Thursday, November 12, 2009

Revelation's pastoral punch

The thing about Revelation 18 is that it is a withering attack on Roman economic power. Twinned with the wonderful satire of chapter 17, it makes for a powerful assault on imperial pretension. But it is placed where it is in John's Apocalypse, it seems to me, for maximum pastoral impact.

After all, the Apocalypse is a pastoral letter (among other things). And it struck me last night that John, having unwrapped the revelation he's received from the throne room in heaven, in the throes of spelling out the call of the followers of the Lamb to be the means through which the nations of the world are called to repentance, places this coruscating attack on Rome just before the denouement we're eagerly awaiting - namely the return of the Lamb and the restoration of creation.

And why place it there? For maximum pastoral impact, of course.

Having urged his hearers to loyalty in the seven brief message to each receiving church in chapters 2 and 3, he now asks them - the question is implied in how they respond to the lament over the fall of Rome - how would they feel if the empire was swept away?

Just how much are they plugged into the imperial way of life, how fat are they getting on its rich-pickings? How caught up in its buying and selling are they? Will they weep with the monarchs, merchants and mariners as they watch the city fall or will they rejoice with heaven that the enemy of the Lamb and persecutor of his people has had its come-uppance?

Couldn't help wondering what John would have made of the credit crunch, the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank and the market melt-down that followed... Of course, that was just a blip, a hiccough compared to what he describes in Revelation 18, but...

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