Does Revelation 19 Justify Violence by Christians?
Revelation 19: 11-16 NIV
The Heavenly Warrior Defeats the Beast
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS
In Revelation 19, Jesus is portrayed as a violent King. Keith Giles has written a blog post demonstrating that Revelation 19 does not justify violence by Christians of today. Pastor Giles asks “Why is Jesus Violent in Revelation?”.
We have been commanded to “Love our enemies.” Revelation 19 does not justify Christians participating in violence.
See how Jesus fights: “Holy War.” video by Greg Boyd
2 thoughts on “Does Revelation 19 Justify Violence by Christians?”
First off, in case it is not already obvious, I appreciate very much your voice for pacifism. I am all into the “nonviolent” Jesus and life of faith in him.
Also, I stand to LEARN more in this area. It is not my big thrust, but it is a topic/issue very near my heart and attention. I find few addressing it, many ignoring it, and of those ignoring it, I find much violence which appears unwarranted on the one hand and possibly damaging – even damnable – on the other. But still, I stand to LEARN. I certainly don’t know it all.
Those things said, I have a number of points I either quibble with or arrive at differently on a number of fronts. It could be that I need to revisit the topic more comprehensively from the start. But it might be that in the discussion, along the way, I find better clarity.
AS for the question AS PUT which is the title of this post, “Does Rev 19 justify violence by Christians?” I am clearly on the side of NO… No it does not.
For starts, even though I see in Jesus a warrior, which is exactly the picture painted in this passage, he somehow is not a regular warrior. Fierce? Yes! Even scary. But not the usual, kill ’em all warrior by any stretch.
I don’t know which point to lead with on this. But I will start with the sword.
Maybe I overlooked it, but the only sword I think I see in this passage which Jesus possesses is not actually in his hand. It is protruding from his mouth.
Now… this is a book full of symbolism and apocalyptic genre. There is a lot of THAT which I don’t really understand, and a lot of it which even experts argue about – meaning there is not clear consensus across the board. And this is one of the features where I really want to hear other people’s thoughts, because my own so strongly stand to be enhanced from those discussion.
But at the moment, to my mind, a sword coming out of his mouth in a very symbolic book sounds to me like a sharp tongue. Jesus has some cutting things to say. Talk is not violent – not like fists, bullets, and swords are violent. And for that matter, even tact and wit can cut, verbally speaking. But perhaps there is yet a divine layer here too, which is that God speaks the whole creation into existance – which does not in anyway yield even an inch to divine violence while at the same time blows open the depths of the possible meaning of this symbolism.
Jesus has world starting and world ending things to say.
And then at yet another level – hear me carefully, ANOTHER LEVEL – even IF we ascribe violence to this sword, it is God’s violence, which like vengeance is HIS and not ours. Thus, there is nothing innate, as I see it, which gives license to Christians for violence in the picture. I think that at first blush it might appear that way, but after digging, I have no indication for it, and that is still assuming Jesus is violent.
Put all of that in the context of a life which found it’s climax in purposely embracing Roman crucifixion as a means of taking a crown, and I think there actually might be something wrong with finding license for violence among Christians even at first blush after all. In fact, in THAT light, I am having trouble with the word “pacifism” since Jesus is so assertive in his actions. There is something almost violent about the nonviolence – a paradox.
Paradox. I want to look at that too, but let me say this, because I sense I am treading a razor thin line here. I am NOT smuggling violence back in as I talk like this. I fear that exploring a paradox like this may well sound like it, but I have no intention of it whatsoever. So anywhere my own words seem to be a go-either-way thing, I am not going the way of violence with them. Please bear that in mind.
No. I am thinking of how in the same book, Revelation 5 has a scene where our eye is drawn to a lion! A lion is/can be a terribly violent beast. This is the metaphorical lens through which we are guided to see Jesus. Behold the lion… yet when I looked, I saw another paradox. The lion was a lamb, and not just any lamb, but a lamb standing as though killed.
The paradoxes are starting to pile up.
What creature STANDS as though slain??? What lion is a lamb??? What lion is a slain lamb??? When in all of human history other than this does anyone ever talk about a lion this way?
Jesus certainly is unique. He is a one of a kind.
But I also think of how Paul tells the Colossians that Jesus leads the principalities and powers in triumphal procession and puts them to shame, which is a paradox since that is a fairly good description of the general process of crucifixion, which is what Jesus suffered. But then that was already a paradox too, since in this Roman execution of rebels, we find Jesus taking the crown as King of the Jews!
God turns these things on their heads in such a way as to mystify.
This brings me back to Vengence is Mine, says God.
I happen to think God is violent. I happen to think the first Jesus (Joshua, son of Nun) was a violent savior of his people. David too. All in service to God, at God’s direction and insistence. I don’t see the avoidance of violence as either passive or godly in some innate sense. But I think that God, in his infinite wisdom and LOVE holds a kind of an ace card up his sleeve that we cannot fathom. Jesus meets a violent destination at Golgotha, but its not a violence he inflicts on others (however driving money changers out with a whip might stretch our definitions of violence/nonviolence to SOME degree). But, Jesus says things with his mouth which confront contempt with such a wit and tact (to put it mildly) that we might symbolically liken his tongue to a sword. His word(s) will cut to the joins where the marrow and the bones and the spirit meet. And that will unleash a violence on him! A violence he embraces. A violence Jesus suffers at one level, but which Paul will describe as HIM LEADING the powers and principalities in triumphal processes making a spectacle of THEM!
The paradox itself gives me violent whiplash.
Still AT NO TIME does Jesus – God’s most perfect expression of himself, of his deepest love, ever take up a sword and strike a creature God made. Nor, and especially this, does he give license to his disciples to do it. On the contrary, he demands his disciples take up crosses and follow. And it may well be that IN THAT is the vengeance which only CAN BE God’s.
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Thank you for the kind comments. Also, I finally got my hands on the excellent book you recommended me, “Mere Discipleship” by Lee C. Camp. I am currently reading it.
You have some excellent insights. I like the way you describe the paradoxes. The way God fights? https://www.cpt.org/. Christian Peacemaker Teams have been around for a few years.
Ron Sider, in his book “Nonviolent Action”, describes a 1985 trip he took with a similar organization. (Witness for Peace) They were a thorn in Ronald Reagan’s side. In Nicaragua, both Contras and Sandanistas were committing atrocities. The US was supplying weapons to the Contras who were attacking, torturing and killing residents of Nicaragua using American supplied weapons. WFP sent Americans to various towns in danger of being attacked. The Contras did not attack because they did not want the bad press of using American weapons to kill Americans. The contras then began attacking farms. WFP participants went to those farms and photographed the atrocities and sent them to the press in the United States.
Ron further tells us that nonviolent action for social change is almost always cheaper and more effective than war and violent revolution at
changing society for the better.
Jesus demonstrated this by dying on the cross and thus began the greatest and most successful nonviolent revolution of all time.
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