Over the last century, the book of Revelation has lost its edge in the West. What was understood as a letter written to small faith communities surviving the threat of Roman empire, propped up by its imperial religion, economics and violence, has largely become a book underwriting what some have called “evacuation theology.” In my view, these are two incompatible readings of Revelation.
The latter view is about how to get out of here: here often is construed as “this life” or “the world about to come to an end,” but could also be avoiding difficult conversations, uncomfortable or even dangerous issues arising within a particular community. In this reading, of which I too have subscribed to in my own life, the faithful are ultimately not committed to seeing the powers and principalities of this present order changed, challenged, or subverted. In this view, Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount are ultimately too idealistic to be formative practices for everyday life.
On the other hand, the former reading of Revelation, reminds us that God is opposed to empire and its practices of religion, economics and violence that it generates to sustain itself. In this space the church is to be a “brave space” bearing prophetic witness against empire. Jesus’ vision of the church is designed to be a dynamic, revolutionary presence within this current order, demonstrating, what Quakers call, “Gospel Order.” Quaker testimony is born out of the leadings of Christ as present teaching, a conviction that suggests Jesus’ teachings are not only practices with ongoing usefulness in the here and now, but that they are ultimately in opposition to “the ways of empire.”
If the way of empire is about benefitting the few at the expense, exploitation and oppression of the many, then the way of the Lamb that was slain, is a subversion of all of this. It symbolizes God’s counter vision. The way of the Lamb that was slain is rooted in nonviolence, it is radically present to the needs of the disenfranchised in our communities, it does not scapegoat and it loves both enemy and neighbor. This reading of Revelation calls the followers of Jesus to be, what African-American Quaker Bayard Rustin named, “Angelic Troublemakers.” Radical love through radical presence – a vision of the church we desperately need today.
This is an entry previously submitted for a NWYM Peace Month Reader.