Is Revelation guilty of what it condemns? Three accusations and responses

David L. Barr writes of the irony in John’s critique of the Roman empire. He presents  xx ways in which John appears to fall into the same sins he condemns:

  1. “…while it seems to condemn wealth, it fantasizes about a new city with streets of gold….”
  2. “…while it condemns Roman culture, it shares the cultural fascination of watching blood spectacles….”
  3. “…while it stands firmly against empire, it imagines a new imperial system with Jesus as supreme ruler.”

These are fascinating deconstructions, but my responses would be the following:

  1. John does not condemn wealth as such, but the dangers that arise from dependence upon it (complacency and the appeal of compromising morals in order to obtain or retain wealth).
  2. The appeal of writing or reading Revelation’s violent scenes of wrath comes from our desire to see justice prevail and injustice punished. The appeal of the blood spectacles of Rome came from sadistic desires to see violence for violence’s sake, and had nothing to do with justice.
  3. John does not condemn the idea of empire in and of itself, but the way in which one empire exploited, dehumanized and oppressed humankind and made an idol of itself. Jesus’ empire is the realization of the noblest aspirations of human empires.

Source: David L. Barr, “John’s ironic empire” in Interpretation 63 no 1 Ja 2009, pp. 20-30

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