I continue here with my discussion of the violence in the book of Revelation as taken from a recent lecture I gave. As is clear, I find it incredible that so many well-meaning scholars want to insist that its not *actually* violent. OK, then.
As I’ve indicated, chs. 6-16 are a three-part series of disasters, 7 seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath each, bringing war, death, economic collapse, starvation, torment, natural disaster, and cosmic disruption (with other things). I pick up there in what follows:
And as awful as they are, the seals, trumpets, and bowls are not the most violent parts of the book. Three other passages compete for that dubious honor.
The first comes as an interlude between the seven trumpets and the seven bowls of God’s wrath (14:14-20). Here we have another vision of “one like the Son of Man” (Christ) who is seated on a cloud, wearing a golden crown and carrying a sharp sickle (14:14). It is not an auspicious image. An angel emerges from the heavenly temple and calls to this (grim) reaper to “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because of the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” In other words, it is time for judgment to begin. Christ wields his sickle, “and the earth was reaped” (14:16).
Had the author stopped there, the reader would assume that those opposed to God had been suddenly killed. But then the account becomes painfully graphic. Another angel emerges from the temple, also bearing a sickle; and yet another issues yet another fearful command: “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” Now we understand this is a grape harvest, of sorts. The vines are cut down, their grapes removed, and the grapes thrown into “the wine press of the wrath of God,” (14:19) where they are trodden. But it is not red wine that flows. It is human blood. And it is a vintage crop: “the blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles” (14:20).
This is what happens to people who do not worship God properly. With an effective mixed image, the angel explains their fate: it is not that they will be trodden into human wine, but that they will “drink the wine of God’s wrath” (14:9-10).
The second passage involves not just drinking but also eating. Before the final battle, an angel tells the seer John: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (19:9). Christ, the Lamb, is to be united with his bride, the church of his followers, and there will be a celebration. That sounds festive. But who are the banqueters? And what is on the menu?
Those who eat the Marriage Supper of the Lamb are the scavenger birds; their meal is the flesh of Christ’s enemies. After Christ puts forth his “sharp sword” in order to “strike down the nations” in the final battle (19:15), an angel calls out to “all the birds that fly in midheaven,” inviting them to enjoy “the great supper of God” (19:17). They come to the feast to devour the cadavers of Christ’s enemies slain in battle. The battle is over in a flash. “The Beast and the kings of the earth” (so not just Rome, but also all the nations ) have gathered their armies and as soon as they appear, they are overwhelmed. The Beast and his false prophet are cast into the lake of burning sulfur, where they will suffer but never die, while all their troops are slaughtered by Christ himself, “by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth” (19:21). And so the bloodied lamb gets his vengeance.
The third passage shows that Christ directs his violence not only against pagans and Jews but also against his own followers, even active leaders and teachers in his church. The tenuous standing of Jesus’ followers is a leading theme of his letters to the seven churches of in chapters 2 and 3. Christ regularly threatens to remove his favor and protection from these churches and their members. It is easy to infer their fate from the rest of the book.