Please take a moment and read these verses first:
1 Corinthians 1:23 (NASB)
"...but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Revelation 12:11 NRSV
"But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death."
John 12:23-26 NRSV
"Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me..."
Psalm 2:6-7 (NIV)
“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy mountain…you are my son; today I have become your father.”
Colossians 2:13-15 (NIV)
“He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. nd having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
There is such tremendous irony and drama in Revelation!
In chapter five, there is a succession of power from the “one seated on the throne” to another member of the royal family. The created order watches in rapt attention! They knew what the scroll contained. So did John’s pastors and leaders in the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. John had them reading the Bible! They had to be very familiar with Isaiah 8, Ezekiel 2 and 3, and also Daniel 12. They knew that the Scroll contained the Master Plan of God – the revelation of how the Kingdom would come “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is why John is so overwhelmed and as the Contemporary English Version translates this passage “[John] wept and wept and wept because no one was found able to open it” (Revelation 12:4, CEV). He thought all hope was lost.
But he is silenced by a voice from one of the elders who surround the throne…the command is strong – “stop weeping.” He is told to “behold” to see “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5). John also hears that this One – who any Jew would recognize as the Messianic Davidic King – “has conquered” (past tense) – not “will conquer.” He is introduced as someone who has already won! This is amazing. But what is even more amazing is that when he turns to look, he doesn’t see a power, tall, powerful, heavily muscled warrior-king holding a sword and in full battle array. What he sees must have shaken him to the core.
John describes what he sees in verse six: “And I saw…a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes…” (5:6, NASB). What? This isn’t going to get it done, right? How can a bloodied, throat-slit, ready for sacrifice lamb make anyone stop weeping?
Now, hang in there with me. This is a key part of the entire book. Several times in Revelation, John “hears” something, but then as he turns his eyes to the sound, he “sees” something else entirely. In chapter seven verse four he “heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand sealed.” We are familiar with these numberings from the Old Testament – they are often occurring in the context of a pending military conflict. So, we are led to believe that an army is being formed – a count of the available warriors.
Hearing Something and Seeing Something Different
But wait. John “heard” that number. When he turns to view the 144,000 thousand instead, what he “[beholds or sees are] a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9, NSAB). They aren’t holding swords or spears or lances. They are holding and waving palm branches – the symbols of victory and celebration. And there is no blood on their robes – the robes are white as snow.
Here’s the thing. The reality is so scandalous and just plain outrageous that Paul is forced to admit that his gospel message was tough to swallow: “…to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:23-24. Here is the core of Revelation’s message – “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death!” Jesus conquers his enemies by dying for them. He returns from battle victorious and is installed as King. He is given the throne! The height of his glory was the cross. The Roman soldiers mocked this King of Jews and ironically fashion a crown of thorns for Him. Little did they know that they were actually participating in a very real coronation – the most important coronation ever! Jesus was crowned King at his own crucifixion!
But the truth is that Jesus had been hinting at this throughout his entire ministry.
Chapter twelve of the Gospel of John is key to understanding what is happening in Revelation. When I first read this chapter years ago, I mistakenly thought that when Jesus spoke of his imminent glorification that he was referring to his Resurrection. After all, how can a bloody and shameful crucifixion be “the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified!” But then, in the very next verse Jesus speaks of death – “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:21, NRSV). Later in that same chapter, again in the context of glorification, Jesus mentions his death on the Cross – “when [he] is lifted up from the earth…”
It Isn't About Winning Elections and Controlling Congress Friends
I find this utterly shocking. But it explains Revelation 12:11.
As American Christians living in the past several decades, we came to acquire a lot of influence and respect in our society. As a result, we are continuously tempted to believe that our “overcoming” or “conquering” would happen through the amassing and projection of military and political power. So many today are convinced that the very future of the Church in America and in the West hangs on the flimsy thread of the wims of politicians and can only be rescued by the election of one political party or another – or by acquiescence to secular culture and diversity of human ideologies.
Of course, we are to do our best as citizens of our country. We should vote and participate in the political process. We are called to be “salt and light” in our society and culture. But we should never fall prey to the notion that the Kingdom will advance against the “world-systems” of this age because of our power. It is our weakness that will get it done. Jesus conquered by giving his life. “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son…” How will we overcome the monstrously powerful creatures described in Revelation 12 and 13? The answer is right there in the middle of the chapter:
“But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.”
(Revelation 12:11, NRSV)
What Is "the Blood?"
The “blood” Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon. speaks of His death. Our testimony is our faithful witness to Jesus as we follow him and live as He lived by the power of the Holy Spirit – living in such a way that, in the face of persecution and opposition we do not lash out at our enemies – we do what Jesus did. We “keep to the commands of God” (12:17) by loving God “with our whole heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind” – and by “loving our neighbor as yourself” (Luke 22:37-40, NKLV)
How did Jesus teach us to pray?
He called us to forgive those who “trespass against us” and forgive them by releasing them into God’s hands. It is astounding that anyone should do this – but on the Cross? Amid such an agonizing and overwhelmingly painful death? How can anyone be at their best under such conditions! Forget about forgiving enemies – I wouldn’t even want to have them near me! I can’t even forgive the driver who just cut me off on the freeway! I want to pass him up and run him off the road! This is why Jesus is said to have “conquered!” Not only did he defeat all the “powers and principalities…triumphing over them on the cross” but he resists the immense temptation to curse them all and send them immediately to hell! Instead, he looks down at his torturers and says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus conquered his enemies by dying for them. And that’s what Revelation 12:11 means.
More to follow.