Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ (American, 1937?-), "O Root" (from the "O Antiphons" series). Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Tags: Tree of Jesse. Source: http://csjstpaul.org/ansgar_holmbergs_o_antiphon_paintings.aspx; http://yokeofchrist.blogspot.com/2010/12/o-root-of-jesse.html

Saving Revelation: Holy War

So we are in this series on Revelation. I’m going to talking about the way God does warfare and the way God judges in the Book of Revelation. All of the violence or the apparent violence in the Book of Revelation surround these 2 concepts, God’s war and God’s judgment.

We’ve seen that Revelation is a prophetic and apocalyptic book. It’s apocalyptic is captured in the fact that he uses graphic symbols that aren’t meant to be taken literally. It is about events that happened at the end of the first century but it also communicates reality, spiritual reality that is true for God’s people since the time of the Cross and the Resurrection, and applies to us today. He has visions of the future, but it is not primarily about the future. It’s about the life we’re in right now.

So here’s the question for today, “How does God engage in warfare and how does God feel about judgment?” More specifically, “Does God ever have to engage in violence when He deals with the Book of Revelation and when He deals with judgment?” It looks like He does when you look at taking this book literally. What I want to do today is look at three examples of the way John takes violent symbols and ingeniously turns them on their head so they mean their opposite – not only non-violence but anti-violence. I want to show a pattern here.

This is the book that is most appealed to legitimize violence among Christians. Yeah, well Jesus was a pacifist in the Gospels but what about the end of time, He comes back and apparently God has to use violence to solve the problem of evil so if God does it, we should do it, and here we go again.

Now we need to remember that John is writing to encourage these Christians in the province of Asia who are facing imminent persecution and even likely martyrdom. They are a small group of people who are standing up to the ways of the Roman Empire and Rome is about to fight back. Throughout the Book of Revelation, Rome and all the empires of the world are symbolized by the symbol of Babylon. Throughout the Book of Daniel it sort of became the archetype for all the evil empires of the world, and by the beast which emphasizes the ferociousness of the empires of the world, the violence of the empires of the world and the prostitute which represents the immorality and the idolatry of all the empires of the world. All of those refer to the empires of the world and in the Book of Revelation they’re all under the authority of the dragon and are given power by the dragon. You read about that in Revelations 13. So these Christians are refusing to conform to the ways of the beast and the beast is about to devour them.

Now to the natural eye it looks like the beast is going to win. To the natural eye it looks like that dragon is all-powerful and it looks like the beast who has been given power from the dragon is going to squish this little Jesus movement. It looks like to the natural eye that the mighty Rome with all their military force is going to come and squash this little humble Jesus movement like a giant would squash an ant. And that it’s going to overthrow the humble self-sacrificial power of the Cross. That’s what it looks like. But it’s like what Paul said in I Cor.1 to the world the crucified Christ is foolish and weak. And those who follow the way of the crucified Christ look foolish and weak. But to us Paul says, no we’re to trust that this is the power of God.

This is what God looks like when He flexes His omnipotent muscles, it looks like getting crucified. And so Revelation is written to remind these Christians about this truth. The appearance that they lose when they die is a lie, it is a deception. The dragon, Satan is said to, 9 different times he is called the deceiver, or the one who deceives the nations or the one who deceives the entire world. The world is the deception it looks like getting crucified means you lose but followers of the Lamb are to remember that getting crucified is the way that you win. The truth is that on Calvary. The Lamb has already defeated Satan and Babylon. The truth is that manifesting God’s true character, which is His self-sacrificial love, God has overcome Satan and Babylon’s military power. It is just that the world under the deception of the dragon doesn’t see that yet. But we are to know the secret of the scroll that we talked about two weeks ago, it’s a secret. Most people don’t get this but it’s a secret of how God rules and how God overcomes which is a secret of God’s true slain like character. Everything in the Book of Revelation is about the unveiling of the victory of the Cross. And so remember in Rev.1:4 John wrote down everything that he saw which was the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus. This is what he saw, the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus which is all about the victory of the Cross – Jesus dying and rising from the dead, defeating Satan. It’s called the apocalypse for this reason. Apocalypse means unveiling. It doesn’t mean the unveiling of the destruction at the end of the world, though that’s what people think it means today. This is the unveiling of Jesus Christ.

The battles in the Book of Revelation are not actual physical battles. The only actual physical battle was fought back on Calvary and that’s how God fights. He fights not by making others bleed but by bleeding at the hands of others and that’s how He wins. Now the question is, who will believe that and who won’t. The battle is between those who hold fast to the truth and therefore trust in the power of the Lamb and those who don’t trust in the power of the Lamb, who are yet under the deception and therefore trust in the power of Babylon. It is a question of do you follow the ways of the Lamb or do you follow the ways of the empire. Are you in the truth or are you in the lie. That’s the battle that needs to be fought and is symbolized throughout the Book of Revelation.

So this book is written to tell the Christians, “don’t buy the lie”, don’t just go by appearances, don’t take up arms against your enemy, instead live according to the truth. The truth is that you are victorious when you hold fast to the ways of the Lamb even when you’re crucified, in fact that is your victory because that was His victory. You participate in His victory by following His example even to the point of death.

In the process we are going to show how John takes these violent images and ingeniously subverts them and turns them on their head so they have the opposite kind of meaning. Now the main way that he does that is by taking a symbol and juxtaposing it with a symbol that is contradictory or appears to be its contradictory.

We saw in Revelation 5 there is the mighty Lion that looks like a violent image, triumphant tribe of Judah, the Lion from the tribe of Judah but then the Lion becomes the little slain Lamb. John is thereby saying that yes, Jesus is a Lion, certainly is the Lion, He is a Lion in a lamblike way. He roars like a lion but he roars with self-sacrificial love. He defeats His foes but not by preying on them but rather by laying down His life and being preyed by them. They’re the predators and He offers His life up for that. So He is a lion in a very lamb-like way and a lamb in a lion-like way.

1) Our first example shows another way in which John subverts these symbols. It has to do with the mysterious 144,000 which plays a significant role in the Book of Revelation. This is the army of God, the army of the Lamb. They are first introduced in Revelation 7 and we read this

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed. 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

Notice, John heard that. Now this 144,000 was a symbol in Jewish circles of the end times army. There is going to be 144,000 who would follow the Messiah and would violently overthrow Rome and therefore violently reestablish Israel as a sovereign nation. He hears 144,000 and then he hears right after this the listing of the 12 tribes of Israel and he hears that 12,000 troops came from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Now that 12 is going to become significant. It is not a coincidence that 12×12 equals 144 because we are not talking about the literal Israel or the literal 12 tribes of Israel or about a literal 12,000 troops. In fact it can’t be the literal 12 tribes of Israel, you’ve got names that should be there and names included that should not be there and the order is all wrong.

The important point for us to see here is this: John hears that but when he looks he sees something very different and this is one of the main ways John subverts violent symbols. He frees us from addiction to Babylon power by hearing a Babylon thing but then seeing a Calvary thing. The Calvary thing he sees transforms the meaning of what he just heard. So whenever you find John saying, “I heard”, play close attention because pretty soon you are going to have him say, “I saw”. And what he saw will transform the meaning of what he heard.

Here’s what it looks like here. He looks and he see this in verse 9

I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,

Wait, he just told us that it was 144,000.

there from every nation

This was supposed to be a Jewish army, but no this is every nation, every tribe, every people every language

standing before the Throne, before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

He hears 144,000 composed of 12,000 soldiers from the 12 tribes of Israel but when he looks he sees a great multitude that no one can count and they are no longer distinctly Jewish, they are from every tribe and every tongue. And so what he sees transforms what he hears in several ways.

First of all, it is no longer a distinctly Jewish army, this is an international army. Secondly it is no longer a literal 144,000, this is a symbolic 144,000. So then the question is how would 144,000 be a symbol of an innumerable army from every tribe and every tongue? Well, pay attention to the numbers. Remember numbers in apocalyptic literature are never numbers, they are symbols of things. Twelve plays an especially important role in Revelation. The 2 main twelves in the Bible are the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. So as we saw 2 weeks ago, there are 24 elders in the throne room and that’s because the elders represent God’s people in both testaments, the 12 tribes of Israel and founded on the 12 apostles. It’s not a coincidence that I said before that here we have 12×12 = 144. It’s the multiplication of the 2 testaments and then you multiply that by 1,000 and you get 144,000. Why multiply it by a thousand? Because a thousand is a standard apocalyptic symbol for something that is indefinitely large or indefinitely long. You see a thousand, don’t be thinking literal, be thinking of something that goes on ages and ages or goes on beyond counting. So you’ve got the 12×12 and it is innumerably large from every tribe and every tongue and so John when he looks he sees the meaning of the 144,000. It’s not a literal thing, it is a symbolic thing and its meaning is given in what he sees. From every tribe and every tongue, no longer the distinctly Jewish. So this 144,000 represents the perfect completeness of an innumerably large group of people throughout history that have followed the ways of God. Its God’s way of saying the army of God is much greater than you previously thought. Now you see the reason John is communicating this to his audience is that as this little group of people meeting in little house churches are taking a stand against Rome, this is the mouse that roared, these little people as they are facing Rome and Rome is coming to their area and they have already seen other brothers and sisters slaughtered by Rome and now they are facing likely death, they would very likely feel very alone, very isolated. The Lord is saying through John, “you are not alone, no you are part of an army, an army that lays down their life for others. You are part of something that is beyond comprehension in terms of its size. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Be encouraged, they are cheering you on, they went before you. You are part of a movement that goes back in time, that goes forward in time and someday it will all be clear how you were victorious precisely when the world thought that you lost.” He was encouraging them to stand strong.

2) The second way John transforms this military image is you’ll notice that this army is holding palm branches and palm branches are a symbol of worship. They are standing around the throne worshipping God. They are not fighting this army, or they are fighting by worshipping. John isn’t saying that this army doesn’t fight, he is simply saying that this is the way this army fights. They fight by worshipping. So also with us folks, our battle is never against flesh and blood. It’s against principalities and powers and rulers and authorities in dark places. And the way that we fight is by worshipping the Lamb. Not just with our songs but with our life. We ascribe worth to the Lamb by saying You are worth following. You are worth dying for. Alright, so they worship the Lamb and precisely as they do that they are confronting the beast, they are confronting the dragon, confronting the powers, confronting the empire, confronting the prostitute. If you follow the Lamb wherever He goes you will not conform to the ways of Babylon. This motif of following the Lamb is fleshed out in brilliant ways later on in chapter 14 of Revelation. Look at this.

They sing a new song before the Throne and before the 4 living creatures and the elders.

A new song.

Okay, the point about this not defiling themselves with women is a military metaphor. Jews before they went into warfare, they had always been doing this, they had to abstain from having sexual relations with their wives for a day and sometimes a week prior to battle. It was a way of purifying themselves. It was a very sexist culture so they’d say sex is defiling, that women defiled them but that is the metaphor so that is what we’ve got to deal with. So this is a military metaphor of people purifying themselves to go into battle. The symbol of virginity is a hyperbolic expression of that. These people don’t abstain for a week or for a day, their whole life is abstaining. And by the way, you take someone who believes in the literal 144,000 and believes they are one of the 144,000, ask them if they’re a virgin! Probably none of your business but it is a theological point. Because if they’re not, well then if you take it literally then you can’t qualify.

This is a symbol of people who are not following the ways of the prostitute. They are abstaining from the ways of the empire, the immorality and the idolatry of the empire and in doing that they purify themselves. The song they sing is the song of the redeemed, it is a song of redemption, it is a song of the victory of the Lamb. You see this sing popping up several times in the Book of Revelation. It’s a song about how the Lamb has triumphed and the Lamb has triumphed by laying down its life. Only they can sing this song, only they can learn this song because for the reason that only the Lamb could open the scroll. Remember that two weeks ago? Who’s worthy? Well only the Lamb is worthy because only the Lamb had the character of the Scroll, the secret of how God rules and how God triumphs in the end. These folks are the only ones who sing this song because they are the only ones who are willing to follow this song. They are the only ones who could possibly celebrate the fact that they might get killed. No one else wants to sing this song. Babylon doesn’t sing this song, no, Babylon sings a song about how you killed your foes in order that you didn’t die but these people are singing the song that they triumph by being willing to die. Only those who have the character that trust in the Lamb power and want to follow the Lamb power can sing a celebratory song about the Lamb power. Everyone else is going to think that it’s weak and foolish.

By the way this applies to the whole Book of Revelation. This theme is all over the place. You only see what this book is up to if you want to see what this book is up to. If you want violence, if you want Babylon power, if you get off on the guns and bombs and bullets and “yay us!” well then you’ll find that here because that is what you’re looking for. You feel justified. Jesus kills a bunch of people ~ yay! But if you trust that God really looks like the slain Lamb, you trust that Calvary reveals God’s character and you have a heart that wants to follow that well then when you read the Book of Revelation you’ll be looking for that and John gives you the clues as to how to see it. It’s all over the place here if you want to see.

Only those who have the Lamb’s heart can interpret the Scroll and can sing this song. They can see death as a form of triumph. The army does warfare by worshipping the Lamb, by following the Lamb wherever He goes. An army that follows the little sheep, literally it’s a silly metaphor but symbolically it’s so profound. They do exactly what the Lamb does and so when they’re persecuted, they don’t fight back. Now this doesn’t mean by the way that you don’t have boundaries in your life and you let people walk all over you. Jesus ran from crowds sometimes when He hits His limit, so it’s not saying that. It’s about what kind of attitude do you have about enemies, about persecutors, about those who are working against you. Do you retaliate, sink to their level, do you try to win by Babylon power, by manipulation power, coercion power or do you remain like a little humble lamb, even to the point of death. You follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

3) And the final way that John transforms this military symbol of the 144,000 is this. In Revelation 7 where they are first introduced. A few verses after he introduces them an elder in the throne room approaches him and he says this

These (referring to the 144,000) are they who have come out of the great tribulation where they are martyred. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb

Now again, if you take this book literally, how on earth can you wash your robes and make them white if you are washing them in blood? They’re going to be red, sorry. Literally its absurd but symbolically its profound. This also is a military symbol. It was the case among the Jews to have blood splattered on you made you ceremonially unclean. And so to reenter society, when you came back with blood on you, you had to go through a purification process that included washing your robes, getting all the blood off you and all the blood off your clothes. That’s what’s going on here.

But notice what John does, it’s so profound what he does with this symbol. These warriors aren’t washing blood off of their clothes; they’re washing their clothes with blood. And these people aren’t washing the blood of foes off of them, they’re washing the blood of their Captain onto them. They are washing in the blood of the One they followed into battle. Not only that, these people are not washing their clothes after a battle, these people are washing their clothes before a battle. Its John’s way of saying these people have already overcome, the battle is already been fought. It was fought on Calvary and you are victorious when you are willing to follow the ways of Calvary. It’s way is by the blood of the Lamb, it refers not just to the fact that we are not only cleansed by the blood of the Lamb but that we are participate in the blood of the Lamb, we follow the ways of the blood of the Lamb.

Like when Paul says, when we suffer with Him we will reign with Him, we participate, we are in solidarity with Him. So we are washed by the blood of the Lamb and the moment we do that we are victorious. That’s the theme that runs throughout the Book of Revelation. Revelation 12 for example, we read,

How?

They triumphed over him

By the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

That’s how we win.

They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

How do you win in the Kingdom? You don’t love your life so much as to shrink from death. How do you win the Kingdom? You win by the blood of the Lamb. Believing and trusting in the blood of the Lamb but also participating in the blood of the Lamb. How do you win in the Kingdom? By the word of your testimony and remaining true to that. The truth is that Calvary has already won. The devil has already been defeated. The ways of the empire are already obsolete. We are just going to live according to the truth of that and therefore confront all the lies that say that that is not true.

So John takes this military symbol and now it means its opposite. Yeah, we are an army but not like the world’s army and yeah we fight, but not like the world fights. Instead of killing foes and conquering foes and washing their blood off of us, we lay down our life. We bleed for others. We feed others, help others, wash peoples’ feet, and if need be we bleed with our very life and that is how we are victorious. What looks like loss to the world is in truth victory and this is the army of the victorious ones.

Okay now let’s turn to another very violent symbol, the battle of Armageddon. The famous battle of Armageddon which so much has been written about. It has been described as the bloodiest passage in the Bible though I’m going to submit to you there is not a drop of blood in it. Alright. The crucial verses are 13-15. This is the end times battle. It says that

Jesus is dressed in a robe that is dipped (or could be soaked) in blood and His name is the Word of God.

And remember folks, everything that John saw was the Word of God which is the testimony of Jesus.

The armies of Heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of His mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.

Now on the surface, this is a bloody massacre. But by now we should be aware that John uses standard violent imagery in very non-standard ways. We got to pay close attention. He’ll give us clues as to what is really going on here. He uses this image of a warrior soaked in blood, coming back from battle soaked in blood. You find this 3 times in the Old Testament. You find it in apocalyptic literature. The victor is like the Braveheart, you know you come back, you are covered in blood but you’re still standing. It’s your badge of honor, I slaughtered them, they did not slaughter me. And he is going to use this ghoulish image but he transforms it in a profound way. You find it in the Old Testament applied to God because those folks did not have the revelation that we have, they did not have the secret of the Scroll, they did not know God’s true character. So they were right when they thought that God fights and God wins but they just didn’t quite get then how God fights and how God wins. Now we’re getting on the inside of this, seeing what’s really going on.

In Revelation Jesus, like that warrior is wearing robes soaked in blood. But notice, this warrior is soaked in blood before He goes into battle, not afterwards. It’s because this warrior fights not by shedding their blood but by allowing His own blood to be shed. He fights, He’s going into battle by virtue of bleeding, so He’s covered in blood. His army that’s riding behind Him, they’re wearing linen that is white and clean – this is not typical military fatigue folks. No, they’re white and clean, we just saw it, because they’ve been washed in the blood. They do not cling to their own lives. This is the army that goes into battle. How do they do it? By carrying swords? No. By being willing to lay down their lives. Being faithful to the Lamb, following Him wherever He goes, by refusing to be co-opted by the ways of the empire. That’s how they do warfare. This isn’t an actual battle. The actual battle has already been fought and won and that was on Calvary.

Everything in the Book of Revelation is simply about manifesting the truth about that victory. In fact, if you will read the first 10 verses of this chapter, they celebrate the victory of the Lamb. It’s all about celebrating the One who has overcome. Well if the battle is in the future, how can they already be celebrating the One who has overcome. It’s because the battle which He overcame is in the past, it’s already done. Now the only remaining battle is who will believe it and who won’t. Will the truth overcome the lie. Will you live in deception or will you live according to truth? Will you trust Lamb power or Babylon power?

That’s why folks the sword that Jesus has going into battle comes out of His mouth. What kind of warrior does that? This is the word of truth that comes out, He speaks the truth. And in speaking the truth He slays lies. Thereby symbolizes the nations that are in bondage but these are not literal nations. If they were literal nations being slain then how can we find them up again being redeemed in the next chapter? He slays the lies in order to free the nations, to free the people. He doesn’t slaughter the people. So this is the Jesus on the Cross who is now through His people proclaiming the truth, they’re living the truth, they’re modeling the truth. And while the world sees them as weak and foolish, they are to know the secret of the Scroll which is the secret of Calvary which is the secret of the Book of Revelation and that is what looks like weakness and loss to the world is actually strength and victory in the Kingdom of God, laying down your lives.

Then finally, let’s talk about God’s method of judgment and in order to do that I want to turn to what is arguably the next most graphic violent image in the Book of Revelation. It has to do with this winepress where the grapes get trampled out. It says in Revelation 14:18-20

Another angel who had charge over the fire came from the altar and cried in a loud voice to him who had a sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine because its grapes are ripe. The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city and blood flowed out of the press rising as high as horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.”

Now this imagery of enemies being trampled in the winepress and their blood overflowing all around is found 3 times in the Old Testament and it’s found in other apocalyptic literature. It’s a gruesome, gruesome image. What makes it even more gruesome here is that the blood that flows out this winepress of crushed people is as high as horses’ bridles which would be about 5 feet and it goes on for 1,600 stadia which would be about 180 miles. So imagine an ocean of blood 5 feet deep from here to St. Louis or from here to Kansas City. As far as the eye can see, 5 feet of blood. Now if you’re taking this literally, how many millions and millions of people would you have to step on to get that amount of blood?

And are we willing to believe that at the end of time, an angel is going to come and gather up all the different sinners of the world and put them in a vat and Jesus is going to step on them like grapes creating this overflow of blood that’s going to be 180 miles, 5 feet deep of bloody ocean? What happened to the Jesus who said, be like the Father and love your enemies unconditionally and turn the other cheek and lay down your life and serve your enemies and all of that. This is a very very different Jesus if you’re taking it literally.

First of all, notice this. The grapes that are gathered, they are not gathered because they are wicked or bad, there is nothing in the text that suggests this. They are gathered because they’re ripe, which is simply saying it was time for them to be picked, time for them to be squished.

Secondly, whenever you are dealing with a symbol in the Book of Revelation, this isn’t the kind of book you can only read once, you need to read it over and over and don’t think of it chronologically, it’s in layers. It’s got like depth to it. So what happens in one spot, for every symbol that you’re treating, pay attention to where else that symbol might pop up because the function it has in one section will affect the meaning it has in this section. It’s significant to note that throughout the Book of Revelation people are judged and punished not by being stepped on like grapes in a vat, they’re judged by being made to drink the blood of those who are stepped on in the vat. The judgment is in the drinking not in the squishing. For example in Revelation 16 we read this

You are just in your judgments oh Holy One, You who are who were for they have shed the blood of Your holy people and Your prophets

These are the martyrs

and You have given them blood to drink as they deserved.

The judgment is in the drinking not in the squishing. In fact, even in Revelation 14, the passage that we were just dealing with here, the winepress passage, just prior to the winepress thing we read this. It says

If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they too will drink the wine of God’s fury which has been poured out full strength into the cup of His wrath.

The judgment is in the drinking, not the squishing. So in contrast to the winepress images of the Old Testament, God’s wrath here isn’t toward the grapes that are crushed, it’s toward those who now have to drink the blood of those who were crushed. So who are these poor grapes? Well, if they’re drinking the blood of God’s people, the martyrs, the grapes have to be God’s people, the martyrs, the ones that they crushed. Don’t feel sorry for these grapes. What the grapes go through is unpleasant for sure, no one would wish it upon them but remember, the main thing with Revelations is this is how they overcome, this is they’re victorious. They were squished just like Jesus was squished. They’re not the ones being judged, it is the ones who have to drink the juice that comes from that vat that are judged.

So what is this metaphor about drinking juice all about? What is the meaning of this? Is it just that when God comes back He’s going to make these people drink a nasty drink? No, it’s John’s ingenious way of saying that the sin of people comes back on them. The blood you shed is the blood you’re going to end up drinking. He turns this violent metaphor on its head so that it’s no longer about God and His people crushing foes to be victorious, it’s rather about God and His people being crushed by foes, that’s how they are victorious. And the judgment is not on the people who are crushed, it’s on those who have to drink it and that’s John’s way of showing that the evil you sow is the evil you reap, the evil you’ve done is the evil that will come back on you, the blood you shed is the blood you will drink. In other words, the self-destructive consequences of your evil and rebellion will come back on you.

John ingeniously communicates this in different ways in the Book of Revelation. With regard to this drinking blood, it’s significant that 3 times in Revelation drinking blood is a symbol for the sin that people are committing. That’s their sin. That was a sin in Jewish culture to drink any kind of blood and it’s still pretty gross if you ask me. Two times it’s not a sin but of a judgment for their sin. He uses the same symbol for both which is an ingenious way of saying that people are drinking their own judgment. They are bringing judgment upon themselves. Sin is inherently self-destructive and violence is inherently self-destructive and so these people are voluntarily bringing this upon themselves. It’s also indicated by the fact that sometimes drinking blood is what these people want to do. It’s not something they’re made to do, they choose it for themselves. So for example in Revelation 17 talking about the prostitute which symbolizes the immorality of the kingdoms, it says this

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus,

that’s all we do, we testify that this is the true way of living. Now here this lady is drunk with the blood of God’s holy people. If it’s literal I don’t know how you get drunk drinking blood, you can drink as much blood as you want and you may vomit but I don’t know how you’re going to get drunk. But see again this is not literal, it is a metaphor. This lady is intoxicated with shedding blood. She’s intoxicated with it. She’s drinking it and yet drinking blood is the punishment for shedding blood and so it’s John’s way of showing that she is drinking judgment, she’s intoxicated with that which is going to destroy her. She’s bringing it upon herself. That divine judgment is about the inherent self-destructive nature of sin coming back on us. You find this throughout the whole Bible. God doesn’t act violently at all, He just withdraws. The violence is caused by people and by angelic beings and in doing that Jesus is manifesting what it is to suffer the consequences for the sin of the entire world. He bears the consequences that we deserve and that is the wrath of God, that’s the judgment of God. It’s simply the consequences that are built into the sin that people are involved in. This I believe is how all judgment takes place in the Book of Revelation. God is involved in the judgments only in the sense that He created this world with this moral order of cause and effect and in the sense that He decides when it is time that He must withdraw and allow those things to take place. All actual violence is caused by agents other than God who are biting at the bit to do what they want to do, they shouldn’t be doing it, but they are and so evil ends up self-imploding.

The Jesus of the Book of Revelation is no different than the Jesus of the Gospels in fact the Jesus of Revelation is the Jesus of the Gospels on the Cross. This is all about the truth of the Cross, the victory of the Cross confronting the lies of Babylon. And so I hope I’ve said enough here to help us see this is not a book primarily about the future, it’s about us today. Because we today as much as the Jesus disciples in the first century, we need to defy Babylon, we need to defy the dragon, we need to defy the prostitute. We are called to live in a subversive resistant way against the way of all the empires of this world, and all of them are under the authority of the dragon. We are instead of conforming to the ways of the beast and the prostitute, we are to follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Our trust is to be in the Lamblike power not in Babylon power. We are to trust in the power of self-sacrificial love, the power of serving people which alone can transform people. We are to have no trust in the power of might and the power of the political regime, the military regime, the bombs, the missiles, the laws or in manipulation, coercion, shaming whatever. We’re to have no trust in that, all of our trust is to be in the power of the Lamb.

And though the world may see it as weak and foolish we know that it is the power of God, we know that it’s the way to overcome. And if we die, we die; if we suffer, we suffer. But that isn’t to be bad news for us. If we’re grapes that get squished, then we’re grapes that get squished but for grapes that know the secret of the Scroll and the secret of Calvary, the secret of Revelation, this is the way towards victory. We are participating in the victory of the Lamb. We are not getting squished with His squishiness. We will therefore overcome in the way He overcomes. It is not bad news at all, it is good news. We are called to resist which is not a pleasant way to live, but to be a non-conformist, to be a revolter to the ways of the empire, no that sometimes may get you killed but if Revelation means anything it means that that is not not good news folks, that is how we overcome. Not with bombs and bullets and guns and swords but with the word of our testimony and by the blood of the Lamb and that is what Revelation is all about.

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