Jesus Is Lord…and Caesar Is Not

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 119:49-72 (Morning)
Psalm 49, [53] (Evening)
Zechariah 3:1-10
Revelation 4:1-8
Matthew 24:45-51

Jesus Is Lord…and Caesar Is Not

I’ll bet that most of us have not spent a great deal of time pondering the Book of Revelation, certainly not as much as many of our fundamentalist fellow-Christians have. We’re more likely to know about the cosmic battles between good and evil in Star Wars than about the biblical version that features a menagerie of fantastical beasts arrayed against the armies of the Lord. And much of what people today think they know about Revelation actually comes from novels based on the premise that its prophecies are being fulfilled today.

In today’s reading the author, identifying himself as John, is summoned to a heavenly throne room to see “what must take place after this.” This passage follows admonitions to “the seven churches that are in Asia” and precedes the collection of visions that carries the story and meaning of this last book of the Bible. That story has given rise to all manner of interpretations, most grounded in a belief in Christ’s imminent return and the end of the world. One popular version of the “end times” interpretation includes assertions that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a necessary precondition of the second coming and that the European Union is the beast referred to in Revelation 13.

Personally, I find this line of apocalyptic eschatology (pardon my French) to be neither credible nor edifying. But, like many modern students of the New Testament, I do take the Book of Revelation seriously. If we ask ourselves, “what was the author saying to those first century churches?” rather than presuming that we can predict the future, we find John boldly asserting something that could get him killed but was life-giving to Christians then and is to us today. The so-called “Peace of Rome” was enforced by a ruthless regime headed by an all-powerful emperor whose titles included “Prince of Peace” and “Son of God.” But the message of John’s visions, implied over and over again in his compelling imagery, was this: “Jesus is Lord…and Caesar is not.”

Written by Bob McMath

In 2014, Bob retired from the University of Arkansas, where he had been professor of History and dean of the Honors College. He and his wife Linda have been parishioners at St. Paul’s since moving to Fayetteville in 2005.

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