This Easter season we will be hearing a great deal from the book of Revelation in our worship service, usually as the second (or third, if you count the Psalm) scripture reading. This book often creates feelings of confusion, concern, or dismissal because of its unique nature in the New Testament as an apocalyptic text.
Revelation (not plural) was mostly likely written late in the history of the early church (perhaps as late as 110 CE) during a time of intense persecution of Christians. John the Seer (to be distinguished from John the Apostle, or John the Evangelist and author of the Gospel) is living on the penal colony of Patmos, a small island. He experiences a lengthy ecstatic vision whose content is to be sent to seven churches with which he has some connection. These churches range from ones fervent in their faith, to lukewarm in their discipleship, to under the sway of corrupting influences. Regardless of their circumstance, all are likely experiencing the crisis of faith of Christians wondering how to reconcile the message of the total victory of Christ with the suffering of the present day.
John’s vision is both cyclical and lyrical in its composition, drawing upon images from the Hebrew Bible, astrology, and political symbolism of its day. Underlying all of it is the assurance that this period of hardship is only temporary, to keep the faith, and to trust in the power and goodness of God’s plan for the world. Every generation of Christians has had the imagery and the message of the book of Revelation resonate with their own personal experience of fear, suffering, and struggle, and the implicit hope underlying the text can and should be a source of endurance and hope.
There is a lot of interpretations of the book that head off is some pretty wild directions (e.g. the Rapture), but the most simple, straightforward message is the most accurate and helpful one: God is in control, God loves us, and find hope in that love.
Yours in Christ,