Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Mark of the Beast - Revelation as Apocalyptic Literature (4/4)

So, the Book of Revelation is a letter to the churches, it is a prophecy from someone (John) who sees himself in the tradition of God's "servants, the prophets" with appropriate forthtelling against evil and foretelling of what is about to come.

And: Revelation is a kind of literature which is weird, strange and very, very hard to understand (if trying to decipher its imagery) but just a little bit less weird, strange and hard to understand if we read it as "apocalyptic literature", that is, as literature of a kind also found in the Bible when we read Daniel, Zechariah, quite a lot of Ezekiel and parts of Isaiah, as well as literature not found in the Bible but found in publications with titles such as "Old Testament Apocrypha" or "New Testament Apocrypha", including books such as 1, 2 and 3 Enoch, the Ascension of Isaiah and the Apocalypse of Moses.

That is Revelation is a letter which encourages (and disciplines) the churches of Asia Minor and a prophecy which boldly proclaims a message to the churches and to the world around the churches via the use of language which is imaginative and of a kind found in other ancient writings, especially from the period 200BC to 200 AD.

Let's look at a few examples: (in order of appearance, not necessarily in order of significance relative to the overall message of Revelation):

1. The Commissioning of John (1:9-20): this passage incorporates significant imagery found also in Daniel 7:9-13; 10:5-6; Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2; Isaiah 49:2; Zecharish 4:1-7; Daniel 10:20-21; 11:1; 12:1 re angels assigned to nations) and also found in other apocalyptic literature, probably also derived from similar passages.

2. The Heavenly Throne Vision: (chapters 4 and 5): here the background passages are extensive and may be found through a Bible with good cross-referencing or in a study Bible's notes or in a commentary. Again, Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah figure prominently; and the image of Jesus as the Lamb is coherent with use of animal imagery found in apocalypses, including, of course, the beast of Daniel 7 found also in Revelation 13. The Lamb is both a transformation of the Lion of the tribe of Judah and a contrast to the dominating power intrinsic to the beast.

3. The Vision of the Beast: (chapter 13; see also 17-18): here, almost certainly directly related to the vision in Daniel 7, an awful beast rises out of the sea, as an expression of evil and malevolence, in obvious contrast to the glory and compassion of Christ - an anti-Christ, anti-God figure who receives the worship of the non-Christian inhabitants of the earth. Actually there is more than one beast, because a second beast rises out of the earth (13:11) in order to serve the first beast and with iron-discipline ensure the worship of the first beast.

In particular, the second beast 

"causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the number of its name" (13:16-17). 

Cue the subject of this series of posts, the mandation of a vaccine against Covid-19 as a "mark of the beast" because of the potential for a vaccine certificate or passport to be used to prevent people from engaging in everyday commerce and other social activities unless they can demonstrate this "mark."

Of course the connection between the "mark of the beast" and any "compulsory vaccine" is easy to make and (after an enlightening conversation yesterday with a local church leader) all the easier to make in a circle of Christians in which the eschatological teachings of the 1970s and 80s prevail still (you know, the teachings where the world would end "one generation" after the formation of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the anti-Christ was Henry Kissenger, and one world government was secretly being formed on the back of electronic banking requiring a chip implanted in all our foreheads).

But all such teachings fail to reckon seriously with the text of Revelation even as they earnestly believe they are reading the text literally.

As prophecy, Revelation is railing against evil in the world, including idolatry and political power forming itself into an idol commanding total allegiance - illustrated in apocalyptic, imaginative language about beasts and marks.

The challenge of the beast as an image to us as readers is to reckon truly, seriously and rationally with the potential of government to destroy humanity rather than to serve humanity and to demand total allegiance as though a god requiring worship. The beast in human history is Genghis Khan, perhaps even Henry VIII (Anglicans: discuss ...), definitely Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, possibly now the ever aggrandizing and increasingly persecutorial Xi Jinping. Revelation as apocalyptic literature exposes (reveals) the true nature of despicable evil expressed through out of control imperialism.

The mark of the beast is then the sign of our commitment and dedication to this anti-God, anti-Christ autocrat: think wearing swastikas, not electronic chips.

AND the mark of the beast is certainly not a complusory vaccine. Of all the things governments are doing around the world today about vaccination against Covid-19, aggrandizing power in the service of idolatry is not one of them. 

Vaccination, since its discovery in recent human history, has been a servant of humanity, and government promotion and financial support for vaccinations have been in the service of society. There is no "beast" here and even less so a "mark of the beast."

As a matter of fact re commerce: it continues in many forms even in Lockdowns, noting that online shopping is a thing. Further, in my own country at least, the Prime Minister has decisively said in a recent press conference that a vaccine certificate will not be required in order to go to the supermarket or pharmacy or medical centre.

So: nothing to see here. Let's move on. Let's look, rather, at China's influence on world commerce and its threat to Christians among its own citizens and in neighbouring countries such as Taiwan.

PS Isn't God amazing ... letting Henry Kissenger live so long!


Anonymous said...

The planet cannot bear the level of consumption in countries like mine. Only churches can mobilize a grassroots movement to consume less. A churchly conversation about apocalyptic events will turn to the Revelation. Will readings of the book, either good ones or bad, affect anyone's response to climate change?

Those who project anti-government hysteria into the text might see the Beast in any legislated or even coordinated reduction. Can they be dissuaded?

The descent of the New Jerusalem in the final chapter is often cited as evidence that Earth is to be conserved, not spoiled or abandoned. Could that reading motivate Christians to slow climate change?


Father Ron said...

Sects like 'Destiny Church' major on the apocalyptic literature - turning their theology into a religion of fear - not 'Gody fear', sadly; but fear of the Devil/Beast. There is enough evil in this world, it seems to me, for Christians not to dwell upon it, but rather to concentrate on the good in all creation that Christ came to rescue from fear. It seems to me that in some such sects, the fear of the Devil has been so exaggerated that Holy Fear (as witnessed in true worship) goes out the window. No wonder the generasl public is suspicious of ther Millenarians. The fear of vaccination stems from regarding it as an 'agency of the Devil' - a theory neither spiritually nor mentally healthy.

Anonymous said...

Let’s not forget how often the Church itself has entered ‘Beast’ mode over the centuries. We can start with the Crusades, Spanish inquisitions, slavery, anti-Semitism, systemic racism, apathy of the Church towards Nazi Germany and their concentration camps, the subjugation of women, the demonisation ad nauseum of gay people, the abuse of children (don’t spare the rod) and let’s not forget the sexual abuse and the denial that continues to pervade the Church in its absolute entirety.
One could surmise the Church is the domination system ‘par excellence’ yet, this list barely scratches the surface. We could also go on and mention institutional misogynism, shame / purity culture and the appalling action(s) of the Catholic Church in reference to the earlier AIDS crisis in Africa.
In reference to the Book of Revelation J.D. Crossan states it quite succinctly “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to taken them literally”.
This statement is no laughing matter, I have had numerous encounters with NZ Christians (and Anglican Leaders I might add) - that align their thinking with that of American Evangelical Fundamentalism. They spiel off the following: Jesus is going to wind up everything soon, the signs are here now for all to see, Gods Kingdom will descend to Earth from the Heavenly realm, we believers will be saved, everything is going to be put right, so why worry about the environment and planet? Covid, unfortunately, is treated in the same light. I guess this is what you get when you still believe in a three-tiered universe??
As mentioned by the anonymous writer of a previous post. The Church has a huge environmental role to play, and it starts at the top and it starts by correcting this way of thinking! Christians of all the 40 odd thousand sects would do well to take seriously and promote environmentalism and Covid vaccinations for that matter. We have a shrinking opportunity to save the Planet from a fate that WE alone have created.

Aaron Thompson