Studies in Revelation—Lesson 30
By Reta Halteman Finger
It all depends on one’s perspective. The jubilant hallelujahs of Revelation 19:1-10 are responding to the same Babylonian collapse that caused such lament in chapter 18. The view from above replaces the view from below.
Without chapter divisions, the link between the two views—spilled blood— would be more obvious. “In you [Babylon] was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slaughtered on earth” (18:24). “God has avenged on [Babylon] the blood of his servants” (19:2). This sounds like the event longed for in Revelation 6:9-11, where the martyrs under the altar cry out for God to “judge and avenge our blood.” The Supreme Court of heaven has acted.
The “great multitude” rejoicing in heaven over the fall of Babylon is mentioned twice (19:1, 6). This suggests to me that not only Christian martyrs are avenged, but there are also many more who have suffered under Babylon’s military and economic repression described in the previous lesson.
Ted Grimsrud believes the multitude’s shouts of “salvation, glory, and power” in 19:1 are a deliberate word choice that is primarily political. Since such attributes belong only to God, he says, “these terms gain significance when seen in the political context of John’s day.” Under Roman rule (which Babylon symbolized), “the Emperor Augustus had been called ‘savior of the Greeks and of the whole inhabited world,’ ‘savior and benefactor,’ ‘savior and founder,’ and ‘savior and god,’” Grimsrud explains. “His birthday was called the beginning of ‘good tidings’ (gospel.” Furthermore, the reign of Augustus “promised peace and happiness (i.e., salvation)” (Grimsrud, p. 148).
But now Yahweh—not Caesar—has the last word.
Although this first half of our text (vv. 1-5 of Revelation 19) refers back to Babylon’s destruction in chapter 18, it also parallels and completes a similar description in Revelation 11:13-18. The blowing of the seventh trumpet signaled John’s first account of the end of the age, when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (11:15). There are not two “end times”; this is an example of John’s use of recapitulation, as described in Lesson 12.
Beginning in the twelfth chapter of Revelation, John retells the same story, although, as David Barr explains, “Such recapitulation is not a matter of simple repetition, for the later symbols modify, intensify, and focus earlier ones. But the underlying meanings of the two are the same” (Barr, p. 447). Clearly, the section in Revelation 16:19–19:10 intensifies the account in 11:13-18. In 11:13 only one-tenth of the city falls, and only 7000 people are killed in the earthquake, compared to the carnage in 16:19. On the other hand, we recognize the same heavenly throne surrounded by elders and living creatures (19:4) from both Revelation 4 and 11:16.
The second half of our text is another hymn that begins with “Hallelujah.” It focuses on the future and the coming union of Christ and his faithful church (19:5-10). Both “small and great” are included (v. 5) in the wedding of the Lamb with his bride—a motif which will dominate the following chapters. The original readers of Revelation would have understood this marriage imagery between God and God’s people because it was used frequently in the Hebrew prophets, especially in comparing idolatry to marital unfaithfulness (see Lesson 29), as well as in 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:27. Christ is also called bridegroom in Mark 2:19-20, Matthew 25:1-12, John 3:29, and Ephesians 5:32 (noted by Charles Talbert, p. 88).
However, consistency of symbols goes only so far, since those invited to the marriage supper in verse 9 are the same ones who comprise the bride herself! And John has to explain to his readers that the bride’s dress of “fine linen” symbolizes “the righteous deeds of the saints” (v. 8).
Hallelujahs, a beatitude, and a rebuke
Three other features in this text call for our attention. The term “hallelujah” (vv. 1, 3, 4, 6) is found only here in the entire New Testament (Boring, 192). It is sung by three different groups and also contrasts with the three dirges in chapter 18. This expression “derives from the Hebrew words halal and Yah (Praise Yahweh) and alludes to the psalms of the Passover liturgy celebrating the Exodus from Egypt (Pss. 113-18)” (Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, p. 101).
Note also the beatitude in Rev. 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” This is the fourth of the seven beatitudes in Revelation (the others are in 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 20:6; 22:7; and 22:14).
A final feature of our text is verse 10, the stern admonition of the angel to John. John is so overcome by what he has heard and seen that he bows to worship the angel. “You must not do that!” insists the angel. “I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony to Jesus. Worship God!”
Even though angels are the mediators of revelation, their testimony is directed only to Jesus, as the only divine expression of the one God for humankind. (The NRSV’s footnote of “to Jesus” is more accurate than “of Jesus” in verse 10.) John allows himself to be publicly rebuked as a reminder to his audience that no other god—not Roma, not Babylon’s wealth, not even angels—must be worshiped.
Questions for discussion and reflection
1. As a feminist, how do you respond to the marriage imagery in 19:7?
2. The Greek word for “righteous deeds” can also mean “doing justice.” (For an interesting discussion of these different meanings of the Greek word and how it has been translated, watch this five-minute video by Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff. ) What do you think John means by the fine linen being the “righteous deeds of the saints”?
3. What gods are most likely to be worshipped by people in our Babylon-like culture today?
Barr, David M. New Testament Story: An Introduction. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2002. P. 447.
Boring, Eugene. Revelation. Interpretation Commentary. John Knox Press, 1989. P. 194.
Grimsrud, Ted. Triumph of the Lamb. Herald Press, 1987. P. 148.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Revelation: Vision of a Just World. Proclamation Commentaries. Fortress Press, 1991. P. 101.
Talbert, Charles H. The Apocalypse: A Reading of the Revelation of John. Westminster John Knox, 1994. P. 88.