Hi and welcome back! This past Tuesday, we checked out an incredibly bees-headed post from The Gospel Coalition. Its writer, Kent Bass, used a particular surreal scene from Revelation 7:9-17 as a guide for solving conflicts. Yes. He actually told evangelicals to use this scene as an instruction book, like that would solve all their problems with fighting!
We had a good time with it, since those Bible verses have nothing whatsoever to do with solving conflicts on Earth among human beings. Then, I got to thinking. Y’all, I got to feeling helpful. And I wondered what the Book of Revelation really says about solving conflicts.
The setup: John of Patmos and the Seven Churches in Asia
Last time we talked about Revelation, we learned that its author, John of Patmos, had two main goals in writing the book. First, he wanted to comfort his fellow Messianic Jewish proto-Christians, They’d taken a hard L already with Jesus’ death, and then another big one with the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in 70 CE. Second, he wanted to condemn the doctrines being trotted out by the Apostle Paul. As we go through this book, then, think on how John addresses his two goals.
And right out of the gate, right after introducing himself and setting up some metaphors about angels, churches, lampposts, and Jesus himself, John starts chewing out the Seven Churches in Asia. At the time, these were all important centers of worship for the earliest proto-Christians.
However, all seven churches have some kind of dire issue–except one. Writing as his god, John reprimands the six problematic churches. For some, their congregations had gotten way too lax. In others, they had accepted Pauline teachings. It was a mess.
When John refers to Pauline doctrines, by the way, he’s talking about some specific ones: female clergy and not following Jewish dietary and sex-based laws. He doesn’t tell us much about the latter heresy. Instead, he hints that various churches, in accepting Paul’s doctrines, are now allowing all kinds of sexually immoral behavior that Jewish temples wouldn’t ever have allowed before.
Solving conflicts the Revelation way: Threats and curses
That said, John knows that the Seven Churches might not listen to him just because. So to make sure he’ll be heeded, he solves any potential conflicts in a way that seems very familiar to us today. Yes! Yes indeed, he threatens his readers with all kinds of curses. Here are the threats he delivers, and again, he’s delivering them in his god’s voice:
- Ephesus: Jesus will simply tear this backslidden church apart if they don’t start Jesus-ing hard again.
- Smyrna: Jesus will let a bunch of these congregants get thrown in prison to suffer a tribulation “for ten days.” Hmm, that’s oddly specific! In addition, John hints that some will be executed.
- Pergamum: For the crime of adopting Pauline doctrines, Jesus will “wage war against [these heretics] with the sword of My mouth.”
- Thyatira: They’re even worse than Pergamum! There, they have a woman preaching Pauline doctrines! Speaking as Jesus, John curses her with sickness. Then, for good measure, John curses her apparent lovers with “great tribulation,” and finally he curses her innocent children with death. Clearly satisfied with himself, John declares that that’ll show the other churches to get in line.
- Sardis: These guys just aren’t Jesus-ing hard enough, so they just get a finger-wagging about Hell.
- Philadelphia: John likes these guys. For them, he bestows encouragement and praise.
- Laodicea: If you’ve ever been evangelical, you know about Laodicea. Indeed, John’s admonishment gave evangelicals that infamous Christianese word “lukewarm.” Here, he tells the Laodiceans that if they don’t stop being lukewarm, Jesus will “vomit” them out of his mouth!
Hm. Y’all, I’m not seeing John handling his conflicts with these churches in the way that Gospel Coalition post suggested. His god certainly isn’t handling things that way. It’s the weirdest thing!
Though I will say this: I can now see where the fine tradition of evangelical keyboard warrioring comes from!
Revelation: “When God comes back, wilds out, and straight up fucks Earth up!
In his song “High in Church,” Trevor Moore narrates a story about someone accidentally getting super-high and then being dragged against his will to a Midnight Christmas Mass.
To soothe his drug-addled mind, Trevor’s character starts flipping through the pages of a Bible he finds there. And at first, he sees a lot in it that he likes. But then, he gets to the end:
I open up the pages, and then start flipping through
I find it calms me down and gives my mind something to do
It says some beautiful things about forgiveness and love
Till I get to the end when God comes back
Wilds out, and straight up fucks Earth up!
Holy shit, did you know this? Read this last part, what the fuck?
Spoiler alert, God comes back with dragons and murders everyone!
What happened to the lovey-dovey stuff from the other verse?
After John yells at and threatens the Seven Churches, that is, indeed, exactly where we go next.
The Seven Seals
Now, let’s turn our attention to the Seven Seals. These keep a big scroll closed. Only Jesus, who looks like a slaughtered lamb in this vision, can break them. Luckily, he’s right there to do it! We’re not told how he opens the seals with a sheep’s hooves, though. Maybe it’s like those new My Little Pony cartoons, where the ponies manage to do all kinds of things despite having hooves instead of hands.
Here’s what happens as Jesus breaks these seals wif him kyoot widdle hoofie-woofie-kins:
- 1st Seal: A guy on a white horse appears from nowhere and rides off to Earth to “overcome and conquer.” Aww, they missed “adapt and improvise,” didn’t they?
- 2nd Seal: A guy on a bright red horse shows up. He’s charged with fomenting war everywhere on Earth.
- 3rd Seal: A guy on a black horse appears, then rides off to cause horrible famines on Earth.
- 4th Seal: A guy on a pale green horse — look, sorry, it says “pale green horse” on the Bible page I’m on right now — who’ll just straight-up kill everything on Earth that he can, and using every method imaginable. (Yes, I’m having Good Omens flashbacks. Also, “pale green horse” is not helping my My Little Pony visuals.)
- 5th Seal: At this seal’s breaking, the dead martyrs complain about Jesus not avenging them yet. Jesus gives them white robes and tells them to just rest a bit longer until all the martyrs get accounted for in death. Remember that comfort thing John wanted to do? This is part of it.
- 6th Seal: After this seal breaks, pure terror breaks out on Earth. Earthquakes, eclipses, blood-red moons, stars falling to Earth, rocks falling, dogs and cats living together… Sorry, I had to do it.
- 7th Seal: Breaking this seal causes dead silence for a whole 30 minutes. Then, angels take up trumpets.
I won’t bother with the trumpets and whatnot, because it’s just more of the same. Each trumpet causes huge catastrophes on Earth. Once the last one blows, it’s time for Judgment Day.
Solving conflicts the Revelation way
This is horrific stuff. To me, it’s easy to see why so many evangelicals get hung up on all this apocalyptic, bizarre, prophetic-sounding imagery. When someone lives and moves and breathes in a world made up of threats and coercion coming from all directions, these vague-but-intense threats must scare their pants off.
But notably, we see in the passage about the Seven Seals exactly how John–speaking as Jesus, remember–thinks his god handles conflicts. In this case, the conflict is simply that a bunch of people don’t follow Jesus–or don’t follow him the way John thinks they should.
And how does Jesus handle this conflict?
Through brutal punishment and the cruelest imaginable retaliation, much of it against innocent children, animals, and plants.
A god with strange priorities
The whackadoo priorities here just blow my mind.
If Jesus has the power to cause earthquakes and meteors to hit the Earth (or whatever John was thinking about, since an actual star hitting Earth would be a whole other problem), then why can’t he start by making sure everyone on Earth knows that he actually exists? If Jesus can make the sky go black and send the Four Horsemen through the Earth to rip it apart, why can’t he tell humans exactly which translation of the Bible–and which interpretation of that translation–is the one he wants us to follow?
More to the point, if Jesus really wants all his churches to worship him according to a specific set of doctrines, then why didn’t he set up the Bible better than he did? If Pauline doctrines were already such a point of contention, why did Jesus let them take over the religion? I mean, even today Christians argue constantly about every single doctrine in their entire religion.
Nope! Instead, here in Revelation, Jesus has decided to play coy. He’s stoked to rip the world apart, but won’t magically heal all the cancer in the world. Or even show us undeniable, objective evidence that he exists in the first place.
Once again, I’m just dumbstruck to think that so many non-Christians think Jesus was any kind of good person or moral teacher. Christians have to think that. But you’d think non-Christians would know better.
The danger of shoehorning Bible verses where they don’t belong
That’s as far as we’re going through the Book of Revelation tonight. I think I’ve made my point.
What we’re really seeing in Kent Bass’ post is a kind of sermon fatigue.
Evangelicals only have one sourcebook. And it hasn’t been updated in about 1700 years. And Christians have already written many libraries’ worth of books examining every verse within it.
So, if one of them wants to be a clever bunny, they must try to find snippets of it that haven’t been well-plumbed yet–and then try to find some weird message in them that hasn’t been done to death already by centuries’ worth of desperate pastors and preachers.
So Kent Bass was probably very pleased with himself for connecting this passage in the Book of Revelation with conflict resolution. I’ve certainly never seen anything like it. Usually, we see interpretations like this one, which concentrate instead on the 144,000 sealed Israelites and which tribes are mentioned and which aren’t. Or this one, which tries to ferret out details of what Heaven will be like for Christians after they die.
But I’ll tell you what other interpretations and analyses are not doing:
They’re not telling evangelicals, Hey, y’all! You know how y’all always fight like three cats stuffed into a pillowcase? Here’s how to fix that problem! Hooray Team Jesus! Just follow Revelation 7!
Real help cannot come from this source
I mean, evangelicals do definitely need real help in that department. I’ve never encountered any evangelical relationship or group that actually functioned completely harmoniously. Usually, they are hotbeds of backbiting, gossip, power-grabs and petty meanness–from both men and women at all levels.
So it’s just kinda funny that not only is Kent Bass’ entire post an exercise in misguided exegesis, but it’s also completely ineffective advice about conflicts in the first place.
Then again, real advice would quickly reveal just what a shitshow evangelical relationship rules really are–and might get a few pew-warmers to wonder what else isn’t true about their beliefs.
All it takes is for the first brick to crumble out of the wall. That’s all it takes.
And this has been Captain Cassidy, signing off! Thank you so much for listening. See y’all Tuesday!
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