I’ve been watching with keen interest how God and the Bible are used and misused by politicians and presidents to support a form of nationalism. When politicians invoke God or the Bible, they often twist Scripture for their own political interests and agendas. Just recently, Putin justified his military invasion of Ukraine with John 15:13, which states, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NIV). Instead of being God’s friends and actually following Jesus’s commands, the quote is used to justify a form of nationalism. We do it too. Back in August of 2021, President Biden paraphrased Isaiah 6:8, “When the Lord says, ‘Who shall I send?’ the American military has been answering for a long time, ‘Here I am, Lord. Send me.’” Using Biblical texts in the context of promising American revenge after the attack in Kabul is a misuse of Scripture. It seems that twisting Scripture is something that politicians, presidents, pastors, and numerous other people are prone to doing. And twisting Scripture is what we are doing when we claim that God is on our side and easily identify as a Christian, then use the Bible for civil religion or church nationalism. It is another thing altogether to actually follow the teachings of Jesus.
In Revelation chapters 5 and 6, we get a picture of the place of God’s rule, the very center of His administration where He gives marching orders—the place where He speaks from and does what is right. On the throne sits the Commander and Creator, who created all things good and loving. Right in the center of that throne room is a slaughtered lamb (Revelation 5:6). You could almost say that John placed a pathetic carcass of a butchered animal at the very center of the universe. John, who wrote the book of Revelation, is showing us in poetic form what the crucifixion looked like on a grand cosmic scale. He does this in order to show that the death of Jesus “belongs to the way God rules the world” (Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 1993, p. 64). God is thus presented as self-giving in all of His actions. Revenge and retribution have nothing to do with it. He lays down His life, slain by the violence of His enemies because He chose to love those same enemies. This image is the central organizing feature of the character of God. It is this Jesus who is in control of all things—the one who lays down His life in love, the same Jesus who is coming again.
This is the characteristic of God that John is so taken with—not John Wayne, Bruce Willis, Rambo, Terminator, or the latest John Wick style tough guy. The actual source of evil in our world is not easy to see, nor is the solution as simple as killing a bunch of bad guys, because the archenemy himself is described as “the father of lies” (John 8:44). I like how Professor Ron Highfield puts it: “Jesus did not go into the underworld like Beowulf to do battle with Grendel. We cannot defeat a lie by force of arms. For the idea that the sword can defeat our most dangerous enemy is the biggest lie of all” (The New Adam, 2021, p. 153).
What qualifies Jesus to defeat evil, reveal history, and unpack all of Creation’s mysteries (i.e., the sealed scroll) is the fact that Jesus was armed only with the weapons of truth and faithfulness when He allowed shame, pain, violence, and death to “do its worst” (N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 2006, p. 81). The Lamb allowed the shame, pain, and chaos of our world to engulf Him, and Jesus exposed the pretense of evil, thus depriving it of its power. Because the power of evil failed, and Jesus succeeded with the truth, He is the only one who is able to open the sealed scroll and pull back the curtain on our world.
The truth is that you shouldn’t be afraid of the chaos anymore. Even with all the political problems of our day, followers of Jesus do not have to be afraid. In light of the eternal, reliable, and beautiful love of God, we can face the chaos. Instead of panicking and being spooked at every prospect that challenges our religious liberty, fearing the political mechanisms and latest wars and economic woes as fulfilling predictions about the end time, we can focus on the Lamb. We should expect that the time is short and that the things happening in our world remind us that Jesus is coming soon, but we are called to promote the one thing that holds meaning and hope amid the chaos of our world. The cosmic issue has to do with the kind of person God is and how He reliably operates in the Person of Jesus as the Lamb dying and being raised to life again.
The most often repeated form of advice in the Bible is do not fear or do not be afraid! Whenever the disciples were overcome with fear, Jesus took up that same encouraging statement and told them to not be afraid. Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid in light of what it takes to critically engage the world with the truth about the kind of person God really is. Jesus has already overcome the world and everything in it. You don’t have to be afraid to run into the chaos. Don’t let anything that is happening in the world around you become more important or more powerful to you than the truth about God as revealed by the Person of Jesus. Everything else is just part of the lie. Get your marching orders from the Lamb, and follow the way of faithfulness and truth as Jesus asked us to do and in the way Jesus asked us to do it. That’s what Revelation 7 & 14 are all about. But that is for another day.
Craig Ashton Jr.