Within the span of weeks, the United States has gone from having a handful of cases of COVID-19 to leading the world in cases of infection. This has left much of the world bewildered. Seeing how the virus was affecting other nations, with months of notice, we were still left unprepared. What is it about the structure and function of our country that left us so vulnerable to what should have been a more manageable situation?
For two millennia, in times of turmoil Christians have turned to the Revelation of John for insight. The text has wisdom to share in this time of pandemic as well. By understanding the nature of apocalyptic literature—a type of writing that would have been familiar to the earliest church who experienced Pentecost but is strange to us—American Christians can begin to address difficult questions about our nation’s response. More importantly, we can turn to the biblical text to learn how the church can faithfully respond in this time.
The translation Revelation in the book’s title comes from the Greek apokalypsis, which literally means uncovering or revealing, like removing a veil. In the case of the Apocalypse of John, Jesus Christ has opened something up to the Seer that is meant to be shared. When Pentecostals share a dream or vision with the church, they are engaging in the continuation of this tradition. Paul uses the same Greek term to refer to the spiritual gifts when he writes that “each one of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26, NIV). In the same verse he names the purpose of these gifts: “that the church may be built up.” And if there was ever a time the church was in need of building it up, it is now.
Continue reading Reading the Revelation in the Age of COVID-19
by Craig S. Keener, originally published on his blog.
While there is some debate about the identity of the 144,000 in 7:1-8, everyone agrees that the innumerable multitude in the next vision refers to believers from all peoples—a vision that ultimately includes all of us who believe in Jesus.
These people are “from all nations and tribes and peoples and languages” (7:9). Revelation uses this fourfold formula, in varying sequences, seven times. The formula echoes the book of Daniel. Daniel has the threefold formula six times; the Greek translation of Daniel makes the first instance (Dan 3:4) fourfold, as in Revelation. That context applies to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire.
By the time of Revelation, however, people would no longer think of “all nations” as part of the Babylonian empire. Another passage in Daniel predicted an innumerable multitude from all nations serving the Son of man (Dan 7:13-14). Yet despite the hyperbole of Roman imperial claims, most people in John’s urban audience in the Roman province of Asia knew about many other parts of the world beyond the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had trade ties with India, China, parts of Africa as far south as Tanzania, and northern Europe perhaps as far west as Iceland. The idea that members of all peoples would stand before God’s throne would have been unthinkable! Continue reading The Multicultural Multitude of Revelation
For many years my primary motivation for engaging in creation care and climate activism has been the fact that environmental destruction in general kills millions of people already and that climate change in particular will most likely kill off hundreds of millions of people in the near future.
Since killing people is bad, according to Jesus’ ethics, we should care for creation and stop heating up the climate. In fact, some scientists have suggested that all of humanity will be extinct because of climate change. That is, not only will people die in Bangladesh or New York, but every single one of us might die because of this inconvenient market failure caused by industrialism and greed.
Of course, not all scientists are saying that we will become extinct because of this. While it is universally acknowledged that many other species will be terminated just as we have already killed off half of the world’s animals since 1970, and that humans are already dying because of climate change, whether we will commit communal suicide through our carbon emissions is not as clear.
But they can’t rule it out. One of the scariest phenomena in climate research is called feedback loops, which basically means that a warmer planet will start to heat up even faster compared to what it does in the climate we have today. For example, a smaller arctic will lead to less reflection of sunlight back into space, and a melting tundra will release giant pockets of methane in the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas.
These feedbacks may come to a point where global warming is unstoppable, to the extent that even if we stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Earth will eventually become like Venus.
Nothing can live on Venus. Hence, the existence of groups like the Extinction Rebellion. Continue reading Climate Change, the Extinction of Humanity and the Second Coming of Christ