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The final victory of heaven’s hosts

December 9, 2023
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Daily Scripture

Revelation 1:16, 19:11-16, 20-21

Revelation 1
16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword. His appearance was like the sun shining with all its power.

Revelation 19
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider was called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war justly. 12 His eyes were like a fiery flame, and on his head were many royal crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He wore a robe dyed [or dipped or covered with] with blood, and his name was called the Word of God. 14 Heaven’s armies, wearing fine linen that was white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword that he will use to strike down the nations. He is the one who will rule them with an iron rod. And he is the one who will trample the winepress of the Almighty God’s passionate anger. 16 He has a name written on his robe and on his thigh: King of kings and Lord of lords.

20 But the beast was seized, along with the false prophet who had done signs in the beast’s presence. (He had used the signs to deceive people into receiving the beast’s mark and into worshipping the beast’s image.) The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake that burns with sulfur. 21 The rest were killed by the sword that comes from the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds ate their fill of their flesh.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

The climactic vision of Revelation drew on many earlier prophetic images. There is a lot of military imagery. For some readers, that may come as a relief: “Finally God’s going to use the physical power of those angel armies and clobber the bad guys.” Or maybe not: “This is symbolic language, truly pointing to a reality which lies beyond it. It would be as much a mistake to suppose (as some, sadly, have done) that this passage [Revelation 19] predicts, and legitimates in advance, an actual military battle between followers of Jesus and followers of other gods as it would be to suppose that the reality which corresponds to the monster that comes up from the sea is an actual physical creature with the heads, horns and so on described in chapter 12. The victory here is a victory over all pagan power, which means a victory over violence itself…. Love will win the day, because in the person of Jesus it has trampled the grapes of wrath once and for all (verse 15).” *

  • But what about that “sharp sword” from Jesus’ mouth to “strike down the nations”? Revelation 1:16 already used that symbol, in a scene where Jesus was not in battle but serving as a high priest before God. “Here the sword is a symbol of prophetic judgment (see Isaiah 49:1-3; Hebrews 4:12).” ** The “weapon” of God’s victory is not military: “The offensive weapon is simply the gospel, spoken for instance by a defeated (imprisoned) apostle (Ephesians 6:17–20).” *** God’s kingdom doesn’t change its character at the end of the story, as if Jesus’ self-giving love was a mistake, and he had to give it up to make the world new. “The triumph of God in Christ is not the triumph of brute force, as if to assert a cosmic principle of ‘might is right.’ It is a triumph of grace in which divine love goes forth in sacrifice.” **** How can understanding how heaven’s hosts will ultimately defeat evil guide the way you live for Jesus now (cf. Romans 12:21)?
Prayer

Lord Jesus, the powers of evil thought killing you on the cross was a victory. It was—but for you and your kingdom, not them. Help me keep growing in my grasp of your self-giving love’s world-changing power. Amen.

GPS Insights

Justin Schoolcraft

Justin Schoolcraft

Justin Schoolcraft serves as Small Groups and Young Adult Director at Resurrection's Leawood location. In his work with small groups and young adults, his passion is creating a culture of community where everybody feels like they can belong.

As I’m sure it does for you, the violent imagery of Revelation unsettles me. When I’m feeling low, I much prefer the scenes of green pastures, quiet waters, and right paths for his name’s sake described in Psalm 23. Two-edged swords, armies, and iron rods do not provide me that much comfort.

You might feel the same way I do. Maybe you, like me, grew up avoiding the Book of Revelation, put off by its images and symbols. If you have a surge of anxiety when you think of this book, you’re in good company. There are mysteries everywhere in these pages… What do all these symbols mean? What should I take from this? When will all this happen? How can the same Jesus who turns the cheek strike down the nations? I’ve certainly asked those questions.

When I attended seminary, though, I went all in on Revelation. I studied. I wrestled. I deconstructed. And I put the book in its rightful context–the totality of Scripture. And though I’m no expert, I am now no longer afraid of Revelation. If I were to summarize what I came to believe about this book, I’d offer these ideas:

  • The vast majority of Revelation is about what has happened and what is happening, not just what will happen.
  • The violence isn’t random. It’s in line with the genre in which the book is written, called apocalyptic literature.
  • Most importantly, whose revelation is it? Read Revelation 1:1. The revelation of Jesus. Revelation’s revelation… is Jesus. We have to read it in the light of Jesus.

But don’t get me wrong, I’ll never be totally comfortable with the choice of imagery. Like in today’s text. Jesus comes with a two-edged sword that cuts down the nations, his robes drenched in the blood of martyrs. The kings of the earth and their armies are killed, and the “beast” and “false prophet” are done away with. It’s helpful to remember that the sword is identified as the Word of God, and that the kings of the earth – allegedly killed here – are mysteriously present again in the New Jerusalem when the world is redeemed (21:24). But even then, I’d prefer not to use this kind of imagery. I wonder why the author chooses it?

When I was a prison chaplain in Atlanta, an inmate once told me that her public defender was an inspiration to her during her trials. She had admittedly made a mess of her life. But when her family, friends, and loved ones all ran away from the mess, her public defender ran into the mess, full of courage, without fear.

I wonder if this war imagery is used here of Jesus because it reminds us that when our world is a flaming mess, Jesus charges into it? Christ, on horseback, looks upon us… trembling… waiting… doubled over in fear… and when all others are running away, he runs in. Even when we ourselves are too afraid to do anything other than stay safe from the flames, Christ sees us with compassion… and then charges into the world, not to slay it, but to make it right again. He does what we can’t do. He is a warrior in the sense that he is sacrificially unafraid, and his sword, the Gospel, is wielded courageously. Jesus runs in when we run out.

This image is why Revelation can help us. It’s a book that tells a story that has happened countless times already: God’s people get into a mess. God saves them. Repeat. There’s not much new to the story of Revelation until the very end. But there is a reminder throughout… we need to be saved. But God has done it before, and he’ll do it again.

Jesus charging into the world… wielding good news… it’s almost like that’s happened before, too? A world in expectant waiting, aching through a silent night. The Son of God charged into the mess, truth on his tongue, and landed… in a manger. His kindness was what struck down the nations as the kings trembled at what it could mean if the people called him king, this Messiah who upended power.

Advent is a great revelation for all of us. It reveals that we are frail, afraid, mortal people struggling through the flaming mess of this world. Do you feel that? Do you long? I bet you do. Me too. And so we wait for Christ to charge in, make it right again, and make us strong.

He’s done it before.

He’ll do it again.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* Wright, N. T., Revelation for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 173-174). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
** Catherine A. Cory, study note on Revelation 1:16 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 500 NT.
*** Article “Army/Armies” in in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, general editors, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, p. 48.
**** Article “Triumph” in in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, general editors, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, p. 899.