The Coming of God’s Rule Against Evil
Two texts – One message
Revelation 19 speaks of Christ coming on a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth. It is not literal text but speaks of God’s judgment against “Babylon” which was Jerusalem of the first century, which joined up with Rome to destroy the church.
On the larger scale the imagery of Christ coming on a horse with a sword in his mouth speaks of the coming of God’s rule and kingdom into this world. There are many texts about this throughout the scripture. The tabernacle/ temple theme is one of the main avenues through which God’s kingdom comes. The tabernacle was the joining point between heaven and earth. It was where God’s rule entered into people’s lives and thus into the world.
The New Testament speaks of the church in this way. Peter said we are the new temple through whom God transforms the world. John 1 also said that through Christ and his church light comes into the world and the darkness can’t prevent this light from taking over. There is a kind of conquest here, like we see in the poetic imagery of Revelation 19. There is warfare, but not in the sense of violence. This is the warfare of a different kind of kingdom and rule, one from above.
Jesus spoke about this warfare in the Sermon on the Mount. Again, this sermon used creation imagery from Genesis 1. Jesus said his people are the light of the world. Jews then would have known he was referring to the original creation where God spoke light into existence, which then pushed back darkness and brought about the wonderful world. Jesus said in the same way God’s people are engaging darkness in warfare, through the means Jesus spoke about in this sermon: precisely, overcoming evil with good, redemption and reconciliation.
The coming of God’s rule into the world can mean different things. It can be a reference to God’s temple, his people, as the Sermon on the Mount outlines. It can also mean judgement, like Revelation 19 depicts. These first two themes are related: as God’s people shine the light, darkness is judged by the light. People who reject the light shrink back into darkness and this darkness destroys them. It is self-destruction and as they destroy themselves in rage and confusion this gives way to a renewal of the nations, God’s rule of good returning to our communities.
The final way in which God’s rule comes into the world is through the final coming of Christ. This was referred to in Isaiah 25. It said that heaven and earth are always close together but separated by a veil of blindness. When God removes this veil heaven floods into and fills the whole creation. Death is vanquished. This is what the second coming means: the revealing of Christ to the world in the final resurrection of humanity to judgement.
The purpose of this article is to show the correspondence between the Jesus of Revelation 19 and the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. It is the same Jesus, presented in different language. Revelation was written in apocalyptic language. This is poetic and symbolic language. It shows a God doing war in order to bring in his rule and kingdom, to banish evil. But the Sermon on the Mount shows how this war is done. It shows how evil is overcome in our own hearts and lives first, and then in our relationships with others and our communities, how violence, greed and enmity are overcome among our neighbours and God’s rule extends to our relationships and nations. Revelation 19 and the Sermon on the Mount are one Jesus, presented in different language forms.
In Colossians 2, Paul used poetic language similar to Rev 19. In Colossians Paul spoke of Jesus conquering principalities and powers. Paul used the Roman theme of the “triumphant parade,” in his phrase “he made of show of them (the false powers) openly.” This referred to the Roman general or Emperor, who would go on a triumphant parade into Rome with his enemies dragged behind him in chains. This was after a brutal war of violence. But Paul used the same language to depict Christ’s cross. God’s rule of conquest came not through violent acts of war, but through his cross. It was at the cross that he conquered the powers of darkness. Here again, the poetic language of warfare is married with the new life of peace: where evil is overcome by good.
It is important that we don’t misunderstand this apocalyptic or poetic language that we see in images in the Revelation and other places. They are not a call to violence. They are not depicting a different kind of Jesus to the Jesus we see in the Gospels and Sermon on the Mount. They do not depict a God of violence. They are simply poetic language, written in the imagery of the day, to show us that God’s rule comes into the world by a different kind of warfare. It is a rule from above, not from below. It shows us that God’s weakness is stronger than man and stronger that all the powers of darkness. God overcomes darkness with light, not with violence, including the light that he shines through our lives into this world.