Perhaps no other book of the Bible sparks
as much controversy and confusion
as the last one – the Book of Revelation.
As the perceived conclusion to the story of scripture,
some unhealthily obsess over this book
– treating it like some sort of puzzle wherein all the pieces fit together
into a chart, a timeline for the end of the world.
While others either become so overwhelmed, so freaked out
by what they read in these pages, they pretend it all doesn’t matter and
do their best to avoid opening up the book of Revelation altogether.
Both of these perspectives are flawed.
Both of these approaches miss the point of
what is one of the most important books of the Bible.
As Christians, most of us read the four Gospels
– Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – in order to hear and remember
the recorded words and deeds of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
But the fact is, the last words of Jesus – the ongoing action of Christ
– are found not in the four Gospels but in the Book of Revelation
– the Revelation, not of John, as it often referred to
– but the Revelation, as it is declared, of Jesus Christ.
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him…”
– Revelation 1:1
Jesus is the author and the source of all that is disclosed here.
John serves as the secretary faithfully putting pen to paper of
all that Christ reveals to Him.
And despite how strange and seemingly unfamiliar
the content of this book can often appear,
as we’ll soon discover,
what Jesus reveals to us through John is nothing new.
What is unveiled here is just being presented in a new way.
the Book of Revelation is the encore of the Gospels.
If we’ve ever been to a concert of any kind,
an ENCORE is an additional or repeat performance
by the artist after the planned show had ended
– usually in response to extended applause or demand from the audience.
Today, we’ll going to explore why this encore was originally needed
and why it remains so vital for every generation of the Church.
But for now, let’s set stage to receive a sampling of the encore
that is the book of Revelation.
If we’ve only ever heard the Gospel,
let us prepare to see the good news on display
through the opening of this grand, illustrative vision
first revealed by Jesus Christ to John – now shared with us. (TEXT)
Last week, we kicked off this fall sermon series focused on
the first part of the Book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3,
containing what are known as Jesus’ letters to the seven churches.
While these seven churches were actual physical,
geographically situated congregations from the 1st century A.D.,
Christ’s words to them were intended to be applicable to
the Church in every generation.
However, before we dive into the particulars of these letters, we are spending the first two weeks of this series acclimating to the Book of Revelation as a whole.
Previously, we reflected on the unique perspective Revelation offers us
– a perspective that radically changes how we approach this book.
Today, we are going to dive deeper into the specific content of this book
– the Gospel according to Revelation – as laid out in the first chapter.
And we begin by acknowledging both the person and the circumstances through which we have this – the last book of the Bible.
The one who writes down these words is a man named John.
“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
Tradition holds this is the same John who was
one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus,
– the author of one of the four gospel accounts – the one bearing his name.
John emerged as a leader in the early Church,
especially among the churches
in Asia Minor in what we know of today as the nation of Turkey.
For John, many years have passed since the Day of Pentecost
– the birth of the Church – when the Way of Jesus first caught fire.
The Roman Empire, initially indifferent to Christians,
has recently turned hostile towards followers of Jesus
– banning, persecuting, and even eliminating the practice of
the Christian faith within its realm.
John has become a casualty of this campaign against Christianity
as he has ended up with a one way ticket not to paradise but Patmos.
“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” -Revelation 1:9
Patmos, an island in the Mediterranean, was no resort location
– not anywhere you’d want to go for a vacation.
Some 100 miles off the coast of Asia Minor,
made up of mostly rock and rough terrain,
and about 13 square miles in length,
Patmos was like the Alcatraz of the Roman Empire
– part of its prison system.
As we’re told in this first chapter,
John has been banished here because of his unwavering commitment to,
his sharing of, “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
Separated from his family and friends, John has become powerless
to do anything for all those he had led to Christ.
Living in exile, John only can helpless watch from afar
as those he loves continue to suffer
– to be relentlessly and devastatingly persecuted for their faith.
As many are being led to their deaths, John is left confused and uncertain. He’s not alone.
Fear and doubt are starting to creep into the whole Body of Christ
because it looks like the fire of the faith is dying
– that the Church is going to be snuffed out,
that the muscle and might of Rome rather than
the grace and love of Jesus will rule the order of the day.
It is in this moment in time,
when John and others like him could no longer perceive
any hope in their present or their future,
that an encore presentation of the Gospel began to be presented.
“On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches…” – Revelation 1:10-11
The curtain was raised, as John records it, on the Lord’s day – Sunday
– as John was in the Spirit – in other words, worshipping
– and John heard a loud voice behind him calling him
to begin writing down what he was about to see.
What follows in the rest of this chapter
and throughout the book of Revelation is a singular, epic vision
marked by all kinds of majestic and mysterious sights and sounds presented in a non-linear and often symbolic manner.
As we discussed last week, the point of view John is being offered here is an eternal perspective – one, therefore, outside of time.
John is witnessing a vision not simply of the future – what is coming later – but of how the future already was breaking into the present.
What John is seeing and sharing is the answer to
the repeated petition from the Lord’s Prayer
– of “let it be on earth as it is heaven” –
of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God into this world even now.
John, in receiving this vision – to enable him to capture and convey
all that he sees – the things of heaven – again, an eternal perspective rather than a linear one – is provided with familiar images
– iconic symbols drawn from the story of Israel and the early Church.
One of the reasons, the book of Revelation is so confusing and confounding to many, is because of a lack of familiarity and fluency in terms of the rest of the biblical story.
If we view the acts of God as a trilogy:
the Old Testament, the Gospels, and then, the encore that is Revelation,
one can’t just drop in for the final chapter
and rightly expect to recognize and understand what is happening.
But to be clear, getting behind all the images
– the signs and symbols in Revelation –
are not about cracking a secret code;
it is about being able to better absorb and appreciate
the richness and depth of the divine painting that John illustrates for us.
For me, a helpful way to approach Revelation is
to embrace it as an elaborate picture book –
more specifically, one of those books filled with Magic Eye 3-D images
INSERT PIC of MAGIC EYE 3-D IMAGE HERE
where one stares at a seemingly chaotic image as a whole,
looks dead center and then slowly pulls back
to see the picture revealed within.
While we can get intimidated by or fixated on all the various and
seemingly chaotic images of the book of Revelation as a whole,
the key is to pull back and pay attention
to the picture revealed at the center.
And the beautiful thing about Revelation is
we don’t have to wait long for our eyes to be directed to the center
– the masterpiece at the heart of this vision.
From start to finish, in the midst of all the other possibly confusing
and distracting sights, our attention is focused on exactly
what we’re supposed to see
– or more appropriately who we are to keep our eyes on.
When John turns around to look for the source of the voice behind him,
he sees someone who he knew – someone he was familiar with
and yet, someone who looks very different now.
John describes this person as being “one like a son of man.”
“ I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw…someone like a son of man…” – Revelation 1:12-13
This is a turn of phrase that in one sense refers to being human
but later becomes adopted by the OT prophet, Daniel, to describe divinity
– a heavenly figure who identifies with and rules over all creation.
“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.”
– Revelation 1:12-13
John goes on to detail how this figure is dressed in a robe
with a golden sash walking among golden lampstands.
This is imagery right of our Exodus and Leviticus
– alluding to priestly garments as well as being in
the tabernacle or temple of the Lord.
“ The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow…”
– Revelation 1:14
John sketches this not-so-mysterious stranger
as having wooly, curly, kinky hair – the key is that it is white as snow – imagery associated with atonement – with the forgiveness of sins.
But regal imagery is invoked by John as well.
“…and his eyes were like blazing fire…and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” – Revelation 1:14,16
Characterizing this person as having eyes like fire
and a double-edged sword coming of our His mouth,
taken together this is not so much a disturbing image
if we understand the association John is making here
– that this is how the Word of God is often described
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
– reflecting all-encompassing, authoritative wisdom
– piercing and dividing truth from lies,
penetrating and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart and mind.
Who is John seeing?
Who is and remains at the center of the picture of Revelation?
It is Jesus Christ – but in a way
that John and we have never seen him before.
We can summarize the vision John receives in this way.
Through much of the four Gospels, Jesus’ identity as our Messiah
– as the Lord of all creation and the Savior of the world – remains a secret.
But here, at the encore, Jesus’ identity no longer remains a secret.
The first time John met Jesus, Jesus was the Word of God made flesh.
This around, Jesus is still the Word of God made flesh,
but now Jesus appears as the Word of God fulfilled,
the Word made flesh in all of His power and glory.
What Jesus as God veiled in flesh
accomplished in his life, death, burial, and resurrection
is put on display before John, before us all.
And should there be any doubt that this is in fact, Jesus
since, after all, the One whom John sees never uses that name,
when John nearly drops dead before His appearance,
the One who is speaking reassures John that
“I am the Living One; I was dead,
and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” -Revelation 1:18
It is the risen Christ whom John sees.
But the mere shades of the fullness of who Jesus is
that John and we only began to glimpse after His resurrection
– what were once the black and white outlines of the good news –
are now disclosed to John and to us – in stunning and glorious technicolor.
This is again why we cannot ignore the book of Revelation
– because no other book of the Bible presents Jesus
so clearly, fully, and compellingly for who He is.
For this is not the Book of Revelations
– but the book of Revelation – the singular unveiling of Jesus
– as our one and only prophet, priest, and king.
This is the disclosure of the full reign of Christ
– the refutation of any notion there is a game of thrones;
but in fact, there is only one throne
– and it is God alone who sits on it – Jesus is Lord.
The Gospel according to Revelation is nothing new.
The one named Jesus who was mockingly crucified
both in the name of religion and under the decree of
the greatest empire in the world at the time,
The one named Jesus who embraced and endured all that
the forces of human sin and evil could throw at him – rejection, ridicule, abuse, abandonment, agony – even death itself
turned out to be the Son of Man who is the Son of God,
the Jesus who turned defeat into victory, death into life,
a tomb into a birthplace, a threatening symbol of violence and fear
into an invitation for forgiveness, an emblem of unconditional love.
This good news remains unchanged.
The Gospel according to Revelation is nothing new.
The encore – the last word of God recorded in the Bible
– is the same word – just expressed as it never has been before
– as the work of the Cross and the victory of the Resurrection
are presented as more than a moment in time but the resetting of all time
– not as something we fondly remember from the past
but the seed of eternity taking root and continuing to break through
in the present and ultimately transforming our future.
The Gospel according to Revelation is
both the unveiling and affirmation that
the hope we have in Christ is eternal.
There are lots of things that it can be hard for us to perceive – to truly see.
For some of us, hope is one of those things.
I would argue – that for many people
– that is the real challenge of engaging the Book of Revelation.
It’s not trying to make heads or tails of the appearance of
angels or dragons or horsemen or lakes of fire;
it’s the struggle to perceiving any hope through John’s vision.
Much like those Magic Art 3D pictures I mentioned earlier,
some of us look – we look for a long time –
but we can’t visualize the image that’s supposedly there.
All we can make out is one big, chaotic, disorienting mess.
Hope? We’re just not seeing it.
We look all around and all we perceive is the darkness surrounding us.
All that’s in our field of vision is the ongoing pandemic
we just must keep managing
or yet another major setback we just have to work through.
All that’s in our line of sight is that nagging grief
that continues to overwhelm us – that wound, that hurt that just won’t heal.
All that’s right before our eyes is the stress, the confusion
and the uncertainty about a decision we need to make
or perhaps, it’s that lingering, haunting awareness
we just don’t have the strength, the courage,
the will to make that needed change in our lives
– to get out of that situation, to stop coming back to that place,
to let go of that attitude, that habit, that addiction that keeps tripping us up.
Beloved, the Gospel according to Revelation is
the hope we are looking for – hope that is eternal
– is found in Jesus Christ.
If we were to summarize all the troubles in this life, in this world,
– be they out there or in here – it would be the fear, the finality of death.
The end – cessation – the loss – of our physical, material lives.
Or death by a thousand cuts – the other manifestations of death
– ways in which we experience the trauma of loss
– emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually
even as we live and breathe.
And yet, right from the start, Jesus reminds John – remind us:
“Do not be afraid. I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” –Revelation 1:17-18
Beloved, our hope is eternal because Jesus wins.
Not Jesus might win or eventually will win
– but Jesus has won.
Jesus has overcome the summation of
all the troubles of this world, this world.
What Jesus promises us –
what Jesus already has secured for us – is resurrection
– life beyond physical death – and therefore life that is full and abundant, but new life beyond death that begins even now
– the ability to rise up from whatever losses, whatever failures we endure, and to experience the birth of second chances and new possibilities,
Our eternal hope in Christ matters so much
– we are given such an expansive vision of it in the Book of Revelation
– because our lives, our world remain a work in progress.
Contrary to how we often sell it the Gospel is not a snap of one’s fingers sort of salvation – the remaking of the human condition, the redemption of all creation is not a quick fix but a gradual process.
New birth takes time. In this life, we will have trouble.
Jesus was painfully upfront about the birth pangs of
a new heaven and a new earth.
When we become a Christian,
we become not someone who has already arrived
but a follower of Jesus in the midst of
a being redeemed but still broken world
– filled with works in progress like us.
The troubles, sufferings, and pains of this life
are the reflection of a creation still divided,
in the midst of being redeemed but not yet made whole.
While Jesus has overcome, has defeated the forces of sin, evil, and death,
those same forces refuse to go quietly.
Exhausting their last breath, evil, sin, and death, purpose to obstruct,
trap and take as many as can be had from the Kingdom of God
through lies and accusation, the seductions of greed, lust, and hatred
and the spread of violence and apathy.
In this vision given to John, Jesus provides us with
a powerful and sobering glimpse of these spiritual forces at work
during these times in which we live so that will we not be ignorant
about what is happening but also so that we will have another perspective – the view from Heaven of in terms of what is really going on
and therefore not lose hope.
Beloved, the Gospel according to the Book of Revelation is about
the eternal hope we are given in Christ alone.
We need this hope but receiving it – living out of it – is a choice.
We can choose to perceive these struggles, these troubles, even failure,
as hopelessly defining our lives and sealing our fates.
We can choose to remain fixated on our discomfort, our pain, and our fear – letting doubt, anxiety, and bitterness overtake us.
Or in all the tension and unrest – globally, locally, and personally,
when all we feel is lonely and sad or frustrated and mad,
we turn around and pay attention to the voice calling to us
through the words of John, we can direct our attention away from the negative, from the cynical, from apathy, and fix our eyes on Christ,
the founder and perfecter of our faith, the reason for our eternal hope.
But we must choose. Hope is a choice.
If we choose to hope,
to see and receive the eternal hope we have in Christ,
we will gain a balanced and realistic framework for understanding
all of history as well as for viewing our lives
– our delights & our sorrows, our victories & our losses.
If we choose to hope – to keep walking the way of Jesus
— following Him, trusting His continual presence with us
through His Word and Spirit to lead and carry us,
we will become more than conquerors in Christ before temptation,
before persecution and suffering, before even death itself.
We will not by strike back against evil ourselves,
but will trust in the authority and power of Jesus, our King,
to finish what He started in and through us.
We will not pick up a gun or storm a building in the name of freedom;
but rather out of the freedom of God’s forgiveness,
we will lay down our arms, we will lay down our lives
– to sacrifice and serve others – those most in need – in the name of Jesus as a witness to the hope we have in Christ.
We cannot afford to miss the picture of our eternal hope
firmly centered on Christ that Revelation shows us
because this hope is not only what we need to carry on;
it is also the only real and living hope we have to share.
Rather than escape or withdraw, in following Jesus,
we are called to engage the brokenness within and without
– to be priests, ambassadors of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God – reflecting, tangibly embodying the eternal hope we have in Christ.
Emboldened by the confidence of faith,
believing nothing can harm us in any permanent way,
our line of sight turns from looking inward to looking outward – to seeing, acknowledging, and intervening on behalf of others
– those who do not know, who have not heard.
The encore of the Gospel that is the picture of Revelation
casts the Great Commission is in a new light.
More than simply adding to our numbers
– more than increasing the size of our churches –
Revelation helps us to see that the Great Commission
as our marching orders to bring the Light of Christ into the darkness.
The call for us to make disciples is
the call for us to bring salvation to the world.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
and the testimony of the Word of God,
we have been armed and made ready to protect and to serve,
to conquer hate with love, violence with peace,
vengeance with mercy, and death with life.
Hope is a powerful word.
With hope, comes encouragement and the desire to persevere.
A life without hope is a life of defeat, doubt, and dread.
Which life would you rather choose?
Two thousand years later, many of us perceive and feel as
those in John’s day did that, by all appearances, the surrounding world appears unchanged very much the same as it ever was – if not worse.
In the midst of a continuing global pandemic, in the face of widening polarization among our family, friends, and neighbors, in the throes of escalating frustration, anger, and fear, what do we choose to see
– a world hell-bent on its own destruction and going down in flames?
Or will we look, will we dare to see, to point like John
– not just with our cheap words but through the witness of our actions,
to a Savior, the Lord, Jesus at the center of all creation declaring
“Do not be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Having been given the vision of this glorious future
breaking into the present – knowing Jesus is coming back now,
that Christ is victorious today,
that nothing can be taken away from us
that the Lord cannot redeem, reconcile, restore, or resurrect.
we cannot sit back and wait for tomorrow to come
– going to heaven when we die or killing time until Jesus returns.
We need to stop burying our heads in the sands of time
and instead, lift them up into the perspective of eternity.
Instead of looking for or running from
the four horsemen of the Apocalypse,
instead of fixating upon or dreading the mark of the Beast,
instead of convincing ourselves that the world is going to hell
before it gets to heaven,
we need to keep our eyes on Jesus
– that’s the message, that the Gospel according to Revelation.
Therefore, let us open our eyes and see where the Creator of the Universe
where the risen and living Christ – is reigning on our streets,
in our neighborhoods, in the particular corner of the world
where the Lord has called us.
Let us refuse to be blinded by all the anger, suspicion, and cynicism circulating all around us and instead choose to see
what John sees what our God shows us will be
– what is coming even now.
A world without unemployment, soup kitchens or welfare lines.
A world without disease, without hunger or loneliness.
A world without the divisions of class, denominations,
politics, gender, culture, or the color of one’s skin.
A world without hospitals or cemeteries, without widows or orphans.
A world without terrorism and genocide – refugees and enslaved persons.
A world where the only tears are tears of joy
and the only cries are cries of laughter.
A world where peace isn’t a compromise or a bargain
for some at the expense of others
but a world where peace is experienced by everyone in all its fullness
– peace with God, peace within ourselves, peace between each other, peace with creation itself
– the fullness and completeness of eternal peace – shalom.
If this is the world we choose to see – not the world as we try to make it but the world Christ holds it in His hands and is remaking it
– if this is the Kingdom before we bow and worship
– the Kingdom – not of might makes right, of fighting fire with fire
– but the Kingdom of dying to self in order to live for others,
the eternal hope of Jesus that conquers a world of fear and violence
not by inflicting more of the same but absorbing it all
– every last ounce of evil and sin,
the eternal hope of Jesus that refuses
to demand His freedom from sacrifice
but instead offers himself willing and fully in service for all humanity.
If this the world we see, the Kingdom we bow down to,
the Jesus in whom we hope, then let us start recognizing where the Spirit is on the move so that we can move with the Spirit.
Let’s follow Jesus by acting out of the gracious power of a higher love
– a love that continues to sacrifice even when it is scorned,
a love that persists in serving even when it is rejected,
a love that embodies hope even in the face of death,
a love that conquers all in Christ. Amen.