigns in his dominion and now the dead, both small and great, must stand to give account “according to their works” (v13).

This final judgment will result in the total eradication of sin and death from Adam’s race. The purpose of God, so skilfully concealed in the first chapter of Genesis, will reach its ultimate fulfilment. There will only be one body of people who will remain in absolute harmony with God, physically and morally, for ever.

How we long for that day when sin and death will be eradicated once and for all. Imagine standing in the midst of that innumerable throng, eternally thankful for the redemption that has been wrought in Christ, eternally responsive to the will of the Father, eternally able to glorify God in every way. There is nothing else worth striving for. “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”