Gleanings from Adolf Schlatter on the Book of Revelation

The following regarding the apostle John’s presentation of what the church must face and fight throughout her life in this world as she awaits her Lord’s return from:

Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology, translated by Andreas J. Köstenberger (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 109-110.

“John did not expect toleration for the community of Jesus from the Roman world. . . . he charged Rome with the weighty guilt of perverting sensual desires. The great city drives the nations into a frenzy of pleasures, so that their chastity was compromised by that whore Rome (ch. 17).

But the already existing evil is not the final one; it rather reveals evil at work by indicating that the most severe sin still lies in the future. This evil arises from the will that craves for power for the sake of power, deifying itself (13:4-8). That is why the world possesses no tolerance for Jesus’ community. For the person who strives for world rule and others’ worship cannot bear Jesus’ word and wages war against his rule. On this account it becomes the prophet’s calling to testify to the community regarding the necessity of this struggle and thus to equip the community for it. In this way Christ grants to the community his protecting grace by the service of his messenger (1:1; 22:6): for it is grace that gives to the community the seeing eye that perceives the imminent struggle, freeing it from vain hopes and granting it the power to forsake success, not to desire blessedness and rule for itself, and to enter the fight with the assurance that it will bring death, but that it will be transformed into victory through Christ. . . .

John sees in the anti-Christian period not merely an event that needs to take place before the Christ can come and that the church can merely passively observe. He rather pits one community against the other, the worshipers of the ruler of this world against the worshipers of the heavenly Lord. The Antichrist demands even Christians to serve him and to worship him. They are directly affected by his rule with its seduction and oppression, so that it becomes an existential question for the church whether or not it is up to the task. . . .

John considered the prophecy necessary not merely owing to human aversion to suffering, which shivers in the face of torment and death. John, of course, also aids the church in this regard; he equips the martyrs. But the temptation accompanying the final confrontation is more profound. There were, after all, ways by which it could be avoided, alterations of Christianity that satisfied the needs of the Greeks and thereby removed or at least softened the contrast between Hellenism and Christianity. Syncretistic constructs that intermingled Greek thought with Christianity had already been formed by the gnostic movement, and the book begins with the order to exclude them from the churches. Thus the church was confronted with danger not merely from the outside but also from within, since gnostic prophecy fought Jesus in the name of the “Spirit,” despising Jesus’ promise and thereby dispensing with the Christ’s victory over the world, creating in its place a religion by which man glorified himself and elevated himself to unlimited power. Thus the same will was revealed in it from which the self-deifying dominion arose outside the church. For this reason John prophesied that the world rulers would unite with false prophets, thereby bringing sin to completion and providing it with the power that seduced all (13:11-17).”

In light of the upcoming denominational meetings next month not only in the ARP, but several other Protestant denominations, to say nothing of the present distress in America, we would do well to remind ourselves, or perhaps learn for the first time, that Our Lord is purifying for himself his bride. There are those who, in the name of heralding the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, herald a gospel that praises Man’s powers to employ his strategies for harnessing God for Man’s agenda. But the Gospel power that saves will not make America or even the Church Great, at least not in the way so many often measure greatness. But it will announce the greatness of the Triune God in what he has done, is doing and will do through the resurrected and reigning Lord Jesus. As this gospel goes forth, sinners will receive that which they can never manipulate and manage but will transform them to be like the Lord Jesus, and cause them to be willing to suffer not only in the society as a whole but even in the church. Our duty and privilege is not to produce a particular result–to prevent people from leaving the church, per se, but to proclaim and testify to him Who Is the Truth.

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