Revelation 8-9: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Revelation 8-9: A Bitter Pill to Swallow September 9, 2012

Today in my Sunday school class we tackled chapters 8-9 of Revelation, featuring the seven trumpets. We discussed the attempts of some futurist interpreters to see in the locusts Russian attack helicopters capable of launching nuclear missiles, or in Wormwood the Chernobyl disaster (Chernobyl means “Wormwood” in Ukrainian). The biggest problem with that approach is that it renders the text incomprehensible to everyone except the modern interpreter, and thus represents a form of hermeneutical imperialism. But another serious problem for that approach is that, if the reference were indeed to Chernobyl, then we would just have to conclude that the rest of the prophecies failed. By making one text seem to be a genuine prediction (even though there is no obvious sense in which the Chernobyl nuclear plant fell from the sky, and so nothing but the name fits) they make those around it false. It is unclear why they should want to do that, but if they do, then they should take the consequences seriously – which futurists clearly do not.

I made a brief mention of the fact that all the grass is said to be destroyed, only to have a statement then follow ordering that the grass not be harmed! That reminded me of the satirical treatment of the Exodus story in The Brick Testament.

We noted likely historical allusions, and it led to an interesting discussion of the role of prayers of the saints in the section. Prayers offered by God’s people are symbolically depicted as incense in a censer, which is cast to the Earth and seems to have a causative role in bringing about the plagues that then ensue. This reminded me of my experience of teaching a course on Biblical Interpretation in lower Manhattan in the 2001 academic year. In that context, it didn’t seem as though I could just breeze past imprecatory psalms like Psalm 137. That psalm is not simply a cursing of enemies. The author expresses the desire for the Babylonians to receive payback for what they had done to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It seems that the author had lost children in the siege of Jerusalem.

If we had lived in the first century, and perhaps had lost loved ones when the Romans drove Galilean forces into the sea as described by Josephus, we might have wished for the things described in Revelation to befall Rome, as payback.

The tension between the desire for vengeance and a superior way taught by Jesus is felt strongly in the Book of Revelation. In places, the blood flows as high as a horse’s bridle. In others, it is by allowing their own blood to be shed that Christians are victorious.

It is important to comprehend the desire for vengeance expressed in the Book of Revelation, and to not pretend that we cannot relate to it. But as Christians, we should also seek to overcome the desire for vengeance expressed therein, based on principles which we and its author share, but which that author did not always succeed in living up to, any more than we do.

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