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)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Lectionary Reflection on Revelation 7:9-17

Revelation 7:9-17

Many of us are familiar with the old fable about the emperor and his new clothes:
Once upon a time there was an emperor whose only interest in life was to dress up in fashionable clothes. He kept changing his clothes so that people could admire him.
Once, two thieves decided to teach him a lesson.

 They told the emperor that they were very fine tailors and could sew a lovely new suit for him. It would be so light and fine that it would seem invisible. Only those who were stupid could not see it. The emperor was very excited and ordered the new tailors to begin their work. 
One day, the king asked the prime minister to go and see how much work the two tailors had done. He saw the two men moving scissors in the air but he could see no cloth! He kept quiet for fear of being called stupid and ignorant. Instead, he praised the fabric and said it was marvelous. 
Finally, the emperor's new dress was ready. He could see nothing but he too did not want to appear stupid. He admired the dress and thanked the tailors. He was asked to parade down the street for all to see the new clothes. The emperor paraded down the main street. The people could only see a naked emperor but no one admitted it for fear of being thought stupid. 
They foolishly praised the invisible fabric and the colours. The emperor was very happy. 
At last, a child cried out, "The emperor is naked!" 
Soon everyone began to murmur the same thing and very soon all shouted, "The emperor is not wearing anything!" 
The emperor realised the truth but preferred to believe that his people were stupid.(1)

In Revelation 7, the Roman emperor Domitian (reign 81-96 AD) and his mighty Roman empire are revealed as having no clothes. Rome promised its people safety and security and yes, even salvation in exchange for unwavering loyalty. Some have suggested that the cult of emperor worship was enhanced under Domitian's reign,(2) and he certainly was more overt about his own divinity-- his wife was referred to as the "mother of the divine Caesar." Tom Wright notes,
Caesar, by being a servant of the state, had provided justice and peace to the whole world. He was therefore to be hailed as Lord, and trusted as Savior. This is the world in which Paul [and the other New Testament writers] announced that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was Savior and Lord.
In some places the Christians were seen as a threat to Rome's brand of justice and peace; and in its promise to continue to provide such security there were places where Christians were persecuted, and to a lesser or greater extent John's seven churches were experiencing the harsh end of Rome's justice.

But John's vision strips the empire of its almighty imperial clothing:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!' (7:9-10).
Caesar is no doubt powerful in human terms; he does have the power of life and death, but ultimately victory has not and will not be achieved by the Roman sword, but by the Christian cross. This great multitude standing before the throne of heaven, these who have been through times of earthly tribulation, have conquered and been given white robes of purity and victory because the Lamb that was slain has revealed the empires pretensions for what they truly are-- false. Rome could no more stop the spread of the subversive claims of the gospel any more than could Communist Russia, China, and Cuba, or Isis in Iraq and Syria. This multitude that represents the church throughout history from every place and region and culture and earthly family is promised victory not through violence and death, but through cross and resurrection.

This not only gives Christians comfort throughout all the centuries of history, but it also gives them the courage needed to continue to live faithfully no matter what the circumstances may be. Two of the great themes present throughout the last book of the Bible are patience and perseverance.--patience that God is working out his promises in God's time and to persevere in the faith because God can be trusted and the mission of God's people will continue no matter what the circumstance may be... and that because of King Jesus, King Domitian has no clothes, even though his own subjects refuse to see it and Domitian refuses to admit it. As the great theologian Karl Barth observed, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus the powers have been defeated even though they still make mischief and because of this Jesus' people must fear them no more.

Jesus is Lord; Caesar is not... and no emperor, no prime minister, nor president will ever be.

Jesus shall reign forever and ever.

(1)"The Emperor’s New Clothes," http://shortstoriesshort.com/story/the-emperors-new-clothes/

(2) Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6-7.

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