Metaphor and Monstrosity—How Revelation Can Reconcile the Ardor and Anger of God and the Church

Revelation occupies pride-of-place in evangelical eschatology. Certainly in regard to millennialism, tribulationism, the parousia, the rapture, resurrection, eternal judgment, and the afterlife, Revelation is more formative for our theology than any other single book, Old Testament or New (e.g., Moltmann, Lindsey, etc.) Revelation is also usually viewed metaphorically (at least within biblical studies; e.g., Beale, Bauckham, etc.), meaning that it is generally conceived as pointing to realities beyond itself. This is perhaps why it seems so very fit to explain the unexplainable, ineffable future of humanity.

That’s also what makes it dangerous. According to Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT; e.g., Lakoff, Johnson, etc.), metaphors don’t point to other things, they point to dissimilar things. If John is using a “war” to describe the end of humanity, he isn’t likely conceptualizing that war as in any way violent. CMT rather predicts that the war is pointing to what metaphorical wars usually point to: argument. In the common conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR, acts of apparent “violence” are instead discussional, relational, even salvific, as they are in other parts of the NT (Gal 2:20, 6:14–15; Col 2:12, 20, 3:1–3; Rom 6:3–6; Mark 8:34–35 parr.)

The argument of this paper is that the literalist hermeneutic of Revelation has rendered it non-metaphorical, monstrous, and irredeemably violent—at least on the part of God and his Christ—and the church has been susceptible to turning that violent hermeneutic into actual expression (e.g., “holy wars” like the crusades, “holy torture” like the inquisition, etc.) But, if ARGUMENT IS WAR, that very different focus renders the frame of violence as witness, particularly the “testimony of Jesus Christ” with which John begins (1:2) and ends (22:20) his book.

If one is fundamentally literalist and puts the Apocalypse at the center of a literalist eschatology (as it seems one must), the necessary result of that will be an overriding myth of an angry God that logically vitiates the righteousness, goodness, and love of the God who died for us (1:5). But, those hermeneutical presuppositions must face the essential metaphoricality of visionary literature (1:10–16), as well as the greatness and fullness of the New Jerusalem (21:16). God isn’t angry at us in this book. And that has real implications for not just our eschatology, but for evangelical theology and praxis as a whole.

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