Ted Grimsrud

Is Revelation’s God a God of peace?

In Biblical theology, God, Jesus, Pacifism, peace theology, Revelation on May 13, 2016 at 7:19 pm

A sermon preached at Community Mennonite Church Lancaster

May 8, 2016 by Ted Grimsrud

The book of Revelation is a mystery, right? Scary, intimidating, fantastic, wacky, off-putting. When Kathleen and I first moved to Harrisonburg 20 years ago, we attended Park View Mennonite Church. We learned there how back in the 1950s, the Mennonites in Harrisonburg had intense conflicts about the interpretation of Revelation. So, in good Mennonite fashion, they decided they needed to stop talking about it. So, those who grew up after that had no exposure to Revelation. However, maybe, also, Revelation is fascinating and even inspiring. I think it’s worth wrestling with, and it may even have special importance for we who live today in the center of the world’s one great superpower.

What are we looking for?

When we take up Revelation, though, just like any other religious text, so much depends on what we are looking for. Let me give some examples from who have written on Revelation. Are we looking for the date of the rapture and the identity of the Antichrist (like with the Left Behind books)? Or are we looking for the lunatic ravings of a hallucinating first-century fanatic (that’s what British novelist D. H. Lawrence thought)? Or are we looking for words of encouragement in face of a vicious authoritarian state (like South African theologian Allan Boesak 30-some years ago)? Or are we looking for a challenge to American imperialism (with the great American prophet of the 1960s and 70s William Stringfellow)?

And what kind of God do we expect to find “revealed” in this book? We all tend to try to find what will reinforce our already existing beliefs. We don’t always look very kindly toward images and ideas that threaten what we think we know. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from the social thinker John Kenneth Galbraith: “Sometimes we face a choice, do we change our minds or do we prove that we don’t need to. When faced with such a choice, most of us most of the time get busy with the proof.”… We tend not to want to change our minds. So if we expect a mean God in Revelation, that’s likely what we will find.

Still, it is a good idea to at least try to listen to different views. And certainly it’s a good idea to try at least to listen to the Book of Revelation with an open mind, to listen with the possibility that it might have something to say to us a bit different than what we expect—maybe it’s actually meaningful! Or meaningful in a different way that what we have assumed.

My sense with Revelation is that most people start with the assumption that Revelation’s God is violent and judgmental. Some might want that kind of God—some don’t. One of the pivotal moments in my own theological journey came nearly 40 years ago when a couple of friends had a formal debate in our church about pacifism. The non-pacifist drew heavily on the judgment in Revelation. He used it to support his belief that sometimes God is violent and thus may, at times, want us to be as well. That statement challenged me to study Revelation to see for myself.

Revelation Notes (Chapter 21)

In Revelation, Uncategorized on July 24, 2015 at 8:59 am

Ted Grimsrud

[See notes on Revelation 20]

The book of Revelation reaches its conclusion following the destruction of the Beast, the False Prophet, the Dragon, Death, and Hades in chapters nineteen and twenty. The final vision of the completion of God’s healing work in chapters twenty-one and twenty-two leaves us with the fundamental contrast of the book: The spiritual forces of evil are gone, they are not part of the fulfilled city; New Jerusalem, and the spiritual forces of good are ever-present.

Even in the end, though, things are left ambiguous about the human element of the final scene. The book makes it clear what kind of person will be at home in the New Jerusalem—one who follows the Lamb’s path of persevering love. And we are told numerous times what kind of person will not be at home there—one who trusts in the Dragon and follows the ways of domination. What is ambiguous is what happens after the Dragon is gone. Shockingly, the very kings of the earth who throughout the book symbolize humanity at its most hostile to the Lamb are present in New Jerusalem. The nations—allied with the Dragon as they were—find healing in New Jerusalem. So, we don’t know precisely who will be there—some of the Christians mentioned in chapters two and three might not; the kings of the earth will be. It is not about religious affiliation. It is about the ultimate response to the Lamb’s call.

Revelation 21:1-8

Probably the best way to understand the vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” and the statement that “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (21:1) is that John reports the social and spiritual healing of the world we live in. We read a few verses later that God is “making all things new” (21:5)—not making all new things. The process of the plagues turns out to be not the total destruction of the physical world but the destruction of the destroyers of the earth (i.e., the Dragon, et al—the spiritual dynamic of domination).

Throughout the book we have been told about various moments of worship in the midst of the time of tribulation that characterizes the “three and a half years” of human historical existence. These worship moments point ahead to this vision of life lived in the presence of God and the Lamb—a kind of constant worship.

Revelation Notes (Chapter 19)

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, peace theology, Revelation on July 21, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Ted Grimsrud

[See notes on Revelation 18]

Though both at the end of chapter sixteen and chapter eighteen, John writes of the completion of the destruction of Babylon, the story is not over, not even the destructive elements. However, it is crucial for the storyline that Babylon not longer exists as a lure to turn people from God. John turns toward another celebration scene at the beginning of chapter nineteen. Here, though there is a sense of something new—unlike earlier worship visions, this one is not so much celebrating the Lamb’s victory amidst the plagues. Now a crucial corner has been turned, Babylon is no more, and the New Jerusalem is much closer.

The final “battle” is just ahead, followed by the final judgment of humanity and the Dragon meeting his end. In all of this, John’s readers are challenged to remember the Lamb’s way as the way of God—and the path to victory for the entire world. The outcome is the healing and genuine justice of the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 19:1-10

The worship scene picks up on several images from earlier in the book. The “great multitude” points most directly back to chapter seven, though it also evokes the worship scenes from chapters five, twelve, fourteen, and fifteen. In chapter seven, in the midst of the seal series of plagues, John sees “a great multitude” beyond counting, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” praising God and the Lamb to whom “salvation belongs” (7:9-10). Both “great multitudes” are dressed in white robes (7:9, 14; 19:8).

As with the earlier visions, here we have massive praise, “salvation and glory and power to our God” (19:1). The new dimension is that now we are told that God has “judged the great Harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication.” God has brought justice due to the Harlot shedding “the blood of God’s servants” (19:2). As we know, and will be confirmed again in the second half of chapter nineteen, God’s method of gaining justice in relation to Babylon through persevering love even in the face of violent bloodletting by the structures of domination. And this justice will result in the destruction of the powers of evil and the healing of the kings of the earth and the nations.

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