Let me begin by saying this: I don’t think the book of Revelation is about the future. I grew up believing this, but not any longer. I used to look for the antichrist. I used to wonder what the mark of the beast would be. I wondered if I would be raptured before Armageddon or after it.
These were childish beliefs and I no longer believe in childish things.
That being said, the book of Revelation can be about a future that awaits us if we allow it to happen.
Here’s what I mean.
If we get rid of the notion that prophecy is about predicting the future, then we can start to see how Revelation and the warnings contained therein can apply to us today. You see, human cultures and systems of power are so predictable that it doesn’t matter that Revelation was written nearly 2,000 years ago to people living in the ancient world. The times may be different, but we really aren’t.
Take, for instance, the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The first rider is a conqueror. He is a warmonger. He is no different than the nations who perpetually drop bombs on other countries for oil. The second rider is like the first. Contrary to Jesus, the red rider takes peace with a sword. This could symbolize empire and the division of nations at the business end of whatever weapon we happen to be wielding at the time. The third rider represents famine and economic injustices. This is the rider of the have and have nots. The fourth rider is the pale green one, and represents death, famine, and pestilence.
So, let me ask you this: Do we not see this type of stuff in the news daily? War. Rumors of war. Nationalism becoming evermore commonplace. Starving people on the streets of even the richest nations. The 0.1% having 80% of the world’s wealth. And might I remind you of the current pandemic we are in? Oh, and this doesn’t even take into consideration climate change.
Does this mean that war and famine and plague and economic disparity are our fate? Yes and no. Again, prophecy isn’t about predicting the future; prophecy is about warning us what happens if we continue on our current trajectory. If we don’t wake up and stop dropping bombs on one another, the Big One could be next. Think Hiroshima and Nagasaki times 1,000. If we don’t address the economic disparities of today, more and more people will go hungry. If we don’t address the current pandemic, more and more of us will continue to die. And if we don’t address the ever-warming globe, it will all be too late.
But let’s not pretend these issues are not intertwined with one another either. War leads to famine which leads to pestilence which leads to famine which leads to war which leads to pestilence which leads to famine. Climate change leads to plague which leads to economic disparity which leads to famine which leads to plague. And on and on ad infinitum we could go.
We’ve seen this during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rich have gotten richer, while the poor have died at higher rates. Already marginalized people have suffered greater than those in places of power. And on and on the cycle continues.
But there is hope. In the book of Revelation, there are gates into New Jerusalem that remain perpetually open. Those inside never stop calling those outside to come in. The questions becomes, “Will people listen?” Currently, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Many are doubling down on the nationalism. Many are rejecting science in favor of so-called personal freedoms. Many are refusing to acknowledge that climate change is accelerating out of control. And all of us, in one way or another, are suffering because of it.
At the same time, however, medical professionals, while exhausted, are continuing to press on in the fight. They are still saving lives. Some are doing everything in their power to curb climate change. Many are speaking out against war and refusing to support candidates who bow to the almighty military industrial complex. And the list goes on.
So, if we want to read ourselves into the Bible, then, what will we decide to do? No matter which chapter of Revelation we are in, where will you stand? Will you stand against policies of war? Will you stand against economic injustices? Will you stand against racism? Will you stand up for the marginalized? The oppressed? The vulnerable? Will you take a stand against climate change? Will you help clean up your communities? Will you promote sustainable products and reduce your dependence on plastics? Because if you do, maybe the end of this story doesn’t have to be a hopeless one.
The choice is yours. The choice is ours.
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