Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part V)

Part II: The Divine Warrior in Revelation 19:11–21 (continued)

The Robe Dipped in Blood

The Divine Warrior wears a robe “dipped in blood” (Rev. 19:13), a clear allusion to Isa. 63:1–3.[1] This has, understandably, lead to some commentators seeing the blood being that of Christ’s enemies who have been slain.[2] Others, however, see the blood as Christ’s own blood,[3] with a related view being that the blood is that of the martyrs (Rev. 6:10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2).[4]

I see the blood as Christ’s own due and that John is drawing upon the slain Lamb imagery that is found in every other instance where blood is mentioned in relation to Christ (Rev. 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11). Supporting this is the fact the robe is soiled with blood before the battle even begins. It is possible, however, by arguing that the details of the passage do not need to be read in a strict chronological way. One commentator says that in Revelation “chronology is ignored for the sake of rhetorical effect”,[6] and another says that the chronologically misplaced blood only indicates Christ’s “function as executor of divine wrath.”[5] Yet, while it is true that John does not always seem overly concerned with an ordered chronology, I think the fact that he has a penchant for transforming traditional imagery diminishes the need to explain away the bloodied robe as being an instance of chronological irregularity (especially since the passage appears otherwise chronologically consistent).

Another clue to determining whose blood is on the robe is seen in the “armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure and were following him on white horses.” (Rev. 19:14). While early Jewish and Christian literature has a recurring theme of angelic heavenly armies and of angels being present in some capacity at the eschaton,[7] there is also a tradition that has humans accompanying Christ at his return.[8] Who is the army accompanying Christ here in Revelation 19? There is another relevant war scene in Revelation which has bearing on this question. Revelation 17:14 remarks that the opponents “will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” Here those who accompany the Lamb to conquer the forces of evil are clearly humans, pointing towards those accompanying Christ in Rev. 19:14 as also being human.[9]

This is significant because in Rev. 7:14 we find Christians who are “robed in white” and who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Thus, “the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure” in Rev. 19:14 have those white garments because (paradoxically) they have been washed them in the blood of the Lamb.[10] This likely conveys to us something about the blood on the Divine Warrior’s robe. In keeping with this juxtaposition of white linen and blood, it is probably correct to see Jesus’ robe as having been soiled not with the blood of his enemies, but with his own blood (and possibly the martyrs who, as I will discuss in the next part, are the grapes who have been crushed).

Notes

[1] Aune, Revelation, 1057 provides a helpful list of other instances in early Jewish literature where the imagery of a bloodstained Divine Warrior destroys his enemies.

[2] Beale, Book of Revelation, 957; Beasley-Murray, Book of Revelation, 280; Mounce, Revelation, 353; Osborne, Revelation, 683.

[3] Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace, 214; McDonald, “Lion as Slain Lamb”, 42; Mitchell G. Reddish, “Martyr Christology in the Apocalypse”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33 (1988): 85–95; J. P. M. Sweet. Revelation (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1979), 283; Boring, Revelation, 196 says that this was the view “championed by the Church Fathers.” A few commentators say that Aune supports the blood being that of the enemies, yet I think this is incorrect and is the result of not reading Aune carefully. He says: “[The blood] is not primarily a metaphor for the atoning death of Christ … but rather a literal reference to the heavenly warrior whose garment is stained with the blood of those he has slain”, but he soon notes that it “was inevitable that this older image … would be understood as a reference to the death of Christ by both the author and his readers when placed in a Christian context” (Aune, Revelation, p. 1057; emphasis mine).

[4] Caird, Revelation, 243–44; Johns, Lamb Christology, 184; Boring, Revelation, 196 thinks it is the blood of Christ “in union” with the blood of the martyrs.

[5] Beasley-Murray, Book of Revelation, 280.

[6] Osborne, Revelation, 682. Cf. Mounce, Revelation, 354.

[7] E.g., Deut. 33:2–3; Josh. 5:14–15; Zech. 14:5; 1 En. 1:4; Matt. 13:41; 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 2 Thess. 1:7; Jude 14–15; see Aune, Revelation, 1059–60 for a more detailed look at this motif.

[8] For references to humans accompanying Christ at his parousia, see Did. 16:6–7; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10.

[9] Caird, Revelation, 244; Mounce, Revelation, 354–55; Witherington, Revelation, 243 thinks it could be speaking of both humans and angels; Bauckham, Climax of Prophecy, 229 describes them as “an army of martyrs who triumph through their martyrdom, because they are followers of the Lamb who participate in his victory by following his path to death.”

[10] Cf. Rev. 3:4–5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13–14.

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