Revelation 19:11b (New International Version)
11b With justice he judges and wages war.
This poetic passage contains myriad clashing symbols which challenge fine-grained interpretation. Yet, the main point is clear – the power of God through Jesus defeats all the forces arrayed against it. God’s victory is not a novel idea: it reiterates the main point of the first half of the chapter, that God is praiseworthy because he defeats all his enemies (verses 1-3).
The unveiling of the battle scene begins with one of the two opposing armies, the heavenly forces (verses 11-16). The leader of this, the Lord’s army, commands many titles, echoing terms associated with Jesus earlier in the book, like ‘Faithful and True’, ‘sharp sword’ and ‘iron rod’. The troops of heaven follow him.
The course of the action is described through the picture of a banquet. In contrast to the banquet mentioned earlier in verse 9, this one is gory and macabre. The banqueters here are the carrion birds. The story of the birds brackets the battle itself. In verse 17 they are invited to the forthcoming feast, and in verse 21 they gorge themselves with flesh of the battle-dead.
In the middle of the story of the birds, between the invitation and the consummation, the battle takes place. The battle itself occurs after the end of verse 19 and before the beginning of verse 20. In other words, it is not described at all. We move straight from the opposing armies aligning for battle to the final outcome of the battle having been decided. The consequence is that God’s enemies are defeated and destroyed.
There is no escaping that the language is explicit and gory and that the carnage is described graphically. We should not underestimate the horror of the sweeping cosmic battle between good and evil, but at the end, the victory is the Lord’s. Hallelujah! For the Lord, our God, the Almighty reigns.