Apocalypse and Allegiance

Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation

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"A meticulously researched and beautifully written work. This book is a tool that can be used easily in university and seminary classrooms and in adult education groups in churches. The ancients wanted their literature to educate, persuade, and entertain. Kraybill ticks all of the boxes, seeming to know just the right amount of information and challenge to bring to readers."--Pamela Thimmes, OSC, Catholic Biblical Quarterly
In this lively and accessible introduction, respected New Testament scholar J. Nelson Kraybill shows how the book of Revelation was understood by its original readers and how John's apocalypse is relevant to the spiritual life of believers today. Kraybill places Revelation in its first-century historical context, opening a window into the political, economic, and social realities of the early church. When placed in this context, Revelation comes into focus as a summons to follow Jesus: just as Christians in the first century had to decide whether their loyalty was with Babylon/Rome or the New Jerusalem, followers of Jesus today must make costly choices of allegiance and behavior when kingdoms come into conflict.

Apocalypse and Allegiance offers a fresh interpretation of Revelation that highlights its liturgical structure. The book includes questions and illustrations that turn readers' attentions to twenty-first-century issues of empire, worship, and allegiance. It is illustrated throughout with images of ancient sites, artwork from the catacombs, and Roman coins and with stories of modern Christians who live out John's radical vision of a New Jerusalem. The book also includes maps, timelines, a glossary, and discussion questions that invite further personal or group reflection.


"Nelson Kraybill has written a fresh, vigorous, imaginative, demanding exposition of the book of Revelation. He has seen how deeply political the book is and has done superb homework on the Roman governance with which Revelation struggles. But his shrewd historical analysis keeps spilling over into our contemporary life--the life of a military chaplain in Texas, a health-care practice in Indiana, prison visitors in Nebraska, peacemakers in Palestine, a poet in Japan, the police confounded in South Africa. This way of contemporaneity helps us engage this 'most dangerous book in the Bible.' Readers will be grateful to Kraybill for his agility that continues to surprise and summon as we read."--Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary

"Few today would doubt the political perspective of the book of Revelation, but which perspective: that of fatalism or that of active witness and resistance? Writing from the distinctive perspective of the Anabaptist tradition, Nelson Kraybill creatively juxtaposes ancient and contemporary history to illuminate the way this remarkable vision both troubles the complacent and inspires resistance to conformity in the quest for a better world."--Christopher Rowland, Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford

"Though the study and practice of Christian worship has long been deepened by the canticles of Revelation 4, 5, and 7, the rest of the book is rarely engaged in many communities. This provocative volume confronts this neglect and helps us imagine the importance of worship practices that are prophetic, countercultural, and deeply aware of the cosmic significance of the claim that Jesus is Lord."--John D. Witvliet, director, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. J. Nelson Kraybill

    J. Nelson Kraybill

    J. Nelson Kraybill (PhD, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia) has served as president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and has taught the book of Revelation for more than twenty years on four continents. He is the author of Imperial Cult and...

    Continue reading about J. Nelson Kraybill


"This is an exceptionally fine and fresh study of the theology of the book of Revelation. . . . One of the striking features of the book is that it weaves reflections throughout on our contemporary world, done without stridency yet still forceful. Series of reflection questions throughout the book enhance its capacity for use as thoughtful spiritual reading or as a resource for what would surely be a lively group Bible study."--Donald Senior, CP, The Bible Today

"A challenging but accessible interpretation of Revelation as a summons to true worship and appropriate allegiance. . . . What is distinctive about this book . . . is the way Kraybill makes first-century imperial realities come to life and then gently but consistently invites the reader to raise questions about and see analogous situations in our own context. In contrast to some critics of empire, Kraybill accomplishes this without coming across as self-righteous or condescending. . . . Each chapter concludes with two features that are crucial to the book's purpose. The first is a set of three reflection questions, many of which are quite provocative. . . . The second interesting feature at the end of each chapter is a story of real-life Christians, from either the early or the modern church, who embodied the vision of the particular aspect of Christian allegiance discussed in that chapter. . . . These vignettes are one of the book's greatest strengths. . . . Apocalypse and Allegiance is a book that raises questions and presents perspectives that all pastors, other leaders of Christian communities, and people in the pews need to wrestle with."--Michael J. Gorman, Christian Century

"This attractively produced book has many interesting illustrations, diagrams, a glossary, and most useful, a good index. Worship, pagan and Christian, is a dominant theme in the interpretation of the Book of Revelation as presented here. The contemporary references are many throughout, and the author stresses the political implications of his exegesis--even worship is political."--Ian Gibbs, thegoodbookstall.org.uk

"[Kraybill] is an enthusiast about the last book of the New Testament. His excitement and insight permeate every page of this book about Revelation. While Kraybill is an expert, he wears his learning lightly. This book is readable and understandable for any serious Bible student. The frequent use of stories and photographs and the questions at the end of each chapter make this an exceptional Bible study resource. . . . Each chapter is embedded in the historical context. The visuals help readers sense how Scripture is not isolated from the full historical experience of the early church. . . . This is rich Scripture study. It is a model of understanding what these texts meant to the first-century church and what they can mean for the 21st-century church. In a time of growing awareness of an American empire--and, more broadly, a dominating Western culture--reading Revelation through the eyes and insights of Nelson Kraybill is a spiritual tonic."--John A. Lapp, Mennonite Weekly Review

"An accessible study of a book of the Bible that most Christians either ignore or interpret erroneously. . . . This would make an excellent resource for a Sunday school class."--The Mennonite

"Kraybill describes how the many seemingly secret and mysterious passages of the book [of Revelation] would have helped the early Christians to navigate their lives. . . . Each chapter has recommended biblical readings and reflection questions, as well as a story, mostly of modern people who are giving their full allegiance to Jesus Christ in many different ways. It is a useful study guide, full of illustrations and diagrams that help the reader understand the semiotic world of Revelation and think about their allegiances."--Dave Rogalsky, Canadian Mennonite

"Few books of the New Testament seem to attract such a diverse range of interpretations as does the book of Revelation, but fewer introductions accomplish such a fresh approach as J. Nelson Kraybill's Apocalypse and Allegiance. . . . [This book] stands out among introductions to the book of Revelation for a number of reasons. First, Kraybill presents a reading of Revelation that seriously attempts to interpret the message in the context of the first century, but he also seeks to demonstrate how the message of Revelation speaks to modern day Christians. He succeeds in blending scholarship and practical application. . . . Second, his most significant contribution is that he provides a wealth of knowledge concerning life in the Roman Empire and how it intersected Christian living. Third, Kraybill writes lucidly and leaves no doubt about what he believes. Even if one disagrees with his interpretations, it is insightful, informative, provocative, and it challenges readers to examine their allegiances."--Alan S. Bandy, Southeastern Theological Review

"Kraybill creates a refreshing structure that communicates what he believes is the essential message of John's letter. His unique approach lends itself to Kraybill's purpose of identifying the key political systems of emperor worship, the kingdom of God, and how they are influencing people in both John's day and ours. The author has struck a great balance in his work. Kraybill's cultural understanding of first century Rome will give any reader a clearer view of the political structure of John's day. . . . This text is recommended. . . . The author's exegetical and cultural information on the Roman Empire is outstanding. This book will lend itself to any student as an aide to understand the culture of the New Testament in general. . . . Kraybill's insight into the use of violence, its place and understanding in Scripture, and the proper Christian response are admirable."--Gary D. Almon, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"In my view, this is one of the best books on Revelation available today. With plenty of photos, illustrations, vignettes of persons who have faithfully lived the vision in the past and today, a timeline, a glossary, and provocative end-of-chapter questions for reflection, I wish every Catholic, individually or in parish groups, would read it."--Tobias Winright, National Catholic Reporter

"Kraybill provides students of Revelation with a brilliant, historically grounded, and innovative introduction to the meaning and ongoing significance of John's Apocalypse. . . . Each chapter abounds with brilliant photographs of ancient coins, temples, altars, and cities in order to illustrate the historical situation of John and the churches he addressed. . . . There is much to commend in this brief introduction. Kraybill's sketch of the historical background, based on primary sources, is unmatched for its relevance and accessibility. It is concise without being superficial. The text is eminently readable and easily holds the reader's attention. The structure of the book innovatively highlights the historical background necessary for accurate interpretation. Finally, Kraybill is intensely practical throughout, calling God's people to faithful obedience, witness, and most of all, worship. He has produced a book that will profit pastors, church members, beginning students, and seasoned scholars."--Alexander E. Stewart, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"The Book of Revelation is an enigma for many Christians, neglected and bypassed by most preachers and ordinary Christians, exploited and sensationalized by others for personal profit. Nelson Kraybill's scholarly work is a refreshing change. Rather than a verse by verse commentary, Apocalypse and Allegiance provides a critical interpretation, an analytical introduction to the major themes of the Book of Revelation. . . . The text of this provocative book is enlivened by a judicious use of photographs throughout. Glossary and index add value to the book as a possible study text for college classes and church groups."--Roger E. Hedlund, Dharma Deepika

"[An] excellent introduction to the final book of the New Testament. . . . The great value of this book, . . . and the thing that makes it an immensely useful resource for any modern-day reader of Revelation, is Kraybill's extensive marshaling of the historic details that illuminate what the book's imagery and symbolism would have meant to John of Patmos and to the first-century provincial Roman subjects to whom and for whom he was writing. . . . Kraybill is an invaluable guide to readers of Revelation who want to learn from history."--Fred Clark, slacktivist blog

"A compelling, thoroughly Anabaptist exposition of Revelation. Scholars, pastors, and teachers looking for profound new approaches to Revelation and church members who need an alternative to popular, violent end-times literature will find reassuring its message of nonviolent resistance. [It] is required reading for everyone wishing to understand Revelation from an Anabaptist perspective. . . . Apocalypse and Allegiance is sound biblical and historical scholarship. . . . Kraybill also provides helpful theological insights from Revelation. . . . Another positive feature of the book is that each chapter has helpful questions for reflection. . . . Kraybill's insightful work has stimulated my thinking. This is a helpful book that should be in the library of every student of Revelation and indeed every Anabaptist church member."--John R. Yeatts, Mennonite Quarterly Review

"A readable and appealing introduction to the study of the Apocalypse. . . . What is fresh and original is Kraybill's thesis that worship shapes 'allegiance' and 'allegiance' is the dominant issue of John's day, the principal lens through which his long vision can be understood. . . . Using carefully culled historical data, primary texts, and abundant illustrations, Kraybill provides practical and helpful guidance through the Roman world as a means for understanding John's foreign, puzzling, and troubling text. . . . A meticulously researched and beautifully written work. This book is a tool that can be used easily in university and seminary classrooms and in adult education groups in churches. The ancients wanted their literature to educate, persuade, and entertain. Kraybill ticks all of the boxes, seeming to know just the right amount of information and challenge to bring to readers."--Pamela Thimmes, OSC, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"A provocative book placing Revelation in the context of first century emperor worship and drawing out contemporary applications."--Ray Van Neste, Preaching

"The book thoughtfully employs elements of a non-violent or pacifist (Mennonite) reading to both Revelation and life in the world."--Gordon Campbell, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"[Kraybill's] intimate familiarity with and passion for the Apocalypse are clearly evident in this helpful exposition of Revelation. . . . The book is . . . an insightful exploration of the major themes, with preeminence given to the importance of worship in the Apocalypse. The reliable theological and historical commentaries in each chapter are augmented by features that will enhance the value of the work for individual and group study. . . . [The book] superbly fulfill[s] the purpose for which it was written--to provide a well-informed, thought-provoking study guide on Revelation. Kraybill does an excellent job of bridging the cultural and chronological gap between first-century Asia Minor and the Western world of the twenty-first century. One great value of this book is that it will help people in the church realize that, contrary to popular understandings, Revelation is more about faithful living in the present than about predictions of the future."--Mitchell G. Reddish, Interpretation

"Apocalypse and Allegiance combines solid scholarship, an accessible style, theological depth, spiritual encouragement, and social critique. Kraybill packs an impressive amount of content in a relatively small space, addressing both general readers and scholars with a refreshing perspective on the book of Revelation. Kraybill's scholarly strength is his understanding of the historical setting for the book of Revelation and his particular expertise in political and economic dynamics. . . . To the reader's benefit, he does not simply describe a fascinating ancient document but also makes perceptive applications to the present day. . . . [This book] will work well in classroom and Bible study contexts. . . . An excellent volume, making a most useful contribution to present-day Christian faithfulness to the way of Jesus."--Ted Grimsrud, Conrad Grebel Review