2011 Book of Revelation

Session 1

News and Reviews of recent scholarship

Session 2

John Markley

Jesus' Unknown Name: the Rhetorical and Theological Significance of Rev 19:12c

In Rev 19:11-21, John presents his vision of Jesus as a rider on a white horse, coming to execute divine justice on those marshalled against him. In addition to describing the rider’s appearance, John also mentions several names or titles associated with him: “Faithful and True,” “Word of God,” and “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Along with these, however, John says that “he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.” Commentators have mainly focused on identifying this name—either with a name in the immediate context, or one external to it. For this reason, insufficient attention has been given to the rhetorical and theological significance of this ‘unknown name’ in the apocalypse itself. The purpose of this paper is to address the rhetorical and theological significance of the rider’s ‘unknown name’ by situating it against the background of other unknowable or undisclosed matters in Jewish and Christian apocalypses. In light of this background, this paper argues that the mention of the rider’s ‘unknown name’ in 19:12c stresses Jesus’ qualitative distinction from all humanity, and his supreme authority over all beings.

Shane J. Wood

The Alter-Imperial Triumphal Procession: A Socio-Cultural Interpretation of the Release of Satan (Rev 20:7-10)

In Revelation 20, the binding and imprisonment of Satan (20:1-3) and the reign of Jesus and the faithful souls (20:4-6) combine to develop a powerful image of encouragement for the Christians in Asia Minor (2:1-3:22).  This encouragement, however, is short-lived.  The event briefly mentioned in 20:3b is realized in 20:7-10—Satan is released.

Why must (dei/—20:3b) Satan be released?  If he has been bound and imprisoned by the Christ-event (cf. 12:10-12), then why do these actions need to be undone?  What purpose does this picture in Revelation 20:7-10 have for the Christians of Asia Minor?  The answers to these questions are not found in forced theological schemas or Old Testament allusions.  Instead, the socio-cultural saturation with images, descriptions, and depictions of the Roman Triumphal procession offers an alternative explanation to this peculiar event.

Building from the work of David Andrew Thomas, Revelation 19:11-21 inaugurates the Roman Triumph imagery with the emergence of the Divine Warrior riding in victory on a white horse.  This chapter, however, does not exhaust the Roman Triumph imagery.  In fact, it leaves out a central component—the march and execution of the key enemy leader.  This climactic moment of the Roman Triumph, where honour for the victor collides with humiliation for the defeated, is completed in the release of Satan (Rev 20:7-10)—where the bound captive is pulled from his prison, marched on display, and executed by the emperor.  In other words, the release of Satan is a central feature of God’s Triumphal procession. 

Session 3

Simon Woodman (Bristol Baptist College)

Turn or Burn! A Nonviolent Reading of Fire and Burning in the Book of Revelation

From Richard Baxter and Charles Spurgeon to contemporary fundamentalist preachers, the book of Revelation has been a fruitful resource for those seeking to espouse a ‘turn or burn’ theology. From its imagery of heavenly fire which consumes the nations of the earth, to the fire and sulphur which torment those who worship the beast, Revelation can seem to depict an unambiguously fiery end to those who will not turn to God. The question addressed in this paper concerns whether such a reading is the only way of encountering this imagery, or whether an alternative reading emerges when the text is approached from the perspective of a nonviolent hermeneutic. To this end, the tradition of Anabaptist nonviolence will be utilized as a hermeneutical key to engage the imagery of fire and burning in the book of Revelation.

W. John Lyons (University of Bristol)

A critical consideration of Martin Gore's 'alternative' John of Patmos

The Apocalypse of John has long been appropriated by musicians, both in sacred formats and in secular ones. Its concepts, its imagery, and its words have provided springboards for the development of extensive musical traditions through which it has continued to impact upon audiences. The vast majority of such compositions are positive appropriations, either in the sense that the Apocalypse's ideology is being broadly affirmed, or in the sense that the kinds of ideas that it contains are being positively developed to different ends. One well-known piece that fits both categories is 'John the Revelator', originally a gospel song recorded by such as Blind Willie Johnson, Son House, Beck, and Nick Cave, but later developed into a revelatory soundtrack/plot device in John Landis' film, 'Blues Brothers 2000' (1998). In 2005, however, Martin Gore, the lyrical driving force behind the British group, 'Depeche Mode', penned his own response to both Revelation and the positivist musical tradition dependent upon it. Following in the footsteps of earlier songs problematising popular Christian religion ("Personal Jesus", ''Blasphemous Rumours"), Gore subverted the tradition by characterising "John the Revelator", not as someone legitimately re-applying the visions of authors like Ezekiel and Daniel, but rather as a 'thief' who, by claiming the deity as "his holy right", stole the "God of the Israelites" (and of "the Muslims too"), and as a "smooth-operator" with a "book of lies" who needed to be cut down to size. In this paper, Gore's devastating attack on John of Patmos--"All he ever gives us is pain...., He should bow his head in shame"--is analysed as an acute critique of the Apocalypse by a hugely successful producer of populist culture and explicitly contrasted with the positivity of so much of the reception of Revelation by those within biblical scholarship.