It is one of the deepest ironies of Christian history that, when the Roman Empire became nominally Christian under the Christian emperors, Christianity came to function not so very differently from the state religion which Revelation portrays as Rome's idolatrous self-deification. The Christian emperor's rule was seen as an image of God's own sovereignty, and while this did include the notion of the emperor's responsibility to God, it also provided religious justification for absolute monarchy. However, this is the exact opposite of the way the image of divine sovereignty functions in Revelation. There, so far from legitimizing human autocracy, divine rule radically de-legitimizes it. Absolute power, by definition, belongs only to God, and it is precisely the recognition of God's absolute power that relativizes all human power. The image of God's sovereignty functioned similarly in seventeenth-century England, where it played a part in the religious origins of modern democracy. Because God is king, it was said, all men and women are equally his subjects, and no man should arrogate to himself to rule over his fellows.
Part 4 in a series of excerpts from Richard Bauckham's The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge University Press, 1993), 44.
Coming in Part 5: the Messianic war and out part in it
Part 1: The Politics of Worship
Part 2: Imperial Pretensions Unmasked
Part 3: Political Resistance Literature