What does the book of Revelation say? (part 15)

Ted Grimsrud

15. The War That’s Not a War—Revelation 19:1-21

[This is the fifteenth in a series of posts summarizing the message of the book of Revelation.  I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. My intent with this project is to write a new book applying Revelation’s message to our modern world.]

In Revelation, we are told that the Beast, the Dragon, the city Babylon, these Powers that symbolize the domination system are defeated, that “it is all over.” Yet the powers keep coming back. They go down in chapters 11 and 12, and in chapter 17, and then again in chapter 18. And at the beginning of chapter 19, the great harlot has been judged and smoke goes up from her forever and ever. And yet, in the second half of the chapter the powers of evil are back, gathered for the great battle of Armageddon.

There’s a war going on in Revelation—a war against these Powers. But it’s a strange kind of war. Revelation 19:11-21 pictures a great warrior. Notice that though the warrior is victorious, the Powers come back in chapter 20. That they always come back is a literary technique pushing the narrative ahead. We come to the end but know there is still more of the book to come. Then we circle back and it happens again. It’s a way to hold readers’ interest. But I also think there is a theological message here too—it’s a way of saying that history, what Revelation symbolizes as the 3½ years, the time we live in, is not simply linear. The outcome that matters isn’t only in the future.

That is, that the Powers keep coming back and that the Lamb’s followers keep celebrating tell us that what matters is what we do now. Revelation is not about the future. It’s about the present—the present of John the writer but also the present of all the readers throughout history. The Powers are always present, but so too is the celebration, if we choose to join it.

The war that is not a war

Revelation tells us about an on-going deadly conflict that is deadly and frames the conflict in terms of living a life-enhancing life in the midst of the death-dealing ways of the Roman Empire. And, yet Revelation makes it clear that this war is not to be fought with conventional weapons. It’s not to be a typical war with winners and losers, with death and destruction. The “conquering” that needs to happen comes about through love, not through force. So, there is a war, but it’s not really a war. Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 15)”