>The Relevance of Revelation

>At the risk of sounding like a Dispensationalist, which I am NOT, I thought this post was necessary. Granted I don’t post often since I am entangled in my research 24 hours a day, but every now and then something strikes me as worthy of a break. And it is certainly good to have an occasional outlet.

That said, I have watched in horror as the economic system in the United States has eroded to a serious degree and friends who are generally eternal optimists have begun to throw their cargo overboard (Jon 1:5; Acts 27:18). The greed of CEO’s and their desire for ever increasing “performance bonuses” has helped to create a necessary correction in an extremely inflated stock market. Watching this from the UK and hearing the European countries cast blame at the US (as if they didn’t commit fornication with the Harlot) brings with it mixed emotions. On the one hand, how is it that American’s in general are now viewed as “participants” with the greedy CEO’s with little delineation between the Wall Street Fat Cats and Joe Six-Pack? On the other hand, have we in fact influenced the rest of the world with our capitalistic ideas that promote the unavoidable greed of human-kind? Moreover, how is it that we Christians don’t normally say anything about the greed of our economic system until it gets into trouble? I guess that is what I am doing now! It strikes me as funny sometimes the position the Evangelical Church (I use this with a very broad brush) takes with regard to biblical principles regarding wealth and poverty. Christians are all for an economic system that unavoidably results in oppression and injustice for the lower classes and rewards the greedy with power, success and cultural honor. Moreover, they rejoice and exult in it while it is good and kick it in the teeth when it goes sour.

Now, before I get accused of being a raving liberal (which I’m sure has already been done before) I want to acknowledge my playing the Devil’s Advocate. In addition, I want to make the claim that I think our economic system has proven over the years to be the best (though it looks grim at the moment) and will bounce back as it always has. And I understand that poverty and injustice are unavoidable in any economic system. I just think we should not embrace it so tightly and should proceed with more caution.

I also think that what is happening at the present time is quite normal. There is nothing wrong with our system, in fact, it is proving to be what we claim it to be. It is only correcting itself, which it has done many times before. The problem is with the perception we have formed. Within the last 5 years or so we have developed the idea that our economy will only get better and better with each coming year and will never be bad again. Of course, we see that is not the case. Hopefully it won’t correct itself much more before turning around.

My point, however, is that we as believers should recognize these problems since Scripture clearly spells it out for us. Of course, the Apocalypse is a bit of an uncanny portion of Scripture but one I tend to favor. I don’t see Revelation as prophecy in the sense that John is predicting events that will happen in the future. Since he communicates within the apocalyptic idiom I think it is sensible to view his use of the genre (if I could use the term) as creating a view of the universe as it really is rather than what it is perceived to be by his readers. He portrays the world from an ‘other worldly’ perspective on the one hand, and a ‘this worldly’ perspective on the other. I am of the opinion John is calling his readers to a radical sectarian lifestyle since he mimics many of the rhetorical practices seen among the sectarian documents of the Qumran communities. In doing so, he paints a fairly grim portrait of the Whore Babylon and those associated with her. The use of sobriquets is quite common in the apocalyptic sectarian literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Wicked Priest, Sons of the Pit, wicked, defiled wealth, etc.) as well as the strong connection between idolatry, wealth, and fornication (CD 4:14-19), this also being utilized by John. Again, while I think this language points to historical entities of John’s day and does not refer to future events, it is,nonetheless, extremely relevant to our present situation.

John bemoans Babylon’s greed, her pride in her wealth, and those who have participated with her. He uses traditional language to refer to this participation as committing fornication with her and warns that God’s people are to “come out of her” (18:4) or participate in her sins and her punishment (very strong view of guilt by association). It seems so real to hear the crying of the merchants who look on as this great system of economic excess is destroyed. So much wealth destroyed so soon. This suggests that John sees the only way to avoid the consequences of the great destruction is by avoiding any kind of economic participation at all (the most radical view of wealth in the NT). I’m sure there are many people who will read this that will disagree with my position, which is quite alright. The point I wanted to make was that Scripture does warn us of the consequences of greed and excessive living and directs the message to the churches (3:17; 2:9). I would also add, this is what the writer sees as the ideal and not necessarily the position that the church took and we cannot know to what degree his readers heeded the warning. What we can know is that this message is in the Bible, though in a thoroughly neglected book (except by Dispensationalists who do it more violence than neglect).

It strikes me as strange how the church is always trying to distinguish itself from the world on many moral issues and by its belief in Christ (which it should, though not enough are trying to distinguish, but that is another topic entirely), though when it comes to economics, is quite satisfied to do things EXACTLY like the world. Don’t get me wrong, I know Crown and others have managed to put a few Bible verses with this to make us feel good about treasuring up wealth on the earth. And, no, I won’t go there right now. Anyway, please read through the text I provided. It seems fitting.

“After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. He called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul and hateful bird, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.” Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her as she herself has rendered, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment and grief. Since in her heart she says, ‘I rule as a queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief,’ therefore her plagues will come in a single day—pestilence and mourning and famine—and she will be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas, alas, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.” And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives. “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your dainties and your splendor are lost to you, never to be found again!” The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, “Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!” And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, the great city, where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in one hour she has been laid waste.” Rev 18:1-19



6 thoughts on “>The Relevance of Revelation

  1. >I also meant to clarify that my intentions are not to admonish Christians to abandon the current economic system altogether in some kind of sectarian fashion. I agree we are part of this world and as such should seek to engage our culture and make an impact on our world for the Glory of God. My point was to warn against the dangers of greed and excess, which Christians too often fall prey to when engaging in these arenas. We need some ethical, moral individuals who will work to encourage solid business practices. Though, like Ben Sira’s tongue in cheek comment, I don’t have much confidence in the outcome!! Blessed is the rich person who is found blameless, and who does not go after gold. Who is he, that we may praise him? For he has done wonders among his people. Who has been tested by it and been found perfect? Let it be for him a ground for boasting. Who has had the power to transgress and did not transgress, and to do evil and did not do it? Sir 31:8-10

    Posted by Mark Mathews | October 15, 2008, 1:44 pm
  2. >Steven,You are correct, this statement is an over-generalization of all Christians and that was an unfair assessment, though I am sure you can see how easy it is to draw such conclusions. Either way, it was not fair for me to make that broad statement. It is good to hear a dissenting voice in the crowd. I must say, however, those who would denounce our current system as it is in Evangelical circles are either an extreme minority or unwilling to speak loudly. Thank you very much for speaking up and thank you for your comments. BTW, I see you live in Louisville. I lived there for 5 years and in Lexington for 5 years. My wife’s family is from Harrodsburg! Are you a Kentucky native or just there for seminary?Mark

    Posted by Mark Mathews | October 15, 2008, 1:35 pm
  3. >”Christians are all for an economic system that unavoidably results in oppression and injustice for the lower classes and rewards the greedy with power, success and cultural honor. Moreover, they rejoice and exult in it while it is good and kick it in the teeth when it goes sour.” Hey Mark,Generally a good post, but I think I have to disagree with the quote form your post, above. Not all Christians are willing participants in our world’s economic whoring, and many Christians have called for change while times are “good.” They just don’t seem to be listened to by anyone else until things are “bad.” It was a similar situation on 9/11. Suddenly everyone was a Christian and a “praying person,” They all thought the end times were coming. A few months later, the false humility was gone. There must be a major, internal, overhall of corporate ethics for trust to be restored. We Christians should participate in that, because we are a part of this world (and because we seek to glorify God in all areas). We know that sinful desires and non-Christians will eventually take things over again, but we should not abandon the financial world to unrestrained sin. Lastly, our entire financial substructure is built on interest and charging usage fees. This should already be a challenge for both Jews and Christians.With that said, thanks for your many intriguing and helpful posts!

    Posted by Steven Douglas | October 15, 2008, 12:58 pm
  4. >Great post Mark. Incidentally, the writer of Hebrews makes the same “this worldy”/”other worldly” distinction, particularly in chapter 12.

    Posted by Dwight Watson | October 13, 2008, 5:14 pm
  5. >I also enjoyed the post, Mark. And it dawned on me (in the sense that dawn has returned, or I have remembered) that the biblical Revelation is probably the reason that St. Thomas regards revelation not as a category that encompasses all human experience but rather those moments when God by grace grants a super-natural (i.e. beyond a human being’s natural capacities) look into divine reality.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | October 13, 2008, 12:48 pm
  6. >Good exhortations. Thanks Mark!

    Posted by Jeff Wright | October 13, 2008, 1:58 am

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