What really inspires us to praise God? What do we enthusiastically praise God for? The more we think about this question, the deeper it gets – but it seems to lie at the center of our study of Revelation 19:1-8, for Sunday, November 21. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a couple more questions we may want to think about or discuss in class:
In verses 1-5, the hosts of heaven praise God (“Hallelujah” three times, “praise” once) with reference to the defeat of “the great whore,” that we also know as “Babylon.” What do we think these hosts are praising God for? [For instance: Righteousness? Justice? Power? Rescuing the afflicted? All of the above? What?] Why do we think that?
How does our answer seem to depend on what we think “Babylon” represents? [For instance: abstract wickedness? Cruelty? Greed? Indifference? … ] How would our answer change if our understanding of “Babylon” changed, do we think? What thoughts or feelings does that raise for us?
[a little deeper] How does what we praise God for depend on … what? Our understanding of God? Our understanding of what is good? Or, of good and evil? Or … something else? How does our study of scripture seem to have informed our praise of God?
Verses 6-8 celebrate the impending “marriage of the Lamb” and the readiness of the bride. Again, what do we understand is being celebrated here? [God’s victory? The rescue of the church from evil? Righteousness – justice – “good” – ? What do we notice is in our minds here?] Why do we think that?
How does our answer depend on what we think “the bride” represents? Or, the character of “the bride”? Or what we think “the Lamb” represents, and the character of “the Lamb”?
What implications does this celebration, and what is being celebrated, have for our behavior now?
In both cases – the celebration of the defeat of Babylon, and the celebration of the marriage of the Lamb – how does our understanding of what is being celebrated seem to depend on things we already know?
How does the text seem to shape or refine our understanding?
Do we notice any changes in our thinking from our study of this text? What changes are those?
If we recall that the Lamb appeared earlier in this book as “the Lamb that was slain,” and if we assume that the slaying of the Lamb was related in some way to the character of “Babylon,” and if we remember some things we know about the death and resurrection of Jesus from our reading of the gospels – how does all that theology of ours seem to influence our understanding of this text? [For instance, does it affect the way we think about the Lamb? Or of the marriage of the Lamb? Or about what made Babylon bad? Or …]
[extra credit, maybe] If we go on and read verse 9 – who do we think will be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb? Does our text tell us anything about who they are, or what they are like? How are they related to Babylon, on one hand, and to the bride, on the other? How do we know that? Implications for us?
I confess: the more I read this text, the more I can’t suppress the sense that these images in Revelation are “self-deconstructing.” That is: on one hand they encourage the text’s beleaguered Christian readers to hold fast to a counter-cultural way of the cross, to be loyal to The Way, the way of life of “the Lamb that was slain.”
On the other hand, they provide that encouragement by affirming in emphatic terms that “shortly” the God of that way, the God of Jesus Christ, will beat the empire of the strong at their own game. With Power and Might and Coercion and Destruction. So much winning.
That people – John and John’s readers – Christians down through the centuries – we – seem to want and need this reassurance about what makes the way of Jesus better than the way of the world, and worth holding on to at all costs … whatever that may or may not say about God, what does that say about us, and about what we love, really?
This seems like something to contemplate.
Maybe especially by Christians like me, for whom the costs, if there even are any, of this way, if it is indeed the way, seem so easily borne.
Image: “Conversation,” Camille Pissaro, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.