This fall I’ve been leading a bible study on the book of Revelation. I really like Revelation. That may sound odd to some folks. No, I’m not a masochist. I don’t enjoy seeing violence. I don’t like war. So what’s up with me liking Revelation.
I read Revelation through a lens of hope. I don’t buy into the Rapture theology of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity. It doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and has no backing with history.
There is a lot of death and destruction in Revelation. All you need to do is read the chapters on the seven seals being opened to see it.
But reading Revelation isn’t scary to me. That’s because I don’t see Revelation as some kind of prediction of God throwing a global hissy fit and destroying everything in a blood bath. I just don’t believe in that kind of a god.
Instead, Revelation is a message of hope. It is a message of judgement for empire – specifically the Roman Empire – and all who devote themselves to empire. It is a message that says – God wins.
Revelation is a judgement on the theology of empire. And it is similar to other books of Scripture that judges and condemns other empires of history.
All empires are essentially the same. Sure, their time and location are unique. Their leaders have different names. But they all have the same DNA. They all act the same way. They are predictable. All empires thrive on exploitation, oppression, death, and destruction. All of them that have ever existed and all that ever will exist are the same.
As I mentioned, Revelation comes from a long line of Scripture that judges and condemns empires.
The book of Exodus is a story of Israel being set free from Egypt – the empire of that day. It is also a story of judgement and condemnation of the Egyptian empire. God confronts the Egyptian gods through the plagues and defeats them all. It is a judgement on these false gods and those who adhere to them. The Egyptian empire was a typical empire. They exploited and oppressed the Israelites. They sought out to destroy and kill them when the Israelites left.
The book of Daniel is an indictment on multiple empires. It is certainly a judgement of the Babylonian empire. It shows the kings of Babylon as narcissists and fools. It shows how cruel they are. It talks openly about how the Babylonians exploited and oppressed people. And the book shows God’s judgement on Babylon and it’s rulers.
But the book of Daniel is also an indictment of the Seleucid Empire. The book was written during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The kings in the book represent Antiochus and his ruthlessness and profanity. And the book is intended to proclaim that God will judge and condemn the Seleucid Empire and its ruler just as God judged and condemned previous empires.
Revelation is an indictment of the Roman Empire. At the beginning of the book we see that John, the author, is writing to seven churches in what is modern day western Turkey – an area that was occupied and exploited by the Romans. The imagery in Revelation is designed to show that the power of God is greater than Rome and that God’s judgement is inescapable – Rome has been judged by God and will be ended for its exploitation, oppression, death, and destruction. God’s kingdom will take its place.
Revelation isn’t some scary prediction of death and destruction that is to come. Rather, it is telling the continuing story of God condemning Empire. Why? Because empires, and those who rule them, are anti-Christ to their core. Empires, and their rulers, see themselves as gods to be worshiped, to have all resources brought to it/them. Empires view themselves as the center of the universe. Empires are selfish and narcissistic.
And they all end. Thanks be to God!