What happens when νικῶν (the victorious one) is followed through the Revelation drama?  This reader noticed a narrative arc in which Team Jesus wins some of the time, though sometimes Team World wins, until the decisive victory is won by Team Jesus, and Team World is ejected.

The play-by-play

Revelation chapters 2 and 3 contain messages addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor.  They are words of compliment, criticism, encouragement, and promise.  The term “victorious one” is in the conclusion to each message.  If Christians are obedient, they will receive the following rewards some after death and some post-Parousia:

Ephesus (2:7)-- to the victor (νικῶντι) will go the right to eat from the tree of life

Smyrna (2:11)-- the victor (νικῶν) will not be hurt by the second death

Pergamon (2:17)-- the victor (νικῶντι) will be given manna and a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one whose name is written on the stone

Thyatira (2:26)-- the victor (νικῶν) will have authority over the nations

Sardais (3:5)-- the victor (νικῶν) will be dressed in white. their name will never be blotted out from the book of life but will be acknowledge before God and the angels by Christ.

Philadelphia (3:12)-- the victor (νικῶν) will be a pillar in the temple of God. They will never leave it. Christ will write on them the name of God, the name of the new Jerusalem, and Christ’s new name.

Laodicea (3:21)-- the victor (νικῶν) will be given the right to sit with Christ on the throne of God

Sides are forming.  The terms of the engagement are identified.  The meaning of victory is being defined.

Team Jesus

Team World

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The scene jumps from Earth to heaven in chapters 4 and 5.  There is a heavenly scroll to be read, however no one worthy of even so much as opening the scroll can be found.  Cue dramatic entrance of the Lamb, who was victorious to open (ἐνίκησεν . . . ἀνοῖξαι)  the scroll and its seven seals.  Score one for Team Jesus.

Team Jesus

Team World

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The breaking of the first scroll releases the first horseman of the apocalypse (6:2).  Riding a white horse, bow in hand, crown on his head, the horseman gallops to victory (νικῶν καὶ ἵνα νικήσῃ) but not in a good way.  Team World has evened the score.

Team Jesus

Team World

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God’s wrath is poured out on the Earth in chapters 6-10, and then the Beast comes out of the abyss, attacks God’s two prophets, will be victorious over them (νικήσει), and will kill them (11:7).  It’s not looking good for Team Jesus.

Team Jesus

Team World

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A heavenly war breaks out in chapter 12.  Michael and his angels attack Satan and his angels.  Michael’s side is stronger, Satan and his followers are hurled down to Earth, and humanity is declared the winner.  

Even though they did not fight in this contest, humans are victorious (ἐνίκησαν) through the blood of the Lamb and because of their martyrdom (12:11).  This is how demented things have become on Earth at this point in the narrative; the only winning strategy for Team Jesus is faithfulness unto death.  Team World considers it one for their side while the narrator declares that it’s all tied up.

Team Jesus

Team World

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Satan empowers a new Beast from the sea with authority to be victorious (νικῆσαι) over the saints (13:7).  Having authority to win isn’t the same as actually winning, however.  Team Jesus shows up in chapter 14 and the victorious ones (νικῶντας) who resisted the authority of the Beast make their presence know in chapter 15.  Team Jesus regains the lead!

Team Jesus

Team World

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In chapter 16-19 God’s wrath is poured out on the Beast and its followers.  The kings of the Earth will pull together and fight back but to no avail.  The Lamb will be victorious (νικήσει) over them because he is King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14).  Team Jesus is starting to pull away from the competition.

Team Jesus

Team World

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In the end (chapters 20-22) Satan, the Beasts, the kings, and their followers get blown out by the most valuable player.  It isn’t even close.  The fan who remained loyal and never rooted for the other team is declared the victorious one (ὁ νικῶν) and receives championship trophies.  These vicarious victors will inherit the new heaven, the new earth, and the holy city.  They will never again experience death, grief, or pain.  They will drink water from the spring of life.  Last but not least, God will dwell with them, be their God and they will be the children of God (21:7).

Team Jesus

Team World

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Reflections

I’m struck by the passive role of the human victors.  The action heros are Christ and the angels.   The killing of the saints sets the heavenly corps in motion to avenge this martyrdom.  Throughout the narrative the faithful are on the sidelines where they praise and prostrate before God.  Their victory is based on inaction (namely that they did not praise and prostrate before the Beast).

Contrast this vision with the one found in a best-selling book that recounts a child’s near-death experience.  In the book, the little boy tells his father that he saw him and other men fighting alongside Christ in the final battle against Satan.  How All-American.  We do so want to kick butt.

The second thing that stood out for me was the narrator’s repeated warnings to the reader of the dire consequences of worshipping the Beast.  This concern is foreign to me, of another time, another culture.  Americans aren’t big on bowing. Prostration is an unnatural activity for us.  Surrender, submission, obedience-- these are sissy words.  Even when applied to one’s relationship with God.

Don’t bow down to a blasphemous beast?  No sweat.  

Humble ourselves before the Holy?  No comment.

We could do a psycho-social-cultural-political-power-gender analysis of our negative reaction to the idea of submitting to God.  We could, but let’s not.  Let’s just confess.  This is how we feel.  This is who we are.  We as a people do not like to yield to anything.  God help us.  

Which is exactly what happens.  God does help us.  Confession heard.  Repentance accepted.  Forgiveness granted.

Welcome to the sidelines.  Humility becomes you.