Tag Archives: the book of revelation

Revelation Notes (Chapter 19)

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. Continue reading

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 18)

Ted Grimsrud

[See notes on Revelation 17]

Revelation 18 continues the envisioning of God’s work of transformation, from Babylon to New Jerusalem.  In Revelation 17, we read of Babylon’s comeuppance. At the end of chapter 16, the seventh of the full out plagues had been visited upon the city Babylon. The greatest earthquake the world has ever known splits Babylon into three parts. A loud voice, presumably God’s, had cried out: “It is done!” (16:17). Yet, the visions John reports are far from over.

Chapter 17 focuses on what happens to Babylon—a rather gruesome picture. However, we should not think of this picture as a prediction of what will happen in the future—rather the vision is simply part of Revelation’s broader message about our purpose (or “end”). When read in context, then, chapter 17’s vision actually is part of the bigger movement the book portrays of movement toward the New Jerusalem. In a paradoxical sense, the “destruction” of Babylon might actually be its transformation—or, at least, the transformation of the human city from Babylon to New Jerusalem.

Babylon falls, crushed by the self-destructiveness of its ways. But in the destruction lies the seeds of the city’s hope. Babylon is “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus” (17:6)—”blood” that links the witnesses with Jesus. That is, the “blood” of self-giving love that leads to Babylon’s downfall, the destruction of the three great Powers of evil (dragon, beast, and false prophet), and the re-creation of Jerusalem as a city of healing. The healing, as we will see, is not only for the faithful witnesses but also for the kings of the earth and the nations.

First, though, the destruction of Babylon requires more attention. So John gives us another vision in chapter 18, also of the destruction of Babylon but from a slightly different angle.

Revelation 18:1-3

The vision features a different angel than the angel of chapter 17 who was one of the seven angels who had poured out the plague bowls in chapter 16. It begins with an assertion that indeed “Babylon the great” has met its doom. Instead of being a place of beauty and power, a true city of the gods, Babylon is actually pretty disgusting, a home for demons, foul spirits, foul birds, and foul and hateful beasts. Continue reading

Revelation Notes (chapter 15)

Ted Grimsrud

[See notes on Revelation 14]

After chapter 14’s visions of judgment that actually focus on Jesus’ self-giving love, we turn in chapter 15 to the final series of plagues. Though there is a sense of progression moving from the seal plagues in chapter 6 through the trumpet plagues and now to the bowl plagues, these three series are best seen as three angles on the same picture. They do not actually portray three separate events but rather portray a deeper sense of urgency in relation to the one “event”—which is not one specific historical but a symbolic way of referring to the “three and a half years,” that is, the time between Jesus’ life and the final end.

Revelation 15:1-4—The great song of saving justice

As the book does numerous times amidst the recounting of various plague and trauma visions, here also we get a powerful vision of celebration. One of our big questions in interpreting Revelation is how we understand the relationship between the plagues and the celebrations. I would suggest, given the self-identification of the book as a “revelation of Jesus Christ,” given the centrality to the entire book of the vision in chapter five of the Lamb receiving the scroll, and given the ending vision of the New Jerusalem that portrays an amazingly inclusive sense of healing, we should see the celebrations as the fundamental reality.

Continue reading

Revelation Notes (chapter 11)

Ted Grimsrud

[See notes on Revelation 10]

At the end of Revelation 10, John eats the scroll that the “mighty angel” holds in his right hand, a symbolic act echoing Ezekiel 2–3, where the prophet accepts his commission to witness. Here, John is told, after he eats the bittersweet scroll, “You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and kings” (10:11). So, when we turn to chapter 11, we know that John is “again” presenting insights about the ways of the Lamb in the violent and chaotic world of his readers—a world dominated by the Roman Empire.

Revelation 11:1-14—The two witnesses

John is given a “measuring rod” with which to “measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there” (11:1). This seems to symbolize a kind of protection that is not offered to “the court outside the temple” which is “given over to the nations” (11:2). It seems doubtful that this “protection” means that followers of the Lamb are being promised that they won’t suffer. More likely, it’s simply a way of affirming the perseverance of the witnessing community even in the midst of suffering and trauma for faithful ones at the hands of the empire. Battered and bruised but not overcome.

Another symbol for this witnessing community is the “two witnesses” (11:3). These witnesses are actually “two olive trees” and “two lampstands”—both images used elsewhere for communities of faith. They will “prophesy for one thousands two hundred sixty days”—that is, three and a half years (or forty two months). This is the “broken time” (half of seven years) that in Revelation symbolizes time in history, the time of the plagues, the time remaining before the New Jerusalem comes down.

So, what we have is a kind of recapitulation of the plague visions (where the nations “trample over the holy city for forty months,” 11:2) but with an added dimensions. The “two witnesses” are essentially the same actors in this drama as the “conquerors” of the seven messages in chapters two and three. That is, they carry out the vocation Jesus gives to all his followers—to witness to his way amidst the plagues. Continue reading

Weakness in Power

[This is the fourth 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

Revelation 3:1-22—Shalom Mennonite Congregation—January 22, 2012

So, what is the book of Revelation really about? Since it has been two months since my last sermon, you all have probably forgotten….Let me suggest one word that I believe is at the center of the book: Power.

We may read Revelation as a book of conflicts—the Beast vs. the Lamb, the Holy Spirit vs. the False Prophet, Babylon vs. the New Jerusalem. The question is: Who is more powerful? Which is actually the question: What kind of power is more powerful —the power to conquer through domination or the power to conquer through self-giving love? On this question hangs the fate of the earth, perhaps we could say. Certainly, for John the writer of Revelation, on this question hangs the fate of the churches.

The seven messages that make up chapters two and three, the first of Revelation’s many visions, set the book’s agenda. In my last sermon, I talked about “power in weakness”—how the little church in Smyrna, besieged, suffering persecution, with little visible power, actually was praised above all the other churches and proclaimed to be rich indeed.

Today, I will focus on “weakness in power”—how the big church in Laodicea, wealthy, comfortable, lacking in nothing, actually was condemned above all the other churches and proclaimed to be “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Continue reading