Apocalyptic, sociologists of religion often claim, is the genre of comfort for marginal minorities. Or, more cynically (Engels) it is the revenge fantasy of the oppressed. Despite all appearances, when the veil is pulled back, it turns out that the oppressed are on the winning team.

In a 1992 article in Sociological Analysis , David deSilva contests this orthodoxy as it applies to the Apocalypse. Far from providing comfort, Revelation is a call to arms; throughout it sharpens boundaries and calls Christians to a more uncompromising stand against the world outside, as a means of solidifying Christian identity in response to internal and external pressures. DeSilva sets the book in the period of Domitian, but making allowances for that, his comment is helpful: “Revelation, particularly in relation to imperial ideology, stresses heavily the difference of standards and values, escalates antagonism, and posits a time in the not-too-distant future of mutual rejection.”

There are two programs: a “denominationalizing” program that would lower boundaries between church and world, and John’s own: “the maintenance of the boundaries in order to preserve the identity and proclamation of the sectarian movement.” Revelation thus pushes the church toward a “sectarian posture” in the world.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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