Category Archives: Revelation

Revelation Notes (chapter 12)

Ted Grimsrud

[See notes on Revelation 11]

With chapter twelve, John begins a more detailed account that provides a fuller picture of the forces at work in the plagues we have seen and will see more of. It becomes more clear over the next several chapters how the Powers of evil are involved in the kinds of events that make up the plagues—and how the victory of God is won and implemented.

First, “God’s temple in heaven” is opened (11:19) as part of the seventh trumpet vision that announces “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (that is, the One on the throne and the Lamb) and the time has come “for destroying those who destroy the earth” (11:18). This “time has come” should best be seen as a plot device—the time of the story where we turn to the “destroyers of the earth” and their fate has come. Revelation is not setting out a chronology for the world’s future so much as exhorting its readers to part of the work that will destroy the earth’s destroyers—who are the Powers behind the empires of the world, including the Roman Empire.

The “opening” of the temple here signals the coming change in focus in the second half of the book that will culminate with a return to the temple—though we will see in chapters twenty-one and twenty-two that John has in mind a radically changed notion of the temple.

Revelation 12:1-6—The two main actors

Chapter twelve contains a wealth of images and events—many are cryptic and difficult to understand. As elsewhere in Revelation, with this chapter we should focus more on the overall sensibility that is being conveyed more than expect to see in each of the images a direct correlation with a particular historical person or event. With all the uncertainty we can’t help but have about many of specifics, the general message here is pretty clear—a new dimension is added to the story with the introduction of the Dragon. We are now able better to understand the paradoxes of previous chapters concerning the plagues in relation to the One on the throne who is so closely linked with the Lamb. God is not the only cosmic actor in this drama. Continue reading

Revelation Notes (Chapter 10)

Ted Grimsrud—February 19, 2014

[See notes on Revelation 9]

Revelation 9 concluded with a picture of “the rest of humankind” continuing to worship their idols even in the face of the terrible plagues that had killed “a third of humankind” (9:18). “They did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts” (9:21). It could be that the point of this image is to underscore just how stupidly stubborn these humans are, that God—in the plagues—had tried to get them to change their ways and they continued to refuse. However, it is much more likely that a different idea is being conveyed here.

We should understand the plagues not as directly sent and controlled by God but more as a way of describing the on-going traumas of fallen human existence in history. The plagues picture something that actually (we will learn beginning in chapter 11) has its direct source in the machinations of the Dragon but that nevertheless does not defeat (and even providentially furthers) God’s purposes. Hence, we may recognize that the point here is that the plagues could not hope to bring about repentance and the turning from idols. Indeed, though this is not an explicit point the visions are making, we can understand that the plagues tend to exacerbate the problem of humanity trusting in idols.

People trust in idols, and as a consequence are pushed by the idols toward “murders, sorceries, fornication, and thefts” (9:21), because they are insecure and traumatized, fearful and in pain. So if God wants to reverse this dynamic, it would make much more sense for God to take a different tack. And this different tack, already described back in Revelation 5 (the hermeneutical key for the entire book), will be detailed beginning in chapter 10. Continue reading

Revelation Notes (Chapter 9)

Ted Grimsrud—February 8, 2014

[See notes on Revelation 8]

In Revelation 9, the unfolding of the vision of the plagues associated with the seven trumpets continues. Chapter 8 echoed the first four of the seal visions in chapter 6, except with much more destruction. We should read these plague visions in light of their being surrounded the visions of redemption and faithfulness that we saw in the worship service of chapters 4 and 5, the multitude that stands before the Lamb in chapter 7, and—as we will see—the faithful witness of God’s people in chapters 11 and 12. Such a reading strategy will help us keep the plagues in perspective. They are not the fundamental reality. And they are not the work of a vengeful God punishing human wrongdoing.

After the four plagues of chapter 8, there is a brief interlude where a talking eagle cries out in pain in face of what the earth is facing with the plagues. The term in 8:13 that is translated “woe” could also be translated “alas!” and has the connotation of sorrow and empathy more than that this is announcing God’s direct punitive judgment.

The eagle cries out three times, pointing to the next two trumpet blasts that will be described in chapter 9 and a third “woe” that does not have a clear referent. The seventh trumpet blast (11:15-19) could be the third “woe”—in which case since the focus with the trumpet is the promise that God will “destroy the destroyers of the earth” (11:18), the idea could be that this “woe” will end all the “woes” by doing away with the actual source of the destruction, the Dragon and his minions. Beginning with chapter 9, Revelation makes it increasingly clear that the Dragon is the direct actor behind the plagues.

The fifth and sixth trumpets do speak of more trauma on earth and give more detail to the picture of this time of the “3 1/2 years” between Jesus’s victory described in Revelation 5 and the coming of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21.

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Why We (Should) Read Revelation

[This is the eighteenth (and last!) in a series of sermons on the Book of Revelation.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—November 17, 2013—Revelation in three minutes

It was, if I remember correctly, September 1982. I was in my late 20s. Kathleen and I were living in Eugene, Oregon. We had recently made the decision to join Eugene Mennonite Church—a decision we made after a wonderful year attending Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries. We had a sense of clarity that we were at home with Mennonites and in that particular, quirky but quite welcoming little congregation.

Full circle with Revelation

The Eugene church’s pastor took a sabbatical attending AMBS and I was asked to fill in as interim while he was gone. One of my main responsibilities was to preach regularly. All I had to do was figure out what to preach about. For some reason, I decided to preach on the book of Revelation.

I can’t remember now why in the world I chose to do that. I am sure the folks in Eugene wondered why in the world, as well. But, Mennonites are pretty polite. Like a friend of mine once said, with Mennonites it’s hard to tell the difference between praise and condemnation. People said nice, polite things—but I have to imagine they were really wondering what this kid preacher was going to try to pull on them.

I feel like I have come full circle now, as I complete this new series of sermons on Revelation. There is definitely some overlap between what I did those many years ago and what I have had to say this time through. But there is always new light to be shed on a fascinating and complicated text such as Revelation—and certainly the world and Ted Grimsrud have changed quite a bit in 30 years. Continue reading

What is Paradise For?

[This is the seventeenth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly through November 2013.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—October 13, 2013—Revelation 21:1–22:5

Kathleen and I love to read to each other. We sometimes struggle a bit in deciding what to read, though. She wants to read serious fiction and nonfiction. Stuff that is actually literature. That would make us think. That would give us genuine insight into the human condition. You know, Moby Dick. War and Peace. The Brothers Karamazov. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

The attraction of happy endings

For me, on the other hand, it’s different. I mainly just want something with a happy ending. Not that much genuine literature has a happy ending. So, we read mostly stuff that’s not genuine literature. Books by someone like Carl Hiassen, where you know who the bad guy is from the start by the kind of music he listens to….

It is probably true that books with happy endings have sold a lot more copies than books with tragic endings. And we tend to read the Bible this way. Even though a lot of people don’t like the book of Revelation all that well, it does have a pretty happy ending, depending on how you interpret it.

I’m finally getting to the end of the book of Revelation with my sermon today. Maybe simply to be done with Revelation will itself be a happy ending—though I do plan one more sermon to kind of summarize things next month.

Revelation does end happily, with a vision of paradise. The book contains several allusions going clear back to Genesis, and I think we are meant to read Revelation as in some sense the conclusion to the entire Bible. Let me read a condensed version of chapter 21 and the first part of chapter 22.  Continue reading

The Judgment That’s Not a Judgment

[This is the sixteenth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly through November 2013.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—September 15, 2013—Revelation 20:1-15

I have an idea that as much as any part of the Bible, the book of Revelation works kinds of like a Rorschach test, you know where you look at an inkblot and tell the therapist what you see—with the idea that what you see reveals things about your psychological makeup.

So, we look at this messy blot of images in the last book of the Bible and what we see there reveals a lot about us. Certainly one of the things many see when they look at Revelation is judgment. But what kind of judgment? Maybe what we see when we see scenes of judgment is itself kind of a Rorschach test. What we make of judgment reveals a lot about our psychological makeup—or at least our theological makeup.

A debate about judgment

I have a memory from back in the late 1990s. I went with a number of people from EMU, faculty and students, to hear a prominent theologian, Miroslav Volf, speak at the Eastern Mennonite Mission Board headquarters in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania.

Volf, who had just begun teaching at Yale University, wrote a well-received book called Exclusion and Embrace. It drew in poignant ways on his experience as a Croatian with the terrible violence in the Balkans conflicts he had lived in the midst of. He powerfully emphasized the need for forgiveness, compassion, and reconciliation in face of brokenness.

However, there was a key element of Volf’s argument, about judgment, that some of us felt uneasy with. He suggested that a major reason why Christians might advocate and practice this radical “embrace,” even of enemies, is because of our trust that in the end God will judge evildoers. This judgment will be punitive. We don’t have to do violence against offenders because we count on God’s violence in the end.

I can picture the room where we met. The audience was in a u-shaped set of chairs with the speaker at the open end of the U. I was directly to one of side of him and one of my like-minded students was clear on the other side. During the discussion we started firing questions from both sides, and Professor Volf was kind of whipping his head first clear in one direction and then, right away, clear to the other direction. Back and forth. It was a friendly if intense debate, and we didn’t resolve it. Continue reading

Revelation Notes (chapter 20)

Ted Grimsrud

[See notes on Revelation 19]

Revelation 20 comes in the middle of the final set of visions that complete the book of Revelation. The first part of chapter 19 shows the great celebration of the Lamb’s marriage following the fall of Babylon the Great in chapter 18. Then comes the battle that’s not really a battle where the rider on the white horse (Jesus, crucified and resurrected) captures two of his main enemies, the Beast and the False Prophet, and dispatches them (without an actual battle) to the lake of fire.

The book concludes in chapters 21 and 22 with a vision of the New Jerusalem, the city of genuine peace and healing that has been in the background from the beginning of Revelation. Tears are wiped away never to return, and ceaseless celebration and praise of the Lamb and the One on the throne ensues.

In between, in chapter 20, come a series of difficult to understand visions that complete the judgment and destruction of the powers of evil (here the Dragon, the power behind Babylon, the Beast, and the False Prophet) and that portray the judgment of all of humanity and the final destruction of Death and Hades.

I will suggest that these visions (along with the rest of Revelation, actually) should not be read strictly in terms of chronology. One of the interpretive approaches that especially makes the visions in chapter 20 confusing is to assume that this chapter presents events that will happen in the future after everything else that we have seen—rather than seeing this chapter as a kind of recapitulation of some of the main themes from earlier in the book. That is, Revelation 20 is also best understood as a picture of present reality. And it presents a theology of judgment that is actually quite different that what is usually assumed to be characteristic of Revelation.

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