Might Makes Right? Troubling Aspects of the Apocalypse of John.
The famous English literary critic D. H. Lawrence called John's Apocalypse among other things "...a rather repulsive work."1 This sentiment is echoing the dominant position among literary (usually secular) theorists and critics over the last book of the New Testament. For how can a book which proclaims to be "God-breathed" be such a source and proponent for violence? Is not John a follower of Jesus who unmistakably claimed that we must love our enemies at all costs even until the point of death? How is this figure to be contrasted with the Lamb in the Apocalypse who is stated to be a witness to countless people in the lake of brimstone writhing in pain and agony?
People seem to be de-humanized in the pages of the Apocalypse, mere figures and playthings for the wrath of an all powerful deity. The supreme principle of the universe seems to be not love as Jesus taught but rather merciless power as John of the Apocalypse teaches. These higher literary critics are unrelenting in their onslaught of this perceived theological contradiction between Jesus and John.
There have been several responses to this challenge such as for example that John's language is an exaggerated subversive political rhetoric not meant to be read literally but rather metaphorically as a call to challenge the political imperialistic antichristian culture. But under all such answers which do not attempt to move the hermeneutical setting of the Apocalypse out of the distinguished main threat, i.e., the Roman Imperialistic Empire of the late first and second centuries the theological critique's of the literary critics stand, they have not been responded to in principle.
In other words if the main enemy of the Apocalypse is a "future world empire" wherein God's adversaries (besides the spiritual ones) are earthly anti-christian forces which will be destroyed and tortured the world over why not start the process now - weeding out and terminating these competitors to Christianity? Why not nip it at the bud? Are we to remain like some masochistic cult watching the "Anti-christ" grow before our very eyes knowing that this "beast" will someday turn on us and persecute our friends and family? Would we not be compliant in such a criminal offense?
These are but a few problems that arise when the Apocalypse is read in a "futuristic" sense. The rejoinder to such a line of attack is to properly set the Apocalypse in its historical and literary setting. The Apocalypse was written by a first century Jew named John to a number of first century early Christian congregations (which were made up of Jews and Gentiles) concerning events that were "soon to happen." In order for these audiences to appropriately understand John of Patmos he wrote to them in a long literary and religious tradition that they would have naturally understood. John (like Jesus) sets himself in the circle of Old Testament prophets, especially (but not limited to) Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and Zechariah. And like these prophets of old John uses the established Jewish prophetic hyperbole to describe events in his contemporary generation with that of his readers. So when for example John speaks of a harlot and harlotry he is not deriding women in general nor even the political machine of an oppressive state but rather John is in line with the prophets of the OT which denounce Israel for their ongoing religious rebellion against Yahweh in their meddling's with foreign gods.
Once it is understood that the Apocalypse was written primarily (but not only) to denounce first century apostate Jews for their rejection of their Messiah and in turn the Messiah's vindication (in high Jewish prophetic hyperbole) the putative objections made by higher literary critics concerning the questionable morals of John the Seer lose force.
1 D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse (New York. Penguin, 1976), 103.