Tag Archives: apocalyptic

Reading Revelation (and the whole Bible) as a book of peace

Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.10

[Published in Ted Grimsrud and Michael Hardin, eds. Compassionate Eschatology: The Future as Friend (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 3-27.]

 Eschatology all too often means judgment, vengeance, the bad guys and gals getting their “just desserts.”  Probably at least in part because of the titillating allure of violence, and in part because of the attraction of being part of a story when our side wins and the other side loses, eschatology is pretty popular.

But is this kind of eschatology Christian? What might Christian eschatology look like if it is done as if Jesus matters?  If we look at Jesus’ own life and teaching, we won’t find a clearer statement of his hierarchy of values than his concise summary of the law and prophets: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul—and, likewise, you shall love your neighbor as you love your own self.  This love of God and neighbor is why we are alive.  It is what matters the most.  The “end” that matters is our purpose for being here, not any knowledge we might think we have about future events.  Our purpose is to love—that purpose is the eschatological theme that is central if we do eschatology as if Jesus matters.[1]

To talk about the “end of the world” biblically points us to our purpose for living in the world.  The word “end” can have two different meanings.  (1) “End” means the conclusion, the finish, the last part, the final outcome.  In this sense, “the end of the world” is something future and has to do with the world ceasing to exist.  (2) “End” also, though, means the purpose, what is desired, the intention.  “End of the world,” in this sense, is, we could say, what God intends the world to be for. In this sense of “end,” the “end times” have to do with why we live in time.[2]

The book of Revelation is usually seen as the book of the Bible most concerned with “the end times.”  The book of Revelation has always vexed interpreters.  Rarely has it been seen as an indispensable source for Christian social ethics; often it has been seen more as an ethical problem.[3]  I want to suggest, though, that Revelation has potential to speak powerfully to 21st-century Christians about our purpose in life.

The Bible generally speaks in the future tense only in service of exhortation toward present faithfulness.  The Bible’s concern is that the people of God live in such a way that we will be at home in the New Jerusalem—not with predictions about when and how the future will arrive.

How do we relate “eschatology” with “apocalyptic”?  Let me suggest that biblical apocalyptic (which I will differentiate from the genre “apocalyptic literature” that modern scholars have developed) actually is best understood similarly to eschatology.  The biblical use of apocalyptic language, like the broader use of prophetic and eschatological language, serves the exhortation to faithfulness in present life.  Continue reading

The Doctrine of Eschatology

Christian theologies differ on the doctrine of eschatology probably more than just about any other doctrine. The approach I take in my essay, “The Doctrine of Eschatology”, focuses on ethics.  I ask what would eschatology would look like that reinforces Jesus’ teaching about love of God and neighbor.  Such an ethical eschatology will focus more on our “end” as in our purpose than our “end” as in our future fate.

I center my eschatological reflections on the book of Revelation, interpreting Revelation as a message about discipleship–calling on believers to follow Jesus (the “Lamb”) wherever he goes.  And Revelation presents the “way Jesus goes” as the way of persevering love. 

This essay is the twelfth in a series that examines core Christian doctrines, consistently asking what shape they should take if they are articulated in light of Jesus.

The Book of Revelation as a resource for peace

Often, the Book of Revelation is presented as being about these weird visions of violence and vengeance–where God models retaliation and hatred for enemies.

My article, How does Revelation speak today? (published in The Mennonite, September 2, 2008), presents the book of Revelation as being a “revelation” of Jesus’ persevering love as the model for Christians–in contrast to  views of Revelation that see it being about vengeance and violence.

The Lamb’s Way of Victory #5

In Revelation six, we get the first of several extended visions in the book that portray a series of plagues that wreak death and destruction on earth.  Then, in Revelation seven we get another vision of the people of God (from all tribes and nations) worshiping God and the Lamb–these are the ones who trust in God instead of the Beast.  I believe that these two visions portray important elements in life in the past and present, not only life in the future.  John the Seer means for us to recognize that we must choose which vision more accurately presents the deepest reality.  Should we worship (that is, live our lives in trust in the Lamb’s way of peace) or should we join with the forces of violence since they determine reality?  In my sermon, “Trusting God in the Real World,” I juxtapose the two visions and argue that the vision of celebration should determine how we understand the world–and inspire us to practice justice- and peace-making in service to the victorious Lamb.

Is the book of Revelation a resource for peacemaking?

The book of Revelation, though having the reputation of being a book of violence, actually is more accurately read as a book supporting nonviolent resistance to empires and their servants.

This article, “How should 20th-century Christians read the book of Revelation?”, was originally published in Gospel Herald, January 21, 1992, shortly after the 1991 U.S. war on Iraq.

The Lamb’s Way of Victory #4

Revelation five is the most important chapter in the book. Here we face the big question of human life–how do we understand God to be working out God’s purposes? The vision of the scroll in the right hand of the “one on the throne” addresses this issue. How will the scroll (which contains the message of the resolution of history) be opened and its contents made manifest? First John fears no one can open the scroll. Then, he is told someone has been found–a great king, intimating a great warrior. But what he sees is the true reality: a lamb that was slain and now stands is the one with true power. This vision at the heart of Revelation, according to my sermon, “How Does God Win?,” makes clear that persevering love, not coercive firepower, reflects the deepest element of God’s power–and serves as our model.