The Revelation of Jesus Christ How the last book of the Bible reveals the Lamb.


The New Testament of the Bible reveals to us the full and complete nature of God. In Jesus, we find out what God looks like by witnessing the “radiance of his glory” and “the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). It is revealed that God doesn’t look like how most thought he did through the millennia. It is revealed that God is love, and that love looks like dying on behalf of your enemies. Jesus called his followers to such radical nonviolent self-sacrificial love that few of his contemporaries were ready. It wasn’t until after Christ’s resurrection that his followers understood his call to pick up their cross and die for their enemies. But doesn’t the book of Revelation show us Jesus returning to kill all his enemies?

Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to feed them, bless them, pray for them, and do good to them. Jesus taught us to refrain from all forms of violence and never repay evil for evil. Jesus showed us that rather than dominate others, we should serve others. Jesus showed us the type of love we are supposed to have for all people—self-sacrificial love unto death. But in Revelation, does God take all that back and kill everyone?

Will the Prince of Peace really return and slaughter millions of people? You may have heard it said, “Jesus came the first time as a lamb, but he will return as a lion!” Is this true? Does Revelation reveal that there are two sides to Jesus? Rather than let “the tail wag the dog,” what happens if we let the rest of the New Testament show us how to interpret Revelation? Read on to see how we can read Revelation responsibly and how it, more than any other book of the Bible, advocates for total nonviolence and enemy love.

What is Revelation?

The book of Revelation has historically been the most confusing part of the Bible. Interestingly, it barely made it into the New Testament canon, and to this day, the Orthodox Church doesn’t recognize it as Scripture. The 16th-century reformer, Martin Luther, famously dismissed the book of Revelation, saying it is “neither apostolic nor prophetic… I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it… Christ is neither taught nor known in it.”1 We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Revelation, because while Luther couldn’t see the real Jesus in this book, many have found him.

Before we can look at how Revelation doesn’t compromise the character of God that Jesus reveals on the cross, we must explore what type of literature it is. Revelation was a letter written to seven different churches in Asia during the late first century. It combines the literary genres of Ancient Near Eastern Apocalyptic, Biblical prophecy, and epistle (or letter). Its goal was to challenge and comfort communities of Christ-followers who were both tempted to succumb to the patriotism and propaganda of empire, and who also needed reminding that Satan’s work through human governments was coming to an end.

“Apocalypse” is the Greek word for “revelation” and it literally means “to fully reveal.” The primary way that Revelation communicates spiritual realities is through deep, rich symbolism. The literary genre of Apocalypse was popular in the first century and served as a way to creatively convey controversial messages of resistance of empire to God’s people. While Apocalyptic literature was never interpreted literally, it was able to communicate truth in a way not possible by other means. Revelation pulls back the curtain on the spiritual realm, allowing followers of Jesus to see how he was victorious over his enemies.

Heavenly Perspective

The disciples, apostles, and early Church all knew something very well that Christians today seem to often forget—Christ was victorious on the cross. Read that again and try to really believe it. Jesus achieved victory through his death and resurrection over the powers of darkness. Jesus doesn’t need to return one day to defeat his enemies—his enemies have already been defeated. It is on this foundation that the book of Revelation is built. Revelation is a reminder to followers of Jesus that victory has already been achieved, so stay true to his ways and reject the ways of empire.

The author’s central objective in writing Revelation was to motivate Christians to be uncompromising in their refusal to adopt the pagan values, rituals, and practices of the Roman Empire. By symbolizing Rome as “Babylon,” the author makes this goal applicable to all kingdoms of the world, but most importantly empireslike America. The book construes the conflict between followers of Jesus and “Babylon” as part of a much broader cosmic conflict between God and Satan. But resisting Rome, or any empire, almost always leads to death—which is why we find the theme of martyrdom all throughout the book (Revelation 6:9-10, 7:14, 12:11, 13:15, 18:12). By calling followers of Jesus to resist the ways of empire, Revelation challenges them to actively participate in God’s war against evil cosmic forces. Revelation offers a heavenly perspective on our earthly reality.

By placing the author’s point of view in God’s heavenly throne room, Revelation shares in the tradition of its apocalyptic genre of using extensive symbolism to let its audience in on a divine secret by offering a heavenly perspective of earthly events.2 Revelation describes the spiritual realm. In this way, Revelation offers its 1st-century audience a theological interpretation of events that are soon going to take place (Revelation 1:1, 22:6). This divine secret is found in a scroll that reveals a surprising truth about the way God governs the world and conquers evil while also explaining why this way of ruling and conquering evil looks like it is failing. This scroll’s secret is shockingly applicable even today.

Lies vs Truth

The war that is being waged in Revelation, told through strange and wild symbolism, is a spiritual one between lies and truth. In one corner, you have Satan, who the author anchors his depiction in the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Satan is identified as “the ancient serpent” who is “the accuser” and “the deceiver” who has the power to seduce people and lead “the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9, 20:2-3, 7-8).3 In the other corner you have Jesus, who is described as a Lamb who is “faithful and true” and of God’s people who are without deceit and who overcome by speaking truth (Revelation 14:5, 3:14). Revelation shows us the spiritual battle between light and dark from the perspective of the heavens. This battle has already been won, but now the people of the world must wake up to the reality of the truth. Hence, the most important contrast between the forces of darkness that animate the power of human rulership and the forces of light, being the army of the Lamb, is the contrast between deceit and truth.4

Remember, Jesus has already won the battle. Christ achieved victory on the cross. The serpent’s age-old deception is the accusation that God is untrustworthy (Genesis 3:1-5). “Did God really say he was victorious on the cross?” The victory of the Lamb is a victory of truth over Satan’s deception. You see, the readers and listeners of Revelation in the first century were being persecuted and put to death. The reality of victory was a hard pill for them to swallow, and Satan’s lies seemed quite realistic. The message of Revelation is centered on the vindication of God’s character and his lamb-like way of governing the world in the face of Satan’s lies.5 The world remains enslaved to the lies of “the deceiver” since they do not yet acknowledge the victory of the Lamb who was slain. The victory has already been achieved in the spiritual sense, but on earth, it is a battle between truth and deception.6 Revelation calls followers of the Lamb to resist and subvert the idolatrous values and practices of empire—patriotism, economic greed, individualism, trust in human rulers, etc. Jesus calls us to revolt against the ways of empire—the deceptions of the serpent—even to the point of death as we live in accordance with the truth revealed in the Lamb’s life, teachings, and death.

With the exception of those who follow the Lamb, all the people, nations, and governments of the world are under Satan’s seductive power (Revelation 13:8, 12, 14; 14:8; 17:15; 18:3, 23; 20:8, 10).

The early Church understood that when it came to their violent oppressors, they were to refuse violence against them and were to self-sacrificially love them. This radical calling couldn’t help but cause doubt at times, and Revelation was written to encourage those who had started to lose hope. Revelation is a reminder that Christ has already achieved victory; the world just needs to realize it. Once we understand that the primary conflict all throughout the book of Revelation is between truth and deception, we can begin to understand why Jesus uses the type of sword he does. Jesus wields a sword that comes out of his mouth to defeat his foes (Revelation 1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21). Like almost all of Revelation, there isn’t a literal sword literally coming out of his mouth. The sword vanquishes “all the lies of the beast,” while all who refuse to repent and align themselves with the beast are “condemned by truth” (John 12:47-48).7 In Revelation, the saints don’t overcome evil by using real weapons, which have already been forbidden by Christ; they overcome evil by “the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). As Paul says, our war “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The only weapon that the Lamb and his army rely upon in this war is their willingness to die as a means of bearing witness to the truth.

Violence Parodied

Revelation is a violent book, but only on the surface. Revelation is a political critique of imperial violence that empires wield to accomplish their purposes. Jesus showed us on the cross that true victory can only be achieved by self-sacrificially dying for one’s enemies out of love for them. Revelation is revealing that Christ’s ways of nonviolent enemy love are the only way to overcome the evils of Satan. The violence in Revelation borrows images from the Old Testament, along with some from other apocalyptic literature of the time, in order to turn them on their head and reverse their original meaning.

The most important example of this subversion of violence is when Revelation introduces Jesus. The contemporary Jewish Messianic hope of a conquering warrior was typified in the imagery of a lion. The image of a lion is that which is violent, militaristic, and triumphant through the means of ripping enemies apart. The author of Revelation takes this expectation of a lion-like Messiah and subverts it, for when he looks, he doesn’t see a lion at all, but “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). A lion is mentioned once, but only to subvert it, because from that point on, it is only the slain Lamb that is mentioned (around 30 more times), never a lion. John has transformed a symbol of power and violent domination into a symbol of vulnerability, peace, and nonviolence. It is the slain Lamb who does all the fighting in Revelation, not a lion, and he does this fighting in a slain-Lamb-like way, never through violence. This was (and is) a reminder that followers of God desperately needed.

In the “final battle” of Revelation, Jesus rides in on a horse, “dressed in a robe, dipped in blood” (Revelation 19:11-13). This is a classic image of a warrior who comes riding home from battle, soaked in the blood of all his enemies. Revelation subverts this imagery by having Jesus ride into battle already soaked in blood. This is because the blood is his own. The Lamb defeats foes not by shedding the blood of his enemies but by shedding his own blood on behalf of his enemies, as he did on the cross. If we look for it, we can see the consistency between the Gospel accounts of Jesus and the Jesus we see in Revelation.

This is further illustrated by his sword, which is not wielded in the hand, but rather comes out of his mouth. No longer is the imagery of a sword a violent one; instead, the sword symbolizes simply speaking the truth of God. This is why Revelation states that the name of this warrior was “the Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). Jesus doesn’t use the sword for violence; instead, he slays the lies of the “deceiver” who had held the nations in bondage (Revelation 19:20). In fact, if you have eyes to see, it is obvious that Jesus didn’t kill anyone with the sword in his mouth, because immediately after saying that Jesus struck down the nations (with truth), Revelation says that Jesus was now going to “rule them with an iron scepter” (Revelation 19:15). Later we find these “slain nations” walking by the light of the Lamb (Revelation 21:24). These nations didn’t “die,” rather, they were deceived by Satan’s lies, and the Lamb set them free to see the truth by the sword coming from his mouth. This is the type of warfare that Jesus participates in—lies are slain with truth.

Winepress of Wrath

So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle.
Revelation 14:19-20

The imagery of a winepress comes from Old Testament writings such as Isaiah, Joel, and Lamentations. Like many aspects of the Old Testament, the New Testament subverts everyone’s expectations for what God is like and how he interacts with the world. This winepress imagery is no different as Revelation ingeniously reverses its violent meaning.

In the Old Testament, whenever winepress imagery is used, the grapes are sinners that are crushed by God’s wrath because of their wickedness. But in Revelation, this is not the reason that grapes are crushed, the grapes are not the sinners, and God’s wrath is not directed towards the grapes—it is vitally important to note these differences. In Revelation, the grapes are crushed because they are ready to be harvested (Revelation 14:15-16). In Revelation, the sinners, or “the unrepentant,” are the ones that drink the wine made from the crushed grapes (Revelation 14:10, 14:8-9, 16:6). What is going on here? The sinners are drinking the crushed grapes? Who are the crushed grapes?

Since the blood (wine) that flows from the winepress clearly isn’t the blood of God’s enemies, it can only be the blood of the Lamb’s followers (Revelation 17:6). Revelation 6:10-11 says that the time for judgment is reached, and the cry of the martyred saints is answered, when “the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been”—that is, when the grapes are ripe for harvesting (Revelation 14:15). The unrepentant are made to drink the blood of their innocent victims (Revelation 14:8; 16:6), and by doing so are suffering the consequences of their wicked life. The consequences of their wickedness and violence ricochets back on them, and thus are judged (Revelation 11:18, 13:10, 16:6, 18:6, 22:18-19). Revelation portrays the self-destructive nature of sin by both using the drinking of martyr’s blood as a symbol of the sin that is being judged (Revelation 14:8, 17:6, 18:3) and as a symbol of the judgment of that sin (Revelation 14:10, 16:6).

This motif is central to the entire book of Revelation: followers of the Lamb overcome the same way that Jesus overcame—not by resorting to physical violence, but “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” and are victorious because “they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:11). The Old Testament imagery of the winepress showed God’s victory by identifying the wine that flowed as the blood of God’s enemies, but Revelation subverts this expectation by saying that the wine is the blood of the Lamb’s followers—showing their ultimate victory by bearing witness to the truth of God’s lamb-like character of nonviolent, selfless sacrifice. God doesn’t need violence to solve his problems.

Lion of Lies

The lie of Satan is that God is like him. The Jews bought into this lie. They expected a roaring lion of a messiah, but Peter tells us that it is Satan who is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). Revelation confronts lies and deceptions like this on all fronts. The battle that runs all throughout Revelation is one between the Lamb who is “faithful and true,” manifesting the truth of God’s self-sacrificial, loving character and way of nonviolently defeating evil, and the Lion, “the deceiver” who “leads the whole world astray” with the lie that coercive human authority and the violent power of empire (Babylon) is the path to victory. Our fallen, sinful instinct is to want that Lion-like power, but the central purpose of Revelation is to call followers of the Lamb, who are facing imminent persecution, to stay faithful to God’s Lamb-like character—despite the way that it may appear as if this way of living is losing in the face of Babylon’s lion-like violent power.

The army of God, followers of Jesus, fights and wins in the same way that the slain Lamb fights and wins, not by slaying enemies with weapons, but by remaining faithful to God, even to the point of laying down their lives for others—including enemies. The people of God do not fight like a Lion—like the way of Satan—they fight like a Lamb, like a martyr. The Lion calls us to embrace the violence of empire, the power of the sword, and trust in military might. The Lamb calls us to imitate him and “follow [him] wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4) by bearing witness to the truth of God’s self-sacrificial character and overcoming evil with love. By doing this, the lies of Satan are defeated, the lies that lead the whole world astray into placing their trust in violent empires like America. Our only true enemies are Satan and death itself.

God’s power is and always has been “Lamb-like power.” This is Revelation’s claim, and if it is untrue, then Jesus is not in any meaningful way a faithful witness (Revelation 1:5). God is fundamentally different from any other lion-like god because he is like a lamb. Revelation’s central affirmation that Christ alone is worthy of worship is incoherent if God is not Lamb-like. The lie and deception of the Lion is that military and economic might makes right. The sword of truth that comes out of the Lamb’s mouth says that all those who live by the sword will eventually die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). Empires like America that have bought into the Lion’s lie will eventually crumble under the weight of their own violence. The hope of Revelation is that people will turn away from the Lion and turn to the Lamb as their trust in the sword of Babylon is replaced with a trust in the power of self-sacrificial love. Revelation sings of this hope of a future where “the kingdoms of the world have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Revelation 11:15).

Its Gates Will Never Be Shut

The Revelation of Jesus Christ shows us a bright future for the world. As the world continues, day after day, to be freed from Satan’s deceptions, they will come under the shepherding of the Lamb’s loving rule. While empires are condemned for their unrightful rulership over humankind, this will not always be the case (Revelation 19:19, 18:3, 17:2). Kings, prime ministers, emperors, and presidents have had their day, but they will be brought into the light (1 Corinthians 15:24). As the nations put aside their own rulers and authority in order to honor the rightful rulership of the Lamb, they will begin to “walk by [the Lamb’s] light” (Revelation 21:24).

While our struggle is with “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world,” we do not overcome them by shedding their blood (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10:3). Instead, we overcome by shedding our own blood and by speaking the truth that only Lamb-like, nonviolent, enemy-loving power wins in the end. Our enemies—the rulers and authorities of this dark world—are defeated and punished by drinking the blood of the people they have killed, but they themselves are not killed. Our enemies will be redeemed through the power of the sword of truth that comes out of the Lamb’s mouth.

The claim that “Jesus came the first time as a lamb, but he will return as a lion” is a lie. This is the exact lie that Revelation attempts to help it’s readers overcome. Jesus is the Lamb and Satan is the Lion (John 1:29, 1 Peter 5:8). The Jesus of Revelation that wins in the end is the same Jesus we got to know in the Gospel accounts. In Revelation, he wins the same way he won in the Gospels: by offering up his life on behalf of others. As the Kingdom of God expands and takes over the earth, this present age will be brought to a close in the same way that victory was achieved on the cross—with self-sacrificial nonviolent love. Revelation’s warfare isn’t literal—as followers of the Lamb share in Christ’s victory by their faithful witness and sacrificial death, rather than by engaging in military violence. You’ll notice that once Jesus rides into battle in Revelation 19 there is no battle that takes place—because Jesus was already victorious on the cross!8

Jesus is the full revelation of God and that revelation is wholly consistent. Jesus didn’t deny the pragmatic tool of violence throughout his entire ministry only to betray his ethics in Revelation. Jesus always wages war like a lamb, never as a lion. The book’s revision of traditional warfare imagery, with its stunning subversion of power, “is so contrary to normal human practice that most churches throughout history have not agreed with Revelation.”9 Trust in the truth that Jesus is just as beautiful as the Gospel books show him to be.

Go Deeper


  1. “Preface to the Revelation of St. John [I],” 398–99 (1522).
  2. Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (London: SPCK, 1982), 20; Eller, Most Revealing Book, 26– 28; Bauckham, Revelation, 7.
  3. On Genesis 3 as the background of Revelation 12, see Paul S. Minear, “Far as the Curse Is Found: The Point of Revelation 12: 15– 16,” NovT 33, no. 1 (1991): 71– 77; Feuillet, “Le chapitre XII de l’Apocalypse.”
  4. Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New Testament Theology). Cambridge University Press. 91.
  5. This is the central thesis of Tonstad’s Saving God’s Reputation. See also Bauckham, Revelation, 22–23. God’s character vindication is Satan’s demise, as argued by Klaus Koch in The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 1972), 94.
  6. Bauckham, Climax, 185– 86. Eller nicely captures this theme throughout Most Revealing Book, 36, 48-49, 131. Hence, the parousia of Jesus can be described as “a parousia of truth.” Eller, 176.
  7. Bauckham, Revelation, 68–69, 105. Bredin (Jesus, 203) notes that “Jesus is the source of condemnation insofar as those who reject his witness condemn themselves.”
  8. “In Revelation there are at least five occasions in which preparations for a kind of “final battle” are made, the last of which is the battle of Christ on the white horse, marked by his own (not his enemies’) blood. At this battle, as in all the other battles, however, no actual fighting occurs! We learn the fate of the enemies of God, but this is more of a battle summary or report of casualties (e.g. Rev 19:20–21). To repeat: there is no actual final battle in Revelation. Why? Because the images of battle are supposed to suggest to us the promise and reality of God’s defeat of evil, but they are not the means of that defeat. There is no literal battle, no literal war of the Lamb for those present at the second coming to join in (as the “Left Behind” series imagines it), no literal pre-Parousia campaign conducted by human soldiers, Christian or otherwise, on behalf of God. In the cataclysmic battle of Revelation 19, what do the heavenly armies do? Nothing… All the actions belong to Christ, and his only weapon is the “sword” of his word.” Gorman, Michael J.. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 3661-3671). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
  9. Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 216.