Forget what you learned in elementary school, what Hollywood has depicted, and perhaps what your Bible Professor might have implied about “flat earth” theories in antiquity. Folks living at the time of the New Testament did not believe the world was flat and had four corners. The prophet John and his contemporaries knew the world was a sphere. In fact, though they may not have known the name of the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes who correctly calculated the circumference of the earth, the people of John’s era lived in a world with projected lines of latitude and longitude.
The repeated depictions of the globe became a natural part of the visual propaganda of Roman imperialism. This globe icon suggested world domination and was disseminated by means of the artwork on coins, jewelry, sculpture, and architecture. This symbol was exploited for the sole purpose of making visible the reality of the Roman doctrine of manifest destiny. The marketing department of the Roman Empire was putting into icons its confidence in the divine blessings of the god Jupiter who had promised “I have given to Rome rule without limit.”
John’s Christology was intentionally crafted to create an alternate perspective of reality, one contrary to the geopolitical orthodoxy of Roman manifest destiny. John’s audacious pronouncement that Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5) is intended to help overthrow and eradicate Rome’s idolatry of geopolitical dominion. There was often intrigue and hostilities among Roman rulers, the Roman Senate, the Roman military, and the Roman people about who would become the next “ruler of the world,” but not a one of them imagined that Jesus was a candidate for that position. Certainly the doctrine of Roman hegemony would not have allowed there to be a “ruler” over the Roman Emperor.
|There was originally a statue of the Emperor Trajan with
this globe at his feet.
Those of us witnessing the so-called “Arab Spring” starting in December 2010 have seen ruler after ruler begin with a dismissive attitude toward his opponents, followed by defiance, then increased repression, but in the end retreating. Rome’s domination of great geographical distance, stretching basically from the Thames to the Tigris, had met more than its match in the early Christian mission. Roman culture was dismissive and then repressive toward Christianity, but in the end it would retreat from a World Ruler who truly holds the planet in his hand. And to make matters worse, this King of kings proclaimed by the subversive prophet John does not even have a Latin name–a reality that John’s opponents could never have imagined.