[This essay summarizes the argument of my book, God’s Healing Strategy: An Introduction to the Main Themes of the Bible (Cascadia Publishing House, 2000; 2nd edition, Cascadia Publishing House, 2011). It was originally published as chapter 6 in Ted Grimsrud, Embodying the Way of Jesus: Anabaptist Convictions for the Twenty-First Century (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007), pages 73-88.]
In continuity with the Anabaptist tradition dating back to the sixteenth century, present-day Anabaptists understand their faith convictions as being rooted in the Bible. A major one of these convictions is the role of the community of faith in God’s work of bringing healing to creation.
In this chapter, I present an Anabaptist reading of the Bible that sees its central message as the account of “God’s healing strategy”: God has called communities of God’s people together to find healing themselves and to witness of this healing to the rest of the world.
The Need for Healing
Early on, the Bible tells us something has gone wrong. Loving relationships have been broken. Creation has been marred. Salvation is needed. However, God will not simply step in and by force, by coercion, make things right. God’s healing strategy is much more subtle. Love shapes God’s activity, patient, long lasting, persevering love.
The Genesis one creation story concludes, “everything…was very good.” Then, Genesis three tells of a break in the relationship between human beings and God, the rise of “brokenness” among human beings. Genesis 4–11 tells more of brokenness: Cain’s murder of Abel, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel. At the end of Genesis eleven, we read of Sarah’s barrenness.
Something new emerges with Genesis twelve. In the face of barrenness, God calls Abraham and Sarah to begin a community, to be the parents of a great people—and miraculously makes it possible by giving Sarah a child. Thus begins God’s strategy for healing as summarized in the words in Genesis 12:3: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God establishes a community of people who will know God. Through people of faith living together, face to face, in peaceable community life God will make peace for all the families of the earth. This healing strategy proceeds through the Old Testament and the New, culminating in Revelation 21–22. A desire to be part of the on-going expression of God’s faith community-centered healing strategy animates Anabaptist convictions, from the sixteenth century to the present.
In Genesis twelve, God promises Abraham and Sarah a future. And through that promise, God also promises all peoples a future. “In you, Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s healing strategy for the human race will be funneled through Abraham.
God’s calling of a people included two elements. First, “I will bless you,” God said, “so that [second] you will be a blessing.” These remain the two elements of God’s calling of people—“I will bless you…so that you may be a blessing.” The Bible tells the winding story of the people of the promise. However, in the end, each piece points toward the continuance of this two-part strategy: “I will bless…so that you may be a blessing.”
The last part of Genesis tells how Abraham’s descendants went to Egypt. In time, they were enslaved. Exodus 2:23–5 tells of their plight. “The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered God’s covenant with Abraham.” God remembered the promise to Abraham.
God’s “remembering” (generally in the Bible, God “remembering” leads to saving acts) results in the call of Moses to lead the saving involvement of God with the people. Moses, Israel’s great prophet-leader, challenges Pharaoh with the words of Yahweh, helps the Hebrew slaves coalesce as a coherent community, and leads the people in their escape from Egypt and slavery. The escape culminates with the miraculous flight through the parted Red Sea waters—that then crashed down on Pharaoh’s pursuing armies.
The God of the Exodus is not a God of people in power who lord it over others. This God, unlike other gods, does not merely reinforce the king’s power. This God is a God of slaves who gives life to the life-less, hearing the cries of those being treated like non-persons.
God’s will for salvation here is not expressed through human military action. God’s human leader, Moses, is not a commander of weapons of war but a weaponless prophet whose authority is based solely on him speaking for God. The Israelites experience salvation by the direct involvement of God, not by having more powerful horses and chariots.
The Hebrews are called not simply to leave Egypt behind, but to reject Egypt’s unjust ways. When God gives the Hebrews the Law following the exodus, much of the Law was explained in opposition to Egyptian cruelty. One of the harshest criticisms the prophets make of Israel later on is that Israel had become like Egypt—unjust, materialistic, oppressive.
The law comes after liberation—not as a means of earning salvation but as an additional work of God’s grace, a resource for ordering peaceable living in the community of God’s people. The intent, ultimately, is to lead to universal shalom, to bless all the families of the earth (God’s healing strategy). Exodus 19:6 states: “The whole earth is mine.…You shall be for me a priestly kingdom.” “Priestly” implies “mediator.” Israel mediates God’s presence to the “whole earth.”
Kingship and the Need for Prophets
After the children of Israel were freed from Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years before settling in the land God provided for them. God’s special calling for these people remained the same as it had been from the beginning when he called Abraham and Sarah: to be a blessing for all the families of the earth—by showing them a better way of living characterized by genuine justice. 
After Israel settled in the promise land, they lived as an association of tribes. When Israel needed them, “judges” would arise and unite the tribes for a while—Gideon and Deborah were two of the best. Gideon led Israel to victory. Then the people wanted to make him king. But he refused: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23). God is the only king you need.
However, the system did not always work well. The book of Judges tells mostly of judges who were not that great. It concludes: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25).
Then, under Samuel, a good judge, things get better—for a while. Then, chaos returns: “When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.…His sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam 8:1–3).
Israel’s elders ask for a warrior-king in the face of a threat from their enemies. “Appoint for us a king to govern us, like the other nations” (1 Sam 8:5). Samuel insists that Israel’s elders will regret their choice:
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots.…He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and courtiers. He will take…the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. You shall be his slaves. In that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day (1 Sam 8:11–8, emphases added).
Samuel finds it shocking that the elders don’t realize what they would be getting into. He tells the elders that, under their king, they will return to “Egypt.” “You shall be his slaves.” Having a king will result in a radical change in Israel’s society: (1) the concentration of wealth in only a few hands with poverty for the many as a result (in contrast to the ideal of each family having its own land); (2) the establishment of a permanent standing army and a warrior class (in contrast to a society which trusted in God for its security); and (3) general conformity with the social patterns of the surrounding nations (instead of being the alternative society God had created from the freed slaves to be a light to the nations). Samuel’s voice, though, is not the only one in Israel. God grudgingly gives Israel a king.
As it turns out, even the Hebrews’ greatest king, David, tends too strongly toward the ways of Pharaoh, as seen in his infamous action with Bathsheba. David becomes infatuated with the beautiful woman, takes her, and has her husband killed. The prophet Nathan does confront David, and the king repents. However, great damage had been done. The community of faith moves much further from its call to be a blessing.
David’s style of kingship carried over to his son Solomon, the next king of Israel. If we look at the story from the perspective of the Bible’s message of God’s healing strategy (and from the portrait of valid kingship in Deut 17:14–7), we see Solomon as a power-seeking, merciless leader, who moved ancient Israel toward its tragic ending. Solomon ruthlessly eliminated his opponents, built a standing army, began forced labor, gathered wealth for himself, and entered alliances with other nations and worshiped their Gods.
God warns Solomon in 1 Kings 9:6–8: If you turn aside from following me…and do not keep my commandments…, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut Israel off from the land…; and the [Temple] I will cast out of my sight.…This [Temple] will become a heap of ruins.
This is indeed what happens. Solomon did turn aside from following God. “His wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4). In time Israel is cut off from the land and the Temple becomes a heap of ruins.
Prophetic Critique of Communal Injustice
The kings after Solomon tended even more towards injustice. The story in 1 Kings 21 shows typical problems. King Ahab has an Israelite, Naboth, killed so he may take possession of his vineyard. However, Ahab meets the prophet Elijah when he gets to the vineyard. “Have you found me, O my enemy, you troubler of Israel?” Indeed, says Elijah. The Lord has told me the injustice you have done. You are the troubler of Israel and will suffer the consequences.
The society had changed tremendously from the views of Moses, Joshua, and Samuel of God’s will that the society would be most healthy when all the people prospered. Only an Israel that embodied health across the society would fulfill its vocation. In time, though, some became quite rich, and many others were very poor. The prophet Amos speaks God’s words of indictment for a society that had become unhealthy:
They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned (Amos 2:6–7).
Amos calls for justice, challenging an unjust society to turn back to God as their only hope of finding life. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Justice has to do with water, with life. To do justice is to support life.
The prophets’ also teach, as seen in Hosea eleven, that no matter what, God continues to love God’s people and desire their healing. At the beginning of that chapter, Hosea draws on Israel’s memory. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my child” (Hos 11:1). The exodus revealed Israel’s identity and Israel’s understanding of God. God freed the poor enslaved Hebrews from Egypt.
God did not demand that the children of Israel earn his love. However, God did ask that they live with the care and respect God had shown them, thus living in relationship with God. Israel was not able to remain committed to God’s ways. “The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols” (Hos 11:2).
God, though, speaks of more than judgment following disobedience. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” God asks this question of the people: Can I simply let you go, my child, after all that I have done for you? Can I simply write you off? “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos 11:8–9). This God acts with mercy and compassion because it is part of God’s very nature to do so.
God Remains Committed to Healing
The Hebrews did not heed the message of the prophets. The kings did not turn from injustice toward justice. The prophesied consequences came to pass. With the book of Jeremiah, we read that the center of their religious life, the Temple, was destroyed as was the center of their political life, the king’s palace. Many were killed and others shipped away to Babylon in exile.
Jeremiah especially linked Israel’s conformity with the injustices and idolatries of the nations with the end of their nation state. His own life symbolizes Israel’s fate when he travels to Egypt, symbolizing the return to the pre-exodus dynamics of their society.
However, even with his dark words and profound grief, Jeremiah also provides words pointing forward, words that indicate that God’s healing strategy is not ended. Jeremiah’s words may have served to help the Israelites survive as a people. He encouraged them to seek the wellbeing of whatever society they were part of (Jer 29:7) while at the same time maintaining their distinct identity as people of Torah—remembering God’s blessing in order to be a blessing.
In light of Jeremiah’s witness, the entire Old Testament may be read as a cautionary tale. Nation-state-centered, sword-oriented politics failed to be a viable vehicle for sustaining the people of God calling to bless all the families of the earth.
The vocation to spread peace will be fulfilled not through the violence of the standard nation-state, but through the peaceable witness of counter-cultures scattered throughout the world in various nation-states—countercultures that center their lives on the consistent embodiment of the command to respond to God’s creative love with creative love of their own.
The survival of the people did not require the assumed pillars of identity—the king’s palace and the temple. These pillars lay in ruins. But the peoplehood, the call to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, remained, even after their nation-state bit the dust.
Through this failure, the true nature of God’s promise became more clear to prophets such as Jeremiah, with his exhortation to the people of the promise to seek the peace of the city wherever they were living (29:7). This was actually a call for the people to embrace their existence in Diaspora—an existence that did indeed continue for generation upon generation separate from any kind of Israelite nation-state.
Jesus and the Liberating Kingdom of God
When Jesus enters the scene, Israel is again dominated by a large empire. In Jeremiah’s time it was Babylon, the followed by Persia, then Greece. About one hundred years before Jesus began his public ministry, the Roman Empire took over control of Palestine.
Economic injustice remained widespread. So, too, did poverty and a large disinherited peasant class. The inheritance regulations that Elijah had defended in the time of King Ahab were long gone. Religion generally supported this unjust status quo, as it had in the time of Solomon and in the generations following.
Jesus’ message echoed many prophetic themes. God gives life as a gift and expects that those who know God’s mercy share it with others. Jesus critiqued power politics, trusting in weapons of war, and people seeking wealth and worldly success above all else. Jesus proclaimed God’s healing strategy through the calling of a people who would know God and who would share that knowledge with others—blessing all the families of the earth.
Jesus’ time of ministry begins John the Baptist’s baptism. As he came out of baptismal waters, “he saw the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” What follows is a time of discernment; what kind of “Son” (a royal title) will Jesus be?
Jesus first moves deeper into the wilderness. After forty days of fasting, Satan tempts him, a foretaste of his struggle for the rest of his life. How will you respond to brokenness most effectively and do the most good? How will you function as God’s Son? Satan offered Jesus several options for kingly power. Jesus says no to each. He will trust in God’s ways.
In Mark, Jesus starts with a simple proclamation. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news” (1:15). These words summarize Jesus’ mission. God’s plan in calling Abraham and Sarah and in liberating the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt remains in effect. God calls for a people to live with God as their only king, and by doing so to bless all the families of the earth. Jesus calls upon his listeners to repent of misplaced priorities and to believe the good news of God’s mercy and love.
After proclaiming the good news, Jesus then showed that that was indeed true; he healed diseases, cast out demons, forgave sins, welcomed people seen to be unclean by the religious authorities. He founded a community of followers to provide the needed critical mass to live free from the domination systems of his day—both Empire and institutional religion.
Jesus combined his teaching with his healing activity. Jesus conveyed God’s abundant compassion. Jesus taught that, and he showed that. Jesus says “kingdom of God” and people think great, new, political revolution, big transformations. However, Jesus’ images challenge their expectations. Do not expect the kingdom of God to be something all-powerful. The kingdom is at-hand already. We see it in the mustard bush. A healthy mustard bush serves just fine as a nesting home for the birds. God’s rule does not have to appear in the grandiose; a mustard seed growing into a mustard bush will do just as well. You can live the way of the kingdom right now, in this life.
The Cost of Faithfulness to God
Still, Jesus’ healing will not simply bring about heaven on earth. “Many believed in Jesus’ name because they saw the signs that [Jesus] was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people” (John 2:23–4). Are the people following Jesus only as one who does wonders? Do they genuinely want to know God?
Jesus realized that living out his message includes suffering. This becomes clear in the passage that is at the center of Mark, 8:27–38. Jesus has just cured a blind man, and he and the disciples are on the road. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do the people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah (King).”
Jesus accepts Peter’s answer, but he then goes on to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But Jesus responded to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus rebukes Peter because Peter fails to understand that the type of Messiah Jesus is. Jesus is not the kind of almighty king who would never face suffering. Jesus will be a king whose saving faithfulness leads to his death. Peter cannot understand that, at least not yet.
Jesus links his suffering with the suffering his followers will face. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mk 8:34–5).
Jesus realizes that through his willingness to suffer and die, God’s salvation will be made known. Jesus will not fight back, relying on God to vindicate him. Jesus taught his followers that they too must be willing to take up their crosses. He challenged them to remain committed to love and mercy even when it is rejected, even when such a commitment leads to suffering.
Jesus’ ministry reaches its climax in Jerusalem, triggered by his symbolic act of cleansing the temple that shows his disdain for the corrupt religious institutions. In response, the religious leaders began to look “for a way to kill Jesus” (Mk 11:18). And, in a few days, in cooperation with the Roman political leaders, they succeed. The religious leaders could not accept Jesus’ critique of their corruption.
The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, oversaw Jesus’ death by crucifixion. From Pilate’s perspective, Jesus was merely a pawn, an insignificant irritant. Pilate used the religious leaders’ hostility toward Jesus as a means to humiliate those leaders. Pilate manipulated the leaders into proclaiming, “We have no king but Caesar!” (Jn 19:13). Pilate, interrogating Jesus, asked a rhetorical question, “What is truth?” But he is not actually interested in the answer. Jesus replies, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate does not listen. He simply walks away. Pilate has not interest in Jesus’ truth. He orders Jesus killed.
Some of the people who loved Jesus the most, his mother and a couple of other women, watched him die. Two days later, they go to his tomb to anoint his body, a Jewish custom. When they get there, Jesus is gone. In time, he appears in his resurrected body to his followers, and reinvigorates their community.
With Jesus’ resurrection, God vindicates Jesus’ life as truth and shows that God’s love is stronger than death. Jesus lives on and promises that those who trust in him will also live on and need not fear death. Jesus’ resurrection keeps God’s healing strategy going. It brings new hope, the possibility of life even in the face of death and despair.
The community of disciples was in complete disarray after Jesus’ arrest. Peter, in terror denied he ever knew Jesus. Then, Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances brought the community back together. And the blessing they received, that Jesus lives on and that his way is God’s way, became their message. This blessing they shared with others.
The Church Expands
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles begins with Jesus’ farewell statement to his followers. Just before he ascends to heaven, Jesus tells them: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Acts then tells of the carrying out of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit, a few days after Jesus’ ascension, visited the followers of Jesus in a powerful way. They then began to spread the word of God’s salvation offered through Jesus far and wide.
The first seven chapters of Acts tell of Peter’s preaching in Jerusalem, the witness of many other Christians—and scores of people in Jerusalem trusting in Jesus. The also met with opposition. One of their leaders, Stephen, is put to death by stoning. Like with Jesus, these Christians had conflicts with the religious leaders who saw the Christians as rejecting standard religious procedures and threatening the status quo and with the political leaders who saw them threatening the social order. Christians were violently driven out of Jerusalem, and thus began to preach the gospel in the surrounding areas—in Judea and Samaria.
The rest of Acts tells of the ever wider area reached by the gospel, concluding when, after many tribulations, the Apostle Paul reaches the city of Rome, the heart of the Empire—witnessing to the ends of the earth.
The Book of Acts tells of the carrying out of the promise to Abraham, that Abraham’s descendants would bless all the families of the earth. Peter gave one of his sermons in an area near the Jerusalem Temple. As he often did, he stressed the belief that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus” (Acts 3:13).
He called upon his Jewish listeners to accept Jesus as their savior. “All the prophets from Samuel and those after him also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Acts 3:24–5).
Paul, the Missionary
Paul, the most important writer in the history of Christianity, summarizes his vocation in Romans 1:5. He exhorts his readers to “the obedience of faith.” The obedience God wants has to do with two things—first, trust in God’s mercy, accept Jesus Christ as our savior from the power of sin. Second, respond to God’s love for us by actively loving others.
Paul learned about God’s mercy through desperately needing it himself. Paul was a Jew by birth, named “Saul.” By the time he was a young adult he established himself as a leader. He joined the Pharisees, was well educated and strongly committed to a quite strict understanding of religious faith. Like other Pharisees, Paul found himself in conflict with Jesus and his followers.
After Jesus’ death, conflict between the Christians and the Pharisees reached its height when Stephen was stoned to death. When “they dragged [Stephen] out of the city and began to stone him, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58) who obviously supported the crowd’s action.
This Saul soon became a leader among the Pharisees, specializing in persecuting Christians. He regularly breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). Saul sought to follow the ways of God. His hostility toward the Christians was because of his commitment to protecting God’s honor. Later, he wrote this about himself: “You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” (Gal 1:13–4).
Then, something amazing happened: Now as [Saul] was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:3–9).
Saul had his life turned completely around. He, in time, took on a new name—Paul. Paul, the Apostle. His old world came apart. Then he started to put the pieces together. Because Paul did sincerely want to do God’s will, he was able to receive God’s direct revelation to him. This Jesus who you hate in fact truly reveals your God.
One of the questions Paul surely struggled with is this—how could I have been so violent in the name of God? How can I now understand God and God’s will in a way that will overcome such sacred violence? Paul speaks out of his own experience when he writes Romans. As an alternative to doing violence in the name of obedience to God, he writes of obedience that comes from faith. The obedience that comes from faith is what the “gospel of God” produces.
The “gospel of God” is the good news that more than anything else, God loves us and wants us to be whole. In response to God’s love, we are challenged ourselves to love. This is the most important law or commandment. Paul makes this clear later in Romans. “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8).
Paul argues in Romans 1–3 that all people are sinful—blatant sinners and morally upright sinners. All need God’s mercy. The final part of Paul’s argument is that God’s mercy is available, to everyone, without distinction. To God we are all loved people who can, and must, accept God’s mercy and who can, and must, share this mercy with others.
Paul finishes with this: “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness [or justice] of God has been disclosed [in order to justify,] by God’s grace as a gift, [all who trust in that grace, which God has made known through Jesus]” (3:21). The answer to sin is trusting in God’s mercy.
The justice of God is not primarily expressed by works of the law—strict boundary lines between us and them showing (through circumcision, kosher, Sabbath) that we are righteous. It is expressed by trusting in God’s mercy shown through Jesus Christ. Justice has to do with healing. This point takes on much more weight when we think of Paul’s own story—moving from violence toward shalom as a result of meeting Jesus.
These who genuinely know God’s justice will form communities of healing that overcome alienating distinctions that heretofore have separated Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free. And they will witness to this healing, as Paul did, to the ends of the earth.
Christian Faith Under Fire
The early Christians continued to face persecution. As time went on, this came mostly from the Roman Empire. The problem with the Rome was religious. Who would the people worship—the God of Jesus Christ or the emperor-as-god? A common religion of emperor worship helped unify the various peoples of the empire. Faithful Christians could not worship the emperor, for them, an act of blatant idolatry. By refusing such worship, they threatened the social unity based on common religious practices. The Christians paid a price for this refusal. The stress of living in this context of constant danger challenged the faith of many Christians.
The book of Revelation sought to encourage Christians in the face of these dangers. In its visions, Revelation challenges the hearts of its readers. Follow the way of Jesus. Find your strength in communities of the Lamb, not communities of the Beast (Empire). Turn from the allurements of Roman civilization because it is based not on trust in God but on trust in the powers of evil (symbolized by characters such as the Beast, the Dragon, and the Great Whore).
One of the common motifs in Revelation is that of conquering. In face of the seemingly all-conquering power of the Roman Empire to deal out death, Christians are told of another type of conquering. Conquer not by killing others, but rather by remaining faithful to Jesus even to the point of profound suffering. How is this “conquering”? It can be seen as conquering only if one believes this is precisely how Jesus won his victory—remaining faithful, not resorting to violence, facing death itself—and being vindicated by God.
Revelation five presents the most crucial image of the book. The chapter envisions a scroll that has some large meaning. At first we are told that no one can be found to open the scroll. The writer weeps. But then—“Do not weep, one has been found.” Who has the kind of power needed to open the great scroll? The Lion of the Tribe of Judah (an image of a military conqueror). Here is the crucial moment. The conqueror is…“a Lamb standing as if it had been slain” (Rev 5:6). Jesus Christ, slain but now risen from the dead. The “king” is a lamb!
The power that truly matters is not the power to kill others (Rome’s kind of power), but the power to trust in God, facing death faithfully, trusting in God’s vindication. This trust is worth giving because the Lamb that was slain now stands.
In chapter thirteen, we are introduced to the terrible Beast whose power is that of government with its “crowns” and “throne”. His authority is worldwide. This symbolizes the spiritual power of the Roman Empire. Rome’s demand that people worship the emperor was blasphemy for Christians. Revelation 13:4 tells of this: “The whole earth…worshiped the dragon [meaning Satan], for he had given his authority to the Beast [meaning the Empire], and they worshiped the Beast, saying ‘Who is like the Beast, and who can fight against it?’”
John says do not go along with this worship—and expect to pay a cost for your refusal. Do not fight back with violence (Rev 13:10). Follow Jesus and stick to the path of non-retaliation even in the face of violence. Refusing violent resistance to the conquering attack of the Beast shows the only way the spiral of violence might be broken.
The first few verses in chapter fourteen show, in contrast to the Beast’s power, the deeper reality that the Lamb is victorious and that those who follow him are also victorious. The Beast’s conquering was only temporary. The faithful followers’ final fate will be to sing with the community of the faithful on Mt. Zion.
These visions of the Beast and of the faithful ones singing praise to God reveal the reality of Revelation’s readers. The persecuting Roman Empire is aligned with Satan and must not be worshiped. As Jesus’ followers faithfully follow the Lamb, they will be present with God.
The concluding vision in Revelation 21–22, the New Jerusalem, reveals God’s completed healing strategy. This enlivening hope helps Christians remain strong and faithful.
The New Jerusalem is cleansed of the forces of evil. It is creation as it was intended to be. Healing completed. It is made up of people. “On the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel” (Rev 21:12), and “on the foundations are inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14); the entire people of God.
Along with the end of evil and the direct presence of God, the vision promises the healing of the nations. The human enemies of God’s people are not, in the final event, to be destroyed. They, too, find life when the dragon’s spell is broken. Part of the reason Jesus’ followers do not fight back and join the spiral of violence is this hope that even the nations might find healing. Persevering love is the method—not brute force.
The New Jerusalem (Rev 22:1–2) contains a river with the water of life. On each side of the river is the tree of life. “The leaves of this tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Most of Revelation portrays the spiritual forces of evil, symbolized by the dragon and his cohorts, as powerful and greatly influencing life on earth. They are behind the persecutions, injustice, and sufferings that plague people of faith. The conclusion, though, in chapters 21–22, is that this evil will not last forever. God is not powerless to stop it. The power of everlasting love will win out. God’s healing strategy will conclude with its mission accomplished.
God’s Healing Strategy Today
Reading the Bible as the story of “God’s healing strategy” may buttress Anabaptist convictions in several ways. These are some key points that emerge for Anabaptist convictions from the Bible:
(1) The world is all too often characterized by brokenness and alienation. This alienation corrupts, even communities of people of faith who worship the God of the Bible. However, God’s intention is not to establish these communities as a remnant that remains comfortably detached amidst the brokenness, nor, even less, simply to escape this “vale of tears.” Rather, God has established communities of faith so that people who know God’s healing love might enter the brokenness of the world, being agents for healing wherever healing is needed.
(2) The community witnesses to a message of peace and healing, not of condemnation and fear. God, in intervening in the world most profoundly through the witness of people shaped by God’s mercy, offers the world a carrot more than a stick. Thus, God calls the community to manifest authentic peace in its common life and to speak of this peace to the wider world, rather than to speak of “justifiable violence” and religiously underwritten conflict and judgmentalism.
(3) The faith community holds a double-sided perspective concerning the wider world. The empires are to be seen as God’s rivals for people’s loyalties. The empires are to be viewed with great suspicion. Yet, at the same time, the Bible promises healing to the nations. The critique of power politics, the formation of counter-cultural faith communities, and the clear awareness of the contrast between Torah and gospel versus the ideologies of empire, should, for the sake of the nations, foster their genuine healing.
The prophets, like Jesus, modeled this double-sided perspective (as did many sixteenth century Anabaptists). They preached God’s justice, formed and cultivated the life of communities countering Empire, engaged the nations to the point even of suffering martyrdom—and trusted in God’s vindication, a vindication that culminates not in human beings being punished but in human beings, even the kings of the earth (Rev 21–22), being transformed and healed.
So, we see a close connection between the core values of the biblical story and those of the sixteenth century Anabaptist story. This correlation remains extraordinarily instructive for those who seek today to live as part of these same stories.
 For those who read the biblical story as culminating in God healing the nations, an incident such as the destruction of so many Egyptians raises numerous problems (as do, of course, many other examples of violence along the way). These problems are not easily dismissed, especially when we realize how often throughout history, stories of violence in the Old Testament have underwritten later human violence.
However, a couple of points are important to keep in mind. The first is the importance of our reading the parts of the story in light of the whole. The later parts of the story, especially the words of the Old Testament prophets, the message of Jesus, and the portrayal of the ultimate healing of the nations in Revelation 21–22, do point towards healing, meaning that the violence in these earlier stories is never an end in itself—and often, as in Exodus 1–15, the main violence comes from the oppressors as they hurtle themselves into situations where those who kill by the sword end up with violent deaths themselves (a witness to the self-defeating nature of violence).
Second, the Exodus story explicitly makes the point that in this work of liberation God’s people were not to use violence themselves. Moses’ violence early on, when he murders an Egyptian, is condemned. This dynamic of the people of faith being required not to use violence is echoed, in the end, with Revelation’s clear message that the followers of the Lamb must refuse the sword (Rev 13:10), even in the face of the Beast’s oppression.
 Again, this is a complicated part of the story. The account of the Hebrews gaining the promise land famously includes extreme, God-ordained violence (see, for example, Josh 8:18–29). This part of the story needs to be taken seriously; it is indeed troubling—and not only for pacifists.
However, in terms of the argument of this chapter, the main point of the settling of the land is the call for the Hebrews to live justly (implicitly, in contrast to the injustices of the nations they displaced as well, of course, of Egypt) for the sake of their calling to bless all the families of the earth. The spread of injustice within Israel leads to prophetic condemnation and, ultimately, the portrayal of the experiment of channeling God’s healing strategy through a nation-state as a failure.