************ Sermon on Revelation 19:17-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 4, 2009
"The Great Supper of God"
Do you remember the last sermon we had on the Revelation? At that time, we looked at "the wedding supper of the Lamb" as we find it in Revelation 19:6-9. This time we look at another supper, "the great supper of God." I purposely chose to put the two suppers back to back.
Permit me an observation about the structure of this part of the Revelation. Beginning with Revelation 19:11, John describes for us the return of Jesus, the conquering King. He does this in seven visions, each of which is easily identified by the apocalyptic formula "Then I saw" (Rev 19:11,17,19; 20:1,4,11; 21:1). Now, these seven visions are not to be seen as depicting seven events in chronological order. Rather, John as it were, turns the camera on different actors or scenes of the same event. "Then I saw." Remember, the Revelation is a book to be seen, to be imagined in full and living color. So, John wants us to see seven different aspects of Christ's return.
A month ago we looked at John's first vision of Christ's return. At that time, remember, we were told we can be certain that Jesus is gonna win because of Jesus' appearance, Jesus' names, Jesus' works, and Jesus' army. Today, we look at John's second and third visions of Christ's return.
I The Invitation to God's Supper
A A couple of weeks ago Ruth and I received an invitation to come for supper, a surprise 30th birthday party for someone. We eagerly accepted. Keep this in mind as I read the invitation to "the great supper of God" (Rev 19:17):
(Rev 19:17-18) And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, (18) so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great."To give you an idea of how appalling, how gruesome, how grisly this supper invitation is, I want you to think of Jeffery Dahmer. Remember him? He was the demented and twisted man in Milwaukee who ate his victims. Now, imagine that he sent you a supper invitation. "Come ..." The thought alone is enough to turn your stomach. Well, that is the kind of supper invitation that we see in John's second vision.
To whom is the supper invitation sent? "To all the birds flying in midair" (Rev 19:17). John does not have in mind such birds as finches, canaries, parakeets, sparrows, humming birds, robins, morning doves, and mocking birds. Rather, the invitation is given to birds of prey, those birds that thrive on the flesh of dead victims; birds like eagles, vultures, hawks, falcons, and condors.
Who extends the invitation? "An angel standing in the sun." A glorious angel. A mighty angel. An angel who has the authority to speak for God.
What does the invitation say? "Come, gather together for the great supper of God." Notice, it is God's supper. He is the host. He makes up the guest list. He provides the meal.
And, what is the menu? Here is the appalling and gruesome and grisly part. Let me translate the Greek text:
(Rev 19:18) "that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of generals, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great."Our pew Bibles use the word "flesh" twice whereas it is repeated five times in the Greek. And, I still am not fully accurate because the Greek uses the plural: fleshes. The fleshes of kings, fleshes of generals, fleshes of mighty men, fleshes of horses and their riders, fleshes of all people. "Fleshes" is far more graphic than "flesh." In mind here is torn flesh, ripped flesh, mangled flesh, scattered flesh. In the graphic language of the Revelation, an invitation is given to dine on all the enemies of the Lamb; an invitation is given to dine on the flesh of enemies soon to be killed and left exposed and unburied on the battlefield. What a supper invitation! Would you want to receive such an invitation?
Now, are we to understand this literally? Of course not! Remember, this is apocalyptic literature which makes use of symbolism. We don't take literally the 144,000 of Revelation 7; we don't take literally the great winepress of God's wrath of Revelation 14; we don't take literally the woman riding on the beast of Revelation 17; likewise, we don't take literally the birds of prey dining on the fleshes of the enemies of the Lamb. Does that mean this is not real? We need to understand that standing behind all the imagery of the Revelation is a reality that is far more substantial than the symbol used to convey it. Standing behind the great supper of God is a reality far more graphic than any image can possibly convey.
B So, what is the message John wants to convey? I see three things here. First, we are told that God's judgment is all inclusive, it is thorough, it is comprehensive. Where do I see this in John's second vision? Well, let me ask, when were bodies not buried in the Ancient World? Bodies were not buried when there was no one left to bury them. In other words, everyone was dead. Everyone was slaughtered. Or, to put it another way, the "great supper of God" is great because it is of universal proportions. No one is missing. And, no one is excluded. Kings cannot demand their way out. Generals cannot order their way out. The mighty cannot fight their way out. Horses and riders cannot gallop their way out. The rich cannot buy their way out. The slave and poor cannot hope to be ignored and overlooked. All are here included. Therefore none are left to bury the bodies.
Second, we are told about God's curse. Listen to how Deuteronomy 28 states the curse of God upon those who do not serve and obey the Lord:
(Deut 28:26) "Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away."Remember what happened to Queen Jezebel, the wicked idol-serving wife of King Ahab? She was thrown to her death and left in the street where she was trampled upon by horses and eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:30-37). Her body was like refuse, like garbage, like waste. According to John's second vision, this is how enemies of the cross will be treated – they are considered accursed by God so their bodies lie exposed and unburied.
Third, we see that vengeance is the Lord's. In this life and on this earth we are told to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, and to leave vengeance up to God. As Paul writes to the church at Rome:
(Rom 12:19) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.That is precisely what John allows us to see in his second vision – God taking vengeance on the enemies of the Lamb and the Gospel. It is hard to restrain ourselves when we hear stories of Christians being persecuted. But, there will come a day when God will set things straight, when He will take vengeance on those who mistreat His people.
Throughout the Revelation we have seen pictures of the persecuted church. In Revelation 1, John identifies himself as a brother and companion in the suffering experienced by the churches of Asia Minor (Rev 1:9). In Revelation 2, we hear about the persecutions of the church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11); we are also told about Antipas, who was put to death for the sake of the Gospel (Rev 2:13). In Revelation 3, we hear about the travails of the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13). In Revelation 6 and 8, we hear the cry of the Gospel martyrs beneath heaven's altar (Rev 6:9-11; Rev 8:3-5). In Revelation 11 we see the church represented by two witnesses. Remember what happens to them?
(Rev 11:7-10) Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. (8) Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (9) For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. (10) The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.But now, in Revelation 19, the tables are turned. What happened to the two witnesses now happens to the enemies of the cross. Throughout history, the church has turned the other cheek and gone the extra mile. She has not sought revenge because revenge belongs to the Lord.
God will not be mocked. His people cry out, "How long?" Remember this cry in Revelation 6?
(Rev 6:10) "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"They wait patiently until God takes revenge.
Now, my brothers and sisters, I want you to put the two suppers side-by-side: the wedding supper of the Lamb AND the great supper of God. You are either invited to the first supper or you become the menu of the second supper. It is the one or the other. At which supper will you be?
Putting the two suppers side-by-side: do you know what this implies? That salvation and judgment are tied together. That judgment is the other side of the coin of salvation. That the fullness of salvation requires the execution of judgment. But, then, I am sure you already realize that your experience of eternal life in the new heaven and new earth requires the permanent exclusion of everything sinful and the eradication of every being that could ever threaten the fullness of that experience.
II The Menu Prepared
A This brings us to the third of John's visions about the return of the King. In this vision we see the steps that are taken to prepare the menu for the great supper of God – steps, that is, that leave the ungodly and unbelieving as dead, exposed, and unburied carcases to be fed upon by birds of prey. Listen to verse 19:
(Rev 19:19) Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.This language should sound familiar:
(Rev 16:14) They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.Revelation 16 & 19 use language that is almost identical. Armies are gathered together for "the war." "The war." That is what the Greek says. The word "war" appears often in the Revelation. Only three times does it appear as "the war." Which means that all three times speak about the same occasion or event at Armageddon. So, why are we given the same event three times? Remember what I said earlier about the seven visions of the returning king? John as it were, turns the camera on different actors or scenes of the same event. So, in Revelation 16, John focuses the camera on the demons. In Revelation 19, John's focus is the beast. Same event, same scene, different actor.
B Let's go on to verse 20:
(Rev 19:20) But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.The two beasts are seized and hurled into the lake of fire.
What is missing in verse 20? Shouldn't there be a fight? Shouldn't John's camera focus on a battle? Shouldn't there be a struggle, with one side gaining the upper hand then the other side? But there is none of that. The battle of Armageddon is brief. It is over in the blink of an eye. But how can this be? After all, the kings of the earth are there, the beast is there, the false prophet is there, all of the Anti-Christian powers are there. Yet, they are powerless to do anything. When Jesus Christ returns, the powers of darkness are helpless and hopeless. They are no match for King Jesus. And, they never have been.
Isn't this the point of Revelation 5 & 12? Revelation 5 - the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Who is a slain Lamb) has triumphed. Revelation 12 - the child of the woman is snatched up to heaven and the dragon is hurled down. What is the point? The point is that the outcome of the battle of Armageddon has already been decided by the cross and the empty tomb. No battle is described in Revelation 19 because, as the song puts it, "the strife is o'er, the battle done."
C What about the followers of the beast and the prophet and the dragon? Listen to verse 21:
(Rev 19:21) The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.Do you see what happens? The birds of prey get the feast they were promised. The menu has been prepared. But, isn't this what Jesus said would occur when He returns? Didn't Jesus say, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather" (Lk17:37)?
D I want you to see the sovereignty of God in all of this. First, do you realize that the events of Revelation 19 were long ago promised by God through the prophecy of Ezekiel? Listen to the similarities that Revelation 19 has to Ezekiel 38 & 39:
(Ezek 38:1-6) The word of the LORD came to me: (2) "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; prophesy against him (3) and say: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. (4) I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army--your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. (5) Persia, Cush and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, (6) also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops--the many nations with you."What do we see in Ezekiel? A universal army. Who gathers this army together? God. Now, let's go on to Ezekiel 39:
(Ezek 39:17-20) "Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals: 'Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you, the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There you will eat flesh and drink blood. (18) You will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were rams and lambs, goats and bulls--all of them fattened animals from Bashan. (19) At the sacrifice I am preparing for you, you will eat fat till you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk. (20) At my table you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind,' declares the Sovereign LORD."Do you hear what Ezekiel is saying? Isn't he saying the very same thing we see in the Revelation? What does this mean? It means God's plan is being fulfilled. It means God's will is being done. It means God is in control, He is sovereign, He is in charge.
Second, this same thought is expressed in Revelation 19:19. "Where?" you may ask. Look at the word "gathered." The kings of the earth and their armies "gathered" together. This is a passive verb. Which means an unnamed party is doing the gathering. In the Revelation we have identified this again and again as a "divine passive." In other words, it is God Who does the gathering. Remember how God says this through Ezekiel?
(Ezek 38:4) I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army--your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords.God is the One in charge. He is in control. He is sovereign.
I want to observe that the Revelation is like a movie or a play. I say that because do you notice how the actors, one-by-one, are leaving the stage? In chapter 18 we see that Babylon and her seducing whore is gone – they disappear without a fight. In chapter 19 we see the beast and the false prophet are taken off the scene – they disappear without a whimper. In chapter 20 we will see Satan taken off the set – he disappears as if he has never been. Meanwhile, all those that have been seduced and led astray by them are like rotting carcases to be eaten by birds of prey.
This forces us to ask the question: why would anyone follow someone or something who is so helpless and so powerless? Why would anyone choose to be the menu of the great supper of God when instead, by grace, they can attend the wedding supper of the Lamb?
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