Other parts of this series:
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross
In the previous parts of this study I have discussed two of the malevolent characters in Revelation, namely the Beast and the Great Prostitute, representing on the one hand military might and violence and on the other luxury and economic exploitation respectively.
These are powerful critiques on the part of the author. But critique and challenge are not enough for faithful discipleship—we also need to embody an alternative. With this in mind, what positive model does John give us to follow? What hope do we have in the midst of a world of violence and greed?
OUT OF EMPIRE: THE LAMB AS A MODEL THEN AND NOW
We must remember that in Revelation Rome is simply the then-current manifestation of empire! Though John himself was not envisioning future empires, such as those in our time, the images can nonetheless be indirectly applied to them because the phenomenon of empire is, as John knew, an ongoing reality. The challenge for us is to identify empire and “come out” of it.
If we are called to come out of Empire, what does this mean exactly? What models does John give?
I want to suggest that John offers us very strong models, but unfortunately they are often unacknowledged or ignored. One of the most important images is that offered as an alternative to the powerful and monstrous Beast and the seductive and inebriating Prostitute: The Lamb in Revelation 5. Read the rest of this entry
Other parts of this series:
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury
In this, the third part of this study, I will discuss another of Revelation’s major characters, the Great Prostitute of chapter 17-18.
A PRIVILEGED MALE SPEAKING HARSHLY ABOUT A PROSTITUTE?
Now, before I begin, I must follow the wisdom of Howard-Brook and Gwyther and comment on the fact that it is a privileged male from the First World who is about to talk about a prostitute.
Indeed, John’s negative use of the image of a prostitute has, in some circles, been very controversial for its patriarchal and sexist depiction. Feminist biblical scholar Tina Pippin claims the disembodiment of the Prostitute in Revelation 17:16 “points to the ultimate misogynist fantasy!”
Pippin’s point is that these images can be quite dangerous, particularly in the hands of man who can exert power over the bodies of women. Howard-Brook and Gwyther point to the example of the church’s burning of women as “witches” as the consequence of taking these depictions as the “word of God”.
It will not do for a male like myself to simply say that this language was a product of the time. This would be to pass over, and even excuse, the real pain, violence and degradation that many women across the world have felt because of the use and abuse of such passages. I must acknowledge this pain. My only response is to say that the images of women used by Revelation were not produced with the intent to legitimate violence against women. Faithfulness to the text requires that no reading ever contradict this intention.
Ultimately the image of the Prostitute in Revelation, though a product of a different time, is not about human women: as we shall see the image represents a city and an empire.
Revelation 17:1-14 (The Great Prostitute) Read the rest of this entry
Other parts of this series:
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Who/what is the Beast? Read the rest of this entry
Over the weekend I gave a series of Bible studies at the Black Stump Festival entitled Beauty and the Beast: Empire in the Book of Revelation. In these studies I attempted to set out a fairly cursory overview of some themes in the Bible’s most misunderstood book by zooming in on three key characters—the Beast, the Prostitute and the Lamb—and applying the resulting interpretation to empire today.
I have been asked by quite a number of people for a copy of my notes. While my originals would have been quite indecipherable to anyone but me, I have attempted here to provide a rough version of my study in prose form. I don’t intend these to be highly detailed, much less scholarly, since they were given as a Bible study for all ages. Still, I hope they help out some of my readers.
Before getting into the notes I want to recommend a series of posts entitled Reading Revelation that my friend Josh Dowton has started writing over on his blog. Josh is doing his PhD in Revelation, and is far more knowledgeable on the subject than am I. His posts will no doubt be very helpful for those wanting to understand more about Revelation (and it happens to be great timing that he is currently in the middle of writing them!) In truth my many conversations with Josh have been a big influence on my own understanding of Revelation.
My original study was in three parts, but I will split these next posts into four:
Part 1: Revelation in Context Read the rest of this entry
We were each given seven minutes to give a perspective (no problem!), and thus this is only a sketch of some ideas. There was then some Q&A. I was asked to bring a perspective from a) a Christian and, b) the context of TEAR Australia’s work with the global poor. As a rich, white, educated, Western male I did my best to speak on behalf of the bottom 3-or-so-billion…
Law is a mere tool, a political construction, used by humans to achieve a certain social ends. Like any tool, it is subject to the use and abuse of the one wielding it.
Much of the time law can be understood positively – law created by those elected representatives for the good of most, of not all, people. So long as law serves in this capacity it demands our respect. Such laws help society to construct more just, albeit impersonal, structures.
However law does not always work this way. Read the rest of this entry
This week’s announcement of a new marriage vow to be introduced by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney* has caused quite a stir across a range of circles.
The vow, which is expected to be approved at the synod of the Sydney Diocese in October, and which may not in fact comply with federal laws, would require a minister to ask the bride regarding her groom, “Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?” and for her to pledge ”to love and submit” to her husband.
These words are taken unmistakably from Ephesians 5:22:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Complementarians regularly claim that their understanding of this text is in line with its “plain meaning” or “plain sense”. In other words, women submitting to men in marriage (and often in other areas) is the literal meaning of the text.
But the idea of a “plain meaning” of a text, particularly ancient texts far removed from our own chronological and geographical context, is at best questionable. Read the rest of this entry
On Saturday night here in Sydney TEAR Australia hosted the first of its Art of Resistance events. We had a really fantastic set of works, both visual and performance-based, which provided a wonderful witness to the prophetic power of art. (You can download the catalogue of works here.)
Here is a very rough text version of the short reflection I gave during the night’s proceedings:
In talking about art I don’t want to take long, since too much talking can interfere with the power of art. It’s like the story of a dancer who, having completed a dance piece, was asked what it meant. She replied that if she could explain what it meant, she would not have had to dance!
Why are we doing this? Why would an organisation like TEAR, committed to fighting poverty, bother spending time on art?
Because art is important, because art is powerful.
I think Bono said it well: Read the rest of this entry
Blessed are those who are poor, desperately enduring until a time when everything is turned upside down.
Blessed are those who mourn, and who continue to sustain through suffering.
Blessed are those who cannot exert their every whim on the world.
Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for justice; justice is a long, difficult pilgrimage.
Blessed are those who take the time to fit mercy into their busy schedule.
Blessed are those who commit to the long, failure-filled road of forming a pure heart.
Blessed are those who learn a language incomprehensible to the world, the difficult language of peace and reconciliation.
Blessed are those who are persecuted and pay the penalty for doing justice.
In a world of grab-and-go, of addiction to speed, of undelayed gratification… Blessed are the patient, those who see that the long, dry, rocky road of the cross leads to life.
They say the truth will set you free.
But not before first causing much in the way of pain.
Truth is a mirror. We are faced with a vision of how things really are, and we must respond.
We can choose to turn away: “I don’t want to see.” We can choose apathy: “I don’t care.”
We can also choose to stare deeply into the mirror, accepting how ugly things really are: “This is not how I want to be…”
By facing up to the way things are we will be liberated, but not before experiencing all the pain that comes with this confrontation.
Like an AA participant, I must acknowledge what I really am, and what I really am not, before I can be set free. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve been mistakenly called a “liberal” Christian many times (I imagine many of my readers have had this same experience, rightly or wrongly).
One particular experience stands out for me. I remember several years ago visiting a sick friend. I had just attended a conference, and I was sharing my experience, lamenting the singular focus of this particular conference on “church growth”. My friend sought to correct my frustration – “Church growth is great,” he said, “because it means less people are going to Hell.”
No doubt this reasoning is common in Western Protestantism. I responded with a polite understatement: “Well, I think it’s a bit more complex than that.”
The retort came quickly – “Oh, but you’re a liberal.” In other words I am apparently a liberal Christian.
Interesting. So easy to say – “you are a liberal!” This of course begs the question – what exactly is a liberal Christian? Read the rest of this entry