The Last Word on Politics, or—the Cosmic Version of the Christmas Story in Revelation 12
“Politics always competes with religion (joining it, tolerating it when it must, and absorbing it when it can) in order to promise, if not a life beyond, then a new deal on this earth, and a Leader smiling charismatically from the placards.” Erik Erikson, quoted in Reversed Thunder, page 117.
In John’s vision, the believers saw when the seventh trumpet blew that their work of prayer was confirmed. They heard that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” But when we walk out into the world, we see that the kingdoms of this world don’t seem to have changed. Now we are reminded that the gospel is more political than we have imagined, but in a way that we would not have guessed. Jesus constantly proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand and that’s what the early martyrs were persecuted for—they would not say that Caesar is Lord because Christ is Lord and God is sovereign and there is nothing that does not fall under his rule. Talk about a huge political claim!
But we misunderstand how that political power is exercised. The kingdoms of this world exert power through militarism and propaganda; they use coercion. We are called to exercise the power of God’s kingdom, yes, but the means we are to use are radically different; we exercise power through worship, preaching, and holy living. We face two temptations: one is to take up the power of the kingdom and use the world’s political means of force; the other is to retreat into our comfortable little fellowships, ignore the workings of the world, and work only to save a few souls. John in Revelation gives us a defence to resist these temptations by showing us in cosmic images what is really going on.
Revelation 12 tells the Christmas story in a cosmic vision. God’s temple in heaven opens and the ark of the covenant appears. Then we, the audience, see a woman appear in cosmic radiance, clothed with the sun, moon, and stars. Then suddenly she is pregnant and in childbirth. A great dragon appears, powerful enough to sweep a third of the stars from the sky. The dragon stands in front of the woman, waiting to devour her child. She has a baby boy “who is going to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (in other words, the Messiah prophesied in Psalm 2). The child is snatched away from the dragon up to heaven and—instead of Christmas carols—war begins against the dragon and his hosts. Michael and his angels throw them out of heaven down to earth: God’s salvation and power have come! But woe to us on earth who love the Lord, for the dragon is coming after us. The dragon pursues the woman but she is protected by the earth, so he turns to wage war against “those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus.” The devil, Satan, is out to get us. But we are fortified because we have seen in the vision that Satan has been cast out of heaven and knows that “he only has a short time.”
The dragon is failing in his attacks, so he calls out two monsters to help him in his battle against us. They will attack our social behaviour using the militaristic power of the state and our religious belief using propaganda. Both our social behaviour and religious belief are political; both criminals and dissenters are dangerous to the state! The sea beast will make war on us to frighten us into disobedience; the land beast will deceive us into illusions and false religions and loyalties. Our response, says John, must be to endure and keep the faith. We may die, but that is not defeat. Defeat would be to disobey God and fail in our faith.
How are we to wage war on Satan? When we are attacked by the land beast with violence, we must not respond with violence, for—as Jesus said and John repeats—“all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Our weapons are endurance and faith.
When we are attacked by the sea beast with propaganda, we must use our minds. The land beast imitates Christ in that it is “like a lamb” but it is a parody. It uses religious means to get us to worship it rather than God and to become materialistic for its religion is consumption. It wants us to get its mark on our forehead rather than God’s Word—the shema—that the Old Testament Israelites were commanded to wear on their foreheads and their right hands. But we can overcome this beast because its number—666–is a human number and not a divine mystery; we can use God’s wisdom to figure out when we are being deceived. We are able to resist the dragon, sea beast, and land beast, that trinity of evil; John has shown us the real nature of this evil. Now he shows us three visions that show how God supports us in our fight.
The first vision (Rev. 14:1-5) shows the Lamb leading worship on Mount Zion. The worship we do on earth is part of this cosmic worship that Christ himself leads. Our worship is a witness that we are saved by God’s grace and do not depend on our own strength in the battle against evil.
The second vision (14:6-13) shows three angels preaching. The first preaches the gospel to all peoples on earth. The second announces the fall of Babylon, the great deceiver of all humanity. The third warns God’s people not to accept the mark of the beast but to endure and remain faithful. We on earth need to hear all three of these messages so we are strengthened for our battle and encouraged to bring the gospel everywhere. We participate in the work of the three angels, mostly by listening to the Word.
The third vision (14:14-20) shows us the Son of Man (Christ) harvesting the fields that are “white unto harvest.” We are to lives of holiness as wheat in a weed-filled society. When we do this faithfully, our speech and behaviour show that Christ is real and lives in us and affects everything we do and say. At the end, our words and deeds can result in holy wheat to be harvested by Christ.
We cannot avoid politics because it is the management of power in every relationship, not just in government. As soon as you have two people, you have politics. We live in a community where both the politics of the Lamb and of the dragon are active. “The politics of the Lamb,” says Peterson, “takes the ordinary and basic elements of our obedience (offering our adoration in worship, listening to the proclaimed word, practicing a holy life) and develops them into the ultimate and eternal.” On the other hand, the politics of the dragon takes superficial things and inflates them into domination and pride, wish and fantasy. We daily choose one or the other; we cannot sit on the fence. God blesses those who remain faithful; they will “die in the Lord” and “the deeds they have done follow after them” (14:13).
So exercise the power of the Kingdom of God using the means of his Kingdom and be blessed.
So that’s the perspective I try to bring to my involvement to government politics in Ontario and Canada. God’s kingdom rules over that as well, and his means are the ones I try to use in my involvement. My purpose is not to try to force my way of thinking on issues on other people or the party or riding association, but to persuade and speak in political terms. The influence of Christian faith and thought can have a healing effect on our practices and policies. What I am trying to sort out now is what other avenues I should try to have an influence for good.