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.
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.
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