Revelation and Christ as the Divine Warrior (Part VI)

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

The Wine Press

Connected to the image of the bloodstained robe is that of Christ “tread[ing] the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15; cf. 14:14–20). This imagery can be found in Isa. 63:1–3, Lam. 1:15, and Joel 3:13, all of which clearly have the scene functioning as metaphors for divine judgment, depicting the Divine Warrior as one who trounces upon the wicked as grapes are crushed to produce wine. But like the sword and bloodied robe, this image is likewise transformed by John, for while Trito-Isaiah portrays the grapes in the wine press as the wicked and as the object of God’s wrath, this is not who the grapes are in John’s appropriation of the image. For John, the focus shifts from the grapes themselves to the wine they produce, for now God’s fury is poured out when the wicked are forced to drink the wine that is produced by the crushed grapes (Rev. 14:10; 16:6; 17:6). So who then is symbolized by the grapes?

In Revelation 14 there are two parallel sections, each beginning with the disjunctive marker, “Then I looked” (Rev. 14:1, 14). Each time this phrase is used to present a scene with Jesus at the center, first as “the Lamb” and then as “one like the Son of Man.” The Lamb is shown surrounded with the 144,000 “first fruits” (Rev. 14:4), while the “one like the Son of Man” carries a sickle to harvest the earth (Rev. 14:14–16). This parallel points to the harvest in Rev. 14:14–20 is the same thing as the first fruits harvest of the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1–5. Note also that John says “the wine press was trodden outside the city” (Rev. 14:20), suggesting not only the location of Jesus’ crucifixion and the shedding of his blood, but also the suffering of Christians with Christ (cf. Heb. 13:11–13).

The grapes are the martyrs, those who maintain their faithful witness to Christ even when it leads to their death death.[1] So when John says that the vine is harvested “for its grapes are ripe” (Rev. 14:18), this ripening should likely be connected back to Rev. 6:9–11 where “those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given” cried out to God asking, “how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth”, to which they are told “to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete … [of those] who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.” This is to say: once the number of faithful witnesses is complete, then the grapes are fully ripe and ready for harvest.

So once again, John has reversed traditional violent imagery, this time from the blood of the wine press being that of God’s enemies to being from those who are faithful witnesses to the Lamb.

The Battle that Christ Wages

Lacking a description of any actual battle, Christ captures the beast and false prophet and throws them into the fiery lake, and kills the rest with the sword (Rev. 10:20–21). This scene of the defeat of evil forces is a defeat that contains no description of an actual battle. This should not be surprising in light of John’s theology, for the key battle has already been won in the death and resurrection of Christ (such as is portrayed in Revelation 12 where the evil powers are said to be defeated not through the force of greater power and violence, but through the blood of the Lamb). Loren Johns notes: “The reason the author nowhere narrates an extended conflict or battle between the lamb and the dragon or beasts is because the only real conflicts envisioned in the Apocalypse are first, the one that has already occurred in the death and resurrection of Christ; and second, the ones in which the saints are already engaged through consistent nonviolent resistance.”[2]

After Jesus strikes down his enemies, it is stated he will “rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15; cf. Ps. 2:9; Isa. 11:4). The hina clause in v. 15a (“… a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations”) is paralleled by the future tense of poimanei in v. 15b (“he will rule them with a rod of iron”), with the parallelism showing that the “sharp sword” is equivalent with the “rod of iron.”[3] Thus, the means by which Christ rules the nations is not through the violent brandishing of an iron rod (as one might expect), but through his powerful word.

Notes

[1] Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace, 213–16; Caird, Revelation, 188–95.

[2] Johns, Lamb Christology, 185.

[3] Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace, 208.

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