Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part VII)

Part II: The Divine Warrior in Revelation 19:11–21 (continued)

The Great Supper of God

Another image used to elucidate the significance of the warring Christ is the scene of “the great supper of God” (Rev. 19:17–18), which is contrasted to “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6–9). The scene of birds eating the flesh of the wicked stems from Ezek. 39:17–20, although Ezekiel describes birds and wild animals eating the flesh and drinking the blood, with the judgment limited to those of the higher socio-economic order, whereas in Revelation it is just birds, they only eat the flesh, and the judgment encompasses all people, the “flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great” (Rev. 19:18).[1]

Although such an image is quite offensive to modern sensibilities, it would possibly have been less bizarre in the first century considering the sight of carrion birds would have been a familiar sight over the battlefield. Aune astutely notes that dead combatants who are consumed by birds means they have been deprived of burial, “an ancient means for hurting and humiliating an enemy even after death, sometimes accompanied by the mutilation of the corpse.”[2] The significance of this is that this scene is not so much about promoting violence and gore, but is rather using such an ignominious fate to convey the ultimate disgrace the wicked undergo.[3]

The Lake of Fire

One final disturbing image in this pericope is that of the beast and the false prophet being “thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur” (Rev. 19:20). The infamous lake of fire is obliquely mentioned earlier in Rev. 2:11 where it is referenced as the “second death”, which John later equates with “the lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Rev. 21:8), the sulfur no doubt being a reference to the fact that it is found in its natural state in areas such as the valley of the Dead Sea. The lake of fire is described elsewhere by John as a place where its occupants are “tormented with fire and sulfur … and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:10–11; cf. 20:10). The probably source for this fiery lake is the tradition of Gehenna, a valley known in the Hebrew Bible as the “valley of the Ben-hinnom” and as a place of human sacrifice (2 Kgs 23:10; Jer. 7:31-33; cf. Isa. 66:24; 1 En. 54:1), and which was later used in the New Testament to denote an outcome opposite to that of the kingdom of God (e.g. Mark 9:43–48).

The idea of eternal punishment can be found in the Hebrew Bible. A good example of this is seen in Isa. 34:9-10 where we are told that the land of Edom “shall become burning pitch” and that “night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever … no one shall pass through it forever and ever.” Naturally, this language is symbolic, for the smoke of Edom isn’t rising today, demonstrating that same notion in Revelation isn’t referring to an eternal duration of punishment, but to its finality.[4] This concept is also found in the New Testament where Sodom and Gomorrah are said to “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). Thus, the lake of fire in Revelation can thus be understood not as describing an actual place of everlasting conscious punishment in actual flames, but as signifying that its purpose of destroying evil cannot be prevented.[5]


The imagery in Rev. 19:11–21—the sword, the bloodied robe, the wine press, the feast of the birds, and the lake of fire—seemingly depicts a dreadful scene bereft of any consideration for mercy. Yet this study has attempted to show that the violent eschatological scene of the Divine Warrior has been subtly transformed by John in a nonviolent way. While he does utilize this motif of the Divine Warrior being victorious in battle, he uses it in an innovative manner by filling it with new content. When Christ fights against the enemies of God, his sword is the word of God proceeding from his mouth. The blood on his robe is his own (and possibly that of the martyrs), signifying the ultimate expression of Christ’s victory over evil is his self-sacrificial death on the cross. Thus, one can conclude that Revelation portrays Christ in the Divine Warrior role and substitutes militaristic violence as being the path to victory for faithful witness to the point of death, epitomized in the shedding of Christ’s own blood. Faithful witness unto death is the powerful weapon that the Lamb wields in Revelation and it is the weapon that his followers possess as well.

Such an interpretation of Revelation may superficially seem absurd, yet it is not strange for someone who mentions robes being washed and made white in blood, who describes a Lion as a Lamb, and who identifies victory as being slain. John did not discard the Hebrew Scriptures, but he does read them deliberately, with his own distinctive hermeneutic and therein lies a risk that one must be careful of. John’s method of juxtaposing paradoxical images is not a panacea for any and all troubling texts in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, but it does help show that the depiction of Christ in Revelation is, ultimately, much more coherent with the portrayal of Christ in the canonical Gospels than is often thought.


[1] Boring, Revelation, 199; Sweet. Revelation, 285.

[2] Aune, Revelation, 1068; cf. Mounce, Revelation, 358.

[3] McDonald, “Lion as Slain Lamb”,  43 warns that “the vividness of John’s language may seduce the reader into taking the images more literally than John intends.”

[4] Boring, Revelation, 118, 213.

Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part VI)

Part II: The Divine Warrior in Revelation 19:11–21 (continued)

The Wine Press

Connected to the image of the bloodstained robe is that of Christ “tread[ing] the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15; cf. 14:14–20). This imagery can be found in Isa. 63:1–3, Lam. 1:15, and Joel 3:13, all of which clearly have the scene functioning as metaphors for divine judgment, depicting the Divine Warrior as one who trounces upon the wicked as grapes are crushed to produce wine. But like the sword and bloodied robe, this image is likewise transformed by John, for while Trito-Isaiah portrays the grapes in the wine press as the wicked and as the object of God’s wrath, this is not who the grapes are in John’s appropriation of the image. For John, the focus shifts from the grapes themselves to the wine they produce, for now God’s fury is poured out when the wicked are forced to drink the wine that is produced by the crushed grapes (Rev. 14:10; 16:6; 17:6). So who then is symbolized by the grapes?

In Revelation 14 there are two parallel sections, each beginning with the disjunctive marker, “Then I looked” (Rev. 14:1, 14). Each time this phrase is used to present a scene with Jesus at the center, first as “the Lamb” and then as “one like the Son of Man.” The Lamb is shown surrounded with the 144,000 “first fruits” (Rev. 14:4), while the “one like the Son of Man” carries a sickle to harvest the earth (Rev. 14:14–16). This parallel points to the harvest in Rev. 14:14–20 is the same thing as the first fruits harvest of the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1–5. Note also that John says “the wine press was trodden outside the city” (Rev. 14:20), suggesting not only the location of Jesus’ crucifixion and the shedding of his blood, but also the suffering of Christians with Christ (cf. Heb. 13:11–13).

The grapes are the martyrs, those who maintain their faithful witness to Christ even when it leads to their death death.[1] So when John says that the vine is harvested “for its grapes are ripe” (Rev. 14:18), this ripening should likely be connected back to Rev. 6:9–11 where “those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given” cried out to God asking, “how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth”, to which they are told “to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete … [of those] who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.” This is to say: once the number of faithful witnesses is complete, then the grapes are fully ripe and ready for harvest.

So once again, John has reversed traditional violent imagery, this time from the blood of the wine press being that of God’s enemies to being from those who are faithful witnesses to the Lamb.

The Battle that Christ Wages

Lacking a description of any actual battle, Christ captures the beast and false prophet and throws them into the fiery lake, and kills the rest with the sword (Rev. 10:20–21). This scene of the defeat of evil forces is a defeat that contains no description of an actual battle. This should not be surprising in light of John’s theology, for the key battle has already been won in the death and resurrection of Christ (such as is portrayed in Revelation 12 where the evil powers are said to be defeated not through the force of greater power and violence, but through the blood of the Lamb). Loren Johns notes: “The reason the author nowhere narrates an extended conflict or battle between the lamb and the dragon or beasts is because the only real conflicts envisioned in the Apocalypse are first, the one that has already occurred in the death and resurrection of Christ; and second, the ones in which the saints are already engaged through consistent nonviolent resistance.”[2]

After Jesus strikes down his enemies, it is stated he will “rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15; cf. Ps. 2:9; Isa. 11:4). The hina clause in v. 15a (“… a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations”) is paralleled by the future tense of poimanei in v. 15b (“he will rule them with a rod of iron”), with the parallelism showing that the “sharp sword” is equivalent with the “rod of iron.”[3] Thus, the means by which Christ rules the nations is not through the violent brandishing of an iron rod (as one might expect), but through his powerful word.


[1] Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace, 213–16; Caird, Revelation, 188–95.

[2] Johns, Lamb Christology, 185.

[3] Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace, 208.

Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part V)

Part II: The Divine Warrior in Revelation 19:11–21 (continued)

The Robe Dipped in Blood

The Divine Warrior wears a robe “dipped in blood” (Rev. 19:13), a clear allusion to Isa. 63:1–3.[1] This has, understandably, lead to some commentators seeing the blood being that of Christ’s enemies who have been slain.[2] Others, however, see the blood as Christ’s own blood,[3] with a related view being that the blood is that of the martyrs (Rev. 6:10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2).[4]

I see the blood as Christ’s own due and that John is drawing upon the slain Lamb imagery that is found in every other instance where blood is mentioned in relation to Christ (Rev. 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11). Supporting this is the fact the robe is soiled with blood before the battle even begins. It is possible, however, by arguing that the details of the passage do not need to be read in a strict chronological way. One commentator says that in Revelation “chronology is ignored for the sake of rhetorical effect”,[6] and another says that the chronologically misplaced blood only indicates Christ’s “function as executor of divine wrath.”[5] Yet, while it is true that John does not always seem overly concerned with an ordered chronology, I think the fact that he has a penchant for transforming traditional imagery diminishes the need to explain away the bloodied robe as being an instance of chronological irregularity (especially since the passage appears otherwise chronologically consistent).

Another clue to determining whose blood is on the robe is seen in the “armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure and were following him on white horses.” (Rev. 19:14). While early Jewish and Christian literature has a recurring theme of angelic heavenly armies and of angels being present in some capacity at the eschaton,[7] there is also a tradition that has humans accompanying Christ at his return.[8] Who is the army accompanying Christ here in Revelation 19? There is another relevant war scene in Revelation which has bearing on this question. Revelation 17:14 remarks that the opponents “will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” Here those who accompany the Lamb to conquer the forces of evil are clearly humans, pointing towards those accompanying Christ in Rev. 19:14 as also being human.[9]

This is significant because in Rev. 7:14 we find Christians who are “robed in white” and who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Thus, “the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure” in Rev. 19:14 have those white garments because (paradoxically) they have been washed them in the blood of the Lamb.[10] This likely conveys to us something about the blood on the Divine Warrior’s robe. In keeping with this juxtaposition of white linen and blood, it is probably correct to see Jesus’ robe as having been soiled not with the blood of his enemies, but with his own blood (and possibly the martyrs who, as I will discuss in the next part, are the grapes who have been crushed).


[1] Aune, Revelation, 1057 provides a helpful list of other instances in early Jewish literature where the imagery of a bloodstained Divine Warrior destroys his enemies.

[2] Beale, Book of Revelation, 957; Beasley-Murray, Book of Revelation, 280; Mounce, Revelation, 353; Osborne, Revelation, 683.

[3] Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace, 214; McDonald, “Lion as Slain Lamb”, 42; Mitchell G. Reddish, “Martyr Christology in the Apocalypse”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33 (1988): 85–95; J. P. M. Sweet. Revelation (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1979), 283; Boring, Revelation, 196 says that this was the view “championed by the Church Fathers.” A few commentators say that Aune supports the blood being that of the enemies, yet I think this is incorrect and is the result of not reading Aune carefully. He says: “[The blood] is not primarily a metaphor for the atoning death of Christ … but rather a literal reference to the heavenly warrior whose garment is stained with the blood of those he has slain”, but he soon notes that it “was inevitable that this older image … would be understood as a reference to the death of Christ by both the author and his readers when placed in a Christian context” (Aune, Revelation, p. 1057; emphasis mine).

[4] Caird, Revelation, 243–44; Johns, Lamb Christology, 184; Boring, Revelation, 196 thinks it is the blood of Christ “in union” with the blood of the martyrs.

[5] Beasley-Murray, Book of Revelation, 280.

[6] Osborne, Revelation, 682. Cf. Mounce, Revelation, 354.

[7] E.g., Deut. 33:2–3; Josh. 5:14–15; Zech. 14:5; 1 En. 1:4; Matt. 13:41; 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 2 Thess. 1:7; Jude 14–15; see Aune, Revelation, 1059–60 for a more detailed look at this motif.

[8] For references to humans accompanying Christ at his parousia, see Did. 16:6–7; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10.

[9] Caird, Revelation, 244; Mounce, Revelation, 354–55; Witherington, Revelation, 243 thinks it could be speaking of both humans and angels; Bauckham, Climax of Prophecy, 229 describes them as “an army of martyrs who triumph through their martyrdom, because they are followers of the Lamb who participate in his victory by following his path to death.”

[10] Cf. Rev. 3:4–5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13–14.

Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part IV)

Part II: The Divine Warrior in Revelation 19:11–21

An Overview of Rev. 19:11–21

There are two literary units in Rev. 19:11–21: the first is vv. 11–16 which portrays the eschatological arrival of the Divine Warrior to bring justice and destruction upon the wicked, and the second is vv. 17–21 which depicts the end of the beast, the false prophet, and their army. The former literary unit has parallels not only to many Jewish texts where Yahweh is depicted as a warrior but also Roman triumph imagery,[1] while the latter unit draws upon the convention of Zion as the sacrosanct city that will, ultimately, always be protected by God.

The passage begins with John seeing “heaven opened” (Rev. 19:11), indicating that God is about to work in a decisive manner.[2] A rider on a white horse emerges, the color probably signifying victory as it does elsewhere (Rev. 3:4–5; 7:13–14). It is widely agreed by commentators that the rider is Christ,[3] with the picture painted here of him being one of symbolism that focuses on his “description, identity, and tasks.”[4] Christ is described as having eyes “like a flame of fire” (v. 12), a head covered with “many diadems” (v. 12), a robe that is “dipped in blood” (v. 13), and a mouth from which issues forth a “sharp sword” (v. 15). He is identified as “Faithful and True” (v. 11), the “the Word of God” (v. 13), the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (v. 16), and as possessing a name “that no one knows but himself” (v. 12). As for tasks, John says that “in righteousness he judges and makes war” (v. 11), that he is to “strike down the nations” and “rule them with a rod of iron” (v. 15), and that he will “tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (v. 15).

Many of these features, including the fiery eyes, the diadems, and the color white, signify that Christ is completely worthy to judge and to execute judgment upon the wicked. Of particular significance in this vignette, and which will each be further examined, are the sword, the robe dipped in blood, the treading of the wine press, as well as the feast of the birds and the lake of fire (vv. 15–21).

The Sword from the Mouth

Fire comes out of the mouths of horses (Rev. 9:17–19) and the two witnesses (Rev. 11:5), a flood issues forth from the dragon’s mouth (Rev. 12:15–16), blasphemy comes out of the mouth of the beast from the sea (Rev. 13:2–6), and frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, beast, and false prophet (Rev. 16:13). But from Jesus’ mouth a sword is what issues forth (Rev. 2:16; 19:15, 21; cf. 1:16; 2:12). The sword-from-the-mouth motif is drawn from Isa. 11:4 and 49:2, the context of which describes a messianic ruler who operates as Yahweh’s agent of judicial authority.[5] John has appropriated this image as a symbol of Christ’s judicial authority, with his brandishing of the sword no doubt meant in sharp contrast to the authority of the nations, also represented by a sword (Rev. 6:4; 13:10).

The two images of mouth and sword must be kept together in order to understand the symbolism. The sword is a means of conquest and the mouth is the means of speech, together they show the idea of the devastating power of God’s speech and that Jesus conquers by the word of God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8).[6] By reconfiguring the expected image of Christ carrying a sword in his hand and to instead having it come out of his mouth, John is denying the usual understanding of the sword as being a militaristic weapon and is instead affirming the Divine Warrior’s name as “the Word of God” (Rev. 19:13).[7]


[1] See David E. Aune, Revelation (Word Biblical Commentary 52C; Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 1049–52; Matthew Streett, Here Comes the Judge: Violent Pacifism in the Book of Revelation (Library of New Testament Studies, 462; New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2012), 124.

[2] The illustration of the heavens opening is not an infrequent feature in Jewish and Christian literature (e.g. Ezek. 1:1; Mark 1:10; John 1:51).

[3] Aune, Revelation, 1046, 1053; G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 948; Eugene M. Boring, Revelation (Interpretation; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1989), 195; Ben Witherington III, Revelation (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 241.

[4] Aune, Revelation, 1047. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 678–86, opts to catalog this pericope into seven qualities and four actions.

[5] The judgment of God is frequently associated with the symbol of a sword in Jewish literature, e.g., Isa. 27:1; 34:5-6; 66:16; Ezek. 21:3-5, 9-17. The comparison of speech with a sword is also frequently found in Jewish and Christian literature, e.g., Wis. 18:15-16; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12.

[6] Loren L. Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 184–85; Witherington, Revelation, 82; Barr, “Doing Violence”, 101 says that “the victory over evil is procured not by physical violence but by verbal power.” Streett, Here Comes the Judge, 49 says that the sword “symbolizes Christ’s judging word.”

[7] G.B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John (Black’s New Testament Commentary, 19; London: A. & C. Black, 1966; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 245 says that the sword represents the sharp speech of the proclamation of the gospel. Robert H. Mounce, Revelation (New International Commentary on the New Testament; rev. ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 355–56, 359 disagrees saying that while we shouldn’t “envision a literal sword but a death-dealing pronouncement that goes forth like a sharp blade from the lips of Christ … neither is it to be taken as a metaphor for the gospel message.”

Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part III)

Part I: The Lion that is a Lamb (continued)

Before I continue with the Lamb-Lion juxtaposition, I should point out that the most credible source for the Lamb Christology of Revelation is the Passover lamb.[1] This should come as no surprise considering that Christ was often identified with the Passover lamb in early Christian tradition (John 19:33, 36; 1 Pet. 1:18–19), with an explicit connection made between the the Lamb and exodus traditions in Rev. 15:3. For an in-depth examination of the Lamb motif in Revelation, see Loren Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003). This study explores the religio-historical background of the image of the Lamb, the shape of its rhetorical force in Revelation, and emphasizes the stance of nonviolent resistance that this image conveys.

The introduction to the Lamb in Revelation 5 highlights the importance of understanding John’s strategy in the book’s composition. The Lamb’s entrance is prefaced by the declaration that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5). The leonine and Davidic references are symbols taken from the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 49:9; Isa. 11:1, 10), signifying the traditional messianic expectations for a powerful political leader who would liberate Israel from oppression.

Yet this is where the key reversal in John’s thought occurs: “Then I saw … a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (Rev. 5:6). The appearance of being “slaughtered” no doubt refers to his crucifixion, with the “standing” of the Lamb being attributable to the belief that he was resurrected by God. In the switch from the Lion to the Lamb, the traditional understanding of power and victory have been overturned and redefined to faithful witness to God, even if it leads to death. Loren Johns says that the author of Revelation “sees in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ both the decisive victory over evil in history and the pattern for Christians’ nonviolent resistance to evil.”[2] Patricia McDonald likewise says that Christ’s victory “resulted not from an act of physical prowess (leonine or conventionally messianic) but from his crucifixion.”[3]

This peaceful Lamb Christology seemingly runs into a stumbling block in Rev. 19:11–21. This pericope contains what is possibly the book’s most comprehensive Christological announcement for it contains all the main ideas and images developed throughout Revelation. One of these themes is that of Christ as the Divine Warrior, a concept which is perhaps “the basic principle of composition in the Apocalypse.”[4] The concept of the Divine Warrior can be traced back to ancient Near Eastern motifs, being adopted in early Judaic thought and employing it in descriptions of Yahweh’s involvement in historical events as found in the Hebrew Bible, with the paradigmatic example being that of the exodus event (see Exo. 14:13–14).[5]

The Divine Warrior theme is also disclosed in Yahweh’s portrayal as one who liberates his people, punishes evil, and in his name Yahweh Sabaoth, “Lord of Hosts”, which suggests the persona of a warring deity. Another motif of the Divine Warrior in the Hebrew Bible is the slaying of the sea monster (see Job 41; Ps. 74:13–14; Isa. 27:1), and while this is not found in the passage under examination, it is found earlier in Revelation 12–13.

As I will attempt to show, the Divine Warrior motif in Rev. 19:11–21 carries on these themes, transforming them in such a way as to convey a distinctly Christian message. Tremper Longman helpfully explains this transformation by noting that a key difference between the warfare of the Hebrew Bible and that of Revelation is in how the triumph of Jesus is not achieved by killing in battle, but by himself being killed on the cross.[6] John reworks the Divine Warrior motif “so as to convey that in view of the historic mission of Jesus Messiah, God’s victory over antagonistic forces was no longer effected by inflicting violence but by suffering it.”[7]


[1] See Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 184; G.R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (The New Century Bible; Greenwood, SC: The Attic Press, 1974), 124–26; Loren L. Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 130–33.

[2] Johns, Lamb Christology, 20.

[3] Patricia M. McDonald, “Lion as Slain Lamb: On Reading Revelation Recursively,” Horizons 23 (1996): 29–47 (37).

[4] Adela Yarbro Collins, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of Apocalypse (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1984), 130.

[5] For an in-depth study of the Divine Warrior motif in the Hebrew Bible, see P. D. Miller Jr., The Divine Warrior in Early Israel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973).

[6] Tremper Longman, “The Divine Warrior: The New Testament Use of an Old Testament Motif”, Westminster Theological Journal 44 (1981): 290–307.

[7] Neville, A Peaceable Hope, ch. 7 (Kindle location 4994).

Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part II)

Part I: The Lion that is a Lamb

Scholars have become increasingly aware of the careful compositional nature of Revelation, with an increasing amount of studies demonstrating the meticulous nature of John’s work, highlighting various features of the book such as his use of chiasmus and inclusio. Richard Bauckham says that Revelation “is a literary work composed with astonishing care and skill”, and that John took his revelatory experiences and “transmuted them through what must have been a lengthy process of reflection and writing into a thoroughly literary creation” in order to “communicate the meaning of the revelation that had been given him.”[1]

One perspective on Revelation gaining ground is the idea that John wrote it with the purpose of providing an alternative symbolic universe for the readers. David Barr, to cite one example, describes Revelation as containing “radical symbolic inversion”, a term which describes how Revelation offers up a symbolic transformation of the world, with an overarching example that Barr provides being how “symbols of power are replaced by images of suffering.”[2]

An example of this inversion is in how Rev 12:7–9 paints the picture of a climactic battle in heaven with the holy angels fighting against the dragon and his angels. Despite couching this in traditional language of the combat myth,[3] John’s understanding of this battle upturns such traditional language, for those who defeated the dragon “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death” (Rev 12:11).

What is perhaps the key inversion in Revelation is the Lion–Lamb juxtaposition (Rev 5:5–6). While most commentators and exegetes see the importance of the Lion–Lamb imagery for understanding the Christological content of Revelation, the exact relationship between the two figures is a matter of debate. An interpretation popular in evangelical and fundamentalist denominations—especially in North America—is to divide the images of Lion and Lamb dispensationally, that is, to apply the image of the Lamb to Christ’s first appearance which ended in his crucifixion and the Lion to his second appearance in the future where he shall smite the wicked.

The view that I take to, however, is that the image of Christ as the Lamb reinterprets and transforms other themes displayed in Revelation, including the image of Lion.[4] The image of the Lamb is not one that coexists with the Lion in some perpetual amiable juxtaposition; rather, the Lion is supplanted by the Lamb as depicting the true symbol of Christ’s victory. This point deserves to be underscored: Christ is not described by John as a Lion in the disguise of a Lamb, rather, he is a Lamb.[5]


[1] Richard J. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Theology; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 3–4.

[2] David L. Barr, “Doing Violence: Moral Issues in Reading John’s Apocalypse”, in David L. Barr (ed), Reading the Book of Revelation: A Resource for Students (Resources for Biblical Study, 44; ed. David L. Barr; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 97–108 (101). For more on Barr’s idea of radical symbolic inversion, see David L. Barr, “The Apocalypse as a Symbolic Transformation of the World: A Literary Study”, Interpretation 38.1 (1984): 39–50; David L. Barr, Tales of the End: A Narrative Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 1998).

[3] See Adela Yarbro Collins, The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1976).

[4] Cf. Eugene M. Boring, Revelation (Interpretation; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1989), 110–11.

[5] Cf. Mark Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace: A Nonviolent Christology in the Book of Revelation (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2003), 30; David J. Neville. A Peaceable Hope: Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), ch. 7 (Kindle location 4827) says that he “consider[s] the Lamb-image to be John’s central, controlling christological motif.”

Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part I)

Violence is to be found at the core of the Christian religion. Not only did the figure at the very heart of the Christian faith meet his end through the violence of crucifixion, but the history of the religion he inspired is filled with violence, from Catholic–Protestant and Anglican–Puritan conflicts, to the inquisitions and crusades, to the European “wars of religion” following the Reformation. Moreover, the corpus of texts composed in response to the burgeoning faith-movement in Jesus is replete with violence, particularly threats of eschatological violence. While much could be written on the use of violence in the New Testament, whether it is violence within history (e.g., Acts 5:1–11) or at history’s end (e.g., 2 Thess 1:6–10), this series of blog posts will examine Revelation 19:11–21, a pericope that is a key depiction of Christ carrying out eschatological violence in the New Testament.

The book of Revelation is a text which scandalizes the reader, provoking offense and even distress due to its violent metaphors and imagery.[1] Just the description of the destruction of the “whore of Babylon” alone should make one’s skin crawl, for her destroyers are said to “make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16). On top of that, you have Death and Hades carry out God’s will by killing a quarter of the world’s inhabitants by sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals (6:6–8). Bizarre and terrifying locusts torture those lacking the seal of God (9:3–6). And God’s angels pour out his wrath upon the world, bringing terrible destruction upon all its inhabitants (16:1–21). Those who read Revelation are indeed to fear “the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16).

This series of blog posts will first look at John’s strategy of conveying his message through an inversion of traditional language and symbolism (specifically the Lion–Lamb juxtaposition), and then, with this inversion in mind, it will look at the illustration of Christ as the eschatological Divine Warrior in Rev 19:11–21.


[1] For a detailed look at the recent trends in scholarship on Revelation, see Rebecca Skaggs and Thomas Doyle, “Violence in the Apocalypse of John”, Currents in Biblical Research 5.2 (2007): 220–34. For discussions on the use of metaphor in Revelation, see Susan E. Hylen, “Metaphor Matters: Violence and Ethics in Revelation”, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 73 (2011): 777–96; and Lynn R. Huber, Like a Bride Adorned: Reading Metaphor in John’s Apocalypse (Emory Studies in Early Christianity, 12; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2007), although she does not tackle the ethical consequences of metaphor use as Hylen does.