The End Is Where We Start From | 09.12.21 | Revelation Pt 1
Chris Tweitmann   -  

Revelation 1:1-11
Chris Tweitmann

Have you ever become so engaged – so captured by a story

– a story conveyed through a novel or a series or a movie –

that you’ve been tempted to skip to the end?

Despite living at a time where so many are obsessed

with “spoiler alerts” – with not giving away the conclusion of a story,

some people like to start with the end

– to read the end of the story first.

Often children, when you’re sharing a story with them,

will get so immersed in the tale, so excited about it,

they will blurt out – “But how does it end?”

Then, as they’re told to wait and find out, children will,

out of the mixture of both their impatience and their imagination

will keep trying to guess what comes next

– to figure out how it all ends.

Sometimes we just can’t wait to see how the story ends.

Sometimes when we fall in love with the story,

we worry if we’ll be let down by the ending.

After all, a bad ending

– if the final payoff isn’t there, if the big finish doesn’t ring true,

– a bad ending ruins the whole story.

And so we can be tempted to read the last chapter first.

While there are critics who argue skipping ahead

spoils the story, researchers at the University of California’s Psychology Department in San Diego in a 2011 study

discovered doing so has a different effect

– not ruining but actually enhancing the journey.

For those who learn how it all ends,

it enables them to enjoy a deeper and better experience of the story.

This insight resonates with how the narrative of the Bible is presented.

God gives us His story – our story –

not in an open-ended form – not in terms of a cliffhanger –

but with a definitive and certain ending.

We find that grand, epic conclusion in a book called Revelation.

The Lord enables us to skip to the conclusion –

to see how everything finally comes together –

so that we can enjoy a deeper and better experience

between now and then.

But sadly, this is not how the Book of Revelation is

either perceived or received within the community of faith.

We’ve missed the point of having the end of the story.

We fail to understand that God gives the end

so that our lives in and with Him can actually begin.

Let’s read and listen together the first few verses of chapter 1

– the introductory remarks of the last book of the Bible

to see, to better understand what we’re missing. (TEXT)

Our sermon series this fall specifically is going to focus on

the first part of the Book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3,

which together contain what are known as Jesus’ words or letters

to the seven churches.

This collection of letters is addressed to seven churches

back in the day that formed a rough circle in

what is now called Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey.

While there were more than seven churches in that district back then, these seven were selected to be representative, not only of

the churches of that day, but also of all churches of any day,

for the whole Body of Christ across both space and time.

To read and fully understand these letters,

we are going to spend the next two weeks in chapter 1

getting oriented to this book as a whole.

We begin by acknowledging that

this last chapter of the story of the Bible

has caused a lot of controversy and fear

dividing people in the Church

rather than bringing them together.

This cloudy and mysterious work

– filled with talk and descriptions of

angels and four horsemen, a dragon and a beast,

of seals being broken open and a great lake of fire and judgment,

there tend to be one of two dispositions

when it comes to readying and studying this book.

The first approach is to forcefully apply an interpretative key

and then working out elaborate systems and charts

for understanding John’s vision

– to the point where all we think about, all we talk about,

as a follower of Jesus is the Book of Revelation – the “end times.”

The second approach is to become so confused,

so intimidated or frustrated by all the enigmatic visual content and the seeming doom and gloom – that we finally throw up our hands,

abandon our study and ignore the presence of this book altogether.

In short and ironically, what we’re left with is

some people avoid reading Revelation

whereas others read nothing else

in their Bible but the book of Revelation.

So, let’s briefly address both of these extremes.

If we follow Jesus, we cannot choose to ignore or avoid this book – because contrary to how it is often titled and presented,

this is not the Revelation of John the apostle.

As it is clearly stated in the opening verses,

what is contained in this book is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” -Revelation 1:1-2

It is his self-revelation – further teaching and insight offered to us

from the One to whom we look to and follow for our life and salvation.

And notice Jesus extends this revelation to us – not on His own

– but just as Jesus did when he was first on this earth.

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” -Revelation 1:1-2

Jesus, the Son, only extends to us wisdom and insight

that he has first received from the Father.

And it was given to him by God the Father to reveal to

his servants, his followers – US.

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” -Revelation 1:1-2

If Christ is our Master and our Teacher, our Lord and Savior,

how can we possibly choose to ignore or neglect anything

He shares with us?

What Jesus offers us is for a reason

– and that reason is declared in verse 3.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” -Revelation 1:3

We are urged not to avoid or ignore what is in this book

but rather “to hear” and “take to heart” its’ contents

in order to be blessed.

Next week, we are going to explore the content of this book

– the particular word, the overall vision that Christ gives to John

and its message for us as framed in chapter one.

Today, we will be focusing on the unique perspective

the book of Revelation provides us

– a perspective we often get backward.

Because you see what’s outlined in just the first three verses of

the opening chapter of this book – that reading and understanding it blesses us – is for our good, for our betterment

– for wholeness and fullness of life – that isn’t normally

what comes to most people’s minds when they think of this book.

For example,

Revelation is often referred to as the book about the apocalypse.

We hear the word “apocalypse”

and we immediately associate that word with catastrophe

– disaster, destruction, and death on a global scale.

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies!

Rivers and seas boiling! Years and years of darkness!

Earthquakes, volcanoes…the dead rising from the grave.

Mass hysteria.

We imagine all this when in fact the word “apocalypse” is

simply the original title of this book, a Greek word

meaning an unveiling, a disclosure, an uncovering, a revelation!

Through John, Jesus wants to reveal something to his people –

a different perspective in terms of both

where we are in this present moment

and where we are going in the future.

What Jesus reveals to John is a glimpse of the answer to

one of the petitions Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done

– on earth as it is in heaven.” -Matthew 6:10

The unique perspective of the Book of Revelation is

that of how heavenly or eternal realities are

intersecting with earthly or linear ones –

of how heaven and earth ultimately will merge as one.

Because we’re not used to looking at life and all creation in this way; the perspective Revelation provides can be initially disorienting.

Much like putting on a pair of prescription glasses,

it can take a bit to adjust to our point of view.

For many, it is the highly visual nature of Revelation

that obscures their understanding of this book.

He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John…”

Revelation 1:1 

In verse 1, when it says, “he made it known” referring to Jesus extending this revelation to John – this phrase “he made it known”

is a translation of a Greek word that means, “he signified it.”

Or, “he SIGN-ified it.”

Jesus offered this new perspective by way of signs and symbols.

But why? Why doesn’t Jesus just speak plainly?

Why all the signs and symbols?

Well, one of the reasons for all the signs and symbols is that, again,

Jesus is offering John a perspective of the present and the future viewed not from our human, linear perspective of history

but from the divine, eternal, and therefore,

a non-linear perspective of all things.

To capture and convey the view from heaven,

a perspective outside of space and time,

Jesus communicates to John less with words

– which are inadequate to the task –

and rather through imagery and word pictures.

If we think about it, this makes sense.

We often resort to symbols and visuals when we are describing something that lies outside the experience of another person

such as a place they’ve never been.

What Jesus is unveiling is beyond the conception or imagination

of any human being – including John who lived in the 1st century A.D.

Therefore Jesus doesn’t so much tell

but rather shows John another perspective on reality.

Something important to recognize is

Jesus doesn’t just flash to John – and by extension – us

random images and symbols that are now suddenly being introduced.

Jesus visually communicates to and through John

by means of familiar images and symbols drawn from

and reused in a consistent manner with

other divine encounters in the Bible – specifically the Old Testament.

John, in writing out what Jesus revealed to him,

often will make statements along these lines,

What the Lord showed me in this final vision was kind of like that.”

 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. – Revelation 1:12-14

The “like that” John is referring to

both for his original audience and for us

are identical images or symbols earlier witnessed

in the story of Israel and the Church

and previously evoked by prophets like Isaiah and Daniel.

Reading and understanding Revelation is impossible

if we don’t know the whole story leading up to the last chapter.

Nothing makes sense.

It IS confusing if try and just skip to the end of the book

without ever going back and taking in all that came before.

It is only when we seriously pay attention and digest

the whole story of God – of us – that our eyes can adjust

and we can see what John sees – we can perceive

what Jesus seeks to show us in the Book of Revelation.

Once again, this is the revelation of Jesus Christ – not John.

This bears repeating again and again

– especially as we consider the other extreme

when it comes to this book – that of decoding Revelation

– crafting some sort of apocalyptic timeline

and predicting the calendar date for the end of the world.

Many people come to the book of Revelation looking for answers

– answers about what is going to happen in the future,

looking for clues to determine when the countdown begins

– when we have started living in the “end times.”

For centuries, this has been a

misguided stock and trade within the Church,

despite Jesus Himself –

the same Jesus who through John offers us this revelation

– telling us repeatedly, that we cannot know all the details

of the hour or the day of the end of the world as we know it.

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven…but only the Father.” -Matthew 24:36

Not surprisingly and despite what many claim,

this revelation itself that Jesus extends to us through this book

gives us no specific dates and no particular names

by which to interpret the present or predict the future.

And yet, despite all of this, despite Jesus teaching us

– commanding us – not to worry about the future

but instead to live for the Lord in light of the present –

25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… 

33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,

and all these things will be given to you as well. 

34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

-Matthew 6:25-34

there are some who are obsessed with

studying the book of Revelation

at the expense of paying attention

– hearing and obeying –

being continually reoriented and transformed

by the rest of God’s word.

Refusing to receive what Jesus provides in this final vision,

many are tempted to fix and fill in what is unknown.

We can so easily succumb to the tendency to twist and arrange

the word of God to hear what we want to hear

– to see what we want to see – and in so doing,

attempt to force the immense vision and message of Revelation

into the narrow confines of our “end-times” point of view

rather than to yield to and abide in the radically

broader perspective on life and creation that Jesus offers us.

Such reductionism is to treat the Book of Revelation

as nothing more than a fortune teller, some psychic forecast.

There is a reason why predictions about the end of the world

have had a 100% failure rate

– why “this is the date” prophecies come with an angstful bang

but always go with a disappointing whimper.

Because despite a lot of best-selling books

and insistent prophets who try and tell us otherwise,

the point of the Book of Revelation is not

to literally or chronologically decipher and break down

how every verse, symbol or number in the book lines up.

Revelation is not about chronology but theology.

Revelation is not about having the key to predict the future

or to interpret the signs of the times;

it is less of the disclosure of the timetable of history

and more the disclosure of an inside look at the reality of history

– that things are not all that they appear,

– that where it looks like we are headed is not in fact,

where we are going

– that “there are more things in heaven and earth,

than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”

There is more to this present moment and to the future

than we can know with our unaided senses.

Revelation is not about making predictions

but rather the gift of perception

– gaining a perspective that is not shaped by

our linear and chronological notions of time,

but by the Lord of all time, the God who is,

as He self-proclaims Himself to be in verse 8,

the Alpha and the Omega.”

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God…”

Revelation 1:8

Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

The implication here is God declares Himself

to be the beginning and the end of everything.

God is the beginning – not only the first in a sequence

– the origin or source of all life – but the pattern, the embodiment,

the exemplar of all existence – the One who initiates and shapes all things – creation, humanity, history, and salvation.

God is the end – not only the last One standing when

everything else is said and done – but the ultimate goal,

the inevitable result, the inherent purpose and destiny of everything.

But for God to proclaim Himself to be the Alpha and the Omega,

the A to Z, expresses more than a finite string of letters.

Lest we be tempted to view God in such linear terms

as some absentee landlord – a deity who is there from the start

and sets everything in motion but then disappears,

receding from the scene

– and only coming around at the end

– showing up when the rent comes due,

God expands our perspective as He declares Himself to be

the One who is, who was, and who is to come.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8

In other words, God is not only the Lord of everything

inbetween A to Z – all that takes place in the course of creation;

God is the Lord of everything that ever was or is or ever will be.

Nothing is excluded from God’s will and purpose – including time.

God is beyond time.

In the spirit of the book of Revelation,

let’s consider the eternal nature of God by means of a visual aid.

Picture connecting the ends of a string so that they make a circle.

Now, the beginning and the end are the same point on the circle

– this is nature of God.

God’s beginning and end are the same exact thing

and yet, God has no beginning and no end.

So, God is the beginning and the end of everything.

More significantly, this description, this visual helps us

to appreciate the divine perspective Jesus offers us

through the Book of Revelation.

Whereas we keep looking and trying to understand this book

in terms of a conclusion, what John is seeing and trying to capture through his writing is the paradox of ending and beginning.

The vision Jesus gives to John describe the end of all things

as we know them while at the same time

describing what is happening from God’s perspective

as the beginning of something new.

Is our head spinning yet?

We tend to see these things in a linear fashion – within time.

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. We’re a very in moment people.

As a result, what God in Christ has promised,

what Jesus told us is going to happen,

can seem far away – out of reach.

For us, the beginning and end of the universe are two horizons.

We live a distance from the horizon.

We can see a point on the horizon from a distance

but we don’t know what it’s like until we get there.

Because of our limited perspective,

we end up caught in one of two extremes

– extremes that again relate to how we approach

the Book of Revelation.

We either get so anxious or frustrated about the future

– that we ignore it and just attempt to live for the present

– as if there are no consequences, as if our story just fades out,

as if there is no definitive ending.

Or we go the other way – becoming so fixated on the future

– what happens next and when and how –

that we keep working and sweating and trying

to manage and control the future

that we miss or forsake living in the moment

and responding to what or who is right in front of us.

We think we can predict how tomorrow is going to play out,

we convince ourselves we can run the table and make our own luck, until we eventually discover our mortality

– the fragility of life and the limits of our own power.

In the midst of living according to these two extremes,

Jesus offers us another, entirely different perspective.

Jesus through John gives us some eternal perspective

a vision outside of time

not just of the future – what is coming later

but of how the future was already breaking into the present

of the forces of heaven interceding now.

This is the point of view of eternity.

Eternity is not infinite endless time; it is no time.

There is no past or future with God. All is present.

The Lord doesn’t take a day off or get backlogged.

All events are present to God and the Lord moves and acts.

It is our perspective – framed by time – that distorts our perception

as if God is delayed, as if God is absent.

An analogy I often find helpful is to think of a parade

(Macy’s Thanksgiving Day).

If you are on the street for the parade, you see the various floats,

giant balloons and marching bands pass by you in sequence.

You only experience what is right in front of you.

If, however, you were high up in one of the buildings

overlooking the parade route, you’d be able see the entire parade.

Now, it’s all present to you.

By our sight alone,

we can only perceive and experience one event at a time.

From God’s vantage point – in terms of how the Lord works,

all events are present – happening now.

Consider the work of the Cross.

People often ask, what about those of faith who died before Jesus’ work on the Cross? We can’t go back in time, so what about them?

The salvation Jesus accomplished on the Cross and

through the Resurrection is eternal; it is not limited by time.

Hence in that moment, Jesus saves both those

who looked forward to Him in faith in the past

just as He saves us who look back to Him in faith from the future.

What John describes as a vision of the future is

the reality of God working – bringing what we perceive as the future into the midst of what call the present.

And this perspective changes everything.

Among every generation of Christians

there always seems to be a continual wonder and questioning

about when Jesus is coming back.

We ask this even though in the first chapter of this book, in verse 7, every generation of Christians are told along with John,

not that Jesus will come but rather “Look, he, Jesus, is coming…”

Look, he is coming with the clouds…” -Revelation 1:7

Jesus isn’t sitting on the throne

– passively waiting for some future date.

Jesus is on the move NOW

– Christ’s return is happening at this very moment.

Seeing this, understanding this, shifts our perspective on

how we perceive all this happening around us.

The tendency in the Church is to profess and evangelize belief in

the hope of our ultimate redemption in Christ

while at the same time, in the here and now,

to live and breathe the cynical spirit of the age.

Reading Revelation from the wrong perspective,

we even add a Christian spin to all the negativity and pessimism

out there by assigning God’s judgment to

every violent or sudden disruption to our lives.

Predicting things will get worse rather than better,

we shake our heads, wag our fingers, wring our hands,

and join everyone else in living with a defeated weariness

and numbness toward life.

We observe and critique but we rarely engage or show any grace.

In shielding ourselves from a world we believe is going to hell,

we reflect not a Gospel not of generous hope but of paralyzing fear.

But what if our perspective is all wrong?

What if, as Revelation declares, what’s coming – what’s happening now is not so much about the end

but rather the emergence of a new beginning?

What if instead looking for a death, we start anticipating a birth?

What if, we perceived all the disruption and disorder

that we continue to witness in this world, in all creation,

not a sign of the devil having his day, of the reign of evil unchecked

– but rather as an inevitable birth pangs of the inbreaking of the KOG –

of the Lord taking back all that has been lost – of breaking down and remaking all that stands in opposition to

what is good, right, just and true?

What if, we glimpsed the vision the book of Revelation provides through the lens it calls us to look through

– that of the Cross and the Resurrection.

On the cross, Jesus declared “It is finished” and that was indeed true.

The power of sin was broken as Jesus died for us all.

And yet, in that instant, even though we could not first perceive it,

the Cross also was the beginning.

The end of life brought the beginning of life and both

were happening at the same time, as three days later,

the Resurrection of Christ proclaimed both death’s defeat

and the inauguration of a new, everlasting life.

So, what if Revelation is not about preparing for the end times,

but rather recognizing we are already living them now –

that we are in throes of the end of life as we know it

even as, at the same time, as Jesus is making all things new

– seeking to create heaven on earth through us – we who follow Him?

Many times when hardship comes,

we have our own plans for how to handle it.

We have plan A, B, C, D, and E.

It’s only after we have exhausted all of those options – our plans,

do we find ourselves in that place where we can begin

to see things differently – to be led by the Lord’s perspective.

Billy Graham once said, “When we come to the end of ourselves,

we come to the beginning of God.”

What if, the vision of Revelation is about Jesus, one last time,

calling us to come to the end of ourselves

– relinquishing what we think we know,

letting go of all our “to do” lists in the present,

releasing our contingency plans for the future,

surrendering our perception of control,

and finally – at last – coming and yielding to

the beginning of God’s grace?

Better late than never, beloved.

Jesus is at the door of our lives knocking.

For in the end, that is the true mark of discipleship

the beginning of following Jesus and growing in Christ

is when our story becomes His story,

when our life becomes connected and empowered

not by the limits of what we can see temporally

but by the vision of how the Lord is bringing

His eternal promises for us into our here and now.

Perception is reality. Whose point of view are you taking?

Are you living based upon what you can see

or out of what the Lord has shown us?

Are we hopelessly waiting for

our future with God in Christ to come

or are we living hopefully out of the vision

we have been given of our future that has already started?

With new every breath of life, another chapter begins to be written.

With every move towards Christ – every conversation,

every encounter with Jesus, the Word becomes flesh anew.

With every act of justice, expression of mercy,

movement of compassion and gesture of divine love,

the Kingdom of God comes nearer, closer to us all.

The eternal perspective of Revelation enables us to see

God’s story is never really finished,

but keeps being written with the story of your life and mine

and the lives of those still to come. Amen.