Dear Church in Quarantine:
There’s no greater gift to receive or give others in a time of uncertainty than a vision of Christ’s presence among you. The Book of Revelation promises to give us such a gift in the very first line: “The revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1:1). Yes, this strange and oft misunderstood book first and foremost reveals, or discloses or unveils, the person, character and kingdom of Jesus Christ.
This is what the word “apocalypse” literally means: an unveiling or revealing of something so it’s no longer hidden. Too bad many readings of this book give the opposite impression: that it’s a cryptic message needing to be decoded by some interpretive magic or secret insight into current events. If your reading of this book doesn’t reveal to you a fresh vision of the same Jesus you know from the four Gospels, then start again. You’re misreading it.
Certainly, we’ll need to get acquainted with the strange symbolic imagery characteristic of this genre of literature so foreign to us today. But with some patience and understanding of ancient apocalyptic literature, we will find ourselves “blessed” by our time spent delving into this text:
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near” (1:3).
Blessed? Really? Is that what many of us have experience by courageously stepping foot into this book in the past? More like, “Confused is the one who reads this book” or “Terrified are those who hear what is written in it!” I hope we’ll give it another chance and truly experience the blessing that awaits the eager reader and open-minded hearer of this majestic biblical text.
So, for starters, let’s take a stab at the meaning of the first graphic and colorful description of Jesus in the first chapter drawn from several biblical passages, particularly Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7 & 10:
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The seven golden lamp stands represent the churches called to reflect the light and truth of Christ into a dark and confused world. We’re encourage to know Jesus dwells in the midst of his churches, not far away, and that he holds them in his loving and powerful hands.
Jesus wears a long robe with a golden sash, the 1st century garb of a judge. Not just any judge, but an exceptionally wise judge represented by His “hair white as white wool.” His “eyes like a flame of fire” speak to his piercing vision that cuts between truth and lies. In a world of smoke and mirrors, of corrupt politicians who spin the truth, and rampant dishonesty, Jesus sees through it all and the vision of this book will help his followers also see things as they truly are.
His feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, comes from Daniel and points to an ominous judgment scene reminding us of the fact that Jesus has come walking onto the stage of history to judge and set the world right. The “sharp, two-edged sword” coming out of his mouth means he wins the victory not by bloody conquest, but non-violent witness to the truth as he slays lies and exposes everything that oppresses human beings. Jesus’ followers will also triumph over the powers not by violent conquest, but by “the word of their testimony” in the face of persecution.
And for a world living through a global pandemic today, just like God’s people living through religious persecution then, we all take courage from the fact that Christ’s “face like the sun” can “shine with full force” into our darkest of hours.
My hope is that all who join us on this journey into the Book of Revelation will find Christ’s radiant face shining fresh light and perspective into our current situation, driving back despair and propelling us forward in faith that all who keep company with Christ are swimming in an ocean of grace and hope that will can run dry!
We need such a vision or revelation (Greek “apocalypsis”) now — and that’s why we’re calling this series Apocalypse Now. Buckle up!