Thy kingdom come
Jesus had just finished praying when one of the disciples asked him ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ Jesus obliged and right at the start of his model prayer he used these words ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ God’s will is currently not being done on earth, but this will change, it will not be a gradual change, but will come about in a dramatic intervention,
an intervention that we as believers will have a grandstand view of.
1. Shouting in heaven
In the previous two chapters of Revelation (17 & 18) we have seen to demise of the system of false religion, which was depicted as a prostitute intimately involved with the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns. The beast both represents Satan’s man and the final political system set up by Satan to rule the world. The beast turns on the woman and destroys her: Satan’s kingdom is imploding! Next we saw the demise of the commercial/political system as described for Babylon. John saw a city that was reduced to a burning shell. Merchants, kings and those who profited from this system lamented its demise. But their mourning is contrasted with rejoicing in heaven. There is something strangely attractive about the Babylonian system. Pick up the colour supplement of the weekend papers and you will see the glossy adverts for luxury houses, prestige cars, watches, perfume, high fashion and high living - but it will all come to nothing. The masters of the universe will be left with an empty burning shell. We should recognise these things for what they represent, and get ready to rejoice at their demise.
John heard what he took to be the sound of roar of a great multitude in heaven. I was fortunate enough to be in Murrayfield in 1990. It was the final match of the Five Nations rugby union championship. England had a team of great rugby stars and were expected to win with ease – they had already won all three of their matches in the championship. But in spite of Scotland’s underdog status, they arrived at this final game also with 3 wins – it was the deciding game: winner takes all (triple crown, grand slam, Culcutta cup). England scored an early easy try and I was amazed at the eruption of sound that came from the England supporters when Jeremy Guscott went over the line: the signs were ominous! But Scotland came back and when Tony Stanger went over for the deciding try in Scotland’s favour the place erupted! Now that was the sort of sound that John heard coming from heaven. Here’s what they shouted: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgements. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged the blood of his servants.’ They say (probably incorrectly!) that there are only two words that are the same in every language on earth: Coca Cola and Hallelujah! Most people think that hallelujah means something like ‘fantastic’ or ‘great news’ it’s also sometimes used ironically ‘well hallelujah.’ But it actually means ‘praise the Lord.’ This is its first use in the New Testament but in the Old Testament it is often associated with praise to God in response to defeat of enemies or in relation to God’s rule. John heard the great multitude praise the Lord because salvation, glory and power belong to him – his judgements are true and just. What a relief this will be to have truth and proper justice. We hear so often on the news of a lack of truth and justice: the guilty go free and innocent men suffer. It certainly seems likely that as men and women jettison our Christian heritage we will see more and more injustice and lack of truth as false religion, atheism and godless thinking influence our courts and law makers. In the news recently we have seen the mess that FIFA has made by its corrupt leaders, athletics is in turmoil with endemic cheating, once respected companies like VW have been caught telling lies to the authorities and their customers, the ‘masters of the universe’ in the banking and financial world have been exposed as cheats and our MPs and law enforcers have been found wanting. But Jesus will bring truth and justice! That’s worth shouting hallelujah for! Not only that, but the system that has brought about this mess and has corrupted the world has been brought to an end: the great prostitute has been condemned.
Again they shouted: ‘Hallelujah! The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.’ This reminds us of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah after God’s judgement fell – the smoke could be seen for miles around. Let’s not be like Lot and invest too much of our time and affections on this condemned system!
John is in heaven and he now describes the scene: the 24 elders (whom we think are representative of the church) and the four living creatures fall down and worship God, seated on the throne. They too shout out Amen (so be it) and Hallelujah: Praise the Lord!
Next John hears a voice from the direction of the throne: ‘Praise our God all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!’ This is the 4th declaration of praise towards God – this is building up into quite a finale – and everyone is involved, both great and small.
2. The wedding of the lamb
A fifth declaration of praise to God is made: John describes it as ‘like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder.’ Again we have the word Hallelujah – that’s the 4th time it’s been used in this section; ‘hallelujah, for the Lord our God Almighty reigns.’ The system of rule by Satan, the beast and the false prophet has come to an end and the Lord reigns! That’s worth shouting about – at last God’s kingdom is coming to earth and his righteous will is to be done. Rejoice and be glad indeed.
The great multitude now recounts something new and perhaps surprising: ‘For the wedding feast of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ Who is the bride? The answer seems to come in Ephesians 5:25-27 where Paul provides teaching about how wives and husbands should behave. He states the following: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.’ Theologians have spotted some interesting correlations between the Christ-church relationship and a marriage in ancient Jewish culture. There was a betrothal period in which the bridegroom takes the initiative to find a bride, he then pays for the bride and makes a promise of marriage. The bride is then set apart and a separation period begins. Similarly Christ sought out the church, paid the price by giving himself for her, and has made a promise of marriage. The actual marriage followed the betrothal period in the Jewish system. This only took place after the period of separation (you will recall this in the story of Mary and Joseph), at the end of this period, the groom sets out to collect his bride. Since the precise time of the arrival of the groom remains unknown to the bride, the groom’s arrival is announced with a shout. The bride and groom then return to the groom’s father’s house and the guests are assembled. The bride and groom enter the bridal chamber and are hidden for 7 days, after which they appear to the guests. You can quickly see some parallels: Christ is separated from the bride, he comes back to collect her (the church is caught up to meet the Lord in the air), the church is then hidden for a period (likely 7 years) and then is unveiled as described in this 19th chapter of Revelation. This is all of some interest but what is truly remarkable is that Jesus enters into a permanent and eternal relationship with the church!
At the end of verse 7 we read that the bride’s fine linen (which is provided for her) stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people. In 1 Corinthians 3, the apostle Paul indicates that there is a day in which each believer’s work will be tested. Work that has been done with the wrong materials will be destroyed by fire, but work done with the right materials will stand the test of fire. I wonder if these garments represent the work done of lasting value? This encourages us examine what we are doing in the present age: are we building with wood, hay and stubble or with gold, silver and costly stones?
The angel who has accompanied John turned to him and said ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the lamb!’ Since the bride is the church those invited to the supper seem to be those believers who have come through the difficulty of the seven years and probably also Old Testament believers. The angel concludes by saying ‘these are the true words of God.’ He may be referring to the series of events he has just shown John (from chapter 17 up to this point) as well as the statement about those who are invited to the supper. Having concluded this series of revelations it seems that John was overcome. And this should not surprise us – he has seen the end of Satan’s kingdom and now he has this astonishing glimpse of the future when Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords becomes married to the church! In a spontaneous response John fell at the feet of the angel to worship him! But we must worship only God and the angel is quick to rebuke John: ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant…’
3. The return of Jesus to earth
It is a key component of the entire bible story that Jesus returns to earth to sort out the mess that Satan and sinful mankind have created. As one writer put it, ‘Apart from his return to purge his creation of evil, redemption remains forever incomplete.’ Again John observes a future event: he saw heaven open and before him was a white horse with a rider called ‘faithful and true.’ The rider has two purposes: to judge and to wage war. The situation on earth at this time is reaching a climax. It seems that Satan’s system is in irreversible collapse but in his rage and fury he turns in defiance of God on the city of Jerusalem. Zechariah 12: 3 – ‘On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.’ You will see on reading Zechariah that there will be difficult days for Israel but the king is coming to secure a final victory. Jesus is described as having three names: Faithful and true, Word of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords and a name ‘written on him that no one knows.’ I trained as a pharmacist many years ago and in order to retain a right to practise as a pharmacist I need to maintain records of ‘continual professional development’ and pay the necessary fees. This gives me the right to use the title ‘Pharmacist.’ The title is restricted, not anyone can use it, it’s protected by law. The title describes attributes of the person bearing the title in terms of education, expertise and so on. In the same way the titles Jesus bears speaks of his attributes: he is faithful and true, he is the King of Kings, he is the word of God. Perhaps the title that no one knows will reveal a new previously undisclosed dimension to his being. We contrast these titles with Satan, the beast and the false prophet, they are neither true nor faithful and they have no right to rule. Jesus will come to judge and make war and dethrone Satan. John saw ‘coming out of his mouth a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.’ Jesus does not need weapons of mass destruction, just his words! John also notes that he will rule with an iron sceptre. We tend to see Jesus as meek, mild and tolerant. Not so. His reign will be characterised by a total intolerance to sin and to perfect justice. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood. This speaks not of his death but of the death he will bring. The armies of the world are set up to destroy Israel and Jerusalem but they will not succeed: the king is coming to deal with them. Now here’s the rather remarkable thing, if you are a believer you will have a spectacular view of this amazing event because it seems Jesus will come with his new bride: ‘The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.’ The bride accompanies the groom to earth!
John is not shown the battle, perhaps it is best for him not to see it, and in any case it seems likely that the victory will be swift. What John does see is an angel ‘standing in the sun.’ Perhaps this angel speaks from a place visible to all on earth. He addresses all the birds flying in the air; ‘Come gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals and the mighty…’ This is not a pleasant scene and is in stark contrast to the wedding supper of the lamb. John saw the beast, the kings, their armies all gathered to fight against the rider on the white horse. He does not describe the inevitable outcome, death on a massive scale and the capture of the beast and the false prophet. They were thrown alive into the ‘fiery lake of burning sulphur.’ We can only take the words that John uses and try to picture this – these evil enemies of God are clearly put into a place of great physical punishment – ‘They will be tormented day and night forever and ever’ (Rev 20:10).
These remarkable events simply must elicit a response in us. In the news today there has been a dreadful event in Paris, as I write more than 120 people have been killed by men motivated by a false religion – France mourns and the world mourns with her. People react to this with anger, sorrow and a determination to change things. In view of the coming king and the defeat of the forces of evil, should not we react and respond to this with much greater urgency? If us believers, isn’t it about time we lived our lives with this great event in mind? Surely the ‘things on earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his (coming) glory and grace.’ If you are not a believer you need to know as a matter of great urgency and importance that in your present condition you are destined to will be thrown into the fiery lake. Align yourself this very moment with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; ‘believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.’