A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #7: Discipleship Is Costly When Resisting the Empire (Final Post)

In my final post on reading the Book of Revelation as Wesleyans utilizing Joel Green's fine book, Reading Scripture as Wesleyans, his sixth and last theme present in the Apocalypse is "Revelation's picture of costly discipleship involves risky, engaged resistance." In John's world representative democracy did not exist. It was not possible to peacefully vote Caesar out of office. There were only two ways to resist or reject the powers-that-be: armed resistance or withdrawal from the society. Green notes that John offers neither of these ways to the seven churches of Asia Minor.
Nowhere within its pages are followers of Christ called to take up arms against the Roman political, economic, and religious powerhouse. Nowhere within its pages are followers of Christ urged to come away from the world into a Christian enclaves or church-compound separate from the world (p. 164).

What John offers is what I call the politics of witness (I do not claim that is how Green understands Revelation), that in its life together the church bears witness to the empire of the ways of God by being the church, by being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, what Green refers to as "ongoing, stubborn allegiance to the kingdom of God" (p. 165). Green identifies the "strange arsenal" of weapons John offers (p. 165):

*"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (2:10)
*"But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death" (12:11)
*"Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus" (14:14)

And what are the armaments in the arsenal?

*"worship of God"
*"bearing verbal, prophetic witness against the powers, even if doing so leads to the loss of one's own life through martyrdom"
*"navigating life according to the compass set by Jesus' own endurance and faithfulness in the face of opposition and death"

The "powerless" politics of the Lamb is the only alternative that God's kingdom citizens have as it faces the "oppressive politics of the beast" (p. 165) It is here that the late John Howard Yoder instructs us:
But the answer given to the question by the series of visions and their hymns [in the Book of Revelation] is not the standard answer. "The lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power!" John is here saying, not as an inscrutable paradox but as a meaningful affirmation, that the cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determines the meaning of history. The key to the obedience of God's people is not their effectiveness, but their patience (13:10). The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God's people and the triumph of God's cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection (The Politics of Jesus).
Joel's last comment on theme six is of critical importance:
Recall that John portrays the dragon--"that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world" (12:9) as exercising its power through Rome. Rome itself is not the evil power. Remembering this, it becomes obvious that the evil one would be more than ready to allow others, even well-meaning followers of Christ, to take up the mantle of the dragon. The dragon welcomes all partners. What appears to be John's passive response to the beast, then, is actually his invitation to a vocation of resistance on the side of the politics of the crucified Christ, against the politics of coercion and violence (my italics, p. 166).
I dare say this vision of God's kingdom not only makes little sense to those who are not its citizens, it remains scandalous for many citizens of God's kingdom today. Perhaps that is why Christians so often default to the spiritual/physical dichotomy in their attempt to understand the kingdom that has come in Jesus. The politics of God's kingdom is too subversive for those who continue to want to play the games of earthly politics, who see force and power and majority rule as more effective than cross and resurrection; who refuse to say it verbally, but acknowledge in practice that the sword is more effective than the cross, and power determines the outcome of history over against the suffering of King Jesus.

But King Jesus comes as king and he comes in his own way, not bearing on his head a jeweled diadem, but wearing a crown of thorns. He comes not wearing a silken robe of royalty, but a piece of cheap purple cloth put on him by his tormentors. And his wardrobe is meant to be worn by his citizens as they bear witness to that divine kingdom in this world, as they are a suffering presence in mission to this world.

I suggest that John's proclamation of kingdom reordered will produce many puzzled looks even among those who sit in the twenty-first century church pews-- perhaps the same kind of look Pontius Pilate had when Jesus proclaimed the nature of his kingdom to the Roman governor two millennia ago (John 18:33-38).

The scandal of the gospel remains a scandal... even for those who embrace it.
Previous Posts:

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #1: Introduction

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #2: Seeing and Responding to the World

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #3: The Worship of God in All of Life

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #4: The Need to Resist Competing Stories

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #5: A Challenge to the Church and a Critique of the World

Reading Revelation as Wesleyans #6: The Idolatry of Wealth

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