The Book of Revelation and the End of Christianity

Ted Grimsrud—April 12, 2011

The book of Revelation was written in the early generations of Christianity. At the time of Revelation, Christianity still was in most important ways a sub-community within the broader Jewish world. There were tensions between Christians and non-Christian Jews over how best to understand the Jewish heritage and what role commitment to Jesus should play in the life of faith.

We have good reasons to think, though, that Revelation was meant to be thoroughly Jewish and an authentic expression of biblical faith centered on Torah. Jesus would have been seen not as a replacement for Torah-centered faith but as providing one way to embody Torah-centered faith. The vision of Revelation should be seen in the context of other, mostly complementary, Jewish visions of faith.

Of course, once Christianity and Judaism parted ways, the approach to faith in Revelation would be interpreted as a distinctively Christian approach. We make a big mistake, though, if we today interpret Revelation as underwriting Christian exclusivism.

One way to avoid such exclusivist readings is to approach Revelation first of all as a political vision meant to be in continuity with Abraham’s promise to bless all the families of the earth. Revelation speaks to a particular strategy of furthering this promise that has more to do with embodied ethics than with religious rituals and doctrines.

Early Christians sought to follow Jesus’ path of creating space for human flourishing that paid special attention to the flourishing of vulnerable and exploited people. Living in the “Pax Romana” that was actually characterized by profound systemic violence challenged people of good will to go against the current and created pro-human space where they could.

John’s vision in Revelation (my use of the singular for “vision” here is intentional; the many sub-visions of Revelation all serve the one overarching vision of God’s healing work among human beings) focuses not on making promises about the future but on providing a method in the present for people of good will to serve pro-human healing work. Continue reading “The Book of Revelation and the End of Christianity”