Since I’ve discussed Romans 13 at length in the past, I don’t really see the need to go back over that passage. So let’s turn our attention to the Book of Revelation. When seeking to refute pacifistic ideas, many look to Revelation 19. There we see Jesus in a robe dipped in blood, killing His enemies with a sword.
The word “dipped” can throw us off here, for, in Revelation, the martyrs have previously washed their robes in blood, but it wasn’t the blood of their enemies. It was the blood of the Lamb, the blood that won the victory over Satan. However, in Chapter 19, Jesus is “trampling the grapes of wrath.” In Chapter 14, when these grapes were harvested, it was said that the blood flowed as deep as the horses’ bridles. Whose blood? Probably a reference to God’s enemies, though that’s never made clear.
But no matter where the blood on His robe came from, Jesus’ intentions are clear. He is there to “strike down the nations.” This is a time for vengeance.
So there we have it. Christians are called to exact vengeance on God’s enemies. Or are they?
Let’s back up. Revelation is written to a group of Christians who are about to undergo persecution. The message to them is that they are to patiently endure, overcoming by being faithful witnesses. There’s a reason why the Greek word for “witness” became the English word “martyr,” for Jesus is held up as the example of what a faithful witness is. The mighty Lion of Judah turns out to be a lamb that was slain. He conquered on the cross, by dying for His faith. Now He calls His followers to be unafraid to risk the same.
The promise is that God will exact vengeance on their tormenters. Just as Second Thessalonians promises that those who persecute the Christians will be punished by God, so Revelation emphasizes that Christians are not to seek to bring about “justice” by their own hand, but they are to leave vengeance to God.
(By the way, did you notice what sword Jesus is using to strike down the nations? The sword which proceeds from His mouth. It doesn’t take much knowledge of apocalyptic symbolism to see that the judgment against the nations will be exacted by the Word of God. The scene is that of ultimate judgment, the final defeat of evil. The weapons are spiritual ones, just as the armies are heavenly armies and not earthly ones.)
So how did early Christians read Revelation? Did they see in it a call to arms, a summons to exact justice on the Romans via the sword? No. They saw it as a reminder that they were to submit to the authorities, honor the king, and leave vengeance to God. To get Revelation to say something else, you have to strip it from its original context.
(Do I really have to address the numbers question? Probably, because it always seems to come up. “Christians didn’t fight back because there weren’t enough of them. Had they had a chance of winning, God would have told them to fight.” Should you be clinging to that idea, might I suggest a quick perusal of the Old Testament? Stories like Gideon, Samson, David vs. Goliath, Jonathan and his armor bearer vs. the whole Philistine army… God doesn’t need numbers to win a battle. If violent resistance had been the answer, God was more than capable of enabling His people to triumph.)
I’d like to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions.