Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Re-Reading Revelation: Three Angels (Excursus 2)

There is a gem buried in the midst of the great battle narrative. In chapter fourteen--just as God begins His earthly victory to mirror the preexistent victory in heaven--three pronouncements are offered by three angels. It's placement in the text would seem to suggest that the angels serve merely as end time heralds of the final triumph of God, yet John introduces this passage with a curious pronouncement of his own: "Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people." It is clear that John intends this message to transcend its place in the narrative. This is a three point sermon for eternity, and its message is no less potent now than when it was recorded.

Grasping the beauty of the passage requires understanding the chiastic structure of the three proclamations. The words of the first and the third angels are almost perfect parallels. The first angel declares that people of all nations should worship the Lord. The third angel gives a gruesome image of those who worship the false gods instead. In a chiasm, the outer parallels function to emphasize the more important central text. It is the message of the second angel that is the key to this enduring homily: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality."

What appears at first glance to be a simple statement of fact--shorter, plainer, and less engaging than the passages around it--actually functions as the explanation for the messages of the other two angels. It was suggested previously that the purpose of the whole battle narrative of chapters twelve through sixteen was to demonstrate to Christians who had every reason to feel as though Satan was winning that in fact God would be and always was the victor. The same theme resounds here and functions as a call to worship in the "eternal gospel." God is victorious and the devil defeated, therefore worship God and despise the devil. At the crux of the narrative, the angels repeat and apply the message of the text in a way that bears our renewed examination.


For a full list of "Re-reading Revelation" posts, see Re-reading Revelation: Statement of Purpose.

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