Happy New Year! Here is a wrap-up of the first seven chapters of Revelation. More to come tomorrow. There will be a Forum on Revelation on Sunday, January 12th at 10:00am led by Thomas Martin.
When we encounter a book with such startling imagery as The Revelation of John, we must do so with a careful eye. Much in the same way we read political cartoons where donkeys and elephants do battle or science fiction in which laws of physics are bent, we read the apocalyptic literature in a similar way. It has imagery and poignancy in its words. It carries multiple meanings. There are many suggestions on how to read the Bible. As Christians, I think any question we have of scripture is best asked with this in mind: How is this going to make me a better disciple of Jesus Christ?
John, the author of Revelation, is on the island Patmos, writing to churches on the mainland. The images that he sees in his vision in verses 13-16, reflects imagery from Ezekiel and Daniel, also apocalyptic literature as well as Isaiah and Judges. As the author describes his vision, the Son of Man, who holds the stars with his right hand also draws close to John in the midst of his fear—with the same right hand. In other words, while this verse inspires awe and wonder, we realize that the very spark and power of the universe would draw close to us, even in our fear and trembling.
Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira. Endure, persevere, repent, hold fast. Those four churches are given those four instructions, respectively. But they are also given a warning. They are told to watch out. They are told where they have done wrong. They have disobeyed God’s commands or have listened more closely to another’s teaching rather than the Lord’s. There is a challenge that is being laid out and you will notice a refrain: “To those who conquer.” Respectively, those who conquer will receive permission to eat from the tree of life, will not be harmed by the second death, will be given hidden manna, a white stone, and the morning star. All of those things are gifts but they are also images from the Old Testament. Perhaps the author is pointing and using these images which are confusing to us as a reminder that God will make all things new.
In a similar manor to chapter 2, chapter 3 offers the churches of Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea correction and hope. The church in Sardis is challenged to conquer. Their reward will be a confession from the angel to God on their behalf. Philadelphia is promised that if they conquer they will be a pillar in the temple of God. To those who conquer at the church in Laodicea, will be given a place on the throne. In these two chapters, promises are made, warnings are given. They are unique for the communities and for Revelation, but do we heed their warnings and promises as well, as followers of Christ? That is the invitation.
Worship is one of those words that means many things to many people. Who do we worship? How do we worship? Is there true worship? Does one group/style/person/denomination/church do it better? I certainly don’t think so, but ask anyone today and they will certainly have a strong opinion of a church that does it better. Perhaps we should take a cue from the Heavenly view of worship in chapter four and see not the style or appearance, but who was being worshiped and what is being said: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Sometimes it’s better not to measure the efficacy of worship and simply offer praise to God who has created the world.
As we continue in the image of heavenly worship in chapter 5, we find a predicament: there is no one holy in the worship assembly to open the scroll which is full of words and instructions. Except, there is one who is able, who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Our worthiness in worship isn’t up to us. We are not capable of judging or deciding without Jesus to open up the heavenly scroll. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is the Lamb who opens the scroll. Two very contrasting animals. Yet it is the same person. The author of Revelation does not mean to confuse the readers, but instead is amplifying our understanding of God’s salvation.
This is admittedly a harder text, but only if we try to draw connections to the world around us. That’s not what we’re called to do as the seals are unfolded. Instead, we can learn from the reactions of the congregation and earth as the drama unfolds. We see six signs—four horsemen, souls of the martyrs, and an earthquake. The drama unfolds as we see that the people who witness this on the earth, rich and poor, kings and peasants, all flee before the signs they see. There is fear, rather than repentance.
144,000? That’s it? That is the biggest question that often surrounds Revelation and the number that will be saved. Instead of focusing on the number, for a moment, let us focus on the story. The story of the 12 tribes of Israel recount the way in which Jacob wrestled with a stranger at night, was reconciled with his brother, and had his name changed to Israel. When the author of Revelation points to the 144,000, he does so at it relates to the tribes of Israel. This is not a limited number but a privileged number of reunification. Remember back in 5:9-11 when we saw “myriads and myriads upon thousands and thousands.” Our story in God’s fullness of time is not limited. God’s grace and selection is not kept small by number, but is made more faithful by God restoring. All of creation will praise the Lamb who is worthy. That is the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.