Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:11-16

The Good News of the Coming Judgment

By John Shelton

The early Christians suffered greatly under various regimes of Rome. First came Nero, the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned. According to a pagan historian living at the time, Christians were “covered with the skins of beasts… and torn by dogs,” “nailed to crosses,” and “burnt to serve as a nightly illumination.”

Less than two decades after Nero’s reign ended, a new emperor, Domitian had rekindled the flames of persecution. Church tradition holds that John the Evangelist (the writer of the gospel and the book of revelation) was one of the Christians who suffered under Domitian’s reign: John was boiled alive and—when he didn’t die—was banished to live out his days on Patmos, a remote island in the Aegean sea.

As an old man living in exile, John would have outlived many of his friends and fellow apostles (Peter and Paul, for instance, were executed under Nero). Perhaps some of those friends had even served as human ‘candles’ in Nero’s courtyard. John receives a vision for the persecuted Christian community: the true king is coming to judge the nations. Though rogue kings and their armies rebel (Revelation 19:19), they will be brought to justice. Though the saints are being martyred and cry out for vengeance (Revelation 6:9-10), the day is coming when Christ will destroy “every rule and every authority and power… and put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).

To modern ears this might sound terrifying but for the early Christians this was good news and a message of hope. John writes to encourage his “[companions] in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Whatever sufferings we share, we can patiently wait and trust in Christ’s reign, knowing that the Lord is strong and will set all things right.

A Collect for St. John’s Day

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Posted by John Shelton

John Schweiker Shelton is a congressional staffer with a master’s degree from Duke in theological ethics and political theory. He is also a proud Virginian and alumnus of Thomas Jefferson’s university. You can follow him on Twitter @jayshelt for odd musings about theology, philosophy, and fantasy literature.