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beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 4)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

In the previous parts of this study I have discussed two of the malevolent characters in Revelation, namely the Beast and the Great Prostitute, representing on the one hand military might and violence and on the other luxury and economic exploitation respectively.

These are powerful critiques on the part of the author. But critique and challenge are not enough for faithful discipleship—we also need to embody an alternative. With this in mind, what positive model does John give us to follow? What hope do we have in the midst of a world of violence and greed?

OUT OF EMPIRE: THE LAMB AS A MODEL THEN AND NOW
We must remember that in Revelation Rome is simply the then-current manifestation of empire![1] Though John himself was not envisioning future empires, such as those in our time, the images can nonetheless be indirectly applied to them because the phenomenon of empire is, as John knew, an ongoing reality. The challenge for us is to identify empire and “come out” of it.

If we are called to come out of Empire, what does this mean exactly? What models does John give?

I want to suggest that John offers us very strong models, but unfortunately they are often unacknowledged or ignored. One of the most important images is that offered as an alternative to the powerful and monstrous Beast and the seductive and inebriating Prostitute: The Lamb in Revelation 5. Read the rest of this entry

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beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 3)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

Hans Burgkmair the Elder: ‘The Whore of Babylon’, 1523

In this, the third part of this study, I will discuss another of Revelation’s major characters, the Great Prostitute of chapter 17-18.

A PRIVILEGED MALE SPEAKING HARSHLY ABOUT A PROSTITUTE?
Now, before I begin, I must follow the wisdom of Howard-Brook and Gwyther[1] and comment on the fact that it is a privileged male from the First World who is about to talk about a prostitute.

Indeed, John’s negative use of the image of a prostitute has, in some circles, been very controversial for its patriarchal and sexist depiction. Feminist biblical scholar Tina Pippin claims the disembodiment of the Prostitute in Revelation 17:16 “points to the ultimate misogynist fantasy!”[2]
Pippin’s point is that these images can be quite dangerous, particularly in the hands of man who can exert power over the bodies of women. Howard-Brook and Gwyther point to the example of the church’s burning of women as “witches” as the consequence of taking these depictions as the “word of God”.[3]

It will not do for a male like myself to simply say that this language was a product of the time. This would be to pass over, and even excuse, the real pain, violence and degradation that many women across the world have felt because of the use and abuse of such passages. I must acknowledge this pain. My only response is to say that the images of women used by Revelation were not produced with the intent to legitimate violence against women. Faithfulness to the text requires that no reading ever contradict this intention.

Ultimately the image of the Prostitute in Revelation, though a product of a different time, is not about human women: as we shall see the image represents a city and an empire.

Revelation 17:1-14 (The Great Prostitute) Read the rest of this entry

beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 2)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power

Revelation 13:1-10 (The Beast from the Sea)

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

Who/what is the Beast? Read the rest of this entry

beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 1)

Over the weekend I gave a series of Bible studies at the Black Stump Festival entitled Beauty and the Beast: Empire in the Book of Revelation. In these studies I attempted to set out a fairly cursory overview of some themes in the Bible’s most misunderstood book by zooming in on three key characters—the Beast, the Prostitute and the Lamb—and applying the resulting interpretation to empire today.

I have been asked by quite a number of people for a copy of my notes. While my originals would have been quite indecipherable to anyone but me, I have attempted here to provide a rough version of my study in prose form. I don’t intend these to be highly detailed, much less scholarly, since they were given as a Bible study for all ages. Still, I hope they help out some of my readers.

Before getting into the notes I want to recommend a series of posts entitled Reading Revelation that my friend Josh Dowton has started writing over on his blog. Josh is doing his PhD in Revelation, and is far more knowledgeable on the subject than am I. His posts will no doubt be very helpful for those wanting to understand more about Revelation (and it happens to be great timing that he is currently in the middle of writing them!) In truth my many conversations with Josh have been a big influence on my own understanding of Revelation.

My original study was in three parts, but I will split these next posts into four:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

Part 1: Revelation in Context Read the rest of this entry

q&r: luke 19 and the parable of the minas

A Facebook message I received today read simply:

Luke 19 – parable of the 10 Minas. Please explain?

Straightforward. I like that.

The Parable of the Ten Minas is a well-known parable whose popular interpretation has God as the nobleman and Christians as the servants. In this reading faithful servants are those who are productive. We all have different levels of resources, and this is taken into account by God. Ultimately though the faithful are rewarded and the unproductive are punished.*

The problem with this reading is that it portrays God as a cold, cruel, greedy elitist. It assumes that the nobleman in the parable, who is a wealthy character, should be equated with God. As I have said previously this is a mistake; Luke consistently portrays the rich in less than flattering ways throughout his Gospel:

  • … he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (1:53)
  • … woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (6:24)
  • … the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God. (12:21)

It would be strange if Luke suddenly equated God with a rich man.

If the nobleman is not God, and the story is not about productivity, what exactly is going on in this parable? Read the rest of this entry

what is a “fisher of men”?

Mark 1:17 and Matthew 4:19, in which Jesus calls Andrew and Peter to be “fishers of men”, is a well-trodden piece of biblical narrative, at least as heard from the pulpit.

Many a preacher has exhorted their church or audience to be “fishers of men”. This normally refers to their evangelistic efforts, whereby fishing for men means something like bringing them in to the faith, in the same way you might land a swordfish on a 30-footer (fisherman may correct my ignorance at this point…)

But let me cut to the chase – is that what Jesus meant? Read the rest of this entry

what is the gospel?

At the end of last year I was criticised by the organiser of an event I was asked to speak at because of the gospel that I preached.

“We believe the gospel is the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus,” he said.

On the surface this assertion sounds good to many Christians. But is that really what the gospel is? Is the gospel really just the stating of a doctrinal belief (albeit one based in history) whereby voluntary assent leads to post mortem safety?

Such a caricature does not seem to make sense of the biblical narrative for me. In the Old Testament the phrase “good news” was used to describe the announcement of the people of God concerning the fact that God would bring them back from Exile in a manner similar to that of the Exodus, and that he would be king over them (e.g. Isaiah 40 esp. vv.9-11; 52 esp. vv.7-10). Such kingship obviously implies a kingdom, and so the ‘good news’ (gospel) was essentially an announcement of the coming kingdom of God, that is, God’s reign/rule over his people who are formed into an alternative society to those surrounding them in accordance with the Mosaic Law.

In this way the gospel was intricately linked to the narrative of the Old Testament; God had redeemed and rescued Israel to become an alternative society to empires like Egypt, though throughout their history Israel had eventually become like such empires. For this reason God would cleanse them through fire in the Exile, and the good news (gospel) was that they would be restored as the originally intended alternative kingdom.

In the New Testament the meaning of ‘gospel’ does not really change. By the time of Jesus two things will largely affect the definition of the Greek word euangelion; Keep Reading…

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