*The following post, by Preston Sprinkle, is adapted from Preston Sprinkle’s forthcoming book: Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). Preston’s book is due to release on August 1.
In a previous post, I argued that Mark Driscoll’s cage-fighting Jesus has no place in the book of Revelation. Revelation is a violent book, but its violence is absorbed, never dished out, by Christians. The writer of the Apocalypse must have been a pacifist.
Still, the author believed that believers should conquer the world—conquer through nonviolent, cruciform suffering.
Do you think the cross transforms the meaning of “conquer” in Revelation into non-violent conquering or do you think it remains violent?
The term nikao, “conquer,” is used ten times for Jesus’s followers in Revelation. Most often, nikao refers to faithfulness unto death. Christians will overcome, not by fighting, not by killing, not by powerful coercion. Swords and spears and machine guns are insufficient means for ruling the world. This is the way the kings of the earth—those empowered by Satan—conquer. The followers of the Lamb conquer by means of divine power. Christians conquer by being killed (12:11).
In each letter to the seven churches of Revelation, Jesus exhorts believers to “conquer.” That is, worship Jesus and not Caesar; hold fast to the testimony of Christ even if it kills you. Because if you are killed, you win. You conquer. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life,” Jesus tells the believers at Smyrna (2:10). “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (v. 11). To the church at Pergamum, Jesus commends a saint named Antipas, since he was a “faithful witness, who was killed among you” (v. 13). Antipas conquered (v. 17). And to “the one who conquers” in Laodicea, says Jesus, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (v. 21).
The book often thought to overturn the ethic of nonviolence is actually its greatest defender. By suffering unto death, believers participate in the suffering power of Christ. “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come,” writes John. “They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” How did the saints conquer? Because “they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:10–11). They conquered by being killed.
The kingdom of God is breaking into history and toppling Satan’s rule because believers pick up their crosses and follow the Lamb wherever He goes. With Jesus, they conquered by being conquered (Rev. 5:5-6).
This is such a difficult truth for me to swallow. Don’t think that because I’m writing a book on nonviolence that this stuff comes easy. I live in a culture where all forms of suffering are avoided, or at least medicated. I get a headache, and I pop a pill. I get hungry, and I immediately eat. If I feel cold, I put on one of my many coats. If I get tired, I rest. If I catch a cold, I crawl into bed, call in sick, and pop another pill. And if someone even thinks about oppressing me, watch out! I can bench press 250 pounds, and I own several guns. Step on my private property, and you may end up in the hospital or lying in chalk. My culture gives me no categories to view suffering—especially suffering at the hands of an oppressor—as victory. My culture sees suffering only as defeat, as evil. It never sees suffering as a means of victory. This is why I need to read John’s vision about what’s really going on from God’s perspective to correct my American, self-serving, “I will defend my rights at all costs” mindset. I need to follow the slaughtered Lamb wherever He goes, so that I can reign with Him in victory.
One of the greatest lies lobbed at “nonviolence” is that such posture can’t conquer real evil. On the contrary, God infuses nonviolent suffering with more power against Satan—i.e. real evil—that all the nukes in the world. America could annihilate every single terrorist on earth, and Satan would walk away untouched. Or, the church could follow their slaughtered Lamb and conquer the world.