Revelation: A Complete Commentary

By William R. Newell

Part One: Judgment

Chapter 17: The Great Day Of Wrath

Revelation 19:11—20:3

      I. The Coming to Earth of Christ as KING OF KINGS

And I saw the heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. And his eyes a flame of fire, and upon his head many diadems; and he hath a name written which no one knoweth but he himself. And he is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty. And he hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

The passage before us, which includes Revelation 19: 11 to 20:3, may be divided as follows:

I. The coming to earth of Christ as King of Kings, and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).

II. The gathering of the birds to the “supper of God” (Revelation 19:17,18).

III. The overthrow of Antichrist and his armies (Revelation 19:19-21).

IV. Satan bound for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3).

I never heard a sermon on the Great Day of Wrath—did you? Yet the writings of the prophets are full of that very day!

The coming of the Day of Wrath is, as we have found, at the end of the long-suffering of God. For centuries of human sin God had waited. Even after He proceeds to preliminary judgments, He goes with slow steps, as we have seen in the seals, trumpets, and vials. Under these divine strokes, the earth, like Pharaoh of old, hardens itself into utter blasphemy “against God who had the power over these plagues.” Now comes the Great Day of God, The Almighty (Revelation 16:14).

We again solemnly urge every believer to study the Scriptures concerning this Great Day of Wrath. It is entirely separate and distinct from the last judgment of the Great White Throne.114

1. The Day of Wrath is a particular and distinct event:

a. It is separated in time from the last judgment by a thousand years and a little more (Revelation 20:3, 7, 11).

b. Its object is entirely distinct and different from the day of judgment. The latter is to pronounce final and eternal destiny; “books” are opened; inquiries made; exact, judicial sentence pronounced. But the Day of Wrath,
which precedes the thousand years’ reign of Christ and His saints, is to get the earth cleared up for that thousand years’ kingdom.

c. The last judgment comes on only after the present heavens and earth have passed away; but the Day of Wrath is an event on this earth; the embattled rebels being dealt with in Palestine!

2. The Day of Wrath has specific characteristics:

a. It is the pent-up divine outburst of indignation, of outraged holiness, majesty, love and truth! The earth will be filled with haters of God, blasphemers of His blessed Name, despisers of His Son. “Therefore saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies.” His sword shall drink its fill (Isaiah 34:5). “I will also smite and I will cause my wrath to rest.”

b. God will thus answer the prayers of all His saints for the coming of His kingdom on earth—that His will may be done here as in heaven, where everything is subject to Him. Their prayers finally bring this answer!

All things opposing the establishment of that kingdom must be swept out of the way by the besom of destruction.

Let it be understood that no “moral suasion” whatever is connected with the setting up of the kingdom of God upon this earth. It will be a putting of Christ’s enemies under His feet by the stupendous instantaneous exercise of power in wrath. The human will must be put down. The Millennium, or thousand years’ reign, which follows the Day of Wrath, will be an iron-rod rule. It will be dashing in pieces like a potter’s vessel absolutely everything opposed to the will of God on this earth. Rebellion will not be allowed to lift its head.

We must conceive of God as long-suffering, full of compassion, merciful, for wrath is His “strange” action. He postpones judgment for that reason; as we read in Isaiah 28:21: “Jehovah will rise up … He will be wroth … that he may do his work, his strange work, and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” God is love; that is His name; but His wrath—when mercy is no longer left, when iniquity has filled up its cup—will be all the more terrible. The old proverb, “Beware of the anger of a patient man” illustrates this.

c. God would have His wrath shown and His power made known. We know He will do thus forever upon the “vessels of wrath” described in Romans 9:22. Therefore, it should not surprise us that at the inauguration of the reign of His Son upon this earth, the fury and fierceness of the anger of God against the finally obdurate, hateful human rebels, who have allied themselves with God’s old enemy, Satan, to oppose His dear Son, to keep Him out of His rights, to resist His taking the throne which He purchased with His Own Blood—will burst forth with unrestrained wrath toward His enemies, until they be utterly swept off the earth or entirely subdued.

d. The vast riddle of permitted evil will thus be resolved. Things will come to such a pass on this earth that only the intervention of God in wrath will satisfy the public conscience of holy beings.

e. Christ and the heavenly armies are themselves the executors in this terrible day of visitation.

3. Mark the four names given to the Lamb on that day:

a. “Faithful and True.” By this name He is seen as the Sitter on the white horse, coming from the open heaven. This name reminds us of His earthly life of faithfulness upon which God bases His exaltation—(Psalm 45 and Philippians 2). But He is coming now in righteousness, not in grace. Before, He said He came not to judge but to save the world; now, He comes as judge. This great day reveals Him “making war.” Note this: later He will judge the nations, ruling them with an iron rod, but this is the war of the great day of God. The struggle will be brief; but remember it is not sessional judgment, but battle.

His eyes are now “a flame of fire”;—not merely “like a flame of fire” (as in Church days: Revelation 2:18). As over against the ten diadems of Antichrist—how briefly worn!—are “many diadems”—universal dominion—upon His head.

b. The Unknown Name. It is “written,” but He alone knows it, for is He not God?

c. “The Word of God.” Thus is He arrayed in the blood sprinkled garments of vengeance, according to the prophetic word. His retinue follow on white horses, in fine linen, white and pure. It will include all the angels (Matthew 25:31) and all His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13). Whatsoever other principalities, powers, thrones, dominions and “glories” may attend, there will be infinitely above all, “his own glory, and the glory of the Father” (Luke 9:26)!

The “sharp sword” is His Word, His voice.115

d. Finally, the royal vesture, and the thigh of might,116 marked, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” How all earthly royalty and power collapses and withers at this sight! We shall have occasion to trace further, in looking at the Millennium and its order, the might and glory of the King of Kings!

      II. The Gathering of the Birds to the “Supper of God”

And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in midheaven, Come and be gathered together unto the great supper of God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses and of them that sit thereon, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, and small and great.

Flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh, flesh!—five times over! They chose to walk after the flesh spiritually and now their flesh must be devoured literally!

If you ask me how an angel could stand in the sun and speak to earth, I answer frankly, I do not know,—except that it will be done. I have often felt that men know little of astronomy, for all their vaunted discoveries. I am certain that they know little of the power of angels “the mighty in strength, that do God’s commandments.”

Now, behold, the frightful feast on earth,—the birds feasting on those who despised the invitation on high to the marriage supper of the Lamb; both feasts described in this one chapter! What a lesson!

The balance maintained by God in creation is a marvel. “I have created the waster to destroy,” God said. If insect or animal pests increase to the point of danger, other creatures are on hand to devour them, which in turn must themselves be devoured, if necessary for man’s preservation.

When our Lord described, in Luke 17:34, 35, the snatching away by the angels of those that “caused stumbling and practiced iniquity” in order that those “left” might share His kingdom (Matthew 13:41-43), the disciples inquired about this action, and the scene of it, in the words “Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Where the body is thither will the vultures also be gathered together” (Luke 17:37 R.V. margin).

Now we know that when the Lamb in wrath treads the battle line at Armageddon, absolutely millions upon millions pour out their blood in slaughter—even to the bridles of the horses!

This then, in Revelation 19, is a literal call to the birds which feed upon flesh, from all over the earth: and they come! It is a literal feast, awful though the scene may be. God’s scavengers clean the land completely.

No interpretation is possible for this passage but the literal one: anything else is unbelievable, fantastic. And when we accept it as literal we see the necessity of it. God will not allow His Son’s kingdom to begin with a plague, caused by the festering carcasses of slain multitudes.

      III. The Overthrow of Antichrist and His Armies

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought the signs in his sight, wherewith he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast and them that worshipped his image: they two were cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone; and the rest were killed with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, even the sword which came forth out of his mouth; and all the birds were filled with their flesh.

The description of the great supper by the birds, precedes that of the slaughter of those upon whom they feed, as the closing words of this passage show.

What an array! “The Beast, (the Antichrist) and the kings of the earth” are “gathered together”—not only the Antichrist’s allied ten kings, but, deluded by the three unclean spirits of Revelation 16:13, 14 “the kings of the whole world” are gathered together “unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.” We have already noted that their headquarters will be at the valley of Megiddo, called Armageddon, just southeast of Mt. Carmel in Palestine.

There is evidently on the part of these armies, a knowledge of Him against whom they are fighting. I believe that when the heaven is “opened” and the Lamb upon the white horse and His armies come forth, the scene is visible from this earth. It is a direct warfare of hell against heaven. Satan, cast with his millions of angels out of heaven in his war against Michael and his angels (chapter twelve), has brought up this false christ with his false prophet and arrayed the millions of earth’s mortals against Michael’s Lord and all the hosts of heaven! What supreme folly! The dragon could not prevail even against Michael. Now he is trusting the puny arm of flesh to defy the whole host of heaven, led by the Son of God Himself! This is the incurable insanity of sin, which wars away in spite of defeat after defeat, against a holy God!

“The Beast was taken, and with him the false prophet.” Against the forward march of the King of Kings there can be no struggle, such as there was when the dragon warred with Michael in chapter 12. How the beast shall be “taken” we are not told: the King gives the order, and immediately occurs the arrest of these hellish leaders, the two men from the lost regions who had been permitted to return to earth to be the accepted leaders of a Christ-rejecting humanity.

“They two” are cast alive into the lake of fire. The word “alive” here signifies existence in a human body. It is not only a state of conscious existence; but life in a human body. (The Greek word translated here “alive” occurs in Acts 1:3; 4:41; 10:42 (“quick”); 20:12; 25:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 17.) Our Lord’s use of the word concerning His own life after resurrection is seen in Revelation 1:18 “I am alive for evermore”; in Revelation 20:4, it is used for coming to life in resurrection, “they lived, and reigned with Christ.” (These had spirit-existence before.)

Furthermore, this lake of fire into which the Beast and the false prophet are cast (first mentioned here: compare Revelation 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8) is the same as the Gehenna of which our Lord warned the Jews in Matthew, Mark and Luke and through the apostle James.117

This is proved by comparing Matthew 25:41 with Revelation 20:10.

It is of immeasurable importance just now, that believers should become established concerning the nature and eternity of future punishment; also as to the distinction of Sheol (Hades) from the lake of fire; and of the literal character of the latter.118

The fearful fact that these two men in human bodies (Mark 9:43-48) are found in the lake of fire after the thousand years (Revelation 20:10) and are to be tormented ceaselessly there forever, should sober all our thoughts. When sin becomes absolute, it will bring absolute punishment, and that eternal.

Note that the “rest” of this vast horde of millions gathered against Jerusalem are slain directly by Christ: “With the breath of his lips shall He slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4—a kingdom passage).

And now, as the closing scene of the present order, behold the millions upon millions of flesh-eating birds clearing away the carcasses of the rebels against God and against Christ! One vulture or two feeding on some fallen creature is a hideous sight to our eyes. What, then, will be this awful line of corpses, of two hundred miles, covered with countless hosts of scavengers! Re- flect anew on what sin brings! This scene will come to pass!

      IV. Satan Bound for a Thousand Years

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time.

This imprisonment of the great enemy is the closing scene connected with the Day of Wrath; and, we may say, the opening scene of the coming age—the Millennium.

1. How completely God has removed the enormous power of this fallen head of the cherubim (Ezekiel 28:14) is seen in the fact that “an angel” chains him—not even Michael, the archangel, is needed, but simply “an angel.” What humiliation! The host of fallen angels, together with the demons and the world of men, during the preceding three and one-half years, had bowed to Satan; now “an angel” lays hold on him and fastens upon him a great chain! Again, as in Revelation 12:9—four names are designated: “the dragon”—that is, his hideous, murderous character before God; “the old serpent”—the ancient deceiver of angels first, and later of men; “the Devil”—the slanderer (diabolos), the accuser of the saints; and “Satan”—the great adversary of God, His Son and all His people.

2. He is bound for a thousand years, sentenced for this definite period—which, of course, will be the Millennium: we must remember that his presence and influence upon the earth will not in any sense be felt during that one thousand years! Praise God!

3. He is cast into the abyss; that is, the pit in the heart of the earth. Compare Matthew 12:40 with Romans 10:7; also with our notes on Revelation 9:1, 2. Afterwards he will be cast into the lake of fire, which is outside this earth entirely, when the present heaven and earth shall have passed away. The “shaft” to the abyss spoken of in Revelation 9:1 is sealed. He is shut within it—shut in his prison; giving relief to earth, release from all his deceits!

4. The fact that he must be loosed “for a little time after the one thousand years” should give us no surprise—for God would give the human race a final chance after Christ’s reign, to choose! One thousand years with Christ and His saints over them in peace; then the decision: will they have this Man to rule over them? or will they choose the great enemy again? We shall see.


114 Isaiah 2:12-21; 8:6-10; 24 entire; 30:27, 28, 30; 34 entire; 63:1-6; Ezekiel 32:5-10; Amos 5:18-20; Obadiah 15, 16; Micah 5:15; Nahum 1:2, 5, 6; Zephaniah 1:7, 14-17; Haggai 2:6; Zechariah 14:1-5, 16; Malachi 4, 1.

These are some of the passages of the prophets that look toward this terrible Day of the Lord, when He comes to tread His enemies under foot, according to the Father’s appointment. Remove from your mind the thought of mercy in “that day of vengeance of our God.” An evil and adulterous generation today hates the thought of judgment. Sin is sweet to them, therefore is the sword of Jehovah bitter. Like King Agag, its prophets and preachers simper to their scripture-ignorant hearers: “Surely the bitterness of death is past” (Samuel 15:32). But the next verse says, “And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before Jehovah in Gilgal.” The false prophets of this hour—all the shallow “advanced” college professors, the wicked well-poisoning modernist horde of lying preachers, the dead denominationalists, content to sit in cushioned pews and pay a fawning puppet to preach inanities that never reach men’s consciences: yes—all the false prophets who cry, “Peace, peace,” when God warns of the swiftly coming Day of Wrath; arid all the Satan-drugged hosts of Christendom, content to hearken to them and lie down to sleep on the edge of the volcano of destruction: let them read such Scriptures as the above! But they will not. In the present day, Jeremiah 5:30, 31 is realized before our eyes: “A wonderful and horrible thing is come to pass in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means: and my people love to have it so: AND WHAT WILL YE DO IN THE END THEREOF?”

The forbearance of God is at last at an end. To prolong it would be to connive at sin! Therefore, God’s holy hatred toward sin is unloosed, in all its “fierceness.” He will send His dear Son, whom men despised, with the direct commission of utter vengeance! It will be a “winepress”—the bodies of men will be crushed. It is the winepress of wrath: “Who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?” It is the winepress of the fierceness of wrath—the words are terrible! And finally, it is “the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty!” Ah, how feeble are words to portray the unloosed fury of that dreadful day!

I found a great nest of hornets one summer, built upon the cottage porch. I would have been glad to observe their workings from the room within. But no, they challenged my every approach. I had to go in and out of the house by a back door, and even then they were annoying and dangerous. There was no peace; there could be none. After several particularly grievous attacks by these deadly insects, I took a fishing pole, wrapped the tip of it round and round with several yards of muslin, which I tied carefully; then waited night-fall, when the hornets would all be in their nest I soaked the cloth thoroughly with kerosene and lit it. Then I held that flaming pole beneath that hornets’ nest with relentless determination. The insects rushed out to burning and death. I left not one! This earth will have become a nest of hideous hornets against God! And God will clear them out! He will leave not one! Not one rebel will be spared (Matthew 13:41, 42). And Christ will strike first at Armageddon.

Gathered about Jerusalem will be “all the nations,” in a battle line of 200 miles, from Edom to Carmel (Revelation 14:20; Isaiah 63:1-6). And how our Lord will “strike through kings,” and tread down their millions, in that day! (Psalm 110:5, 6).

115 Mark the seven occurrences of the words: “voice of Jehovah” in Psalm 29, with the instantaneous might of the effect—for this Psalm is millennial—when “He shall rule them with a rod of iron.” This is “the breath of His lips” that shall slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4).

116 The same “mighty One of Jacob,” who comes having “King of Kings” written upon His thigh, in that Great Day of Wrath, to establish His kingdom, touched Jacob’s thigh on the night He wrestled with him (Genesis 32), taking away his carnal strength! “For by strength shall no man prevail”—“Power belongeth unto God!”

117 See Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.

118 J. N. Darby’s tract on “Eternal Punishment”; F. W. Grant’s book, “Facts and Theories as to a Future State”; Sir Robert Anderson’s “Human Destiny” are excellent (although Mr. Grant yields to the common absurd cry that the fire of hell may represent something “more terrible.” R. A. Torrey’s words on hell, in “What the Bible Teaches,” are true and searching. The best thing we have ever seen on the subject is the booklet, “Life and Death” by C. J. Baker, obtainable from Pickering and Inglis, London, England; and Moody Colportage Association, Chicago.

Elliott says, “The resurrection spoken of (here in Revelation 20:4) corresponds in every case to the death out of which it was a revival.”

Bengel says, “The first resurrection is a corporeal one. Therefore, the dead ‘became alive’ in that part in which they were dead or mortal, consequently in their body.”