Bible prophecy Book of Revelation hermeneutics

Revelation 19

The focus here (v.1) is in heaven. Salvation is from the Lord God not the usurper. God has judged the great whore, the “old woman of prophecy,” and avenged the murder of the true believers (v.2). These are the enemies of God, but what do the Scriptures tell us about the timing of these events?

The LORD said to My Lord, Sit You on My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool? (Matthew 22:44. Also Psalms 110:1)

Christ must remain on the right hand of the Father, until all His enemies, including the great whore, are judged or put under His feet (or made His footstool). Christ cannot bodily return in His Second Coming to Earth until all His enemies are piled up and He rests His feet upon them.

“Left Behind” series of books and movies was very popular promoting a secret rapture.

There is no secret rapture before Christ’s Second Coming. He resurrects all believers, both living and dead, at His Return, and all are judged then, and not before He has destroyed all His enemies.

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30,31)

It will be very well known. It will be noisy. All will see it happen. It will be global.

Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

Now read 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:42, 51-54. This means new bodies like the old but instead incorruptible. There is no doubt amongst commentators that these passages are about the Return of Christ and the resurrection of the saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump[et] of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

In this verse the Greek word σάλπιγξ (salpigx) is translated ‘trump’ in the KJV but the GNV translates it as ‘trumpet’. The meaning of the Greek word is “trumpet”, through the idea of quavering or reverberation. It will be loud. When that last trumpet sounds it will echo and reverberate through the whole world.

1 Corinthians 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

We know when Christ returns it will be with the sounding of the seventh or last trumpet of God, and Christ will reign as King forever, which is clearly described in Revelation 11:15-18. Read those verses.

Revelation 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.

From Revelation 11:16 it is clear that this takes place in the throne room of God (note the 24 elders as seen in the throne room in Revelation 4:4,10). The passage Revelation 11:15-18 then clearly describes the judgment of God on the dead, which we know must occur at the Great White Throne Judgement (Revelation 20:11,12).

Revelation 11:18 And the nations were angry, and Your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should give reward to your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Your name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth.

So connecting these verses (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 15:52, and Revelation 11:15,18) together, and it is made very plain, that Christ must return bodily, physically, to resurrect the saints just before this judgment in the throne room of God. Christ resurrects us and He promised to take the saved to mansions prepared in heaven when He comes again. John 14:1-3. But…

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit on the throne of His glory:

And He shall judge the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:32-34, 41). The sheep go into everlasting life in the kingdom of God and the goats go “into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

Now back to Revelation 19. We see in this chapter the picture of God’s throne room again (v.3-6). The message is that our omnipotent (all-powerful) God reigns.

As a result Christ has promised to return and resurrect all the saints. In heaven the marriage of the Lamb (Christ) to His wife (the true church) is described as being prepared (v.7-9).  “Fine linen” symbolises salvation in Christ (v.8). His wife prepares herself on Earth (before the resurrection) while Christ, the Husband prepares for the wedding and marriage supper. Read The marriage of the Bride of Christ. In the traditional Jewish marriage the husband prepares (builds in necessary) the house while the bride awaits him coming at any time to collect her. When he comes he shouts out that he has arrived and takes her to the wedding feast with his family and friends.

But this Return of the Bridegroom does not happen until Chapter 20. Christ still has business on Earth to complete before His enemies are made His footstool. He must yet finally judge all the wicked, which includes the AntiChrist “beast” and the false prophet, who are still living on Earth. This means that it is not until this happens does He put His enemies under His feet (Matthew 22:44). Note verse 9: “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb”. During this period the saints are still being “called out from among” the false church system in the world (Revelation 18:4). Some are being saved.

The Apostle John fell down to worship the angel delivering the message, and was told not to do so (v.10). The angel tells him he needs to worship God, not angels. The latter is a common pagan practice.

A new vision

“And I saw the heaven opened” (v.11). This indicates the opening of a new vision. See Revelation 4:1; 11:19 . (Where a former vision is continued the expression used is “After these things”.) We now have a series of pictures symbolizing the closing events that inaugurate the Millennium. The first of these is the one before symbolized by the angel that flies through heaven with the everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6), but now presented in a grand vision of the triumphant march of the Word of God.

Figure 1: Christ descending to Earth with heavenly armies. Revelation 19:11-16. What does this mean?

Verse 11 represents Christ as rider of the “white horse” whose name is “Faithful and True,” whose judges the world and makes war. He is described with eyes of fire, with many crowns (v.12), as He is King of kings (v.16), and clothed with garments “dipped in blood,” and called “The Word of God” (v.13). This is Jesus Christ, but this time ruling as King not as Servant. Compare with,

John 1:1,14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

There are four titles given to Christ in the chapter: (1) “Faithful and True” (v.11); (2) a name only He knows (v.12); (3) “The Word of God” (v.13), and (4) “King of kings and Lord of lords” (v.16). Number (2) name is not (3) “The Word of God” because we already know that is God’s name, from John 1:1,14.

Of the various titles given to Christ number (4) is the highest and marks him as supreme. He is the King of the kings and the Lord of the lords of the earth. This indicates His authority to execute judgment over all kings and lords of the earth.

On white horses (v.14): Christ is symbolized with armies riding white horses and clothed in white clean linen meaning they are righteous heavenly armies (Fig. 1). The “sharp sword” symbolises His word, but now He is a fierce king.  The vision describes the coming Millennium when Christ shall rule the people on Earth, with a “rod of iron” (v.15). Note, the Millennium does not start in the Revelation until chapter 20:1 when Satan is bound in the bottomless pit.

Before the Millennium starts God has some wrath to pour out as symbolised by the winepress (cf. Revelation 14:19,20). In the present tense verse 15 describes the judgments and wrath of God Almighty being executed.

Is this a direct personal rule or a spiritual rule through His saints on Earth? Verses 18-20 are supposed to describe the famous battle of Armageddon where the kings of the earth come out to war against the Lord (cf. Revelation 16:16). But, as discussed in chapter 16, I believe that this is largely a symbolic representation of great conflict that the true Church of God endures against the pagan hordes around them and the global persecution the believers receive up to the moment that Christ finally does personally return.

Megiddo at the crossroads
Figure 2: Megiddo is the natural crossing point for armies coming from the north heading south by the Via Maris, the ‘way of the sea’

“And I saw the beast” (v.19) This ‘beast’ represents the world power opposed to Christ under its changing forms, which included the pagan Roman Empire, and the papal Roman Empire. But it continues even after these forms pass away or morph into something else. It looks like the Papacy is really working on that now but its final form will be better known when the fulfillment takes place. The ‘beast’ marshals the kings of the earth as his supporters to oppose the Lamb and his armies. “And the beast was taken” (v.20). It is the beast’s last appearance. He, the AntiChrist, is now finally overthrown. And with him the false prophet. The false prophet, the beast, and the dragon were named in chap. 16:13 as calling the kings of the earth to the battle of Armageddon.  Megiddo, situated on the plain of Jezreel, is at the crossroads of paths that lead from Syria and the north and the routes to the South and East (Fig. 2).

The armies of the earth are led by the beast, the AntiChrist and with him is the false prophet, who is symbolically an imitation of the Holy Spirit. These are those who follow after the Papacy, actually after Satan on Earth, and his false prophet, who have taken the mark of the false Christ (v.20). The “false prophet” here may represent, collectively, all those evangelical pastors who direct or directed their own congregations to unite with the Church of Rome or whatever final global/papal empire develops, which may include a global government and a global religion.

When commenting on this and in respect of 2 Peter 2 (read verses 1-3), Sir Isaac Newton wrote : “…there should arise in the Church false Prophets, or false teachers, expressed collectively in the Apocalypse by the name of the false Prophet; who should bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, which is the character of Antichrist:…” (in his commentary Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John.) This interpretation then means there may be many individuals who are represented by the “false prophet.”

Figure 3: Iraq-Syria oil fields shown
extending into Israel

In respect of there being a physical earthly war, at Armageddon, looking at verse 19, some have suggested from the text that the Roman Catholics make a deal with the Turks/Muslims to conquer the Holy Land. This is not so unbelievable, considering the hatred that the Muslims nations surrounding Israel have, the current pope is a Marxist who makes deals with the Palestinian Arabs and want to use “global warming” to redistribute wealth to the poor, or so he says. Others have suggested that oil will be found in the region of Megiddo, and oil field that is on the edge Iraq-Syria oil field. Oil claims have been staked. See Palmyra rift system where oil in found in Syria in Fig. 3. Afek, an Israeli subsidiary of Genie Energy, a US oil company, announced that it had found considerable reserves of oil under the Golan, inside the Golan Heights territory taken in the 1967 war, now owned by Israel. Such a discovery would then lead to a coalition of Israel’s enemies invading the Holy Land. “His army” (v.19) some say is reference to Israel’s Defence Force or a combination of man’s armies God uses to defeat his enemies, but God’s army does not consist of earthly soldiers. Jesus said:

“My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight…” (John 18:36).

God’s armies (v.14) are heavenly and they must be righteous obedient angels. And God says to us “vengeance is Mine”; He will fight for us (Romans 12:19, Exodus 14:13). Thus I believe these heavenly armies (v.14) do not consist of resurrected saints of God. They are not an army of resurrected Christian martyrs riding white horses. But the language here (v.19) is symbolic of Christ sending a spiritual army (of angels) to Earth to bring about judgment and God’s wrath upon the wicked, which may include physical earthly armies of men.

Finally, both the “beast”, the AntiChrist, and his “false prophet” are cast alive into the lake of fire (v.20). That is definitely something that happens in the spirit realm. It seems to be God’s ultimate fate for those wicked ones. It is final. As mentioned, the false prophet could be representative of multiple people, so could the AntiChrist (the beast) represent here all those antichrists who led the papal Empire through history up to it final end. They had the demon spirit of Satan possessing them when they attempted to control the world of their time.

There is a remnant (the group of people) who followed the AntiChrist false church who are slain by Word (sword) of Christ (v.21). Symbolism here is the “sword” out of His mouth means His word. So it must be the words of Christ slay the evil ones. Their flesh is eaten by the birds, meaning they are physically dead. So God’s judgment result in the death of His enemies, which God brings about through His means of controlling the nations of the world.

When is the Return of Christ?

The personal, visible, physical Return of the Lord is always associated with the Last Judgment. See Revelation 11:15-18; Matthew 25:31-34; 25:1; 1 Corinthians 15:23 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Timothy 4:1. The Scriptures only recognize one visible Return or physical Second Coming of Christ. This is also called the Day of the Lord.

2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

I believe this is symbolic language. The word ‘earth’ means the earthlings, people are judged according to their works. The ‘elements’ are not nuclear or sub-atomic particles but are the ‘fundamental principles’ by which the world has been governed by man. The Greek word translated elements is στοιχεῖον (stoicheion) which is related to ‘something orderly in arrangement.’ But all order and government is changed at Christ’s return. This is just before we read in Revelations 21 of the new heaven and new earth. The old heavens, both spiritual heavens and the physical environment of the earth are changed.

Now, the Last Judgment (the Great White Throne Judgment) is not reached in the book of the Revelation until chapter 20 verse 11. There it was seen by John after the Devil is cast into the lake of fire, which occurs after the end of the Millennium (chapter 20:10). Hence, that implies the visible Return of Christ does not take place before the Millennium, and that verses 19:11-16 describe a coming in power, the power of His word, but not a visible coming.

That view (or eschatology) is called postmillenialism, i.e. that Christ returns after the millennial period and judges the world at the Great White Throne Judgment (v.20:11). That view is objected to because in verse 20:11 nothing is said of the coming of Christ? Those saying that hold to a different eschatology, which is called premillenialism, i.e. that Christ returns before the millennial period and physically reigns on Earth.

Now Matthew 25:31 describes the situation that when the Lord comes, “then shall He sit upon the throne” of judgment. At the Great White Throne Judgement  (v.20:11) John sees this throne and the Lord sitting on it. He described Him as already come and engaged in judgment. This implies He comes after the close of the Millennium. This discussion is continued in the study on chapter 20.

Concluding remarks

Generally premillenialists also hold to dispensational theology that teaches that there are two distinct peoples of God: Israel and the church. Dispensationalists believe that salvation has always been by faith—in God in the Old Testament and specifically in God the Son in the New Testament. They hold that the church has not replaced Israel in God’s program and that the Old Testament promises to Israel have not been transferred to the church. Dispensationalism teaches that the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament (for land, many descendants, and blessings) will be ultimately fulfilled in the thousand-year millennium period of Revelation 20. Dispensationalists believe that, just as God is in this age focusing His attention on the church, He will again in the future focus His attention on Israel (see Romans 9–11).

Premillenialism generally includes a 7-year Great Tribulation period of the 70th week of Daniel under the futurist interpretation. They see Daniel 9:24 being fulfilled before the Millennium starts with Christ’s Return. This futurist eschatology I no longer hold to. Daniel 9:24 was fulfilled in Christ on the Cross (see Daniel 9 prophecy class).

If Christ’s Return is after the Millennium, then it does not necessarily follow that God has abrogated His promises made to Abraham and Israel in the Old Testament (for land, many descendants, and blessings). I believe those promises still hold. God will finally fulfil His promises to Israel during the Millennium. I think the main mistake Bible teachers make is associating the millennial rule of the saints and the restoration of the nation of Israel as an either/or situation. It is not resurrected dead saints but those believers who are alive and not killed as the Millennium begins who rule in the Millennium (Luke 19:11-27, parable of the ten pieces of money).

Related Reading

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.