Some of us really struggle with the imagery of this book. The technicolor, the extremes, the violence, the cacophony, the dissonance, the resonance. In this passage itself, we move from worship, to a wedding supper, to war, to a victory supper. And, the wedding supper and the victory supper sound like the same meal. John’s vision marries – to intentionally pun – the grotesque and the glorious, the bloody and the beautiful, the Wedding of the Lamb and the Armageddon Battle.
But we must not give up. We must not shield our eyes or cover our ears. We are dealing with Holy Scripture, no matter how difficult or distasteful. I believe that part of the reason John gives us such disturbing vision is that we really live in a mad world. There’s a song by that title, "Mad World" (Gary Jules with Michael Andrews, album Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets):
And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very very mad world, mad world
Jacques Ellul wrote, "If we let ourselves drift along the stream of history, we shall have chosen the power of suicide which is at the heart of the world" (The Presence of the Kingdom). Most of the time, however, we’d rather ignore that otherwise blatant fact – that the world is full of evils, large and small. Or, we fixate on evil, but we do so by living complaining, small-minded lives and so miss out on the big picture of just how much trouble we and our world find ourselves.
John’s visions are a jolt to our pseudo-security, and an assault on our self-centered focus on evils. Unless we fully appreciate evil, we’ll miss out on the marvels of grace and salvation, the marvels that John begins to unfold in the paired themes of Wedding and War (see Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder, p 155, "meal and war").
It is also worth noting at this point that the message of the Revelation came to a church that was mostly pacifist in its practice, for two reasons: (1) the teachings of Jesus, among them to "turn the other cheek" and to "love your enemy", and (2) the fact that they were oppressed by Roman power including the military. When soldiers showed up, it wasn't to worship but to arrest.
When John's churches heard this vision, they were not energized to take up arms and destroy Rome by force. Instead, they were given hope that, despite evidence to the contrary, "the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15). And, they understood, in the vision of the victorious Jesus, that his weapon, the sword, is the power of the Word. The Word of God that spoke "let there be light" is about to speak a new word, to form a new creation, to do away with evil forever.
We struggle, many of us, with the imagery. But many of us also struggle with the need to construct a timeline of the future out of the wildness of the Revelation, to turn this "uncovering" into an almanac, to reduce the multiple layers to one dimension. Tribulation, rapture, millennium, heaven. Well, it’s here, though not all in the Revelation, it’s "in the book". However, prophecy is not primarily about the details of the future. Prophecy is about living now in the light of God’s promise. Prophecy is about changing lives now, changing the world now. If we push all of this off to some point in the future, whether near or far, we miss the point for today. And, if Jesus’ disciples didn’t get the connection between Old Testament prophecy and the story of Jesus until after his resurrection, we’ve got to give ourselves some space and grace to be unclear about future details, and at the same time open ourselves to what God is saying to us today.
1. Worship in heaven (both the conclusion to the judgment of Babylon and the introduction to the salvation cycle)
"great multitude", from the sealing of the saints, 7.9
"sound of many waters" (and great multitude), 1.15
the central descriptor of the seven fold description of Jesus
now applied to the hymn of the saints ... the body of Jesus
bride clothed with "fine linen, bright and pure" 19.8
2. Marriage announcement & supper invitation
as referenced last week, a contrast between the Great Prostitute and the Bride
3. White rider & army
"There was a white horse!", first seal, riding to conquer, 6.1-2
"eyes like a flame of fire", 2nd descriptor of seven fold Jesus, 1.14
sword from mouth, 6th descriptor, 1.16
2nd and 6th descriptors are a pair in the nesting description of chapt 1
army wearing "fine linen, bright and pure" 19.14, the BRIDE!
4. Victory announcement & supper invitation
armies of the beast, gathered in the 6th bowl by the frog-spirits from the mouths of the dragon, beast, and beast/false prophet
frogs? As powerful and real and technicolor as evil is ... it is made ridiculous in this image (Peterson, 163)
the plague of frogs on Egypt (Ex 8) ends with a word and prayer from Moses ... the frog-drawn armies are destroyed with the sword/Word of Jesus
Wedding & War fit the two dominant presentations of Jesus in the Revelation:
the Lamb slaughtered . . . marriage supper of the LAMB (Rev 19:9)
the rider on the white horse . . . victory supper of the victorious Christ
It is one and the same Jesus. The blood on his robe – whether the most favored Greek variant "dipped in blood" or the other word "sprinkled with blood" – is a word that evokes memory of the priestly work of sacrifice and the consecration of the priest by sprinkling of blood. Both variants also evoke baptismal themes: whether "sprinkling" or "dipped" (the Greek root "baptidzo", for baptize, immerse, and dip).
One might ask, "In whose blood is the robe dipped?" The narrative arc indicates the enemies of God, conquered and killed, in a great deliverance for God’s people and for the world. But, like the bowls of God’s wrath, there is a second meaning. For the bowls, we saw indications that the judgment of God is poured out not just to deliver God’s people and the world from oppression, but the judgment of wrath is poured out on Jesus, who declares "it is finished" just as the Revelation vision of the seven bowls declares that the wrath of God "is finished". Here too, we find indicators of the cross. The victorious rider on the white horse (like the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1) is presented in priestly garments. Jesus, our High Priest and mediator, "entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!" (Hebrews 9:12-14).
The Lamb Slaughtered and the Victorious Rider are one and the same Jesus.
Wedding and War also fit the lines from 23rd Psalm (Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder, 166)
you prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies
We are both rescued from our enemies and made whole at the table, delivered from captivities and restored to love. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever". Salvation, both now and for all eternity.