King of Kings
“In the beginning was the Word.” With these majestic words, John opens his gospel, in which he gives us his account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all designed that his readers will believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and, through faith in Him, will come to know the life He is able to give (John 20:31).
In John’s gospel, Jesus is described in various ways, and the book of Revelation picks up on some of these descriptions. For example, in Revelation 19:7, John talks of Jesus the Lamb, echoing John the Baptist, who spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36). In the book of Revelation, the image of Jesus the Lamb is at His marriage, and His bride is the church. Interestingly, it was at a marriage that Jesus first displayed His glory (2:11), and it will be at a marriage, His own marriage, that He will finally display it in all its effulgent splendor.
In Revelation 19:11–14, we are again introduced to Jesus the Word of God, but in a very different context. The pastoral attractiveness of the marriage supper of the Lamb gives way to a different vision. John sees the Word of God as a glorious, majestic, victorious, warrior King who rides out of heaven on an awesome white steed. In addition to being called the Word of God, he is called “Faithful and True,” picking up on the earlier selfdesignation of Christ as the “Amen, the faithful and true witness.”
This King rides out to make war. It is a holy, righteous war, one in which He assaults with victory the kingdom of sin and darkness. His eyes flash with fire, His head bears many crowns, His robes drip blood, heaven’s armies follow Him, a sword comes out of His mouth, and He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9; Isa. 11:4; Rev. 2:27). He secures victory on behalf of His army — which is none other than the linen-robed bride of the previous vision. The bride who sees Him as her husband also follows Him as her King.
The victory this King has won for His bride has been at a great cost to Himself. He has trodden “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God” (Rev. 19:15 — a phrase that picks up a similar image of the victorious Messiah-warrior in Isa. 63:3). He has won victory for His people by enduring God’s wrath against their sins, as a result of which He now triumphs over all His enemies and rules over all of His people as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).
The composite picture of these verses, alongside the images of the Lamb who is a bridegroom, serves as a warning against trying to interpret Revelation woodenly. When people ask us if we take the Bible literally, we need to find out what their question means. We certainly do in the sense that we believe every letter to have come from the mouth of God — the Word of God written is “Faithful and True,” just like the King whose word it is; but we certainly do not take it literally if that means violating the characteristics of the genre and style of writing in which it is given.
The book of Revelation is a picture book using vivid imagery to convey who Jesus is and what He has done. As our King, He appeared to wage war on sin and Satan, to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). As our King, He rode into death, separating His soul from His body as a warrior unsheathes a sword, in order to emerge with victory over death and the grave. As our King, He rules over the armies of heaven and the forces of the world, ruling, directing, and governing all things. As our King, He will finally triumph over all His enemies and the enemies of His church.
He is King of kings (a Hebraism that conveys the superlative designation of the One who is King over all kings, powers, nations, and kingdoms) because He does what no other king can do — He guarantees us a share in His triumph and conquest. We are “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). What He gained for us, He guards for us. No force in the universe or outside of it has the power to rob us of His protection or of our portion in Him. If we are united to Christ, as the linen-dressed bride is to the Lamb, then we are protected by His righteousness, as the linen-arrayed armies are protected by the King.
Christ’s title echoes Old Testament designations of God as “God of gods and Lord of kings” (Dan. 2:47) and “King of heaven” (4:37). He wears the title on His robe, the symbol of His authority, and on His thigh, the symbol of His power. These are also designed to show that the enemy of the King is a father of lies, a counterfeiter, the beast who wears multiple crowns with blasphemous names (Rev. 13:1), whose Babylonian prostitute is also covered with blasphemous names (17:3).
The message of the book of Revelation is that no matter how successful the kingdom of sin and of Satan may be, the victory will belong to God’s chosen Messiah. God laughs at every attempt to overthrow His kingdom (Ps. 2:4) because He knows what the outcome of the story is going to be. At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow (Phil. 2:10).
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