I grew up in North Alabama. The northern realms of Alabama at one time had the highest number of Churches of Christ per capita in the world. This is not a good thing. The large number of congregations was the result of a large number of church splits.
The church of my preschool years split twice before I left for college. My home congregation cleaved off the original church over the orphan’s home issue — whether church funds might be used to support orphanages. Really.
All the other congregations in the area were “non-institutional,” although we said “Anti” — pronounced with a certain curl of the lip. So I grew in a world where supporting orphanages out of the treasury was considered “liberal.” Fellowship halls damned. Youth ministers were considered with great suspicion.
Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
Orthodoxy — soundness — was defined by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Among his many pet issues, Wallace pushed hard against the Churches of Christ’s historic pacifism and premillennial and postmillennial teachings. (We had some in both camps.) Wallace considered premillennialism a step toward Universalism, and hence surely damning. Continue reading
We continue our study of the many monstrous characters in the Revelation.
Babylon the Harlot
John refers to Rome as “Babylon” and then as a harlot (or whore or prostitute, depending on the translation). This is one of many parts of the Revelation that makes it difficult to teach in high school — although less so today than when I was in high school.
The “great whore” (17:1 NRSV) or harlot of chapter 17 is called Babylon (17:5), a Jezebel-like figure and a parody of the feminine images of Roma Aeterna and Dea Roma (Eternal Rome and Goddess Rome). She is “seated” on many waters (peoples; 17:15) and on the blasphemous beast with seven heads (17:2–3). These heads are identified (17:9–10) as both seven mountains (as in Rome’s seven hills) and seven kings (the fullness of emperors). Clad in luxury, the whore has fornicated with the inhabitants of the earth and become drunk with the blood of the saints (17:2–6), and as the all-powerful city who rules all others (17:18), she has ten client kings in her grip who will make war on the Lamb but also eventually turn on her (17:12–17).
Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 3134-3140). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Continue reading
The Beast from the Land
The second beast, from the land, functions primarily to promote the worship of the first beast (13:12). It operates with borrowed power and by means of deception. Its lamb-like appearance is a mask for Satanic speech (13:11), and its public display of signs is really smoke and mirrors to deceive people into worshiping the first beast (13:13–15). It requires elites and non-elites alike to receive the mark of the beast to participate in the economy (13:16–17).
… The second beast, from the earth (that is, of local origin [in contrast to Rome, which conquered Asia Minor from the sea]), is then seen as those who promote the imperial cult, perhaps local government and/or religious officials in and around cities like Ephesus and Pergamum. The mark of the beast might be an imperial slogan, seal, or image.
Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 2989-2997). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Continue reading
In the last post, we saw how John the Seer received a vision of the Trinity. The pages of Revelation are filled with images of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
But in the Revelation, the members of the Trinity have enemies. We need to identify and study them.
The cosmic, apocalyptic drama portrayed in Revelation has as its protagonist the triune God and as its antagonist a somewhat parallel unholy trinity of Satan and two beasts, a parody of God-Christ-Spirit.
 The parallels are rather stunning. In each trinity, the first member (God the Father; Satan) is the source of the power and rule of the second (the Lamb/Son; the beast from the sea); both the first and the second are worshiped; both the first and the second resemble figures in Daniel 7; and the third (the Spirit; the beast from the land) promotes and speaks for the second.
Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 2966-2968; 3305-3307). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition (the “” indicates a footnote. Not sure why Gorman hid this cool bit of information in the footnotes.) Continue reading
Gorman does not attempt a verse-by-verse interpretation of the next several chapters of the Revelation. Rather, he works his way through the text to demonstrate the meaning of key symbolic “actors” in the vision seen by John.
He first outlines the book in very broad terms. Continue reading
To me, this is one the most significant passages in the entire book. It’s a turning point — a “revelation” of a deep truth.
(Rev. 5:1-5 ESV) Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Who is worthy to open the scroll? The Lion of Judah! The Root of David!
This language refers, of course, to Jesus, but does so in militarized terms. Continue reading
We turn next to chapter 4 —
(Rev. 4:1-11 ESV) After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.
4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. Continue reading
I’m not going to attempt a verse-by-verse exposition of the introduction or seven letters that begin the Revelation. The territory is familiar, and there are many helpful resources, including Tim Archer’s and Steve Ridgell’s Letters from the Lamb.
(Tim often comments here, and I have a copy of his book right here. I’m a fan.)
Gorman makes some keen observations regarding the introduction and the letters in general.
Regarding the introductory section of chapter 1, he observes and offers details for how similarly Jesus and God are described. Similar language is used of both here and throughout Revelation, clearly intending to show the God-ness of Jesus. Continue reading
So what is the over-arching theme of the Revelation? According to Gorman,
In other words, the purpose of the book of Revelation is to persuade its hearers and readers, both ancient and contemporary, to remain faithful to God in spite of past, present, or possible future suffering—whatever form that suffering might take, and whatever source it may have—simply for being faithful. In spite of memory, experience, or fear, Revelation tells us, covenant faithfulness is possible because of Jesus and worthwhile because of the glorious future God has in store for us and for the entire created order.
Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 1879-1883). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Continue reading
Gorman suggests that we read the Revelation through a combination of three schools of thought.
This pastoral-prophetic approach is bound to be closely related to the [poetic and political]. If we read Revelation poetically, concluding that Babylon is not merely Rome, as the preterists might, and is definitely not some future reconfiguration of the Roman Empire in modern Europe, as some futurists would say, then its seductive and oppressive power can be felt—and must be both named and resisted—in the political realities of our own day. These … three approaches are similar to one another in that they both go beyond mere correspondence to more timeless concerns about God, evil, empire, civil religion, and the like, responding to new situations.
Without ignoring the past or the future (in a general sense), the focus of this book is on Revelation as a word to the church in the present. We will therefore combine the (theo-)poetic, the (theo-)political, and the pastoral-prophetic approaches. We will do so by grounding our contemporary interpretation of Revelation in its message for the first-century church, looking for contemporary analogies to first-century realities … , while always keeping an eye on the promises for the future of God’s creation contained especially in Revelation 21–22. Unlike many traditional commentaries on Revelation, the focus of this book is on the big picture, not the details.
Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 1783-1792). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Continue reading