Ted Grimsrud, To Follow the Lamb: A Peaceable Reading of the Book of Revelation, Cascade, Eugene, Oregon, 2022. x, 278 pp. Paperback ISBN: 978-1-6667-3224-5 ($34); hardcover ISBN: 978-1-6667-2569-8 ($49); ebook ISBN: 978-1-6667-2570-4 ($34).
Ted Grimsrud’s work on Revelation several decades ago changed my life. I edited his 1987 Triumph of the Lamb: A Self-Study Guide to the Book of Revelation for Herald Press. I had taken an undergraduate course on Revelation with Howard Charles at Goshen (Ind.) College, but Grimsrud’s book alerted me that Revelation has a relevant ethical message tied to Revelation’s Lamb Christology. I found it inspiring and exciting—a breath of fresh air and a hopeful new approach to the book.
A year later, I led a six-week study of Revelation using Grimsrud’s book in a small group at my church. My interest in Revelation, sparked by Grimsrud, eventuated in my dissertation on the Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John at Princeton Theological Seminary and a career of teaching and writing on Revelation.
It was therefore with great anticipation that I read Grimsrud’s newest book, To Follow the Lamb. As a theological ethicist, Grimsrud wrote a theological commentary, not an exegetical one. The subtitle is “A Peaceable Reading of the Book of Revelation.” This book is unapologetically an attempt to read Revelation in support of peacemaking in the world today. Grimsrud locates himself in “the peaceable Revelation stream of interpretation” (4), which includes G. B. Caird, J. P. M. Sweet, Richard Bauckham, Vernard Eller, and others. He writes to make the peace theme “more central and obvious” (5).
In the introduction, Grimsrud defends the importance and value of Revelation for the world today. In discussing how to read Revelation, he knows he is interpreting “against the grain” of Revelation scholarship, and he is okay with that. He works through Revelation section by section, elucidating how it consistently supports a peaceable theology.
Central to Grimsrud’s argument is his conviction that there is little prediction in the book of Revelation. Even the beautiful New Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22 is not primarily a prediction about what will happen—a happy ending—but an invitation to see human history in a different way (249).
There are few true “futurists” among academic interpreters of Revelation today, in marked contrast to the many conservative evangelical interpreters. Nevertheless, most Revelation scholars see the central “disasters” in the book (seals, trumpets, plagues) as a prediction about how God will judge the guilty, the violent. These series form the center of Revelation 6–19. Amid these judgment scenes, which futurists see as chronological and nonfuturists see as parallel, scenes of worship and other mini narratives occasionally interrupt the flow of God’s judgment.
Not so fast, says Grimsrud! The worship scenes, not the scenes of disaster, are the stepping stones that advance the plot. In Revelation, the author shows again and again how the Lamb conquers and how refusal to follow the Lamb results in suffering and disaster.
These are in a way scenes of judgment, expressions of God’s wrath, but not in a direct way. Judgment is the result of sin and violence collapsing in on itself, of not following the Lamb. God’s “wrath” is essentially impersonal. (Grimsrud could have cited 1 Macc 1:64.) God does not express wrath directly in a retributive justice-like punishment. “‘Wrath’ in Revelation generally has the sense of the processes of life” (159). “If God actually does think punishment will bring repentance and change, God is not very smart” (118). Although no rebellion of Satan or the powers can ultimately escape being at some level part of God’s sovereign will, the Lamb’s breaking of the seals is not primarily a revelation of God’s will; it is a revelation of what is really going on in the world when people do not follow the way of the Lamb. The hermeneutical problem is that even readers of Revelation who are committed to peace theology often remain convinced that God’s justice demands that evildoers will ultimately be killed or relegated to everlasting suffering, and that Revelation seeks to narrate that judgment in some imprecise or impressionistic way.
Grimsrud understands the shocking introduction of Jesus as a standing, slaughtered Lamb in Revelation 5 to be the key to understanding the rest of Revelation. I am convinced he is right about that. The power of the Lamb consists of his faithful witness to God and to the way of love. John uses the word “blood” exclusively with relation to followers of the Lamb. At no point in Revelation (not even in Rev 14 or Rev 19) does the word “blood” apply to the blood of those opposed to the Lamb.
Given the crucial centrality of Revelation 5, nothing that follows should be understood as contradicting that key revelation. “Only the evil powers are explicitly thrown into that lake. The ‘destroyers of the earth’ who are ‘destroyed’ are the powers, not the people” (18). There is a strong universal theme in Revelation: the victory celebrated in Revelation is for everyone!
The primary task of the follower of the Lamb is to emulate the Lamb in the Lamb’s faithful witness through “hypomonē.” Grimsrud likes Brian Blount’s translation of hypomonē as “nonviolent resistance” (contra the typical “patient endurance”), which my own research on Revelation confirms as the best translation.1
One feature of the book that will be helpful to some and irritating to others is that at the end of each chapter, Grimsrud pauses to suggest how the message of Revelation connects with contemporary social and political issues. He addresses American militarism, consumerism, lack of environmental commitment, and empire-like world domination. In Revelation’s historical context, Babylon pointed to Rome. In ours, Babylon points to the American empire. Throughout, Grimsrud regularly comments on contemporary political issues in the United States.
Although I disagree with some of Grimsrud’s arguments, I highly recommend this book. It is one of the most sustained and most successful examples of reading Revelation with the book’s redefinition of power front and central. Revelation continually reminds us of “our need to undergo a genuine revolution in how we conceive power, victory, and the character of God” (69)—so does Grimsrud. This book should inform all future discussions of Revelation’s ethics and its contribution to peace theology.
Loren L. Johns, now retired in Florida and attending Jensen Beach Community Church (United Church of Christ), is New Testament Editor for the Believers Church Bible Commentary and formerly Professor of New Testament at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.
Brian K. Blount, Revelation: A Commentary, New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 42. See also Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 51, and my The Lamb Christology of the Apocalypse of John: An Investigation into Its Origins and Rhetorical Force (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003).