16 – Deconstructing Empire, Reconstructing Community (Revelation 19)

Home Learning Hub Reflections in Revelations 16 – Deconstructing Empire, Reconstructing Community (Revelation 19)

Revelation 19 begins with a praise to God for his two-fold justice. First, he carries out his promise to renew the creation and second, he avenges the weak of the earth. Here, we see the concept even more clearly. This is not a gloat over our enemies, but a recognition of the truth that violence and oppression will not succeed. The land will “spew such out.” (Leviticus 18:28, in Leviticus the subject was cultic purity, but this represents sustained creational community, where we look after those most vulnerable.)

Creation is set up in such a way, by God’s wisdom, that violence, greed and oppression are eventually self-defeating. Any nation that tries to live by these things will perish, as Jesus noted. (Matthew 25:41-46) Jesus took this concept from passages like Ezekiel 34:18, “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” This is another lesson from Revelation that is crucial, regarding how we treat others. We prosper from global resources, while we devastate what is left in other lands by creating division, wars and environmental degradation.

This is a lesson for us, not for our enemies. Today, if is often ourselves that worship God in the exclusion of much of the world behind walls and trade barriers. The justice of God is that we include the broken world in our lives. It is his mercy.

“Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

This is the fall of Jerusalem. It is a quote from Isaiah 34:10, where Isaiah was speaking about the fall of Edom. As stated before, if you pass by the land of Edom today, you don’t see smoke still rising. In Isaiah, the statement meant that those judged in Edom’s day would be destroyed forever. The destruction had eternal consequences. It was not a phrase stating that those killed would suffer eternal conscience torment in an afterlife. These phrases in Revelation should be understood biblically, not according to pagan ideas about the afterlife.

Again, the people praise God, for his righteousness, for fulfilling his promises to fill the earth with his glory and goodness, for the fact that evil is defeated and the meek inherit the earth. I stress again, this isn’t a glory over those who fall, but a call for us to follow the meekness of Christ, because this is the wisdom that inherits all things. This directs us to the Sermon on the Mount, where it is those who love their enemies, and do good for to those who persecute us, who inherit the world, not those who “return fire for fire.”

Then comes the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is the victory over the harlot. With the decease of the unfaithful bride, under the law of Moses, the groom is free to marry again. The virgin of Revelation now becomes the bride of Christ. This doesn’t mean we weren’t already the bride at Christ’s resurrection, but in the story format of Revelation, the wedding is celebrated at the fall of the harlot. God’s bride is made up of the faithful, whoever we are, of any nation, and none of us, even today, have God on any other basis, or can boast of any ethnic, family, cultural, religious or national heritage.

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.”

The wonderful paradox of the parable of the Pounds. Herod goes to Rome to receive a kingdom. While he is away, Herod appoints people to govern his oppressive estate. A faction of leaders in Jerusalem send a message, that they don’t want Herod to rule over them. When Herod returns, he slaughters these people and establishes his rule over the land. This was a brutal king who built his reign through violence and the blood of his enemies.

Jesus is the whistle blower, the stone that was rejected, the man without a wedding garment, taken out of the city and killed. But the paradox is, that what Jerusalem did to others, was now being done to themselves. They said Christ would not rule over them, but his kingdom is established, not by his violence, but by the violence of his enemies. They destroy themselves and their divided kingdom falls. By pacifism, by the weapons of self-giving, the light exposes and defeats darkness, and his followers do war the same way.

Passages like this in Revelation, follow the kind of poetic narrative we see in Paul. There is a kind of sarcasm, just as we saw with the call to rejoice over Babylon’s fall, that exposes the self-serving nature of humanity, with a call to radical transformation. Paul said that on the cross, Christ led a triumphant procession against his enemies, and stripped them naked. The text claims his cross was transformed into a chariot of war, in which his selflessness exposed the powers of the world. Here, began the renewal of our nations, the public demonstration of what true power and leadership is.

Christ deconstructed power into service, and this was his defeat over darkness. If God can defeat evil by humbling himself and taking up his cross, then so can we, who have a much lesser claim to entitlement and power than he does. The cross exposes power and greed by a paradox that is subversive, transforming the world, showing that power becomes powerless, and this is the nature of the apocalyptic text.

Christ’s garments are dipped in his own blood. He treads out the winepress of God’s wrath. He extinguished “God’s wrath” on the cross. This was the wrath of the people, who sent him to the cross, the religious and Roman rulers of the day. They made him a curse under their law. He took this wrath in himself and responded with forgiveness. Then the wrath of those who reject this peaceful, giving kingdom, of service to others, rages and comes upon themselves. They refuse to give up the “wrath of God,” but continue in being ministers of wrath to each other.

In these texts, there is a deconstruction of empire, that needs to come into all our lives, an overthrow of Pharaoh, of the one in our own hearts on the throne, as Mary prophesied in the Magnificat, and a building among the nations of a new community, bringing wholeness to the least and healing to our divided relationships.

This is the new world Isaiah spoke of, that we see represented symbolically in Revelation chapters 21 and 22.

“Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God…”

The final passage of Rev 19 is a mixture of Ezekiel’s description of Gog and Magog and Daniel’s description of the demise of the beast.

The paradox here is, that when Jerusalem sought to kill their enemies, in league with Rome and its ten kings, thinking they were doing God a service, the truth ended up being that they were God’s enemies. This is what becomes of us also, if we take it to ourselves to mistreat the downtrodden, the refugees, the poor or their nations. Hardness of heart comes to us.

We will speak of this more in the next section, but here in Rev 19, we see what Jesus promised, that the people he addressed were in danger of Gehenna, and becoming Gog and Magog, the enemies of God. (Matthew 5:22) As Ezekiel said, their bodies shall be buried in the valley of Hamongog (Ge-hinnom). (Ezekiel 39:11, 2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah 7:31-32, 19:2-6)

“And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.” (Daniel 7:11) The Roman beast, not the whole empire, but its leadership in John’s day, were cast into the lake of fire. This represents the demise and the destruction of Nero. The False Prophet, either one leader, or representing the leadership of Jerusalem at the time, was also destroyed. The terrible realisation for us today, is that those who expected to eat in the eternal kingdom, became the supper of the birds. They dined on the weak and they were dined upon. Here again, we see two suppers contrasted.