Jesus Messiah vs. Trump – that’s the version of Empire we’re called to engage at present. Empires being empires are always idolatrous (it’s the nature of the beast). In fact, that’s the way our book, Revelation, portrays the empire it engaged – a beast (Rev.13). It ill behooves us too misunderstand this. This beast certainly does not lie beyond God’s sovereignty or ability to use (Rom.13:1-7) or ours to use it benefits when appropriate (Acts 22:25-26) or its ultimate judgment and destruction (Rev.19:17ff.). Nevertheless, this beast lives as the dragon’s chief agent and antagonist to God and God’s people. Remember Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia?
The Trump version of American Empire tends in these early days of its reign to the “more" side of the “more of less” continuum of overt beastliness. As Steve Bannon, Trump’s confidant, comment, “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they" [liberals and the media] "get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing" illustrates this nicely.
I grew up during the Watergate years and was fascinated by the White House tapes that emerged from those investigations. On those tapes Nixon and his confidants used a vivid though vulgar phrase for what they intended to do to the American people – “mind-f***k.” Seems pretty clear that Trump and friends are trying to do the same thing. They want our passions, priorities, and practices. They want to call the shots about how we experience and respond to things in our lives and our world.
God, too, wants our passions, priorities, and passions. God, too, wants to call the shots about how we experience and respond to things in our lives and our world. This is where the struggle is joined at its most profound and personal levels. To put it simply, it’s a matter of worship. A war between God and a god. And if we don’t want to “get it wrong” we must offer our worship to the right deity. Worship is where we sort all that out.
And that brings me back to reading the book of Revelation.
No consensus exists among commentators on the structure of Revelation. Structure gives us important clues about how to read and understand a writing. But whatever order John gave his material has remained a mystery to his interpreters lo these many years. I have no new ideas about that. But I do have an idea about a way to read Revelation that may in some ways at least open us up to better hear its message.
First, though, just a note to remind us that by designating his work pastoral, prophetic, and apocalyptic John requires us to read his message as something addressed to the seven churches in
Asia Minor. Everything in it relates to the challenges and circumstances of those addressed.
-That’s self-evident for the pastoral focus.
-the prophetic focus, like biblical prophecy in general, is focused on the near future . not times and places, millennia distant.
-apocalyptically, the focus is on “characterizing” not “calendarizing.” Apocalyptic “unveils” what a thing is.
All this means that ways of interpreting Revelation as mostly about the last few years of life on earth is badly misguided. Revelation was not written to us even though it is written for us. But the meaning we get from it comes through its message for those originally addressed. And that’s the way I’ll be reading it.
Back to my idea for approaching Revelation. Since worship is finally the way we will have to resist and find our resistance to Trump nurtured, and since worship is highlighted as the way we gain perspective on things in Revelation itself (Rev.4-5), I propose we read it as a highly visionary worship service (understood in terms of the four movements that have historically framed worship: Gathering, Word, Table, and Dismissal).
Worship is at least a form, a structure, we understand. And since we can’t identify John’s structure, I propose we adopt one from our end of the process that reflects as far as possible John’s own major emphases. So I’m going to try reading Revelation as a “Resistical Worship Service” whose order of worship unfolds following the book like this:
Revelation’s “Resistical” Worship
Sermon Title: “What Must Soon Take Place” (Rev.1:1)
Guest Preacher: the risen Lord Jesus Christ (1:12-20) with his interpreter John
Call to Worship (1:1-3)
Introduction of Guest Preacher (John, 1:8-20)
Greeting by Guest Preacher (2:1-3:21)
Opening Hymns (4:1-5:14)
Sermon: “What Must Soon Take Place” (6:1-22:7)
Congregational Response (22:8-16)
Call to Communion (22:17)
This is no doubt a fanciful exercise. And it doesn’t fit in every particular. But, as I said, in lieu of a clear sense of what John was doing, I believe lining the book out this way makes a sense that is congruent with John’s interests and enables us to enter more fully into it message for us. I guess we’ll find out!