Bernie Cowan, Bachelor of Applied Theology student and member of Golden Sands Baptist Church in Papamoa, created this emotionally evocative piece of thematic music in response to his reading of Revelation.
“Music evokes emotional responses, and it is my hope… that the listener would emotionally respond to each section of the track in a similar way to that of John’s first century audience when they heard Babylon and Jerusalem described.”
Dr Andrew Picard, lecturer of the Revelation and the Justice of God course offer students the option of creating an artefact as an expression of their exegetical findings for their final assessment. He suggests that this makes room for a student’s creative expression, and allows for engagement with the theme in a deep and significant way, which draws on alternative giftings to complement their academic analysis;
“Creative artefacts not only enrich the students’ experience of the course by engaging different way to express their learning, it brings about a more thoughtful integration of the learning with their context.“
What do you feel when you listen to this?
Revelation and the Justice of God
by Bernie Cowan
For this assignment I decided to create a piece of thematic music that would integrate my knowledge about the tale of two cities theme found in Revelation. Revelation is a book that contains so much worship, and as a musician I thought there was potential to create something interesting that could reveal more about Revelation in an audio medium. Music evokes emotional responses, and it is my hope with what I have created is that the listener would emotionally respond to each section of the track in a similar way to that of John’s first century audience when they heard Babylon and Jerusalem described. I am a guitarist so that is the predominant instrument in the piece, but I used some text to speak online software, some royalty free sound effects and some programable instruments in my digital audio workstation to complete the song. It is interesting to note that the entire song is in the same key, this was an intentional decision as from my reading I witness a transformation of the Earth and humanity rather than a replacement, I felt that if I was to significantly change the key for a latter section it would disconnect from feeling part of one larger narrative. The song itself is split into three key sections ‘power’, ‘justice’ and ‘all things new’, through these three sections I believe I capture the theme of the tale of two cities well and the remainder of this commentary will unpack that.
Power – The City of Babylon
The first section of the song, which I’ve characterised by the word ‘Power’, represents Babylon. The aggressive and powerful tone of the music is representative of military conquest and oppression. It uses heavily distorted guitars and a simple yet strong melody, my hope is that as you hear it you imagine Roman soldiers marching. From the reading I have done, when John is describing Babylon, he is clearly referring to the city of Rome although I admit, the themes and attributes of Babylon transcend to not only include other cities in John’s time but also throughout history too. Babylon would have been synonymous with military power and blood thirsty glory, which would aptly describe Rome in John’s setting. To the first century listener, Babylon is representative of any oppressive power structure that seeks to conquer and suffocate those who have limited means. Babylon connotes tyranny, materialism and false worship. Babylon taking this particular form of a prostitute personifies the arrogance, materialism, violence and false belief that is at work in the world even today. We read that there is an allure to this grotesque character, John is astonished by what he first sees, but as we read further it is revealed that it is home to some of the worst degradations of humanity. According to John, Babylon was able to gain powerful authority through blood-filled acts but that this authority is seen as desirable; the limitless supply of luxuries intoxicating. We read as well that anyone who is not served by her or serves her, is enslaved or killed by her and that she is drunk on the wine of her adulteries. Humphrey adds to this by comparing Babylon with that of the Israelite Refugee Queen mentioned in 12:1-6, “Babylon emerges, then, as the flip side of the refugee queen. She is proud, where the refugee is humble; she seems to prosper where the refugee is in exile; she rides a beast, where the refugee is pursued by a beast… Babylon wields an evil domination, seeking her independence from God”. So, when you listen to this section in comparison with the later ‘All Things New’ section, my hope is that this polar opposition of nature’s becomes clear.
Commentary on elements used in this section
Use of Chains
In the opening part of the song, I used a rattling chain sound effect, this was to capture the oppression of slaves in Rome. It was supposed to sound like a large group of slaves being marched through the streets of Rome. John mentions in 18:13 that the merchants are selling the “souls of human beings”, in his day there was status associated with owning of slaves but also general contempt for those who were involved in the slave trade. Keener comments on the horrific nature of the slave trade in Rome at this time, that as there weren’t any significant wars to fuel the slave trade from conquered nations, the poor and the desperate were preyed upon; including the rescuing of abandoned babies from the street. So including the presence of slaves in this song was important.
I wanted to find the most malevolent and sinister laugh I could, and I feel the one I found perfectly matches the oppressive nature of Babylon. It’s a laugh that speaks of a sense of invulnerability and ability to act any way it pleases. Which is typical of the Roman Imperial Cult, power and conquest led to a dominate spirit in the Empire which in turn permitted them to commit some of the worst atrocities to and profiteer from the lives of other humans.
Cry of the Oppressed
Throughout the ‘Power’ section of this song there is a buried guitar track that gradually becomes more prominent. This was to represent the martyrs who were being persecuted and oppressed, it is their cry to God for justice that we read about throughout Revelation. I wanted it to grow in volume to the point that it drowns out the main ‘Power’ motif. This ‘cry’ carries through into the ‘Justice’ section though it begins to wane as the trumpet blasts continue, this was to represent the fact that even as the martyrs received the justice from God they had hoped for, humanity despised God for it rather than turned to him in repentance.
I wanted to have a moment in the middle of the song that served as a transitionary piece between the ‘Power’ and ‘All Things New’ sections. From my reading, Justice is a key theme that links the two cities. Under Babylon, justice has yet to be served and the oppressed are crying out for it but are being told to wait. In New Jerusalem justice finally arrives, although in a way the martyrs had not expected. This section of the song attempts to capture that “now and not yet” space. During John’s narrative, God pours out plagues on the Earth with the hopes of humanity repenting, but with each of these, the seals, trumpets and bowls, we see a greater resistance to God. As Picard puts it, “Only when repeated opportunities for repentance have failed does God bring judgment by turning evil against itself in the fall of Babylon.” The saints are anxiously awaiting the arrival of justice and from the beginning of Revelation, John builds that tension by stating that Jesus will return to bring justice. So to me, this middle tension is important when we think about justice as we are still today in that holding pattern awaiting Jesus’s return to bring divine redemption to our planet and, like the martyrs in Revelation, we can falter or lose hope so Revelation is an important text to sustain us.
Commentary on elements used in this section
Use of Trumpets
I wanted to capture the motifs in John’s work of the 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets and 7 Bowls in the song. I used the trumpets as it was the easiest to translate into the song, although more arcuately it would have been better to have had some representation of the 7 Bowls before the next section of the song. The trumpets sound 7 times, in keeping with what we read in chapters 8-11 and the sound of the horns are powerful but also brutal, capturing the nature of the plagues poured out on humanity during the trumpets and the bowls sequence.
All Things New – The City of New Jerusalem
‘All Things New’ is the phrase that begins the final section of the song, New Jerusalem is a place of restoration, peace, and true justice. New Jerusalem stands in opposition to Babylon, as Yong states “Whereas the great whore attempted to glorify herself (18:7a), here the Lamb’s bride is said to simply radiate with the divine glory. Further, if the harlot sought to adorn herself with purple and scarlet clothing and “with gold and jewels and pearls”, then the brilliant translucency of the bride is remarkable, reflecting nothing less than the jasper-like qualities of the one on the throne and the crystal-like sea of glass before him” New Jerusalem is the culmination of John’s work in Revelation, it serves as an invitation to take part in what God is wanting to do through his people. Koester states, “The passage can better be read as an invitation, as a vision of the future to which God calls all human beings. Sweeping visions of judgment warn about the devastating consequences of the reign of the beast, and expansive visions of redemption promise a glorious future under the reign of God. Both futures remain open in Revelation; the question is whether people respond to the message with faith or rejection. The vision of redemption includes all humanity because this is the future to which all humanity is called.” New Jerusalem is a state where God is challenging unrepentance, inviting humanity to quit its rebellion against him and return to Him, where He will then issue merited justice. This section of the song needed to feel as though it was full of fresh life and transformation, it, like how John juxtapositions Babylon and New Jerusalem, needed to stand in direct contrast to that initial section of the song. I wanted it to feel uplifting but also have a complexity, I used a lot of reverb and delay here as well to add an ethereal effect. I think the final product achieves what I had wanted ‘New Jerusalem’ to sound like.
Commentary on elements used in this section
Intricate and overlapping guitar parts
When I was writing this section, a quote from Koester stood out to me that, “In Genesis, the first city was built outside the garden of Eden, not within it. . . Revelation’s vision of New Jerusalem points to the realization of such hopes, while depicting the created world and the urban world as a harmonious whole.” Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted to keep continuity with the song by keeping it in the same key, but of course this section needed to be more uplifting and spirited than the ‘power’ section. That word, ‘harmonious’ really influenced what I did here if you listen closely there are several musical melodies occurring in a complementary manner. Together they form an intricate and wonderful musical landscape, that speaks of life, restoration, redemption, and new creation. In comparison to the opening heavy ‘power’ melody, this one is more delicate and more worshipful.
The final key musical parts in the ‘All Things New’ section are important ones to discuss. The first is a melody that comes in above the musical background, the notes played here are supposed to signify a victorious declaration that God’s redemptive plan has been achieved, what is interesting about it though is that it is using many of the notes from the melody lead line in the ‘power’ section. Although sharing musical notes, this melody has been transformed into something new, a fitting representation of what John describes occurring with the coming of New Jerusalem. The other key element worth mentioning is the almost organic and evolving backing track that comes through the very end of the song. The way this effect is created is that it sampled several of the notes played during this section and then began to loop them whilst adding reverb. What is achieved I feel is a sense that although the book of Revelation and the description of the Two Cities is ending, that the messages and the hope contained within continue until Christ’s return.
The Tale of Two Cities is a reminder to all of us to not be lured into the pitfalls and abuses of the city of Babylon, that we see those around us who are partaking in her intoxication. We need to seek out New Jerusalem in our churches, families, workplaces, and communities. We need to resist Babylon even though it can, from a distance, seem so appealing. We must enter the work that Jesus invites us into, to see All Things New in the here and now as well as in what is to come.
 Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Translation edition. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015), 675.
 Koester, Revelation, 683.
 Koester, Revelation, 683.
 Revelation 18:11-24
 Koester, Revelation, 687–88.
 Gordon D. Fee, Revelation (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2010), 233–34.
 Edith M. Humphrey, “A Tale of Two Cities and (at Least) Three Women,” in Reading the Book of Revelation, ed. David L Barr (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 85–88.
 Koester, Revelation, 720.
 Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation, 1st edition. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 2000), 430.
 Rev 6:15-17
 Rev 9:20-21
 Rev 16:9,11,21
 Andrew Picard, “Week 10 (Rev 15:5 – 19:11)” (Lecture presented at the Carey Baptist College, 3 October 2022).
 Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, 73–74.
 Amos Yong, Revelation: Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021), First edition:250.
 Koester, Revelation, 806.
 Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, 514.
 Koester, Revelation, 834.
Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2010.
Humphrey, Edith M. “A Tale of Two Cities and (at Least) Three Women.” Pages 81-97 in Reading the Book of Revelation. Edited by David L Barr. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Keener, Craig S. The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. 1st edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 200.
Koester, Craig R. Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Translation edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.
Picard, Andrew. “Week 10 (Rev 15:5 – 19:11).” Lecture. Carey Baptist College, 3 October 2022.
Yong, Amos. Revelation: Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Vol. First edition. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021.