A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Book of Revelation (8) Chapters 19:11–22:5

J McHugh

by Joe McHugh

John gives us seven pictures of the End: the coming of Christ, the last battle, the binding of Satan, the millennium, the defeat of Gog and Magog, the final judgment, and the coming of the New Jerusalem. In this installment we will examine the first six of these. John devotes more attention to the New Jerusalem than to the other six combined.

Each of the pictures proclaims various aspects of the End. We need to resist the temptation to view them chronologically, as though they could be plotted on a calendar. We might think of these pictures as an eschatological (having to do with the End times) art gallery. The common theme is the certain victory of God and Christ.

The Coming of Christ

Popular writers on “biblical prophecy” use “Armaggedon” (announced in chapter 16 but not “fought” until now) as a synonym for “World War III.” They treat Scripture verses as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. They use verses such as Isaiah 63:1-3 (which depicts conflict in Edom, modern Jordan), Joel 3:1-2 and 3:9-17 (which speak of a battle in the Valley of Jehoshaphat), Zechariah 12:1-9, along with assorted verses of Revelation (14:14-20; 16:12-16; 19:11-21). To this merry mix add events in global politics and you get fanciful misinterpretations that John, a first-century man, did his best to describe supersonic jets, missiles with nuclear warheads and the like. This is not the case.

Isaiah 63:1-3 is a picture of God as a majestic warrior coming from Edom, his garments red with the blood from the judgment battle. (Edom had plundered Judah after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.) But in John’s theology, Christ’s garments are red from his own blood on the cross. Into the form of Isaiah’s image John pours new content, his understanding of Jesus as the Lamb. Christ appears on a white horse. John returns to images in chapter 1, verses 12-16. The only weapon mentioned in the battle against the beast and the false prophet is the sword of God’s word coming forth from Jesus’ mouth. In fact, the Messiah has already won the victory in his death and resurrection. The martyrs form the Messiah’s army, but are dressed in fine linen, not armor or shields as we might expect, and are totally passive. John calls Jesus by the superlative “King of kings and Lord of lords.” This title truly belongs to Jesus, not to the Roman emperor.St Michael

The last battle

In 19:9 we read, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Now, in verses 17-18, we hear the birds of the air invited to feast on those slain in the great battle: “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.” John asks his fellow Christians to choose whether they want to dine with the Lamb or become the menu of the birds. No middle ground is allowed; all must choose to follow Christ or the Empire. The two beasts are defeated and are thrown alive into the lake of fire. “And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” This gruesome imagery reminds us that Christ must ultimately destroy evil.

The binding of Satan; the millennium; the defeat of Gog and Magog

In the remaining chapters of Revelation, John will be loosely following the story line of Ezekiel 36-48. In this installment, we will be concerned with the first four of these chapters. Ezekiel 36-37 presents the vision of Israel living peacefully in the Promised Land. This is a symbol of the millennium. Figuratively, the binding of Satan means he can no longer deceive the nations as before. The coming of the Messiah has brought to the nations the good news of God’s love. Contrary to what many fundamentalist interpreters claim, the millennium is not a major item in John’s theology (he devotes but a few verses to it), and the binding of Satan does not create a utopian world.

The word for one thousand occurs more than twenty times in Revelation. It is a symbolic number of completeness (10 x 10 x 10) like “holy, holy, holy.” No other New Testament writer speaks of an earthly millennium of the Messiah. John (though he writes in apocalyptic, whose conventions he must respect) actually considers the millennium as the time between the resurrection/ascension and the End. The saints, whom John calls “those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus,” are priests of God and reign with Christ.

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

The Last Judgment
by Michelangelo

The notion that Satan “must” be released after the thousand years has confused many. Immediately upon his release Satan again deceives the nations, gathering them for an End-time battle. This is painted in terms of Gog of the land of Magog. John has adjusted Ezekiel 38-39 to make Gog and Magog parallel names, used to describe world powers opposed to God. These forces are destroyed by fire from heaven. It’s not much of a battle. Satan is thrown into the lake of fire where the beasts already are. Again, to be faithful to John we must not try to interpret Gog and Magog as nations of our time. (One “prophecy expert” wrote a book in which one chapter was headed, “Russia is a Gog.”)

The final judgment

John says that all people stand before God. John pictures two sets of books – the book of deeds or works; the book of life, of divine grace. John resolves the age-old issue of salvation by faith versus salvation by works. We are saved by divine gift of God’s grace. We cannot earn salvation on our own. Yet, our actions during our lives have ultimate meaning. We are responsible to our Creator. All that is opposed to God, including Death and Hades, are tossed into the lake of fire.

NEXT: Re-read Revelation 21:1-22:5 and read 22:6-21.

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