Pastor Scott Andrews | April 30, 2023
One of my favorite stories in the OT is near the beginning of the book of Joshua. You’re familiar with it – it’s the stuff of children’s Sunday School. After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, Moses had died, and it was time for Joshua to lead the Israelites into the land of promise. After miraculously crossing the Jordan River, they made camp at Gilgal, about two miles from Jericho. Now remember, there were about 2 million Israelites – Veggie Tales and the French Peas got this scene all wrong.
You see, news of the Israelites’ conquests had spread – the Red Sea, what had happened to a couple kings on the east side of the Jordan. As a result, Jericho was actually shut up tightly behind high walls. No one came in, no one went out. They were scared to death. And so, one day, Joshua is outside those same city walls. He seems to be by himself – perhaps trying to figure out how to take such a fortified city. He looks up and sees a man he does not recognize with his sword drawn. This could be a problem. Tensions are high – he’s right outside the walls of the enemy. So Joshua draws his own sword, rushed over and asked, “Are you for us or against us?” Who goes there, friend or foe? In other words, whose side are you on?
To which the man answered, no. No? Maybe you didn’t hear – it wasn’t a yes or no question – it was an either/or question – are you for us, or for them? No, the man said, rather I come as captain of the host or the army of the LORD – Yahweh.” Don’t miss it. Wrong question, Joshua. It’s not whether I am on your side, the question is, are you on My side? Whoa.
Well immediately, Joshua recognizes whose presence he is in, falls with his face to the ground, and asks, what has my lord to say to his servant? You’re a quick learner Josh – that’s a better question. As if to confirm His identity, the captain of the LORD’s host says, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” Well, that sounded familiar. The God of the burning bush who appeared to Moses and introduced Himself as Yahweh said the same thing to Moses. Take off your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy ground. And so Moses and now Joshua did.
Well, the story goes on. Joshua goes back to the camp and says, I’ve figured it out – this is how we’ll take Jericho. I’m sure the army commanders were intrigued – eager to hear the battle plans. Here’s the plan – we’re going to walk around Jericho once a day for six days in total silence. On the seventh day, we’re going to walk around seven times, then the priests are going to blow the trumpets, we’ll let out a shout, and the walls will fall down flat. What do you think?
Umm, sir, you’ve been out in the sun too long. Who came up with that plan? Who do you think came up with the plan? Undoubtedly, it was the captain of the Lord’s army. Why that particular plan? Understand, archeological evidence shows Jericho covered about 12-13 acres. Maybe 25,000 people, give or take. But the Israelite army? 600,000! I’m sure they could have figured a way in – build a siege ramp, starve them out, these were the methods of the day, break down the gate. Sure, they may have had some losses. But, God’s battle plan? As crazy as it sounds, it worked, and there were no losses. How do I know that? Well, there aren’t any recorded, as there were in the next battle.
You may remember that story – it’s lesser known because, well, things didn’t go so well for the Israelites. There’s a small city nearby – only about 12,000 people – it was called Ai. Why, it’s smaller than Boone, Joshua, there’s no need to send the entire army. So, let’s just send, like 3,000 soldiers – certainly that’s enough, right? And they were routed. And we read that 36 Israelite soldiers died that day. That was a rout? They only lost one percent of their fighting force – no big deal. Well, I’m sure it was to those 36 men, and their families. And there was the fact that they lost the battle.
Why? Why did they lose the battle? Hadn’t God promised to be with them? Well, you may remember. A man named Achan had kept some of the plunder from Jericho which they were told to devote to the Lord by destruction. Of course, if they had enquired of the Lord and gotten the battle plans from Him – they could have avoided the lost battle and lost lives. By the way, when they did enquire of the Lord, He said take the whole army – and they captured the city with again, no recorded loss of life. So, what then do we learn from these stories? There are a number of principles, but let me narrow them to three:
- Number 1, the question is not if God on our side, the question is, are we on His? That’s an important question for the coming battle of all battles.
- Number 2, the battle belongs to the Lord. We will see in the coming worldwide battle, He does it all. And there seems to be no recorded losses on the good side. And by the way, if you ever think you can do it on your own without Him, think again.
- Number 3, doing it His way brings success whereas relying on our own devices and wisdom often spells defeat.
Hold onto that, as we now turn to our text today in our ongoing study of the book of Revelation. Revelation 19. We’ve turned a significant corner. After studying for months of the coming wrath of God to be poured out on unbelievers, we finally got to chapter 19. We started with the Hallelujah Chorus – four times at the beginning of this chapter, loud hallelujahs praising God for His destruction of Babylon the Great, and for the coming marriage supper of the Lamb. Now, the Scripture is full of teaching about the coming Messianic banquet when God and His Christ will feast with His people. For example, Isaiah 25:6ff says,
6 The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
And refined, aged wine.
7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken.
9 And it will be said in that day,
“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
Clearly this is the end of time – human history as we know it. And so, we are waiting for the Lord, right? Jesus continued this banquet feast teaching throughout His ministry, but especially in three parables in Matthew 21,22 and 25. We don’t have the time to review those, but clearly there is coming a Messianic banquet when God and Christ will feast with His people. And we saw it called the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19 – where His people are called both the bride and the guests invited to the supper.
Which brought us last week, finally, to the glorious return of Jesus Christ in verses 11-16. Now remember, His second coming will be different from His first. The first time, He came humbly, to save His people from their sin by dying on a cross – bearing their sins in His body – this is right out of Isaiah 53, by the way. He came humbly, entering Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, in fulfillment of the prophecy is Zechariah 9.
But His second coming will be a bit different. He will come the second time not to save, but to judge and wage war. The first time, He came to defeat sin. The second time, He will come to defeat Satan and the forces of evil, as well as all those who have rejected Him, and followed the beast, which we found to be the Antichrist. He will come in glory, riding on a white horse, a symbol of majesty and victory. His eyes will be a flame of fire, on His head will be many crowns, His robe will be dipped in blood. Following behind Him will be the armies of heaven, in fine linen, white and clean. From His mouth will come a sword by which He will strike down the nations which have opposed Him and His people; He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He will tread the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe will be written a name, King of kings and Lord of lords.
That’s a little different than the first time. Listen, there is a coming battle – and the question is not, Jesus, captain of the host of heaven, are You on my side? The question is, are we on His? You see, all that brings us to the text today – Revelation 19:17-21. This is wonderful, right? Look at this.
You say, Scott, I thought we were done with all this blood and gore. Not quite. We are supposed to notice the stark contrast between two suppers – the marriage supper of the Lamb, and the great supper of God. Know this: the commander of the army of the Lord is coming. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. The question is, whose side are you on, because there is coming a great battle, and it will be over in a moment. Think of it this way, of which supper will you be a part?
Just so you know, it’s a shorter sermon today, but it is most poignant. The text is gruesome and designed to shock us into the reality of the coming judgment. The end is coming – Jesus is coming back. There will be two suppers – the marriage supper of the Lamb, and the great supper of God. There will be two groups of participants – the bride of Christ, and the enemy of Christ. One will eat the marriage supper in great joy; the other will be the main course; you see, their dead bodies strewn across the battlefield will be eaten. The outline of the text is as follows:
- The Invitation to the Great Supper of God (17-19)
- The Battle of Armageddon (20-21) – for which we have been waiting for months, and it’s over in moment. That’s interesting – the armies of heaven are following Him on white horses – I think that may be composed of the angelic host and believers – but notice, no weapons. How do you go to war without weapons? When the battle belongs to the Lord, you don’t need them.
John sees an angel standing in the sun – the idea is that of brilliance, which likely speaks of the reflected glory of God, since we saw Jesus’ face shining like the sun in chapter 1. From this vantage point, the angel can see all the carrion birds flying in midheaven – that is, midair. And the angel cried out to them with a loud voice – loud enough for all the birds – vultures and eagles and the like – to hear. It’s a nice invitation to come to a meal – the great supper of God – a meal provided by God Himself.
But then we get to verse 18, “so that you may eat the flesh” of all people. One author says, there will be two great messianic banquets at the eschaton – that is, at the end of all things: the feast with the Lamb for the saints and the feast on the sinners for the birds. We are supposed to notice the gruesome parody. Another author suggests this is “a bloodthirsty picture…far more in line with Old Testament apocalyptic expectations than with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Listen, we do not have two Gods – the wrathful God of the OT, and the nice God of the NT. The truth is salvation is only for those who obey the gospel of Jesus – but to reject Him and His gospel is to invite dire consequences.
Now notice, so sure is the outcome of the battle that before it takes place, the Lamb’s robe is already covered in blood, and the birds are called to clean up the mess. Second, notice whose bodies will lie slaughtered on the ground. First are the leaders, the kings, then the military – the gathered army. In fact, this is interesting. In chapter 16, when we first heard about the Battle of Armageddon, we read,
13 And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;
14 for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty….
16 And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.
The word gather together is the same word as in chapter 19, come, assemble together. So the army of the Antichrist gathers to fight against the Lamb, and the angel calls the birds to gather together for the great supper of God at the conclusion of the battle.
Anyway, of those defeated is first the leaders and the military, if you will: kings and commanders and mighty men and horses and those who sit on them. Then he broadens it to include everyone gathered for the battle in the Valley of Megiddo – the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, small and great. If they gather to fight against the Lamb of God, they will lie slaughtered in the battlefield. I know, blood and gore – it is to shock us into the reality of what is coming.
Verse 19 – And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled (there’s the word again, gathered together) to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Time for the battle, right?
Bringing us to the Battle of Armageddon in verse 20-21. The battle lines are drawn – and the battle is going to be amazing, except, there is no battle. Did you notice that? We’re talking about all the forces of evil fighting against the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the One with a sword coming out of His mouth, who carries a rod of iron, who will deal out the wrath of God the Almighty – and just like that, it’s over. Any idea you have of God and Satan being somehow rivals, equals and fighting this battle through the ages where sometimes God has the advantage, and sometimes Satan does – kind of going back and forth – is ludicrous. God is God alone – and all are subservient to Him. There is no battle here. Remember 2 Thessalonians says it this way:
6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
We marvel at His power and authority to win this ultimate battle as we sit back as witnesses to the massive destruction. And II Thessalonians 2 says, speaking of the Antichrist, “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.”
What will happen to the unholy trinity – the dragon, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth – Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet? Verse 20 says the beast (the Antichrist) was seized, and with him the false prophet – and to make sure we know who this false prophet is – he is the one we saw back in chapter 13 who performed counterfeit signs or miracles by which he deceived those who took the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.
And these two are thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone – that’s burning sulfur, like that which fell on Sodom and Gomorrah. Not only is it fire, one author says, “A lake of burning sulfur would not only be intensely hot, but malodorous and fetid as well.” Meaning, it stinks. This is the first time the lake of fire is mentioned in Scripture, although we will now find it appearing through chapter 20, and four things will be thrown into it. First here, the Antichrist and the False Prophet. Then in chapter 20, there is death and Hades, apocalyptic language indicating they will be no more. Then, after the 1000 years, Satan himself will be cast in, followed by all unbelievers. Many other passages teach this is eternal destruction – a fire that burns forever and ever, where the worm does not die. Remember Babylon? The smoke from her destruction will arise forever and ever.
By the way, in NT times, the word for hell was usually Gehenna. Gehenna is the valley of Hinnom to the south and west of Jerusalem where human sacrifices were offered, for example, to Molech. It became the city dump where refuse or garbage was burned in continual, never-ending fire. It became also a symbol for the fires of hell.
Finally, notice verse 21 – this is the end of the rather quick Battle of Armageddon. The rest of the army of the beast were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of Him who sat on the white horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. By the way, the most dishonorable way to treat a dead person – a corpse, no burial – bodies thrown out to be devoured by wild beasts. That’s what happens here.
Gruesome? Yes. This is apocalyptic language meant to shock us into the reality of that which awaits. So, whose side are you on? There are two suppers coming at the end of the age – the marriage supper of the Lamb, who is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, and the great supper of God. The saints will partake of the great banquet, the sinners will be the great banquet. One commentator ended with this shocking, startling question, “Will you the eater, or will you be eaten?”