John's Apocalypse Expose

On this journey up into heaven (Revelation 4-5) John sees the divine throne and God as “the One seated upon it,” surrounded by heavenly worshipers. The clear message is about allegiance: Only God and God’s Lamb Jesus are worthy of our worship, not the Roman emperor or any imperial power. This radical message is transformative for John and for his first century communities in Asia Minor.

The hard-hitting political role of this worship scene becomes even more apparent if we consider the root meaning of the word “apocalypse”-- apo, “from,” and kalyptos, “covering.” John’s Apocalypse is an exposé, a pulling back of the curtain to uncover the truth about the Roman Empire. In a role analogous to that of Toto in the climactic scene of the film “The Wizard of Oz,” Revelation pulls back the curtain to expose the fact that Rome is not the great eternal power it claims to be. Rome must not be worshiped.

As preachers, we can invite worshipers to savor the liturgy and join in the hymn of all creation, even while we also observe that radical liturgy demands saying “no” to false allegiances and claims. As Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza argues, Revelation’s frequent use of hymns, doxologies, halleluiahs, amens and descriptions of heavenly liturgies serves “not for the sake of persuading his audience to participate in the daily or weekly liturgy,” but rather “for the sake of moving the audience to political resistance . . . If the author would write today, he might say: ‘Don’t salute the flag, salute God’; or ‘Don’t pledge allegiance to the state, pledge it to God'." [Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 103.]

- Barbara Rossing, "Commentary on Revelation 5:11-14," from the website