Revelation’s Imagery, pt. 2: Sword

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In Revelation, the sword is a weapon depicted in nine different places (1:16; 2:12, 16; 6:4, 8; 13:10, 14; 19:15, 21). The subjects who use the sword are Jesus (1:16; 2:12; 2:16, 19:15, 21), the rider of the red horse (6:4), the rider of the pale horse (6:8), the first beast (13:10, who is wounded by the sword, 13:14), the second beast (13:14 – He does not use the sword but preaches about the one wounded by the sword, the first beast). Out of all of these instances, Jesus is the only one who John specifies as the sword coming from His mouth (1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21) or as His Word (2:12). This is in accordance with other NT writings such as Hebrews 4:12 and Eph. 6:17, which both liken the Word of God to a sword. Therefore, Jesus’ sword is not a literal sword, but an image that John uses to describe Jesus’ Word, which “pierces to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

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Revelation’s Imagery, pt. 1: Lampstand

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Here’s some more of my scattered research while preparing for my final Revelation paper. Again, don’t judge how unedited and raw this is.

The lampstand in the Old Testament was a symbol in the tabernacle of Yahweh’s presence among His people (Num. 8:1-4; Ex. 25:30-31, reference to the lampstand right after reference to the Bread of the Presence). Incidentally enough, the tabernacle lampstands (symbolic for the Church in Revelation) are designed in such a way as to bring back memories of Eden’s Tree of Life (“flowers”, Ex. 25:31; “branches”, 25:32; “cups like almond blossoms”, 25:33). As God’s presence was represented as the Tree of Life in Eden (that which gives perfect life), so the Lampstand represents God’s presence in the tabernacle ( In the same way, the lampstand represented the mission of all of Israel to be a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6, 49:6, 51:4, 60:3) vis a vis a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). Incidentally, when Babylon falls in 18:23 the “light of the lamp” (the witness of the Church; Matt. 5:14-15; Eph. 5:8; Phil. 2:15) will shine no longer. Important to note is that the voice of the bridegroom and the bride (the voice of God and His Church) will also no longer be heard. In the new city in Rev. 21, the Lamb as a lamp gives off the light of God’s glory, and there is no more need for earthly lights.

The lampstands (seven, plural) represent the universal, Church of all time, which is here depicted as seven Churches around the Roman empire (2:1-3:22). Their mission is depicted by the lampstand. As in Israel in the Old Testament, the Church as a lampstand is supposed to be representatives of Christ by letting the light of Christ shine through them as the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-15). Through the witness of the Church is the presence of Christ shone throughout the earth. Just as the presence of Yahweh inhabited the tabernacle through the lampstand, now the presence of Jesus inhabits the world through the Church as the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:23; 4:12; 5:30; Col. 1:24). In this way, Christians, both individually and corporately, mimic Jesus, for His light cannot shine though them in ways that it does not emanate from Him. More specifically, in this context, the only sword that Christians can pick up is the only one that Jesus Himself carries, the one that protrudes from His mouth. Thus, the warfare that Christians participate in is the same warfare that Jesus participates in, nonviolent warfare in which the greatest weapon on the side of the God’s army is His piercing Word. This is a spiritual reality that manifests itself physically.

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 7: Rev. 3:21

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This is perhaps the most important word of conquering in John’s seven messages to the churches because the Christian conqueror is called to participate in the same way that Jesus Himself conquered. There’s a pattern to this promise:
Christian: Conquering –> Sitting on the throne AS
Jesus: Conquered –> Sits on the throne with His father.

The Christian conquers and sits on the throne just as Jesus conquers and sits on the throne with His Father. For the Christian to conquer differently would break the pattern:
Christian: Conquering 1 –> Sitting on the throne AS
Jesus: Conquered 2 –> Sitting on the throne with His father.

The implications are that Christians must conquer in the same way that Jesus conquered so that they sit on the throne with Jesus in the same way that Jesus sits on the throne with His Father. To conquer differently than Jesus is to relinquish one’s inheritance to the throne of Jesus. It’s to break the pattern that John sets up. The conjunction John uses here (hos; “as I also conquered”) is used to compare two things in the fashion of a simile. Many examples could be used but a few are Rev 1:14 (“hairs…were white like wool”), Rev. 2:18 (“Eyes like a flame of fire”), and 18:6 (“Pay her back as she herself has paid back others”). This conjunction connects two ideas and describes one thing in terms of another. The Ancient of Days hair is not unlike wool in 1:14. His eyes are not unlike flames of fire in 2:18. And Babylon is paid back in the same way as she has paid back others in 18:6. Therefore, it would be impossible for John to use this conjunction to create a contrast. That is, he’s saying the Christian conquer must conquer in the same way as Jesus. He is not divorcing the two characters conquering nor the methods by which they conquer.

The reward to those who conquer will be to sit on the throne with Jesus (cf. 2:26; 20:4; Matt; 19:28)

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 6: Rev. 3:12

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In Revelation, the temple is the heavenly kingdom (21:22). Pillars are probably of more importance here. In the ANE, pillars were used commemoratively, ritually, legally, and memorially. Religiously, they were often used as cultic symbols of specific deities, sometimes bearing the name of the specific deity that they represent. In some sense, pillars are signs pointing the significance of something else. For instance, Absalom names a pillar after himself (2 Sam. 18:18), Jacob sets up a stone and which he calls “God’s house” (Gen. 28:18-22), or Bethel (35:13-15), Jacob and Laban set up a pillar to commemorate their covenant of peace (Gen. 31:45-54), and Joshua set up a pillar to commemorate the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as a witness against Israel (Josh. 24:26-27). Therefore, when John incorporates this language in Revelation he says that the one who conquers will become a commemorative pillar. As the Old Testament heroes named their pillars as monuments that pointed to something significantly greater than the pillar itself, so Jesus promises that He will write the name and city of God and His own name on these “living pillars”, making them commemorative testimonies that bear significance to that which they are named for. In the same way that an Israelite would have seen Joshua’s pillar (Josh 24:26-27) and been reminded of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel, so Christians who conquer are set up as living (or dead) witnesses that demonstrate the full glory and presence of the Lord.

The inscription on these living pillars will be “the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem…and my own new name”. In Ezekiel 48:35, the name of the city of the new Jerusalem will be “The Lord is There”. This puts flesh on the bones of God’s presence dwelling among His people in their city (cf. Jer. 3:17; Zech. 2:10). These visions foresee what John sees towards the end of Revelation in 21:3, 22-26. Conquerors will be living commemorative pillars in the temple of God, God’s very presence, as He dwells with His people.

Millard, A. R. “Pillar.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible dictionary 1996 : n. pag. Print.

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 5: Rev. 3:5

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The white garments in 3:5 are continued from the verse before. Here we see that white garments are given to people who are worthy to receive them.To the Laodicean church, John counsels the people to buy white garments to cover their shameful nakedness (3:18). The elders in 4:4 are clothed in white garments. And lastly, the one who stays awake and keeps his garments on is blessed (16:15). The royalty in the Greek word here (imation) is less emphasized than other verses that mention clothing (robes; stole; 6:11, 7:9, 13, 14, 22:14; imation, 3:4, 5; 18; 4:4; 16:15; 19:13, 16). The apocrypal work 2 Esdras refers to those who have fulfilled the law of the Lord will be clothed in white, their number will be completed, and they will be made holy (2 Esdr 2:40-41). White is seen as being pure, thus being made holy is being made white, or pure (cf. Dan 11:35, 12:10; both of which include language of refinement). The writer of Ecclesiastes includes a blessing for his readers to have white garments (9:8) For John, the one who conquers will be made holy. This is symbolized by given pure, fresh, white clothing (3:4, 5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14; 19:14). Even God’s throne is specified as being white (20:11). Elsewhere in the NT, whiteness emphasizes God’s glory (Matt. 17:2; 28:3; Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29).

The book of life may find its background in Psalm 56:8, 69:28, 139:16, Dan. 12:1-2, and Ex. 32:32-33. Paul, in Phil. 4:3, mentions that his true companions and those that stood next to him have their names written in the book of life. In Revelation, those who worship the Law are clothed in His righteousness and their names are written in the book of life (3:5; Luke 10:20), and they have entrance to the new city (21:27). Conversely, those who follow the beast or submit themselves to evil are excluded from the book (13:8, 17:8; 20:12, 15). The person that endures and conquers will have eternal life and enter in to the New Kingdom.

Lastly, John asserts that Jesus will confess the name of the one who conquers to the Father (cf. Matt. 10:32-33; Luke 12:8; Mark 8:38 1 John 2:23). In Revelation, John shows Jesus to be the Faithful and True Witness (1:5; 3:14, 19:11). The themes of confession and bearing witness are intimately linked. First, Jesus calls believers to remain faithful and bear witness to Him even through their own slaughter (2:13; 6:9; 11:1-14). So then, to the believers who remain the faithful witness to the Lamb, the Lamb will remain the faithful witness to them before the Father. But to be a faithful witness, one has to be faithful to whom they are witnessing. Their character and words (confess) conform to the truth of their witness. Therefore, believers who are considered faithful and true witnesses are faithful and true to the witness of Jesus Himself. If Jesus witness is to conquer nonviolently, then for the believer’s witness to Jesus to be faithful and true means that they conquer nonviolently also.

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 4: Rev. 2:26

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2:27 is clearly taken from Ps 2:8-9. In this Psalm, the most Messianic of Psalms, the Lord says to His Son (2:7) that His nations will be His heritage, the ends of earth His possession, and in His rule He will break all people with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like pottery. In this Psalm we see David being called a Son of God (2:7), the same title that Jesus applies to Himself in 2:18. While the Hebrew text is translated “break them with a rod of iron,” the LXX translates this as “rule them with a rod of iron,” which John picks up on. God’s rule, and the rule of His anointed, will be decisively authoritative, so much so that the ruler will break the holds of rebellion, resistance, and idolatry on all the nations. Appropriately enough, Psalm 2 ends with a warning for all pagan rulers to turn to the Lord and fear Him or face judgment (10-12). This same rod we see being wielded in Rev. 12:5 by the child of the woman who will also “rule all the nations”, and again in 19:15. Given the context of these three passages, we see that Jesus is the one that rules all the nations with a rod of iron. No rule comes without conquering. So if we are to rule like Jesus, we must be a conqueror like Jesus, and Jesus never once conquered through violence, but conquered through spiritual warfare, through His death and resurrection, and through the power of the Father. The pots breaking like an iron vessel also come directly from Psalm 2, yet they could also bring in the context of Isa. 30:14 and Jer. 19:11. In Isaiah’s context, the people of Israel were going to be broken for their disobedience and rebellion like a potter’s vessel and smashed “so ruthlessly”. In Jeremiah 19:11, God promises Jeremiah and the people of Israel that the “Lord of hosts” will break this people and this city (cf. 19:13, “The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah”), like a potter’s vessel beyond repair. The one who conquers in the way of the Lamb will sit with the Father on His throne (3:21; cf. 20:4, Dan. 7:18, 22).

Furthermore, the one who conquers will receive the morning star (2:28) who is Jesus (22:16). This differentiation of “morning” separates Jesus from the rest of Revelation’s use of star imagery (1:20, 3:1). The morning star is probably the sun, as the Old Testament would have seen the sun come up in the morning and quickly associated it as a star beyond comparison. Just as the sun is the brightest known star in OT times, so Jesus would stand apart from the other stars (angels, 1:20). Jesus as the morning star came directly from Balaam’s prophecy (Num 24:17). Here, Jesus is prophesied to be a star and a scepter (cf. “Rod of iron”; Psalm 2:8-9; Rev. 2:27, 12:5, 19:15) from Jacob to crush Israel’s enemies. The one who conquers receives Jesus (2:28) and will rule like Jesus (2:27).

“To the one who conquers…”, pt. 3: Rev. 2:17

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As the Israelites traveled in the wilderness, God gave them manna to eat to satisfy their hunger (Ex. 16). But Deut. 8:3 talks about what was hidden behind the manna that neither the Israelites nor their Fathers knew “but that [the Lord] might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This “hidden manna” is shortly thereafter referenced (8:16) as that which “your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end”.

As we have seen, a huge theme in John’s view of conquering is how Jesus conquers, by the sword of His mouth (1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21) or as His Word (2:12). Therefore, John recapitulates the imagery of Deut. 8 to show that the hidden manna which “nobody knew” is really the Word of God, or the sword that comes out of Jesus’ mouth. The fact that John writes that Jesus promises the one who conquers His Word shows that Jesus provides His people with the instrument that He Himself uses to conquer–His Word, the sword of His mouth. If we look at 3:21, we see that the one who conquers conquers “as [Jesus] also conquered”.

The name written that no one knows could possibly be a reference to 19:12. John is saying that the believer will receive a white stone (signifying victory, acquittal, and allowing entrance into the Messianic feast) with the name of Jesus, the one that no one knows but Himself. Thus, the one who conquers is given entrance to the Messianic feast (and thus the kingdom), given victory (by conquering), and acquitted from all sin by the name of Jesus.

“On the interpretation of the stone, L&N 2.27 states, “A number of different suggestions have been made as to the reference of ψῆφος in this context. Some scholars believe that the white ψῆφος indicates a vote of acquittal in court. Others contend that it is simply a magical amulet; still others, a token of Roman hospitality; and finally, some have suggested that it may represent a ticket to the gladiatorial games, that is to say, to martyrdom. The context, however, suggests clearly that this is something to be prized and a type of reward for those who have ‘won the victory.’ ”( Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2005. Print.)
“The meaning of the ‘white stone’ (v. 17) is uncertain: it is properly a ‘pebble’ or tessera (tablet; Gk. psēphos). These had many uses, more than one of which may be apposite here. They represented acquittal, or served as a token or ticket of many kinds. The written name here is of the individual, and marks Christ’s individual acceptance of the believer.” ( Rudwick, M. J. S., and C. J. Hemer. “Pergamum.” Ed. D. R. W. Wood et al. New Bible dictionary 1996 : 902. Print.)
“Historically, a white stone was given to victors at games for entrance to banquets (cf. the messianic banquet); such a stone was also used by jurors at trials to vote for acquittal” (Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Print.)
White stones were associated with acquittal in court and admission to special feasts for athletic victors or members of a guild; here they may suggest entrance to the Messianic feast. (Zondervan (2015-08-25). NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Kindle Locations 294578-294580). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)