The Jesus We Never Knew (Revelation 19.11–21)

Several years ago, Philip Yancey wrote a book called, The Jesus I Never Knew. By reading the Gospel with fresh eyes, Yancey saw—and helped his readers to see—Jesus as his contemporaries saw him, not as modern people so often imagine him. As Yancey told it, Jesus was not a person who could be packaged in any conventional religious box. Indeed, the primary targets of his righteous indignation were many of the prevailing religious conventions of his day. Instead, as someone has famously said, Jesus afflicted the comfortable but comforted the afflicted.
Outside the Gospels, few portraits of Jesus are as box-breaking as is John’s portrait in Revelation 19.11–21. Based on our reading of the Gospels, we imagine Jesus sitting on a hill teaching the crowds, or striding through the Temple chasing down moneychangers, or hanging pitifully on an undeserved cross. When was the last time you saw him as a great king, clothed in white, seated on a majestic stallion, with sword at the ready, leading the multitudinous army of heaven? You have no doubt read about his teaching to turn the other cheek, but have you considered John’s portrait in which Christ slays his enemies with a sword held in his mouth?
John’s Jesus is a Jesus we never knew, but will know some day.
To properly appreciate this picture, we must understand two things: the symbolic nature of John’s language and the progress of salvation history.
First, John’s language is symbolic. He is not, I think, describing a literal battle in which Jesus will literally slay his enemies with a literal sword. Instead, he is using images of ancient warfare to symbolically portray Christ’s ultimate victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. How do we know this? Well, among other things, you do not ride into battle without armor, but Christ and his armies are fighting only in fine linen robes. Also, Christ holds the sword not in his hand but in his mouth. That is hardly proper swordsmanship. Rather, the sword is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17). It is “the word of God [which] is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4.12, cf. Revelation 2.16). Jesus Christ does not fight with human weapons. He fights with God’s very own word. Indeed, he is himself the Word of God (John 1.1, 14).
Second, there is obviously movement from the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels to the Jesus portrayed in Revelation, a progressive unfolding of his role in the history of salvation. Soren Kierkegaard told the parable of a king who wanted to win a maiden’s love but knew he could never be sure of his love if she knew he was a king. So, the king left his palace, threw on pauper’s clothing, and worked a trade in the maiden’s village, until he could gain the maiden’s love as a poor man.
In much the same way, Jesus came to earth in swaddling clothes, in the poverty of humanity and vulnerability of crucifixion in order to win our heartfelt love for God. There comes a time, however, when he sees that further time will not produce further repentance and so reveals himself as what he has been all along: “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” The Gospels describe Jesus in his humility, Revelation in his glory, but they describe the same person.
As we read Revelation, then, we must keep in mind that there is coming a day when we will give an account of lives to God. Have we used this time to draw closer to the Savior, to take advantage of his merciful patience and repent of our sins? Or have we stubbornly clung to our rebellious ways?
The truth of the matter is this: We will meet Christ in victory or in defeat, but we will meet him all the same. How you meet him then depends on choices you make today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s