Friday, April 28, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (25)



The Lamb confronts the beasts (Rev.14-15)


John has seen two dreadful Beasts who embody the power and practice of the Dragon (ch.13). Between them they rule the earth, the bodies, minds, and hearts of its inhabitants. Well, not quite all. There are still those pesky “seven” churches (ch.2-3). Some of them are under attack because they have been faithful to Jesus the Lamb and have refused to play by the Beasts’ rules. The others have in some measure or other have given up, given in, or given out and adopted or adapted Beastly mindsets and ways. It is these churches (all of us), both kinds, that Jesus speaks to in his sermon with increasing urgency as we move toward its climax.

Jesus labors in this sermon to call his churches to what Walter Brueggemann has aptly called “disciplines of readiness.”[1] These are tools for resistance to Empire and Jesus calls his people to embrace them in the struggle.

·            DANGEROUS MEMORIES reaching back to Abraham and Sarah. Israel was tempted to substitute more reasonable and respectable memories rather than embrace the ambiguity and embarrassment of such messy heroes.

·            DANGEROUS CRITICISM that mocks the deadly Empire. We need two kinds of critique. First, we need an ongoing religious critique of the tamed gods of the Empire (commercialized Christianity). Second, we need the political critique of entrenched power, wherever we find it.

·            DANGEROUS PROMISES that imagine a shift of power in the world. The kingdom of God will come. The poem of Isa.54:1-3 is first despairing, but then affirms a wild and outrageous hope.

·            DANGEROUS SONGS that predict unexpected newness of life. We sing a new song and affirm a reality we have not fully experienced. Worship is a political statement.

·            DANGEROUS BREAD free of all imperial ovens. The food God gives is reliable. Hardness of heart comes when we think the Empire controls all the resources.

·            DANGEROUS DEPARTURES of heart and body and mind, leavings undertaken in trust and obedience. Israel looked forward to a time of freedom from exile. Similarly, we need to imagine a time when we leave behind consumerism, ambition, and militarism for other territory.

·            DANGEROUS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of how life really is. Our God is good; but He is not safe. We sometimes cry out for the elusive Presence, and acknowledge like the early Apostle that we are “hungry and thirsty, homeless and ill treated.”

We have seen some of this already but we’ll see it in fuller measure from here on out in the sermon.

Another “look” (14:1) reveals not another Beast (thank God!) but the Lamb!

The world said, “Who is like the beast and who can fight against it?” (13:4).

John the Seer answers, “The lamb.”

The lamb “standing on Mt. Zion.” The slaughtered lamb (Rev.5:6) standing (not dead) on Mt.Zion (the place of God’s victory! With a force of 144,000 trained and mustered soldiers behind him!

“To understand the number 144,000 we need to go back to chapter seven. There we have a key ‘hear one thing, see another’ vision. John hears ‘144,000’ (12,000 from each of Israel’s twelve tribes—a metaphor for the people of God). Then he sees a countless multitude from ‘every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’ (7:9). That is, the 144,000 defines the multitude as the people of God and the multitude defines the 144,000 as actually symbolizes a number beyond counting. This meaning of the 144,000, when applied to what John sees in 14:1, provides a counter to the sense in chapter thirteen of the Beast having authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation” (13:7).[2]              

These “144,000” learn a “new song” (14:3). Remember the “dangerous songs” mentioned by Brueggemann above. Only those “who follow the Lamb wherever he goes” learn this song and by following his way of radical obedience and nonviolent resistance prove themselves to be “first fruits” of a humankind for God and the Lamb.

“The allusion to non-defilement (14:4) is not meant to be taken literally as a statement about avoiding sex. It is following in line with many prophetic references in the Old Testament that equate sexual acting out with idolatry. . . What is crucial is to see that this purity and rejection of idolatry are linked with “following the Lamb wherever he goes” (14:4). The point, again, is ethical. Follow the path of persevering love as a form of “battle”—conquering as Jesus conquered, a direct contrast here with the Beast’s way of conquering.”[3]

14:6-9 present a trio of angels announcing three truths (which are really one). These are Brueggemann’s “dangerous promises.”

-God the Creator will not be mocked or frustrated. Judgment will befall all who resist his way and damage or mar his creation (see 11:18).

-Babylon the Great is fallen! (We will hear more about this later in the book.) Here Brueggemann’s “dangerous criticism” comes into play.

-all who worship the beast will experience eternal tortuous judgment for their disloyalty. This grim picture follows the logic of all such prophetic pronouncements. They are not saying this will be the future destiny of such people. Rather, they warn this may be the future for those who take no heed to this warning. Extreme and hyperbolic, Jesus goes as far as language allows to stress the urgent necessity of responding NOW and with a WHOLE HEART to what he is announcing.

Ch.13 closed with a call for wisdom in discerning and standing against the Beast. Ch.14 calls for endurance (14:12) defined as “keep(ing) the commandments of God and hold(ing) fast to the faith(fulness)  of Jesus. The “faith(fulness) of Jesus” is often translated “faith in Jesus.” Grammatically either are possible. Is this call to endurance based on what Jesus has accomplished or what we believe he has accomplished? Do we depend on Jesus or our faith in Jesus? I, for one, certainly hope I can depend on what Jesus has accomplished and not my own vacillating faith!

The “voice from heaven” closes off this section even as it opened it up (14:2) encouraging its hearers that even if they pay the “ultimate price” for resisting the Beast (think Brueggemann’s “dangerous departures”), they will be safe and secure, will “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (14:13).

BTW, it seems that maybe we can “take it with us.” Our deeds follow us. And we will see later what role those deeds play in our life forever with God.



[1]  Walter Brueggemann, Cadences Toward Home: Preaching Among Exiles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 118ff.
[2] Grimsrud, https://peacetheology.net/2015/07/04/revelation-notes-chapter-14/.
[3] Ibid.

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