Blood is everywhere in the apocalypse. The moon turns to blood. An angel rains down hail and fire spattered with blood. A winepress churns out a stream of blood for one hundred and eighty miles.
These are all scenes of judgment that come towards the end of the book.
But blood can also be a means of salvation. Revelation 1:5 declares that Jesus Christ is,
…the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.
That the same blood later becomes an instrument of judgment shouldn’t be that surprising. St. Paul warns us that, “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:29). How we respond to the encounter with Christ is decisive: one thief was with Him in paradise. The other wasn’t.
As scary as Revelation’s judgment scenes are, they should also serve as a great source of encouragement and consolation. Here’s why: if blood can be this powerful in executing God’s judgment, just think how powerful the blood of God-made-man can be in delivering His mercy.
Indeed, the blood-judgment scenes serve as a fitting context that help us to better understand and appreciate the earlier verses.
In the Old Testament, the blood of the sacrificed animals was powerful, but only to a certain point. Animals had to be slaughtered over and over again. But the blood of Christ needed to be spilled only once. It has become a fountain of life, ever-flowing. That’s because, unlike those sacrificed in the Old Testament, the Lamb’s death was not permanent. Because He rose from the dead, the blood He shed for us now continues to flow.
There is a story that when the British lost to the American Revolutionaries at Yorktown that their band played the “World Turned Upside Down.” In a way, that’s what happened on the cross. On the cross, worldly expectations for what should happen were shattered. The divinely anointed Messiah came to earth and instead of leading a revolution against Rome was crucified with criminals.
But then it the world was turned upside down again. A dead man came back to life. Wait—as extraordinary as that is, it actually understates it. He wasn’t just resuscitated. He had a resurrection. And, what’s more, that resurrection inaugurated a new way of being human. As Revelation says, Christ was the ‘firstborn’ of the dead. More will follow in His path.
In this upside-down world the blood the crucified man has extraordinary power. It both washes and frees us from our sins (Rev. 1:5, it ‘washes’ or ‘frees’ depending on the translation). It redeems us (Rev. 5:9). It makes our ‘robes’ as white as snow (7:14).
We may think that the blood is especially important for us, as we are compounds of flesh and spirit—God came to redeem all of us, hence the importance of His Body and Blood. But the blood is so powerful that even angels need it. According to Revelation 12, it is the instrument with which St. Michael and the other angels overcome “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9, 11).
The preciousness of Christ’s blood is transferred to those who become part of His Body. In Revelation 6, the saints under the altar cry out, “How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” (Rev 6:10). In Revelation 19, God is praised for answering this cry and avenging the blood of His faithful (Rev 19:2).
The Church teaches us that this blood is no mere symbol for us. It is a living reality that we encounter in the Eucharist. Christ offers it to us in His mercy. It only becomes our judgment when we reject it.
The winepress that churned out blood for mile after mile is indeed harrowing. But choose mercy and even this image of the apocalypse will become a beacon of hope: Christ’s blood will never run out for us. It is rather an everlasting stream of life, always offered for us—a never-ending invitation to choose paradise as the thief did.
image: Last Judgement fresco at Catedral Vieja of Salamanca, Spain by: jorisvo / Shutterstock.com.