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.

Notes

[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.

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