What does the book of Revelation say? (part 18)

Ted Grimsrud

18. Why We (Should) Read Revelation

[This is the eighteenth (and last!) in a series of posts summarizing the message of the book of Revelation.  I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. My intent with this project is to write a new book applying Revelation’s message to our modern world.]

Back in 1982 I preached my first sermons on Revelation. There is definitely some overlap between what I did those many years ago and what I have to say now. But there is always new light to be shed on a fascinating and complicated text such as Revelation.

Two types of arguments against pacifism

I was reminded recently why Revelation is worth reading. I encountered two different kinds of arguments against pacifism—one from the “right,” we could say, and one from the “left.”

I gave several lectures at the University of Pikeville on the Bible and peace. Not surprisingly, I heard a standard objection to pacifism. You would just stand by while someone is attacked? You would just stand by while our country is invaded? Behind these questions are assumptions that the only way to resist wrongdoing is with violence. The only way to have national security is with an all-powerful military. Pacifism is passive and helpless against injustice. Trust in the sword is necessary for national survival. We must be ready to fight.

The second kind of argument against pacifism came from a book called The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos, a “combative anarchist.” He sees pacifism or nonviolence, as too passive, too constrained, not really willing to take on evil and evil-doers. The big problem with nonviolence that Gelderloos focuses on is how nonviolent approaches tend to take the starch out of resistance movements. The book states: “Nonviolent campaigns around the world have helped oppressive regimes change their masks, and have helped police to limit the growth of rebellious social movements.”

I see some things both perspectives that share. It’s true that the people they want to use violence against are on opposite sides—law-breakers on the one hand and the enforcers of the law on the other hand. However, both assume that the only way to make sure the “good side” comes out on top is through use of “necessary” violence. Because this is true,  energy must be devoted to preparing for violence. Once you make violence a necessity, it can never be a last resort, something you avoid unless you absolutely have to use it. Rather, you must prepare for it, build up your firepower, shape your strategy by how you can position yourself to be successful in the violent actions.

It is at this point of understanding what it means to be victorious and what are the bases for true security that I have found Revelation especially meaningful. It  is  about victory and finding security. But it presents a radically different view of the how than those held by the anti-pacifist people. Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 18)”

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What does the book of Revelation say? (part 17)

Ted Grimsrud

17. What is Paradise For?—Revelation 21:1–22:5

[This is the seventeenth in a series of posts summarizing the message of the book of Revelation.  I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. My intent with this project is to write a new book applying Revelation’s message to our modern world.]

The book of Revelation ends happily, with a vision of paradise. The book contains several allusions going clear back to Genesis, and I think we are meant to read Revelation as in some sense the conclusion to the entire Bible.

Revelation is about now, not the future

I like this vision. But for somewhat different reasons than I used to. The first book I wrote, published in 1987, was about Revelation. Back then, I read Revelation to assure its readers that indeed everything will end up okay. There will be a happy ending. But I don’t quite read it that way now. It’s not that I don’t hope for a happy ending to the human project—but I think Revelation is all about our now, not about what will for certain be in the future.

When I read this vision of the New Jerusalem, I see three key points that have to do with now. First, this vision affirms that the brokenness caused by the plagues that dominates much of the book of Revelation is not the truest picture of reality. The vision envisions healing. And, second, the point of the vision of resolution is not predictive so much as exhortative—it does not so much say, this is what will be. It says, more, this is the direction you should live toward. And, third, the vision re-emphasizes that Revelation’s main concern is method, not future gazing. It’s not that God has this set in concrete plan for the future where the dragon and beast are defeated and the kings and nations healed. It’s that God shows us how to go about the work of defeating the dragon and healing the nations. Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 17)”

What does the book of Revelation say? (part 16)

Ted Grimsrud

16. The Judgment That’s Not a Judgment—Revelation 20:1-15

[This is the sixteenth in a series of posts summarizing the message of the book of Revelation.  I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. My intent with this project is to write a new book applying Revelation’s message to our modern world.]

I have an idea that as much as any part of the Bible, the book of Revelation works kinds of like a Rorschach test, you know where you look at an inkblot and tell the therapist what you see. One of the things many people see when they look at Revelation is judgment. But what kind of judgment? Maybe what we see when we see scenes of judgment is itself kind of a Rorschach test. What we make of judgment reveals a lot about our psychological makeup—or at least our theological makeup.

Does judgment mean punishment?

Revelation 20 is one of the main “judgment” texts in the book. I think one of the big problems when we think about judgment in a passage like this is that we tend to assume that “judgment” has to do with “punishment”—the time of judgment is when people get punished. But what if judgment actually has to do with something else? Maybe judgment has to do, not with punishing so much as making things right. God is “judge” not as the Great Punisher but as the Great Healer.

There are two types of judgment going on in Revelation 20—the judgment of the Dragon and the judgment of human beings. It seems important to see them as separate. The Dragon’s judgment results in its destruction. But what happens to the people? It’s actually something quite different than punitive destruction—even for those who had trusted in the Dragon. Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 16)”