Revelation's Visionary Challenge to Ordinary Empire

By Koester, Craig R. | Interpretation, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Revelation's Visionary Challenge to Ordinary Empire


Koester, Craig R., Interpretation


Revelation addresses the ordinary challenges facing Christians under Roman rule, rather than speaking only to those enduring a time of terror. Some of the readers were struggling, but others were affluent and complacent. The book's visions seek to alter the way they see the political, religious, and economic dimensions of imperial life and to call them to renewed faithfulness to God and the Lamb.

Revelation is known for its pointed critique of imperial Roman power. Through satirical imagery, it portrays the city that rules the world as a tawdry harlot on a horrific beast, whose seven heads recall Rome's traditional seven hills (Rev 17:9). The ruling power conquers the nations and threatens the saints, while seducing the peoples of the world with dazzling prospects of commercial profits and lives of luxury. In scenes of cosmic conflict, the harlot is destroyed in a fiery conflagration and the Lamb defeats the imperial beast with the sword of his mouth. The horizon of the book extends to the new Jerusalem, but its visionary rhetoric sharply challenges the political, religious, and economic patterns of the Roman world in which its first readers lived.

The contrast between God and God's opponents is clear in the visionary world of Revelation. But it almost certainly would not have been so clear in the social world of its early readers. The book addresses Christian congregations in seven cities of the Roman province of Asia, where many Christians lived relatively comfortable lives. Some were poor but others were well off, some found themselves in conflicted situations while others blended more easily into society. For many, John's critique of the empire would have seemed strange and excessive. It would not have been obvious to them that the empire posed a threat to the faithful.

Revelation's visions would have functioned in different ways depending on the reader's perspective. For readers who were impoverished or intimidated by conflict, the visions may have affirmed what they already believed to be true: the empire was no friend of the faithful. But for those who prospered in the Roman era, the visions would have been a summons to see things differently, to recognize the political, religious, and economic patterns that ran counter to the claims of God, and to exhibit the resistance that comes from faith in the contexts where they lived.

CHANGING PERSPECTIVES ON REVELATION'S IMPERIAL CONTEXT

Interpreters have often assumed that Revelation was written under the specter of rising imperial persecution of the church. This is based in part on Irenaeus' comment that Revelation was written near the end of the reign of the emperor Domitian, who was assassinated in 96 CE. (Against Heresies 5.30.3). The final years of Domitian's reign were marked by violent action against those he suspected of disloyalty. After his death, he was condemned by the senate and his name was removed from inscriptions and public monuments. When vilifying Domitian, Roman writers charged that he had made excessive claims about his own divinity, arrogantly demanding that people call him "lord and god" and summoning his wife to join him on his "divine couch" (Suetonius, Dominan 13). In Christian tradition, Domitian was remembered as one of the persecuting emperors, second only to Nero in his brutality against the church (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.17).

This reconstruction of Revelation's context has endured because it seems to make good sense of the book's terrifying visions. The great seven-headed beast from the sea that John describes exhibits the kind of blasphemous arrogance traditionally associated with Domitian (Rev 13:1-10). This great beast has an ally, portrayed as a beast from the land and as a false prophet, who forces people to take part in the ruler cult and slaughters those who refuse to comply (13:11-18). Later, a brazen prostitute, who represents the city that rules the world, rides on the beast and is drunk on the blood of the saints and witnesses to Jesus (17:1-18).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Revelation's Visionary Challenge to Ordinary Empire
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.