The book of Revelation also known as the Apocalypse of John can be rather hard to understand. It is, after all, apocalyptic literature – a form a bit ‘interesting’ in the Old Testament prophets and every bit as ‘interesting’ here. I don’t usually worry too much about the book, or try too hard to make sense of it. This isn’t to say it should be ignored or bypassed (I’ve listened to it several times through over the last couple of years along with the rest of the Bible) – just to say that the appropriate interpretation seems somewhat obscure for the most part. But it is a book worth some consideration, so I turned with interest to the chapter in Let Creation Rejoice by Jonathan Moo and Robert White where they look at John’s vision.
The view that shapes their interpretation is that the vision of John describes a redemption and renewal of creation rather than a destruction of all things. This vision starts with the song of praise to the Lion of Judah, the root of David, the Lamb who was slain and is able to open the scroll.
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (5:9-10)
Here as elsewhere in John’s vision, Christ’s atonement does not serve to open “escape hatches” for the redeemed to ascend to heaven; rather Christ ransoms for God a people, a “priestly kingdom,” who will reign on earth. … In the light of the death, life, resurrection, and future return of the incarnate Christ, readers of John’s Apocalypse are enabled to see this world through new eyes and to go about the work to which God calls us: to be here, As Wendell Berry’s poem at the head of this chapter suggests,
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not. (p. 147)
The book of Revelation is a book of hope, and John’s vision with its upheaval, chaos, and judgment is “the inevitable consequences of the encounter between God’s righteousness and the forces of evil and injustice.” The victory has been won, but we await the final restoration.
Babylon the Great. Chapter 17-19 of the Apocalypse deals with the fall of Babylon the Great – that is Rome. Rome was the empire, it was the power of this world for of John and his original audience. The references within the book are many and they wouldn’t be missed by the ancient reader. It was Rome who destroyed the temple leading to the death of thousands. It was the Roman emperor who was venerated and worshiped as a god. It was Domitian who referred to himself as “our Lord and God.” The prostitute Babylon the Great of chapter 17 rides a beast with seven heads … which are seven hills. Rome was built on seven hills … the connection isn’t explicit, but it isn’t actually hidden either.