about-bg about-bg


Holy War

• Greg Boyd

In our contemporary Christianity, there is a pervasive view that God acts violently during the end times. But this view stands in contradiction to the Cross and Jesus’ teachings to love our neighbors. In this sermon, Greg shows how God does not act violently in Revelation and instead shows how lamb-like love wins.

Show Extended Summary Hide Extended Summary

Does God engage in violence when he judges the world and engages in warfare? This is a pertinent question, because the book of Revelation seemingly depicts God in violent imagery. In this sermon, we’re going to take a look at several of the images that depict God as violent and show how they actually show the opposite.

First, we need to understand that the battle in Revelation is a battle of truth over deception. In John’s time (the author of the book), it seemed that the Christians were losing as they were being killed in Roman territory. One could look at their situation and say that the truth was that Rome and the empires of this world were winning in their fight against Christianity. It seemed like Satan was winning.

But that was a deception, and God was showing John the truth of the situation. God was showing John that the lamb-like Jesus had won and was winning in the fight against evil. And God wasn’t doing it through violent ways that the world used. There are several images used in the book of Revelation that show God turning violence on its head, some of the most important examples being the Army of the Lamb and God’s winepress.

In Jewish history, the Army of the Lamb was imagery that depicted those who would rise up and fight with the Messiah to free Israel from its oppressors. It was violent, just like the armies that David used to conquer Israel in the first place. There was a sense of justice for the Israelites, which is still very attractive to Christians today. But God reverses this idea.

In Revelation, God uses the imagery of the army but changes little things to depict a different image than what the Hebrews understood; things such as the armies no longer being just Jewish but from all nations. The fact that they were covered in blood before going into “battle” and not after showed that Jesus had already fought the battle. In Jewish history, people would come back from battle with blood stained clothes. It indicated that the battle had been decided. But people joined in Jesus’ army by living self-sacrificially, as they are called the martyrs throughout Revelation.

God’s winepress was another image that the Jews used to indicate the blood that would be spilt. On first reading, Revelation 14 shows God destroying his enemies in a very bloody way. However, upon closer inspection, we see that the blood is actually that of the Martyrs, and it is being prepared for those who’ve crushed the Martyrs. This shows that God’s wrath is not towards those being crushed but rather towards those who crushed his people.

But, even with his wrath being directed at them, it’s not violence that God enacts upon them. Rather, it is the consequences of their own actions that will bring their sins and actions upon themselves. Blood drinking is symbolic of evil choices ricocheting back upon those who committed those evil choices. They will experience the consequences of the evil they have sown.

The final judgment of God will not be a cosmic bloodshed initiated by God. Rather, it is God allowing evil to consume itself and the victory of the Cross in not being like the world. As much as this imagery is depicted in 1st century terms, it is still a message for us today. Though we may not be killed in the streets of America, there are still many ways in which we must sacrifice and die to ourselves in order to live for Christ. And Revelation shows that is the true path to victory.

Hide Extended Summary

Topics: Controversial Issues, End Times, Judgment

Sermon Series: Rescuing Revelation

Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide

Focus Scripture:

  • Revelation 7:9; 14:18-20

    9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

    18 Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.

Subscribe to Podcast

13 thoughts on “Holy War

  1. Peter says:

    While we are fascinated with the insights of Revelation….and for good reason, the use of apocalyptic language is a challenge with Revelation being the stand-out example of this form of communication….but its use is also found throughout the Bible to varying degrees. The more obvious texts include Daniel, Ezekiel and, in part, the creation narrative in Genesis. However, we also can find its use amongst others Books including the Gospels and Paul’s letters. In fact one writer talks about the “apocalyptic Jesus”….not that Jesus was not a real person but His actions and discourse in this world were revealing of His Heavenly Father to us….which was often rejected by fallen man.
    In one sense the use of apocalyptic language is a means of communicating spiritual matters for which earthly languages lack the necessary capacity to fully describe a situation (John’s use of “as” and “like”). Needless to say in Revelation John uses a lot of Jewish symbols and religious imagery which, for us, and probably the part Greek audience to which John is writing, calls for some pre-understanding of these matters. For us, of course, there are some excellent resources available, however, the Greek Hellenistic culture of the time would have to rely on largely converted Jews for their understanding.

    In line with our understanding that we have a cruciform Jesus being disclosed in Revelation, as Greg has described, we have difficulty understanding the harsh judgments on fallen Babylon. Yet the following judgments have a factor that is often overlooked:-

    The sixth trumpet Rev 9:20-21:-

    “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot either see or hear or walk; nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their immorality or their thefts.”


    The fourth and fifth bowls Rev 16:8-11:-

    “The fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch men with fire; men were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give him glory.
    The fifth angel poured his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was in darkness; men gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores, and did not repent of their deeds.”

    In all instances, these judgments were not punitive retribution but through God’s grace designed to bring fallen Babylon to repentance…..but they remained impenitent.

    In relation to Greg’s discussion about God’s judgment being built into the sin itself a classic example is Rom 1:24-28:-

    “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
    For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

    The point here is that when God gives them up, their sin is unbridled and it effectively becomes an addiction, resulting in these individuals ultimately receiving “due penalty for their error.”

    While there is a lot of other matters that could be discussed, I was hoping Greg would have done his “director’s cut” for podrishioners and covered the missing edits……

  2. Dave Pritchard says:

    When exegetically interpreting a text, at what point does the language of the “apocalyptic” begin and the literal/didactic and elucidative stop? Is all secondary assigned metaphor never to be taken literally? It would seem that when looking at any apocalyptic text – Revelation or otherwise, a “double hermeneutic” is needed for consensus. The Holy Spirit can lift the veil of confusion when it comes to understanding eschatological matters but it’s interesting how different interpretive conclusions of scripture within Christianity, especially the apocalyptic texts can lead to nearly completely different world views! Just check out the “Rapture Ready” Website and you’ll see an example.

    If we primarily see Revelation through the paradigm of “The Cross” – (and I’m not sure why one would do otherwise) rather than Post-Resurrection/Post Rapture Revenge, it opens up a world of possibilities for “Kingdom Now” living, rather than focusing on the far flung future and the retributive battles and punishments that will supposedly eventually get us there.

    When Nicodemus responds to Jesus’s imperative –
    “You must be born Again” with –
    “How can a man enter into his mothers womb a second time?”

    He has the same problem a lot of us do (or maybe just me – Ha!) in that we absorb what is being said on a superficial level and then eisegetically attribute a false analogy to the inherent meaning of what’s being stated.

    I’m not knocking Greg’s derivative interpretation here in anyway, nor would I ever be qualified to do so but I get my nickers in a twist when come across passages like Rev 20:1-10 where many reputable theologians and believers see the “1000 years” as a literal time period. The discrepancy here is how we personally and psychologically perceive the relationship between “The Signified and Signifier”. The metonymy used in Revelation immediately provokes an emotional response that we then tend to link to the culture we currently find ourselves in. Hal Lindsey was and still is a master at this – not my Master though!

  3. Kathy D. says:

    Holy smokes! 48 minutes in this sermon, took 2 hours and 43 minutes over here! Wow…..very grateful for video as we have it today, to rewind and listen again and again! You weren’t kidding, it was jam packed, I got SO much out of this, thank you. Your goal was to give us the keys to reading it, I am excited to read the book now. In fact, I started reading it a couple weeks back as it just so happened that my reading regimen fell into place with this series.

    I first came to WHC, attended my 1st sermon which was on the Anabaptist movement (“Ana-What?”) when I was down on the faith and about to give up. And I didn’t give up, but instead, have been renewed in my faith in Christ and am learning tons about the bible I never understood before. Coming here when I did, hearing the message I did that 1st time, was a pivotal point in my faith. This life experience is making more and more sense as I learn from the theology of this church.

    I wish I could attend a class with you as the instructor, and could begin learning from the beginning with Genesis, book by book, you teaching in depth on each book. I want to learn all I can about the bible, in depth. About the authors of each book, the history, the cultures of their times, exegesis and hermeneutics, really unpack it class room style! You are a good teacher, Greg. I am grateful the Lord led me here. Praise God!

  4. Kristie says:

    Thanks for another illuminating message!
    In regards to the imagery of God’s grapes of Wrath–with the judgment being in the drinking, not in the squishing–I have a burning question!

    It all makes so much sense, the way Greg explains it.
    Doesn’t it beg the question though, what does this mean for us in the context of communion?

    We are the drinkers of the wine/Jesus blood…but he encourages it. Well before the sacrament is instituted on Maundy Thursday, we read in John 6:53 how Jesus tells his followers “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…” This message is so disturbing that we’re told a few verses later his disciples’ response is, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (v60) And that, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (v66)

    1 Corinthians 11 alludes to elements of judgment that may in fact coincide with the sacrament. Verses 29-32:”For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are being judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.”

    Anyway, maybe I’m talking apples and oranges, or maybe it does all fit in the same context. I can’t quite connect the dots myself, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you can!

  5. Peter says:

    In relation to apocalyptic writing, and reading it with understanding, it would go without question that if we were bought up as an Hebrew in Biblical/Old Testament times that our understanding of Hebrew scriptures would be greater to know in general terms interpretation of apocalyptic writing.

    A lot of this occurs in what is termed “Proto-Apocalyptic Biblical Texts”…while not apocalyptic in themselves, they provide apocalyptic elements on which Jewish apocalypses are built….naturally to go into detail on this would require far more than a simple post here. However, in today’s terms, just as an Hebrew of then would have little understanding of both our language and idiom so to, do we find ourselves in the reverse situation. An analogy might be like watching a long running TV series. If you went on a vacation for a period of time without seeing or reading about the program then returned and started watching it, it would not be long before you picked up the threads, and being confident as to what had happened in your absence.

    In the case of the Jewish population and their structural knowledge of their language, they would, as a general statement, understand what is apocalyptical and what is not.

    In relation to the “millennium” question, a view that I tend to agree with is that John is not talking of a literal one thousand years but an extended period of time. One of the issues of translators of the Greek is that on occasions they have translated parts of Revelation in a way that makes sense to a “normal” man but may not be the correct literal translation as it may not make sense to the translator and is hence modified. (There is a case here that John is not talking about a specific 1,000 year period which he would know the beginning and end date, but rather just an extended period of time…note in verse 7 “when the years are ended” no specific date is mentioned or known.) In the case of Rev 20:1-3, taking a thousand years as an image, Satan is bound at the point he is defeated at the Cross and thrown into the bottomless pit and will not be released until the return of Jesus when he will be released and cast into the lake of fire. So until this occurs we then have Rev 20:4-6:-
    “ Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.”
    This indicates believers including martyrs are currently reigning with Christ over this period of time until the return of Christ when “the rest of the dead” will be raised for the second judgment. The interpretation of “This is the first resurrection.” refers to the spiritual resurrection/restoration of those reigning from our previous separated/dead life to God.
    One of the questions to this interpretation is that if we are reigning then why is there so much suffering occurring to believers? The answer is, this type of “reigning” is not the same as the world’s concept. As one commentator puts it, “It is this kind of “reigning” that enables faithful martyrs to go to death singing and forgiving their killers. It is this kind of “reigning” that enables God’s faithful to love their enemies and pray for those that persecute them (Matt 5:44). It is this kind of “reigning” that enables the citizens of New Jerusalem to “offer the other cheek” (Matt 5:39) to go the second mile (Matt 5:41). It is this kind of “reigning” that enables Mother Teresa to become a saint losing herself among the lowest and least of the dregs of Calcutta. It is a “reigning” in which one gains oneself by losing oneself, lives by dying, wins by losing, is strong through weakness and is exalted through lowliness. It is a “reigning” that comes only by radical abandonment to the one who reigns forever and ever.
    Such abandonment is the essence of the life of holiness, the kind of life that is fundamental to being “priests of God”.”
    Perhaps enough for now to digest but nonetheless consistent with Greg’s view of the “lamb-like love”.


    In relation to your John 6:53/66 quotations, this is where some of his disciples have considered this as a literal situation maybe involving a form of cannibalism with the Old Testament prohibition on ingesting of blood….and therefore saw this as a “hard” word that they could not follow and left.
    The Corinthian quote relates to some believers eating and drinking at the communion celebration in an unworthy fashion without recognising Christ being represented in those elements and therefore coming under judgement. Hope that helps.

  6. Donald McKay says:

    When Greg spoke of the dipping of robes in the blood of the Lamb and whitening them rather than reddening them, it reminded me of Isaiah 1:18. It’s puzzling to me that here the Lord says that, rather than remove our sins (Matt 1:21/Psalm 103:12/John 1:21), He instead will change their color, from scarlet/red/crimson to white. I’m probably too much of a literalist to understand the symbolism here. Can anybody help?

  7. Peter says:

    One way of looking at this issue is that Paul tells us that we are to be conformed to His image (Rom 8:29). In Revelation believers are shown to be dressed in white robes and, of course, the bride of Christ, that is consistent with white denoting purity and holiness that exists in Christ. The outward manifestation of wearing white robes is also reflective of the inward state of the believer purified of sin through the blood of the Lamb. It is also set in contrast to the harlot of Babylon clothed in in purple and scarlet that are the colours reserved for the Roman emperor and uppermost classes of of Roman society and reflective of a sinful nature.

  8. Dave Pritchard says:


    When you mention the color transformation going on from the “Red” to the “White” mentioned in revelation 7:14, I thought of Psalm 104:1-2 –

    “1 Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, 2 Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.”

    You then could possibly connect it to 1 Timothy 6:16 –

    “Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.”

    So since “Every perfect gift – [our Eternal Life] comes from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness.” And in Christ there was life and that life was the light of men, because the Light was in the world, but Jesus was not of the world – you could consider that once we are in Christ, we [and all of our sins] are reabsorbed back into the pure white light of His loving presence. Our hearts and minds were like the color spectrum once divided. But now [spiritually] and when were resurrected [physically] we put on that beautiful white robe [given as a gift] to get ready for the incredible feast with Him. The garment of my life is filthy and without the shed Blood of His incredible love on The Cross to wash it in, it will stay filthy!

  9. Fong says:

    As one read chapter 6, the opening of the seals, one will see God judgement on those who promote violence. The white horse is bend to conquer – ‘take over the world’ (and we’ve seen many of them, such as Hitler). They are people who are able to deceive others to follow their path of violence or getting what they want from violence.

    The red horse, second seal, are the actually war that took or takes place, where people were slaying each other.

    The black horse, next seal, represent the black market taking place in times of war/violence.

    The pale horse are the direct result of war/violence. More people died from the results of war then the actual war itself. People died from famine and plagues that usually comes after war/violence.

    The fifth seal is a judgement on the violence done to God’s people for preaching the word.

    The sixth seal is judgement day.

    Before the seventh seal is open, there is a pause. What is the purpose of the pause. Might it be that God rest His case.

    The seventh seal are the trumpet. What are trumpets? Could it be that they are the pronouncements (as in a court case) of the judgements (the sentencing) of all that has been testified to in the 6 seals.

    My point on all of this: If God’s judgement is on man’s violence/war, would He be a violent/war like God? We need to seriously think about our thoughts on God as being violent or warlike.

  10. Tania Harris says:

    Thanks so much Greg for the clearest exposition on Revelation I’ve ever heard. It’s interesting; my ministry helps people recognise God’s voice in dreams and visions and I think if only people applied the same principles to Revelation as they do to their own prophetic experiences (i.e, context, symbolism etc), we would have much more reasonable outcomes. Looking forward to passing on many of these thoughts in my own ministry. Thanks so much for all the research and hard work!

  11. David Geipel says:

    Just found the church from a recommendation from a Tweet by an awesome worship leader / pastor. Love what God is doing there at the church.

    When I realized that the message tweeted was from Revelation, I was intrigued because it’s often skipped on Sundays. I think it’s a great glimpse into what is yet to come.

    I understand this is a tough passage. Pastor Greg definitely agrees 🙂 However, I wanted to add some additional details about the book after studying it closely this past year. The main point: the book of Revelation definitely looks back to Calvary and points to the future New Jerusalem AMEN.

    However, we can’t take this single book as an artistic work only. Do we only look at it through the lens of a Picasso painting? I differ and encourage further study and encouragement for every believer to understand judgement will come. It’s not upon the church (followers of Christ) but upon those who reject. It will also be messy. It has to be to deal with sin. God destroyed many people before through the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah… and will finish it at the last chapter of His story.

    Here’s some food for thought for your future study based on some points Greg raises in his sermon: Holy War.

    I. The 144,000
    12 Tribes of 12,000 each = 144K
    Missing Tribes? Yes.
    Dan & Ephraim
    1) Dan – Jacob’s prophecy (Gen 49:17) and a tribe from which idolatry came… (Lev 24:10-16)
    2) Joseph – Manasseh = Ephraim

    II. Why are the 144K worshiping?
    Because Israel the nation didn’t worship Him as King.
    Israel as a nation crucified the Lamb. Acknowledgement of their King. Chapter 14 says they have the name written on their forehead.

    Yes, they are washing their clothes in the Blood of the Lamb. He makes them white as snow too. Isaiah 1:18

    III. Warrior Robes soaked in Blood
    Noted this is before battle (Rev 19:13)
    Not an actual battle? Yes, it’s already been won. AMEN.
    Vesture sprinkled in blood (not dipped).
    The verses in Isaiah 63:1-6 may help explain this.

    IV. The blood from the wine press in Rev 14:18-20
    Four feet deep. 1,600 furlongs = 180 miles
    It’s from Megiddo to Bozrah. Check it out – it’s 1600 furlongs. Hmmmm.
    Again, Isaiah 63:1-6 helps here too.
    Judgment here is the Great Day of God’s Wrath.

    V. Day of Judgment
    It is the day of truth. To see God as He truly is… indeed. Yet it’s also a

    Believers face a judging… 2 Corinthians 5:10 and yes, there is an inheritance.
    Unbelievers face a White Throne – Revelation 20:11-12 Even their own works won’t justify them before the Lord.

    So while it’s easy to dismiss the book of Revelation as being abstract, an allegory or even a Picasso meant for loose interpretation held only by a lens through the cross, we must also grasp that truth revealed in this book may also be genuine and played out as it’s written.

    Thanks again for your message Pastor Greg. Let’s give close examination to the text and realize that every word is His Word. Be encouraged and of good cheer – because He has Overcome. Keep pressing in church. Let us share the incredible love of Christ. That none shall perish… 2 Peter 3:9.

  12. kevin says:

    Really deep comments guys; i know i believe i understand what i think you all are saying; i’m just not sure i realize that what i heard is not what you meant 🙂

  13. Chris says:


    I love the quote you mentioned about “this kind of ‘reigning’…”
    I want to get my hands on this commentator. Who were you quoting?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





"We just started attending last summer and we love it! This past weekend the music was so beautiful, I felt the Holy Spirit there and wept the entire time. And then the message on relationships spoke right to my own struggles. God is here."

– Nicole