Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation

by J. Nelson Kraybill, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Revelation has usually been interpreted as a predictive book, and fanciful charts and timelines have sought to domesticate it (e.g., the ‘Left Behind’ series).  Kraybill’s take on Revelation is that John’s vision presents a parallel reality to the claim of the Roman imperial cult, an alternative political allegiance.  Revelation is not a prediction of future events but a text offering an alternative form of worship and allegiance, of how Christians who give their highest loyalty to Jesus should conduct themselves in a world where economic and political structures claim our allegiance.  ‘We have political, military and economic power to which millions give unquestioned allegiance’ (p 15).  Kraybill (former president of Anabaptist/Mennonite Biblical Seminary) points out that the coming of Jesus (the ‘parousia’) had a technical political meaning, referring to a king or other dignitary coming for a state visit.  ‘Rather than imagining Christians will be whisked away from a planet going up in flames, we should anticipate a day when we will go out to meet Christ and welcome him back to earth again. . . . The arrival of the new Jerusalem started already in John’s day, (continuing) in ours. . . . The holy city (of ch. 21) is a symbol of G-d restoring the world in the present (p 175,176).

Each chapter of Kraybill’s book concludes with two features: questions for reflection on the text just treated, and stories of Christians attempting to live out the implications of that chapter. A good study and discussion book.