We cannot seem to comprehend some things in the Book of Revelation. But there are other things that are clear, and we may understand them rightly. When we read of the fall of Babylon; when we see the overthrow of the false prophet, the beast, and the dragon; when we behold the great white horse and a rider with his vesture dipped in blood, and upon the thigh of that rider is written the name, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords"—when we see all of this, there can be no doubt. What we are seeing can be understood. It is nothing less than the great triumph and victory of Jesus Christ the Lord, a victory in which we will surely participate.
Once Jesus was despised and rejected of men; in the coming hour every knee shall bow—ours too. Once men railed on him with their tongues; in that hour every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord—ours too. Once he responded with silence; in that hour his voice will rock and shake heaven and Earth—we will hear it. Once they put a crimson robe on his back and mocked him; in that hour he will wear the crimson vestures of his triumphant atonement—and we shall see him. Once twelve humble men followed him about; on that day the whole company of angels will follow in his train—we will be with them. Once they pressed a crown of thorns upon his head and brow; in his glory he will wear many crowns upon his head—and we will be there.
This passage is the declaration that all wrongs will be right. This rider on his great white horse, crowned with many crowns, will come to shake the golden chain of justice for us. The thundering hoof beats will say, "All is right. It's all right at last."
I would like to take you, if I could, to a graphic portrayal of the Word of God in a great cathedral in Milan. Come in out of the glare of the Italian sunshine, pass through the cathedral doors, and suddenly see stretching out before you Europe's third largest cathedral, where fifty-two marbled columns hold up the lofty, octagonal dome, with over 4,400 turrets and pinnacles. Statues of angels rise all about us, and the effect is one of an incomparable combination of grace and grandeur, beauty and vastness. Up front behind the altar, like a window opening out of heaven, is one of the largest stained glass windows in the world. Depicted here is not an Old Testament scene. That stained glass window does not depict the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord, not his crucifixion or ascension.
With tremendous imagery that window depicts the triumph of Jesus Christ the Lord. The afternoon sun strains in, turning the window into a sea of glass mingled with fire. You see the vials being outpoured, the trumpets, Michael and his angels in battle against the dragon; you see the great angel with the rainbow upon his head, one foot upon the earth and the other upon the heaven, declaring in the name of him who lives forever and ever that time shall be no longer. Bound with a chain, Satan is thrown into the bottomless pit at last. The great white throne glows in the sunlight. Most impressive of all is the great, white horse. Upon the horse sits a still greater rider with the armies of heaven behind him. He comes to set everything straight at last for every one of us who has hoped in him, and for everyone who has been subjected to the pain and prejudice of living for Jesus Christ in a world seemingly gone mad.
Why do I want to take you into this cathedral at Milan? Because we can sit together and contemplate this wondrous triumph of Jesus Christ the Lord at the end. It is there we may understand the necessity of an invincible faith in this triumph. And it's there we may understand that this triumph comes for Christ, by Christ, and through Jesus Christ alone. Listen to the words of the old spiritual: "Nobody knows the trouble I see, nobody knows like Jesus. Nobody knows the trouble I see. Glory, hallelujah." The "Glory, hallelujah" is put at the end because Jesus is going to return for a final triumph over the trouble I've seen. Nothing can stop him. That makes an indelible statement on the sufferings of this present life.
John Calvin has an excellent sermon entitled, "Suffering for Christ." He says, "All the exhortations which can be given us to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ and in defense of the gospel will have no effect if we do not feel sure of the cause for which we fight." The assurance of the victory of our cause is given us in Revelation 19:11-13:
"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God."
Christ's future victory gives us hope
This vision of victory is necessary for our hope, faith, and endurance. Because you and I live in an age where we see far too much, we see far too little. But what we do see sometimes seems so strong as to make our faith seem weak. So we must have, in a sense, this vitamin supplement of the book of Revelation, where we see clearly the triumph of the truth and the principles that are spoken of throughout the Bible. In Revelation we see that rainbow that spans the stormy history of the ages. We listen to thunder rolls on the last great day when the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ. Effulgent with glory, it makes the brightest day in human history look like midnight. It makes our sufferings—I don't want to make light of them—pale in significance before the triumph and the glories to be revealed.
If this vision was necessary for the early church, when the pagan Roman Empire was trying to drown the church in its own blood, then how much more is it still necessary to us in this day when the Antichrist puts on this mask, that mask, and tries to fool us with delusions and tries to call us with perversion. Don't you get weary of the evil of our day? In the book of Revelation, John sees the vision of the wicked beast that received a deathblow. It's spouting blood, and goes away to hide for a while. Then that beast comes forward again with its deathblow healed, and all of the Earth follows after to worship it. In a sense that's what we see today: evil in men and women, evil in institutions, evil in ourselves. We give it the death stroke; it goes away; it comes back strong.
We ask, "Why?" It can be discouraging. We comfort ourselves with the truth that God can bring good out of evil, but we still say, "Why evil at all? Why doesn't God destroy evil?" The great answer that the Bible gives in Revelation 19:11 is, "Look! A great white horse with a still greater rider." And the answer is the certainty, the indisputable happening in the future of the triumph over evil. When Robinson Crusoe's good man Friday asked him, "Why doesn't God destroy the devil?" Robinson Crusoe gave him the right answer, the only answer, the great answer. He said, "God will destroy him."
That's the comfort for us. We see the ebb and flow of history. We see the aspirations of human beings who want to reach high yet grovel low in the bloody panorama of history. We see the church in ceaseless battle with the devil. That's not all we see. Look there on that stained glass window in the cathedral of Milan, a great white horse. Here we see the end of evil. We see the Lamb of God standing on Mount Zion. We see all things put under his feet. We see him riding the great white horse, and with him are all the armies of heaven coming in his train. We see this world of strife and wickedness and sin and bitterness and hatred and blood and death. We see this whole world suddenly locked into the glory of God, and the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness — not in some temporal passing fashion as a fugitive visitor, but as the eternal unbroken order for all eternity. We gain the strength to go on, to face tomorrow, because we know what's going to happen at last.
Christ's future victory strengthens our faith in him
It is the triumph of the victory and righteousness of Jesus Christ, which will come for him, by him, and through him alone. Some will tell you that triumph will come by the development of human beings—the gradual evolution of their potentialities. We should just give it time, wait and see. Everything's coming up roses. World War I dealt that theory a cutting blow. World War II broke its spirit. Vietnam laid it in its grave. The takeovers of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan shoveled the dirt of interment on it. Will human progress stop people and nations from sinning? Will human progress and achievement ever wipe away all tears from our eyes or heal our broken hearts? To ask these questions is to answer them. No, the final victory will not come through some natural progress of human development, nor through the religious forces that are operative in the world right now. The victory will come not by an improvement of the present order but through its complete overthrow and supercession.
The high point of human history will be the sudden appearance on the field of battle of the captain of our salvation. And he will come in glory, and it will be comparable to what John beheld: "Look, I see a great white horse. And there is a rider on that horse whose name is Faithful and True, and there are many crowns upon his head." That's what we see in the cathedral of Milan when we look at the splendor of that stained glass window, one of the largest in the world. What do we come away with when we leave the cathedral of Milan and when we feel like "nobody knows the trouble I see, nobody knows my sorrow"—what do we come away with? It means the end of all those who oppress us, of all those who've ever mocked us or put us down or tried to confound the progress of the kingdom of God.
When the army of Julian the Apostate was on the march to Persia, some of the soldiers got hold of a Christian believer to torment and torture him in brutal sport. After they wearied of it, they looked into his eyes and said to their helpless victim, with infinite scorn in their voices, "Where now is your carpenter God?" The prisoner looked up through pain, blood, and agony to say, "Where now is my carpenter God? He is building a coffin for your emperor." It's true! For every God-defying person, every God-defying power, and every God-defying principle that exalts itself against God and his Word, the coffin is now being built. You can be assured that when Christ comes to conquer, he will call you into his train, and he will pronounce the divine doom upon all wicked civilizations and inhuman forms of cruelty and lust. Doomed are all the enemies of God, totally and universally throughout the entire earth.
Christ's future victory reinforces our endurance
Look, I say, a great white horse! In Ashtabula, Ohio, in 1876, a train went off the tracks and over the bridge, and many people were killed. One of those who died was Reverend P. P. Bliss, a hymn writer and great evangelist. One of his most famous hymns was "Hold the Fort." It was written after the Civil War, marking the occasion when Atlanta had been besieged and General Hood, for the Southern armies, came up and tried to draw away Sherman's army. Hood wasn't successful, but he did have a couple of victories. One of them was at Alatoona Pass, where he attacked. At that point Sherman was on Kennesaw Mountain, a distance away. He looked down and could see that his beleaguered troops were losing it, and so Sherman heliographed to them, "Hold the fort, I am coming."
Major Whittle, a member of Sherman's army, later recounted the tale to Bliss, who used it as the inspiration for his famous hymn: "'Hold the fort, for I am coming,' Jesus signals still. Wave the answer back to heaven, 'By thy grace we will.'" The message from the rider on the great white horse to you, his church, is "Occupy until I come. Hold the fort, for I am coming." Jesus may come at the midnight watch. He may come at the third watch. He may come at the fourth watch, as he did on the Sea of Galilee to his frightened disciples caught in the storm. Whatever time he arrives, "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching. Verily, I say unto you, that he shall gird himself and make them sit down to meat and will come forth and serve them." That's what day is coming. What a glorious day it will be. Then you will not be the least bit sorry you kept the faith and fought the battle and finished the course that God had given you.
That is why the Word of God tells us to live now with this great hope in our hearts. We leave this great cathedral of Milan and go out into the Italian sunshine, and we go out with the shine of the Son of God in our hearts. Lift high your hearts. Lift them up! Our king will come. Our cause will conquer. When the world's sky is darkest with the clouds of unbelief, behold the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored. Behold, he's coming! And above all the chariots and above all the horsemen that men could ever make and mount, comes the rider on the great white horse. When the babble sounds are loudest in their scornful derision of the church of God and his eternal Son, and you as a believer in Jesus Christ are derided for that, you shall hear, floating down from heaven, the notes of that distant triumph song, whose sweet melody shall one day encompass the heavens and the earth. That song says, "Allelujah, allelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!"
Yes, he shall. And yes, truly, nobody knows the sorrows and trouble I've seen. Nobody knows my sorrows. But most true of all is another spiritual I haven't yet mentioned. Here's how it goes: "King Jesus rides on a milk-white horse; No man shall hinder thee. The river of Jordan he did cross; No man shall hinder thee. Ride on. King Jesus; No man shall hinder thee. Ride on. King Jesus; No man shall hinder thee."
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?