Reframing the Book of Revelation

“Revelation doesn’t have anything to do with predicting the end of the world,” explains C. Wess Daniels. Instead, the last book of the Christian New Testament was written as “a handbook for a minority faith community in how to resist empire,” a source of inspiration for early Christians enduring Roman oppression that still has much to teach Friends about pushing back against a dominant culture.

Much of Revelation’s stunning imagery is an allegorical representation of what Wess calls the liturgy of empire, the ways the “Beast” works to bend people to its will. “There have been communities standing in resistance to this for thousands of years,” he urges. “Let’s draw on that wisdom and those tools where it helps—where we can—and join that community of resistance over time.”

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5 thoughts on “Reframing the Book of Revelation

  1. Excellent. Though it isn’t a joke, it is being used as a tool to frighten people into the churches that support that empire. That the mark of the beast is symbolic of the thoughts of the mind and the works of the hands as to whether your thoughts and works support the empires of oppression or the works of God.

  2. Such an interesting and worthwhile “Quaker Speak”! I like the fact that Friend Wess seems to know ancient Greek well. It would be interesting to hear him discuss the meaning of the original Greek that has been mistranslated into English; or to enhance the meaning of the English by explaining what the Greek actually means. The “mark of the beast” explanation was especially apropos. Many thanks to Friend Wess Daniels

  3. I’ve been struggling with reading the Book of Revelations from the canon of the New Testament and to explore what might have happened. It’s from the point of view of the scribe. To be read either as a poem, or as a monologue.
    I, Prochorus
    The cave is a contradiction
    of pebbled black and filtering light,
    of silence as well as a wailing
    as if soaring angels give voice,
    Is it only the occasional breeze
    sweeping through roof fissures?
    Does Grandfather John perceive
    Voices – more than what I hear?
    Daily I visit with my parcel of fried leaves,
    barley buns, and my ink and scroll,
    his bent crippled fingers unable to hold the quill.
    He will dictate messages from the God,
    not Artemis, nor Diana, but the Wonderful One
    that the new Way defines as Everlasting.
    It is dim inside, his resting place
    a thin pallet on a rough rock ledge.
    He is so frail and more than twice my age.
    His stories exaggerate, embellish, confuse.
    He declares he sees rainbow-filled visions,
    his hero Yeshua standing at a doorway
    and knocking like just anybody.
    The cave walls have little indentations,
    scratches, one mark for each day,
    his term of imprisonment unknown.
    Perhaps the Romans are expecting death soon.
    Grandfather John says, ‘I want to go home.’
    Does he mean Ephesus or
    going to his Father’s Heaven?
    This sojourn in Patmos Island a consequence
    of insulting the Emperor, his insistence
    that Domitianus is not a god.
    Why wasn’t he more cautious like me
    instead of rants throughout the marketplace?
    I have been a Deacon in the Way, quietly
    doing my task in overseeing hospitality
    and the frail aged like Grandfather John.
    So I offered to follow him to the prison island,
    take care of his needs, his food, his health.
    My wife refused to leave city comforts;
    afraid of both prisoners and soldiers.
    When Patmos became a prison camp
    they worked in the harsh granite mines
    so the natives of Patmos fled
    to Ephesus or other islands, leaving cottages,
    fields (though the land is harsh),
    their fishing nets, lobster pots, little boats.
    I came with my son and a former slave,
    and my mother so now they work the soil,
    wrestle with its stubbenness, or go fishing.
    I write on my scroll his ramblings,
    his incredible store of magical sightings,
    mayhem, beasts, and disarray
    that may be about the End Times.
    I am the Alpha and Omega I write.
    This is not about the Jesus we knew about,
    a compassionate man, an ordinary man
    yet he who had God’s spirit in him.
    Grandfather John’s first visions
    are to write letters, seven of them,
    to real people he knows intimately.
    who are frightened, even fractured,
    so letters are easy, though convoluted
    by metaphors, symbols and signs.
    Sometimes I wonder if, instead of a scribe,
    Grandfather John needs an artist.
    At sunset the cave glows luminous
    with streaming light through the fissures
    but I cannot see dragons or beasts.
    I see fireflies, or a shawl in the sky
    which is only an arced flight of birds.
    He speaks in colloquial Greek but occasionally
    he lapses into his home language,
    Ulysses and his adventures were also embellished,
    so I wonder what is real and what is imagined.
    Has age turned his head? He is not demented,
    but has creative stories spinning in his mind,
    beyond our ordinary world of hard rock and spring?
    I gather what I can of the makings of meals –
    – barley, olives, figs, honey – though food is scarce.
    The lads wave from a small boat
    signalling they have caught three lobsters
    as well as octopus, sufficient for three days.
    ‘This land is God-forsaken,’ my mother says,
    as she washes clothes at the trickling spring
    then tends Grandfather John’s tender skin.
    She comments that the morning glory vine
    still grows merrily outside the cave.
    How long we will be here, I cannot guess;
    Grandfather John’s heart beats strongly.

  4. What C. Wess Daniels teaches is not new news. Bible historians have been saying this for years. It’s the theologians who are the problem. They run the gamut from those who see Revelation (and Ezekiel and Daniel) the same way as C. Wess Daniels sees them, all the way to theologians who are like kids in a candy store, reaping endless imagery about Rapture and Antichrist and End Times from these books. Along similar lines, the Gospels, some New Testament writers, and even Handel’s Messiah cherry pick numerous proof texts from the Old Testament as proof that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Ask any Jew, and they will tell you that the Bible verses quoted by these folks applied to the Jews alive at the time when those books were written. The counterargument offered by some theologians is that God can multi-task, and can write a passage that is equally true in 600 BC and 30 AD and 2024 AD.

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