Chapter 12 was on the alleged violent Jesus in the temple.
Chapter 13 is about the alleged violent Jesus in John’s Revelation. J. Nelson Kraybill asks “What About the Warrior Jesus in Revelation 19: ‘He has trampled out the vintage’?”
To start with, Kraybill reminds us that “we should read Revelation as reassurance that God has chosen to act and redeem in the midst of a messed up world.” That’s important, considering some of the weird interpretations of the book that have come up over the ages. Far too many people still believe that it’s something like the “Left Behind” books that themselves left wisdom and truth behind. What John writes is in essence a revealing. In all the troubles Christians were undergoing and about to undergo, we Jesus is revealed. That is the purpose of the book John wrote on Patmos.
In this vision, Jesus is depicted as riding on a horse with glowing eyes and breathing a sword. Terrifying, huh? So is this a warrior come to kill people with a single breath? As Kraybill reminds us, “Christians in the first century had already established the sword as a figure of the word of God.” We know from Paul’s suit of spiritual armor that Christians subverted violent imagery and used it to depict a spiritual warfare against sin and Shaitan, a war in which other people are only captives to be rescued. And because this is the very breath of God that created the world, it is a tool of creation. It pierces the heart and marrow, not to destroy, but to inspire new life. A “double-eged sword” turned on its own iconic purpose.
Besides, Kraybill also points out that what gets destroyed in this revelation is the “structures of evil”—Babylon, the beast, the false prophet, symbols of the empire of the world.
John’s revelation is also part cathartic. He is giving believers a message that purges them of their disdain for the powers that are persecuting them, as if to say, “tired of all this pressing down on you? Jesus will burn it all up!” It doesn’t make sense to take the warrior image literally any more than it would to take the lamb image literally. If he is a literal warlord, he is a literal lamb. When we get to Heaven, we will see neither.
This violent warrior image is seen briefly in this book, and what pervades is the image is the lamb. How does Jesus conquer in this revealing of his nature? By being a sacrificial lamb and resurrecting victorious, not to strike those who killed him, but to end the systems of evil that bring suffering and redeem his creation. And then John tells us that if we kill with a sword, with a sword we will be killed. If we go into captivity, that’s where we’ll go (Rev. 13:10).
When the lamb came to earth he showed us that our role would be to live like him, to take up his cross, to face the possibility of being sacrificed like him. John’s revelation is necessary because it reminds believers that the world is demonic and that they are not to join up with it, and that the redemption they receive will make all this more than worth it.
In addition Kraybill points out that the “iron rod” Jesus “rules with” is a mistranslated passage. The word does not mean “rule”, but” guide” (poimano). He is a shepherd, after all. His iron staff is a symbol of an unbreakable shepherd, not a harsh ruler. Jesus hasn’t changed his mind since he talked with Pilate. No earthly ruler here.
Next Kraybill explains that the image of Jesus riding on a horse is most likely a subversive act pitting the image of Christ against the earthly emperor. On the back of his coin was an image of the emperor riding on a war horse. Throughout the book we see contrasts of the beast vs the lamb, Babylon vs Jerusalem, the harlot and the woman clothed with sun. In contrast with the emperor on his war horse, Jesus is the warrior figure who speaks a sword instead of slaying with it. “John subverts and transforms this imagery,” says Kraybill. This is a kind of mock icon, much like the now famous “Kid President“, using an understood icon of rule and respect and reworking it to bring an alternative message.
Kraybill says we must also remember that while the revelation is from God and addressed to seven churches, and thus, Christians all throughout, it is also very personal to John. God is giving him, and thus others, a taste of a vision that comforts them in the midst of what has come and what is coming. Jesus is that warrior figure for us, though he functions not like a typical one. John on his prison island utters a cry of suffering like David in his angry psalms, and God responds with a vision that Jesus is the ultimate victor of all evil. “The Lamb of suffering wins by the power of resurrection in the end,” says Kraybill. This is what was revealed to John.
So this is far from a message to us to grab our guns and “get ready” for an ‘armageddom war”. This is a message that the resurrection of Christ is what all this centers on, and it is the ultimate victory—over death, over suffering, over evil, over sin, and over the powers.
What is your ultimate vision of Jesus? What is John’s vision of Jesus? Compare.
[and finally, the conclusion]