Anthropocide and Apocalypse: Death and Divine Philanthropy in Revelation’s Metaphorical World

Revelation reads as the most violent book in the NT. In current scholarship, it is common to reflect on the call to non-violent resistance (e.g. Reading Revelation Responsibly, Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation). The question those caveats neglect is this: why is Christ so very violent? As opener of the seals (5:5, 6:1), he begins the war (6:16–17). As white rider, he also ends it (19:11–21). And, in that war, seemingly nobody survives (19:18, 21). Commentators aren’t answering the core, theological-anthropological question: in Revelation, does God still love us?

This study makes the claim that Christ’s violence is rather a metaphor for salvation. Those who are apparently suffering and dying during the war are actually being restored to full relationship with God by means of that violence. It is in no way disadvantageous, but is instead a symbol of God’s restoration—first for Israelite “land-dwellers” (6:10), and then for generalized “humanity” (9:15, 18). The seals-sufferers name the Lamb as the aggressor (6:16) and go on to praise him for his “salvation” (7:9–10, 14); this, in a series that is explicitly not “judgment” (6:10). The trumpet-sufferers die (9:15, 18) while only the blasphemous survive (9:20–21). God is killing the wrong people—and, again, not in judgment (11:15, 18). The bowls-sufferers, in contrast, are being judged (16:5–7) in the one series in which no one dies (16:2, 9–11, 21). And, in the final act, God seems to “kill” the Great Adulteress (18:8), whereupon she is washed clean (19:8), and heaven celebrates her salvation just as in the seals (19:1, 7:10). Even the slain gentiles (19:17–21) subsequently progress into the kingdom of God (21:24). Death seems to be acting as a metaphor for something in the Apocalypse that is neither deadly nor even detrimental. God seems to be restoring by means of death—a metaphor known to other parts of the NT (Gal 2:20, 6:14–15; Col 2:12, 20, 3:1–3; Rom 6:3–6; Mark 8:34–35).

Does God love humanity?

Using the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR, we will discover that many of the apparent “weapons” Christ wields are actually tools of testimony (which is why they are placed in his mouth; 1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21). Fire—already a symbol for the Holy Spirit (4:5)—will be found to represent the testimony of the Holy Spirit (11:5). And water—the opposite of fire—will become the beast’s tool of deceit to try to sweep away God’s faithful (12:15). There is a war in Revelation. That much is explicit (12:7, 17; 16:14; 17:14; 19:11). But we will find that it is a war of witness, in which the “slain” return rejoicing as Christ’s favored witnesses (14:1). God loves humanity in the Apocalypse and is working with all his testimonial might to defeat their resistance to that gospel. In the end, all will be defeated by it (19:18, 20:7–9). Within the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR, death truly gets swallowed up in victory.

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