Monday, October 4, 2021

The Mark of the Beast (3/n) - Revelation as Prophecy

I am now back from a pastoral visit to the Chatham Islands which lie c. 800kms to the east of (roughly) the middle of the South Island and are part of the Diocese of Christchurch. Although there is internet connection to the islands, my internet access on such visits is only occasional, and may not be very fast, so best policy was to encourage readers to not make comments while I was away. 

Now I am back, let's return to the Book of Revelation and a leisurely exploration of the current links being made between the Covid vaccination and the Mark of the Beast (links being kept alive as we speak because over the weekend a large group of Christians gathered in Auckland for a protest meeting against lockdowns and vaccination, against the regulations restricting gatherings). In the last post I explored the question of Revelation being a letter. This week, Revelation as a prophecy.

In Revelation 1:3, John writes,

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud in the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near."

Further John describes himself as a "servant" in 1:1 and this word is a code word for "prophet" (see 10:7; 15:3 (Moses as prophet); 22:6, 9). So his own consciousness, as composer of the book, is that he is writing a prophecy. The description in 1:3 is matched by a warning in 22:18-19:

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book ... if anyone takes away from the word of the book of this prophecy ..."

What does this mean for how we approach Revelation, seeking to understand it?

In the Old Testament, prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah (all drawn on in Revelation), to say nothing of Amos, Hosea and Micah, speak to the present state of affairs, usually Israel and/or Judah and sometimes surrounding nations, diagnosing spiritual ills and political ailments, with a laser like focus on injustice, and then forecasting a future in which divine judgment is coming, though a remnant will survive it and form the basis of God's restoration of God's people.

What do we find in Revelation as a book of prophecy? (Necessarily brief so apologies in advance for missing details):

1. The ills of the seven churches are diagnosed and the impending judgement of Jesus Christ against the churches is announced, with the "carrot" of future blessings for those who repent and for those who are faithful. A parallel, that is, to the OT prophecies which spoke directly to Israel and/or Judah.

2. The ills of the world around the churches are diagnosed and the impending judgement of Jesus Christ against the evildoers of the world is announced (e.g. 20:11-15), with little by way of hope for restoration of the nations of the world (but see 22:2), and much by way of robust encouragement for the saints of God who will not escape the malevolency of the evildoers (e.g. chapter 7).

3. But what is the laser like focus of the prophecy in respect of what the world is to be judged on? Is it justice (so one famous book on Revelation) or something else? On the whole I suggest the focus is on idolatry first (the aggragating of power and glory to the forces of evil and to the human rulers in thrall to them; manifesting as violent, murderous persecution against God's people) and then on justice (e.g. the economic corruption of the merchants of the great city in Revelation 17).

In sum: Revelation is a prophecy which forthtells against the failings of the churches and the evil idolatry and injustice of the world, and foretells of the coming judgement against the churches and the world, a judgement which will come soon but not soon enough to prevent imminent martyrdoms for some of God's people.

But there is a massive twist in the actuality of the language of Revelation as a book of prophecy. The language used is mostly the language of another (but related) kind of ancient Jewish literature, the language of apocalyptic literature, the language, that is, of Daniel, of some chapters of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, of some books we call "apocrypha" such as 1 Enoch and of gospel chapters such as Mark 13 (which is sometimes called "The Little Apocalypse").

Next week: Revelation as apocalypse. All will be revealed :).


Joshua said...

yes I think we are definetlly in end times, earthquakes,fire, climate change. Bishop Brian Tamaki is right to discourage his flock from vaccination.The vaccination card could be see as a quasi mark of the Beast. Repent brothers.Jesus will soon return and sort the chaff from the hay.

Anonymous said...

Three thoughts.

(1) Because it is such a Judaic and right-brained book, the Revelation is a ferry back into other scriptures that get overlooked in our left-brained law-seeking, and a road forward to the risen Jesus's Way which leaned more toward wisdom and a revived gift of prophecy. In the East, the apocalyptic imaginary flourished for about a millennium, often engaging contemporary Jewish speculation, and has never altogether ceased. In the West, it was a current in most populist religion through the late middle ages and Reformation. If there is any topic on which modern churches were eccentrically isolated from all the rest, this is it.

(2) Michel Foucault's book Discipline and Punish traces our societies' transition from a social order maintained by state terror-- eg whipping at the post and elaborate theatrical public executions under the Tudors-- to a newer one maintained by incentives for individuals to comply with somewhat independent institutions and bureaus lightly overseen by elected parliaments. That was the transition from the medieval world to the modern one.

The populism of the alt right, including the anti-vaxers, is chipping away at this modern glue of compliance, much as the Peasants' Rebellion of the C16 rose up against the old glue of the sword. In a war mostly of words, crazy things believed and said are not failures of style or thought but the pointy ends of pitchforks. Left and right differ in their obsessions, but all peasants of postmodernity feel that the frisson of saying without shame what has been outre is a personal liberation from too much compliance.

(3) Does the Bible say anything at all to civilians of secular states? Not as such. The Bible addresses individuals directly as humans, obliquely as musicians, gardeners, mothers, churchgoers, truckdrivers, voters, etc. So then, does the Holy Spirit speak through the Revelation about the glue of modern societies?

St Paul's rather dry advice to be subject to the ruling authorities has been stretched to cover whole theories of statecraft, but neither he nor the other apostles envisaged a takeover of the empire that crucified the Lord, let alone the modern minuet of churches and nation-states. A bit of the Revelation may be about Nero, but none of it was to him.

On the other hand, minor prophets of YHWH did reproach neighboring societies that mostly worshiped other gods. The later rabbis inferred from the story of Noah that even unbelieving peoples have a covenant with the Lord, albeit one much less exacting than their own. The fathers, notably St Augustine of Hippo, likewise theorised a distinction between church and state that is rarely challenged, if often breached, even today. They were more sure about what a church should be than about what a state should be.

But as antiquity became Christendom and almost every person belonged to both the church and the state, the distinction between a disciple and a citizen faded from view, Hence the odd modern practice of exhorting unbelieving citizens to live as though they were regenerate disciples, even though there is no reason to think that they can or even should do this. And the postmodern populist idea that individuals can and should *as Christians* demand concessions from states.


Father Ron said...

Joshua, from your comments I wonder whether you are a part of the Destiny Church. It would useful to know so that we could use an appopriate lens to interpret your comments.

Sadly, some people like yourself seem to be obsessed with 'End Times' which Jesus himself warned his followers about; that this was a question they should not be asking. God is in control and no living human being can guess God's providence on this particular matter. Regarding your comment about the COVID Vaccination programme here in Aoteroa/New Zealand, most thinking people feel we are being well served by a government which recognises the dangers of a population being unvaccinated. The science (made available to us through an omniscient God) is all leaning towards its provenance and capability of protecting people like you and me from the scourge of Covid.

If it were possible for Non-Vaccers to be contained within a separate non-Vaccinated Community space, I, and most Kiwis, would be happy for you to offer protest. However, as this is not possible, it would be better, perhaps, if you could take care not to get close to anyone who wants, and is entitled, to remain COVID-free, without the fear of possible contaminated by you.