I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most people haven’t read the entire book of Revelation. Most people I know have set out to read the entire Bible at some point in their lives and have made it through the fun and interesting book of Genesis; enjoyed Exodus; got into Leviticus and determined that the Bible get a whole lot of “not fun” really quick, set it down, and never made it into the strange and bizarre world of prophetic, end of the world kinds of reading.
Don’t feel bad. It took me a very long time to finally read the Bible through cover-to-cover. There are still days when I look at a particular reading and know that it is simply going to be a long slog through really, really boring begets, and rules, and nit-picky kinds of details that don’t seem relevant, important, or even worth their placement in the pages of the Bible.
In some ways, the people who only ever encounter the Bible at church are incredibly lucky because the assigned readings rotate on a three-year schedule. Heck, some of the seemingly more obvious and important ones even repeat in each year. The repetition helps the message sink in. And most of the readings selected are pretty interesting. We don’t often sit in our pews, listening to a litany of begets, or detailed measurements for building just about anything related to the Temple.
Here’s the thing. The Revised Common Lectionary – that assigned readings thing – uses only 13% of the entire Bible: 6% of the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament; not including the Psalms, and about 41% of the New Testament.
If you only ever encountered the Bible in our church pews on the Sundays that you are able to make it to church, you’re only getting, at most, 13% of the whole Bible. That’s a whole lot of book that is missing. But I don’t want to make people feel guilty about this, or feel like I am saying that everyone needs to read the Bible all of the time. I just wanted to address my first statement, which may be not so far out on a limb as I previously thought.
So, let’s come back to our Epistle reading from Revelation. The majority of people I know might tell you that Revelation has some weird stuff going on in it, and that it’s really quite difficult to understand. It has weird images and isn’t as straightforward as some of the other books of the Bible. Perhaps we should take a moment to learn a little bit about this book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation has a number of titles: Revelation, or the Apocalypse of John, or the Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine. Its name is taken from the first word in the writing: revelation, or unveiling. It was written by a Jewish man named John, who had been exiled to a small island named Patmos, which is located near the coast of Greece.
It is a contentious book, often debated, and never entirely accepted. It is not the only revelation to have been written, and its placement in the Bible was hotly debated. It is a book that is classified as ‘Apocalyptic Prophecy,’ and there are as many interpretations of the text’s importance as there are denominations of the Christian church. Martin Luther had said that Revelation was neither apostolic nor prophetic, and other protestant scholars omitted it from their studies. In doing some digging online, I have found websites whose only purpose is to either debunk the subject matter and contents of this Bible book, OR to clarify and set out to prove all the little bits of secret knowledge painted in John’s visions. In truth, even the author shows an agenda with incredible ire directed at those we would call Christians – he is a traditionalist who would see the end to women leaders, intermarriage between Gentile and Jew, and a return to a traditional Torah life as the way to Jesus as Messiah. The church has never been without clashing voices and visions.
Suffice it to say, the book of Revelation is a curious thing.
At the very core of it, this book is a letter to seven different church bodies around the Mediterranean. A letter written by an author who seems to have suffered greatly, likely persecuted under Rome’s anti-Christianity agenda, who lived through the Roman obliteration of the Jerusalem Temple and the surrounding communities in 70 CE. This is a letter that is written in order to encourage other followers of Christ at a time when it seems that there is no hope remaining.
This is a book in the Bible that demonstrates a life of following God and what life lived in relationship to God demands of each of us. This book does show us life together. And today we read about what we proclaim every time we speak the words of the Apostle’s Creed: God will come again and dwell here.
A vision that gives us an incredibly reality, where God says: “See, the home of God is among mortals.” (Revelation 21:3) And even more than that, God will dwell with them. Present among them as we are to each other. God will wipe away each tear from crying eyes. Death is ended. Mourning, crying, and pain are no more.
Because, all those things are the things of a reality that was. And the arrival of God means that everything is new.
The arrival of God means that everyone will experience life in its fullness.
I like this vision of the end of time.
We proclaim that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, and I think we have a tendency to envision this from a place of judgment. John’s vision sees a God who comes to judge the living and the dead from a place of completely love. In this vision, God comes. God is not above us, enthroned at the top of an incredible series of stairs or behind a large and looming wooden desk. God comes down to be where the people are. And loves them all.
Exactly what Jesus commands: that we love one another.
I’m not saying that love can cure all the ills of the world. There have been a number of examples this past week that have proven to me that you can’t love someone out of death, out of grief and suffering, out of pain. Death, grief, and pain are very present and very real in our world – and though love is a powerful, powerful gift to the world, is hasn’t brought an end to humanity’s suffering from the time of John of Patmos until now.
We proclaim that Christ overcame death. We believe that God is capable of bringing an end to these things: God will wipe away every tear that is and ever was. We know that God lives and moves within and around us. God’s love doesn’t replace the reality of our world. God’s love does something a little stronger: it reforms and transforms our world, our lives, our reality into God’s vision of a new kingdom, come down to us, living among us, present with us.
We are then bold to show the world a little bit of that future with God present among us, as we are present to each other, in love.
As Christ loved.
As God loves each and every one of us.
- John Blake. “4 Big Myths of Book of Revelation.” Belief Blog, CNN online.
- David Lose. “Easter 5C: Questions About Love.” …in the Meantime.
- Brian Peterson. “Commentary on Revelation 21:1-6.” Preach This Week, WorkingPreacher.org
- The Revised Common Lectionary.