Tag Archives: Book of Revelation

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.

Continue reading

Revelation Notes (Chapter 7)

   Ted Grimsrud—May 18, 2013

[See notes on Revelation 6]

As a rule, the book of Revelation is read as a book emphasizing God’s judgment on the rebellious world. The visions that begin in chapter six (centering on the three sets of seven plagues in chapters 6, 8-9, and 15-16) are typically seen as visions of destruction coming down from heaven in order to punish wrongdoers and clear the ground for the New Jerusalem. I propose a different way of reading the book as a whole, including a different way to read these plague visions.

As part of this different way of reading, I suggest that chapter 7 be seen not as a kind of “digression” or “tangent” from the main story line. Rather, chapter 7 is better read as helping us see the main point that the book as a whole is making—Jesus is Lord and as Lord calls people from throughout the earth to embrace and witness to his ways of mercy and compassion. As people walking Jesus’ path, followers of the Lamb become agents of healing the rebellious world, ultimately even the kings of the earth (even as the nonhuman powers of oppression and domination are destroyed).

Our step in reading chapter 7 as central to the plot of the book as a whole is to recognize that it follows shortly after the crucial vision of chapter 5 that establishes the Lamb and his path of compassionate witness as the path the one on the throne embraces as the the meaning of history. That is, in a genuine sense, the plagues that are visited on the earth beginning in chapter 6 are the “digression” or “tangent” in relation to the core message of God’s healing love. Thus, the plagues actually serve that healing love—not the healing love as a side point to the plagues. Continue reading

The War That’s Not a War

[This is the fifteenth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—May 12, 2013—Revelation 19:1-21

One of the great things for me in looking closely at the book of Revelation again is that I keep noticing new things. I have talked quite a bit, and will some more today, about how I see “blood” everywhere in Revelation. Now, this is not unusual, a lot of people see red when they look at Revelation. However, I have noticed that the “blood” in Revelation is always the blood of Jesus or his followers; never do we hear of the blood of Jesus’s enemies being shed. This one-sided use of blood can’t be an accident.

I believe when we “follow the blood” in Revelation we see that one of the main messages of the book is a call to self-giving love. Jesus gave his life over to love, so should we. Revelation presents Jesus’ way of nonviolent resistance to the domination system as the model for his people—and as the method that overcomes that death-dealing system. Jesus’ “blood,” and that of his followers, stand for lives of compassion in resistance to domination.

The Powers keep coming back

Today I want to talk about something else I have noticed. Over and over again we are told that the beast, the dragon, the city Babylon, these powers that symbolize the domination system—over and over we are told that they are defeated, that they go down, that “it is all over.” Yet the powers keep coming back, they keep showing up.

Some of you may remember the old folk song, “The Cat Came Back.” It has also been turned into a children’s book—I remember reading it over and over to our son Johan when he was little. Mr. Johnson wants to get rid of this pesky old cat—“he gave it to a little man who was going far away, but the cat came back the very next day.” And it goes on, a little boy takes the cat on a boat trip. The boat capsizes; lives were lost. But still the cat came back. Even after the hydrogen bomb falls, the cat comes back. “They thought he was gone, but the cat came back, he just wouldn’t stay away.”

This is kind of like the dragon and his minions in Revelation. They go down in chapters 11 and 12, “it is over.” They go down in chapter 17. And then again in chapter 18. And at the beginning of chapter 19, the great harlot has been judged and smoke goes up from her forever and ever. And yet, in the second half of the chapter the powers of evil are back, gathered for the great battle of Armageddon. Continue reading

Confessions of a Birthright Imperialist

[This is the fourteenth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite—March 17, 2013—Revelation 18:1-24

When I started this series of sermons on Revelation, back in the mists of time, I talked about it as sermons on 21st century America according to the book of Revelation. As the series has unfolded, I’ve had a lot more to say about Revelation than the 21st century. But today I want to focus a little more on our present world.

I think Revelation, chapter 18, might speak more obviously to the 21st century than anything else we have considered thus far. This chapter focuses on a critique of the great city, called here Babylon—probably with Rome in mind, but also most other imperial capital cities ever since. John challenges his first readers with how they think about the empire they are part of. As such, I think Revelation, chapter 18 works as a good challenge for us today to think about how we feel about our empire.

Reading Revelation 18 as Americans

So, let’s start with an exercise. As I read Revelation, chapter 18, let the imagery stimulate you to reflect on how you feel about being part of our nation. What here maybe rings a bell or triggers a thought? What parallels between ancient Rome and present-day America are suggested by this vision? Continue reading

Seeking the Peace of the City

[This is the thirteenth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—February 17, 2013—Revelation 17:1-18

Welcome back to the wild and crazy world of the book of Revelation. My job today is further to persuade you that it’s our friend. Revelation is our friend as we desire wholeness in our world, as we seek peace with humanity and with the rest of creation, as we are troubled by power politics and injustice. Right? Well, listen up….

Linking Revelation with today’s world

My first sermon in this series was “The 21st century according to Revelation.” I suggested then, and today, that in its idiosyncratic way, Revelation can give us perspective on the world we live in—not due to its predictions about the end times but due to its insights into its own times. Those insights tell us about deep structures of human life and the message of the Lamb that spoke then and continues to speak now.

An image that comes to mind is of a chair my mother found at a second hand store when I was a kid. The chair was covered with ugly green paint. She stripped the paint and uncovered the beauty that remained with the original hard wood. Then she put on a finish that enhanced the chair’s original beauty—and she had a treasure. Many interpretations of Revelation hide the original beauty of the book. I think we can strip those interpretations away and find its actual message as a great treasure. Continue reading

Transforming Babylon

[This is the twelfth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—January 20, 2013—Revelation 15:1–16:21

We seem to get mixed messages about love. Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment—it’s the call to love, he said. Probably if we were asked what was the most important emphasis for Martin Luther King, we’d say it was love. He called one of his most famous books, Strength to Love.

And yet it also seems that love is kind of looked down upon. It certainly doesn’t seem to come up much when we talk about social policy and social problems, gun violence, economic inequality, terrorism, climate change. When we talk about social issues we tend to use “realistic” language—power, coercion, justifiable violence, finding a seat at the table, self-interest, just desserts.

Marginalizing love

Love may seem sentimental, naïve, emotional, soft. Nice for life on a personal level (perhaps), but not very central to negotiating social life, not very central to the work of social justice and social order.

I’ve read a couple of books that bear this out. Michael Burleigh in his book on World War II, Moral Combat, and Jean Bethke Elshtein in her book on the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Just War Against Terror, both write about values and moral standards—but neither devote any space to talk about love. In the “real world,” love is irrelevant it would seem. But is it? Have the violent strategies with which the “realists” deal with conflict and wrongdoing actually worked to enhance human life?

I think this is a challenging question—given all the terrible things that go on in our world. I wonder if the book of Revelation gives us any insights about love and social life? What would you guess I think? Let me read a portion of Revelation—a passage that may not seem to say much about love—chapters 15 and 16, and then you can see what I will pull out of the hat. Continue reading

How to Read Revelation

[This is the eleventh in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—November 25, 2012—Revelation 14:1-20

Last weekend, Kathleen and I had the privilege of once again attending the massive annual convention of over 10,000 religion scholars in Chicago, the joint meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. As always, we had a great time and had our thinking quite stimulated.

Several sessions raised a big question for me—in our quest for peace on earth, for the healing of our brokenness—is the Bible our friend or is it mainly a problem? We heard presentations that pointed in each of these directions. A session on the book of Revelation, though, was pretty clear. The presenters, what I would call “cultured despisers of Revelation,” presented the book in its worst possible light. As you can imagine, I wasn’t pleased.

A “jiu jitsu” approach to the Bible

This is what I think, though. In our all-too-violent world, and in our-all-too-violent Christian religion, we can’t afford to squander this amazing resource for peace—the Bible in general and the book of Revelation in particular. We who seek to be peacemakers, instead of a superficial dismissal of unsettling texts, should wrestle with them, wrestle until (like Jacob of old) we get blessings from them. And there are blessings to be had. We should take what I call a “jiu jitsu” approach to biblical interpretation. Jiu jitsu is a form of martial arts. “Jiu” means “gentle, flexible, or yielding.” “Jitsu” means “technique.” So, “jiu jitsu” is a gentle technique of self-defense that uses the opponent’s force against itself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.

So, I suggest we let the difficult, seemingly “pro-violence,” texts of the Bible swing away at us, but step inside the punches and use those very texts as part of our peacemaking repertoire. Today, I want to give an example of how to read Revelation in this way by taking on one of the more troubling passages in the book, chapter 14. Continue reading

How Do We Fight the Beast?

 [This is the tenth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]

Ted Grimsrud

Shalom Mennonite Congregation—October 14, 2012—Revelation 13:1–14:5

In my sermon series on Revelation we are now to chapter 13. We will spend some time with one of the most famous of the characters in the book—the Beast that rises out of the sea. There is something important to remember as we think about this character—obviously highly symbolic. With whatever it is that is being symbolized, not everyone would see it as beastly. One person’s beast might be another person’s buddy.

Beast or Buddy?

I think of my tiny sweetheart of a dog, little Sophie. Talk about gentle, sweet, affectionate, and kind. But to our cats, Zorro, Silver, and Ani, Sophie is most certainly the Beast. Vicious, aggressive, loud, and obnoxious. Sweetheart? Bah!!

Likewise, in Revelation there would have been people in the book’s audience with a quite positive view of what John is calling the Beast. John’s agenda, in part, is to challenge his readers to recognize the Beast here as a beast.

And thus he challenges us. What is like the Beast of Revelation in our world? Does this vision speak to us at all? Continue reading