Whew! Our long journey through Revelation is over. But we will have to deal with Donald Trump’s iteration of American Empire for some time to come. I hope you have found John’s vision as challenging and compelling as I have. It reads and feels very contemporary to me. And not as a forecast of some few years at the end of history (calendarizing) but rather a characterization of the perennial challenges the church faces as it struggles for faithfulness in following Jesus in every time and place.
There will always be empires for the church to contend with. Today that empire is less a nation-state than he globalization of a way of life (consumer capitalism) through economic relationships. A rose by any other name, however, is still an empire, uh, I mean rose. The issues and dynamics are similar.
On the one hand, John’s vision addresses readers’
-priorities (by pressing on them reality as it is in Christ),
-passions (by rhetorically pressing on them the immediacy and urgency of response), and
-practices (by pressing on them acts of resistance).
On the other hand, the empire’s dragon-drive tactics include (in the words of Wes Granburg-Michaelson )
-lulling the church back into complicit comfort (denies cost of discipleship),
-condoning narrow, nationalistic loyalties (denies the multiethnic character of the church),
-offering the subtle idols of personal success and material reward (denies the call to follow Jesus), and
-promoting forms of spiritual escapism (denies the crucible of following Jesus).
In this clash of Imperial forces into which we have been drafted (“called”) to serve on God’s side, the price of faithful service is, according to John’s vision, threefold (Rev.12:10-11):
-our enemy the “accuser,” has been defeated (our priorities),
-we fight (“conquer”) him by the “blood of the Lamb,” (our passions) and
-we don’t “cling” to life when threatened (our practices).
The lens John gives us for interpreting reality is the “slaughtered Lamb” of Rev. 5. He’s the “Lion of Judah” though through the gospel’s reversal of our presumed reality he is the slaughtered Lamb. This image turns everything else on its head in Revelation.
-nonviolent suffering is strategic,
-death is the way to life, and
-the persecuted church in which Jesus rules and lives carries the destiny of the world.
All of this, this book of Revelation, far from being some weird apocalyptic fantasy of the “end times,” depicts an “alternate social world”, the vision of God’s Kingdom and those who live in it, in order to shape the community and individual identity of an audience living under imperial rule.
Every empire has its particular aims but all are fired by the same pretentions. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” empire features
-a hard, exclusive nationalism,
-a valorization of strength and force,
-social and financial elitism, and
These are chief among the imperial dictates the church is called to resist in our time. Such resistance will cost us, no doubt. It is also the price and prize of the victory Christ has won for us. Even the death of his witnesses are a sign and even a means of Christ’s victory.
After this journey through Revelation, it seems appropriate to end where with John’s benediction for his book, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”