I’ve been reading Brian McLaren’s newest book, “A New Kind of Christianity,” and I was very moved and encouraged by some of his thoughts on Jesus in relation to how he is portrayed in the book of Revelation.
I’d love to give you the full context and background of his thoughts, but I’ll just let you buy the book and read it for yourself. But I DO want to share this bit with you because I found it brilliant and challenging.
He (Brian) is addressing one of his critics who accused him of recasting Jesus as a “limp-wrist hippie, with a lot of product in his hair who drank decaf and made pity Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.”
Brian’s critic countered with the following characterization of who HE thinks Jesus is:
“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tatoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”
To which I say, “Why the Face?!?!” (Don’t get that reference? Check it out here…)
But, moving on.. Brian then quotes the Revelation passage the above critic was referring to, 19:11-16
11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on himthat no one knows but he himself.13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen,white and clean.15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Brian then goes on to offer a different way to understand this passage. You’ll have to get the book for that… But I would like to share then his thoughts about how contradictory it would be to view Jesus in Revelation as his critic above does (and many others, even if it’s not so crude and outright) in light of who Jesus was and what he said during his earthly ministry. It’s fairly long, but worth the read…
To repeat, Revelation is not portraying Jesus returning to earth in the future, having repented of his naive gospel ways and having converted to Casesar’s “realistic” Greco-Roman methods instead. He hasn’t gotten discouraged about Caesar seeming to get the upper hand after his resurrection and on that basis concluded that it’s best to live by the sword after all (Matt. 26:52). Jesus hasn’t abandoned the way of peace (Luke 19:42) and concluded the way of Pilate is better, mandating that his disciples should fight after all (John 18:36). He hasn’t had second thoughts about all that talk about forgiveness (Matt 18:21-22) and concluded that on the 78th offense (or 491st, depending on interpretation), you should pull out your sword and hack off your offender’s head rather than turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39).
He hasn’t given up on that “love your enemies” stuff (Matt 5:44) and judged it naive and foolish after all (1 Cor 1:25), concluding instead that God’s strength is made manifest not in weakess but in crushing domination (2 Cor 12:9). He hasn’t had a change of heart, concluding that the weapons he needs are physical after all (2 Cor 10:3-4) or that the enemies of the kingdom are flesh and blood after all (Eph 6:12), which would mean that the way to glory isn’t actually by dying on the cross (Phil 2:8,9), but rather by nailing others on it.
He hasn’t sold the humble donkey (Luke 19:30-35) on eBay and purchased chariots, warhorses, tanks, land mines, and B-1s instead (Zech. 9:9-10). He hasn’t climbed back to the top of the temple and decided he made a mistake the first time (Matt 4:1-10), or concluded that from now on he’d be smarter to follow Peter’s Greco-Roman “human” strategies (Matt 16:23). He hasn’t decided that the message of the cross is a little too foolish after all (1 Cor 1:18) or that Christ killing his foes is way more exciting than that lame, absurd “hippie” gospel of “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).
He hasn’t decided that my loyal critic was right, that nobody can be expected to worship a king they can beat up (Matt 27:27). He hasn’t decided that a tattoo down his leg would look a whole lot toughter and macho than scars in his hands, feet, and side (John 20:27). He hasn’t decided to defect to the Greco-Roman narrative, since the majority of people who claim adherence to the religion that bears his name seem to frame their lives by it rather than by his good news of the kingdom of God.
Revelation celebrates not the love of power, but the power of love. It denies, with all due audacity, that God’s anointed liberator is the Divine Terminator, threatening revenge for all who refuse to honor him, growling “I’ll be back!” It asserts, instead, that God’s anointed liberator is the one we beat up, who promises mercy to those who strike him, whispering, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The suffering, serving one who bled on a cross–not the one with a commitment to make others suffer and bleed–is the King of kings and Lord of lords. In response to the crucified one’s name–not Caesar’s or any other violent human’s–every knee will gladly bow.
You may or may not agree with all the points above, but hopefully the big picture is something worth considering. If we DO anticipate Jesus returning to destroy and crush people, then we must wrestle with how that can line up with all that he did and taught. Will he, in the end, change his mind about the way of peace, mercy, forgiveness and grace?