What is the best way to give hope to soldiers on the losing side of the battlefield?
Don’t worry. Some day you’ll be dead and won’t have to fight anymore.
The more enemies you kill, the better your commander will reward you when you get back to camp.
The commander is coming with a host of reinforcements
John was writing to the church on the losing side of a battlefield. Emperor Nero was putting them to death in horrendous ways. He burned Christians alive or threw them out to be eaten by dogs. It is thought that during his reign Paul and Peter were killed. And all this simply because he needed someone to blame a horrendous fire on. Some people were saying that Nero himself started the fire, so he blamed the Christians as a convenient scapegoat.
What is a church to do with such destruction all around? How can these soldiers for Christ be encouraged to fight the good fight, press on with endurance, and love their enemies? The Book of Revelation. It was a message to a people who felt like evil had won the day. John is encouraged by a vision of Jesus that he is then instructed to pass out to the churches in Asia under intense persecution. The message is this: “don’t give up. The commander is coming back. Despite all the evil surrounding you, know that evil will not win. The King of love wins.”
John, to the seven churches in Asia: grace to you and peace from the one who is and the one who was and the one who is coming, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To the one who loves us and released us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
The kingdom starts now
Jesus is greater than the kings of the Earth. He is greater than the Roman Emperor. John starts his letter with the reason for the hope that they can have when it seems like all is lost. “Jesus is King! We are his kingdom, and we speak, as priests, on his behalf. Remember where you came from. Remember where you are going! Remember what you’re fighting for.”
The beginning of the Bible and the end are incredible mirrors of each other. God is ruling and reigning over everything and then he creates us and tells us what we are here to do.
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the likeness of God he created him, male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of heaven, and over every animal that moves upon the earth.”
The king of Love creates us so that we can be an image of him. He tells us how we are to do that, by ruling over everything on his behalf. We are to fill the earth with charity, further compassion, and foster love. That has always been the plan. That is what we fight for. And even now, in the midst of those who seek the opposite of God’s ways… and evil seems to be winning… our job hasn’t changed.
Rome ruled their nation in the image of the Roman Emperor who thought himself a son of god. They did what he said, furthered his agenda, even when it was evil. The hope for soldier on the front-lines is that we serve a greater king than the Emperor. Though we are being tortured, burned alive, and eaten by dogs… the commander is coming with reinforcements. Jesus is coming again.
Jesus, after his resurrection, appeared to his disciples on a hill and re-affirmed their job while reminding them to watch and wait for his return..
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age.”
Nero doesn’t have all authority on the earth. Justin Trudeau doesn’t have authority on the earth. Donald Trump doesn’t have authority on the Earth. Jesus does. The kingdom starts now. Our marching orders are given, to go out into all the earth in the name of the king of kings and lord or lords. We are to be talking about him and doing what he says all fuelled by the hope that is in us now and will not go out, even until the end of the age.” We are to image God in his kingdom. To talk about love. Act out love. Follow Love. Be love. Even when it seems that evil prevails. Even when the governments of the world are promoting hate, self-centredness, and greed. We serve a different king, so don’t have to live life that way.
Now, there are times when we fail. There are those moments when we forget about the hope we have in us. Moments when it is far easier to either blend in or run away (instead of ruling over the earth in the image of Love). The churches in the first century are facing this. Moments of darkness, pain, and death. Moments of fear, hatred, and pride. Moments when we seem to be on the losing side. But John’s encouragement is. Don’t give up. Don’t give in.
Persevere. Endure. Keep fighting evil. Keep doing good. Why? Because Jesus is the king of Love, and he rules and reigns both in this life and the next. And if he calls the shots in our life that makes all the difference. Jesus started a revolution that can’t be stopped… not even by death.
To the churches
John starts by telling the churches the ways in which they are enduring in hope, and the ways they are failing. He talks to each church of their rights and wrongs. We won’t go into the details, but the overarching theme is this: when you’re loving Jesus, others, and yourselves, you are conquering. You are following your marching orders. When you conform to the ways of this world or cower if fear you give into defeat.
What is hope to the one who conquers? John closes each section to every church addressing this.
2:7 – To the one who conquers, I will grant to him to eat from the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.’
2:11 – The one who conquers will never be harmed by the second death.’
2:17 – To the one who conquers, I will give to him some of the hidden manna, and I will give to him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written.’
2:26 – And the one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him authority over the nations,
3:5 – The one who conquers in this way will be dressed in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, and I will declare his name before my Father and before his angels.
3:12 – The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never go outside again
3:21 – The one who conquers, I will grant to him to sit down with me on my throne, as I also have conquered and have sat down with my Father on his throne.
What is the hope for us as soldiers of love in this dark world?
- Life / Not Death (2:7, 11)
- Hidden Manna – The ability to keep pressing on when the world seems like an unrelenting, never-ending desert. (Endurance) (2:17)
- New name / new identity different from the darkness around us (2:17)
- Authority / ruling on his behalf (2:26, 3:21)
- White clothes – Righteousness, (Heavenly camouflage) (3:4)
- Never go outside – always have a home (Belonging) (3:21)
It’s all about life with God. Life now, and life in the future. Jesus told his disciples to keep pressing on because “surely I am with you always even until the end of the age.” We conquer evil by fighting for love: Now and later.
We are all about conquering evil by doing good
Don’t worry if it looks like the world is falling apart. Have hope, you soldiers of love, because the commander is coming back with reinforcements. Evil may have its way now, but someday love will have its day. The commander will come on a white horse to dispel the shadows and the darkness.
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and the one seated on it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and makes war.
It is easy to read a lot of these passages and be turned off of Jesus. “I thought he was a good guy. I thought he was all about love. Who is this commander on a horse bringing judgement?” For me, it is helpful to think of this as a courtroom. The judges ultimate desire is not to condemn the wicked but to bring them into right standing in the community. Many people will receive this and turn to the way of love. Many are broken in the courtroom of God over what they have done and his just judgement declares them forgiven.
This, however, is not the nature of us all. We have all seen those scenes in the cop shows when the killer is finally caught and there is no remorse. With a maniacal smile painted on their lips they cry out, “I killed her, and I liked it!” All while the chains slap around their wrists. For whatever reason, not everyone has “world peace” on their to-do list, and to those that don’t—peace looks like war because it goes against the very nature of who they are—taking pleasure in other people’s pain. When we follow our commander and seek out peace, sometimes it feels like a war. How do we know we are not making our own little wars, turning people against us with our words and actions? How do we truly know that what we are doing is motivated by love, even when it isn’t received well? We follow the commander.
14 And the armies that are in heaven, dressed in clean, white fine linen, were following him on white horses.
Who is this? This is us… We can be like the conquerors for Rev. 3:5 whose uniform on the battlefield is a white garment, but only if we follow in the footsteps of our King of love, if we trail behind that white horse that seeks out the restoration of the whole world. Sometimes love can feel like hate when we seek to free people of habits that are bad for them, their relationships, and the world. Sometimes the hard truth can sound like a double-edged sword coming out of our mouth. And this is indeed the picture that John shows us.
15 And out of his mouth (the commander) came a sharp sword, so that with it he could strike the nations. And he will shepherd them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the wine of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful. 16 And he has a name written on his outer garment and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
To Nero this is bad news. To a man committed to killing Christians because he is desperate to stay on his throne, this King of love looks like a menace. But Nero doesn’t call the shots. Despite how it may feel sometimes, evil does not win. We fight on a different side of the battlefield. He follow the king of Kings and Lord of lords. The only king, lord, president, prime minister who is not tainted by sin. He does not only have his own agenda in mind but the good of the whole world. When we fight on his side we make the world a better place every single day.
How we battle evil in ourselves and others in not through a “literal” sword, but the doubled-edged sword that is in the mouth of the One on the white horse. We battle the great beast through the words of Jesus. We fight hate with love. Pride with humility. War with peace. Destruction with restoration. We don’t serve a dead Jewish man. We serve a living saviour. We serve a risen Christ. We win because he wins. No matter how much evil there is in the world nothing can stop us from giving a cup of water in the name of Jesus. The kings of this world cannot stop us from caring for our neighbours, loving our enemies, giving self-sacrificially to the lease of these. Not even death can stop that revolution. Death just gives us white clothes to wear as we become one of the hosts that join Jesus when he comes again to finally make all things new.
All things new
Revelation 21 holds a beautiful picture of that full restoration, that moment when the new heaven comes down to touch the new earth, cleansing all the spaces of hatred, pride, fear, and evil that remain. It is truly a beautiful thing.
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with humanity,
and he will take up residence with them,
and they will be his people
and God himself will be with them.
4 And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death will not exist any longer,
and mourning or wailing or pain will not exist any longer.
The former things have passed away.”
5 And the one seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new!” And he said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the one who is thirsty I will give water from the spring of the water of life freely. 7 The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
This is the side that we fight on. The side of love. Restoration. Peace. No tears. No pain. No death. Why? Because Jesus in on the throne. It is only when we put ourselves on the throne of our lives that the wages of sin show up. Only when we refuse to follow the one of the white horse, the king of and kings and lord or lords. That’s when we start making our own kingdoms instead of leading in the footsteps of the king. Who is on the throne will have a large impact of whether we love, and why we love.
- Reasons that we hope for the second coming
- For the crown? (deeds = jewels)
- Release from this present darkness?
- Is hope on the battlefield that we will get a big reward when the commander comes to inspect our work, or that it will all be over soon?
- Can we make the darkness more like light through everything we do
- Can we “prepare the way” for the second coming of our LORD?
Then the hope is in us! It is in everything we say and day. And we wait for the second coming of Christ not for ourselves but for others. For the restoration of the whole world, that things we’ve been working for this whole time. Today. What we do today will not be a moot point at Christ’s return. It is the point! Ruling with love has been our role since Genesis and it still is in Revelation.
Who is on the throne? Is it the Prime Minister? The President? Yourself? Or is it Christ? Do we just wait in hopelessness for the evil of this world to end with a great trumpet and white horse from Heaven, or do we serve our Lord today? Do we fight for what is right? Do we extend the arms of love and salvation to all who will receive? Do we seek to make all things new? Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that the true heart of the Upper Story, God’s Story. The intersection of our story with his story. He isn’t just in the clouds waiting while we mess things up. He isn’t a wrathful dictator. He is the Ruler of Restoration. The Lord of Life. The King of Love.
Perhaps, like the early Christians, we feel the hot breath of Nero on our neck. Perhaps the anti-Christ is opposing the work of Christ every time we turn around. But let us not give up. Let us not lose hope. Let us not conform to the ways of this world or cower in fear. Let us serve the Lord who is risen to be seated at the Right hand of God and has been given all authority both in heaven and on earth. And our service is every act of love.