How Revelation Uses Violent Images in an Anti-Violent Way
All the violent scenes in Revelation are symbols for the battle of truth and deception. They never involve literal violence. In fact, they symbolize ANTI-VIOLENCE. The ingenious way John helps us get free of deception of trust in violent power is by taking a standard violent symbol and juxtaposing it with a symbol that undermines its violence and reverses its violent meaning.
An interesting example of this is when John introduces the mysterious 144,000, which represent the army that fights with the Lamb. They are introduced in Revelation 7: 4: “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.”
The 144,000 was a well known Jewish symbol of the army that would accompany the Messiah in a violent uprising against Israel’s foes to restore Israel to its place as a sovereign nation.
But this image of violence gets turned on its head. One example of this is found in Revelation 7:14: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
If you read Revelation literally, you have to wonder how washing a robe in blood could make it white. Taken literally its absurd, but interpreted symbolically its profound because this washing of the robes is a Jewish military metaphor.
To be covered with another’s blood rendered you ceremonially unclean, so when Jewish warriors came back from battle covered with the blood of their enemies, they had to go through a purification bathing process before they could reenter society. Instead of washing OFF the blood of foes to become clean, these warriors are made clean by being washed IN blood – and it’s the blood of the one they followed into battle!
Many scholars believe John is not simply saying their sins are washed away by the blood of the lamb, though that is of course true. He is also saying that this army wears white linen because they shared in the blood of the Lamb.
They were willing to suffer with Christ. As it says in chapter 14, this 144,000 was willing to “follow the lamb wherever he goes,” even to the cross. While the standard image of the army of 144,000 following their messiah into battle was based on Babylon’s sword power, John has turned it on its head to communicate slain lamb power — the power of self-sacrificial love.
We are indeed part of an army, but not one that wins by shedding blood: we win by shedding our blood, just as Jesus did.
Social media is full of theological debate. Theological arguments that formerly took months or even years to get in print, now only takes the time to write a post or 140 characters and click “publish.” Social media is great in that it makes space for all of our voices. However, it also seems to elevate…
Question: Greg Boyd describes himself as a pacifist. I am curious to know what he thinks about wars or any other situation where genocide is happening. When such evil things are being done by force and violence, how should Christians, and other moral, loving people for that matter, respond? Are we really to use only non-violent…
Greg considers: “Who actually killed Ananias and Sapphira.” This ancient murder mystery has enormous theological implications! Listen as Inspector Boyd hunts for clues and builds a most compelling case. http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0108.mp3 Photo credit: jean louis mazieres via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Divine duplicity? Or Holy Handiwork? Greg considers the imperfections of the Old Testament and considers God’s role therein. http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0287.mp3
We’re excited about an upcoming video series by Peaceworks, a new youth movement for peace. It will inspire you and give you the tools you need to make a difference in your life and the world. Watch the trailer to find out who the speakers will be (spoiler alert: one of them is Greg) or visit…
Collin Cornell has recently published a review of Cross Vision (CV) and, less directly, of Crucifixion of the Warrior God (CWG) in The Christian Century. In this post I will respond to the two major objections Cornell raises against these books. Cornell begins by recounting a discussion I had with a woman who was deeply impacted…