Revelation 19:1-10: From the Destruction of Babylon to the Marriage of the Lamb
Celebration is the name of the game with the destruction of Babylon. The dragon’s proxy through the beast, the great city, has fallen. Swift and complete has been its destruction. That blood it shed of Jesus’ witnesses and followers has worked its strange alchemy destroying Babylon and, at the same time, opening the door for its redemption. Grimsrud is right: “God’s method of gaining justice in relation to Babylon through persevering love even in the face of violent bloodletting by the structures of domination. And this justice will result in the destruction of the powers of evil and the healing of the kings of the earth and the nations.”
A “great multitude ( Rev.7),” the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures join forces for a massive unrestrained display of praise and worship.
The judgment and destruction of the great city also heralds the time of the end, the marriage of the Lamb and his bride. Interestingly, ”his bride has made herself ready” (19:7). This dressing of the bride is detailed more in v.8: “to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” In other words, the faithful practice of the way of Jesus’ nonviolent, self-sacrificial, servanthood has adorned the bride for her nuptials. That index of faithfulness we derived from chs.2-3 has been enacted by these believers (the faithful through the ages)!
The great city has been destroyed to make way for an even greater city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev.21:2)!
Revelation 19:11-21: The (Never Fought) Great War and the Destruction of the Two Beasts
After the announcement of the nuptials between the Lamb and the Bride, the next scene opens with a rider on a white horse. “Faithful and True” is the name of its rider and he sallies forth in all righteousness for battle. With eyes like a flame of fire (1:14), adorned with tokens of royal authority, and a name no one else knows. Clad in a blood-dripped robe, his name is the Word of God. This rider is attended by his army wearing fine white linen (just like the bride, v.8) and riding white horses, symbols of victory. His only weapon is a sword coming from his mouth (1:16; 2:2). This is not a literal weapon, of course, but the word of God. “he treads (present tense, not the future as the NRSV has it) the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Not too many more ways we can be told that this figure is Jesus.
The blood-dripped robe is of obvious interest. Even before any battle occurs Jesus’ robe is stained with blood. Whose blood? His own. In 14:20 we learned the winepress referred to the cross. And in 19:15 Jesus is presently treading this wine press. And this gives us the clue to why there is no battle depicted. It’s already happened! It happened definitively and decisively at the cross of Jesus (the past tense “treading” of 14:20 and derivatively in the present through the witness of those who live out Jesus’ way of nonviolent, suffering love. This love absorbs the worst the dragon and his minions can do to them and yet their shed blood turns out to be the undoing of the powers of evil and the salvation of the world.
So, no battle occurs. The Beasts are captured without further ado and cast into the Lake of fire. The humans the Beasts gathered as their army are “killed” by the rider’s sword (the Word of God). This is not a literal killing then, but a metaphorical way of speaking of their judgment. That the destinies of the Beasts and the humans who followed them are separated suggests that destruction is not the end of judgment for the humans, though they certainly are punished here for their infidelity to God. We will await further data before pronouncing on their end. The gory imagery heightens the seriousness of this judgment.
The Beasts disposed of, the Seer turns to the Dragon itself in one the most controversial passages in Revelation, ch.20.
Resistical learnings: love, the nonviolent, sacrificial witness to Jesus victory on the cross, has significant political clout. Not in God’s people running the world. And not in violent overthrow of existing power structures. Rather, in what I have called subversive counter-revolutionary activity. From the bottom up, the people of God subvert the attitudes, actions that underlie the patterns and systems that the fall has inscribed into creation. We seek to unveil the lies and illusions on which the political and religious Beasts have built their kingdoms. That’s why the Beasts are captured without incident. The rider with the sword has revealed the essential falsity of all they are up to and they are powerless to react.