Striking the Nations

striking nations (3)

d) Rev 19:15: In this verse, John returned to his vision of the victorious Christ (Rev 19:11–13).

He wrote, “And from his mouth comes a sharp sword, in order that with it he might strike the nations. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron. And he treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God Almighty.”

The apostle incorporated allegorical elements,[1] with four clear allusions to the Old Testament (OT).[2]

First, the returning messiah shall have a sharp sword protruding from his mouth (Rev 1:16–17). This refers to the lethal power of his pronouncements, rather than to a physical weapon (Isa 11:4; Hos 6:4–6; Rev 2:14–16; Heb 4:12).[3]

That Christ shall strike the nations alludes to Ps 2.[4] Ungodly rulers and nations who seek to overthrow the authority of the Lord will fail (2 Thess 2:8–10).[5]

A Jewish apocryphal book (ca. 90–100 AD) fits the scenario of Rev 19 quite well:

I dreamed a dream in the night…and I looked and [saw] the figure of a man come up out of the heart of the sea. And I looked, and behold, that man flew with the clouds of heaven; and wherever he turned his face to look, everything under his gaze trembled, and whenever his voice issued from his mouth, all who heard his voice melted as wax melts when it feels the fire.

After this I looked, and behold, an innumerable multitude of men were gathered together from the four winds of heaven to make war against the man who came up out of the sea…

And behold, when he saw the onrush of the approaching multitude, he neither lifted his hand nor held a spear or any weapon of war; but I saw only how he sent forth from his mouth as it were a stream of fire, and from his lips a flaming breath, and from his tongue he shot forth a storm of sparks.

All these were mingled together, the stream of fire and the flaming breath and the great storm, and fell on the onrushing multitude which was prepared to fight, and burned them all up, so that suddenly nothing was seen of the innumerable multitude but only the dust of ashes and the smell of smoke….

After this I saw the same man…call to him another multitude which was peaceable. Then many people came to him, some of whom were joyful and some sorrowful; some of them were bound, and some were bringing others as offerings. Then in great fear I awoke (2 Esdras 13:1–13, RSV).

The sword in John’s vision serves as a metaphor for the final judgment awaiting the wicked.[6]

“He shall rule them with a rod of iron” alludes to the Greek translation of Ps 2:9.[7] The word translated as “shall rule” (poimainō) typically means “shall shepherd.”[8]

Adding to the confusion, the Hebrew verb used in that psalm actually means “break” (rāa).[9] However, that makes sense in light of the parallelism of the second half of the verse regarding a wine press.

Thus, it appears that John chose to use the rod of iron as a symbol of destruction for Christ’s enemies but of protection for his people (Jer 23:1–6; Ezek 34:1–4, 15–16; Ps 23).[10]

A first century BC Jewish apocryphal book pulls these symbols together, saying of the messiah, “Righteously he shall thrust out sinners from (the) inheritance. He shall destroy the pride of the sinner as a potter’s vessel. With a rod of iron he shall break in pieces all their substance. He shall destroy the godless nations with the word of his mouth.”[11]

The third metaphor John used to describe the actions of the messiah asserts, “He treads the wine press of the fierce anger of God Almighty.”

Here the apostle combined the images of the cup of God’s anger and of treading upon a wine press (Cf. Rev 14:9–10, 14–20).[12]

Treading grapes by throwing them into a vat with a spout at the bottom consisted of a familiar symbol of divine wrath to the original audience (Joel 3:12–13; Lam 1:15).[13]

However, the closest OT parallel occurs in Isa 63:1–6.[14] In that passage, God announced the destruction of Edom, the nation which descended from Jacob’s brother Esau (Gen 25:30). In the Aramaic paraphrase called Targum Jonathan, the field of destruction widens:[15]

Wherefore are the mountains red from the blood of the slain? Yea, the valleys shall flow as the wine from the wine press.

Behold, as the grapes are trodden in the vat, thus He shall increase the slaughter in the camps of the nations; they shall have no strength before me: yea, I will slay them in my anger, and tread them down in my fury; and I will break the strength of their mighty ones before me, and all their wise men will I consume.[16]

On the day of his return, Christ shall slay those not allied with him in the wine press of his wrath.[17]

Within Rev 6–19, the Greek words for “anger” (orgē) or “wrath” (thymos) appear thirteen times (e.g. Rev 11:16–18; Rev 16:1).[18] These terms occur more often in the Greek translation of the OT (623x) compared to the New Testament (NT) (54x).[19]

Nevertheless, the view that, in the NT, God always loves and never punishes sin does not conform to the testimony of the NT (Matt 13:36–43, 47–50; Matt 25:41–46).[20]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Rev 19:15. What does the sword in Christ’s mouth symbolize? How will the nations be affected by the Messiah’s rod of iron? Why is treading grapes an image of God’s wrath? What warning or encouragement do you derive from this verse?





Go to King of Kings and Lord of Lords


[Related posts include Faithful and True (Rev 19:11); Ruler of All Nations (Rev 19:12–13); The Armies in Heaven (Rev 19:14); King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:16); The Great Supper of God (Rev 19:17–19); Cast into the Inferno (Rev 19:20–21); The Waters Prevail (Gen 7:17–20); The Breath of Life Extinguished (Gen 7:21–24); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11); Ancient Literature; and Greek Translation of the Old Testament]

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: God Opens the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 7:1–24)]


[1]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1058.

[2]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 961.

[3]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 355.

[4]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1060.

[5]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 961.

[6]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1061.

[7]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 962.

[8]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ποιμαινω” (poimainō), BDAG, 842.

[9] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “רָעַע” (rāa), BDB, 949,

[10]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 962.

[11]Gray, trans., “The Psalms of Solomon,” in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, 17:24,

[12]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1062.

[13]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 280–1.

[14]Beale and McDonough, “Revelation,” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1144.

[15]Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1061.

[16]Pauli, “Comparison of Pentateuch: Jewish Publication Society 1917 Targums Onkelos, Jonathan Ben Uzziel/Palestinian, Jerusalem Fragments,” Isa 63:2–3,

[17]Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 963.

[18]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 355–6.

[19]Results of Logos 7 word studies on the nouns “ὀργή” (orgē) and “θυμός” (thymos).

[20]Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 356.