With justice he judges and makes war. (Rev. 19:11)
On June 6, 1944, thousands of soldiers splashed onto the beaches of Normandy, France, amid explosions and a deadly barrage of bullets from German machine guns. D-Day was awful and wonderful: awful because of the terror, pain, and death; wonderful because the forces of freedom triumphed over the forces of oppression.
We should not glorify war or think that killing or dying is glamorous. But neither should we ignore the heroism of those who fought for freedom. The world would be very different if Germany’s Nazi regime had not been defeated—if there had been no one smart enough to come up with a strategy, no one brave enough to face ferocious opposition, no one selfless enough to risk being maimed or killed, or no force powerful enough to win the victory. And so, when we think back to the horrors and heroes of D-Day, we honor those who changed history for the better.
War heroes come in different varieties. Some are heroes because of their strategy. General Dwight Eisenhower, for example, was hailed for his role in planning the Normandy landing and directing the allied forces on D-Day. Others are heroes because of their bravery. While all who serve in the armed forces face some danger, those who fought on the front lines and in the deadliest spots are honored as especially heroic. Others are heroes not only because of the risks they faced but because of the price they actually paid. Those who were wounded or captured or tortured or killed hold a unique place in the ranks of war heroes. And then, of course, the heroes include those who survive the battles, overpower the opposition, and parade triumphantly into a city they’ve liberated, surrounded by the welcoming cheers of grateful residents who have finally been set free from brutal enemy occupation. Different war heroes are special for different reasons: strategy, bravery, sacrifice, or victory.
Who would be the ultimate war hero? We can’t really compare. We can’t say that a general devising a brilliant strategy back at headquarters is more heroic than a private charging forward through enemy fire, but neither can we say that the private is more crucial to victory than the general. We can’t say that victorious troops marching into a newly liberated town are more heroic than those who were killed before victory had been won, but we also wouldn’t want to take anything away from the accomplishment of the soldiers who survived and pressed forward until victory was achieved. It’s hard to say what kind of hero is best.
But what if there was a person who somehow managed to do all these things? What if there was a general who devised a brilliant strategy, who courageously placed himself at the point of the fiercest conflict, who was tortured and killed, and yet who could somehow defeat the cruelest enemy, enjoy a victory parade, and bring freedom, justice, peace, and prosperity to millions throughout the entire earth? Wouldn’t such a person be the ultimate war hero? No mere human could do all that, of course, but there is one person, both human and divine, who has indeed accomplished all these things. His name is Jesus Christ, and he is the ultimate war hero.
The Lord is a Warrior
The Old Testament tells many stories of how the Lord defeated his enemies and rescued his people. The Lord wiped out the armies of Pharaoh at the Red Sea, and the people of Israel sang, “The Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3). When the Israelites fell into the cruel oppression of the Canaanites, the Lord rescued them and gave them a great victory near a place called Har-Meggido, or Armageddon, inspiring his people to sing, “So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!” (Judges 5:31). The Lord brought down the walls of Jericho; he destroyed the giant Goliath; he wiped out the cruel armies of Assyria, killing 185,000 troops in a single night. And those are just a few of the Lord’s warrior deeds in the Old Testament. People of faith knew God as a mighty commander of vast armies. They prayed for him to show his power, defeat his enemies, and rescue his people.
What the Old Testament says about the Lord God, the New Testament applies to the Lord Jesus. In Jesus the being of God is joined to a human individual. Jesus was humble, gentle, and willing to sacrifice himself to save others, but that doesn’t mean the Lord stopped being a warrior. Coming to earth was Jesus’ way of entering territory occupied by the enemy forces of Satan and setting in motion a strategy for bringing millions of people over to the side of God and setting them free forever. Although he was supreme commander, Jesus suffered more than anyone under his command when he was captured, tortured, and killed. That was not the end of him, however. Dying on the cross was Jesus’ way of paying for the sins of those he had come to save, and it was also his way of disarming Satan and dooming him to defeat. Jesus rose from the dead, breaking the grip of sin, death, and Satan, and he now reigns in power, poised for the final offensive when the time is right.
In the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, the apostle John sees a vision of Jesus the war hero. “I saw heaven standing open,” writes John, “and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war… the armies of heaven were following him” (Revelation 19:11-14). In the visions of Revelation, General Jesus faces the forces of Satan and all the leaders and armies this wicked world can muster in a final Armageddon. Christ overcomes all his enemies with a blast of divine power and casts them into the fire of hell forever. Then he brings heaven to earth and gives his people eternal peace and joy.
General Jesus is gentle and generous toward his friends, but he’s devastating to those who refuse to join his side. Jesus is not only a wise teacher and kind helper; he’s also the ultimate war hero, supreme in strategy, bravery, sacrifice, and victory.
Strategy, Bravery, Sacrifice, Victory
As a commander and strategist, the Lord came up with a plan that no merely human general could have conceived, a plan brilliant enough to astonish even the angels. Throughout human history there have been some talented military leaders who have devised some clever strategies, but none except Jesus could devise a strategy to conquer sin, death, and Satan. No general could ever surpass the strategic brilliance of General Jesus.
And that’s not all. Jesus is supreme not only in strategy but also in humility and bravery. A general who comes up with a brilliant plan usually leaves it to others to actually carry out the most dirty and dangerous part of the plan. What general would stoop to the dirty work of polishing the boots of those under his command? But that’s what Jesus did when he washed the dirty feet of his disciples. What general would expose himself to the greatest danger and send himself behind enemy lines on a mission that is sure to get him killed? But that’s what Jesus did. No war hero could ever surpass the humility of Jesus in performing the lowliest task for others of lower rank, and no war hero could ever surpass the bravery of Jesus in handling the deadliest assignment himself.
As the ultimate war hero, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice. If a group of soldiers was trapped and one of them deliberately showed himself and drew enemy fire and died to give his friends a chance to slip away, it would be heroic. If a live grenade landed among some troops and one of them flung himself on the grenade in order to absorb the blast and save his friends, it would be heroic. But even such sacrifices as these are surpassed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus’ beatings, torture, and crucifixion brought him enormous pain, and that wasn’t the worst of it. He somehow absorbed an eternity’s worth of agony as he took the sin of millions upon himself and suffered hell on the cross. If dying to save someone else is the supreme sacrifice, then the hellish death of Jesus makes him the ultimate war hero.
But there is still another aspect of Jesus’ heroism to consider: the magnitude of his victory. Jesus is a hero not just because of his death but because of his resurrection, reign, and final victory over all his enemies.
How is the greatness of a victory measured? One measure would be the cruelty and strength of the enemy. It’s a greater victory to defeat a huge, well-trained, well-equipped military force than to overcome a small ragtag band that is poorly armed. The more terrible the enemy, the greater the victory. If we measure the magnitude of Jesus’ victory by the power of the enemy he defeats, no other war hero can compare to Jesus.
The book of Revelation pictures Christ’s enemies as awful and powerful. The Lord and his people aren’t up against harmless, helpless opponents. No, the enemies are brutal and powerful, and there are plenty of them. Revelation portrays at least five different kinds of opposition. One is a hideous dragon, representing Satan himself. Another is a vicious beast which does the dragon’s dirty work, an antichrist oppressor who represents the worst cruelty and persecution. Then there’s a beastly false prophet, using false religion and phony miracles and joining forces with the powers of persecution. A fourth enemy mentioned in Revelation is a prostitute named Babylon who seduces countless people and drinks the blood of Christians; she represents worldly culture with its corrupting, killing effects. Joining these dreadful powers is a fifth element: multitudes of people and armies who reject Christ and his cause.
If you read Revelation and focus mainly on the enemies of Christ, it can be terrifying. But the main point of showing these enemies in all their power and terror is to show what a great victory Christ wins in defeating such enemies. When all the powers of earth and hell seem to be against you, it’s tempting just to give up. How can anybody resist? If you can’t beat them, join them, right? But any such thoughts vanish when you see the ultimate war hero, the rider on the white horse, Jesus himself, and see his awesome power to crush all his enemies.
Defeating Dreadful Enemies
The book of Revelation records various visions involving the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, the prostitute Babylon, and the armies of sinners who oppose Christ. These visions all have something in common: they all end with the enemy being defeated and punished and Christ reigning triumphant.
Some Bible scholars try to apply each vision to a different phase of the future, but perhaps the best way to see these visions is to understand them as describing the same conflict from various perspectives. In that sense it would be like watching a film which shows a single battle but which deals first with one part of the battlefield, then shifts to another, then back again, focusing on different actors, using various camera angles, sometimes showing how one part of the battle goes and then flashing back in order to show how another part of the battle was unfolding at the same time.
The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet gather the kings of the earth and their armies, all of them in league with Babylon, and they come together at Armageddon. Revelation then portrays the outcome of the battle. First the fall of Babylon, the prostitute civilization, and her allies is envisioned. Then comes another vision, focusing on the defeat of the beast and the false prophet. Still another vision focuses especially on the defeat of Satan the dragon and the people who sided with him against Christ and his people. These visions show different aspects of the same event: the final victory of Jesus Christ when he comes again to judge the world.
Just before the coming of Jesus, his enemies may seem to have the upper hand. The cause of Christ may appear hopeless. His people may seem surrounded and helpless. But when Christ himself appears in majesty and might, the power of his enemies will suddenly seem as nothing. The earth will shake and Babylon, the city and culture which seemed so great, will collapse in a moment. The beast and the false prophet, the powers of persecution and deception at their worst, will instantly be helpless and hell bound. Revelation 19 says,
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. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS…
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the white horse and his army. 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 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.
The magnitude of Jesus’ victory is apparent when you see the enormous strength of his enemies and see how quickly Jesus defeats them all when he unleashes his might.
The most terrible enemy is Satan himself, but even Satan doesn’t stand a chance against the ultimate war hero. In Revelation 20 the Bible pictures the role that Satan plays in the last battle and what happens to him. Satan deceives people from all over the world and gathers them for battle.
In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:8-10).
If an army combining every deadly demon and hateful human can’t stand against the Lord in the last battle, surely any lesser forces will never defeat Christ or prevent his final victory.
This means that if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ, you are doomed. Revelation speaks of those who wear “the mark of the beast,” and some authors work hard to figure out what such a mark might be. But let’s not make it too complicated. All who don’t bear the mark of baptism or live by faith in Christ end up wearing the mark of the beast. Their names are not in the book of life. This applies not only to the end of history but to every point before the end. There’s a war going on right now; the last battle will simply be the fiercest and final part of the war. Those who are defeated in the last battle will end up in the fires of hell, and those who even now choose the wrong side in the long war leading up to the last battle will also end up in hell.
On the other hand, those who, by God’s grace, are on the side of Christ may be sure of victory. The Bible’s visions of the last battle speak to God’s people in every age. We don’t need to know when the final battle will be. We need to take sides with Christ right now and do so with confidence. For if the Lord will someday take on all the fiercest powers of evil all at the same time and defeat them quickly and totally, then he will surely be able to save us from any lesser attacks we might face in the time before the last battle.
Some folks want to use the Bible’s visions to figure out how close we might be to the end of history. But nobody can figure this out with any accuracy, and that’s not the most important thing. What’s important is that, no matter when the end might come, we must be on the side of Christ right now and realize that all the rage of earth and hell cannot overcome the ultimate war hero.
Fruits of Victory
The greatness of a victory is seen in what strong enemies are defeated, and another measure of the greatness of a victory is the amount of good it produces. The allied victory in World War II, for example, was a greater thing for Western Europe than for Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, people merely got Stalin instead of Hitler, while in Western Europe people gained freedom, peace, and a return to prosperity. A victory that produces liberty, justice, and even joy is far greater than a victory that merely produced a new brand of oppression.
Here again Jesus shines as the ultimate hero. Revelation says that the victory of Jesus leads to a new heaven and a new earth, with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (21:4). The new creation will have as its capital the holy city, New Jerusalem, a place of astonishing beauty and security. God’s people will be filled with his light and life and enjoy face-to-face friendship with the Lord for all eternity. They will enjoy prosperity and authority beyond imagination, reigning with Christ forever.
Of all the heroes who have fought to make the world a better place, only the Lord Jesus can succeed completely. Only Christ can make the world a perfect place of uninterrupted harmony, holiness, and happiness. And you will be part of that perfect world if Christ is your Savior and Commander right now.
Meanwhile, the war between good and evil isn’t over, but D-Day has already happened. Jesus invaded this world by coming here as a man, absorbing the deadly attacks of Satan, sin, and death, and making the decisive breakthrough in his resurrection. Now the victory of good over evil is sure. It’s just a matter of time. Think again of World War II. After D-Day there were still other battles to be fought, some of them quite awful, but the final outcome of the war had been determined on D-Day. So too, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the war between good and evil still continues, and some of the battles are awful. But the outcome has been decided by Jesus’ first coming, and the Lord has given us a glimpse of his victorious second coming. So, no matter how fierce the conflict may still be, the final outcome is sure.
The Bible portrays Jesus as the ultimate war hero, unsurpassed in strategy, humility, bravery, sacrifice, and victory. The Bible pictures Jesus this way to give him the honor and praise he deserves, to call Jesus’ enemies to surrender and join his side before it’s too late, and to encourage Jesus’ followers that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Do you trust Jesus as your ultimate hero?