This sermon examines three key phrases found in Revelation 1:4-8 that help us understand the overarching themes of Revelation and reframe popular ways that this book has been taught. Through these phrases, we learn that the end times are not about waging wrathful war but about destroying lies that deceive.
This message looks at three main phrases. First, let’s look at the statement “He is coming with the clouds.” This echoes the seventh chapter of Daniel where there are four visions of four terrible beasts arising out of the sea, which represent four successive empires. In the Ancient Near East, gods were believed to ride on clouds. They thought of heaven as upward and clouds were the highest thing they knew. “Riding on clouds” was the most transcendent thing they could ascribe to a god. When we read that Jesus is “coming with the clouds,” we need not interpret this as a prediction regarding the weather when Jesus returns. Jesus’ coming in the clouds is simply Jesus coming with divine authority and power, displaying transcendence.
In fact, all the images used to describe Jesus’ end times appearance are metaphors that make very little sense if interpreted literally. We have no idea what exactly it will look like when God decides to wrap up this current age. We only know three things about Jesus’ end time appearance: 1) It will happen suddenly, like a thief in the night. 2) Jesus’ appearing will involve purging this world of sin, evil, death and suffering, and establishing God’s eternal kingdom on the earth. 3) We are to live as though this appearance could happen at any time.
Now let’s consider the second main phrase: “Every eye will see him…even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Revelation 1:7). This is a quote from Zechariah 12. In this vision of a future divine judgment, Yahweh first destroys “all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” By contrast, Yahweh showed favor “on inhabitants of Jerusalem” by opening their spiritual eyes and hearts. This leads to their making supplication to God as they wept bitterly over what they had done and thus brings them to repentance.
In Zechariah, all of Israel’s enemies are destroyed, and only the inhabitants of Jerusalem are spared. In Revelation, the vision is greatly expanded. John declares that every eye will see him and all, even those who pierced him, will wail on account of him. All are involved in this compassion of God that is received through repentance.
The third phrase is “The Ruler of the kings of the earth.” The kings are the ultimate power brokers of the age, those who embody the common pursuit of privilege and position. They are the “winners” in Babylon’s worldly game of having your best life here and now. The Kings are depicted as the enemies of God. They are the unwitting pawns of the dragon and of demons and of the false prophet and of Babylon itself. They think they rule the world, but they are actually deceived.
In chapter 19, Revelation climaxes with a mighty end-times battle between the Lamb and his armies (all the angels and saints) and the Beast, False Prophet and kings of the earth (as well as all armies of the world). Let’s examine some key elements that demonstrate how this battle really works and what’s going on with the kings. First, Jesus’ robe is dipped in blood, yet his garments are baptized in blood before he goes into battle. This passage shows that this heavenly warrior fights not by shedding others’ blood, but by being willing to shed his own blood out of love for others. In addition, there is no actual battle. Thirdly, the sword comes out of Jesus’ mouth. Jesus slays all the kings of the earth and their armies by speaking truth. People are actually not what was destroyed. The attack is against lies, against the common assumptions that cause us to grab as much of Babylon’s power and pleasure as possible. This means that the kings are not actually the enemies, but those who embody and represent the ultimate manifestation of the lies that Jesus destroys. These kings have been freed from their deception. Instead of hoarding the glory of their nations for themselves, they freely bring the glory of their nations into the heavenly city to lay at the foot of the throne of God. Therefore, if there is hope for the kings of the earth, then there is hope for all of us, and for everyone.
Because God can change those who embrace the greatest lies, he can change us all. We can have hope for ourselves and for others.
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