Lately I’ve been despairing as I read the news. Here in the United States we’ve been through a tumultuous season, with hostile, divisive battles raging between politicians and parties that have people divided like I’ve never seen. We are now deep into an election year that promises even more distracting battles. Cruel attacks, denials, boastful claims, and empty promises abound—with lots of money flowing to win over the electorate. What does it look like to bear witness to Jesus, the Lamb of God in these perilous times?
I’m struck by the news of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who now flee fighting in Idlib, Syria, of Central American asylum seekers along the US-Mexican border, preyed on by kidnappers as they await their hearings. My thoughts go to the inmates I visit in solitary confinement in our local jail, who are locked up alone 23 hours daily. I see widespread homelessness, and have direct and regular contact with people in our community ravaged by the opioid and meth epidemics. Certainly we must respond.
We are barraged by news that the rich and powerful are getting away with their plans and even crimes, while the number of vulnerable and impoverished people are increasing. Proclaiming and living out the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God in these dark times sometimes feels like engaging in a losing battle. Where is the victory of Jesus, the Lamb of God? Where do you see it?
I have been compelled to read the book of Revelation, and have worked my way through it several times— seeking and finding a broader, spiritually-informed perspective on our times that has brought some clarity and hope.
The first thing I notice is that John, the writer of Revelation, writes from the island of Patmos, where he was banished “because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Proclaiming this Word of God and bearing witness to Jesus got John into trouble, and leads to martyrdom and eventual victory as the vision unfolds.
The Word of God and testimony of Jesus are concretized though John’s powerful prophetic messages to the angels of seven different churches—calling each to more faithful witness and resistance to the powers of that time. I wonder what the Word and testimony of Jesus have to say to us in our lives and contexts now?
John offers precise messages that come from God’s revelation to him for each community. Jesus invites John to come up through a door in heaven to get informed from above. From the throne room he shows him “what must take place” (4:1-2). I think we need revelation from above now to navigate in these confusing times.
John’s apocalyptic vision portrays a world in escalating conflict—like we see in our country and in many places around the world now. The accuser, dragon, beast and other antagonists relentlessly assail the victorious Lamb of God’s humble followers, through violence and deceit. The powers of darkness attack, and God’s victory in Jesus advances victorious, as if by defeat.
This advance by defeat actually gives me hope—as this matches on the ground realities we experience regularly. I’m also reminded that new life is God’s gift, coming miraculously in the midst of faithful witness, which involves surrender to Jesus and his mission to the point of death, with the hope of resurrection. In a world where money and power (might) makes right, I think we need to be reminded of the way of Jesus over and over.
John the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus: “Behold the lamb of God!” (Jn 1:36). The one who is described as worthy of worship and praise in Revelation is the slain lamb— not rich and powerful politicians or parties. Sacred scenes of heavenly worship of this slain lamb, now forever alive, happen throughout the book. This regular worship is an essential reminder of the reality of Christ’s victory, which must be celebrated in the face of chaos and death.
It is this Lamb of God, the crucified and risen Jesus alone, who is worthy to open the sealed book that outlines the impending justice-oriented judgment, and final victory.
“Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you [Jesus] were slain, and [you] purchased for God with your blood, people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom of priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10).
This is our truest identity as followers of Jesus. We are invited to embrace our status as purchased by Jesus for God, and to step fully into our vocation as priests in Jesus’ Kingdom. I love this and feel called to recruit others into this movement. Does this look like a more compelling alternative to the divisive status quo?
The accuser who was cast out of heaven by Jesus’ victory, is now overcome on earth (as in heaven) by the resistance practices by Jesus’ followers. How can we step into this resistance now.
“Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (12:10-11).
Overcoming the accuser is accomplished through “the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony” (testimony = marturia in Greek). Victory is accomplished through engaging in Jesus-like resistance—to the point of death if necessary.
Those “slain because of the Word of God and the testimony which they had maintained” are given white robes and told to rest until “the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (6:9-11).
So we are not looking at a triumphalistic “taking the high places” approach, but rather a faithful life of suffering love in the heart of the world, aligned with Jesus’ earthly life visible in the Gospels.
The enemy antagonists include a dragon, who installs the beast, who appears both highly popular and all-powerful—in contrast to the vulnerable, martyred ones associated with the slain lamb.
“They worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him” (13:4-5). Where do we see such posturing in our day?
Today people are assailed by a barrage of arrogant words and blasphemies, in the form of tweets, denials, outright lies and intimidating attacks. We witness an increasingly brazen authority to rule as autocratic—even despotic governing is on the rise around the world.
The beast makes war on the saints and overcomes them (13:7), and it seems this is also happening now in different places—through a combination of propaganda and intimidation. Revelation presents the opposition to Jesus’ kingdom of priests as formidable. How does it appear to you?
“He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (13:14). What might equivalents of this be today?
Thankfully, an angel from heaven declares the defeat of the earthly realms of power and domination, embodied in a power called Babylon. But when will this happen?
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit…. “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (18:1-3).
Where might Babylon be most visible today? To what extent are you enmeshed with this power?
God’s people are called to separate themselves: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (18:4-5).
Babylon’s fate is sealed. It will be judged and completely destroyed. In contrast, God’s people are adorned as a bride and invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9). They have divested, differentiated themselves from the world’s ideologies and means, to fully identify with the one they worship and await.
Jesus is returning. “His eyes are a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems… He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God…. And on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords’” (19:11ff).
The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven (21:10). This new kingdom does not come through political power moves—but through the Word of their (our) testimony. How can we more fully step into alignment with this Word and testimony now?
I feel inspired to depart Babylon, beginning with a renewal of my mind in alignment with God’s revelation rather than news media and political thinking. Contemplating and worshipping Jesus, the Lamb who was slain will certainly help us become re-oriented into his liberation movement.
May we re-discover the power of the blood of the Lamb, and the Word of testimony, joining the company of the kingdom of priests who await his return (and not some elected official), so we can offer true hope in a time of political illusions.