The Lord of Lords: Bridegroom or Warrior?
The Divine Sovereignty of Revelation 19:6-16
Stacy L. Otto: Nipawi1@aol.com
From the island of Patmos came a literary and theological masterpiece of such proportions that, two thousand years later, scholars are still unfolding the secrets of its poetic imagery. A full appreciation of the Book of Revelation is not, however, to be found in an attempt to discern the meaning of its symbolism and imagery (though this is certainly important). Rather, it is necessary to view the work as a comprehensive whole, written with a very specific intent. Revelation is neither, as some have claimed, a mystical prophecy, nor is it a cryptic account of the end of the world. Rather, it is a well-integrated message to first-century Christians, designed to inspire hope for the oppressed through proclamation of Gods sovereign reign. Johns compositional style is a creative blend of Christian perspective, apocalyptic tradition, and Old Testament allusion; uniquely designed for maximum impact upon his intended audience. Thus, any theological reflection or exegesis must be based on three factors: (1) clarification of the historical setting in which the text was composed; (2) discernment of apocalyptic literary techniques and their influence on the oral and written traditions of the early church; and (3) knowledge of the books structure of the book, with a view to understanding the intertextual relations of its various parts. Once such a foundation has been established, we can then explore the nature and meaning of Revelation 19:6-16 in particular.
Most scholars agree that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian, from 81-96 CE (probably during the latter portion, after 92 CE), although there is still mixed opinion concerning authorship. While early Church tradition attributes both the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel to the Apostle John, contemporary evidence tends to refute this hypothesis.1 While internal factors (such as Johns fourfold reference to himself in Rev 1:1; 1:4; 21:2; 22:8) and external support (via the writings of Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr and the like) seemed to validate the earlier conjecture, more recent Biblical criticism strongly challenges it.2 By comparing the linguistic and stylistic variances between Revelation and the Gospel According to John, many have determined that apostolic origin is not possible, making a pseudonymous author the more likely prospect. Conversely, similarities between the two texts tend to weaken the pseudonymous argument. The difficulty of reconciling internal and external evidence makes either claim tenable. Perhaps "the wisest course of action is either to leave the question [of authorship] open or to accept in a tentative way that the Apocalypse was written by John the apostle "3
There is, however, a third possibility. It is clear that the author of Revelation was intimately familiar both with Old Testament theology and with apocalyptic traditions of the first-century. Furthermore, he appears to have been a Jewish Christian possessing significant authority in the Churches of Asia Minor (as indicated by the seven letters of exhortation and promise addressed to these churches in Rev 2:1-3:22). Thus, it is certainly plausible that the John who composed Revelation was a prophet of some prominence, compelled to speak on behalf of the Lord.4
No less important than authorship is determining the life situation being addressed, and its location in history. Scholarly debate concerning these topics is less controversial, although reliance on the books internal symbolism has created two distinct interpretations. One hypothesis is based on the reference in Rev 17:9-10 to five deceased kings, and their apparent association with the reign of Nero (54-68 CE)5, or, even earlier, Claudius (41-54 CE). However, evidence in favour of dating to a period within the era of Domitian (mid-90s CE) is most persuasive, since it relies on internal data that is more accurately interpretable (i.e. the symbolic representation of the Temple, Rev 11:1-2; the well-developed analogy of the Nero myth, Rev 13 and 17; and descriptions of the Asian Churches, Rev 2:1-3:22).6 The prevalence of external support by first and second century writers (such as Clement, Pliny the Younger and Hegesippus to name a few) further solidifies the argument for a later dating. 7
Based on historical documentation of Roman oppression during this period, many scholars have deduced that John wrote in response to widespread Christian persecution and martyrdom. Indeed, the Apocalyptic narrative itself speaks of "tribulation, poverty and being faithful until death" (Rev 2:9-10), "perseverance, and the hour of trial" (Rev 3:10), "the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God" (Rev 6:9), and the like. The use of such severe language must not be misconstrued as evidentiary proof that a great empire-wide genocidal event had taken place under the reign of Domitian. Indeed, the historical facts cannot support such a view. It is likely, nonetheless, that the overall environment of social discrimination and economic disparity, coupled with the relatively isolated incidents of martyrdom (resulting from Christian refusal to participate in the cultic activities of emperor worship) created an atmosphere of dread, exaggerated further by the memory of Neros horrendous deeds.
The occasion for the writing was far more complex, however, than the assumption of some scholars that John intended his Apocalypse to be classed as "political resistance literature" aimed at bolstering Christian resolve against the State.8 Nor should it be construed as a predictive work foretelling the events of future worldly demise.9 Rather, his was a proclamation, not of earthly persecution and despair, but of Gods righteous judgment and sovereignty. As with most prophetic messages, his emphasis was on rebuking disobedience, urging repentance, and calling for steadfastness in the faith. Though the churches of Asia Minor were the players, and Rome was the stage upon which the drama unfolded, Revelation was intended for a far more universal audience.10 It is an eschatological theophany of sorts, unveiling Gods divine purposes for mankinds future through the looking-glass of historical experience.11 Such is the nature of Apocalyptic literature.
Apocalyptic Traditions, Biblical and Extra-Biblical Sources
Revelation has typically been classified as belonging to a genre of Jewish-Christian writings called "apocalyptic." As such, it has generally been defined in terms of four key features of the genre: (1) a vision is given to a human individual, with the interpretation commonly provided by a supernatural being such as an angel; (2) divine judgment, and subsequent world transformation, is the primary theme; (3) figurative language and symbolism are employed to entice the imagination and elicit an emotional response; and (4) the afflictions of the present situation are set against the hope of Gods future victory over the forces of evil.12 However, its canonicity, as well as its distinctive application of Old Testament allusion, make it unique within the genre. 13
While Revelation certainly meets the necessary criteria to be labeled "apocalyptic," it must also be considered prophetic, particularly in light of its hortatory nature and its heavy emphasis on the theology, symbolism, eschatology and Christology of the Old and New Testaments.14 Prophetic elements are most evident in the letters to the seven churches, with Johns repeated phrase, "the Spirit says," echoing an Old Testament convention of prefacing prophetic oracles with the phrase, "thus says the Lord."15 Even Johns grammatical structure and unusual syntax represent a sense of "timelessness" common to Hebrew prophetic discourse.16 Again, what makes Revelation prophetic is its ability to address contemporary events in terms of past occurrences and future perspectives, with no chronological distinction being made between these different moments.17 Taking into account the extensive scholarly discussion of this point, we must note that neither prophecy nor apocalyptic literature typically predict the future. Rather, prophecy enables one to comprehend, within the context of the present situation, Gods historical and redemptive activity as seen from the perspective of the future. Thus its focus is on the immediate.18
Another important characteristic of Revelation is the manner in which its author imbues the text with countless Old Testament allusions. It would be inaccurate, however, to describe this as a strictly Hebraic characteristic, for although heavily indebted to the Old Testament, the manner in which John uses its passages is wholly unique. Evidently well-versed in the Jewish exegetical practice of gezera sawa (an interpretive principle by which passages with similar words and phrases are used to explain each other) John creates an entirely new composition that exceeds even the tried and true methodology of allusion.19
Even its linguistic characteristics (the profusion of odd idiomatic phrases and departure from common rules of syntax) make Revelation unlike any other piece of ancient literature. Nowhere in the LXX, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha or the papyri can Johns "Greek" be found. John takes prophetic liberties with Greek grammar, using Jewish literary tradition to intensify his composition. Thus, "while he writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew, and the thought has naturally affected the vehicle of expression."20
Besides using Old Testament sources and Jewish-Christian extra-biblical material, John clearly had at his disposal, if not the Synoptics themselves, then independent first-century traditions (particularly the collection of "Jesus sayings," i.e., logia).21 In this regard, four specific phrases are widely employed, beginning with the sevenfold use of the opening epistolary address, "He who has an ear, let him hear," and followed by "what the Spirit says to the churches," thereby emphasizing the fact that these are words from the exalted Lord.22 John also conflates two parables of the parousia, the "Thief in the Night," and the "Watching Servants," and presents them as a unified message in Rev 3:3, 20 and Rev 16:15.23 Finally, a vast array of logia material is found in the Apocalypses series of pre-parousia woes, which correspond to the opening of the Seven Seals. There are parallels to the Olivet Discourses of Mark 13, Luke 21 and Matthew 24, as well as to Christs commands to "watch" and "keep awake," echoed throughout Rev 6:1-8:1.
Only a brief sampling of traditional source materials used in Revelation has been listed, for the number of Old and New Testament allusions and parallels is too vast for inclusion here.24 Our survey is sufficient, nonetheless, to indicate that Johns creative application of first-century Jewish-Christian thought and tradition is entirely unique. As a well-integrated piece of literature from the prophetic pen of one man, Revelation stands alone in its originality and distinctiveness.25
Many conjectures about the structure and unity of Revelation have circulated, as has a multitudinous variety of opinions concerning every other facet of the book. Frequently cited in late twentieth-century commentaries, R. H. Charles has become known for his chronological ordering of the Apocalypse, dividing it into seven separate parts following the sequence of Johns visionary experiences. Most scholars, however, dismiss his views, apparently on the basis of three sections (Rev 7:9-17, 10:1-11:13 and 14) that disrupt the dramatic flow of the narrative. Most, however do not elaborate further concerning these textual difficulties, and resort simply to labelling them "interludes," "intermissions" or "intercalations."26 Meanwhile, every conceivable structure has been theorized, from Ladds four-vision outline (neatly sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue) to the Nestle-Aland text that divides Revelation into 102 separate units, each with a descriptive title. 27
Brown rightly observes that "in this literary genre structure is often quite difficult to diagnose from the contents." Perhaps the difficulty lies in attempting to structure this one-of-a-kind "masterpiece" in the logically ordered terms of a "paint-by-number set." To do so diminishes the natural artistry of the work.28 Yet some determination of structure must be made, not based on an exact chronological outline of events, but acknowledging the fluidity of the narrative as it ebbs and flows between various themes. In this regard, Mounces analysis has the greatest appeal, with its easy-to-follow outline based on nine basic themes: (1) "Letters to the Seven Churches" (1:4 - 3:22); (2) "Adoration in the Court of Heaven" (4:1-11); (3) "The Seven Seals" (5:1 - 7:8; with an interlude concerning "Visions of Security and Salvation," 7:9-17); (4) "The Seven Trumpets" (8:1 - 11:19; with an interlude on "Visions of the Prophetic Role," 10:1 - 11:14); (5) "Conflict Between the Church and the Powers of Evil" (12:1 - 13:18; with an interlude on "Visions of Final Judgment," 14:1-20); (6) "The Seven Last Plagues" (15:1 - 16:21); (7) "The Fall of Babylon" (17:1 - 18:24); (8) "The Final Victory" (19:1 - 20:15); and (9) "The New Heaven and the New Earth" (21:1 - 22:6). 29
Exegesis of Revelation 19:6-16
There is always a danger in singling out a passage for exegesis apart from either its literary or its historical context. As Richard Bauckham rightly observes, "The political and economic history of Revelations context [is] essential to its adequate interpretation."30 Even greater is the homiletic attractiveness of manipulating a pericope so as to present it in a manner for which it was not likely intended, i.e., to suit an interpreters personal agenda. Thus we must ask of this text in particular: (1) What meaning did the passage have for its author and, therefore, what method did he employ to convey his intentions? and, (2) How was the text interpreted throughout the ages and, therefore, what "contemporary" relevance did it have? A third consideration, equally vital, will be included in a separate section: What significance does the passage have for the world of our own day?
At the approach of a new millennium, a heightened sense of "Revelational" intrigue seemed to hold us captive. Even academics gave unprecedented attention to passages of apparent millennial significance (e.g. Rev 20:1-10), to the neglect of other, equally significant portions of the book.31 This focus is even more puzzling in light of the fact that the parousia, or return of Christ a key feature of much millennial speculation is not mentioned until as late as chapter 19. Hence, we may hypothesize that Johns message was not a "doomsday" foreboding of the end of the world but that it was, rather, interested in "unveiling" the nature of Gods sovereignty. In line with this view, Rev 19:6-16 provides a snapshot, as it were, of Gods Messiah, juxtaposing the announcement of the marriage feast of the Lamb (vv. 6-10) with the appearance of the Warrior-Messiah (vv. 11-16). Here, as elsewhere, Johns custom appears to have been to compare and contrast individuals, situations or events, so as to illuminate the meaning of each. Accordingly, the following exegesis will interpret parallel verses together.
The Establishment of Gods Reign
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns." (Rev 19:6)
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. (Rev 19:11)
Then I heard
Then I saw
John makes frequent use of parallel literary introductions, which he intensifies by means of characteristic introductory phrases. Although some scholars have been tempted to designate such linguistic features as structural markers for textual divisions, Johns intent appears to have been more basic he simply wished to alert his readers of an upcoming matter of importance.32 John typically follows such phrases with symbols of apocalyptic grandeur, such as the heavens being "opened" or a triple enumeration of the "voice."
the sound of many waters/mighty thunderpeals, crying out
heaven opened and there was a white horse!
The descriptive phrases "many waters" and "mighty thunders" convey the sense of incomprehensible power, perhaps accessible to us in terms of the roar of Niagara Falls or the intense percussion of a thunderstorm. The drama of this audition, heightened further by the phrase, "crying out," prepares the reader for the marvellous proclamation to follow: "God reigns!" However, beyond mere dramatization, John has carefully chosen elements of tradition that would have the greatest impact on his audience. For example, they would likely have recognized the metaphor implied in the use of the word, "thunder," namely that it signified divine speech or heavenly communication with this world. 33
In similar terms, like the mighty voice that announces Gods reign, Christ sits upon a white horse not merely to symbolize power (as in the imagery of v. 6), but as an image of righteous retribution and victory.34 Here, as a further parallel, the text reflects material from Rev 6:2 (the opening of the first seal and appearance of a rider upon a white horse). Whereas in that instance the "conqueror" (not the Messiah) vanquished the nations as an initial judgment against them, this latter rider (who is Christ Himself) ushers in Gods earthly reign while seated upon the same symbol of purity and righteousness: a white horse. 35
judges and makes wars
These concluding statements complement and strengthen one another. Here, the nuances of the Greek language are particularly relevant as John first introduces the act of "reigning" (as an inceptive aorist connoting a past initiation of activity) in order to qualify the subsequent activities of "judging" and "making wars" (in the present tense).36 In other words, because the Divine reign had been inaugurated (present, past and for all time), righteous justice on earth may now commence through the divine overthrow of adversarial empires and entities.
The Celebration of Christs Reign
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready. (Rev 19:7)
His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name inscribed which no one knows but Himself. (Rev 19:12)
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory
His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems
The unique combination of "rejoice" and "exult" to form a single verbal clause occurs at only one other place throughout the entire New Testament. Here (as in Matthew 5:12), the exhortation resonates with the majesty and power of the heavenly realm, but its use in this context implies far more than hope of some future reward for those who have persevered (or even martyred) in Christ. Rather, the context implies a present state of affairs, i.e., that the Lords reign is established and all are called to glorify Him now. To emphasize this further, 19:7 supplies the twofold reason for such joyful celebration and worship: (1) the world has been righteously judged for, like "flames of fire," Jesus eyes have seen all, with penetrating discernment and retributive consummation;37 and, (2) the Messiahs sovereignty is universal and unchallenged, for He alone possesses the "many diadems" of limitless authority and rule.
for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready;
He has a name that no one knows but Himself.
Johns metaphor of marriage was frequently used in ancient literature to describe Gods relationship with his people.38 Yet while announcing the marriage, John withholds any description of its content, thereby heightening the audiences sense of anticipation. At the same time, the characterization of the bridegroom as "the Lamb" recalls the sacred paschal meal so central to Jewish life, here transformed into a joyous banquet of Christian salvation. This joyful announcement is in marked contrast to the secretive nature of Christs name, for not even His bride (the one whom He has chosen) is privy to this information until after the marriage has taken place. As in the marriage of man and woman, only then does the "Bride" take her husbands name.
The Robes of the Righteous
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure" for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Rev 19:8)
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God. (Rev 19:13)
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood
The contrasting images of a bride adorned in pure, white linen and a bridegroom garbed in blood-stained apparel is, if not a bit disturbing, certainly vivid. Most commentators give great attention to the bride, likening her to the New Jerusalem that is the antithesis of Babylonian "harlotry."39 But unlike the harlot, who had acquired for herself robes of seductive ostentation, the bride, having prepared herself through faithful obedience, receives an exquisite and lasting gift a garment of simple elegance, made "white in the blood of the Lamb." Moreover, John strengthens the imagery by interpreting the "linen" as "the righteous deeds of the saints" whose example of enduring faithfulness must be "put on" by the Church herself. The repetition of clothing imagery in these verses provides another example of the rich interweaving of allusions characteristic of Johns narrative,40 and serves, together with the echoes here of Rev 7:14 ("washed white") and Eph 5:25 ("His bride has made herself ready") to reinforce the connection between Christ and His Church.
It is unlikely, however, that Christs bloodied robe represents his sacrifice on the Cross. Rather, it is a symbol of conquering victory: it is not Jesus own blood upon the robe, but that of His enemies, shed in the final conflict between good and evil.41 For only when the battle has been won may the wedding banquet proceed. Granted, the chronology of these events may seem disordered, even implausible, but most scholars accept this as a feature of apocalyptic, which rarely depicts a sequentially-ordered narrative.
Blessing and Victory
And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God." (Rev 19:9)
And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. (Rev 19:14)
As in the previous such instance, Johns proleptic announcement of "blessedness" (without elucidating any details) again serves to engage the audience. Here, the beatitude (fourth of seven in Revelation)42 is closely followed by an affirmation of authenticity, "These are true words of God" Together, these provide a strong encouragement of eschatological hope, for 19:14 suggests that those who are invited to the banquet will also witness the parousia and partake in the rich fulfillment of Gods promises. The same blessed multitude are referred to in the parallel passage at 17:14 as the "called and chosen and faithful" who go forth into battle with the Messiah. In each instance, the "heavenly army" represents not an angelic company, but the souls who have been martyred for the sake of Christ.43 It is striking that in both dress and "transport," this army is characterized by "whiteness," suggesting that they remain spotless in battle. Only the Messiahs attire is stained with blood (vs.13), for it is He alone who strikes down His enemies (v.15ff.) with divine retribution.44
Testimony and Judgement
Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me,"You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev 19:10)
From His mouth issues a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Rev 19:15)
Then I fell down at his feet to worship him Worship God!
Johns error in attempting to worship an angel is typically (if cursorily) explained either as a case of "mistaken identity" (i.e. John thought the speaker was Christ) or as an opportunity to introduce a polemic against the practice of angel worship. In context, however, neither of these explanations makes much sense, for the John who so intimately describes the Messiah throughout his Apocalypse would not confuse Christ with an angel, nor would he suddenly and uncharacteristically "wax polemical." Bauckham provides the most logical explanation:
John had chosen to make his point about the authority for his prophecy by using a tradition about worship. There was good reason for this. In a sense the theme of his whole prophecy is the distinction between true worship and idolatry, a distinction for which Christians in the contemporary situation needed prophetic discernment.45
Hence, John wished to make a clear distinction between angels (as "fellow servants") and Christ (as Messiah and Son of God), and, having made such a distinction, to indicate that the prohibition of angel worship did not prohibit the worship of Christ.
the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy
From His mouth issues a sharp sword
Our understanding of the first of these passages hinges on a question of grammatical nuance. If treated as a subjective genitive, "the testimony of Jesus" would describe the "testimony borne by Jesus" to the world, whereas reading an objective genitive would make Christ the focus of the testimony itself.46 The focus of the book as a whole (i.e. as bearing witness to the Messiah), together with the evidence of similar phrases elsewhere in the New Testament (for example, Marks reference to the "Gospel about Jesus/God," Mark 1:1, 14), tips the balance in favour of an objective reading in Rev 19:10. Lest any doubt remain about the Messianic content of this testimony, John then relates "the Word" (vv. 9, 13) to the prophetic images of a "sharp sword,"47 "iron rod,"48 and "treading of the wine press,"49 which both remind and foretell of the coming eschatological Kingdom. As these images indicate, only the One of whom the Scriptures speak can bring forth the final judgment: the consummation of Gods divine purpose belongs to the Christ, the Warrior-Messiah and eschatological King.
Titular Confessional Formulae
On His robe and on His thigh He has a name inscribed, "King of kings and Lord of lords." (Rev 19:16)
It would be difficult to surpass the profound declaration made in the closing statement of this pericope (Rev 19:11-16). Such Christological confessions, stemming from early Church tradition, played a major role in the dramatic unfolding of Johns visionary experience. Discussion of these crucial pronouncements of divine character has intentionally been omitted from the preceding exegesis of Rev 19:6-16, in order to allow for more comprehensive analysis here.
The overarching message of Revelation is evident above all in Johns use of confessional formulae, by which he announces the Divine presence. In antiquity, the title given to an individual was a matter of great importance, for it was believed that ones character and essence was implied in that name. John expands on this idea in ways that reveal new and powerful features about God and, most particularly, Christ.50 In the span of ten short verses, five titular confessions occur, each expressing in a unique way the majestic and sovereign nature of the Divine: (1) "God the Almighty" (Rev 19:6); (2) "Faithful and True" (Rev 19:11); (3) "the Word of God" (Rev 19:13); (4) "God the Almighty" (Rev 19:15); and (5) "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:16).
The divine title "God the Almighty" (Rev 19:6, 15) has its roots in ancient Hebraic tradition where the phrase is found in its entirety in 2 Sam 5:10; 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Hos 12:5; Amos 3:13, 4:13; and, without the article, in Hab 2:13; Hag 1:2, 5; and Zech 1:3. In an historical context of oppression and persecution, it was used by Israel to declare the immutable and universal rule of Yahweh (and thus to provide an element of hope to a people frequently downtrodden under the despotic reign of foreign kings). In the same way, Christians found solace in the midst of first-century trials, clinging to the knowledge that "their" Gods omnipotent reign had been established.51 To this end, John emphatically proclaims Gods majestic rule, referring to it no fewer than nine times (as compared with its use but once in the rest of the New Testament)!
The title "Faithful and True" (Rev 19:11) entails an allusion to the divine sonship of Jesus (cf. Rev 3:14). However, Johns use of it goes well beyond a titular emphasis on the concept of "sonship" (i.e., as expressing an intimate and obedient relationship with ones father). Rather, the two adjectives qualify Christs character, indicating that it is He who shall faithfully discharge the duties of divine sonship, judging the world with truth and righteousness and thereby fulfilling the covenant promise.52 Hence, the phrase operates both functionally, as a title, and ontologically, to signify Christs character.53
Similarly, the title, "the Word of God" (Rev 19:13) provides another expression of Christs divine nature, once more reflecting Johns innate ability to incorporate terms that will have the maximum affect upon his audience. Especially when designated as coming from God, such a title would have had tremendous significance in first-century Jewish-Christian thought. Just as a name would indicate the essence of its subject, "words" would have been considered "active agents that achieved the intention of the one who speaks."54 Thus, in proclaiming Jesus to be "The Word of God" who wields the "sharp sword" of judgment, John depicts Jesus as the Warrior-Messiah, Gods divine agent.55
Finally, the grand pronouncement "Lord of lords and King of kings" (Rev 19:16) is rooted in the words of Moses as he addressed Israel: "The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords" (Deut. 10:17). Use of such an exalted title fully reveals the unquestionable, universal sovereignty of God in Christ. Johns typical expansion of traditional material, which here incorporates the imagery of "kingship," unmistakably identifies "this Lord" as the Messiah Himself. Previous references to the Old Testament prophecy of a coming Davidic King (Rev 3:7, 5:5, and 17:14) have set the stage for this crucial proclamation, compactly summarized in Rev 19:6: the eschatological victory of the Divine Warrior-Messiah is assured, for He bears the title of Lord and King over both heaven and earth.56
Revelation has sometimes been misinterpreted as a militaristic entreaty to join in acts of violent reprisal against the evils of the world. Again, one cannot emphasize enough the great importance in remaining contextually "centered" as well as literately astute. First-century writings were imbued with the language of holy war, not in order to incite human action but, rather, to invite participation in the eschaton through faithful obedience to God even unto death if necessary, for martyrdom was rapidly becoming a Christian "statement of faith." Regardless of the unique manner in which John wrote he nevertheless remained within the bounds of Jewish-Christian apocalyptic thought. Thus, the purpose of his work was to convey an eschatological message through powerful, yet comprehensible imagery, not to incite military action or supply predictions of a future Armageddon.57
In light of recent fanaticism concerning the transition from one millennium to the next, it is readily apparent that there is little true understanding of Johns Apocalypse in our day. The Church itself bears some responsibility for this lack. Rarely does the Book of Revelation find itself the focus of discussion in educational programs or mentioned as a valid, and vital, portion of liturgical proclamation. As Brown rightly observes, "Given the enormous distortion of Rev[elation] today as a detailed prediction of the future, the use of the book in the liturgical readings of the church year may be a healthy context for getting close to at least one aspect of the original milieu."58 Indeed, as a document embodying deeply reflective insights about the nature and character of God and His Son, it is of great value to the church. Perhaps the difficulty of understanding its linguistic nuances and Apocalyptic imagery contributes to its current neglect; it may be that its absence from mainline lectionary series makes it easy to dismiss as unimportant. Neglect and distortion of this masterful piece of literature, however, leave readers vulnerable to misinterpretations