Revelation: It could be today, it is today; it could be tomorrow; it is tomorr
This is our second section on Revelation – after which we move into Revelation chapter one.
The call of a Father.
From Genesis to Revelation we see God’s amazing acts of grace, mercy, justice and love as He continues to call fallen man back to their true home with their heavenly father. In Jesus we see what man should always have been like in the perfect relationship of love and blessing that uplifted Him and sustained Jesus throughout His life. At His baptism into the priesthood, the Father called from heaven and said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” (Mat 3:17), yet the world that He came to offer salvation to (John 3:16) had already sought His death, even as a baby (Mat 2:3). Jesus healed the sick (Mt 8:3; 9:20), opened blind eyes (Luke 18:42) and deaf ears (Mat 7:37), cast out demons (Luke 4:41) and raised the dead (Lk 7:14-15, 8:51-56, John 11:43-4). On what is termed the mount of transfiguration, His father said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:2-7). At every turn and no matter the challenge, Jesus did nothing but show man the loving relationship that He had with the Father. In all respects, after doing this He could have just gone home; but He didn’t. Instead He continued the path He has chosen from the beginning and went down the mountain and towards a horrific death and judgement at Calvary. In this we see love; in this we see the call of a Father to embrace the work of the Son (John 3:16) and live in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
In the Bible we see this truth lived out in the lives of ordinary every-day people as God moves in extraordinary ways and in Revelation, Jesus encourages His people to see that He stands amongst them as indeed He encourages us to stand with Him.
This, however, does not mean we are always going to feel comfortable; God is not showing us what is going on whilst allowing us to sit on a hill looking at what he is doing. Jesus stepped into the midst of fallen humanity in order to show us what a loving relationship between a father and son should really be like. He was compassionate and caring yet did not compromise, He was willing to spend time with people but expected them to change and he did not falter when friends deserted Him and continued to reach out to the so-called ‘unlovely’ of the world. We are called to do likewise: to reach out in love which does not compromise holiness and with a grace and mercy that does not compromise justice.
In scripture, the first act of love was the creation of the world (Gen 1:1) and the first gift of love was to man who was placed in a garden called ‘delight’ (Eden: Gen 2:8); in a world that had been created for him (Psalm 115:16). Love always seeks to share with a loved one and God chose to create man, a being who could benefit and share in the Trinitarian love expressed between father, son and Holy Spirit. (Gen 1:27). God created man in order to bless him.
“Only in the creation of humanity is the divine intent announced beforehand. The formula “and it was so” is replaced by a threefold blessing. In these ways the narrative places humankind closer to God than the rest of creation.”
D and H Jackman in, ‘A’ Gift of God’ page 3, Cambridge Papers.
In scripture, we see that the first decision of sacrificial love speaks of unconditional, sacrificial love in that Christ is spoken of as slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:9-20; John 1:29). What we see in this decision is that even before man fell into sin, there was an agreement within the Trinity that the Son of God would come and stand in the place of the sinner; the foundation of this world is sacrificial love.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
1 John 4:9-10
In scripture we also find that the first use of the word love (aahabtaa) speaks of a father’s love for a son - this being found in reading the story of Abraham who was called to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac (Gen 22:2). God then stayed Abraham’s hand and provided a ram as a sacrifice in Isaac’s place. Hundreds of years later, we find the first use of the word ‘love’ in the New Testament as we read of another Father and His love for His Son (Matt 3:17). This Father, our heavenly Father, did not intervene as His Son was smashed to a cross and died in our place; so great is the love of God for us.
“While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son,” writes the Apostle Paul (Rom 5:10). The cross is the giving up of God’s self in order not to give up on humanity; it is the consequence of God’s desire to break the power of human enmity without violence and receive human beings into divine communion. The goal of the cross is the dwelling of human beings “in the Spirit,” “In Christ”, and “In God”. Forgiveness is therefore not the culmination of Christ’s relation to the offending other; it is a passage leading to embrace.”
Miroslav Volf in, ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ p 126.
A few years after my father died, my mother started taking Bibles into China and working with local people in sharing the gospel. I vividly remember her telling me a story about an old Christian lady who was paralysed from the waist down and who was left outside her home on a bed each morning by her family. Her house was on the route to a local University and as the years went by she struck up much conversation with students as they went to and from their studies. Over twenty years of ministry she saw many of these young people turn to Christ; her age and physical disability were no hindrance to the gospel and her relationship with Jesus touched hundreds of young lives.
“Spirituality in human beings is not an extra or ‘superior’ mode of existence. It’s not a hidden stream of separate reality, a separate life running parallel to our bodily existence. It does not consist in special ‘inward’ acts, even though it has an inner aspect. It is, rather, a relationship of our embodied selves to God that has the natural and irrepressible effect of making us alive to the Kingdom of God – here and now in the material world.”
Dr M. Jeeves in ‘Mind Fields’, Reflections on the Science of Mind and Brain, p130.
Scripture and Time Scales.
When we read a novel we often find that events start in chapter one and move forward in time until the last chapter of the book; this is not the case in the Bible. Whilst the Bible obviously has a beginning and an end it does not always move forward chronologically and often repeats events from a different perspective. For example, Genesis chapter two looks at the creation of man from a different perspective than Genesis chapter one.
In Genesis one we have the creation of all things (including man: Gen 1:27) and then Genesis two again mentions the creation and creation of man (Gen 2:7) but this time with man at the centre of the created order; everything is seen in relationship to him. Man is God’s representative called to exercise dominion over the created order. The word ‘dominion’ can leave us with the idea of brute force yet man’s dominion over nature was not to be based on brute force or technological advancement, as is often the case today with disastrous results. Man’s dominion was to be derived from and patterned after God’s dominion over all creation. In this respect man is called to exhibit the image and likeness of God in knowledge (Col 3:10), righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24).
Another example of the same events being spoken of in similar ways but from different perspectives is found in the books of Kings and Chronicles. The two books of Kings contain the history of God’s people from circa 970 – 587B.C. with the books being organised round the kings who reigned at this time. The books of Chronicles catalogue priestly worship from the death of Israel’s first King (Saul) to the end of Babylonian captivity and particularly shows the history of the Jerusalem priesthood and its growth and progress, emphasising observance to priestly laws.
In a very basic way we could say that Kings shows one side of a bus and Chronicles another – but it is the same bus. The same could also be said of the gospels, which often mention the same events but from different perspectives.
In Revelation we have the same events repeated on more than one occasion (bear in mind that repetition in scripture is God’s ‘high-lighter pen’); it does not just go straight through from Revelation chapter one to Revelation chapter twenty-two. Instead the book of Revelation is more like being shown a whole picture with your attention being drawn to different aspects of what is being seen enabling us to see at a deeper level. Therefore, on occasion, we have the same events spoken of with new colours added to them, so to speak, before moving on.
Throughout the book of Revelation we read of wars, rumour of wars, protected people and spiritual forces being set free. We also read of the love of God and the anger of God. This anger is not that of a raging cosmic tyrant but expresses (yes, even in anger!) a concern for what is right and wrong and a strong desire to help man, in whatever way possible. In light of this we see that the anger and wrath of God is an aspect of His love; if it were simply a worldly rage then this world would have been destroyed long ago. God does not give up on love yet neither is He indifferent to evil. In great love and without compromise to holiness, He became our Saviour. We are covered in His love which in no way compromises His holiness. A story that reminds me of this covering love is as follows:
After a major earthquake in Japan, rescue teams went round looking for survivors. As they looked through the wreckage of one house they saw a young woman who was kneeling and leaning forward. A rescuer put his hand through a narrow gap in the wall to see if she was alive. Her still body told him she had died a few hours ago. They left the house but for some reason the rescuer found himself drawn back. He reached through the crack again and searched the space under her dead body and found a baby. The rescue team got to work and to their amazement a three-month-old little boy was pulled out alive, wrapped in a small flowery blanket. The baby’s mother had shielded her son’s body with her own and he was still sleeping peacefully when the team leader picked him up. A medical doctor was then called to examine the boy and on opening the blanket he found a cell phone with a text on the screen. It read, “If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” This cell phone was passed around from one hand to another. Everybody that read the message wept. ”If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.”
You and I are covered in the love of Jesus; we are forgiven and protected, noticed, loved and sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption(Eph 4:30). In the book of Revelation we see that God’s people are secure in Him no matter what they go through; even death (Rev 2:13).
The Bible is God’s book of blessing and challenge to a rebellious and suffering world. It speaks of God’s love for man and the way to forgiveness through the covering that comes from placing our trust in Jesus Christ.
“As the Word of God the Son is both the reveller of the divine mind and also the agent of the divine will. Since the word of God never fails to effect what it decrees (Cf. Is 55:11), it is through him who is the Eternal Word that the will of God is brought to pass not only in creation but also in re-creation (2 Cor 4:6) and in judgement (Acts 17:31)”.
P.E. Hughes in, ‘The Book of the Revelation’ p204.
The Lamb of God.
In Revelation, a book that speaks of world events and cosmic power, the Lamb of God is mentioned over thirty times, underlying an important truth: The One who allows or ordains the events we read about to occur, is the very One who allowed Himself to go through incredible suffering and death in order to offer us reconciliation and life.
In the book of Revelation we see that Christ stands in the midst of the church. He holds the church in His hands, so to speak. He is at the centre of all that goes on. Christ is the Risen One, the ‘suffering One’ who knows all that we go through. For example, He is the One who revealed His glory to a ‘soon-to-leave-earth’ Stephen (Acts 7:55-7) and stood to welcome Him into eternity. And here, in Revelation, Jesus is spoken of as standing in the midst of the churches. In Jesus, we have no absent landlord or monarch ruling from a distant hill: here is the King of Kings. His name is Jesus and the book of Revelation is His revelation (Rev 1:1) and we are called to witness to His greatness.
“Faithful presence is not enough. It is merely the beginning. Jesus was not merely present in the world, but far, far more. He was intensely active: he taught extensively, he healed countless people from all sorts of sickness and disease, he delivered from the dominion of evil spirits, he drove out moneychangers from the temple, he raised people from the dead, he confronted hypocrisy, and he set his face toward Jerusalem and his active choice to die. Like him, then, we must be not only present but active, and so dedicated to the world yet so dead to the world….”
Prof Oz Guinness in, ‘Renaissance,’ page 87.
Revelation speaks of churches that represent the whole church and uses imagery that spans the whole of history, speaking of the physical powers that seek to rule the world, along with the power of Satan which lies behind much of what goes on. Yet all power ultimately pales into insignificance when compared with the power of the Kingdom of Heaven. There is power, and then there is His power.
“Little Boy” is the name of the atomic bomb that was detonated over Hiroshima. The bomb contained 140lbs of highly enriched uranium, yet almost 99 percent of it harmlessly blew apart. The amount of uranium that fissioned and turned into pure energy weighed only seven tenths of a gram. Yet, when this occurred, temperatures on the ground directly beneath the blast reached 10,000F (5,500C) as two thirds of the buildings in Hiroshima were destroyed and over 90,000 people were killed. A five pound note weighs no more than seven tenths of a gram.
The one who placed the power in the atom and flung the stars in to space (Psalm 8:3) is more powerful than any power that has ever been seen or ever will be seen on earth. He is the Creator and His power is not only perceived in raw energy, it is seen in sacrificial love. He is the One who designed the human egg and sperm, so small that it cannot be seen unless magnified hundreds of times. Yet within its coding is the intricate detail for the most complex computer in the world, the human brain. The One who designed the human brain, who knows every hair on our head, and every thought in our minds, is the All Powerful One. He wants us to see life and understand life from His perspective concerning whom we are, who He is and what is happening to this world. Do we see or are we allowing other things to cloud our vision? The One who created the human eye is more than capable of helping us to see all that He wants us to see.
“The most amazing component of the camera eye is its “film” which is the retina. This light-sensitive layer at the back of the eyeball is thinner than a sheet of plastic wrap and is more sensitive to light than any man-made film. The best camera film can handle a ratio of 1000-to-1 photons in terms of light intensity. By comparison, human retinal cells can handle a ratio of 10 billion-to-1 photons over a dynamic range of light wavelengths of 380 to 750 nanometres. The human eye can sense as little as a single photon of light in the dark! In bright daylight, the retina can bleach out, turning its “volume control” way down so as not to overload.”
Prof A.L.Gillen, ‘Body by Design.’ p26.
Our security is in Him.
The book of Revelation is written to help us to see and be encouraged; to open our eyes and allow us to view the bigger picture - His picture. And yet in all that goes on in this incredible revelation we are not lost or overlooked; instead we are reminded of our security in the One who knows us intimately in our world of insecurity and suffering.
Throughout scripture we see the bigger picture and in Revelation we have our eyes opened to see our security in Him. In a turbulent world of harsh peace, oppression and coercion to serve false ideology and religion, we find the truth. We find a story that has been written across history where Jesus radically displaces man from the throne of self because the story of history is not ours but His. It is God’s story of amazing grace; grace which does not compromise holiness and of love which does not circumvent the need of Justice. It is the truth underlined in outrageous beautiful events in a world that is outrageously depraved, yet exists because a Servant King has chosen to reach into time with the offer of life. If we have accepted Him as Lord and Saviour we are secure in Him, the master of all time.
Ultimately, every molecule in every second of time belongs to God and is not under our control or disposal. God, our heavenly father, is in control and the end He seeks to bring about, in grace and mercy, will be a new beginning for all who are His. Because of this – because of the ‘stooped-low’ one’s incredible work, we have hope and security in another: the heavenly King.
Meanwhile we live in a world where there is suffering and sickness and all manner of evil; yet it is still His world and we need never walk alone for the words spoken to the disciples, at the ascension of Christ, are words of truth spoken to all of us: “…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
In Revelation, we are confronted with life, and with truth and with real power, which is not some sort of abstract power but a person - Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain.
“Revelation is designed to unmask false sources of security while beckoning readers to join the heavenly host in singing praises to God. And the Lamb”
C. Koester in, Revelation and the end of all things, p40.
The church is not part of a protest movement in a ‘them and us’ world.
The church in the book of Revelation is not perceived as some sort of protest movement as it stands against Rome. Instead it stands for God and continues to reach out to the sinner whilst being against the sin; therefore it must speak out in kingdom language. The language the church speaks must be the language of heaven – of love and holiness combined and must point to a Saviour and not a denomination, set of rules or ‘you must do it my way’ mentality.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, let’s also note again that we are not to think of the book of Revelation as if it were depicting a ‘Star Wars’ cosmic battle with forces of good opposing forces of evil. To put it simply, it does nothing of the sort. The Bible is not about dualism in any way; it is about a rescue plan and about a King from heaven who became a servant. Yes, through sin, earth is separated from heaven, but heaven is not separated from earth, for love continues to reach out.
This love is seen right from the outset of Genesis when God called out to fallen man and although man reaped some of the harvest of wrong doing, in being put out of the localised presence of God, this was not the end of the story. This is because the Incarnate Son of God was, in one sense, already ahead of the ‘out-of-the-garden-ones’ on a cross (2 Tim 1:9-10).
Revelation: A letter to His church.
God is a communicator (Ps 25:5; 119:171; 143:10) through both word and deed and encourages us to see (1 John 1:1-3) and understand life (Prov 2:1-7) from its true perspective and through John reaches out to the early church using a language they will understand.
Revelation is a letter to a church that struggles through persecution and apathy and is in danger of being driven underground by both. If we want to understand Revelation, we need to look at the whole of scripture and, at times, to the culture of John’s day, for in doing so we will find answers. We see our security in Him despite persecution and suffering and find strength even in vulnerability and weakness (2 Cor 4:7-9). When we struggle we must always seek the leading of the Holy Spirit and recognise again and again that we are part of His church, His story. If we do not we can gain a ‘them and us’ mentality and withdraw from the world, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
An extreme example of this is seen in Jim Jones, the notorious cult leader responsible for the suicide of over 900 of his followers on November 18th 1978. Most of them died from cyanide poisoning at their remote commune ‘Jonestown’ in Guyana. The themes in Jones’ teaching had included destruction and redemption with the United States being portrayed as a beast that was totally irredeemable. From this we see that evil will masquerade in any way it can, including false teaching. Evil can be seen in that which is obviously wrong, such as terrorism, slavery, rape and murder yet also in the subtle teachings of the New Age and an education which says, “Hey, the Bible is only one book among many; don’t be naïve and think Jesus is the only way to God or the gods.”
Entering in to His story.
“The book (Revelation) embraces a great psychological truth that the crises and apocalypses of our lives are not meant to beat us into submission so much as to given us room to change and grow…the Revelation uncovers the world as it is, and reveals to us our true condition. And John insists that, despite ourselves, God will so restore this world to a beauty we can scarcely imagine…This God does not act at all like a vengeful dictator infatuated with power but comes to gently “wipe away all tears from their eyes.” If, as the pop psychologists insist, imagining is half the battle, John is already there: “and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more p
ain: for the former things are passed away.”(21:4).
K.Norris, ‘Revelation’, p11-12
Our minds have been designed to think in pictures and enter into stories and in Revelation we have many images which help us to grasp what is being said; imagery which is often couched in Old Testament pictures, reminding us that there is one thread of salvation from Genesis to Revelation.
“The symbols have a parabolic function and are intended to encourage and exhort the audience. They portray a transcendent new creation that has penetrated the present world through the death and resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost.”
G.K. Beale, ‘Revelation’, p69
The One who uses words and events in history to paint pictures in the minds and hearts of all who are open to Him is here now by the Spirit, but we need to tune in because seeing and knowing the presence of God does not happen automatically. This failure to tune in is seen in that there were many learned people who listened to Jesus and saw the workings of the Kingdom of God, yet could not see who He was. Seeing they did not see and hearing they did not hear because they were shut into their own ideas, agendas and feelings about what was right and what was permissible.
Many had followed the idols of their own thinking, which, like any idol, cannot see or hear and so they reaped what they sowed: they could not hear the words of the Servant King or see Kingdom power that was operating in time and space right before their eyes. This is a warning to us all. Let us remember that Paul was aware that in many respects we “see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12).
The Last Generation.
We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and the heart of His Kingdom is God’s law of love. He is the Holy One, the One who has stooped into our dust and ashes to raise us into new life in Him. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and we are His sons and daughters and part of the last generation.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:20-21
Scripture uses the term ‘generation’ in two ways. Firstly it can refer to the offspring of a family (a continuing generation) and secondly it can refer to people with a particular character of disposition who are not necessarily biologically related. For example on one occasion Moses speaks of those around him as a perverse and crooked generation (Deut 32:5) and elsewhere we read of those who have clean hands and heart (through God’s righteousness) as “the generation of those who seek Him” (Ps 24:3-6). We are part of that generation – those who trust in the Lord for their salvation. We are part of the generation of Christ which spans the whole of time. We are part of a generation that is already with the Lord and we are part of the generation ‘which is not passing away’ but who are here, right now, on earth - His earth.
Birth pangs and not death throes.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
In all of the events around us we need to recognise that Revelation speaks of war, famine and suffering that has already occurred and yet also of the general unrest of the world and what will occur. From an earthly perspective, this can look like death throes, yet in reality it is part of birth pangs.
“All evil takes place between the beginning and ending. Evil is contained. Evil is not minimised, but it is put in its place, bracketed between Christ and prayer….The Revelation summarises the context: admit evil and do not fear it – for “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4); endure evil, for you are already triumphant over it…by putting evil in its place and enumerating it accurately in the precise part of the story where it belongs, it is seen as finite episode and not a total triumph.”
Eugene Peterson, Revised Thunder, p 85
God is building His church, yet not through a protest movement. Whilst it is necessary to stand against all that is wrong in our world, we must not do so at the expense of sharing the love of Christ. Bill Johnson in his book Experience the Impossible comments on this by saying:
“Have you ever considered that much of the Church today is known for what we oppose- rather than for love? Take politics. Much of the Church raises protest banners, writes letters of criticism and publicly denounces politicians and other public figures for their sinful ways. “He goes on to speak of how Jesus functioned completely differently:
“Sinners sought the chance to be with Jesus. The thieving tax collector Zacchaeus climbed a tree just to get a glimpse of Him. Upon noticing this man in a tree, Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal. The prostitute broke all protocol to enter a religious leader’s home just to weep at Jesus’ feet and wash them with her tears. The list of such encounters is impressive through the gospels. Any harshness from Jesus was always aimed at religious leaders who defiled His message by keeping people away from the freedom He provided.”
Bill Johnson, ‘Experience the Impossible’, p82-83