Introduction Part 1: Context in the Bible
In our previous studies of Revelation, we have stepped into the topic of God’s judgment and wrath. In our study this month, we will be doing more than walking on the shore of these waters. From chapters 14 to 20, we will be swimming in the seas of God’s judgment and wrath. As we swim through these seas, the risk is that all our preconceived opinions about the Book of Revelation will return. Popular culture is awash in the glorification of revengeful apocalyptic violence,often based on a misreading of Revelation. Philosophers from Friedrich Nietzsche (1884-1900) to postmodern philosophers like Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Michel Foucault (1926-1984) see the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22 as the worst of all totalitarian states because God establishes it through God’s violent destruction of all creation. Like the worst emperors, God achieves power through violence.
Then there are the Greco-Roman philosophies that have dominated the Western world since the beginning of the Enlightenment. Deism, Stoicism, Platonism and Epicureanism powerfully shape Western assumptions. Since we are inundated by these assumptions, it is easy to assume they are true.
What are these assumptions? Each Greco-Roman philosophy is unique. The differences between them is not important to our work here. But all of them have one characteristic in common. They all affirm that the gods (or in our case, God) are not engaged, in nor do they care about, what happens in this world. The world lives independently from the gods and will one day simply fade away.
We’ll use the Epicureans to illustrate this perspective on the gods. In her book, Epicureanism, Catherine Wilson writes:
For the Epicureans, the gods neither create nor evaluate. Inhabiting the intercosmic spaces in a state of blessedness, and enjoying atomic [i.e. made of atoms] but immortal bodies, they have no perceptual access to any worlds nor influence upon them. They had no role in designing our world, and they have no role in running it, or in monitoring, rewarding, or punishing human actions, nor in deciding on the world’s termination. They do not move the heavenly bodies around. Insofar as the gods do not care about us or interact with us, religious observance cannot affect them in any way.
Wilson continues, “The key to his (Epicurus’) theology is his disregard for divine power and intelligence … The gods can be called ‘blessed’ because they are free of worry, fear, and vexation and because we should aspire to live lives like theirs as far as possible.”
Wilson wonders, “Was Epicurus one of those people who today describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’?
Today the assumption that the gods are not engaged in this world is largely taken for granted in the Western world. People assume this perspective is simply reality. However, it can be traced back to the influence of these Greco-Roman philosophies that reemerged at the beginning of the Enlightenment. From the perspective of these Greco-Roman philosophies, the biblical concept that God sees what is happening in this world, intervenes with judgment, and establishes a renewed creation is completely absurd if not dangerous.
In Greco-Roman philosophies, religion has nothing whatsoever to do with government or economics or any civic affairs. Perhaps this explains why no one espousing one of these philosophies has been persecuted or martyred by an empire. Yet, in the Roman Empire none of these philosophies became widely accepted because religion, for example, the imperial cult, assumes the gods aredirectly involved in every aspect of imperial, community and family life.
As we work our way through the violence and destruction of Revelation 14-20, our first reaction might well be to slip into the default Greco-Roman philosophies so prevalent in our culture. I encourage us, instead, to focus our attention on the biblical context. We will do that by addressing these two questions:
- How does the Bible view God’s judgment?
- How does God’s judgment and anger relate to Christ’s profound act of love on the cross?
First, how does the Bible describe God’s judgment? Over and over in the Hebrew scriptures, God’s judgment is a cause for joy. It’s a cause for joy because it makes right what is wrong. We have a powerful example of this meaning of God’s judgment in Psalm 98:
1 O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gained him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
This Psalm is a call to worship God with a new song because of his marvelous victory. God’s victory is a vindication. God has addressed what is wrong and made things right. God has done this in the sight of the nations. This making things right is an expression of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. It is a cause for joy, praise, and singing – trumpets sound before the King who reigns over all the earth.
God’s mighty work is so significant that the nonhuman part of creation responds. The sea and all that lives in it roars, the floods slap their hands, the hills sing for joy. Why such joy? What is the cause of this celebration? The Lord is coming to judge the earth. Why is there such joy in God’s judgment? Because God’s judgment removes what is violating creation and restores and renews all creation and all peoples with equity. In his commentary on this Psalm, Clinton McCann writes:
Psalm 98 presents justice and righteousness as the essence of the worldwide policy that God wills and enacts. Psalm 98 also makes clear that this policy is motivated by God’s faithfulness and love. In short, the good news is that God rules the universe with faithfulness and love, and the ecumenical, ecological, economic, social, and political implications of this message are profound.
Second, how do we put together God’s judgment and anger with the love of Christ on the cross? Especially when on the cross, Christ appears to be passive in the face of the injustice directed against him. How does any of this relate to God’s judgment and wrath in Revelation?
Miroslav Volf is Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and is an Episcopalian. Volf was born and grew up in Croatia where his father was a minister. He completed a doctorate in theology and began teaching systematic theology in Croatia just before war between the Croats and Serbs broke out in 1990. After the war ended, he wrote the book I will be quoting from, Exclusion and Embrace.
I will be quoting extensively from that book. Volf writes that he first presented the chapter I’ll be quoting from in a war zone in Croatia. The chapter is about the violence in this world, God’s judgment and anger in Revelation, and the cross of Christ. Volf invites his readers to identify their views of these topics. Then he ask us to imagine explaining our views in the middle of a war zone. He writes, “I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone. Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit.”
In the chapter Volf just referenced, his primary focus is the Book of Revelation. He points to an underlying assumption about God’s judgment:
Underlying the theology of judgment in the Apocalypse is the assumption that nothing[italic — Volf] is potent enough to change those who insist on remaining beasts and false prophets. Certainly, most of us are not beasts, though the beast can all-to-easily be awakened in us; most of us are not false prophets, though, we so easily fall prey to the charms of propaganda. We should not, however, shy away from the unpleasant and deeply tragic possibility that there might [italic — Volf] be human beings, created in the image of God, who, through the practice of evil, have immunized themselves from all attempts at their redemption. Ensnared by the chaos of violence which generates its own legitimizing “reason” and “goodness,” they have become untouchable for the lure of God’s truth and goodness.
How does God respond when people become untouchable, nonresponsive to God’s truth and goodness? God responds with anger. Why anger? One reason, Volf explains, is that God is “political”. By that he means, God cares deeply about what happens in society. Remember the group Volf first presents this perspective to? They are living in war zone. Notice, to say that God is political, that he cares deeply about what happens in society, is a very long way from Epicureanism! Volf writes:
Much like the God of the whole Bible, the God of the Apocalypse is an eminently political divinity—the God not only of individuals and their families but of the kingdoms of this world (Rev 11:15). If Augustine was right that ‘the city of this world… aims at domination, which holds nations in enslavement’ and ‘is itself dominated by that very lust for domination’ (Augustine, The City of God, I, Preface), then God must [italic Volf] be angry. A nonindignant God would be an accomplice in injustice, deception, and violence….[italic—das]
Outside the world of wishful thinking, evildoers all too often thrive, and when they are overthrown, the victors are not much better than the defeated. God’s eschatological anger is the obverse of the impotence of God’s love in the face of the self-immunization of evildoers [i.e. those unresponsive to God—das] caught in the self-generating mechanism of evil. A ‘nice’ God is a figment of the liberal imagination, a projection onto the sky of the inability to give up cherished illusions about goodness, freedom, and the rationality of social actors.
In other words, when people who practice evil in society are immunized from all attempts at their redemption, God must respond in anger. Their actions are violating people, and are shutoff from God’s redeeming love. If God is ambivalent, what hope is there for the world?
Do we find any place in the entire Bible where God is impassive about injustice? Volf answers with a firm, “No!” and explains why it must be, “No.”
There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who “eat up my people as they eat bread,” says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put “in great terror” (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better, why not reasoning together? Why not just display suffering love? Because the evildoers “are corrupt” and “they do abominable deeds” (v. 1); they have “gone astray,” they are “perverse” (v. 3).
But don’t we see a contradiction here? The crucified Messiah opens his arms, extends his love to everyone. But in Revelation 19, Christ comes as the Rider on a white horse. He “judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11). How do we put together God’s grace and God’s judgment? Let’s hear Volf describe what happened on the cross and then return to Revelation. Regarding the cross of Christ Volf writes, “There is a profound wisdom about the nature of our world in the simple credo of the early church, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).”
Let me stop here and remind us what the Bible means by the word, “sin.” Most of us assume the word means “moral failing.” But in both Hebrew and Greek, the word is taken from archery. It means, “missing the mark.” The “mark” is God’s intent for us in creation. We are created in the image of God. The “mark” is fulfilling our calling to bring justice, truth, shalom, community into the world God made. Morality is not irrelevant, but the “mark” extends way beyond the domain of morality. As Volf writes, “At the core of Christian faith lies the claim that God entered history and died on the cross in the person of Jesus Christ for an unjust and deceitful world. In taking upon himself the sin of the world, God told the truth about the deceitful world and enthroned justice in an unjust world.”
This is the new world Christ created in his death and resurrection. It is a new world with profound implications for us individually. We are loved, forgiven, welcomed to the table by God. We live in a world where God has addressed deceit and set injustice right. We areinvited to receive God’s love and forgiveness and engage in God’s mission. As Volf writes, “Since the new world has become reality in the crucified and resurrected Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) it is possible to live in the new world in the midst of the old… without giving up the struggle for truth and justice.”
Now we move back to the Book of Revelation and God’s wrath. Volf writes:
If we accept the stubborn irredeemability of some people, do we not end up with an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of Christian faith? Here the “crucified Messiah” with arms outstretched embracing the “vilest sinner,” there the Rider on the white horse with a sharp sword coming from his mouth to strike down the hopelessly wicked? The patient love of God over against the fury of God’s wrath? Why this polarity? Not because the God of the cross is different from the God of the second coming. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’ssetting aright the world of injustice and deception[italic–Volf].
Again, the cross is not only about forgiving individuals. It is also about creating a new society. When the crucified Christ, when the One they falsely accuse, torture and murder rises from the dead, Rome and all empires are on notice. Rome is held accountable. Lies, propaganda, brutality, and murder were defeated by justice, truth, integrity, community, and shalom.
So how does God respond to those who continue to engage in deceit and injustice? In other words, how does God respond to people who see the death of Christ as a sign the Christ is weak, a failure,or irrelevant to the “real world?” How does God respond to the people who know what they want and assert power to get it regardless of the consequences on others whether in government, international relations, business, or law? Volf writes:
Those who take divine suffering [the cross—das] as a display of divine weakness that condones violence—instead of divine grace that restores the violator—draw upon themselves divine anger [the sword–das] that makes an end to their violence. The violence of the Rider on the white horse, I suggest, is the symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God’s suffering love[italic—Volf]. For the sake of the peace of God’s good creation, we can and must affirm this divine anger and this divine violence, while at the same time holding on to the hope that in the end, even the flag bearer will desert the army that desires to make war against the Lamb.
Does Revelation teach us that God’s anger and judgment has the last word? Volf says a resounding, “No!”
Does violence then have the last word in human history? Is overpowering the last act of God in the original creation? No, the judgment against the beast and the false prophet is the obverse of the salvation of those who suffer at their hands. God can create the world of justice, truth, and peace only by making an end to deception, injustice, and violence …. The end of the world is not violence, but a nonviolent embrace without end[italic Volf]. Does not the Apocalypse paint a different picture of the end, the one more congruent with its violent imagery of the Rider’s conquest? Is not its last vision dominated by “the throne” (Revelation 22:1) from which earlier “flashes of lightning” and “peals of thunder” were coming (4:5)? Is not the nameless “one seated on the throne” (4:9; 5:1) a perfect projection of the ultimate and incontestable warrior-potentate? If this were so, the Apocalypse would simply mirror the violence of the imperial Rome it had set out to subvert. The most surprising thing about this book is that at the center of the throne, holding together both the throne and the whole cosmos that is ruled by the throne, we find the sacrificed Lamb (cf. 5:6; 7:17; 22:1). At the very heart of “the One who sits on the throne” is the cross. The world to come is ruled by the one who on the cross took violence upon himself in order to conquer the enmity and embrace the enemy. The Lamb’s rule is legitimized not by the “sword” but by its “wounds”; the goal of its rule is not to subject but to make people “reign for ever and ever” (22:5). With the Lamb at the center of the throne, the distance between the “throne” and the “subjects” has collapsed in the embrace of the triune God.
In other words, God’s justice and anger is the mop up. The New Creation is made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.
Introduction Part 2: Context in Revelation
The seventh trumpet has sounded. All the inhabitants of earth are giving glory to God. They are honoring God in worship and living in ways that exemplify who God is. Is this the end? Is this finally the new creation anticipated since the sin of Adam and Eve? Since there are 11 more chapters in Revelation, clearly the answer is, “No!” Why? What remains to be done?
Apparently, those who destroy the earth (Rev 11:18) are still lurking in the background. Their presence endangers the future of creation as the serpent endangered Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In this next section of Revelation (chapters 12 through 20), we hear the story of how God removes those who are the destroyers of the earth. Then when heaven descends to earth in chapter 21, the new heaven and new earth will be safely united for all eternity.
Seven Visions 11:19-15:4
In this Resource, we will focus on the section of Revelation known as the Seven Visions. Following Ian Boxall’s description, these Visions are as follows:
First Vision: The Woman and the Dragon (11:19-12:18)
Second Vision: The Beast from the Sea (13:1-10)
Third Vision: The Beast from the Earth (13:11-18)
Fourth Vision: The Lamb and Its Followers (14:1-5)
Interlude: The Three Angels (14:6-13)
Fifth Vision: The Harvest of Someone Like a Son of Man (14:14-16)
Sixth Vision: The Grape Harvest (14:17-20)
Seventh Vision: The Song of the New Exodus (15:1-4)
First Vision: The Woman and the Dragon – Revelation 11:19-12:18
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. 12:1A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. 7And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”
13 So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. 16But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. 18 Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore.
To us, this section of Revelation sounds bizarre, incomprehensible. But to first century Christians, it’s meaning would have been clear and powerful. What do first century readers hear in this section?
First, let me say that John is doing what he does over and over in Revelation. He is exposingand undermining the propaganda of imperial Rome. But in this vision, he is doing it in a new way. John is re-forming one of the many combat-of-the-gods myths that are well known in the popular culture of the ancient world. Roman Emperors recast these myths to establish themselves as powerful gods who defeat evil and bring peace. John, on the other hand, recasts these myths to dismantle Roman propaganda.
The myth John recasts is about the Greek goddess Leto. She becomes pregnant by Zeus. Python, a great dragon, knows that one day in the future, their child will kill Python. So Python is determined to kill Leto’s baby. But Poseidon, god of the sea, hides Leto under the sea, until she is ready to give birth. Unable to find Leto, Python gives up the search. Leto gives birth to Apollo. And the day comes when Apollo pursues and kills Python.The marble relief below, found in Ephesus, shows Leto with Artemis and Apollo escaping from Python. It is displayed in the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University.
The Roman Emperor Nero recasts the combat myth in such a way that the emperor, not Apollo, is the god/hero. The Roman people are the beneficiaries. Therefore, they should worship the emperor. As Eugene Boring explains,
A grateful citizen of the Roman world could readily think of the story as a reflection of his or her own experience, with the following cast: the woman is the goddess Roma, the queen of heaven; the son is the emperor, who kills the dragon and founds the new Golden Age; the dragon represents the power of darkness… that opposes the goodness of life.
In this section of Revelation, John recasts the emperor’s version. Mitchell Reddish describes why. Reddish writes, “John’s reuse of this ancient myth challenges the divine claims and arrogant presumptions of the imperial cult. Christ, not the emperor, is the real victor over the malevolent forces of chaos, darkness, and wickedness. John unmasks the Roman power for what it truly is—a tool of Satan, and not a god worthy of worship.”
Notice how John recasts this myth. The woman with a crown of 12 stars represents the twelve tribes of Israel. The iron rod is a reference to Psalm 2. Psalm 2 describes the kings and rulers of the earth conspiring “against the Lord and his anointed” (Ps 2:2). God responds to their conspiracy by laughing (2:4) and sending his king, the Messiah, whom God calls, “my son” (2:7). The Psalm concludes:
8“…I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling (Psalm 2:8b-11).
The Dragon (Rev 12:3) symbolizes all that is evil. John blends together Python, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Leviathan (Psalm 74:13-14), and Satan. The red dragon is “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev 12:9). In Revelation, “red” is the color of oppression (17:3-6; 6:4, 9-10). Satan is the oppressive liar, accuser and murderer (as Jesus says in John 8:44) who has been fighting against God’s people from the dawn of time (Matt 23:33-36). He is red because he is covered with the blood of the saints.
The woman is pregnant and about to give birth to the descendant of Adam and Eve who, as told in Genesis 3:15, will crush the serpent’s head. The dragon has cunning wisdom (seven heads), great power (ten horns) and works demonically through the heads of nations (the seven crowns). The dragon throws a third of the stars from the sky to the earth—a symbol that Satan attacks God’s order and rule in heaven and on earth.
Clearly, John wants us to know how powerful evil is. As Reddish writes, the dragon “Is the representation of all that is evil and chaotic and in opposition to God…. In his awesome ferocity he swings his mighty tail, knocking down a third of the stars of heaven and throwing them to earth. This is no wimpish creature to be taken lightly. Evil is real… and we would be well advised to take it seriously.”
In John’s recast myth, the dragon sits in front of the woman waiting for her to deliver so that he can kill her child. But when the woman’s child is born, he (Jesus Christ) is snatched up to God (after his life, death and resurrection) and placed on the throne.
The mother of Christ (now she represents the Church) flees from the outraged dragon into the wilderness—a symbol of trial and testing. In the wilderness, God provides (as he did for Israel with manna and quail) for 1,260 days. As we saw in Rev 11:2-3, this number is a symbol of the time from the ascension to the return of Christ. During this time the church is persecuted. As we have seen, God protects the church spiritually but not physically.
The Dragon’s Defeat – 12:7-12
Reddish alerts us not to interpret this recast myth through the filter of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Reddish writes:
Unfortunately, too many readers approach this passage in Revelation by means of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and thus understand these verses as describing Satan’s primeval expulsion from heaven because he and his band of rebel angels attempted a coup against the throne of God. That is not what is taking place in John’s vision. In fact, such a story of Satan is found nowhere in biblical literature. One has to go to Paradise Lost to find this account.
So what do we learn from John? When Satan is cast out of heaven, a loud voice proclaims,
10“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” (Rev 12:10-11)
Satan is defeated by the blood of the lamb (12:11; Col 2:15; John 12:31). As John says, this is the “authority of the Messiah” (12:10) that defeats Satan.
Michael, captain of God’s loyal angels (Daniel 10:13, 21; 21:1), carries out the consequences of Christ’s victory on the cross by throwing Satan and his angels from heaven to earth. Satan is no longer able to have a place in heaven where, before God, he accused God’s people. But knowing his days are numbered, Satan vents his lying, deceiving, destroying ways on earth.
Reddish reflects on what John is teaching the church here:
John is not naïve. He knows as well as, if not better than, anyone else that the forces of evil are still exercising their power in the world. In fact, he expects a fresh onslaught of persecution and violence to be unleashed against the church. But John can sing the song of victory because he knows that the decisive battle in the great war has already been fought. It occurred on Calvary. The skirmishes still continue, but the outcome of the eternal struggle between good and evil has already been decided. For John, the coming assault against the church is nothing more than the futile, desperate last gasps of a dying Satan.
But note what John also affirms in verse 11: But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
John has repeated these words over and over in Revelation. The witness of the church is vitally important in the battle with the forces of evil. The victorious Christ is in heaven. But we are here in God’s creation. Evil is deceiving and oppressing day after day. We are here to be signs and agents of Christ’s victory on the cross, his resurrection from the dead and to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven.
Protection for the Woman – 12:13-17
This section of Chapter 12 draws on the story of the people of Israel fleeing from Pharaoh. As the people of Israel escaped into the wilderness, so too does the woman. When the freed slaves arrived safely at Sinai, God said to them, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4). In the age between Christ’s ascension and second coming, God is providing that same protection for the church.
When the waters of the Red Sea parted, we saw that even the earth came to the aid of thefleeing slaves. In our story, when Satan spews out water attempting to drown the woman, the water is a symbol of the lies and oppression that pour out of Satan. But, symbolically, the earth swallows up the water to protect the woman.
God’s creation is built on God’s truth and so the very earth itself supports the church in its battle against deception. Ultimately, in other words, lies will be proven false. In God’s Creation, falsehood has no future. We see that truth illustrated in this quote from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Zosima makes this speech to Fyodor Pavlovich in Book II, Chapter 2:
A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect of anyone, he can no longer love, and, in order to divert himself, having no love in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest forms of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal. And it all comes from lying—lying to others and to yourself. 
After failing to kill the woman, Satan goes off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus (12:17).
Our story closes with the dragon standing on the shore of the sea and waiting. For whom is the dragon waiting? The prophet Daniel gives us a hint. In Daniel 7:2-3 we read, 2I Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
What comes out of the sea in Daniel 7? Four great beasts. The beasts represent the leaders of four great empires: the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and the Greeks. Not surprisingly, some Jewish authors who wrote in the time period between the Old and New Testaments identified the fourth beast as the Roman Empire.
In the Hebrew scriptures, the sea could be used symbolically in a variety of ways. One symbolic way the sea is used is as a portal through which evil and chaos enters the world. The dragon waits to be joined by two beasts. One beast, a symbol of the Roman emperor, will emerge from the sea just as the Roman army emerged from the Mediterranean Sea to destroy Jerusalem and the people of Israel.
Second Vision: The Beast from the Sea – Revelation 13:1-10
1And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. 2And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. 3One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast.4They worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshipped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 5The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7Also, it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation,8and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.
9Let anyone who has an ear listen:
10 If you are to be taken captive,
into captivity you go;
if you kill with the sword,
with the sword you must be killed.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
The Beast from the Sea – 13:1-10
As the dragon watches, a terrifying beast rises from the sea. This beast combines all the characteristics of the four beasts in Daniel 7. And with its seven heads and ten horns, the beast is the mirror image of Satan. Satan gives the beast “his power and his throne and great authority”(13:2). How sobering is it that Satan can give this kind of power to empires?
The beast’s “blasphemous names” link him to the Roman emperors. As we have seen portrayed on countless coins, statues and reliefs, the emperors demand to be worshipped as gods. For example, 1stcentury Roman Senator and historian, Tacitus, writes that Nero’s admirers honor his demand. They “kept up a thunder of applause, and applied to the emperor’s person the voice and epithets of deities.”
Reddish describes Revelation chapter 13 as being full of parodies. One definition of parody is, “an imitation or a version of something that falls far short of the real thing; a travesty.”For example, the beast shares the power and authority of Satan (certainly a good reason not to participate in the imperial cult). This bleak power sharing parodies the way Christ shares the power and authority of God (Rev 2:21; 7:17; 2 Thess 2:9).
This Beast has received a death blow that has somehow been healed – a parody of the resurrected Lamb, who earlier in Revelation was standing as if slaughtered.
The Beast’s authority is a parody of the authority of Christ as told in Philippians 2:9-11, Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Scholars draw connections between this description of the Beast and Nero. After Nero’s death by suicide, there were many popular conspiracy theories surrounding his death. Did he really die? Did he commit suicide? Or was he in hiding, ready to resume power?
John observes, In amazement the whole earth followed the beast (13:3). When we look back across human history, it is truly amazing how the beast can control the masses with Satan’s strategy of lies and deception and oppression.
Nero was notorious for his cruelty in persecuting Christians after blaming them for the devastating fire in the city of Rome—a fire he started to clear 200 acres of land in the heart of Rome for his new palace, the Golden House, and gardens.
It is astonishing that down through human history, masses of people adore beasts who embody lies and cruelty. What does this reality say about us as humans? Reflecting on Roman emperors as beasts, Koester observes:
People were normally repulsed by hideous monsters, but this one they adore…. In John’s vision, the beast’s unrivaled power is praised. It resembles the way the province of Asia declared that Augustus had surpassed all the benefactors born before him and that none who came later would surpass him. He was incomparable.
“Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” is a parody of praise that is to be given to God. The prophet Jeremiah states that praise:
6 There is none like you, O Lord;
you are great, and your name is great in might.
7 Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
For that is your due;
among all the wise ones of the nations
and in all their kingdoms
there is no one like you. (Jer 10:2-3)
John continues his description of the beast’s actions,
7Also, it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation,8and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered (Rev 13:7-8).
What is John talking about here? He is describing what he is seeing in the Roman Empire. He is seeing the unrivaled authority of the emperor. From John’s perspective and life experience, the only people who are refusing to engage in the idolatry of the imperial cult are Christians. That’s confusing to me because from my study, Jews also did not participate in the imperial cult. But we know that people who worshipped one or more of the many other Greco-Roman gods also embraced the imperial cult.
John concludes this section with somber words. Since the beast is at war with God and the followers of Christ, the church members, like any people caught in warfare, could be imprisoned or killed. So the church is called to endurance and faith. Koester explains, “Endurance means bearing hardship for a noble goal, not merely putting up with things to avoid conflict. Readers are to endure by remaining faithful to God, the Lamb, and the Christian community. Faith first involves trust in God for ultimate redemption; second, it means showing fidelity to God during life on earth.”
Third Vision: The Beast from the Earth – Revelation 13:11-18
11Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. 13It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all; 14and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived;15and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six.
The Beast from the Earth – 13:11-18
A second beast appears. This beast arises out of the land. Later in Revelation he is called the false prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), and it’s not hard to see why. He looks like a lamb, but he speaks for the dragon (13:11). His actions counterfeit the Holy Spirit. Like the power of the Holy Spirit, the beast works miraculous signs. The Holy Spirit places a seal on the foreheads of Christians (7:3). The beast from the earth places his mark on his subjects (13:16).
Everything this beast does is about deception (Satan is the great Deceiver) and the power to control (Satan is a murderer). The beast calls down fire from heaven like Elijah. But unlike Elijah it is deception designed to seduce people to worship the beast from the sea rather than God. But the beast uses more than deception. He orders and forces. He uses the demonic power of idolatry as he creates an image of the beast from the sea, that is, the Roman Emperor. The temple priests use fakery (ventriloquism referenced in 13:15) to manipulate people to come to their temples.
Those who worship the First Beast will be “marked.” Koester notes that “in the visionary world of Revelation, the mark of the beast is the opposite of the seal of God and the Lamb (7:3; 14:1).” And just as there is no visible “seal” of God, there is no visible “mark” of the beast. As Koester says, the mark “does not have a direct connection with any one practice in the readers’ social worlds.”
However, there are general patterns of behavior that are consistent with the seal of God and other behaviors that are consistent with the beast. When God commanded the people of Israel to tie his commandments to their hands and bind them on their foreheads, he didn’t mean it literally (Dt 6:8). He meant God’s commands should guide their actions and their thoughts. Through seduction and force, the beast exerts such coercive power that he controls how people think and act. To refuse to “wear the mark of the beast,” that is, to refuse to participate in the imperial cult, is to risk serious social, public, and economic consequences.
So, what’s up with the 666 as “the number of a person” (13:18)? The practice of adding up the numerical value of letters in names or words was common in the ancient world. It’s called “gematria.” There are many names, including names of emperors, whose letters numerical value adds up to 666. But other details in this section point to Nero. It’s also helpful to remember that for ancient Jews, the number 7 represented completeness and perfection. The number 6, therefore, represented incompleteness and imperfection. Imagine how much incompleteness and imperfection could be found in three sixes!
The seductive, overwhelming power of the beast asserts its control over society. The beast’s control multiplies to the point where to be accepted and to function within this society, one must wear the mark of the beast. The mark on the “right hand” (13:16) means that the beast controls people’s actions. The mark on the “forehead”(13:16) means the beast controls peoples thinking and decision making. At that point, just as in ancient Egypt, idolatry is so enmeshed with society that people can no longer hear God’s voice (see Psalm 135:15-18). Idols and pagan priest ventriloquists are manipulating society. With people’s hearts hardened toward God, the powers of corruption, manipulation and oppression are forming society. Truth, justice, compassion, community and shalom that reflect who God is fade away. Eugene Barry applies this dynamic to the church in every age and place and sounds this alert,
All propaganda that entices humanity to idolize human empire is an expression of beastly power that wants to appear lamb-like.
No person or institution deserves our ultimate allegiance. Revelation calls the church to discern where our loyalties lie.
Fourth Vision: The Lamb and Its Followers – Revelation 14:1-5
14Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. 4It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, 5and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.
The Lamb and Its Followers – 14:1-5
The dragon stands on the seashore. The Lamb is on Mt. Zion. After Solomon built the Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, that sacred area became known as Mount Zion.
With the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion we hear again echoes of Psalm 2. As we observed in our reflection on Revelation 12:5, in Psalm 2 we see that Mt. Zion is where God sends his Son to defeat the kings and rulers of the earth conspiring “against the Lord and his anointed” (Ps 2:2). Remember that we are reading a highly symbolic apocalyptic genre. John is not pointing to a location on a map as much as he is reminding the church of the commitment God has made that is associated with that location. John is stating that true worship embraces this truth about God and the Lamb,who is enthroned because he was slaughtered by his enemies. As Ian Boxall writes, John is describing, “that state of openness to God and protection by him which has been referred to elsewhere as the measured sanctuary (11:1) or the ‘holy city’ (11:2). It is that place of true spiritual worship which takes place [as Jesus explains to the Samaritan woman at the well] neither on Mount Gerizim nor in Jerusalem (John 4:21-24).”
In other words, John is teaching us what we are to do when we worship. Whether at St. Thomas or in our homes, we affirm that God, the Creator, is sovereign over the cosmos. We affirm also that Christ, the victorious, slaughtered Lamb, is the Savior who will establish God’s kingdom of justice and shalom in that creation. John also wants us to know that when we worship we are surrounded by the 144,000 who “had his name [the Lamb] and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (14:1). This number, 12 squared multiplied by 1,000, represents a number too large to be counted. Hebrews 12:1 calls this group “a great cloud of witnesses.” Remember that “Name” in the Bible refers to “character,” or “identity.” These are people whose minds and lives are being shaped by the character and identity of God and the Lamb.
The next thing John hears is a group of harpists playing harps and singing a new song. What’s the significance of this part of the vision?
The coin below was minted in Judea during the Bar Kochba Revolt in the years 132-135 CE. That revolt was initiated by Rabbi Akiva, when he identified a man named, Simon, as the Messiah and gave him the surname, Bar Kochba meaning, “Son of the Star,” from Numbers 24:17. The coin was minted after initial victories over Rome. It is dated “year one of the redemption of Israel.” What is the redemption of Israel? For centuries dating back to the writings of Ezekiel, the Jews believed that the Messiah would come, defeat the foreign oppressor, and restore the Temple to its intended use. At that point, God’s presence, which left the Temple before the Babylonian invasion (Ezekiel 10), would return. It would mean the end of exile, (i.e. domination by foreign empires) and the beginning of the New Creation. Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, wrestles with the sense that even though the Jews had returned from Babylon and rebuilt the temple, God’s presence had not returned (3:1-3).
Looking at this coin, the palm branch on the left was a symbol of military victory. The Maccabees had a coin minted with a palm branch on it when they defeated the Seleucids in 160 BC. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, people shouted, “Hosanna,” which means, “Save us!” They threw palm branches across his path. Both actions were a plea for Jesus to defeat the Roman army and remove them from Israel so that God could return to the temple and the long anticipated New Creation could begin. With their initial victories over Rome, they dated the coin “Year 1” because they believed God would begin the New Creation.
The Greek harp, or kithara, was a familiar instrument in ancient Rome. Koestra describes it as having “two vertical arms that were connected by a horizontal bar across the top and attached to a sound box at the bottom.” The harp you see on the image of the coin on the right is a kithara. On this coin, the kithara is a symbol of the great celebration of worship with the success of the Bar Kochba Revolt. Simon bar Kochba, the Messiah, had arrived, the Romans were defeated, God will return to the Temple, and the New Creation is beginning. Of course, that celebration never happened because the Romans massacred the Jews in 135 CE.
It is interesting to contrast the message of John to the churches with the Jewish revolts against Rome in 70 and 135 CE. We see two opposite ways of dealing with empire.
As is often the case in Revelation, worship is a joint activity engaging those in heaven and the church on earth. They sing a new song. Koester explains the biblical context of “new song.” He writes, “A ‘new song’ connotes praise: ‘He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God’ (Ps 40:3). Such new songs recalled God’s saving deeds and were often accompanied by stringed instruments.”
In fact, the new song is a song of praise. God has redeemed them. When the Israelites are redeemed from slavery in Egypt, they sing to God the great song of freedom in Exodus 15. None of the Egyptians join in. In Revelation 14, there is another great song thanking God for being set free from the control of the dragon and its monsters. Only those who embrace that freedom know that song.
John goes on to say that the 144,000 “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins” (14:4). This is yet another text that can be wildly misinterpreted without understanding its biblical context. Resseguie provides that context. He explains that “virgin” is a metaphorical:
Just as fornication is a metaphor for spiritual and religious idolatry, so “virgins” is a metaphor for those who reject the assimilation of Christianity with the blandishments of Jezebel (2:20-23), Balaam (2:14), and Babylon (17:2, 4; 18:3). Babylon, for example, is called the “mother of whores” (17:5), “with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication” (17:2), the counterimage to spiritual or religious virginity.
Similarly, to have “not defiled themselves with women” is a metaphor. Resseguie explains, “Like all the other imagery, abstinence should be understood figuratively, not literally. The 144,000 are the spiritually faithful who remain unentangled with the norms, values, and beliefs of the dominant culture.” While understanding John’s point, today we rightfully find this imagery troubling. Sadly, it resonates with a long, tragic history of misogyny.
We recognize the significance that “in their [meaning the church’s] mouth no lie was found.” Lies are the dragon and its monster’s stock in trade. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Pilate made clear that truth is whatever the empire wants it to be. I think we would all agree: statements that denigrate the personhood of women are lies that have no place in the church.
Interlude: The Three Angels – Revelation 14:6-13
6Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgement has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
8 Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
9 Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”
The Three Angels 14:6-13
John describes the first angels’ message as an “eternal gospel.” The Greek word translated, “gospel,” is εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion). The literal meaning is, “good news.” It is important to know this detail because “good news” is exactly what Rome promised. John is pushing back against Rome’s claim of being the source of good news, namely, the source of peace (pax romana) and wealth. Boxall writes,
The language of “good tidings” or “gospels” was regularly used as part of the imperial propaganda, especially in relation to the emperor himself…. It is unbelievable that those living in urban centers of proconsular Asia would not hear John’s echoes of this language loud and clear, particularly after a succession of visions which have unmasked Rome and its associates as in league with Satan himself. Again, the Apocalypse shows itself a highly subversive book, proclaiming a rival and eternal gospel besides which those transitory and ultimately dehumanizing “good tidings” of the empire fade into oblivion.
The Good News the angel announces is freedom from the grip of the dragon and its monsters. It is the justice, shalom, and community that reflect who God is. And this good news is eternal because God is eternal.
In contrast, the second angel announces the fall of Babylon. We’ll see Babylon described in detail in chapter 17. Babylon stands for all empires shaped by idolatry and oppression. The angel announces that Babylon has fallen. It is a proleptic announcement [treating a sure future act as if it has already happened]. The angel is completely certain that all such empires will fall and so announces that Babylon’s fall is already accomplished. The prophet Jeremiah makes the same statement proleptic announcement about Babylon before it fell (Jer 51:7).
The second angel also announces that Babylon the great “has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Let me first say again John uses feminine imagery that reflects the way it was used in the prophets and in the ancient world. However, it is important to state that it is not appropriate now and it was not appropriate then.
The point John is making is that Babylon the great, both in the ancient world and today, uses its power and wealth to control and seduce other nations. God’s expectations, in contrast, are that empires use their power and wealth for global justice and the well-being of the vulnerable. In next month’s Revelation Book Club Resource, we’ll see how God original purpose in creation is that the Garden of Eden would spread throughout the world blessing God’s human and nonhuman creation.
The second angel focuses on Babylon’s impact on other nations. The third angel focuses on the citizens of Babylon, particularly the church. The angel warns people not to collude with and support the monster’s injustice. It’s a message John has affirmed many times. Remember that Revelation is metaphor. “Divine punishment will no more be actual fire and sulfur than Christ will literally be a lamb.”
John calls the church to endure, keep the commandments, and hold fast to Jesus.
Fifth Vision: The Harvest of Someone Like a Son of Man – Revelation 14:14-16
14 Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! 15Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Sixth Vision: The Grape Harvest – Revelation 14:17-20
17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.
The Harvest of Grain and Grapes 14:14-20
In reading about these harvests, it’s important to remember that Revelation is not meant to be taken literally or as a prediction of literal future events. Rowland writes, “Given that Revelation is an allusive and suggestive text, rather than a prescriptive one, its function is to move readers and hearers to think anew, to allow their perspective to be changed, and to portray the consequences of failing to respond, rather than to describe in minute detail the future of the world.”
The angels come out from the temple – a repository of God’s just laws. (See Joel 3:13, Jeremiah 51:33, Mark 4:29) The angel announces to the Son of Man, Christ, that the time for harvest has come. Another angel appears and announces the beginning of the grape harvest. Koester helps us see John’s complex and remarkable use of wine imagery. The way John develops that imagery shows the moral order (Koester calls it “symmetry”) of God’s judgment. He writes:
John develops the wine imagery to show symmetry in God’s judgment (Rev 14:19), following the patterns of previous scenes in which angels declared that Babylon made the nations drink the wine of her passionate immorality (14:8). That “wine” signified the intoxicating power of luxury, violence, and false worship (17:2; 18:3). The effect of such practices become society’s undoing, they function as the wine of divine wrath (14:10). In the vision of the grape harvest, a similar reversal takes place (14:19). Here, the vineyard that has become full of blood has its blood squeezed out in the wine press of wrath. Instead of drinking the wine, people become the wine. The perpetrators of violence ultimately fall victim to it themselves (14:19; cf. 18:6).
The river of blood that dominates this picture is not the blood from Christ killing people. The blood is in the vineyard. It is blood shed by Babylon’s violence and murder. Koester writes,
This scene, as in 19:11-21, envisions an end to the injustice that has plagued the world. The river of blood, which flows as high as a horse’s bridle, shows the magnitude of the violence that been done on earth (14:20). It reveals why divine justice cannot be delayed indefinitely. As Christ tramples the grapes, the amount of blood that is squeezed out shows how full of brutality the world has become. From this perspective the question is not, “Why is God’s judgment so severe?” Rather, if one sees the earth as a vineyard already filled with blood, the question is like that of the martyrs: “Why has God not judged the wicked sooner?” (6:10).
Seventh Vision: The Song of the New Exodus – Revelation 15:1-4
1Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended. 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations!
4 Lord, who will not fear
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your judgements have been revealed.”
The Song of the New Exodus – 15:1-4
This song of praise draws the series of Seven Visions to a close. It also anticipates the last series of plagues, the Seven Bowl Plagues. The seven angels introduced here will pour out the seven bowls.
The scene is in heaven beside the crystal sea. In Greek, the translation, “conquered the beast” should be, “conquer fromthe beast.” The church does not conquer the beast. The church conquers by being separate from the beast—by not colluding with the beast. In life they refused to worship the beast’s image or receive its mark. Now they are eternally free from the seductions and oppression of the beast.
In Exodus, slaves set free from the oppression of Pharaoh sang the song of Moses beside the Red Sea. People in heaven set free from the oppression of the beast sing the song of Moses (Exodus 15) and the song of the Lamb by the crystal sea. The Song of Moses was a local celebration for one nation. Revelation 15 is a cosmic celebration made possible by the Lamb: “for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9b).
The redeemed praise God for his great and awe-inspiring works—powerful actions that demonstrate God’s justice and truthfulness and holiness. Holiness is the affirmation that God is unique (“you alone are holy”) in his justice and truthfulness. So the conquerors ask, “Lord, who will not fear (meaning awe and reverence) and glorify your name? (15:4a) and then answer their own question, “All nations will come and worship before you,” because they see God’s justice.
The Rev. Fran Gardner-Smith and The Rev. Dr. David Smith
Catherine Wilson, Epicureanism, Oxford University Press, 2013, 69.
J. Clinton McCann Jr., in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol IV, Leander E. Keck, ed.,Abingdon, 1996, 1073.
Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation Abingdon Press, 1996.
Ian Boxall, The Revelation of St John, London: A & C Black, 2006, 20.
Mitchell G. Reddish,Revelation, Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001, 232.
Quoted in Reddish, 232.
Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Yale University, 2014, 569.
The following is summarized from Reddish, pages 249-262.
Mac installed Dictionary, accessed 5/9/17.
Ventriloquist is one possible interpretation of 13:15: “it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could even speak” Koester, 593.
Eugene Barry, quoted in Reddish, 259.
Ian Boxall, The Revelation of St John, London: A & C Black, 2006, 200
The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume XII,(Revelation section written by Christopher C. Rowland), Abingdon: Nashville, 1998, 668.