Ted Grimsrud—June 27, 2019
Let’s imagine a bright, compassionate, spiritual-not-religious churchgoer—I’ll call him “Justin.” “Justin” is a person who grew up in a fairly traditional Christian home. He experienced church as a relatively benign part of his life, though he never took the belief system very seriously. He got married fairly young to someone with a similar background, became a schoolteacher, and had a couple of kids. He’s politically progressive and likes hanging around with like-minded people.
“Justin” would not necessarily call himself a Christian—he’s repulsed by the current expression of popular conservative Christianity with its support for Trump. But he also wouldn’t call himself an atheist and he is comfortable being active in his local congregation. We could say he’s a “post-Christian” (in distinction from anti-Christian atheist, secular humanist, or even unaffiliated agnostic). What would you expect that “Justin’s” attitude about the book of Revelation would be?
If he has given it any thought, I would assume that “Justin” would think Revelation is pretty bad. He wouldn’t feel any obligation to give it the benefit of the doubt because he has no loyalty to each book in the Bible as inherently authoritative and normative. He may know about how Revelation is used as predictive prophecy by conservative Christians to, for example, justify blind support for Israel’s vicious policies toward Palestinians. He also may know that Revelation is often cited as a basis for belief in a near future terrible “Tribulation” that will lead to great punitive judgment for most of the world—and the miraculous rescue in the Rapture of conservative Christians. All this seems quite repulsive to “Justin,” and he has no reason to doubt that these views are an accurate interpretation of Revelation itself.
I would like to invite “Justin” to give Revelation a chance. I think there are good reasons for post-Christians (as well as pre-Christians and current Christians!) to look to Revelation for hopeful and inspiring guidance. I will sketch a few of those in this post, recognizing that a positive appreciation of Revelation is a learned disposition—and one that requires some nuanced reading. I can only be suggestive in the short space I have allotted myself here, and point to further explanations I have given elsewhere.
Revelation is not predictive prophecy
It is a misreading of the book of Revelation to see it as containing accurate predictions about the future that was far off when it was written. Like the other books in the Bible, Revelation was written in a specific historical moment with the intent of speaking to people in that moment. John, the author of Revelation, wrote to a group of seven congregations in the eastern part of the Roman Empire with the intent to help give them encouragement to live free from blind obeisance to Rome.
John drew on various images from the Bible (our Old Testament) and elsewhere to present an imaginative retelling of the story of Jesus and a challenge to his readers to live like Jesus did—“faithful witness” to the path of love and compassion, willingness to resist the call by the Empire to fall in line with its anti-human practices, and trust in being vindicated by the God of love and compassion. That is, John was deeply concerned with humane living in his inhumane social context. His focus was totally on his present.
John practiced the art of prophecy as “forthtelling” in challenging his readers with a restatement of the core truths of their tradition that were expressed by the Old Testament prophets and by Jesus. His only nod toward prophecy as “foretelling” was not to set out a schema of far future events that would signal the coming final massive catastrophe that would usher in New Jerusalem. Rather, John did foretell of negative consequences in the near future should his readers continue to accept Rome’s definitions of reality. The Empire will self-destruct and those who trust in its ways will likely go down with it.
However, this nod toward “foretelling” was in the mode of what we could call “futurology,” the effort to project what the near future will hold based on an understanding of present day trends and trajectories. In the prophetic mode, this looking ahead was not for the purpose of guessing at what the future actually would bring but for the purpose of challenging people to follow the moral path that Jesus established.
In contrast, the type of looking to the future we could call “fortune telling” (which is characteristic of future-prophetic theology widespread among conservative Christians) where certain events are set in stone in a deterministic way and only those with special insights can know about these “signs of the times” is actually presented in the Bible as deeply problematic. Future prophetic “soothsayers” were generally condemned in the Bible as trafficking in magic and as the enemies of the true prophets.
In general, reading Revelation as future predictive prophecy requires reading it in little pieces that are stitched together with other little pieces from elsewhere in the Bible (for example, the term “antichrist” is never found in Revelation, it comes from the letters of John in the New Testament, nor is the notion of the “rapture,” which is extracted from a cryptic reference in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians—both of these terms from outside of Revelation are then linked with texts within Revelation to create the current speculative understandings that have become poorly supported doctrines). As with the rest of the Bible, we read Revelation much more authentically when we read it as a book, focus on the interior developments within the book, and try to discern their meaning in relation to the context of the book’s original writing.
What Revelation actually is about
The book of Revelation itself gives us clear clues about its intended meaning. It begins with a strong statement of focus—“the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1), meaning an account that will illumine the meaning of Jesus’s life and death and its relevance for living faithfully in the context of the late first century Roman Empire. This Jesus is described in the early verses of the book (1:3-5) as “the faithful witness” (an allusion to Jesus’s life of active love and resistance to the domination system in service to the vision of life articulated by Torah and the prophets, a life that ended with murderous violence by the Empire), “the firstborn of the dead” (an allusion to God’s vindication of Jesus’s way of life when God raised Jesus from the dead and repudiated the judgment the political and religious leaders had placed on Jesus), and “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (a surprising reference that will require the rest of the book to unpack—in fact we could see this third characteristic of Jesus here as pointing us to the task of discerning what the meaning of such a “rule” might be, which will turn out to be the focus of the book—how does Jesus exercise this “rule”?).
Again, in harmony with the rest of the Bible, Revelation is best seen as a call to practice a certain way of life, a life of embodying the core messages of Torah, the prophets, and the teaching of Jesus. That is, Revelation challenges its readers to live faithfully. All the dramatic and fantastic allusions to plagues and empires and the evil Powers ultimately serve that challenge to a certain style of living. We have what we could call “prophetic knowledge” offered in this book—knowledge that helps in the discernment for the task of living humanely and creatively and compassionately in face of the Empire that murdered Jesus and all too often treats his followers (and all other vulnerable people) likewise.
The meaning of Jesus as “ruler of the kings of the earth” becomes clear over the course of the book. In chapters 4 and 5, we are given a vision of Jesus as the Lamb who is closely linked with the One on the throne, capable of opening the “scroll” that contains the message of the meaning of history. The Lamb may do this only because of its faithful life and self-sacrificial death. And, as a consequence, the victorious Lamb is praised by all of creation and people from throughout the world. Visions of this widespread praise are repeated in the rest the book and offer what is actually a wildly optimistic view of the fate of human life and the creation—even in face of powerful and destructive opposition from the structures and ideologies of domination. In the end, in a powerful redemptive vision we learn that the rule Jesus exercises over the kings of the earth results in their healing (even though they are portrayed prior to the end as rebelling versus God).
Ultimately, the book of Revelation does not offer an ironclad guarantee to a happy ending to history. Its author, an otherwise unknown early Christian prophet called John, was not capable of offering that kind of knowledge. Rather, what Revelation offers is a vision for how such a happy ending might be attained. The message that matters most here is a message about method. It is an echo of Gandhi’s main tactical argument: what matters are the means, not the ends. As we follow the ways of peace, we will learn where they will lead us. The means to attain New Jerusalem are following the way of Jesus, practicing compassion and restorative justice in resistance to the ways of Empire embodied by “Babylon.”
Revelation calls its readers to be “conquerors” (see the seven messages to local congregations in chapters 2 and 3). The key idea in this notion of “conquering” is given in chapter 12 where we are told that the human conquerors attain victory through the means of “the blood of the Lamb” (which the book as a whole shows us refers to the whole of Jesus’s way of life that included a willingness to persevere even to the point of death) and “the word of their testimony” (their willingness to stay on message in publicly resisting the Empire).
How Revelation speaks to “post-Christians” today
The key for understanding Revelation as being of great value for “post-Christians” today is to recognize that it may be read as having a political more than religious message. John is actually very critical of the formal churches of his day. Five of the seven he writes to face severe criticism. He would surely turn over in his grave were he to learn that Revelation (like the rest of the Bible) ultimately became a tool for the status quo (recognizing, though, that Revelation itself was always on the margins of the Bible that Christendom domesticated; it often was ignored and left to the “crazies” on the margins of the official Church). John wanted to shape the Christian movement into a vanguard of subversion and resistance in relation to the social and political status quo.
The politics of Revelation may be understood as a politics of truth telling—in contrast with the politics of deception that characterized Rome (presented in Revelation both as the “Beast” and as “Babylon”—two symbols that apply to all later great nations as well). The “truths” that matter are that the Lamb and his way are an alternative to the way of the self-aggrandizing Beast, that the economics that commodify everything—including human beings (18:11-13)—are idolatrous and death-dealing, and that persevering love stands as more powerful than coercive violence.
“Worship” in Revelation must be understood in the context of such truth telling. The visions of celebration do not find their best present-day analogy in segregated Sunday morning religiosity that reinforces the classism and racism of our modern societies. Rather, we find more appropriate analogies in various public displays of defiance, solidarity, and aspiration that people in societies around the world enact that point to alternatives to domination and to the stifling of social justice. Or in smaller, more intimate gatherings where peacemakers empower one another to break down the walls of inhumanity and exploitation.
The God of Revelation is not some autonomous, perfect being up on the sky. Rather, the God of Revelation is revealed as present in the nitty-gritty of the Lamb’s witness of healing and resistance to domination. Revelation presents the Lamb and the One on the throne as being unified in will and presence. This unity has generally been misunderstood in the history of Christendom as indicating Jesus’s divine identity as part of the Holy Trinity, abstract and otherworldly. More accurately, we may see the unity as indicating an imminent, engaged, passionate God of compassion and restorative justice.
There are images and rhetoric in Revelation that exalt its God in the highest terms. However, when we recognize that the power of God in this book is the power of persevering love that suffers rather than inflicts violence in order to conquer, we will read the exaltation materials differently. Ultimately, Revelation exalts the Lamb-like method of conquering through self-sacrifice. This is a message that post-Christians like “Justin” might well be able to rally around in a world that seems increasingly chaotic as our contemporary idols of nationalism and corporate capitalism lose their hold and we struggle to create life-affirming alternatives.
7 thoughts on “Revelation for post-Christians (Peaceable Revelation #1)”
As usual, wonderful and sharp insights and application Ted.
So, you view the book as addressing the political context of its original audience. So, this is a ‘political’ approach to the book.
This approach has a lot to commend it: it helps us understand the dramatic imagery and the revelation of the book as the spiritual and divine explanation of the events of the day that pressed them and under which they needed encouragement and revelation. By seeing the spiritual and divine world as well as the political and military world, they are connected. We see God and we see the devil in conflict in the battles, the persecutions, the trials, the revolutions and the rising and falling of powers.
The advantage of this approach is audience relevance: the author is providing commentary, explanation, revelation, encouragement and warning based on the reality behind the politics, the commerce, the power plays, the policies, programmes, persecutions and the work of the transformed communities of the Lord’s followers healing the world.
This approach is absolutely supported by the book itself: it claims to be addressing the events then contemporary, and those that were emerging and would soon take place (e.g. 1:1-3).
However, this approach calls for a lot more than you have given it in your post. The message of the book includes, in major part, the promise of victory in the short term. Those who were called to be faithful in tribulation — that they were then suffering — were promised rewards when their faithfulness would lead to their vindication. Although some would die in the persecution, the survivors were promised relief and sure victory, not only that, they were promised it would come very very soon.
Coming back to the ‘political’ approach to the book, this means that the spiritual victory promised would be manifested in political events. The predictions of spiritual victory soon, are predictions of political events that were to be dramatic, decisive, and wipe out the persecuting power, and soon, so that it would never rise again.
This is exactly what you have sought to deny in your post, Ted. You are denying the political content of the predictions, as well as the time statements and/or their truth.
Whilst there is an element of truth in denying that the book sets out a chronological set of specifics leading up to the end of the persecuting power, that does not mean that the book does not make specific claims. The specific claim is that the consummation, the fulfilment of prophecy (such as the New Heaven and the New Earth and the New Jerusalem and the restoration of the garden of Eden and the destruction of the devil), was coming upon them and would soon be attained. This claim of prophetic fulfilment is found explicitly in 10:7, and indirectly in the book’s masterful narration of so many specific prophecies (in addition to those mentioned above, for example, also the battle of Gog and Magog, the harvest of the vineyard and wheat field, and the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds, and the resurrection of the dead). The coming of the Son of Man on the clouds is referred to repeatedly and is explicitly and repeatedly promised to be very soon from the date of publication of the book.
Again, back to the ‘political’ approach to the book, it means that all these Old Testament prophecies are to be fulfilled politically. The resurrection of the just, for example, must be the resurrection of the just in the Old Testament: of Israel, all 12 tribes, as a new nation under the New Covenant, under one king, even the Messiah (Ez. 37). And the resurrection of the unjust must be the rising of Gog and Magog (Ez. 38-39) to persecute the true people of God for a time, triggering the dramatic rescue of God’s people at the destruction of the persecuting power (Rev. 20:7-10). The New Heaven and the New Earth, are the social and political conditions under the Kingdom of God, as described in, for example. Isaiah 2:2-5 and 65:17-23 and 66:7-14, in the New Jerusalem.
But again, this ‘political’ approach to the book requires us to see the judgement against the Old Jerusalem, at the harvest of the vineyard, Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7). As the New Heaven and the New Earth come, in the same way and at the same time, and by means of the judgement upon Jerusalem for shedding innocent blood (Is. 4:4; 26:21; 65:13-15; 66:15-16, 24). The harvest of the wheat field is of Israel, as John the Baptist said (Mat. 3:7-12). The judgement of the prostitute is the judgement upon Jerusalem (Ez. 16:35-43). The Adversary that would shortly be crushed under the feet of the saints (Rom. 16:20) was the seed of the serpent, the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Mat. 3:7; 12:24-34; 23:29-33).
The key ‘political’ interpretation and application is the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds that the book repeats so many times and with such urgency and nearness in time. The coming of the Son of Man is in judgement, obviously (e.g. Mat. 16:27-28; Rev. 2:5,16; 3:3; 22:12). The judgement coming is upon Israel for killing Christ (Rev. 1:7). In simple terms judgement upon Israel for killing God’s servants = the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds. Yet these terms are 100% biblical (e.g. Mat. 23:29-24:35). In the New Testament, this is also the ‘revelation of Jesus Christ’ of Rev. 1:1 is also ‘when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven’ (2 Thes. 1:7).
I think this is enough for this comment on the merits and implications of the ‘political’ approach. I will post a second comment addressing the problems created by wrongly identifying the persecuting power Babylon with Rome rather than Jerusalem.
Thanks for taking time to read my post and sharing your thoughts, David.
Just one quick response. I may be misunderstanding you, but I think you are saying that indeed Revelation is full of predictions—of events that were literally to happen soon. If you are correct, then I’d have to conclude that John was wrong in what he predicted, and that the book as a whole was soon rendered irrelevant—and remains so.
You could be correct. I, though, prefer to read the book in a way that makes it much more relevant for today. I assume that human beings can never accurately predict the future because the future is always (and has always been) open. So, rather than saying that John tried to do something that by definition he could not do (i.e., predict the future), he was presenting more timeless symbolism with relevance for then and forever since, the relevance of encouragement to follow Jesus’s way of life and to reject all Dragon-influenced idolatry.
Thanks for taking the time to read and reply and engage, Ted.
Your points don’t follow and misunderstand the claim:
The book is not the book of revelations, it is the book of revelation, singular, on my take, and so it has a single prediction, reiterated and expressed in a great variety of ways. The single prediction is that the consummation and the realisation of the hope found in the Old Testament prophets was upon them in the current events, which would proceed to the defeat of the persecuting power, and the one that killed the Old Testament prophets, killed the Lord, and persecuted the Lord’s prophets and apostles (Mat. 23:29-39; 1 Thes. 2:14-16 cf. Rev. 18).
This single prediction is also the new life, the resurrection life, of the New Covenant community as the body of Christ and the resurrection body (again singular), the immortal body that is the hope of Israel, all 12 tribes, to attain, where God is with his people in a greater way, different from the more centralised and political way with the old body of Israel, fractured, corruptible and corrupt, and unable to realise the hope of mercy and justice that the Old Testament prophets both held out and condemned Israel’s leaders and people for their failure to attain and practice.
This single prediction is then not wrong, as you suppose, but absolutely correct, and it did happen within, let’s say, 42 months of when the book was published, assuming that John was writing while the events were underway, after the rebellion and before the fall of Jerusalem.
The point that doesn’t follow is that if the book predicted that event (accurately, which, after the rebellion has broken out wasn’t even that hard to anticipate it ending as it did), that it renders the book irrelevant. The primary relevance was to its original audience, it provided them with revelation and hope and insight into their events, without detracting from its relevance and application for generations who followed, and who faced different kinds of persecution from different persecuting powers, and even for those who reaped the peace and prosperity and ongoing healing of the nations that the book promised.
Even today, the spiritual significance of the fall of Jerusalem is woefully downgraded and misunderstood — including in fantastic and otherworldly eschatology that puts the eschatological consummation not only in our future, but in another world, the escapist wet dream held by so many who find it more convenient to read the bible in ways that don’t challenge the way we do power and government and governance in the present. The correct historical original meaning of the book implies an ongoing work of bringing the leaves of the tree of life to the nations for their ongoing healing, bringing ever more into the New Jerusalem, which is the assembly of the saints meeting here on earth, where God dwells now with his people.
Unfortunately, Ted, you wrongly identify the target of the book as Rome, and allege, twice, that she was responsible for murdering Christ: ‘murderous violence by the Empire’ and ‘the Empire that murdered Jesus’.
To see how manifestly wrong this is, consider the New Testament’s references to responsibility for the ‘murder’ of Christ, that use that word:
1. Those called to the wedding, yet spurned the invitation when the groom came, i.e. Israel, are responsible for killing the servants of the vineyard owner and when those are judged for it, they are called murderers: ‘The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.’ (Mat. 22:7). It is basically impossible to read that without thinking of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Hence it was unfaithful Israel who are responsible for murdering Christ, not Rome.
2. Christ specifically said that Israel of his day would be repaid, in his generation for murdering the prophets (Mat. 23:35). These same people would soon murder him, and crucify his prophets, sages and scribes (Mat. 23:34). Christ specifically said that Israel, (not Rome,) would be held responsible for all the blood shed on the land since creation, and that they would be repaid when Jerusalem’s house was desolated (Mat. 23:29-39). So, even though he would be crucified, and his followers would be crucified, and even though crucifixion is a specifically Roman method of execution, it was Israel who was responsible and would be held responsible and repaid and judged, and the time of the judgement was Christ’s generation, at the desolation of the Jerusalem temple. This absolutely and explicitly reverses your claims.
3. The Jews claimed Abraham as their father, but the Lord said they were the sons of the devil, and that they do his desires. And that he was a murderer from the beginning. (John 8:39-47). Although the murder of Christ isn’t specifically mentioned here, in the wider context this passage shows that these Jews were the murderers, not Rome.
4. Peter in Acts charged Israel, not Rome, will crucifying Christ (Acts. 2:23), with Rome relegated to the bit player, the ‘hands of lawless men’. Peter didn’t expect his fellow Jews to think that Rome would even know the law or try to practice it: the guilt of the lawlessness was on Israel for using such lawless hands to crucify Christ. Peter contrasted Pilate’s efforts to spare the life of Christ with the murderous intent and responsibility of Israel in ‘asking for a murderer to be granted to you, and YOU killed the Author of life (Acts. 3:13-15).
5. Stephen charged Israel with being the children of their fathers who killed the prophets, and murdering Christ (Acts. 7:51-52). Rome didn’t even rate a mention!
6. James wrote to the 12 tribes of the dispersion, i.e. to Israel, and he charged those who were the wicked and oppressors of Israel with these words: ‘You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.’ In context, this is a reference to the judgement upon Israel for shedding the blood of God’s servants, including the Lord: the cries for vengeance were rising up to heaven, and the day of slaughter was at hand: the harvest season was about to open; the Lord’s coming, to judge Israel for her sin, was near (James 5:8). The judge was standing at the door (5:9). Which of the prophets, other than the Lord was actually condemned in a trial? The reference to the condemnation and murder of the innocent one contextually is the Lord’s trial and crucifixion, for which Israel, not Rome, would be repaid, at the end of the age harvest judgement, at the coming of the Lord, which James, who the Lord personally warned against premature declarations of the end, said was at hand (refer Luke 21:8).
That’s just on the word ‘murder’! Paul also held the Jews responsible for killing the Lord (1 Thes. 2:14-16). The gospel narratives all put Israel, not Rome, as the drivers of the Lord’s death, and as accepting responsibility for his blood upon them and their children.
So, when we see that the judgement and plagues come upon the murderers, yet they do not repent, upon what basis should we think that these plagues are upon Rome, not Jerusalem (Rev. 9:21)?
Jerusalem and the Jew’s fingerprints of guilt are all over the book. It is they who are the ‘tribes of the land’ who will mourn on account of him (1:7). The tribes of the land who mourn are explicitly Israel (Zech. 12:10-14). Upon what basis are these ‘tribes of the land’ Rome, not Israel? The Lord applied this prophecy to Jerusalem and her fall in his ‘this generation’ in Mat. 24:30; upon what basis is John switching targets?
The Lord said that the Sanhedrin that condemned him would see his vindication when he would come judgement against them, on the clouds (Mat. 26:64). Upon what basis is this coming, referred to in Rev. 1:7, now against Rome, long after the Sanhedrin was totally destroyed in A.D. 70, in fulfilment of the Lord’s words?
If Revelation is about Rome, not the Jews, why does it target those who say they are Jews but are not, but are a Synagogue of Satan (2:9), who will be brought low and made to bow before the Lord’s faithful followers (3:9)? Who can these people possibly be other than the Jews? And what can this possibly be referring to but the reversal of Is. 65:13-15, wherein unfaithful Israel would be judged and killed and the true Israel would be vindicated and saved? As referred to repeatedly in the New Testament, e.g. Mat. 8:10-12; 21:33-45; Luke 2:34. Why should this reversal be about Rome?
If Revelation is about Rome, not Jerusalem, and if Rome is the persecuting power, not Jerusalem, why is Jerusalem identified as the Great City who persecutes and kills the prophets, and who is judged at the coming of the kingdom of God in chapter 11?
Why does chapter 11 contrast the outer temple, which is trampled by the Gentiles, and the inner temple, that is the true worshippers, which was to be preserved? Don’t we have a biblical precedent about the ‘earthly home,’ the ‘tent’ to be destroyed, and the heavenly dwelling, which we are to put on in 2 Cor. 5:1-4? Why should the temples in Rev. 11 be some other temples, other than the temples that the book identifies with the worshippers in 3:12, and with God with his people in 7:13-17, and God’s temple in heaven in 11:19 and 14:17 and 16:1,17, and which is identified as the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb in 21:22?
If Revelation is about Rome, not Jerusalem, why is Babylon the prostitute of Ez. 16?
If Revelation is about Rome, not Jerusalem, how does Rome fall shortly after the book was published?
If Babylon is Rome, which of the Old Testament prophets did Rome kill? Babylon is the city where Peter lived and wrote from, i.e. Jerusalem, not Rome (see 1 Pet. 5:13). The book of Revelation explicitly identifies Jerusalem with the Gentile enemies of God, Egypt and Sodom (Rev. 11:8). Upon what basis is Babylon and Gog and Magog not the same as Egypt and Sodom? Upon what basis is the Great City Babylon, not the Great City where the Lord was crucified identified in 11:8?
There is a better way, Ted … but it may require you to step back a bit from this Roman lens / blinkers.
Just one quick thought. I think the images of “Babylon” and the “Beast” are meant to be more general than to be specific only to Rome (or, for that matter, Jerusalem). I think both Rome and Jerusalem are in mind insofar as either embodied the domination dynamics of the Dragon.
I’d add that I think the big problem with Jerusalem in the story of Jesus is its collaboration with Rome. Jesus and Revelation and elsewhere is not condemning all of Israel (they were still Jews themselves) but mainly Israel only insofar as it was linked with Rome and embodied the values of (Rome—and Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, et al). That is, the problem was injustice more than ethnic identity.
The complicity of Rome in the deaths of John the Baptist and the Lord and the Christians even before the Rebellion (particularly from 64) is admitted. I am not sure how you see it as a problem, let alone a big one, with the identification of the persecuting power as Jerusalem. The dynamics are recorded in the gospels and the book of Acts: the Jews consistently persecute the Christians, and generally Rome refuses to get on board with the programme, but not always.
The book predicts the defeat of the dragon, just as Paul predicted that the Adversary would soon be crushed under the feet of the saints in fulfilment of Gen. 3:15 (Rom. 16:20). The dragon, in the book, is explicitly identified as the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan. The book portrays the dragon as the force behind the beast that rises from the abyss, persecutes the prophets, making war upon them, conquering and killing them (Rev. 11:7). These events of persecution happen in the Great City, Jerusalem, where the Lord was crucified (11:8). Yet, the dead prophets are vindicated at the judgement upon Jerusalem, via the great [political] earthquake (11:12-13). This judgement continues with the following of the third woe, at the seventh (last) trumpet, in the coming of Christ in his kingdom: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever’ (11:14-15) in which the blood of God’s servants is vindicated and avenged by ‘destroying the destroyers of the land’ (11:18).
The claim of the book is that in this destruction of the destroyers of the land [which incidentally has nothing to do with environmental pollution, it is the pollution of the land with blood, see Deut. 32], and in the repayment of Israel for shedding the blood of God’s servants, that the ancient serpent is destroyed, thrown into the lake of fire. And in this Babylon falls, never to rise again.
Quite how we are to parse this claim when other persecuting powers later arise is an interesting and perhaps difficult question, especially if we’re prone to see the same devil as active today in tempting us to evil and in evil practiced via power subsequently. However, unless we are to reject the book’s claim, it’s not the same actual person / entity as the author reveals in his book. It appears you are happy to simply reject the book’s claim that the dragon was active only for a short time, then present when the book was published, and was then doomed to be destroyed completely.
Jerusalem was not guilty primarily because she was corrupted by Roman power and ways. Jerusalem was guilty for generations of iniquity in killing the Old Testament prophets, even as far back as before Israel was a nation, back even to Abel (Mat. 23:29-39). This is the absurdity of identifying Babylon as Rome: she persecuted Christians from 64 to, on my dating, say, 68, a maximum of just a few years, as compared to generation after generation of Israel killing the prophets, the Lord, and the Lord’s prophets. Babylon’s measure of sin was filled up to heaven itself (18:4-5). How can Rome, in a few years, fill up the measure of her sins to heaven? The one that was filling up the measure of her sin was Jerusalem (Mat. 23:29-39; 1 Thes. 2:14-16).
To get to your actual point, and to agree with you, we need to correctly identify ‘Israel’ the subject of both the salvation and the judgement in prophetic texts. The ‘Israel’ concept has never been limited to the physical descendants of Jacob. ‘Israel’ is a fundamentally political concept and identity. When Israel left Egypt, she brought along foreigners. Israel was forged as nations and nation states are: as political constructs that end up with countries or territories. Israel was a legal and political system and entity. The law of Moses given at Sinai gave her a particular legal and political identity as a nation ruled by God himself as king, via his law. Israel rejected God’s law and God as her king, and appointed Saul and instituted the human monarchy. This divided into two kingdoms after Solomon. These two kingdoms were destroyed and exiled. The kingdom of Judah was restored and returned to Jerusalem. It was even restored to national independence under the Maccabees. I believe this is the Fourth Kingdom, of Iron and Clay. This kingdom continued even after the Romans took imperial control: she was a nation within a foreign empire, but still a nation (e.g. John 11:48; Luke 23:2).
Now that we correctly understand the meaning of Israel, the kingdom to be destroyed at the end, we can agree with your point: Israel’s kingdom and way of ruling was like the gentiles, and the Lord warned them specifically that this was the problem in Mat. 20:25-28. That system of rule and power and kingdom was the problem, the reason Israel could not obtain what she sought (Rom. 11:7). It was for this reason that Israel was an object of wrath, prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22). This object of wrath was an object of clay (Rom. 9:21). This object of clay was to be broken with the rule of the kingdom at the coming of the kingdom, when Christ will ‘rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken to pieces’ (Rev. 2:27) which is what the book of Revelation is about. According to the Lord, this breaking, this totally shattering of Daniel 12:7, and this breaking with the stone Dan. 2:34 and 44, was to be fulfilled against the Chief Priests and the Pharisees for misruling Israel (Mat. 21:33-45).
The Israel of salvation and resurrection is likewise a legal and political construct. A new, radical one, like the old law of Moses, with God as the king, and without a human monarchy ruling visibly on earth. In the kingdom of God, God rules via his law, and God is present with his people in their congregation. Judges meet in the name of the Lord, in twos and threes (each side appoints one judge, together they appoint a third) and in this way the divine council itself meets on earth, and God himself is present (Mat. 18:15-20). In this way, the 12 Apostles judge the 12 tribes of Israel. As with the Old Israel, the foreigners are invited to join, and Israel is a light to the nations. The establishment of this new Israel is what the book of Revelation is about: the remnant of the old Israel, is reconstituted again as the 144,000, 12,000 from each tribe. These 144,000 come out of the great tribulation, and are the first generation of Israelite Christians, redeemed from the land of Israel (Rev. 14:4). They are involved in the proclamation of the gospel to the nations (14:6), that Israel would be the light to the nations, a kingdom of priests.
I hope you can see how rich and deep this approach is and how well it works with your values and insights, Ted. It’s enormously helpful to your agenda and discernment and teaching.