I haven’t written about this stuff in awhile, but it’s been in the back of my mind since my church has been doing a “series” on it (themed messages on the same topic over a few weeks). I grew up raised on Irvin Baxter’s brand of hard-and-fast defining of the mystery – the four headed leopard is supposed to be the Fourth Reich of Germany, the lion with the eagles wings is supposed to be Brittan and America, and so on and so forth. People look for parallels and meaningful interpretations in their day and age with the context of the culture in which they reside; like jamming a key into a lock until it breaks and then exclaiming “it fits!” they redefine the mystical spiritual nature of such works into the practical, religious workings of a dogmatic institution.
Last year I read a book that really helped me look at the topic in a new light: William Stringfellow‘s An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land. It was a great breath of fresh air and a new perspective on Revelation that was so honest to me (especially after meeting Pepperdine University’s Richard Hughes and reading his excellent work “Christian America and the Kingdom of God“)
I found this excerpt on another blog, and I still love the text so much I was about to repost it in full, but I’ll stop myself and just give you this (the rest is through the link):
As every nation incarnated Babylon and imitates her idolatry, so each nation strives, vainly, to be or become Jerusalem. But, refuting and undoing that aim of nations, the reality of Jerusalem is not embodied in any nation or other power. Jerusalem is the holy nation; Jerusalem is the holy nation; Jerusalem is a separate nation. In the biblical image of Jerusalem and in the historic manifestations of Jerusalem as the priest of nation, Jerusalem lives within and outside the nations, alongside and over against the nations, coincident with but set apart from the nations. The emphatic tone in the Revelation passages in which the call “Come out [of Babylon], my people” is recited again and again points to this peculiar posture of simultaneous involvement and disassociation (Rev. 18:4-5)…
Babylon is concretely exemplified in the nations and the various other principalities – as in the Roman Empire, as in the USA – but Jerusalem is the parable for the Church of Jesus Christ, for the new or renewed Israel, for the priestly nation living both within and apart from the nations and powers of this world. Jerusalem is visibly exemplified as an embassy among the principalities – sometimes secretly, sometimes openly – or as a pioneer community – sometimes latently, sometimes notoriously – or as a prophetic society – sometimes discreetly, sometimes audaciously…
In beholding some specific society or nation in history – like America – we must recognize the symbolic juxtaposition of the two biblical societies, Babylon and Jerusalem. Their contiguity signifies the convergence of confrontation or, indeed, collision of the apocalyptic and the eschatological events through which the past is consummated and the future is apprehended within the immediate scope and experience of that particular nation. It is in relation to these impending apocalyptic omens and imminent eschatological signs, in a time and in a place, that the body of the Church – and the person who is a Christian – decides and acts. – (pages 50-53)
In a lot of ways, this is an honest reading of the text; Stringfellow has identified the principles of the narrative and it’s overarching themes, rather than crudely attempting to apply it in a specific parachronistic context.
I wrote a lot (LOT) more, but I’m saving it for another blog post. Stay tuned.