Archive for the ‘Revelation of John 19’ Category

The Kingdom of God and the Law of Love   Leave a comment

Above:  The Last Judgment, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain




O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly:

Grant us, in all doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask for what you would have us to do,

that the spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices,

and that in your light we may see light and in your straight path may not stumble;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 153


1 Chronicles 29:10-18

Psalm 27

Revelation 19:1, 4, 6-8

Matthew 25:31-40


In Jewish and Christian theology, when they are what they ought to be, one of the great overreaching commandments of God is to love God fully.  A second is to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  So said Rabbi Hillel.  The rest of the Torah is commentary, he continued; go and learn it.  Many people have repeated the first part of the quote (“the rest is commentary”) but not the second (“go and learn it”).  Jesus obviously knew teachings of Hillel, as Matthew 22:34-40 demonstrates.

The term “Kingdom of God” has more than one meaning in the canonical Gospels.  On occasion it refers to Heaven, as in afterlife with God.  Sometimes the translation more accurate than “kingdom” is “reign,” without a realm.  On other occasions, however, the reference is to a realm, so “kingdom” is a fine translation from the Greek.  This is the case of “Kingdom of Heaven,” which the Gospel of Matthew uses all but four times.  As Jonathan Pennington argues convincingly, “Kingdom of Heaven” is not a reverential circumlocution–a way of not saying God, out of reverence–but rather a reference to God’s rule on the Earth.  Thus the Kingdom of Heaven and the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21 and 22) have much in common.  Furthermore, frequently the language of the Kingdom of God in the canonical Gospels indicates that the kingdom belongs simultaneously in the present and future tenses; the kingdom is here, but not in its fullness.

The commandment to love is essential.  The historical record is replete with shameful examples of professing Christians defending chattel slavery while quoting the Bible and tying themselves into logical knots while giving lip service to the law of love.  There is never a bad time to live according to the law of love, as difficult as doing so might be sometimes.  The commandment is concrete, not abstract.  It is to meet the needs of others as one is able.  The list in Matthew 25:31-46 is partial yet sufficient to make the point plainly.  A modern-day expanded list might include such tasks as mowing an elderly person’s lawn and washing, drying, and putting away a disabled person’s dishes.  When we help each other, we do it for Christ.





Hesed, Part I   1 comment

Above:  Mephibosheth Before David

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

2 Samuel 9:1-13a

Psalm 68:17-20

Revelation 19:1-10

Mark 8:1-10


The reading from 2 Samuel 9 contains a wonderful Hebrew word, hesed, which can mean “faith” or “kindness.”  For example, in 9:1 we read,

David inquired, “Is there anyone still left in the House of Saul with whom I can keep faith for the sake of Jonathan?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The New Revised Standard Version (1989) uses the other translation:

David asked, “Is there anyone left of the House of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Kindness is not always a simple matter.  Treating Mephibosheth, the self-described “dead dog” and crippled son of Jonathan with mercy and prestige is easy enough.   Furthermore, the miracle (the Feeding of the 4000) in Mark 8 is an example of extravagant and unambiguous kindness.  But what about the contents of the other readings?

Babylon (the Roman Empire) has fallen in Revelation 18.  The regime based on violence, oppression, and economic exploitation is no more.  Those who benefited from relationships to the empire mourn its passing.  We read of rejoicing in Heaven in Revelation 19.  But what about the innocent victims of the fall of the empire?  Might they also mourn the passing of the empire?

In Psalm 68 (a liturgy for a festival celebration in the Temple), taken in full, we read of God’s judgment and mercy.  Yes, divine hesed is present, but so is God crushing the heads of his enemies (verse 21).  As I have written repeatedly, good news for the oppressed is frequently catastrophic news for the unrepentant oppressors.  Perhaps the enemies whose heads God crushes were harming the widows and orphans mentioned in verse 5.

There is more than enough divine hesed to go around, but each of us has the individual responsibility to practice hesed toward each other also.  Furthermore, we have the collective responsibility to practice hesed institutionally, including as nation-states.







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God is the Ruler Yet I   1 comment

Icon of the Apocalypse of John

Above:   Icon of the Apocalypse of John

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy.

We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory.

Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53


The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 46:18-28 (Monday)

Isaiah 33:17-22 (Tuesday)

Isaiah 60:8-16 (Wednesday)

Psalm 24 (All Days)

Revelation 21:5-27 (Monday)

Revelation 22:8-21 (Tuesday)

Luke 1:1-4 (Wednesday)


Lift up your heads, O gates;

lift them high, O everlasting doors;

and the King of glory shall come in.

“Who is this King of glory?”

“The LORD, strong and mighty,

the LORD, mighty in battle.”

Lift up your heads, O gates;

lift them high, O everlasting doors;

and the King of glory shall come in.

“Who is this King of glory?”

“The Lord of hosts,

he is the King of glory.”

–Psalm 24:7-10, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Here are some thoughts for the time between Proper 29 (Christ the King Sunday) and the First Sunday of Advent.

God wins in the end.  Conquerors fall to other conquerors, who fall to other conquerors.  The faithful who persevere will receive their reward.  Some of them will live long enough to witness the triumph of God in the flesh.  The story of Jesus of Nazareth, attested to by eyewitnesses, contains suffering, death, and resurrection.  The victory of God in that case is one of love and power, not the smiting of enemies, for whom Christ interceded (Luke 23:34).

The Book of Revelation tells of divine creative destruction from Chapters 4 to 20.  Then, in Revelation 21 and 22, God inaugurates the new order.  There is smiting of enemies here, for the deliverance of the oppressed is frequently bad news for unrepentant oppressors.  The new, divine world order, however, contains no oppression.

That divine order has not become reality yet, of course.  Nevertheless, as the Reverend Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901) wrote:

This is my Father’s world,

O let my ne’er forget

That though the wrong

Seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

The battle is not done;

Jesus who died

Shall be satisfied,

And earth and heaven be one.








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Optimism and Pessimism   1 comment

Temple at Jerusalem

Above:   The Temple at Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,

without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.

Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide,

we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53


The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 10:1-19

Psalm 98

Luke 17:20-37


Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

–Psalm 98:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Psalm 98 is the most optimistic reading for this day.  In Ezekiel 10 (carried over into Chapter 11) the Presence of Yahweh departs from Jerusalem, leaving it open to invasion and destruction by foreigners.  The divine Presence remains absent until Ezekiel 43.  In Luke 17:21 the Kingdom of God is present yet persecution and generally dark, eschatological times are en route.  On the other hand, in Luke 18, Jesus encourages his followers to continue praying and never to lose heart.  There is a way through the difficult times while living or dead, and always faithful to God.

The tone of these readings, taken together, fits the time of the church year well.  In the Revised Common Lectionary and several other lectionaries the selected portions of scripture become increasingly apocalyptic during the last few weeks before Advent and into that season.  Some Confessional Lutheran bodies even go so far as to label the last four Sundays of the Season after Pentecost the End Time Season.

May we remember that out of the creative destruction in Revelation 4-20 comes a new creation in Chapters 21 and 22.  Hope in God is real and well-founded, for God will win in the end.

That is a reason for optimism.








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The Kingdom of Our Lord and of His Christ   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator Icon

Above:  Icon of Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


The Collect:

O Lord God, you teach us that without love, our actions gain nothing.

Pour into our hearts your most excellent gift of love, that,

made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 34


The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 7:13-14 (Friday)

Daniel 7:27 (Saturday)

Psalm 148 (Both Days)

Revelation 11:15 (Friday)

Revelation 11:16-19 (Saturday)


Let them praise the Name of the LORD,

for his Name only is exalted,

his splendor is over earth and heaven.

He has raised up strength for his people

and praise for all his loyal servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.


–Psalm 148:13-14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The fact that the Apocalypse of John quotes the Book of Daniel is old news.  The “son of man,” or as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders the term, “One like a human being,” in Daniel 7, is a heavenly figure the text never identifies specifically.  He might be the archangel Michael.  In subsequent Jewish interpretation “the son of man” is a representation of Israel.  Whoever the “son of man” is in Daniel 7, he receives an everlasting dominion on earth in a vision in that chapter.  In Revelation Jesus receives that everlasting dominion.

Revelation 11:15 cues Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” to start thundering inside my head, it was one of the passages of the composer used in that portion of theMessiah.  The New Revised Standard Version (1989) renders the text as:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord

and of his Messiah,

and he will reign forever and ever.

The translation in The Revised English Bible (1989) is less traditional:

Sovereignty over the world has passed to our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever!

In Revelation 12-18 God proceeds to destroy the corrupt human order on earth before inaugurating the divine order in chapters 19-22.

Many of the texts regarding the Kingdom of God in the New Testament indicate its partial presence, at least from a human perspective.  It is evident among people, but there will be more to come.  We need not wait for the complete realization of the Kingdom of God to praise and exalt God, whose mighty acts are numerous.  The full Kingdom of God will come to pass and become obvious in human sight in time.  Until then reminders of divine sovereignty are still in order, for appearances often prove both deceptive and discouraging.







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This is post #1450 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.


God Cares, Part II   1 comment

Ozark Family

Above:  A Destitute Family in the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, 1935

Photographer = Ben Shahn (1898-1969)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF33-006071-M2


The Collect:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward,

and you embrace us all with your mercy.

By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace,

and feed us at the table of your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28


The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 23:26-41 (Monday)

Leviticus 25:1-19 (Tuesday)

Psalm 53 (Both Days)

Revelation 19:1-8 (Monday)

Revelation 19:9-10 (Tuesday)


The benighted man thinks,

“God does not care.”

–Psalm 53:2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


The New Revised Standard Version (1989) offers a more traditional rendering of that verse:

Fools say in their hearts,

“There is no God.”

–Psalm 53:1a

Singular versus plural in the realm of nouns is not the issue that really concerns me.  I do not live in fear or distrust of masculine words, but I do guard the distinction between the singular and the plural in the realm of pronouns zealously.  My tenacity regarding language aside, I focus on my main point:  the translators of TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) rendered Psalm 53 and its basis, Psalm 14, correctly.  Every scholarly commentary I have consulted regarding Psalms 14 and 53 agrees that the issue is practical atheism, not the denial of the existence of God.  Atheism was rare in the ancient Middle East, but living as if God did not care was rampant among Hebrews.

God cares.  For God to exist God must care.  God cares for us and the rest of the created order.  God cares about justice.  The Sabbath laws and codes for the year of the jubilee in Leviticus reveal that God cares about people so much as to give them time off from work.  One needs to rest and play as well as to work in order to lead a balanced life.  Unfortunately, the annals of Christian history are full of instances of people labeling proper recreation as something sinful.  I note that targets for this mislabeling have included chess and other games, which medical experts know to be helpful for keeping one’s mind sharp and which educators consider useful in building mental acumen.  Even drinking tea, an excellent source of antioxidants, has been the target of condemnations for indulging one’s appetites.  Some people need to relax in their attitudes and lay legalism aside.

More to the point, time off is a mark of freedom, for a slave in Egypt had no day off from work.  Freedom from oppression, the context for Revelation 19, is not an invitation to impose new forms of oppression–legalism, needless guilt trips, et cetera.  God frees people to live in the liberty of mutual responsibility in community.  Each of us is accountable others, who are, in turn, responsible to each of us.  And everybody depends entirely upon and is accountable to God.  In this model there is no room for oppression or exploitation.  God frees us to lead lives of active compassion, empathy, and sympathy.  And God cares if we pursue that path.





Adapted from this post:


Posted November 30, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Leviticus 25-27, Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Revelation of John 19

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The Little Gate to God   4 comments

Little Gate to God

Above:  Part of Rauschenbusch’s Text, from Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


Those who know me well are aware of the fact that I collect hymnals, especially old ones.  I have begun to explore a Christmas present, a copy of the 1916 Episcopal Hymnal, to great delight.  And the line of Pilgrim Hymnals interests me.  I have copies copyrighted 1912, 1935, and 1958. provides a method of obtaining a free electronic copy of the 1904 version.

Pilgrim Hymnals

Above:  The 1912, 1935, and 1958 Pilgrim Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

All of these hymnals stand in the worship lineage of the United Church of Christ (UCC) (1957-), which adopted and authorized The New Century Hymnal in 1995.  As of yesterday, when I checked the UCC website most recently, the church publisher sold not only the 1995 hymnal and a Spanish-language hymnal, but The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), Pilgrim Hymnal (1958), and The Hymnal (1941) of the former Evangelical and Reformed Church (1934-1957).


Above:  The 1941, 1958, 1974, and 1995 Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Of these volumes The Hymnal (1941) is the most impressive and Pilgrim Hymnal (1958) is also quite good.  The other two are regrettable books.  That is this Episcopalian’s opinion.

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Title

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Pilgrim Hymnal (1935) is a revision of Pilgrim Hymnal (1931).

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

This fact causes me to ponder the economics of hymnal revision, especially during the Great Depression.  I do recall that 1931 was the year the National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States (1871-1931) merged with the General Conference of the Christian Church (1890-1931) to form the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches (1931-1957).  My surmise, then, is that the 1935 revision was not an overhaul of the 1931 volume.  I find a hint of this in the Preface to the 1958 Pilgrim Hymnal:

This book was first conceived as a revision of the Pilgrim Hymnal of 1931, but the recent developments in hymnody, in church life, and in world history have made it necessary to plan our work in larger terms.

–page v

Pilgrim Hymnal 1958 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1958)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I have read online that the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal contains the greatest concentration of Social Gospel hymns.  I, being a skilled hair splitter, wonder if the authors of those remarks have distinguished between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy, both of which prioritize addressing and correcting societal ills.  Yet my study of the 1935 book does reveal many hymns about societal responsibility–especially on a national level.  And my study of the 1904 and 1912 predecessors reveals that those volumes were Social Gospel (defined narrowly) publications.

The theological orientation of the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal becomes clear before hymn #1, “Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty.”  Opposite that hymn one finds a text by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), the great theologian of the Social Gospel:

In the castle of my soul

Is a little postern gate,

Whereat, when I enter,

I am in the presence of God,

In a moment, in the turning of a thought,

I am where God is.

This is a fact.


The world of men is made of jangling noises.

With God is a great silence.

But that silence is a melody

Sweet as the contentment of love,

Thrilling as a touch of flame.

When I enter into God,

All life has a meaning.

Without asking I know;

My desires are even now fulfilled,

My fever is gone

In the great quiet of God.

My troubles are but pebbles on the road,

My joys are like the everlasting hills.

So it is when I step through the gate of prayer

From time into eternity.

When I am in the consciousness of God,

My fellowmen are not far off and forgotten,

But close and strangely dear.

Those whom I love

Have a mystic value.

They shine as if a light were glowing within them.


So it is when my soul steps through the postern gate

Into the presence of God.

Big things become small, and small things become great.

The near becomes far, and the future is near.

The lowly and despised is shot through with glory.

God is the substance of all revolutions;

When I am in him, I am in the Kingdom of God

And in the Fatherland of my Soul.

Several aspects of that text perk up my theological ears.  The affirmation of the image of God in others is a timeless and sadly necessary message to repeat.  Today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, is an especially appropriate time to do so.

The recognition of being in the Kingdom of God in the heightened state of awareness of being in the presence of God rings true with me.  To the writing and theology of Rauschenbusch I add the subsequent work and thought of C. H. (Charles Harold) Dodd, who explained Realized Eschatology in The Founder of Christianity (1970):

God, the Eternal, the omnipresent, can hardly be said to be nearer or farther off at this time or that.  If he is king at all, he is king always and everywhere.  In what sense his kingdom does not come; it is.  But human experience takes place within a framework of time and space.  There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized)  becomes manifestly and effectively true.  Such a moment in history is reflected in the gospels….

–pages 56 and 57 of the 1970 paperback edition

The contextualization of one’s circumstances in the presence of God, paired with due awestruck humility (the fear of God, in traditional language) is a healthy spiritual attitude.

And the attachment to others in God is a profoundly Biblical attitude.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we say you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, The New Revised Standard Version

The reverse situation is not happy, however:

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

–Matthew 25:45, The New Revised Standard Version

There is also this from the Letter of James:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can that faith save him?  Suppose a fellow-Christian, whether man or woman, is in rages with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, “Goodbye, keep warm, and have a good meal,” but does nothing to supply that their bodily needs, what good is that?  So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14-17, The Revised English Bible

Rauschenbusch understood these lessons well in the context of his Baptist congregation in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, New York.  He knew that the fact that tenements were such substandard housing was a sin, one which required correction.  He grasped the communal roots of Christianity and lived accordingly.  He was, however, overly optimistic about how much people could do to change the world.  Yet Rauschenbusch, despite his insufficient theology of sin–which Reinhold Niebuhr corrected–did call necessary and proper attention to the fact that the church has societal duties.  To those who would rebuff this idea, I quote the late Reverend Sherwood Eliot Wirt, a long-time associate of Billy Graham:

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air was cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism  is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concerns be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.

The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1968), page 154

And is it not evidence of a changed life, for example, to oppose the exploitation and endangerment of people who have to live in substandard housing?  Should not all human housing meet certain basic standards?  Rauschenbusch understood this point well.

The unfortunate acceptance of the Roman social order–complete with slavery–which we find in much of the New Testament reflects the human authorship of those texts and the widespread expectation of the temporal proximity of the Second Coming of Jesus.  If one thinks that Christ will return soon and wipe away the social structures, problems, and injustices, focusing on individual spiritual preparation is a logical decision.  Yet nearly 2000 years have passed and many of my heroes of Christian faith have challenged and/or changed social systems for the better.  They have been salt and light, the hands and feet of Christ.

In contrast to those go-along-and-get-ready-for-Jesus parts of the New Testament I find others with a different message.  Revelation 18 and 19 come to mind immediately.  Babylon (read:  the Roman Empire, based on slavery, military conquest, and economic exploitation) has fallen.  Heaven rejoices.  Yet certain kings and merchants of the earth lament this change, for they have benefited from the vanquished political and economic arrangements.  Good news for the oppressed is bad news for the oppressors.  And God is the substance of that revolution.

So, O reader, are you one in a position to rejoice or to lament when contemporary Babylons–based on violence and/or economic and other forms of exploitation–fall?  And is your understanding of Christian responsibility overly individualistic?




Daniel and Revelation, Part I: Identifying With Oppressors   1 comment


Above:  Cardinal Gibbons on Accepting Membership in the National Child Labor Committee, Circa 1913

Photographed by Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940)

Image Source = Library of Congress


Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-nclc-04865


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 2:1-23 (November 21)

Daniel 2:24-49 (November 22)

Psalm 143 (Morning–November 21)

Psalm 86 (Morning–November 22)

Psalms 81 and 116 (Evening–November 21)

Psalms 6 and 19 (Evening–November 22)

Revelation 18:1-24 (November 21)

Revelation 19:1-21 (November 22)


Some Related Posts:

Daniel 2:

Revelation 18:

Revelation 19:


Daniel prophesied the fall of the Chaldean Empire of King Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar) II (reigned 625-605 BCE), the rise and fall of successive empires, and the founding of God’s rule on earth.  The founding of God’s rule on earth is one of the topics of Revelation 18 and 19.  I find the more interesting topic of those chapters to be the different responses to the fall of “Babylon” (the Roman Empire).  The righteous exult, as they should.  But those who had made common cause with the corruption, injustice, and violence of the late empire lament its passing.

Richard Bauckham, in The Bible in Politics:  How to Read the Bible Politically, 2d. Ed. (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), provides excellent analysis:

Rome is a harlot because of her associations with the peoples of her empire for her own economic benefit.  The Pax Romana is really a system of economic exploitation of the empire.  For the favours of Rome–the security and prosperity of the Pax Romana–her lovers pay a high price.  Her subjects give far more to her than she gives to them.

–pages 90-91

The riches came from the exploitation of people (page 91) and the condemnation applies to successive states throughout history (page 93).  Furthermore, there is a hermeneutical trap:

Any reader who finds himself…viewing the prospect of the fall of Rome with dismay should therefore discover with a shock where he stands, and the peril in which he stands.

–page 99

Bauckham concludes with the following:

…there is much to suggest that modern Western society, in its worship of the idol of its ever-increasing material prosperity, is trafficking in human lives.  Chief among its mourners may be the multinational companies, the advertising industry, and the arms trade.  But one should also be aware of the hermeneutical trap John laid for us all.

–page 102

The towel draped across my shower curtain rod says:


How old was the person who made my towel?  (Child labor is rampant in Bangladesh.)  How long was his or her work day?  What standard of living does he or she enjoy?  I suspect that the answers would disturb my conscience.  I know that there must have been reasons (not all of them innocent) that the towel cost so little to purchase.  I am, simply by belonging to my First World society, complicit in the exploitation of Third World people.  Every time I shop for a towel, a clock radio, or a pair of tennis shoes, for example, I risk deepening my complicity.

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God;

I call upon you all the day long.

–Psalm 86:3, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)







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Metropolis (1927)   Leave a comment


Above:  Shift Change from Metropolis (1927)

A Screen Capture I Took


Directed by Fritz Lang

Written by Thea von Harbou

To say that Metropolis is a classic and influential film is to understate reality greatly; immediately I recognize echoes of it in the works of James Whale (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein), George Lucas (Star Wars, sequels, and prequels), and Ridley Scott (Blade Runner).  Scholars of cinema can and do create long lists of influences and subsequent homages.  And to state that those who butchered the movie (even destroying cut scenes) shortly after the movie’s debut were blooming idiots is to claim the obvious as true.  Fortunately, a nearly complete restored version (finished in 2010) is available.

There are versions of the movie available for home viewing.  I have the 2001 restored version (with about 3/4 of the movie present) and the 2010 restored version (with 99% of the footage included).  Alas, two scenes are, to the best of current knowledge, beyond salvage, so intertitles summarizing them will have to suffice.  Each of these versions–the Restored Authorized Version of 2001 and the Complete Metropolis of 2010–has different and helpful special features, so I recommend owning both if one is a cinephile.  The commentary track on the 2001 version is quite informative, for example, as is the documentary included with the 2010 edition.

This is a religious blog, so I choose to leave most aspects of the movie to already extant websites (such as and ), which cover that ground quite well as I ponder some of the movie’s spiritual connections.  A film in which a city leader rules from the New Tower of Babel (a reference to Genesis 11:1-9), people read from the Book of Revelation (with references to the Whore of Babylon from chapters 17 and 19), and the leader’s son must serve as the mediator between the head (the ruler) and the hands (the oppressed workers) calls out for theological analysis.

Thea von Harbou’s story is set in an unnamed European city in 2026.  Urban elites live in skyscraper penthouses and play in the Eternal Gardens.  Meanwhile, those who built the city and who keep it functioning live hard lives, work ten-hour shifts, and occupy subterranean homes.  Joh Fredersen, the ruthless industrialist who governs the city, considers this arrangement just; the workers are, he says,

Where they belong.

His son, Freder, is naively unaware of the plight of the “other half” until Maria, the prophet of the working class, brings some of the workers’ barefoot children, clad in rags, to the Eternal Gardens and shows them their

brothers and sisters.

The butler shoos them away, of course.  But Freder begins to search the city in search of the woman with whom he has just fallen in love.  He does find her eventually, but not before he witnesses and experiences the harsh industrial conditions.  And he begins to realize his destiny to function as the mediator who will avert the violent overthrow of his father’s regime and who will create justice for the workers.

Some characters are inexact analogs for biblical figures.

Freder Fredersen is the Christ figure.  Not only is he the mediator, but he is crucified on a clock in one scene in which he takes a worker’s place.

If Freder Fredersen is the Christ figure, his father Joh is the YHWH figure.  If one reads the Hebrew Scriptures closely, one realizes that YHWH is not always nice.  Joh does approve of the workers’ rebellion so that he can crush it, eliminate troublemakers, and rule with an even more iron fist; he is an unsympathetic character.  Meanwhile, back in the Old Testament, depictions of YHWH are sometimes unpleasant; YHWH does send plagues and pestilences upon innocent populations more than once.  (See Exodus 7:14-12:32 and 2 Samuel 24:10-17, for example.)

Above:  Rotwang shows Joh Frederson the “Machine Man”

Rotwang, the inventor and prototypical cinematic mad scientist, is the Satan figure.  He pursues his own agenda and desires to undermine Joh.  Rotwang almost succeeds.

The movie portrays inhumane industrial conditions as idolatry.  In one scene Freder witnesses an industrial accident which claims human casualties.   He imagines the machine as Moloch/Molech, the Ammonite deity mentioned in 1 Kings 11:7 and 2 Kings 23:10, and experiences a hallucination of the machine consuming willing and unwilling human sacrifices.

Alas, the film’s conclusion does seem like a too-convenient deus ex machina, one which leaves the oppressive Joh Fredersen in charge.  But perhaps he will change his ways; nobody is beyond repentance and redemption, right?

Metropolis, despite its inconsistencies, is a staggering achievement and a masterpiece, one worthy of thoughtful appreciation and analysis beyond its obvious technical excellence.  This is not a story of the violent overthrow of the dictatorial and insensitive regime. Rather, the aborted uprising is the work of Rotwang, the Satan analog, who seeks to overthrow Joh, and of Joh, who wants to use the opportunity for his own purposes, only to find that they backfire on him.  So the politics of the film are inconsistent.  One might guess, based on the early scenes, that the ending might be different:  Freder and Maria overthrow Joh, with the screenwriter’s approval.  But no!

Yet the movie is what it is.  And the theme of social justice, especially that of the economic variety, is consistent with the ethos of the Hebrew prophets.








“And Night Shall Be No More”   1 comment

Above:  The Measuring of the New Jerusalem


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Revelation 18:1-2, 21-19:3, 9 (Revised English Bible):

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven; he possessed great authority and the earth shone with his splendour.  In a mighty voice he proclaimed,

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!  She has become a dwelling for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, for every unclean and loathsome bird….

Then a mighty angel picked up a stone like a great millstone and hurled it into the sea, saying,

Thus shall Babylon, the great city, be sent hurling down, never to be seen again!  The sound of harpists and minstrels, flute-players and trumpeters, shall no more be heard in you; no more shall craftsmen of any trade be found in you, or the sound of the mill be heard in you; no more shall the light of the lamp appear in you, no more shall the voices of the bridegroom and bride be heard in you!  Your traders were once the merchant princes of the world, and with your sorcery you deceived all the nations.

The blood of the prophets and of God’s people was found in her, the blood of all who had been slain on earth.  After this I heard what sounded like a vast throng in heaven shouting:

Hallelujah!  Victory and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgements!  He has condemned the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication; he has taken vengeance on her for the blood of his servants.

Once more they shouted:

Hallelujah!  The smoke from her burning will rise for ever!

The angel said to me,

Write this:  ”Happy are those who are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb!”

He added,

These are the very words of God.

Revelation 20:1-4, 11-21:4 (Revised English Bible):

I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil, or Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years; he threw him into the abyss, shutting and sealing it over him,so that he might not seduce the nations again till the thousand years were ended.  After that he must be let loose for a little while.

I saw thrones, and on them sat those to whom judgement was committed.  I saw the souls of those who, for the sake of God’s word and their witness to Jesus, had been beheaded, those who had not worshipped the beast and its image or received its mark on forehead or hand.  They came to life again and reigned with Christ for a thousand years….

I saw a great, white throne, and the One who sits upon it.  From his presence earth and heaven fled away, and there was no room for then any more.  I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne; and books were opened.  Then another book, the book of life, was opened.  The dead were judged by what they had done, as recorded in these books.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead in their keeping.  Everyone was judged on the record of his deeds.  Then Death and Hades were flung into the lake of fire.  This lake of fire is the second death; into it were flung any whose names were not to be found in the book of life.

I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had vanished, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.  I heard a loud voice proclaiming from the throne:

Now God has made his dwelling with mankind!  He will dwell among them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain, for the old order has passed away!

Revelation 22:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s street.  On either side of the river stood a tree of life, which yields twelve crops of fruit, one for each month of the year.  The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.  Every accursed thing shall disappear.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see him face to face and bear his name on their foreheads.  There shall be no more night, nor will they need the light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will give them light; and they shall reign for ever.

He said to me,

These words are trustworthy and true.  The Lord God who inspires the prophets has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.  And remember, I am coming soon!

Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness

and come before his presence with a song.

Know this:  The LORD himself is God;

he himself has made us, and we are his;

we are the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and call upon his name.

4 For the LORD is good;

his mercy is everlasting;

and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

Psalm 84 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!

My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house

and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;

by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,

my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house!

they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you!

whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,

for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height,

and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God;

and look upon the face of your Anointed.

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand in the threshold of the house of my God

than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the LORD is both sun and shield;

he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the LORD withhold

from those who walk with integrity.

12 O LORD of hosts,

happy are they who put their trust in you!

Psalm 95:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving

and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

3 For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the caverns of the earth,

and the heights of the hills are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee,

and kneel before the LORD our Maker.

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

Luke 21:20-36 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

But when you see Jerusalem encircled by armies, then you may be sure that her devastation is near.  Then those who are in Judaea must take to the hills; those who are in the city itself must leave it and those who are out in the country must not return; because this is the time of retribution, when all that stands written is to be fulfilled.  Alas for women with child in those days, and for those who have children at the breast!  There will be great distress in the land and a terrible  judgement on this people.  They will fall by the sword; they will be carried captive into all countries; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by Gentiles until the day of the Gentiles has run its course.

Portents will appear in sun and moon and stars.  On earth nations will stand helpless, not knowing which way to turn from the roar and surge of the sea.  People will faint with terror at the thought of what is coming upon the world; for the celestial powers will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When all this begins to happen, stand upright and hold your heads high, because your liberation is near.

Jesus told them a parable:

Look at the fig tree, or at any other tree.  As soon as it bud, you can see for yourselves that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see all this happening, you may know that the kingdom of God is near.

Truly I tell you:  the present generation will live to see it all.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Be on your guard; do not let your minds be dulled by dissipation and drunkenness and worldly cares so that the great day catches you suddenly like a trap; for that day will come on everyone, the whole world over.  Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength to pass safely through all that is coming and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 29:  Thursday, Year 1:

Week of Proper 29:  Friday, Year 1, and Week of Proper 29:  Saturday, Year 1:


The Book of Revelation culminates with the destruction of the city (and empire) of Rome and the establishment of God’s order, the New Jerusalem.  The Empire had persecuted Christians and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple there.  The latter was a recent memory for many members of the original audience of both Revelation and Luke.  In fact, as I read Luke 21, I perceive that memories of those traumas influenced the telling of the contents.  How could they not?  We humans tell the past in the context of our present and recent history.

There is good news after all.  Revelation is an essentially optimistic book.

“…and night shall be no more….”

–Revelation 22:5a, Revised Standard Version

Part of the text from Revelation reminded me of an anthem my church choir has sung:

Peace be to you and grace from Him who freed us from our sins,

who loved us all and shed his blood that we might saved be.

Sing holy, holy to our Lord, the Lord Almighty God,

who was and is and is to come,

sing holy, holy Lord.

Rejoice on earth, ye saints below, for Christ is coming soon.

E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come and night shall be more.

They need no light, no lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be their all.

In 1954, Paul and Ruth Manz struggled emotionally through the serious (threatening to be fatal) illness of their three-year-old son, John.  Paul, a Lutheran church organist and composer, set words his wife had adapted from Revelation to music.  John recovered and became a minister.  He presided at his father’s funeral in November 2009.

Those of us who have lived for a sufficiently long time understand the darkness of anguish.  I refer not to mere childhood and adolescent alleged emergencies.  No, I mean potentially soul-shattering grief.  In such circumstances, one wonders how one can carry on.  Christ, who suffered grievously, did more than persist–he triumphed, even over death itself.  The power which made that possible can enable us to survive, continue, rebuild, and thrive.  Yew, we can carry one, in Christ, of course.





Adapted from this post: