We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded solely by your direct support. Please consider supporting this project.

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.

Related Reading

The Cross and The Trinity

Out of love for humankind, Scripture tells us, Jesus emptied himself of his divine prerogatives, set aside the glory he had with the Father from before the foundation of the world, became a human being and bore our sin as he died a God-forsaken death on Calvary (Phil 2:5-7). Though Jesus remained fully God, he…

Should Innovative Theology Be Rejected?

In some conservative Christian circles innovation is suspect, if not sin. And as a result, theologians and pastors who take this stance often criticize what I propose in my writings simply because it’s innovative. However, I would like to suggest that the attitude that would dismiss hermeneutical or theological proposals simply on the grounds that…

How the Anabaptists Emphasized the Cross

Because the Anabaptists have generally emphasized faith that is evidenced by works and thus on Jesus’ life as an example to be followed, it may prima facia appear that the saving work of the cross was less central to the early Anabaptists than it was to the Reformers and to Evangelicals. In reality, I would argue,…

Why Are Jesus’s Parables So Violent? (podcast)

Greg pops the hood to offer a helpful tutorial on how parables operate.  Episode 609 http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0609.mp3

How NOT to be Christ-Centered: A Review of God With Us – Part II

In Part I of my review of Scott Oliphint’s God With Us we saw that Oliphint is attempting to reframe divine accommodation in a Christ-centerd way. Yet, while he affirms that “Christ is the quintessential revelation of God,” he went on to espouse a classical view of God that was anchored in God’s “aseity,” not…

Is the Cruciform Hermeneutic Circular? (podcast)

Greg defends the Cruciform Hermeneutic against circularity. Episode 631 http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0631.mp3