Like many, my preconception of Revelation has to do with the end of the world, the end of time. It has to do with the Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth, which was a big sensation in the 60s and 70s. I read part of it recently and it is mostly not about revelation but how the Soviet Union was predicted in Daniel, as well as the rise of China, etc.
I grew up around the fervor of the Left Behind series of books. A long series with talk of the Rapture and the Anti-Christ and as I studied theology I learned about Dispensationalist theology. The idea that history is fixed with a certain set of dispensations beginning with innocence under Adam, and the Conscience from the Fall to the Great Flood and on and on until the dispensation of grace in which we currently live which will be followed by the Millennial kingdom (which is not a kingdom of millenials).
These ways of reading the book of revelation are not stupid ways. We cannot dismiss them out of hand. If you look at a chart of this interpretation, this is as complex as a diagram of an atom or a protein molecule. This way of reading Revelation, though, is very modern. It began in earnest in the early 19th century with a man named John Darby.
It must be stated clearly, though, that these readings do not go back to the 1st century. This is not how the earliest Christian read this book. Whether you grew up in the church or you are still not sure about this God thing, there is something in this book for you.
Revelation is about our identity more than anything else. What is the source of our identity? The book of revelation is both in the future but already present. It is soon and near but has, in part, already occurred in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This isn’t just about the future but about reality, our reality right now. It is about contrasting true and false views of reality. As Richard Baukham writes, “The book of revelation counters [a] false view of reality by opening the world to divine transcendence.” It comes back to our identity. Are we primarily citizens of the world, citizens of the US, citizens of Austin, or are we primarily citizens of heaven. There is a destiny beyond the present. And, can we start living into that destiny now.
Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. That is a beautiful phrase but what it means is that Jesus is our beginning and Jesus is our end. When Jesus says ‘I am the Lord of the Sabbath’ in the Gospels, he is saying that I am the one who created. I am over creation. When we practice sabbath, we admit and offer ourselves to our creator. Thus the importance of sabbath rest. Jesus is staking his claim as Lord of heaven and earth.
That is, Lord of our time, our rest, our work. And then all of our life can be redeemed. It is not just our future but our present. As Richard Baukham says, “It is John’s readers concrete, day-to-day world seen in the heavenly and eschatological perspective. As such, it functions as a counter to the Roman Imperial view of the world.”
So we have the Roman view wherein you have to give sacrifices to the Roman gods, have to give fealty. And then you have the Christian view. The view of the triune God that you were created in the image of God for something more. For something more.
The Book of Revelation is first a series of letters to seven churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea. Here is a map of where this churches were. Usually, if you are going to do a sermon series on revelation, it looks at each of these churches.
So the Book of Revelation is a series of circulating letters, it is also a prophecy of what can happen. It is also an apocalyptic. Apocalypse means what has been revealed. Apocalypse means revelation. It does not mean the end of the world. If I hold this current in front of you and then it drops, that is revelation. That is what is going on in this book. It is not just that the time is set in the future, but that our eyes are being open to reality. The fact that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Our beginning and our end, and that the forces of destruction do not have final say over us and offers us that rest. As well, we are offered the body and blood of Christ at this table. We are also offered the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation at this table. At this table, we have a foretaste of our heavenly feast, as well as food for the heavenly kingdom here. This world is being made new. This world is being made holy. This meal is more than our present. This meal is our future.
God offers us freedom from those limits. God shows us and tells us that those limits are from our head and from the world, there are not from God. That nothing is impossible for God.
When you are done, there are two stations with water. I want you to go as you feel led to put your preconceptions in the water and watch as they dissolve away.
God offers us freedom. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Our end is not in destruction but in the God who is love.