Converting our Imgination 4

The Book of Revelation is Theo-Politics, a book about a politics that claims God is king and no one else is, a book that declares that God alone is to be worshiped and no one else, a book that announces that God alone is to be obeyed and no one else. Thus, it is Theo-Politics.

Somehow I forgot this book; it got buried under a few others … but happily I found it and we need to get back into the groove with a way to read Revelation that avoids the zaniness of so much of eschatology that we read and hear today.

Michael Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation discusses this theopolitics theme throughout his book.

“Nearly all interpreters … recognize that the entire book is a critique and parody of the Roman Empire and of the cult of the emperor…” (40).

Where do you think Revelation is clarified by this anti-empire reading? How does the gospel itself speak to Revelation as an anti-empire text? Do you see Revelation as theopolitics? What does this reading do to the many ways people read Revelation today?

Gorman sees six elements of the Roman Empire:

1. The gods have chosen Rome.
2. Rome and its emperor are agents of God’s rule, will, salvation and presence.
3. Rome manifests the gods’ blessings … among those who submit to Rome’s will.
4. The rule of the gods of Rome was accomplished through violence, domination, and “pacification.”
5. The emperor himself was worthy of praise, devotion, and allegiance.
6. The imperial age is the long-awaited golden age.

Rome is the Babylon of Revelation; Rome is criticized throughout; Revelation is theopolitics.

So, Gorman asks, what is an Empire? His definition is important and vital:

An entity that has come to widespread (global or nearly global) dominance
through deliberate expansion
by means of the extreme exercise of some form(s) of power
resulting in the creation of colony-like clients of the entity and
of enemies who perceive the entity as oppressive.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://kingwatch.co.nz/Times_Seasons/book_of_revelation.htm RonMcK

    I agree that Revelation is theo-political, but it is not just about Rome. It looks forward to all human empires collapsing, not by Jesus returning as most seem to believe, but by the work of the cross and the Holy Spirit.

  • http://www.donbryant.wordpress.com don bryant

    After 40 years in the pulpit a major regret is not really helping people get into the imagination of the Apostle John in Revelation. Eugene Peterson has done that well, in addition to Wilcock’s commentary on the last book of the Bible. Being raised in a fundamentalist dispensational home ruined that book for me for a long time. The guy in pew has a hard time reaching for the poetical aspects of the book that make that book live and run and jump and dance. I am a conservative evangelical and have not turned Revelation into fancy. But my conservative evangelical demands that the book be treated on its own terms. Too bad I have not had a lot of company, and being the coward that I am and lazy as well, I never did the hard work of taking a church deep into the flame that burns in that book. Maybe I still have some time.

  • Tim

    Is this really true?

    “Nearly all interpreters … recognize that the entire book is a critique and parody of the Roman Empire and of the cult of the emperor…”

    If anyone has insight into whether or not contemporary Biblical scholars really do achieve near-consensus on this, I would appreciate it if you could confirm this and perhaps point me to something that substantiates that assertion.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I have the same question as Tim@3. Perhaps just Scot’s opinion or the opinion of others here would help

  • smcknight

    I was quoting or summing up Gorman’s book … it’s true. Just read the major commentaries, they are all about Rome.

  • Linda

    Revelation does have the political (the Beast) opposing the true people of God and it also has the false church (the Whore) opposing the true people of God. The Beast was Roman Empire but it also is any oppressive government like Ottoman Empire, Communist China, Communist Russia, Communist North Korea, Nazi Germany, Communist Cuba, etc.- many Christians were killed by these governments just because they were Christian.

    The book of Revelation gives encouragement to believers throughout the ages because they know in the end the Beast and the Whore are defeated by God Himself and they will finally be with Jesus forever…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TI2982DUups

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    A lot of preterists take Revelation to be about the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, so that there are some elements that speak of Jerusalem while others speak of Rome.

  • Jeff L

    By Gorman’s definition, the United States is an empire. Does that mean the USA is yet another manifestation of the Beast?

  • normbv

    Tim #3,

    It is hardly a consensus that Babylon is Rome as this ship is being turned around gradually in theological circles.

    However some of this premise is indeed correct that Nations such as Rome were under the gun in Revelation but much more so was the Harlot of Old Jerusalem.
    We see this explicitly in Rev 13 in which we have a beast rising out of the Sea representing Rome [Dan 7] and then next we have the Beast from the Land representing corrupt Jerusalem who is the Harlot of Babylon who sold herself to the Nations.
    This becomes clearer later when the Beast will hate the prostitute and burns her up. This is exactly what happened as Rome sent Titus and he burned Jerusalem and destroyed her. Otherwise how does Rome as the Beast hate herself as a prostitute?

    Rev 17:16 ESV And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire,

    Both Beasts were under judgment and through the establishment of the church they were both crushed as their realm was physical. However the new Kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom and is not subject to their rule no matter who rises up throughout history.

    Rev 20:10 YLT and the Devil, who is leading them astray, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are the beast and the false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night–to the ages of the ages.

    This above language is imagery describing the eternal and enduring reign of Christ Kingdom over all kingdoms yet it is not one in which we rule with armies and such.

    Joh 18:36 ESV Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

  • Ben Wheaton

    Jeff L.,

    Yep. Or at least it at times manifests the power of the Beast spoken about in Revelation.

    But a question of my own: is Revelation only about Rome and anti-empire politics, or is it also about the final consummation? What does the description of the New Heavens and New Earth at the end of Revelation have to do with anti-empire politics?

  • Jim H.

    To answer Jeff L’s question: Yes!

  • Ben Wheaton

    To further explain my answer to Jeff L, both Rome and America have “founding ideologies” which are very powerful. Liberal democracy, “City on a Hill,” and the like are for America, and for Rome you have the divinized emperor and part of Virgil’s message to “the toga’d race” about their destiny to rule the peoples. Both of these ideologies of course have some good points and bad points. But both are opposed to the message of the Kingdom, that Jesus is Lord, not Humanity.

    I could say the same of the EU, UN, China, etc.

  • normbv

    The question is; when does a Nation become a Beast. Daniel tells us that King Neb failed to acknowledge that God set him in his position of authority and so he took the Glory of God. He embraced the mind of the “Beast” and lost his throne. He wasn’t restored until he came to his senses and acknowledged God and then he ruled as a providential “man” enabled by God and under His authority.

    I’m not sure we could call the US system in which most Presidents acknowledge God as a Beastly one yet. Even if they were not God fearers there is no reason to proclaim the government as “beastly” until they lead the people to directly oppose God’s Great commandments and disavow God.

    Mat 22:37-40 ESV And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

    I think we are far from becoming a country of atheist and agnostic corrupt people yet and need to be careful in how we throw these accusations around as they may not be biblically correct to a large extent and are thus inaccurate terminology.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    normbv, to be a bit of a Beast’s advocate here in the US theoretically we all are the one in charge and therefore our group-think is the thing to be judged whether it is beast-like or not. I believe it explicitly is. We have unequivocally removed love of God from our considerations and if we define those outside the US as the neighbors then we have pretty much unequivocally not been motivated by love of neighbor. We have made lifeless entities (corporations) our idols and even listen to them and give them rights on par with the humans. It is Beast. Just ask the Muslims, and Africans, and any of the 30k that dies of water born illness. It is well within the capabilities of the US to make a huge dent in all of this but we chose, instead, to buy bigger houses and more cars etc.

    It has taken me awhile to come to this belief, but I am there. The leader of this country is our collective decisions and those are like the Beast. Come on, we are capitalists.

  • normbv

    DRT,

    What you say does have some resonance. However if we go back historically in this country to the period that people think we were pure as the driven snow [figuratively speaking :)] we find even worse treatment of our neighbors. Slaves, Indians and Mexicans: should I say more? Actually to an extent I believe we may have improved collectively somewhat over the centuries as we look at some of the progress that has been attained collectively. Is there more bigotry tolerated today than even 50 to 75 years ago? I would say here in the south that there is less tolerance of bigotry generally speaking.

    Maybe it is seeing the glass half empty or full is where we may be coming from. I’m both optimistic and pessimistic and yet I have no idea which direction we will tend toward because we know what happens to men when times get desperate. The good neighbor policy goes out the window; ask those in Germany last century when a supposed Christian nation turned on their neighbors. God may purify his people again in ways that we cannot imagine. Only He knows.

    Again though I remind that Biblically speaking one is a Beast when they separate themselves from God and His good commandments. The last time I looked at the surveys I believe there was still a healthy majority of people who believe in the God of Abraham to some extent. I would bet that a full blown depression here in the states would raise the figures even higher when people see that they are dependant on God for their sustenance.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    normbv, I agree with the trend and am hopeful that we can continue down that path. Ironically, we may become more neighborly precisely because we are not the dominant empire in the future.

  • Tim

    Scot (5) & Normbv (9),

    Thanks for answering my question! :)

  • normbv

    DRT,

    Yes the “white mans’s burden” is not something I believe we can sustain as we are painfully finding out. It will continue to be a transitional time for America from the zenith of WWII to the realities of being just another one of the Boys. No longer are we that “city on the Hill” that forged our American psyche according to Reagan. The “city on the Hill” was the fabric of the church throughout the world and that was established nearly 2000 years ago.

    America considered ourselves the New Israel entering the Promised Land and destroying the pagans found there. It was a brutal mentality that does not speak well of us and we owe some measure of penitence somehow as we move away from that over glorified heritage. We need to be about how the true Israel was supposed to treat her neighbors yet failed and hopefully we will learn to do right.

  • Tim

    If modern scholarship is converging on the idea that the “Beast” was in fact meant to represent Rome historically, then would Normbv’s conclusion that the “Harlot” be historically equated with Jerusalem also find similar support?

    Does this idea of Jerusalem being the Harlot require a pre-70 AD authorship of Revelation? Or would Revelation in part correspond to the same genre of ex-eventu prophesy as found in Daniel (a similar piece of resistance literature)? Or is some other entity the Harlot?

    Anyone care to take a stab at this?

  • Steveerickson

    Wow. Will this be another post that will not see the light of day? I will of course bring the discussion back to Jesus. Somehow returning the conversation on Christianity to something Christ centric becomes unwanted. Therefore, I suppose also the fact the book itself claims to be the revelation from the risen Christ is also off topic.
    If this is cancelled then it will be the third attempt to make the point that the risen Lord and savior who offer Himself as substitute punishment by receiving the full righteous fury of Father’s wrath against sin is not appropriate to the discussion. Paul called the fascinations and focus upon such things as a ministry of death and but that was a previous post on Father’s “Monster ship” that too was deleted.. Referring to this discussion Paul again seem Arapahos “Having a form of godliness but denying the power there of”. Placing Jesus as the promised one in the middle of the discussion seems foolish to you doesn’t it? I changes the pyridine completely however when as in prophecy and the stories of Moses where The Lord is ever-present and pivotal to proper understanding. I won’t make the obvious points here and there are many. Just try this one mental exercise, pretend that Jesus is more than a historical figure and a basis point for intellectual remuneration, and pretend a risen Savior was relating information from beyond time space. Hocus pokus I know, only a fool would see spiritual of even supernatural aspects to religion but bear with me. Since you mostly appear to me to be scientists and historians discussing these finer points I point you to the sound science of the stars . Measurable and with the aid of computing has muted much of the drivel used in Revelation speculation. Science will determine the subject and from there the rest will be easier. If this is not censured then the discussion may be allowed to move forward but that Up to Scott and the rest of the thought police. Here is the link. – http://www.bethlehemstar.com.url

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I want to offer one note of unprovoked clarification on my position that may help the harsh conclusions become a bit more palatable. That is that the modern incarnation of the beast brings deception to a whole new level unheard of in prior times. We are able (and encouraged) to have no knowledge whatsoever about the impacts we have to neighbor and god. My mom is a wonderful person who will never consciously hurt anyone, but she is the unwitting accomplice to the work of the beast as we all are. If you had to walk across town and get a bucket of oil out of the oil sellers’ stash and then accidentally dump some in the water that his children and family drink out of then virtually none of us would ever do it. Or if we would sit on our porch and watch the children get off work at 9PM at night after a 12 hour shift of making our clothes then we would say something. But the deception of the beast has made it so we no longer see the impacts of the things that we do. We have people sitting in-between us and them and those middle men don’t tell us what the problem is.

    So I don’t think the average person out there, who is the one directing our country, is aware of the beast-ness of the current situation. No, what I am saying is that the beast (our organization) has politely hid this level of knowledge from us so that we can no longer see right from wrong.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Speaking of the Beast, the lesser of the two great lights will turn the color of blood starting at 1:30 am tonight….

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Hold it! Don’t be alarmed! There is a total eclipse of the moon tonight and it will probably look red for part of show, but may not depending on the effect of the vulcanism over the past year. Don’t be afraid :D

  • Ed Gentry

    Probably my favorite accessible treatment of Revelation is Darrell Johnson’s Discipleship on the edge.

    http://www.amazon.com/Discipleship-Edge-Expository-Journey-Revelation/dp/157383212X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292991058&sr=8-1


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