Graham slumped off the field, his body worn from the first and most discouraging defeat all season. He plopped on the bench with a weary sigh next to his gathering teammates. Coach Blake began to pace furiously in front of them, his face bright red. Aside from some groans, every kid was silent. When words finally came to the coach’s mouth, they were sharp and jagged, and so loud they pierced Graham’s ears so that he instinctively covered them with his hands.
Coach Blake’s voice continued to angrily blare, undeterred by the frightened expressions on every face before him, most of them bowed to stare at their red socks and cleats. Graham stole a glance across the field at the other team as his coach started walking towards the other end of the bench. A gaggle of kids encircled their smiling coach, every white jersey bouncing up and down in victory, his friend Caleb among them.
He instantly thought back to tryouts, when he had pleaded with his mom, dad, and even God himself to put him on the six-time champion team—the Dragons. Coach Blake was known for fierce competition, forceful drafting, and shrewd strategies to make sure the final trophy made its return to him every season.
“I made it!” Graham exclaimed when he saw his name on the posted roster. So excited, he nearly ran past Caleb, before making an about turn to ask, “Hey, what team are you on?”
“The Rams,” Caleb replied with a blank expression. Graham was unsure if this was a positive or negative outcome. Perhaps Caleb didn’t know either since their coach, Joshua King, was an unknown at the start of the season.
But half-way through, with the Dragons going undefeated and Caleb’s team struggling to a single tie, Caleb couldn’t say enough great things about his team, and especially his coach. “He’s the best coach ever!” He kept saying with excitement!
His joy perplexed Caleb. And so did Coach King’s constant smile and his calm and kind words to his kids throughout the season, despite constant defeat. Graham hated losing, and was absolutely relishing every dominant win that his team added.
But everything seemed to change this last game of the season, when the Rams absolutely crushed the reigning champs 7-0. “I guess I joined the wrong team,” Graham thought with bitter regret on his dry tongue.
“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army.” –Revelation 19:19
There are two armies that clash on this final battle, often referred to as The Battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16). The first army is a gathering of humanity upon the earth (Rev 20:8), united in hatred (Rev 16:11) under a single purpose, willfully surrendering their power to the beast (Rev 17:13) because they are deceived (Rev 16:14) into thinking he will bring them victory (Rev 13:4).
Yet there is another people who gather for battle. Throughout the book of Revelation, we see different glimpses of another people who are set apart with a protective seal (Rev 7:3; 9:4). They have spiritual eyes (Rev 3:18) that are aware and alert (Rev 3:3; 16:15), and are dressed (Rev 3:18) in white clothes (Rev 3:4; 6:11; 7:9), clean (Rev 19:14), unstained (Rev 3:4), and washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14). They are pillars in the temple of God (Rev 3:12; 22:3 see Joh 2:21 & 1Co 12:27), who eat from the tree of life (Rev 2:7; 22:14), and rule (Rev 2:26; 5:10; 20:4) with crowns on their heads (Rev 2:10; 3:11). They have their names written in the book of life (Rev 3:5; 21:27) which saves them (Rev 20:15) from being harmed by the “second death” (Rev 2:11; 20:6). They are the bride of Christ (Rev 21:9; 2Co 11:2), the holy city of God (Rev 21:2,10; 22:19), the ones that stand with the Lamb (Rev 14:1), the redeemed who sing the new song (Rev 14:3) of the Lamb (Rev 15:3), and follow Him wherever He goes (Rev 14:4).
Suspend your presuppositions on eschatology for a moment and see the clear divide of the two teams that come out to do battle against one another. It is the same clear divide we read throughout the first letter of John (ex: 1Jo 1:6-7; 2:3-4; 3:2-4, 14-15). Then consider the “season” we see before us in the physical—one where the beasts of this world conquer the people of God (Rev 11:7; 13:7), where the wicked prosper (Psa 73:3-12; Jer 12:1-2), and great injustice permeates the landscape (Ecc 4:1-3) as the devil asserts his rule over this world (1Jo 5:19; Rev 13:4) and has the upper hand. It appears the Dragon is the dominant team.
And consider that we are guaranteed suffering if we follow Jesus—great persecution and hatred, perhaps unto death (Rev 2:10; Mat 24:9). Might we not face imprisonments, beatings, hunger and thirst, many dangers and even desperate circumstances like being shipwrecked and adrift in open seas (2Co 11:23-28)? It is not just a possibility, but we are assured that the sufferings of Christ will overflow to us (2Co 1:5), because we have been sent into the world just as He was (Joh 17:18; 20:21)—to suffer (Luk 24:26). Thus, the need to count the cost of discipleship (Luk 14:28)—which is everything (Luk 14:26-27,33).
So for the moment, it appears we are on the losing team. Even when we do the right thing, it seems the world is against us, because it is. All those who are a part of this world hate us (Luk 21:17; Joh 15:19). They scoff at our holding to God’s Word and ostracize us for not lapping up the common lies accepted by the majority (2Pe 3:3-4). They suffer us slander, and revile us if we hold not just to a moral lifestyle but a radical profession of the only way to eternal life (Joh 14:6). They belittle and berate us, for they see us as weak for clinging to what the world sees as foolish (1Co 1:26-29).
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body.” –2 Corinthians 4:7-10
But our leader has promised us victory (Rev 19:20-21; Rom 8:37), and His word is as good as done (Heb 10:23; Job 42:2). When we see this end, when we understand what it really means to conquer (Rev 2:11) and reign with Him (2Ti 2:12; 20:6), we are able to fully surrender to His mission (Mat 28:19-20) and put on the same attitude of Christ (1Pe 4:1). Then, we will start to see suffering as a gift (Phi 1:29), and rejoice when it comes (1Pe 4:13; Jam 1:2-3), recognizing it does so by the hand of Jesus (Rev 6:1,3,5,7,9,6) and the will of our good Father in Heaven (1Pe 4:19). And through these “momentary afflictions,” (2Co 4:17) we receive a heavenly reward (Mat 5:11-12; 6:19-21; Heb 11:26; 1Pe 3:14) that does not burn up in judgment, but proves to be precious gems (1Co 3:12-15) and a crown of life (1Pe 5:4; Jam 1:12; 1Co 9:25).
They like, “I hear you talkin’ wins, but I see your losses”
You celebratin’ crowns, but I see your crosses
That’s the paradox that don’t fit in your merit box
You might not understand if you walk in this pair of socks
The victor ain’t the one that’s winnin’ seventh inning
Trophies don’t go to ones that got a good beginning
When I say I win, I don’t mean the state I’m in
I mean that day when the gray skies fade out then
I’m winning ’cause I reign with Him
–Tripp Lee, Sweet Victory
“Cause He’s promised us in the short-term a cross on our backs. And He’s promised us in the long-term a Crown of Life,” (Russell Moore).
So choose this day whom you will serve (Jos 24:15). The worthless gods of this world (Psa 96:5; Jer 10:8; 51:16-18) that deceive us with promises of greatness, yet are powerless to stand on their own (1Sa 5:3-4; Isa 46:7; Jer 10:5)? Or will you serve the one who is called “Faithful” and “True” and has all authority and power (Mat 28:18), and comes with fire in his eyes, dressed in clothing dipped in the blood of His enemies, glorious crowns on his head, and a sharp sword extending from His mouth that effortlessly annihilates His enemies (Rev 19:11-16).
But as for me and my house, we ride with the one on the white horse (Rev 19:14)!