Revelation has some deeply disturbing and frightening images. Our enemies will be crushed in the winepress of God’s wrath, slaughtered in the last days, thrown into the lake of fire to burn for all eternity. New readers are shocked at this given that we serve a God of mercy and grace, but, we say, God’s patience is limited and eventually there will be a reckoning.
But since we’ve been reading in the prophets of the Old Testament, we can pretty easily compare the two and notice a few things. The Old Testament prophets used very similar language, if not worse, for their enemies. Nahum today speaks of infants being dashed to pieces on the street corners of Nineveh, after all. This was a very common writing style for it’s day, where one writes vengeance against one’s enemies, and that vengeance comes from God Himself.
This is not literal writing like we’re used to (the simplest form of writing, which may be why it is the most commonly read). This is metaphorical, poetic literature and we have to read it as such. Libraries have been written and months of debate have been had on the specific meanings of these passages, both Old Testament prophets and New Testament Revelation, with no agreed upon consensus in sight. Metaphor and poetry are like that – open to numerous interpretations.
But metaphor doesn’t mean untrue. In fact, often metaphor allows us to be more truthful than a literal retelling. While the OT prophets announced a conquering hero, we got a baby in a manger. They weren’t lying or wrong, but metaphorically speaking of His power and might in military terms. So as we approach His second coming, how might we understand the writings we have about it, specifically Revelation? What might this violent imagery mean in more literal terms? Might Jesus’ second coming look a lot more like His first coming than we allow?