BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 68, 2020

JON MORALES, Christ, Shepherd of the Nations: The Nations as Narrative Character and Audience in John’s Apocalypse (LNTS 577; London: Bloomsbury: T&T Clark, 2018). Pp. xii + 191. Hardback. £90.00.

Following in the footsteps of Richard Bauckham and others, Jon Morales seeks to reinterpret some of the more divisive language of Revelation in a more hopeful direction. Specifically, he studies the shepherding language (based on ποιμαίνω) and the portrayal of the nations (τα ἔθνη) using a narrative framework.

The book starts with a survey and critique of existing literature on the nations in Revelation, classifying it according to five main viewpoints: the church becomes the nations (or the nations are severely judged, so that references to the redeemed nations in Revelation 21–22 are referring to converted Gentiles), the position of G. K. Beale and Eckhard Schnabel; thoroughgoing universalism, held by Mathias Rissi and Jeffrey Vogelgesang; large-scale conversion of the nations, as espoused by Bauckham and Allan McNicol; the text is inconsistent on the nations, as argued by R. H. Charles and David Aune; and the language about the nations is rhetorical, as proposed by Ronald Herms and David Mathewson. This discussion is a valuable introduction to debates about the future of the nations in Revelation. Morales then proposes as a hypothesis that instead the nations “belong to God,” Jesus is “their rightful shepherd,” they “will ultimately not be destroyed but healed in the new creation,” but those who refuse to “come under his rule will be judged (24).

Chapter 2 discusses the methodology he uses in this study based on narrative and specifically the study of character in narrative. This is based on an in depth and useful exploration of narrative criticism. Morales explains how he will treat the nations as a character in the story of Revelation, specifically a “typical” or “illustrative” character (37).

Chapters 3–6 investigate selected passages from Revelation where the nations are especially focused on: Rev 2:27 in Chapter 3 (the most fundamental starting point for Morales’ argument, which includes discussion of the shepherding metaphor in ancient literature and concludes with the church as the representative shepherd of the nations); Revelation 5, 7, 10 and 11 in Chapter 4 (focusing on conflicting responses of the nations to God); Revelation 12–16 in Chapter 5 (focusing on the influence of Satan on the nations and the differing responses to the beast of the earth dwellers and nations); and Revelation 17–22 in Chapter 6 (this time stressing how the nations are liberated from the deception and violence of the devil). In the final chapter, Morales synthesises his research with a sophisticated discussion, supported by tables about the nations in the narrative, and discusses exegetical issues that come out of his study so far, relating to translation of ποιμαίνω in Revelation, Greek tenses in Revelation, the use of Psalm 2 in Revelation, and the nations as audience and John’s message to the nations. He concludes with a response to opposing interpretations, mainly that of Adela Yarbro Collins in her Crisis and Catharsis.

There is an extensive bibliography, and index of authors and one of ancient texts (biblical and other), but no subject index. The flow of argument is assisted by four tables, listed after the table of contents (ix).

Morales’ argument is based on several key points. First, the meaning of ποιμαίνω, especially in John’s use of Ps 2:9 in Rev 2:27, 12:5 and 19:15, where Jesus is seen as shepherding the nations “with an iron rod.” Morales argues that common translations of ποιμαιίινω as “rule” obscure the shepherding aspect. Instead of seeing this as destructive language (Jesus punishes the nations with his iron rod), it should be read more pastorally (Jesus leads the nations with provision and discipline), as in Rev 7:17 where he is seen as shepherding (ποιμαίνω) the multitude from all nations.

Second, using his narrative character approach, Morales distinguishes the nations (τα ἔθνη) from related groups in the narrative such as the “earth dwellers” (τούς καταικοῦντας έϖὶ τῆς γῆς) who are irrevocably anti-God, arguing that the nations are not uniformly negative in their relation to God but rather torn between loyalty to God/Jesus or Babylon/the beast.

Third, flowing from that, Morales sees John’s audience as including Gentiles, some of them non-Christians, who need to be encouraged to commit to serving Christ rather than the enemy side. The rhetorical goal of much of the language about the nations is to challenge the audience to make that commitment. As he puts it, John’s “goal is to lead the gentile hearer (believing or unbelieving) to realize that the nations of the world have one enemy, the dragon, and one shepherd, Jesus Christ, the Lamb” (1).

Not everyone will be convinced by Morales’ argument but it should cause most readers to reconsider common assumptions about the binary nature of John’s thinking, since he is positing a third group “between” God and the devil, a group so far undecided, though they will have to choose between the opposing forces because the final judgement will have a binary outcome. I’m undecided about that aspect of the argument but found the discussion stimulating and well written.

Review by
Jon Newton
Alphacrucis College, Melbourne
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