According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pacifism's Ideals Against "Just War" and "Measured Response," Part I

To previous posts about the ideals of pacifism I must also allow Greg Boyd's understanding of God's rightful judgment upon sin and sinners. Though his interpretation meets more with the spirit of the book of Revelation it alas argues for a complete withdraw of God's church from human oppression by giving up, and allowing the wickedness of man to slay it, if I follow his conclusions correctly. For myself, I cannot make the same argument. As such, Christian fatalism is not the answer.
 
I see in this kind of pacifist thinking a warrant for submission to the totality of human anarchy which would no longer hold back the hands of the wicked by works of charity, an active judicial process, nor enforcement through measured responses to evil. But a complete, and total relinquish of any kind of protection, or self-regard for preservation, thus allowing a fullness of wickedness to occur against any form of judicious response. Of course, this position speculates that the wicked will then see their own injustice and evil by turning from it as promised in Boyd's optimistic reading of Revelation.
 
Of course, I am less hopeful to this type of pacifist interpretation, and certainly more committed to doubling-down and attempting a reclaim of the heavens and earth through the church's more active submission to God's Kingdom rule in hopes that an Armageddon may be avoided till at last it cannot be. However, can we, as the church of God, actually say that we have provided a consistent response to our ethical responsibilities to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount? No, I don't think so. Given the church's historical responses since the first century, our record has shown it to either have given up, and died; or, to have massively exterminated our enemies claiming rightness of cause (which has been as great an hypocrisy in itself). In my estimation neither have been acceptable responses, nor appropriately undertaken in Jesus' name. And so, must advocate a more serious response at living out the Christian ideals of sacrifice, service, and selflessness. Let's call it the tension of Kingdom rule reflective of God's renewal, restoration, and resurrection of His cosmos.
 
To bring in the Kingdom of God takes two things - an obedient church committed to repentance, grace and forgiveness; and, the Lord Jesus Christ in resurrected power and reclaim. For myself how this process occurs is a mystery I don't understand. But I don't particularly like the idea of religious wars because of the injustice they bring upon those unlike its majority group holding power. Nor do I like the idea of just giving up and allowing anarchy to rule... that seems to oppose everything we seem to read in the Bible from the OT to the NT. Alas, even the Lord Himself misthought this deed at Noah's flood before finally relenting to the challenge He originally had determined by His pre-creative councils of selfless, sacrificial, redemption. Whether Christian or not, we've seen too many instances of evil oppression and its nasty, horrible burdens and oppressions brought upon too many innocents (think child molesters, serial killers, thieves, and rogues). For God to give up now seems unthinkable in the long view of His continued evolvement of redemptive rule and Spirit-led sacrifice.
 
Even so, the entirety of this website has long advocated a steady repentance by the church of God to sinful self-righteousness, religious pride, and blinded legalism, while also seeking a faithful church that actively loves consciously with a strength provided by the Holy Spirit of God. A love that knows how to stand against the abusiveness of those toxic Christians and societal elements that would misuse, or misthink, the church's meekness as a form of self-servient weakness instead of the resilient strength it evokes and must abide in the love of Christ. It is a strong meekness that learns to challenge those miscreants and toxic people amongst us misbelieving that their slanders, lies, idle gossip, and wickedness goes unchallenged or unnoticed. Love judges and does not tolerate fools, charlatans, or selfish behavior. If it had, the church would've been extinguished long ago by the hands of wicked man as even by the Lord Himself. But it hasn't gone away and does even now stand against all wrong and injustice.

As parents we try to teach our children both the gentleness of love and well as its measured judgment upon their behalf. We stumble, we fall, we fail as parents. But we do not have the option to stop parenting. Nor do I think do we have the option as Christians to stop living to Jesus' commands and simply allow our children, our communities, nor our societies to become imperiled simply because we have become convicted fatalists who have chosen to "scrub the whole mess" in hopes that God will come all the sooner. Anarchy is not the answer.

So unless I can find better arguments than I'm seeing, for now I intend to chose the messier paths of uncertainty believing that the Lord provided both His Son and His Word to enact His rule and not to burn-up, nor give up, to any illicit forms of predetermined Christian fatalism. As for Boyd's astute interpretation of Revelation, and knowing a bit about Roman history, the apostle John's advice to the church was sound... the Romans only-and-ever wished for domination, and where resistance was found so was found their armies and iron governance which always resulted in slavery, death, and destruction. Against a foe of immeasurable power John advised cautious submission against fighting in the hopes of a day when the Lord returned to set things right. It was a choice between two evils. An ethical dilemma which we all seem to face in this life regardless of historical era or period. This doesn't discount Jesus' return. But it does say that Jesus' return will occur both through the church and by His election at some later date. A date we call the Parousia. A date that cannot be predicted and which is imminent at all times and dates of human history.
 
To that end, I believe Christian martyrs like Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled to watched his church of disciples flounder powerless against a great wickedness he could not stop without the outside help of nations committed to stopping strong German aggression. And so, I think the church must advocate into these ethical areas today, protecting and saving the lives of orphans and widows, the helpless and unfriended, the downtrodden and dispossessed from land and property, family and friends, from abusive tyrants and warlords, pimps and criminals, thieves and natural disaster. Even so is the church challenged to enter into the face of a great evil with the shield and sword of justice and freedom by measured hand and mind, conscience and will, blessing and unity. Ushering in the Kingdom of God through the able bodies of the church by God's grace and the Spirit's help. If not, then let all missionary work and benevolent giving cease. Let all charitable works stop. Let all governments quit and dissolve into anarchy. And let us submit our necks to the heavy yoke of the ungodly in their evil and wickedness. But for myself, I do not see God giving up in the struggle to reclaim His creation. He's given up too much, and invested too long, to simply say, "Aye, verily, the devil wins."
 
So what do you think? Should we continue to vacillate between the extremes of Christian fatalism, and Christian aggression, or attempt a serious response to the Cross of Calvary, claiming this world, and it's creation, for our Lord and Savior? Using all our resources at hand: from creating good schools and benevolent societies, to providing humanitarian agencies and non-profits, to judicious enforcement and equitable laws. It's the harder choice - and harder route - to take, but one that compels us forward even as our Lord now undertakes in bringing His Kingdom rule to earth through both church and human society by His gracious rule and wise jurisprudence. I thus chose not to give up. Nor to succumb to sin's never-ending story. But to stand against it. To train great teachers, honest businessmen and women, wise policemen and judges, and loving moms and dads. We are compelled to do this. If not for ourselves, than for our next generation of youth now entering into this world of pride and prejudice, anger and hate, sin and destruction. Otherwise Jesus' words to His church have become futile. His death for creational reclaim meaningless. His resurrection without sufficient power. And His wish to go to the ends of the world with the gospel but folly. Nay, we resist all charges of giving up and proceed valiantly forward by the power of the gospel of our Lord. Amen.
 
R.E. Slater
November 3, 2013
 
continue to Part II -
 
 
 
 
 


Responding to Driscoll’s “Is God a Pacifist?”
Part I

by Greg Boyd
24 Oct 2013

I’m sure many of you have read Mark Driscoll’s recent blog titled “Is God a Pacifist?” in which he argues against Christian pacifism. I’ve decided to address this in a series of three posts, not because I think Driscoll’s arguments are particularly noteworthy, but because it provides me with an opportunity to make a case against what I’ve come to see is probably the most common way that Christians try to get around the pacifist implications of Jesus'  (and the rest of the NT’s) teachings on loving enemies. It centers on the allegedly violent Jesus of the book of Revelation.

Driscoll begins by pointing out that some have used the sixth commandment – “thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13) — to “promote pacifism, an ideology that sometimes goes so far as to argue that no violence is ever justified.” (Note: pacifism isn’t an ideology that “sometimes” argues that violence is never justified: this is rather what “pacifism” means.) Against this, Driscoll cites some Hebrew scholars who argue that the word for “kill” in this passage is better translated “murder.” He then offers several other arguments to demonstrate that the Bible distinguishes between “killing” and “murder,” and he therefore concludes that the sixth commandment is “not intended to apply to the lawful taking of life, such as self-defense, capital punishment, and just war.”

So far I actually have no qualms with Driscoll’ s argument. My problem is rather that I don’t see how any of this is relevant to the question of whether or not a follower of Jesus should think that “God is a pacifist.” After all, Jesus didn’t hesitate to place his teachings above various teachings of the OT, and the use of violence is a classic case in point. For example, at one point Jesus said, “You have heard it was said, ’Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Mt 5:38-9) Some have argued that Jesus is not repudiating Scripture, but merely human traditions, in his famous “but I say to you” teachings in Matthew 5. This is arguably true for all his other repudiations, but not for this one. The “eye for eye” command is given three times in the OT (Ex 21:24; Lev 24:19-20;Deut 19:21), and in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the instruction is not merely about violence that is permitted, as I’ve heard many argue, but about violence that is required.

In fact, this “eye for eye” principle is called the lex tallionis (law of retaliation), and it’s at the foundation of all the laws of the OT that require violence against perpetrators. Yet Jesus repudiates this principle and replaces it with his teaching to never “resist [anthistēmi] an evil person” (which, by the way, means that we aren’t to respond to aggression with aggression, not that we’re to do nothing).

What makes this even more amazing is that Jesus goes on to expound on his command on how to treat aggressors by saying, "I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:44-45, emphasis added; cf. Lk 6:29-36)

While the OT allowed for, and even required, retaliation, Jesus commands us to instead love and pray for our enemies. (In Luke 6 he adds “and do good to those who hate you” [vs 27]). Rather than to ever respond to violence with violence, we’re to instead love like the sun shines and like the rain falls – namely, indiscriminately. Whether the person is a friend or life-threatening enemy, we’re to love and bless them. And Jesus makes our willingness to love like this a precondition for being considered a child of our Father in heaven – “that you may be.”  By the standards of Jesus’ teaching, therefore, anyone who obeyed the OT laws requiring violence could not be considered a child of the Father in heaven.

It’s also important we notice that Jesus never qualifies who the “enemies” we’re to love are (nor does Paul in Rom 12:14-21). Indeed, his instruction to love indiscriminately rules out any possible qualifications. What makes Jesus’ teachings even more radical is that any talk about “enemies” to a Jewish audience in first century Palestine would immediate call to mind the Romans – the one’s who unjustly oppressed, abused, and often randomly killed the Jewish people. Jesus’ command to love enemies and to never respond violently to them thus includes the very worst kind of enemies we can imagine: the kind that threaten us, our country, and/or our loved ones. It includes the kind of enemies people naturally feel most “justified” killing, if they need to, in order to protect themselves. But these are precisely the kinds of enemies we’re to always love and never retaliate against.

As radical as this teaching might sound to us, however, I don’t believe it should surprise us that we’re commanded to love this way. For God loved us to the point of death when we “were yet enemies,” (Rom 5:10), and we are commanded to “imitate God” by living in this same kind of love, “just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us” (Eph. 5:1-2).

To sum it all up, in this passage Jesus is doing nothing less than telling us that our willingness to set aside a violent OT law in order to obey his new command to love and refrain from violence toward even the worst kind of life-threatening enemies is a precondition for being considered a child of God. And this, folks, is why I don’t believe Driscoll’s argument about the sixth commandment allowing for some forms of killing is relevant to followers of Jesus.

I am a bit puzzled as to why Driscoll didn’t address any of this material in his attempt to refute the idea that “God is a pacifist.” One might have thought it would be relevant since Driscoll is, after all, a Christian pastor, and he’s addressing a Christian audience.  Instead, to prove that “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist” (one wonders if the two are not synonymous for Driscoll), he cites one passage from the book of Revelation (14:14-20). To address this, I will offer some reflections on the nature of this book in my next post, and I’ll then conclude my response in a third post by addressing the specific passage Driscoll cites.

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Greg’s Response to Driscoll’s “Is God a Pacifist?”
Part II

by Greg Boyd
28 Oct 2013

To prove that “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist,” Driscoll by-passes the Gospels (understandably, given what Jesus has to say about the use of violence) and instead cites a passage from Revelation. This is a strategy Driscoll has used before. In an interview in Relevant Magazine several years ago, Driscoll argued that,  “[i]n Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.” He went on record as saying that he could worship this image of Jesus because “I could never worship a guy I could beat up.” (Didn’t he already crucify him?)

Before addressing the specific passage in question (in my next post), I want to outline four aspects of the book of Revelation that Driscoll overlooks as he uses this book to ground his violent view of Jesus.

First, it can’t be denied that if you interpret Revelation as a literal snapshot of what is going to take place the last couple years of world history, you’ll find a Jesus who appears violent. But it’s also true that the apocalyptic genre of this book completely rules out a literal reading, as virtually all NT scholars acknowledge. And if a person nevertheless insists on reading Revelation this way, they’ll find they quickly run into problems.

To give one small example, as a new Christian in a fundamentalist church who was taught to interpret Revelation (and everything else in Scripture) literally, I recall becoming deeply puzzled when I read that stars at one point fell from the sky “to the earth, like figs” (6:13).  How those enormous balls of burning gas could fall to the earth at all, let alone like figs, was problematic, but not nearly as problematic as when I discovered they had somehow gotten back into the sky two chapters later when a third were darkened (8:12). My bewilderment only increased when I found several chapters later that the stars were all back up there again, but a third were once again wiped out by the tail of a dragon (12:4). If taken literally, we find contradictions such as this permeate this book. If we instead interpret Revelation in ways that are appropriate to the apocalyptic genre, realizing that it uses highly symbolic images for an emotive effect, these sorts of contradictions are not only not problematic, they are to be expected.

As an analogy to the importance of paying attention to the genre of Revelation, consider the way we interpret political cartoons. Imagine if someone from another culture who was completely unfamiliar with this genre of writing happened to come upon one of these. Without an understanding of the way this genre of writing employs talking animals (e.g. Donkeys and Elephants) and exaggerated body types as satirical devices, they might assume that the artist actually thought animals talked and that President Obama actually had ears bigger than his head! Interpreting Revelation as though it is a straightforward preview of a future period of time distorts its meaning no less than this person was misunderstanding the political cartoon. Unfortunately, Driscoll’s use of Revelation, at least when he’s trying to prove “Jesus was not a pansy or a pacifist,” is premised on just this misunderstanding. I would encourage him to familiarize himself with this genre before basing any further public arguments on it.

Second, the most ingenious aspect of this book is the manner in which John takes familiar violent images from the OT (as well as some from other apocalyptic literature) and turns them on their head to reverse their original meaning. The most important example of this is when John introduces the Messiah, who alone is “worthy to open the scroll,” as a “lion” (Rev 5:5, from Gen. 49:9; Isa 11:1-5). This image brings to mind the violent, militaristic, triumphalist image of a Messiah who would defeat enemies by ripping them apart – along the lines of Driscoll’s “pride fighter.” Yet, when John looks again, he sees that the lion has become “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” (5:6). By identifying the lion as a slain Lamb, John has transformed a “symbol of power and domination” into a “symbol of vulnerability and nonviolence.”[1] And from this point on, it is the slain Lamb, not the lion, who does all the fighting, and if you read this book carefully, you’ll see he always does it in a slain-Lamb-like way, triumphing through “vulnerability and nonviolence.”

At every turn, John transforms violent images into images of anti-violence. As a second example, consider the scene of the final (and bloodiest) battle in this book (Rev. 19:11-12). We find the Messiah “dressed in a robe, dipped in blood” (Rev. 19:13). This is a classic warrior image of a valiant warrior who comes riding home from battle soaked in the blood of all those he’s slain (e.g Isa 63:1-3). The interesting thing is that Jesus is soaked in blood as he rides into battle! What kind of warrior is soaked in blood before he fights? The kind of warrior who fights in a slain-lamb-way! John is revealing that the Lamb defeats foes not by shedding his enemies blood, but by shedding his own blood on behalf of his enemies.

A third important symbol that John transforms in a non-violent direction is the sword. Driscoll was right to claim that the Jesus of Revelation carries a sword, but he was very mistaken in claiming he carried it in his hand. The sword that the slain Lamb carries as he rides into battle on a horse is one that comes out of his mouth (19:15, 21; cf. 1:16; 2:12,16;). Taken literally, the image is of course comical. (One would also wonder why Jesus and his army would fight a 21st [or later] century battle on horses instead of (say) military Hummers.) If we embrace the image in all of its symbolism, however, the meaning is profound. By placing the sword in the mouth of the slain Lamb, John is reversing its violent meaning. He is signifying that the Lamb warrior fights not by shedding blood, but simply by speaking the truth of God, thereby slaying the lies of the “deceiver” who had held these nations in bondage (19:20). This is why John states that the name of this warrior was “the Word of God” (19:13).



Along similar lines, it’s obvious that Jesus didn’t kill anyone with his sword, for immediately after saying Jesus struck down the nations, John proclaims that Jesus was now going to “rule them with an iron scepter” (Rev. 19: 15). Moreover, we later find these “slain nations” walking by the light of the Lamb, with their kings bringing the splendor of their nations into the heavenly city (Rev 21:24). Having slain the nations that were deceived by Satan’s lies, the Lamb had set them free to see the truth. This is the kind of warfare the Lamb engages in.



In fact, the battle that runs throughout Revelation is a battle between the Lamb who is “faithful and true” (14:5; cf. 3:14), manifesting the truth of God’s loving, self-sacrificial character and way of defeating evil, and Satan, “the deceiver” who “leads the whole world astray” with the lie that the coercive power of the empire (Babylon) will win the day (Rev. 12:9, cf. 20:2-3, 7-8). And the central purpose of Revelation is to call God’s people, who are facing immanent persecution, to remain faithful to God’s Lamb-like character, despite the appearance that this way of living loses in the face of the coercive power of Babylon (e.g. "Rome").



This relates to the final violent image that John transforms. The slain Lamb has an army, which is, of course, his church. But it’s a most peculiar kind of army, just as the Lamb is a most peculiar kind of warrior. For this army conquers by “following the Lamb wherever he goes” as they are “offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb”(14:8). So too, this army is victorious because they “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”(7:14), which Bauckham and others interpret to mean “they are martyrs, who have triumphed by participating, through their own deaths, in the sacrificial death of the Lamb. [2] And this

peculiar army triumphs over the devil “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” for “they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:10).

In short, this army fights and wins the exact same way the slain Lamb who leads them fights and wins: not by slaying foes, but by remaining faithful to the point of laying down their lives for others. This is why martyrdom is such a pervasive theme throughout this book (e.g. 6.9-10; 7:14; 12:11; 13:15; 18:12). By means of imitating the Lamb – “following [him] wherever he goes,” God’s people bear witness to the truth of God’s self-sacrificial character and his loving way of overcoming evil, just as the Lamb does. And in this way they vanquish the lie of Satan that leads the whole world astray, deceiving them to place their trust in the empire’s coercive kind of power.

In this light, I think it’s clear that Driscoll’s misguided literal reading of Revelation has caused him to ascribe to John’s imagery the exact opposite meaning that John intends. And the reason is that Driscoll has grasped the violent images while completely overlooking the masterful way John reverses their meaning. And it’s for this reason that Driscoll concludes that Revelation depicts Jesus as “a pride fighter with a…sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed” rather than a slain Lamb with the sword of truth coming out of his mouth and a commitment to shed his own blood on behalf of others.

In the final post in this three part series we’ll explore the way Driscoll’s literalistic approach causes him to once again read the exact opposite meaning into Revelation 14: 14-20.

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[1] L. L Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John, (Mohr Sieback : Tübingen, 2003), 170 .

[2] R. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 77.

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Greg’s Response to Driscoll’s “Is God a Pacifist”
Part III

by Greg Boyd
29 Oct 2013

This is the last of a three-part response to Mark Driscoll’s post, “Is God a Pacifist?” We’ve seen that, to prove that Jesus was not “a pansy or a pacifist” (meaning that Jesus was okay with justified killing), Mark Driscoll skips over what Jesus actually taught and modeled in the Gospels and instead appeals to Jesus’ alleged violent behavior in Revelation. In Part I of my response to his argument, I demonstrated that Jesus calls disciples to unconditionally love enemies and to therefore refrain from violence against them. This, in fact, is a precondition for being considered “a child of your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:44-45). In Part II I demonstrated that in Revelation, John masterfully takes traditional violent imagery from the OT and other apocalyptic literature and turns it on its head, thereby reversing its meaning. What remains is for me to address the particular passage that Driscoll appeals to in support of his “pride fighter” Jesus: namely, Revelation 14:14-20. It goes as follows:

"I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.

"Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia."

This image of the “great winepress of God’s wrath” is yet another one of those well-known violent images that John appropriates and transforms (cf. Isa 63:2-3; Lam 1:15; Joel 3:13). It depicts Yahweh as a warrior who crushes his enemies under his feet the way a person crushes grapes in a winepress to make wine. The crushing of the grapes and the blood flowing out of the winepress are symbols of the warrior’s complete and total conquest of his opponents. In Isaiah 63 this gory image is fused with the imagery of the warrior soaked in the blood of his enemies, and in my previous post I noted how John reverses the violence of this image by depicting the Lamb being soaked in blood before he even goes into battle. By this means he is expressing the profound truth that the Lamb wages war not by shedding the blood of others, but by shedding his own blood on behalf of others. We’ll now see that John ingeniously reverses the violent meaning of the winepress imagery as well.

To see how John does this, we first need to notice that, whenever the winepress imagery is used in the OT, the grapes that are crushed are sinners, and they’re crushed because of their wickedness. This is not who the crushed grapes are in Revelation 14, however. Nor is this the reason the grapes are crushed. In Revelation 14 the grapes are crushed simply because they are ready to be harvested (vss. 15, 18). Related to this, in the OT, the wrath of God is poured out on sinners by crushing them like grapes. But in Revelation 14, the wrath of God is poured out when sinners are made to drink the wine that is formed by the crushed grapes (14:10; cf.14: 8-9; 16:6; 17:6).  In other words, it’s not the grapes that are being judged by being crushed, as it is in the OT; it is instead sinners who are made to drink the wine that is formed by the crushed grapes. So too, God’s wrath is not directed toward the grapes in Revelation 14, but toward the unrepentant that are made to drink from the cup that holds the wine that results from the grapes being crushed.

So who are the grapes that are crushed? An increasing number of scholars are now arguing that, since the blood that flows from the winepress clearly isn’t the blood of the Lamb’s enemies, it can only be the blood of the Lamb’s followers. [1] This fits perfectly with the central motif that runs throughout Revelation. The followers of the Lamb overcome the same way the Lamb overcame: not by resorting to physical weapons, but “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” They are victorious because “they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11). They triumph, in other words, by faithfully imitating the Lamb they follow and therefore by actively bearing witness to the truth of God’s lamb-like character. So, while the traditional violent imagery of the winepress expressed the victory of God by identifying the juice that flowed from the winepress as the blood of God’s enemies, John has once again turned the imagery upside down so that it now expresses the victory of the Lamb and his followers by identifying the juice the flows from the winepress as the blood of the Lamb’s followers.

Why does Revelation 14 speak about the harvest being ready? The answer becomes apparent when we compare this passage with Revelation 6:10-11. Here we find that the time for God’s judgment was reached, and the cry of the martyred saints for God to vindicate himself and them was finally answered, when “the full number of their fellow servants and brothers and sisters were killed, just as they had been.” This is precisely what John is communicating when he proclaims that the “grapes” were ready to be “harvested.” And the judgment of those who had martyred them takes place when they are made to drink the blood of their innocent victims, a ghoulish image that conveys the truth that the wicked must now ingest “the murderous consequences of [their] wicked life…”[2]  As happens throughout Revelation (and, in fact, throughout the whole Bible), the wicked are judged when God allows the consequences of their wickedness and violence to ricochet back on them (e.g. Rev. 11.18; 13:10; 16.6; 18.6; 22.18-19).[3] Indeed, the self-destructive nature of sin is ingeniously captured by John in the ironic fact that the drinking of the blood of the martyrs is at one and the same time a symbol of the rebels’ sin (14:8; 17:6; 18:3) and a symbol of their judgment (14:10; 16:6). In other words, it communicates that, in the end, sinners are vanquished by the destruction that is inherent in their own sin. For God to judge sinners, therefore, he need do nothing more than withdraw his merciful protection and allow evil to run its self-destructive course.[4]

We gain one further insight into the winepress imagery if we look at how it is used in Revelation 19:15. As I discussed in my previous post, in this curious battle scene, the Lamb rides into battle soaked in his own blood, revealing that he fights by shedding his own blood, and he fights with a sword coming out of his mouth, revealing that he slays nations insofar as they are defined by “the deceiver” (Rev. 12:9, cf. 20:2-3, 7-8) by speaking God’s truth. We are then told that the Lamb “will rule them with an iron scepter” and that “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (vs. 13-15). What’s most interesting about this passage is that, while the “ruling” (or better, “shepherding,” poimainō) is in the future tense, his treading (pate) on grapes is in the present, matching it with the present tense of his use of the sword coming out of his mouth. This means that Christ’s treading on grapes doesn’t come after he smites deceived nations with his word of truth. He rather treads on grapes while he slays these deceived nations with truth.

In fact, I strongly suspect that these two symbols – viz. smiting nations with truth and treading on grapes in the winepress — denote one and the same activity. For the unrepentant nations to drink the blood of the Lamb’s followers whom they have slain is synonymous with these nations being slain with the word of truth. By suffering the death-consequences of their own evil, in other words, the nations are being freed from their deceptive trust in Babylon’s coercive power. And this is why these nations, once slain by truth, can now be shepherded by the Lamb. By ingeniously subverting the meaning of traditional violent images, John is proclaiming that the age-long cycle of escalating violence between nations, each deceived into thinking that the power of the sword can bring lasting peace, will finally come to an end.

In the end, all will embrace Jesus’ truth that those who live by the sword eventually die by the sword. As the nations under the deception of Satan are destroyed, their trust in the sword-power of Babylon is replaced with a trust in the power of the slain Lamb. Hence, “the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah”(Rev. 11:15). Freed from deception, these nations now come under the strong (“iron scepter”) shepherding of the Lamb’s loving rule (another great reversal of imagery! vs. 15). For this reason, these same smitten nations end up in the heavenly city! They now “walk by [the Lamb’s] light,” and “the kings of the earth” – repeatedly spoken of in evil terms throughout Revelation – now bring “the glory and honor of the nations” into the city (Rev. 21: 24, 26).

From this it should be clear that, when the Lamb and his followers overcome by shedding their own blood, by speaking the truth that only Lamb-power wins in the end, and by having enemies drink the blood of martyrs they killed, it’s not because their opponents have finally all been killed. It’s because their opponents have finally been redeemed. And even for those individuals who continue to resist the truth and embrace the lie, John tells us that the gates of the heavenly city are never shut (21:25).[5]

In light of all this, I trust it is clear that there is no basis to claim that Jesus in the book of Revelation is “a pride fighter with a tattoo running down his leg, a sword in his hand with a commitment to make someone bleed,” as Driscoll sadly claims. Rather, the Jesus that wins in the end is the same Jesus we find in the Gospels, and he wins in the end the same way he won in the Gospels: namely, by offering up his life on behalf of others. In fact, Revelation indicates that this present age will be brought to a close, and the new and everlasting age of the Lamb’s loving reign will begin, simply by having the victory that the cross has already achieved manifested throughout the cosmos. In that day it will be clear that those who have placed their trust in “pride fighter” power have bet on the wrong horse. In that day it will be clear to all – as it should already be clear to all followers of Jesus – that the power that overcomes is, in fact, the “pansy” and “pacifist” power that was perfectly displayed in the foolishness and weakness of the cross.

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[1] See e.g. G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John (Hendrickson, rev.ed. 1993, 188-95; M. Bredin, Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace: A Nonviolent Christology in the Book of Revelation (Carlisle, U.K/ Waynesboro, GA.: Paternoster Press, 2003), 209-16; R. Schwager, Must there be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible. tran. M.L. Assad (New York: Crossroad Publishing Comp./ Leominster, UK: Gracewing, 3d ed. 2000), 219.

[2] Bredin, Jesus, 210

[3] See ibid., , 213, cf. 216). In my forthcoming book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, I demonstrate that God used an “Aikido” strategy to defeat evil on the cross. That is, rather than acting violently, God wisely turned evil back on itself, causing it to self-destruct. Because Satan and other fallen powers couldn’t understand the love-motivated wisdom of God at work when Jesus came to earth, they foolishly orchestrated the crucifixion, thereby bringing about their own defeat [see e.g. I Cor. 2:6-8; Col. 2:14-15]). I contend that when we read Scripture through the lens of the cross, we can see that this is the way God always defeats evil. And this is precisely what Revelation reveals at every turn. Several others who discuss the self-destructive nature of evil in Revelation are S. K. Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation: The Theological Function of Pistis Iesou in the Cosmic Narratives of Revelation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark), (passim, but esp.142); L. L Johns, The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John, (Mohr Sieback : Tübingen, 2003), 190-1; R. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), and S.Travis, Christ and the Judgment of God: The Limits of Divine Retribution in New Testament Thought (Milton Keynes/Colorado Springs: Paternoster/ Hendrickson 2008), 297-98.

[4] Notice, for example, that John depicts God and his holy angels as needing to hold agents of destruction at bay to restrict their activity and protect his people from them (e.g. 6:6; 7:1-3; 9:4; 14:1). See V. Eller, The Most Revealing Book of the Bible: Making Sense out of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, rpt 1982 [1974]), 86, 95-96. Related to this, Tonstad notes that John’s frequently used phrase “was given” (edóthe ) – as when the power to afflict the earth or people “was given” to various agents (e.g. Rev. 6:2, 4 (x2), 8, 11; 7:2; 8:3; 9:1, 3, 5; 11:1, 2; 13:5 (x2), 7 (x2), 14, 15; 16:8; 19:8; 20:4.), doesn’t mean that God was commanding agents to act violently, only that he was now withdrawing his protection and allowing them to carry out the destruction they already wanted to carry out (Tonstad, Reputation, 108-111; 135 -146).

[5] Some scholars argue that, despite all of his graphic imagery of God’s judgments, John ends up espousing universal salvation (at least for humans). Most, however, argue that there is an unresolved (and probably intentional) tension in Revelation between depictions of those (humans and angelic beings) who are incorrigibly unrepentant being destroyed, on the one hand, and an at least hoped-for universal salvation, on the other. My own view is in this second camp.

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