I would like to ask a favor.
Could we lay aside our preconceived notions of the end times and the book of Revelation for a bit and wrestle with the text in light of who God is?
What I mean is this. I believe that much of the popular understanding of the book of Revelation blatantly contradicts what we know about God.
Many evangelicals have come to believe that the book of Revelation provides details as to what is going to happen in the years immediately prior to Jesus’ return (I’ll address this conception in a future post. I’ll just note for now that this has nothing to do with what the book of Revelation is about).
In many popular understandings of the book of Revelation, God sends plagues, boils, famines, demonic locusts, and even turns the seas into blood shortly before His return.
Now, you might say, “That is what it says!” To which I would reply, “No, that is not what it says.”
But before I even discuss that, let me simply note that the conception that God is an angry despot who sits on His throne in heaven ready to inflict suffering on those who do not repent, has no place in Christian thought.
In fact, this understanding has more in common with the ancient heretical teachings of Marcion, than it does with the Scriptures
NB: Marcion was a 2nd century leader in the church in Rome who was very influential. He argued that the God of the Old Testament was a god of judgment and wrath and that this god was not the same as God the Father of Jesus as revealed in the NT. He believed that God the Father was a God of love.
NB Note the antisemitism running through Marcionism.
Revelation: a love story
As I noted in a previous post, I am currently writing a commentary on the book of Revelation and it is my conviction that the narrative of Revelation continues God’s grand love story.
In saying this, I am arguing against the popular notion that God brings devastation, destruction, and death upon humanity and upon creation in order to bring people to repentance.
It is my conviction that the book of Revelation affirms that devastation, destruction, and death are what happens when humanity rules apart from the wisdom of God.
That this is what the book of Revelation is about should not come as a surprise—though, sadly, I suspect for many it does.
The entire biblical story is about God demonstrating His love toward us.
This story centers on Jesus: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Paul also says that “the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom 2:4).
As perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
The book of Romans adds, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
1st John says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Jesus says that the two greatest commandments are: (Mark 12:30-31)
- Love the Lord your God
- Love your neighbor as yourself
Jesus says, “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil me” (Luke 6:35).
Look carefully at what Jesus says here. He says that when we love we are acting like God. In fact, we will be called “sons/daughters of God.” The expression “to be a son of” meant to have the qualities, character, and attributes of the person to whom one is a son of. Because God loves everyone we are His children when we do the same.
After all, the biblical story is clear: in Jesus, the kingdom of God has come. And it has come through love. This is what the Cross is!
This is the consistent message of the New Testament.
How come we approach the book of Revelation as though it is about God inflicting suffering on others in order to let those who survive know that they better repent?
Now, I know what you might say here (after all, I used to believe this myself): “God loves us so much that He doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. So, He inflicts suffering on some, but not all, so that those who remain may come to their senses and turn to God in repentance. And, as for those who died as a result of God’s wrath, they were sinners and deserved it. It is true that they don’t get the chance to repent, but that is because they wouldn’t have repented anyways.”
There are so many problems with this line of thought I almost don’t know where to begin.
Let me begin by asking if we really think any non-Christian with any common sense will want to believe in a God that just blitzed one-fourth of humanity, but was “kind” enough to spare them? Do we really suppose that they don’t see the radical inconsistency in this message: “God loves you so much he struck your daughter with demonic locusts, boils, and the fierce heat of the intensified sun so that you might learn to fear Him”?
As usual, I have much more to say.
I will continue to address this issue in upcoming posts.
Let me finish with this thought:
One of the reasons why I suspect that we do not wrestle with Jesus’ message of love your enemies, and why I believe we are too willing to accept the notion that God is an angry despot who will inflict suffering on the nations just prior to His return is because it is hard!
Let’s face it: cross-bearing love is hard. It is hard to love our own family this way, let alone our neighbors or our enemies.
It is much easier to view others as “them.” You know, the ones on whom God will inflict wrath upon if they don’t repent and become like “us.”
I fear that we have lost sight of the Gospel of love because—to be frank—we aren’t very good at it and we really don’t want to be good at it.
To be continued . . .
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 This is in accord with the biblical story beginning with Adam and Eve’s expulsion and carrying forward until the return of Jesus. When humanity decides to make its own decisions of right and wrong, people like Cain kill others such as Abel.