Biblical Apocalyptic: What is Being Revealed?

Ted Grimsrud
Compassionate Eschatology Conference—September 26, 2008

I really like the name of this conference, “compassionate eschatology.” 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.  It certainly has gotten my attention.

This is my big question: 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.

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.

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.  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”?  I expect various ones of us here would answer this somewhat differently.  A central proposal I want to suggest is 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.  This is what I will try to illustrate today in looking at the book of Revelation and tomorrow in a wider consideration of other biblical materials.

When I take up the issues of eschatology and biblical apocalyptic, I do so from the standpoint of my commitment to the gospel of peace, and more particularly in trying to construct Christian theology that serves this commitment.  I believe that the three main sources for theology—the Bible, tradition, and present experience—all give us mixed signals concerning the gospel of peace and its applicability for our world (which, for example, is why so many Christians in this country support American military actions).  For the clarity we need, I think it’s important to add a fourth source for constructive theology: hope or vision.  Where do we want to go?  What do we hope for?  And, then, how might we interpret the Bible, tradition, and present experience in ways that serve this hope?  That is what I propose to do with the book of Revelation.

My paper will pursue the following thesis concerning biblical apocalyptic in service of a compassionate eschatology: What biblical apocalyptic reveals may be seen especially in the formation of communities of faith called to resist imperial hegemony.  The power that matters most in biblical apocalyptic is the power of love that sustains these communities in the face of empire.

The fifth chapter of the book of Revelation begins with a poignant image.  The seer, John of Patmos, writes in chapter four of an awe-inspiring vision of the throne of God.  Surrounding the throne in John’s vision, the entire animate creation worships the one on the throne.  In chapter five, though, a shadow falls.  John sees a scroll in the right hand of the one on the throne.  From how John describes this scroll (“written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals,” 5:1) and how he regards it (begging for it to be opened), we get the impression that what he’s describing should be understood as, in some sense, history fulfilled, the completion of the project initiated in Genesis one.

The poignancy enters when John sees the scroll but is overcome with grief at the thought that it may not be opened.  Who can open the scroll?  “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it” (5:3).

This account provides us with a metaphor that speaks to much of human history.  How can history be redeemed?  How can the human project be redirected from brokenness and alienation toward healing and wholeness?

Human beings tend to think of power in terms of the ability to control events, to force others to do one’s will even if that means coercing them.  Political power is often linked with the ability to use violence.  We are most likely to answer the question of how to open the scroll by asserting the need to “force” it open, to open it by our firepower.

In Revelation five, John, like most people, seems to assume the scroll will be opened by firepower, power as domination. He weeps bitterly when he thinks no one can be found to open the scroll.  However, John then hears an audacious claim.  One of the elders immediately comforts John.  “Do not weep.  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:4).  These images evoke a mighty warrior king (or Messiah) who will open the scroll with the use of force.

John’s vision continues, though, with a shockingly different claim.  He may have heard the promise of a warrior king to open the scroll, but he actually sees something altogether different.  “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne.  When he had taken the scroll, the four creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb” (5:6-8).

According to the next few verses, the creatures and elders, and ultimately the rest of creation, worship this Lamb as the one who does have the power to open the scroll.

How does this claim for the power of the Lamb correspond with the claim that power-as-domination is the only way to address the huge problems of human history?

To answer this question, we need to reflect on the message of the biblical materials known as “apocalyptic.”  If we focus primarily on the biblical language of “revelation” (from the Greek apokalypsis) and consider this language in the context of the rest of the Christian Bible, we will find that power according to biblical apocalyptic does cohere with John’s vision in Revelation five.  The power that biblical apocalyptic understands to be decisive in human history, the power that will “open the scroll,” is the power of suffering love and communal faithfulness, not the power of weapons of war and coercive force.

The term “apocalyptic” as a label for a genre of ancient Jewish and Christian literature comes from the first several words in Revelation: “The revelation (apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ.”  The linking together of apocalypse with Jesus Christ provides our first essential clue for understanding power in biblical apocalyptic.  The power of biblical apocalyptic is the power of Jesus Christ.

Most writing on biblical apocalyptic in general, and Revelation more particularly, does not generally self-consciously link “apocalyptic” with “Jesus Christ.”  We don’t allow “Jesus Christ” to shape our understanding of “apocalyptic.”  General approaches to apocalyptic may be divided into three general categories, each of which by and large shares with the others the same general sense of what “apocalyptic” conveys.

To think apocalyptically, it is said, is to think in terms of visions of fire from the sky that judge and destroy.  The “apocalypse” is a time of catastrophe, of dramatic change, the end of what is and the birth of something drastically new and different.  Apocalyptic power, it is implied, is top-down power, the power of might and coercion, vengeance and judgment.  As a consequence of God’s exercise of such power, every knee is forced to bow before God – either in joyful submission or in defeated submission.

The three general responses to apocalyptic (all understanding apocalyptic in roughly the same way) include (1) avoidance, (2) historical literalism, and (3) futuristic literalism.

1. Avoidance.  Many Christians have simply ignored apocalyptic.  It has been seen as the literature of extremists.  Many in the early church disputed the acceptance of Revelation into the canon.  Much later, John Calvin wrote commentaries on the entire Bible, except Revelation.  Martin Luther also considered Revelation to be sub-Christian and taught its avoidance.

More recently, many “mainstream” Christians continue to avoid Revelation, willingly giving over the discussion of this part of the Bible to the prophecy purveyors.  Revelation is seen as a book of fear and violent judgment that reinforces many of the most uncivilized tendencies of religious people – and thus is best avoided as much as possible.

2. Historical literalism.  Beginning with the publication of Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), the consensus view for most biblical scholars in the historical-critical vein has been to accept the apocalypse-as-world-catastrophe-and-divine-judgment view as being what Jesus, Revelation, and the rest of earliest Christianity literally expected to come very soon.  However, obviously they were wrong.  Since Schweitzer, the question of how thoroughly this apocalyptic view should be applied to early Christian thought has been vigorously debated.  But the general sense that biblical apocalyptic concerns violent power and judgment has not been contested.

Neither the avoiders nor the historical literalists themselves see biblical apocalyptic as valid for our present.  The third approach shares a similar sense of what biblical apocalyptic’s perspective was, but this view affirms that this perspective does remain valid for today.

3. Future literalism.  Throughout the past 2,000 years, at least a few Christians have understood the visions of biblical apocalyptic writings, especially Revelation, to be predictive of actual future events in human history.  This future prophetic view found powerful expression in the writings of a 19th-century British reformer named John Darby who formulated a thorough system of interpretation called “dispensationalism” that has shaped countless perspectives on biblical apocalyptic.

In recent years, dispensational theology has gained wide currency through the phenomenally popular science fiction novels in the Left Behind series.  These books articulate a theology of future judgment, of apocalypse as destruction and recreation, vengeance and reward.  Though presented as fiction, in many ways the vision of these books is believed to be an articulation of the kinds of things that their writers (and many of their millions of readers) expect literally to happen.

In all these three approaches, then, the assumption that biblical apocalyptic understands power in terms of force, coercion, and top-down impositions of God’s will has remained unchallenged.  However, turning back to Revelation chapter five, we may ask whether these assumptions about power accurately capture the sense of what John the Seer believes allows the Lamb to open the scroll.  And, in light of our long history of wars and rumors of wars, we must ask whether all our redemptive violence might not be utterly counter-productive in relation to the universal human longing for the scroll to be opened, brokenness to be healed, and wrong-doing to be dealt with in ways that bring genuine redemption.

Clearly, the book of Revelation does mean to convey a sense of crisis.  It envisions impending catastrophe, along with a polarized view of reality.  We see clearly separated forces of good and evil at war with one another and demanding absolute allegiance.  Life and death themselves are at stake in relation to the choice of people’s loyalties.  However, we need to pay close attention to the way power is construed in the book in order to have a better sense of how John envisions the scroll to be opened and the conflicts to be resolved.

What characterizes “apocalyptic power” according to the book of Revelation?  Let’s look at four themes.

(1) First, the book’s self-designation as a “revelation of Jesus Christ” reminds readers of the gospel message of Jesus’ persevering, self-giving, transforming love is the truly creative power of the universe—in direct contrast with the type of power characteristic of the Roman Empire and all other human empires (signified in Revelation as the “Beast”).

This contrast reflects Revelation’s agenda.  The “revelation” of Jesus correspondingly reveals the nature of the Empire that demanded Christians’ loyalty.  John’s visions disillusion.  To see through eyes of faith in the Lamb and his way undercuts the Beast’s hegemonic demands.  The power to perceive the character of the true God and the contrast between that character and the true nature of the Beast stands at the heart of biblical apocalyptic.

The story of Jesus continually portrayed Jesus’ message as a challenge to sight.  See the world and your place in it in light of Jesus’ good news of God’s love.  In the context of the rest of the New Testament, John’s attempt to convey the message of Jesus as a “revelation” mostly underscores how “correct sight” was at the heart of the Christian message.

Revelation’s urgency stems from John’s concern about the perennial struggle of people of the promise to worship God aright and not trust in idols.  Just as the first Hebrews faced the choice between believing in the inevitability of the domination of Pharaoh’s empire or trusting in Yahweh, just as later Israelites faced the choice between the Babylonian and then Persian empires and Yahweh, just as Jesus challenged his followers to choose between God and Caesar, for John of Patmos, a key choice his audience faced was who would be the object of their trust – the God of the Bible or almighty Rome.  To respond appropriately to this challenge, John’s audience (he believed) needed to have clear sight.  They needed a reminder – a revelation of the true message of Jesus.

The book of Revelation came into being in the late first century.  Though traditionally, Revelation has been seen as set in the context of intense persecution from the Roman Empire, more recent scholarship has tended toward understanding overt, widespread persecution not to be the likely environment.  Certainly, the book indicates spots of persecution among the seven churches, though only one direct case of martyrdom is mentioned.  However, among the seven churches, John fears the conformity of his fellow Christians to the surrounding culture much more than immediate persecution.

John seems mostly concerned with emphasizing choices between following the way of Jesus and seeking to fit in comfortably with the imperial Asia Minor environment.  The vehemence of John’s rhetoric and the drama of his visions challenge the imaginations of his readers to recognize the deep-seated dangers of making wrong choices more than speak to obvious and extreme cases of overt persecution.

The power of the Roman Empire stemmed from its control over cultural religious practices that reinforced the popular sense of the Empire’s status as blessed by the gods, inevitable, and all dominating.  Dissent from these practices would lead to the threat of sanctions, including overt violence.  These cultural religious practices lent legitimacy to the entire socio-historical arrangement of the first-century Roman Empire.  The empire had a strong presence in each of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation two and three; several of these cities, in particular, were centers of imperial religion, hosting major temples.

The key “revelation” in John’s text is not actually about particular events that literally are to come.  The key “revelation” has to do with perceiving the importance of this fundamental choice of loyalties.

Why would John have been so certain that Rome’s vision for human life was incompatible with Jesus’?  Obviously, many of the achievements of the Empire served human well-being—the cessation of the many civil wars and other violent conflicts that had plagued the Mediterranean world, the development of secure transportation routes that allowed commerce to flourish, the development of a common language that allowed people from all over the Empire fruitfully to share life together.

Yet, in John’s view, the order of the Empire rested on a fundamental core of violence and injustice (the word for “injustice,” adikia, is also translated “wickedness”).  John feared that Christians’ acceptance of the Empire’s construal of reality would actually separate them from the God of Jesus.  He refers to the Empire’s dependence upon violence and coercion as its bases for authority.  He understood the expansion of the practices of commerce to be resting on oppression, even trafficking in the exploitation of human souls (18:13).  The Empire ultimately links with the spiritual reality of the powers of evil that in some sense held responsibility for all the murders of authentic prophets and saints throughout the years (18:24).

So, the book of Revelation presents “apocalyptic power” as directly linked with the revelation of Jesus Christ, whose way stands in direct contrast with the empire’s way.

(2) The second characteristic of power according to biblical apocalyptic may be seen in the fruit of God’s “apocalyptic intervention.”  This intervention does not turn out to lead to the catastrophic end of human history nor the massive and violent punishment of God’s human enemies.  Rather, God intervenes to create and sustain faith communities that stand over against Rome—in this world, not in some “after-world.”

John seeks to foster a sense of crisis, presenting visions and proclamations of impending traumas and great conflicts.  Chapter 12 conveys first a war in heaven.  “Michael and his angels [fighting] against the dragon” (12:7).  Then the dragon is thrown out of heaven and takes the war to earth, making war on the children of the woman, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (12:17).  The surrounding chapters contain many more images of conflict, trauma, intense struggle, and suffering.

From these visions, we get Revelation’s stereotypical “apocalyptic” sense of unimaginable and world-ending catastrophes.  However, when we read more carefully, we will see something else actually going on. These visions do not mean to predict literal events.  Rather, they clarify the importance of the churches for God’s purposes in the world, and they push those churches to embody a genuine social alternative to Rome.

Chapter five has already made clear (as, indeed, have comments from the very beginning of the book) that there will in reality be no future war.  The decisive battle is past.  When the Lamb was slain and rose back to life, the victory was won.

The pictures of crises and catastrophes serve a different kind of purpose from predicting some future, wide-open battle.  Rather, they portray the continual struggle to perceive that the Lamb’s victory is genuine and worth shaping Christians’ lives around.  They contrast the Lamb’s claims with the competing claims from Babylon concerning the nature of power and the outcome of history.

These visions, this sense of crisis, intend at their heart to empower the community of the followers of the Lamb to stay together and resist the powers of Babylon.  God’s “apocalyptic” intervention to bring salvation through the Lamb’s faithfulness creates and sustains communities of resistance.  God’s apocalypse (revelation) empowers these communities for the long haul of following the Lamb wherever he goes and living as faithful witnesses who “conquer” through suffering love rather than violence and the sword.

The revelation of Jesus Christ that constitutes this book most of all reveals that those who worship the Lamb embody within their common life and faithful witness the same kind of power that enables the Lamb to open the scroll.  “Apocalyptic power” finds its paradigmatic expression in the formation and sustenance of these communities.  In making this point, Revelation (as I will argue tomorrow) continues in the biblical apocalyptic tradition as seen in Paul’s writing, Jesus’ proclamation, the visions of Daniel, the prophesies we call Second Isaiah, and the exodus story: God intervenes in the midst of catastrophic events most fundamentally by creating and sustaining communities of resistance.

So, God’s apocalyptic intervention bears fruit: communities of resistance empowered to follow the Lamb wherever he goes and witness to the ultimacy of suffering love as the fundamental rule of the universe.

(3) A third characteristic of “apocalyptic power” may be seen in how it provides sustenance for those communities of resistance.  John writes to encourage the actual communities he describes in chapters two and three.  And his message is not simply, hang on tight for a short time, the end of history will soon come.  Rather, John encourages his readers to establish ways of being that will sustain them over time.

We may list ways Revelation emphasizes the sustenance of the community of faith:

a. The book begins with the affirmation that Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5).  Given what follows in the book, this affirmation instills in John’s readers a sense that right now the churches’ “ruler” is supreme over all other rulers.  John goes on to emphasize the present fruit of Jesus’ work: he “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and makes us to be a kingdom (or, ‘empire’), priests serving his God and Father” (1:6).  It is through the common life of the followers of Jesus in their faith communities that they share in Jesus’ rule, exist as an alternative “kingdom” to the Roman Empire, and freely serve God.

b. Later in the first chapter, John relays a vision of Jesus (“one like the Son of Man,” 1:12) walking among the “seven golden lampstands,” that is, among the churches (1:20).  This vision encourages John’s readers with Jesus’ presence among them as “the living one” who has come back from the dead and has “the keys of Death and Hades” (1:19).

c. The part of Revelation that most clearly underscores John’s use of apocalyptic exhortation as a means to sustain the life of the communities of faith over time (rather than prepare them for an immediate end of history) may be found in chapters two and three.  These seven messages anchor the book as a whole in the world of actual congregations facing actual challenges to faithfulness.

d. The vision of the slain Lamb standing victorious as a present reality based on past action in chapter five underscores that the congregations are challenged to walk faithfully with the one who already holds the outcome of history.  This sense of the definitive triumph of the Lamb serves to encourage the congregations that their embodied suffering love coheres completely with the true power of the one seated on the throne who creates, sustains and brings to fulfillment.

e. One of the more ambiguous visions in Revelation comes right after the vision of the triumphant Lamb.  Chapter six begins, “then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals…”  Then follows the first of several series of catastrophic plagues.  Conquering, war, famine, martyrdom, and the like erupt as the seals are broken.

We may understand the vision of the Lamb opening the scrolls as a statement of how even the terrible events of human history are not able to overcome the history-transforming work of the suffering love of the Lamb.  The portrayal of the Lamb revealing the contents of the scroll, a revelation that ultimately unveils New Jerusalem as the destination of all who allow themselves to be transformed by the Lamb’s love (including “kings of the earth,” 21:24), means to encourage the congregations with the sense that the traumas they experience and see in the course of human history do not mean that God’s transforming work is null and void.

f. Throughout the book John slips in visions of multitudes of the Lamb’s followers worshiping, offering thanksgiving, reiterating their commitments to the Lamb and the one seated on the throne as the true sovereigns of human existence.  These worship visions model for believers the spirit of worship that should continue to characterize their common life.  They also remind believers that no matter how overwhelming the plagues may seem, the God of Jesus remains the true God and worthy of their trust.

g. Chapter thirteen gives striking visions of the immense power of the Beast.  But rather than intimidating the believer, these visions must be read in the context of the entire book and the triumphant Lamb.  When read thus, their role is not so much to fill the reader with fear as to help the reader discern the true character of the Empire.  With such discernment, John’s readers will be empowered to clarify their loyalties and resist the tendency to accept the Empire’s claims to be their true “benefactor.”

h. The flip-side to the visions linking Rome with the Beast, the Great Harlot, and Babylon the Great, may be seen in the celebration of the marriage of the Lamb in chapter 19.  The “bride” is none other than the community of faith John has been exhorting throughout this book.  The possibility of joining this celebration follows from the bride having “made herself ready” (19:7) through her faithfulness.

i. A final example of how Revelation seeks to sustain the life of the community of faith over the long haul may be seen in the final contrast of the book – between two very different communities, Babylon and New Jerusalem.

John begins chapter 17, the vision of Babylon’s downfall, with these words: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore….” (17:1).  Then, in chapter twenty one, the vision of New Jerusalem’s emergence is introduced with the same words: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls …came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9).

The book reaches its conclusion with the contrast being drawn.  In which of these two communities will you all find your home?  The answer to this question is not simply a matter of intellectual assent; one’s citizenship follows from the shape of one’s entire life.

So, the apocalyptic power of Revelation serves the purpose of encouraging the faith communities—God will sustain you.

(4) The fourth characteristic of apocalyptic power may be seen in the contrast between the two ways of conquering portrayed in the book.  These two ways of conquering characterize the difference between citizens of Babylon and citizens of the New Jerusalem.  John does see a spiritual struggle defining human existence.  It is either “conquer” or “be conquered.”  But, for those who would be conquerors, the question centers on the nature of the conquering.

The ones in the messages to the churches in chapters two and three who will receive rewards are labeled “conquerors.”  Most of the rewards in those messages anticipate later visions in the book, underscoring the unity between the exhortations to the actual faith communities and the visions that follow.  That is, the purpose of the later visions serves the exhortations to the actual communities.

What kind of power gains one a reward as a “conqueror”?  Chapters two and three provide hints.  Hold fast to love as definitive of your life as God’s people (2:4).  Listen to Jesus (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7,14).  Remain faithful unto death in the face of persecution (2:10).  Reject the teachings of those who advocate giving loyalty to the Beast (2:14; 2:20).  Actively commit yourselves to following the Lamb (3:10).  Chapter five makes the basis for conquering absolutely clear.  It is the Lamb’s persevering, suffering love, validated by God’s bringing him back to life.

In contrast, the Dragon, Beast, and their allies “conquer” with violence, force, deception, intimidation, and domination.  This kind of conquering seems overwhelming, “who can stand against it?”  Even as John asks that question, though, he supplies the answer.  Those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4) conquer, celebrating their victory with worship of the true God even amidst their trials and tribulations.

The ultimate “battle” scene underscores the nature of the conquering of the Lamb and how that contrasts with the power of the Beast that seeks to conquer through force.  Chapter nineteen provides the denouement to the scene set up at the end of chapter sixteen.  The allies of the Dragon gather “for battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (16:16).  However, in chapter nineteen, when this “battle” is described, it turns out not to be a battle at all.

The rider on the white horse comes forth for battle, the imagery clearly identifying this rider as Jesus.  Crucially, prior to any engagement with the enemy, we read of the rider being “clothed in a robe dipped in blood” (19:13).  The rider simply captures the Beast and false prophets and dispatches them to the lake of fire without an actual battle.  The “robe dipped in blood” alludes to Jesus’ victory through suffering love, the only victory needed.

The two kinds of power for conquering in Revelation correspond with the two cities, the two objects of loyalty vying for adherents.  The Beast’s power for conquering, characteristic of Babylon, rests on violence and domination, top-down power that enforces its will by crushing its enemies.  The Lamb’s power for conquering, characteristic of New Jerusalem, rests on resistance through love and adherence to peace that seeks to convert its human enemies.  According to Revelation twenty-one, the very “kings of the earth” who join the Beast in facing the white rider at the great “battle” end up bringing their glory into New Jerusalem, as transformed people.

John does not intend his readers to be passive observers of God’s transformative work in creation.  In fact, he portrays God’s expectations of them as being quite rigorous and demanding.  Follow the Lamb wherever he goes.  Live in the Lamb’s empire right now; his type of power is authentic.  Turn from the trust in idols and idolatrous ways of exercising power.  And in doing so, you will actually play a crucial role in God’s work of transforming the nations.

John’s visions, in their imaginative power, reveal both that the establishment of the promised transformed heaven and transformed earth will be God’s work without obvious cause and effect in relation to human efforts and that human faithfulness nonetheless plays a crucial role in this transformation.  That is, we can not say precisely how following the Lamb will turn the Beast’s domain into the Lamb’s, but we are shown that such following is important.

The fruit of faithfulness in following the Lamb is genuine “victory.”  This victory contributes both to the destruction of the personified powers of evil (the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet) and, correspondingly, to the healing of the nations and the transformation of the kings of the earth.  The power of apocalyptic in Revelation is much, much bigger than simply the power to destroy or coerce.  It is actually the power to heal.

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