The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Politics

The Very Political Book of Revelation

Recently at Cloverdale, our preaching minister completed an excellent series of lessons on the Book of Revelation. Not only was the series well done, it was also incredibly encouraging in a very difficult season (the worst statistical days of the pandemic and the bitter presidential election and its aftermath).

Revelation is somewhat of an infamous book: as an example of apocalyptic literature, to modern readers it comes across as strange, unfamiliar, and notoriously difficult to understand. Efforts at understanding the book have been further complicated by long traditions of treating Revelation as some sort of crystal ball that gives detailed geopolitical predictions about the time period of the interpreter in question. This has led to all sorts of fantastical claims—Christians needing to support the modern nation of Israel in building a third Temple to hasten the return of Jesus, references in Revelation to the USSR, or the COVID-19 vaccine being the mark of the beast—that would have been absolutely unimaginable to John, the author of Revelation, or the first-century Christians to whom he was writing.

Although the imaginative imagery and apocalyptic genre of Revelation are challenging to us as modern readers, it remains an intelligible book if we seek to understand it on its own terms. John is writing to seven congregations of Christians in Asia Minor about things that actually would have been relevant to them in their time and place. He peels back the curtain to allow his audience to see the spiritual realities that lay behind their daily experiences.

Specifically, he addresses the pressure that Rome, the great beast (itself under the influence of Satan, the great dragon), is placing upon Christians to deny their allegiance to King Jesus and instead succumb to the social, economic, and religious demands of Caesar. To those faithfully resisting Roman pressure, John encourages them to persevere with the assurance that Jesus has already claimed the victory over Satan, and that His followers will be vindicated. To those who have already compromised their faith and acquiesced to the demands of Rome, John’s message is one of warning and judgment: they must repent before they are destroyed along with the rest of God’s enemies.

The message of Revelation would have come across as strikingly political to the original audience. Click To Tweet

A third-century Roman coin (AD 244) depicting Emperor Philip II holding the earth in the palm of his hand.

Though challenging to us, this message would have been easily understood by John’s original audience(s), and it would have come across as strikingly political. After all, the Mediterranean world of the New Testament time period was all about Rome. Propaganda proclaimed that Rome was good news (“gospel”) for the world and the bringer of peace. Rome deified its emperors and depicted them as omnipotent rulers whose dominion extended over the entire earth. So interconnected was Roman government, Roman religion, Roman military might, and Roman society that it was impossible to be considered a good citizen or a good neighbor if one resisted the expectation to sacrifice to the gods or pledge allegiance to Caesar above all else. And in such a context, John depicts Rome as a hideous beast under the influence of evil spiritual forces! This is a deeply political text.

In light of this reality—the evil and corruption of the world around them, what are Christians to do? Before we answer that question, we should first note what they are not encouraged to do:

  • They are not encouraged to obsess over how beastly Rome is and constantly rail against it because of this. After all, it should be expected that beasts will act in beastly ways. Rome is a beast, not the Bride of Christ! 
  • Furthermore, they are not encouraged to “Make Rome Great Again”, hearkening back to some fictitious history when the beast was somehow not a beast. 
  • On the other hand, neither are they encouraged to revolt against Rome or tear down all the pillars upon which society is built and work to create a utopian society where justice reigns.

Instead, John encourages those to whom he is writing to remain faithful to Jesus, their Lord, at all costs. Keeping with the political nature of Revelation, as I have discussed before, the statement “Jesus is Lord” is an inherently political claim:

“Lord” is an interesting word; to us, it is almost exclusively a religious term. We tend to think of it as a synonym for “God”, but really, “Lord” was a favorite title of Jesus in the early church. And it’s not primarily a religious title, either; it was a title with distinctly political overtones. “Lord” was the official title for the Roman Emperor: laws, edicts and decrees were signed “Lord Caesar.” This means that when early Christians called Jesus “Lord”, they were making a political statement: by saying that Jesus was Lord, they were simultaneously saying that Caesar was not. Jesus was the One who had absolute authority over their lives, He set the standards by which they were to live, He was the One to whom they owed primary allegiance, and it was He who sat on the throne of the universe.

The Book of Revelation may not tell us when Jesus will return or what will happen in the Middle East next year, but it is incredibly relevant. It makes the striking political claim to Christians that, rather than worry about the kingdoms of this world—which are beastly and will one day come to nothing—we are to “return to our first love” and live out the confession that Jesus is Lord in our daily lives. Instead of trying to reform or uphold or overthrow the society in which we live in order to make it better, our focus should be on living as citizens of God’s kingdom, the better reality that already exists. It is a kingdom that will never be destroyed and will one day supplant and replace all earthly kingdoms. It is a kingdom that subverts worldly understandings of power and wealth, led by a King who laid down unparalleled power and unimaginable wealth to live as a servant and die as a sacrifice to save His subjects.

I have frequently said that I am not a very political person, but that is not technically accurate. Certainly, I am not very political in the sense that I do not focus on partisan loyalties in the American political spectrum, but I confess that Jesus is Lord, and seek to place my allegiance to Him at the center of my life.

As the Book of Revelation shows us, that is a very political claim.

I confess that Jesus is Lord, and seek to place my allegiance to Him at the center of my life. As the Book of Revelation shows, that is a very political claim. Click To Tweet

2020 Blog Review

 

The end of the year is a good time for reflection, and one of the things I like to look back on is my yearly blogging here at The Doc File.

Overview

Since I started writing here back in 2006 (wow, it is hard for me to believe it has been that long!), I have been very up-and-down in how much I write each year. Last year, I lamented that I had written less in 2019 than any other year since The Doc File began; in 2020, I blogged 50 times, which is the most since 2014. This increase in production was largely due to two factors, I believe:

  • First, the lockdown situation that arose from COVID-19 back in late winter/early spring. It is not so much that this left me with an abundance of free time, but rather that I was sensing the great anxiety that so many were feeling (and feeling some of it myself), and wanted to produce some content that might, perhaps, be encouraging.
  • I engaged in a few different ongoing series this year, which helped give me direction in what to write (more on that below).

The increased frequency of posts combined with the popularity of several posts (see below) meant that The Doc File had over 31,000+ hits in 2020—the second-highest total since I started writing.

Top Posts

By traffic totals, here are my most-read posts during 2020 (posts in bold represents those actually written in 2020):

  1. A Christian Response to COVID-19, March 12, 2020
  2. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity, April 9, 2020
  3. The Role and Character of Elihu in the Book of Job, December 3, 2010
  4. Lessons from David: Sin Has Consequences, March 17, 2014
  5. Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation, April 25, 2017
  6. Links Between Daniel and Esther, October 10, 2011
  7. Scattered Reflections on Race-Related Issues, June 9, 2020
  8. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity Part 2: Distractions, April 16, 2020
  9. Moral Evil and Natural Evil, February 24, 2015
  10. A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity Part 3: “Problem” Texts: 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, April 23, 2020

Five of the top ten posts were not written this year, and four of those (Elihu, David, Creation/New Creation, Evil) were in my top posts from last year as well. Those posts must be particularly accessible to search engines based on their enduring popularity.

“A Christian Response to COVID-19” was my most popular post of the year, and went somewhat viral (pun intended). I wrote it in the early days of the pandemic, and it clearly struck a chord with a lot of people. Similarly, “Scattered Reflections on Race-Related Issues” was read a lot, and also reflected on current events that were dominating all forms of media. The three posts on “A New Heaven & A New Earth” were all part of a much longer series that a lot of people read and seemed to benefit from.

The Year of Blog Series

That last sentence helps me transition to one of the biggest changes in my blogging in 2020, which was the extent to which I wrote multi-post blog series. Over the years, I have written several series on The Doc File, but it is something I have struggled to do (often taking a really long time to complete series or even abandoning a series midstream). With that in mind, I was proud of my perseverance in completing a few series in 2020:

A New Heaven & A New Earth: What the Bible Teaches about Eternity: I had taught on this subject back in 2019, but blogging through all of this material enabled me to polish my notes and provide citations as well as refine my thoughts. This series summarized what has been a significant theological shift for me over the past decade, one which has provided a great sense of purpose, hope, and excitement. Additionally, I felt that it was a fitting topic for the extended season of fear and uncertainty that Spring/Summer 2020 turned out to be.

It was a significant project—12 posts and some 37,000 words—and had I realized how much work it would take, I’m not sure that I would have begun it. I am really glad I did, though—in addition to the satisfaction of bringing a project of this size to a state of semi-polished completion, it also led to a lot of good conversations and feedback, and three of my most-read posts from 2020 were from this series (with several more just outside the Top 10).

Ranking Narnia: Early in quarantine, I began reading through The Chronicles of Narnia, which I found to be very good reading for the craziness of 2020: it provided imaginative distraction from current reality, and also helped re-orient me from fear to trust.

I have enjoyed these books since college, and the idea of blogging about them had been in my mind since at least 2007 or so. What began as a plan to write a post or two ranking the various books in the Narnia series continued to grow and expand, ultimately resulting in an 8-part, 23,ooo word series. In a sense, these were book reviews. I have never particularly enjoyed reviewing books, and so I didn’t get a lot of pleasure from writing this series, but I was really proud of the result for a few reasons. First, these posts represented growth for me as a writer as these reviews reflect greater depth and thoughtfulness than what I have done in the past. Also, spending so much time thinking and writing about Narnia helped me to appreciate the series even more and yielded new theological insights. Finally, I pushed through and finished[1] this series of posts despite the fact that almost no one read them.[2] In other words, while this series was not as long as the “A New Heaven & A New Earth” series, I am more impressed with it in the sense that I didn’t get a dopamine hit from lots of likes and comments every time I would share a post, but I still finished the series regardless.

Lament For A Son: One of my favorite books in 2020 was Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A Son. It was a short book, but I thought Wolterstorff shared so many compelling thoughts on the topic of suffering that I decided to write a series of short reflections and basically grouped them as a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering (which dates back several years). Like Narnia, this was not a particularly popular series, but I thought Lament For A Son was an important book and worth writing about.

Politics From a Christian Perspective: One of the reasons I write The Doc File is because it helps me work out my thinking on certain topics, and that was certainly the case for this three-part series that I wrote in late October/early November in the midst of a rancorous election season. As a person of faith, I’m convinced that Scripture has a lot to tell us about the way we view politics, but I was dissatisfied with the political engagement I was witnessing from many professed Christians, and I wanted to wrestle with my own views against the background of biblical teaching.

I was under no illusion that my thoughts would change anyone’s mind (and in an election where an unprecedented number of people voted early, this series of posts came a little too late anyway), but this was a popular series that I got some good feedback on, and it was helpful for me to write about and work through my own beliefs.


So, that was The Doc File in 2020! I’m not sure what 2021 will look like, but it is my hope to continue to write about once a week (the rough pace of my blogging in 2020), and to continue with some multi-post series as well. Thanks to everyone who continues to read and follow, and especially to those who comment and join in the conversation. May God bless each of you in the coming year!


[1] As the length of these posts grew, they became more and more difficult to write and I was sorely tempted to revert to old habits and abandon the series. This can be seen in the release dates of the various posts: May 18, May 26, June 16, June 30, July 20, August 24, October 13, October 23. I went from eight days between the first two posts, to about two weeks between posts, two three wees, to a month, and then seven weeks. The concluding post was shorter and easier to write than the others, and came ten days after the last review.

[2] There were, of course, exceptions, as several people told me how much they enjoyed this series and a few actually reached out to me to see when (or if!) the next post would come out. But on the whole, these posts were amongst the least-read of what I wrote in 2020.

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