Had a friend call me the other day and he simply said, ‘The end is near.’ That happened after recently running into a guy at the post office that always says in passing, ‘It’s over in America.’ For sure Jesus is coming and has been coming all along into our lives. My friend’s call caused me to re-visit some of the Book of Revelation. I didn’t get very far into the text without being overwhelmed by the word pictures drawn by John. Two chapters in and I was stunned by the message delivered in that book. Let me begin by saying this: the whole of this book is about one thing–the revelation or revealing of Christ Jesus. Sure there are instructions of an apparent end of the world as we know it, there are discussions about worldly conditions and failings, punishments and rewards. But, according to the book’s author, John is foremost the revelator of the person of Christ. I believe the book’s theme, a summing up, is found in the text from the very first chapter: ‘Do not fear, I am First, I am Last and I am Alive!’ John goes on. What he’s about to share is a picture of the authority and glory of God. We call this a book of the Apocalypse. The Greek word used for apocalypse is identified in other biblical text as an unveiling. Much like a statue covered with linen, which can show the image outline of the thing underneath, but only when the covering is pulled back do we see the real thing. Before, we have a general idea of the thing, but when the linen falls we have the exact, perfect image revealed right before our eyes. The hidden image reveals new information about what’s underneath. Pulling the covering away reveals the statue in all its detail, its fullness and a new glory. That’s the book of Revelation. It reveals Christ ‘right-relatedness’, his full authority and power, to this world. Here we see the fullness of his Kingdom. We see what was not revealed previously, what eye has not seen and what our mind has not imaged.
Revelation is a look into the unseen, a glimpse of what is hidden but, at that same time, hidden in full view in our presence. In some shortened, compact way, the book is a manual of how to survive, how to stand in the harsh realities of our world. This is Jesus’ story of kingdom against Kingdom. If I’m limited to one word for its essence I’d choose Overcoming. Here we discover that things are not what they seem, that not living by sight takes on a whole different level of reality. When Jane was in Chicago, in an intensive care hospital, existing each day with one foot on this side of this creation and one foot seemingly on the other side of creation, not living by what I saw took on a whole new meaning. Something much bigger is going on than just our earthly experience, our daily struggles. It’s obvious that humans are worshipers by the very nature of our Creation. We either worship God or other gods of one kind or another. Politics, Hollywood and sports teams have shown us just how blind we become in our worship of something, someone. Revelation sets that issue straight by identifying exactly Who our worship nature should choose to adore, leaves no doubt about how this life is not the true expression of His Life. It comes down in Revelation to worshiping the Lamb versus following the Beast.
For all its complexity Revelation is a book of encouragement. As early as Chapter 2 and as late as Chapter 22 we get a glimmer of Hope about our future (actually our present as well). There, we see the Morning Star revealed. A gift according to John, a sign of Christ. This star lights the sky generally about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. It shows before the dawn but it is a promise of the dawn. Actually, it comes at the darkest hour, when the least light is being shown. Night has reached its peak! Darkness rules the night! And there, in that moment Jesus promises us a bright light to usher in the dawn of a new day. That’s the Hope of Revelation. Revelation expresses the darkest of times but a time pregnant with Hope. I get accused sometimes of being too positive in these BVN letters, of being not balanced in my outlook. But Jesus came exactly to give us Hope, Faith and a dream about our futures. Came to give us Life, not death. Yes, Revelation is a story full of ‘crushing’ pressure but in that same book, according to Christ, we are not to fear whatever we will endure! (Revelation 2:9-10) On one hand a pressure unlike ever before, on the other hand a Grace and Peace like never before. On one hand the darkest hours, on the other hand the greatness of the Father revealed. On one hand the destruction of the faith and on the other hand a rising up, deliverance and establishment of the Kingdom of God manifest. Days of tribulation and also a promise of Joy, Fullness and Love. On one hand the end of the age, on one hand the ushering in of a New Day, a New Heaven, a New Earth. At the cross, darkness fell upon the earth but that darkness was ushering in a new Life. In God’s economy of Life, there’s always death before a rising up. In Revelation, there’s a dying of the old system to bring in the New Heaven and Earth. Tribulation is about a time when all that can be shaken will be shaken. The reciprocal of that statement means that there are things that are unshakable– Faith and Love are those.
As the linen is dropped and Christ is revealed in His fullness, we’ll do well to remember that the Spirit of the Anti-Christ’s target is not believers but, according to this book, the target is the Lamb whom he hates. We will be wise to remember that the word of Christ spoken to us in this book is to not be afraid, be faithful. Be faithful when it’s the darkest, our role in His battle is just be faithful, thankful about Him in all things. We do have a Hope in the worst of times. Remember the cross looked very bleak to his followers, but there was a victory there that was not intended to be seen with human eyes but with the Spirit. We live in a time where the counterfeits gather against the Truth. We are told and forced into acts of human tolerance inspired by the book’s Beast. Human tolerance substitutes itself for a biblical, Godly Patience, Mercy and Grace.
All of creation’s space is occupied with the struggle in Revelation. Always has been, always will be, until that struggle is put away by the revealing of the true Christ. Not a Christ of our imagination, not one assumed by our mind, but one that’s had the linen pulled away and shown in all His Glory. Just as that Morning Star appears in the darkest hour and dispels what appears to be a lost cause, He invades every inch of the battlefield of all time and space. Our eyes and ears can’t comprehend the truth of that struggle adequately. This story, His Story, is not in doubt in spite of all we see or all we experience. There’s only one Champion and all generations have declared Him down and out! Kings, brilliant minds, political leaders, countries, movements, people of all kinds offering up the funeral pronouncements about the end of God. Each generation has been ruled by their love of the darkness and the self-righteousness of their causes. I heard it once said, that ‘when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. It’s much worse than that, they believe in anything!’ Only the handed down battle between Anti-Christ and a Lamb remains to continue generation after generation. John’s instructions: write down everything you see– things that already are and things about to come. One message rings clear to the seven churches of Revelation, simply overcome! I quote from Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible–
‘I saw a scroll in the right hand of the One seated on the Throne. It was written on both sides, fastened with seven seals. I also saw a powerful angel, calling out in a voice like thunder, ‘Is there anyone who can open the scroll, who can break its seals?’ There was no one in Heaven, no one on earth, no one from the underworld, able to break open the scroll and read it. I wept and wept and wept that no one was found able to open the scroll, able to read it. One of the Elders said, ‘Don’t weep. Look– the Lion from the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David’s Tree, has conquered. He can open the scroll, can rip through the seals.’ So I looked and there, surrounded by Throne, Animals and Elders was a Lamb, slaughtered but standing tall.’
In that Scripture the linen just dropped and revealed all things full. Revelation is not about an ending in as much as it’s about a new beginning.