Revelation and Nationalism

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/ .

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2 thoughts on “Revelation and Nationalism

  1. We are American, that is how we were born. None of us, as you will recall by the words of the Bible, is good. So I will never be a good American. When we hold our allegiance to country above our allegiance to God and our fellow human beings (the ones living right beside us whose name we do not know, those who have been imprisoned… “getting what they deserve”…, the poor in other countries that we enslave by our practices of greed). Some of what we blindly call the blessings of God has devastating effects on the lives of others, how then are we blessed? It is time to seriously calculate the way we live and make some changes. We cannot sit idly by and pray for His kingdom to come. Pray yes, and then get up and do what He tells you to do. Listen. Obey. Love. As an aside, an excellent book: Apocalypse: The book of Revelation by Jacques Ellul. Much love to you and your little family. 🙂

  2. I certainly see your point but I would argue that allegiance to faith has been much more destructive throughout human history rather than a national allegiance. Think for instance of the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants or sunni and shite or the constant persecution of the Jews. I can think of an unbroken stream of religious conflict from the days of Moses until the present while any nationalistic conflict only really came to fruition with World War One. Even after World War One the triumph of nationalism quickly turned to conflicts of ideologies…they may be political in nature but resemble much more someone fighting for their religion rather than their country. During World War Two it was a fight against fascists, during the Cold War it was a fight against Communism, during the present day it is a fight against political islam. These conflicts very rarely entail allegiance to a country (Our own Pledge of Allegiance was a Pledge to “One Nation under God” rather than a Nation alone….an aspect to differentiate us from the Godless Communists running rampant in many different areas of the world). An allegiance to a country such as ours is one not necessarily to a land or a people but rather to a set of ideals. Ideals that ensure freedom of religion and speech. Ideals that allow you and I to practice our faith under the tenets of the United Methodist Church without fear of persecution from rival Southern Baptists or any number of more populous sects. As human beings we are capable of complex thoughts and activities. You can have an unwavering allegiance to one’s country that protects and ensures ideals that have advanced the human race immeasurably while still having an allegiance in one’s heart to your particular brand of faith. It only requires an understanding of our human condition. We are not perfect and never will be. We require certain protections in our current condition against less thoughtful people who would aim to prevent us from freedom of faith while forcing us to accept their beliefs. That protection is the nation-state and in particular the United States has done the most to provide this protection for people around the globe. Is the United States perfect? Certainly not…it is a nation of imperfect men who have a track record of bad decisions we can point to certainly but it is “better than the alternative” as you put it. What it requires is that we understand where humanity is in our state of development or dare I say evolution. Some of us, such as you or I, may be fully prepared to live in a world where we can adhere to our faith and not bother others while they adhere to theirs. But you and I both know that perhaps the Southern Baptist or fundamentalist Mormen, or militant islamist is not as prepared. What protection would you assert against such intrusions from those sects other than the protection of the nation-state? I agree with your train of thought that one should not think that the United States or any country for that matter has “most favored nation status” in God’s eyes. But we should acknowledge that the good our country has done far outweighs any bad. It isn’t even close if you want to measure it out specifically. What I would suggest for a blog post such as this is that we use our allegiance to our faith to ensure that our leaders and political process and national decisions measure up. We can use one to improve the other and vice versa. Why not use the tenants of our faith to vote for someone that has lived their life according to those ideals (be they Methodist or not as long as they have been good people doing the right thing in life). That would certainly weed out cheaters like Gingrich or racist/isolationists like Ron Paul…not to mention what is on the Democratic side like Barney Frank wouldn’t you say? Why not use faith to improve the nation-state? There are common ideals shared by an overwhelming number of Americans of all beliefs that can be used to ensure we are led in a way we can be proud of.

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