Despite what might be published in a popular pseudo-mythology book series or preached about by public figures that claim to have the corner on truth, the book of Revelation has more to offer than our typical understanding of the apocalypse of God. And what you can uncover might be more relevant to your life here-and-now than you might think.
Revelation was probably written under the reign of Emperor Domitian, who although not incredibly warmed to the Christians was certainly a breath of fresh air from his predecessor Nero. Nero infamously hired thugs to set fire to the city of Rome, and falsely blamed and persecuted the Christians. All of this was to boost his popularity ratings. And while Nero was now dead, there was talk around the countryside that maybe he wasn’t dead. Kind of like Elvis or Michael Jackson are not really dead. So fear of Nero, or his ghost, was very much a reality.
But the fear of persecution isn’t the only topic of discussion in the book of Revelation. In the first 3 chapters we find the book written in letter-form…messages to seven churches on the issues they face. Among those issues are an attraction to riches. To the church in Leodicia, for example, the author John says:
Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
There are also some in Sardis, claims the author, who have not even “soiled their garments” (3.4). The criticism targets many who have appeared to be enjoying the economic benefits of the Roman empire while distancing themselves with the needs and plight of the poor…as well as the world view of those less fortunate.
John claims that Pergamum is the place where “Satan’s throne is.” And that the Christians living there “hold to the teaching of Balaam” (v.14). While it’s difficult to know exactly who is the personification of “Balaam,” what seems to be clear is that John is exhorting the church to not blend themselves in with the kingdom that rules the land in which they live, but rather to live a life that is counter-cultural…and if the circumstances call for it, counter-national. They are called to be citizen’s of another kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
This is not a message of anarchy. Rather, it’s a message of allegiance. Now hear me on this…it is entirely possible to be a good American and live a faithful Christian life. That’s the beauty of this country. However, I constantly fear that religious faith and national allegiance are too closely tied together. I fear that belief in God automatically includes some sort of blind permission that whatever our country does is great because somehow God has blessed us more than others. And more devastating, our national allegiance sometimes takes precedent over the convictions of our faith, eliminating the prophetic nature and power that the message of Jesus Christ has on a people. The “good” America has done with the world is heralded, while the evil we have done to preserve power is justified as “necessary” or “better than the alternative.”
I go into all this to say that our allegiance that our faith demands is one that celebrates good and criticizes evil, no matter who the creator is. This is the message of Revelation. One day, God will look at the mess of this world and finally say, “enough.” On that day I’m sure it is our faith…not our nationality…that will glimmer.
Special thanks to John Byron, whose notes I used in writing this. You can read his blog at http://thebiblicalworld.blogspot.com/ .