In the first century of the Christian age the Roman government made claims for the Roman Empire extremely comparable to those presently made for the US. All would be well in the world, the propaganda recommended, if the nations of the world submitted to Roman rule, obeyed Roman law, paid Roman taxes, and revealed their pollical commitment by taking part in the emperor worship of the royal cult.
We can likewise see it in Johns account in Revelation 12:1 -17 of a woman and her child threatened by a dragon. What John declares is that whatever they think about themselves, in reality the beasts are not in charge of what is going on. John states in 13:18 that the number of the beast from the land is in the end a human number (i.e. the royal authorities have only human rather than magnificent authority) and its activity is just ever a monstrous parody of the real authority worked out by Christ and his Church (thus its number is 666 rather than the perfect number 777).
Among the things I do in my time off is see American military and political dramas such as JAG, NCIS, The West Wing and Madam Secretary. I quite delight in these dramas as they are exceptionally well written and well acted, but what I cant assist noticing is that underlying all of them is an extremely clear political message.
This message is that, in spite of challenges from other powers, the US remains the best and most effective nation on earth, and that all will be well in the world providing that what takes place is figured out by the actions of the humane US federal government and the brave and honourable US armed force.
In this view of things, the Pax Americana, the political and military dominance of the world by the United States is, to price estimate Francis Fukuyama, completion of history, the end point of human political development beyond which absolutely nothing much better can be expected or hoped for.
Of course, in truth, this view of the world is dream. The actions of the US federal government are not always humane, the United States military is not always honourable or brave, and the political and military power of the United States is on the wane due to the renewal of China and Russia and internal political and social conflict.
To students of ancient history all this sounds eerily familiar. In the first century of the Christian era the Roman government made claims for the Roman Empire very comparable to those presently made for the US. Roman royal propaganda proclaimed that the objective of history was the Pax Romana generated by the Emperor Augustus, the peace and success brought to the world by Roman royal dominance. All would be well on the planet, the propaganda recommended, if the countries of the world submitted to Roman guideline, obeyed Roman law, paid Roman taxes, and showed their pollical loyalty by taking part in the emperor worship of the royal cult.
In truth, of course, the propaganda obscured the truth. Like the existing claims for America, the claims made for the Roman Empire were fake.
This is among the two essential messages made by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation. What John informs his readers is, firstly, that the claims made for the benefits of the Pax Romana by the imperial authorities are simply incorrect.
We can see this, for instance in Revelation 6:1 -11. In these verses John describes 4 horsemen who are enabled to kill with sword and with scarcity and with plague and by wild monsters of the earth and the deaths of the Christian martyrs who are slain for the word of God and the witness they had borne.
The point John is making is that the world is not (as royal propaganda proclaimed) a place of peace and success. It is a place of war, famine, illness and death, and it is a place where those who challenge the existing order of things get executed.
We can also see it in Johns account in Revelation 12:1 -17 of a woman and her kid threatened by a dragon. In Greek mythology the god Apollo was threatened prior to his birth by the dragon Python and was saved when his mother Leto left to the island of Delos and was subsequently protected by Poseidon. At four days old the infant Apollo then killed Python.
This story was popular in the Greco-Roman world of the very first century and it was utilized by imperial propaganda, particularly in the time of the Emperor Domitian, to give authenticity to the Roman royal system, with the emperor portrayed as Apollo, the kid of the gods and defeater of the chaos monster. Who can protect the Empire from the forces of mayhem? The emperor can.
John, however, subverts this propaganda by telling us that the mom is not Leto however Israel, that the magnificent Son is not Apollo (or the emperor) but Jesus Christ, that the dragon is not Python but Satan, that Jesus has beat Satan on the cross, and therefore it is Jesus (and not the emperor) who safeguards the world from the forces of mayhem.
In Revelation 13 John then challenges imperial propaganda further with his account of the two beasts who utter blasphemies versus God and make war on the saints. These 2 beasts represent the Roman Empire as a whole and its regional manifestation, the Council of Asia through which the Romans governed Asia Minor.
What John declares is that whatever they think of themselves, in truth the monsters are not in charge of what is going on. They are just the puppets of the dragon and will share in his supreme defeat by Christ. Moreover, John declares in 13:18 that the number of the beast from the land is in the end a human number (i.e. the imperial authorities have only human instead of divine authority) and its activity is just ever a grotesque parody of the true authority worked out by Christ and his Church (for this reason its number is 666 instead of the perfect number 777).
It would be an error, nevertheless, to believe that all John performs in Revelation is deconstruct royal propaganda. What he also does is use a 2nd key message.
This 2nd essential message is that it is Jesus Christ who is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). It is Jesus who rules over all things (the Roman Empire consisted of), attaining Gods functions in history by enacting judgement on the ungodly and safeguarding Gods faithful people (even when they crave their faith).
It is Jesus Christ who brings in the only political program that will last for ever. Rome, says John, will fall (fallen, fallen is Babylon the excellent! – Revelation 18:2) as will all earthly political systems, but Jesus generates the political system that will withstand for ever, the New Jerusalem in the new production where death will disappear, neither shall there be weeping nor grieving nor discomfort any longer (Revelation 21:4), and the saints from all nations will dwell happily in the presence of God for evermore.
What all this implies for us is that as we read the news, we should not fear the modifications worldwide order that are presently occurring. Like the dominance of Rome, American dominance will pass away, as all wicked human political systems must, and so, eventually, will whatever sinful systems change it.
He has beat Satan, he rules the world, and he will bring in Gods everlasting kingdom. Our calling, like the Apostle Johns, is to declare this reality to others, and to live patiently and consistently in the light of it ourselves.
Martin Davie is a lay Anglican theologian and Associate Tutor in Doctrine at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.