Lenten Reading Challenge: Revelation 17-22
Taking Scripture seriously necessarily includes uncomfortable verses and books. However, taking Revelation seriously does not necessarily mean believing it is an accurate description of events still to happen “soon.” Rather, it is to focus on the message John shared with his 1st Century audience that accommodation to the evils of empire is wrong, that injustice is temporary, and that Jesus is Lord – and not Caesar (or money, or sex, or property or power…) – and therefore we should chose who we will follow.
We start with this contextual understanding and then ask what does that message mean now. Often we hear about “not conforming to society” when some change is suggested – say ordaining women in the 1950’s or debates over homosexuality today. But what if those changes are truly Spirit led – and the conformity we should have our eyes open to have to do with our embrace of violence based systems and economic injustice?
Now the message gets more uncomfortable – and I think that’s the point. The Bible isn’t really about “them” – it’s about “us” and our relationship with God in whom we live and move and have our being. For me, Revelation isn’t really about the violence and “those others” getting theirs – it’s about our own choices to live out what we believe, even if it’s unpopular, even if it’s hard, even if its dangerous.
Revelation is a classic dualistic good/evil story – just as Star Wars and Harry Potter are in our day. Revelation is an invitation to read beyond the violence so popular is this world and live into the deep human yearning for a different kind of world, one lived fully in the presence of God, in which the sufferings of this world are no more.
As we complete our reading of Revelation with the promise of a new heaven and new earth, now joined and humanity living in the full presence of God, the river and garden of life restored, a future Wesleyan theology claims we can know, being made perfect in love. I want to share 2 more entries from the Wesley Study Bible’s discussion of Revelation.
**Wesleyan Core Term: Grace and Faith
God’s forgiveness of sin is the liberating presence and power of God in our lives when we have faith in the redeeming activity of Christ’s death and resurrection. The biblical concept of justification by grace through faith, however, is often shortened into justification by faith, which emphasizes that we are not saved by our works but by faith alone.
Luther and others emphasized this perspective as an antidote to a perceived emphasis on works righteousness in the minds of many medieval Christians. However, an overemphasis on the idea of sola fide (faith alone) can lead to thinking that the basic element in salvation is humans having faith. This makes faith a good work and thus our efforts unwittingly become the key to salvation.
Wesley was keen to point out that even our ability to have faith was the result of God’s grace, God’s presence in our lives and hearts, enabling us to believe in the redemptive power of Christ’s passion.
**Wesleyan Core Terms: Predestination (vs. Self-Giving Love)
Wesley’s teaching on predestination was one of the primary causes of the Wesleyan movements separation from the Calvinists, including such close friends as George Whitefield. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination, or limited atonement, intends to protect the freedom, sovereignty, and power of God by claiming that God decides the salvation of human beings by eternal decree irrespective of human decision and action. Wesley thought this view of God contradicts the universal love and goodness of God, expressed impartially toward all of God’s creatures. Christ died for all human beings, therefore salvation is offered to all human beings. God’s power is not a monarchical will determining the human being, but is the self- giving love we see in the cross of Jesus. This love seeks the lost intimately by suffering with those who suffer unrighteousness and by enabling the life of holiness in the believer. So Wesley rejected predestination because it clouds the real power of God as love and because it short- circuits the life of holiness to which the disciples of Jesus are called.
Blessings on your reading!