Lesson 10: The Religious Implications of Revelation

In the last lesson, I suggested John’s take on the relationship between church and state in his time offers us some help in our own situation. Many of us are seeking new approaches after losing confidence in the two-kingdom theory. The prophet also confronted a government that tried to silence or control the voice of the Church, and his response provides some guidance for us.

Revelation calls on the Church to unfailingly live according to God’s will in the midst of corruption. That means unveiling evil by proclaiming God’s Word just as Jesus did, maintaining a relationship with the Father through prayer just like Jesus did, and being ready to sacrifice your life for the Gospel just like Jesus did. There can be no compromise, because the Christian community is the first fruits of the peaceable kingdom and just society that God has prepared for his people. The only comfort John offered was the promise that the time was very short before Rome destroyed itself and the Church prevailed.

From the Prophet’s perspective, the church’s primary role is to invite others to come to the living waters of baptism that are the entrance to the only community that can provide eternal peace and justice. That means participating in prayers that are mixed with divine action to bring the world’s redemption. It entails worshiping God alone, not the emperor or, for that matter, anyone or anything else. After John completes his vision of Rome’s fall, he inserts two incidents where he kneels before the angel messenger and is told to get off his knees because only Christ is worthy of worship.

John also pictures the Church standing against the satanic beastliness of violence and prostitution of greed. This means rejecting violence of any sort. Just as Christ conquered by his sacrificial death and through all eternity only wields the sword of truth, so too his followers operate by love not power.

This suggests that the contemporary Church should be constantly addressing the violence of our society. She should be raising her voice against turning more and more to the use of the military rather than diplomacy to settle international conflicts, participating in movements countering physical aggression against any group, and even discussing to what extent if any Christians can participate in the military.

It naturally follows that if the church is founded on sacrificial suffering, it should be practicing nonviolence. That entails living gently, as Pope Francis counsels, as well ministering to all who suffer in our society. John reminds us this does pertain to all when he depicts salvation including multitudes of people from every nation. This ministry certainly moves beyond simply offering comfort to challenging societal structures that take advantage of the poor.

John also calls on the Church to counter economic greed. The Word of God continually speaks against taking advantage of the poor. Finding ourselves living in a society that runs on greed, we have to ask how much we can participate in practices that lure and entrap the vulnerable, such as credit card debt and aggressive advertising. The Word forces Christians to expose the greed behind making profit the only motive in economic transactions. And again, Christians have to ask if there are some vocations in which they cannot participate without sharing in their corruption.

Those who read Revelation as a call to prepare for the next life without any implications for the present one miss the crux of John’s message. His fervent urgency is rooted in his awareness that violence and greed are self-defeating. He believes humanity’s hope lies in the self-sacrificing love that characterizes the true church.

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