Cathedral depicts triumph of Christ | News, Sports, Jobs
“Stand firm, for the future belongs to God”
There is a cathedral in Milan. It is Europe’s third largest. Imagine for a moment leaving the glare of the Italian sun and walking through its large front doors. The first thing you would see would be fifty-two marbled columns supporting a tall, octagonal dome with over 4,400 turrets and pinnacles. Statues of angels rise up all over the room. The effect is an incomparable combination of grace and grandeur, beauty and breadth.
At the front behind the altar is one of the largest stained glass windows in the world, like a window to heaven. Neither an Old Testament scene nor the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord, nor his crucifixion or ascension is depicted here. With powerful images, the window shows the triumph of Jesus Christ, the Lord, his second coming.
With the afternoon sun, the window transforms into a sea of glass mingled with fire, revealing the poured out vials of wrath, the trumpets, Michael and his angels fighting the dragon, the great angel with the rainbow on his head and one foot on the earth and the other in heaven, proclaiming in the name of him who lives for ever and ever that time will be no more. Bound with a chain, Satan is finally thrown into the abyss. The great white throne glows in the sunlight.
Most impressive is the big white horse. On horseback sits a still greater rider, with the armies of heaven behind him. He is coming to finally set things right for each of us who have hoped in him and for each of us who have faced the pain and prejudice of living in a world that seems gone mad for Jesus Christ.
In this stained glass window we see the general judgments of God embodied in the trumpets and bowls of His wrath. We look at the specific verdict “Babylon the Great” (ancient Nineveh) and Rome at the time of John. “Babylon” is indeed a symbol of evil world powers in each generation leading to the coming of the greatest evil world powers led by Satan) depicted as “The Big Whore” riding on a beast, a dragon with seven heads and ten horns, “sits by many waters” representing many peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.
How should we interpret these symbols? An angel helps explain the mystery of the woman and the beast with seven heads and ten horns, but he says it still requires a mind with wisdom. Many symbols have lent themselves to many different interpretations throughout history. Granville Sharp (1735-1813), prominent Greek scholar and anti-slavery activist, “once received an interview with prominent statesman Charles Fox and explained to him why Napoleon should be identified with”the “little horn on Daniel 7.” Such historical missteps should have warned subsequent generations to exercise greater caution, but unfortunately most of us rarely study history, and we quickly forget the lessons of the past. Our lives are too short to learn through experience all the lessons we need to know; It’s a true adage that warns us that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat their mistakes.
Modern interpreters have had a big day reinterpreting the symbols in Revelation, many without much understanding of the original context or the consistency of their methods of interpretation. From the time of the Holy Roman Empire, many expected a literal revived Roman Empire. When European states agreed on a common market, prophecy fans took this for the ten horns of Daniel and Revelation.
But we need a mind with wisdom. This is what the angel told John that this vision called for. The Bible requires examination on its own terms, without reading into modern events. We can, however, apply it to the issues and events of our time, but unless we have a clear biblical indication that our time is somehow special (which comes only in hindsight), we can apply it as we do to the events of everyone generation would do and to our own lives.
What topic or event can we apply it to? The problem isn’t that Rome is an evil empire; The problem is that its privileged position in international trade made it a major exporter of immorality. So while we may want to denounce evil nations who violently oppress their people, this passage allows us to apply Babylon’s model closer to home. William Stringfellow portrays Babylon as “the essential version of the demonic in triumph in a nation”, whether in Nazi Germany or the United States of America. The United States, he says, is not an evil empire in the sense of totalitarian or politically repressive states like Assyria or Nazi Germany, or like Iran or North Korea today. But we can still apply the principles of the text in ways that are relevant to our world. The truth is that we have become one of the world’s top exporters of immorality. Unfortunately, for example, the export of our cherished American democracy to some post-communist countries has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in black market economies and mafia crime.
Although social media and entertainment media can also be used for good, they can become agents for the spread of destructive values here and abroad. Many children and some adults have copied crimes observed in a movie. Imagine a nineteen-year-old man who stabbed an eighteen-year-old college woman and then killed himself; In his room, police found ninety horror films, a machete and a goalie mask modeled on those used in the Friday the 13th films. Thirty-one percent of teenagers say they’ve copied what they see in movies, and 21 percent of juvenile delinquency is copied right from what they see on TV or movies, down to the gory details.
By the age of sixteen, the average child in the US has witnessed “26,000 overt sexual acts and up to 400,000 sexual innuendos and innuendos and 200,000 depictions of violence, including 33,000 murders, on television and in films.” Statistical evidence is clear that such violence in the entertainment media desensitizes us to real violence and helps produce violence in a generation raised by it.
The American church may not be responsible for our culture’s behavior, but if our shopping and television habits are little different from those of the rest of the world, can we then deny responsibility for supporting an industry that is killing the world? Early Christians refused to go to the Colosseum “to chat” by seeing others suffer. It is said that in the fourth century an Asian monk named Telemachus visited Rome and was horrified by a gladiator fight in the Coliseum. He threw himself between the gladiators and tried to prevent one of them from being killed until he was killed instead. As he lay still on the floor, one spectator stood up in disgust, followed by others until everyone had left. This marked the end of gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum in Rome. What the early Christians unfortunately avoided in public, many today invite into their living rooms.
Every empire in history, from the Assyrians to the Soviet Union, has collapsed, usually strangled by its own internal contradictions, before being dealt with by invaders. We need fear no empire or oppression, for history guarantees that any empire, human or demonic, will perish. We may suffer now, but God’s purposes in history will prevail. May this truth encourage us to stand firm, for the future belongs to God, not to the greatest empires on today’s horizon.
Rev. Charles Eldredge is a member of the Maitland Church of the Brethren. He has a Facebook page and can be contacted via email: ce1133 @verizon.net.