REVELATION 1 of 16
Today we’re beginning a quick 12-week glance at the book… of Revelation.
Twelve weeks might seem like a long time
but it’s really only six hours—twelve half-hour sermons.
Some people spend their entire lives
studying and dissecting and exploring
Imagine that someone took you to
a museum like the Smithsonian or the Louvre
or maybe an historic building or an historic ballpark.
It’s so full of art, full of moments, full of history,
and imagine someone said, “You’ve got six hours… go!”
You’d probably be excited,
but you’d also probably think:
“There’s no way six hours is enough!
There’s so much history here,
there’s so much to explore,
there are so many details I want to see.”
“There’s too much to explore here.”
At the end of the tour,
you’re going to be grateful that you got to see some thing,
but you’ll know that there’s more left to explore.
That’s the way this series is going to be.
Two quick notes:
I prepare sermons with manuscripts,
and I’m making those manuscripts available this series.
If that’s helpful to you,
they’ll be available on the table at the top of the stairs.
Take a copy each week, take notes on them—
whatever might be helpful to you.
There’s something like a tour pamphlet available if you want it.
And lastly, over the course of the nickel tour,
the book of Revelation might surprise you.
It might not be about the things
that we thought it was about.
So—I don’t normally do this—I’m going to be including
a list of the resources and scholars and books
that were most helpful to me on that tour pamphlet.
Some of you won’t be interested in that at all,
but some of you might be.
So that’s that.
And without further ado,
let’s stop talking and start the tour:
(1.1-8) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The poet Archibald MacLeish said:
“Anything can make us look, only art makes us see.”
I would propose to you
that Revelation is the most artistic book of the Bible,
and if there’s anything that the Revelation aims to do,
it aims to help us see.
In English we hear it in the title of the book—Revelation.
In Greek that’s the first word of the book:
“Apocalupsis” or Apocalypse.
The word Apocalypse conjures up images
in our minds of Mad Max or The Walking Dead
but that’s not really what the word means.
The word Apocalypse simply means
a revealing—uncovering something.
On the most simple of levels,
when we play peekaboo with Daphne—
a game she is not impressed with most of the time—
it’s a game of tiny little apocalypses.
I use something—my hands, a little towel, whatever—
to either hide my face or stop Daphne from seeing—
and then I say:
“Where’s Daphne…? Apocalypse!”
“Where’s Daphne…? Apocalypse!
That’s what the title of the book is.
It’s a pulling back of the curtain,
a flipping over of the rock,
an opening of the eyes.
If there’s anything that the Revelation aims to do,
it aims to help us see.
But what exactly are we playing peekaboo with?
What exactly is this book wanting us to see?
I mean, it is a STRANGE book.
A lot of the book feels almost
like a trippy kind of cartoon.
There are exaggerated, larger-than-life characters,
surreal and wild images, nightmarish worldwide disasters,
strange patterns with colors and numbers.
That is the book trying to get us to see?
Ask almost anyone on the street
what the book of the Revelation is about
and they would probably say:
“The end of the world—
that’s what Revelation wants us to see.
They hear the words of verse 1:
“The things that must soon take place”
and they hear the words of verse 19:
“what is now and what will take place later,”
and they assume that this book is primarily interested
in providing us with some kind of strange weather forecast for the future.
That God inspired a book whose primary purpose is to say:
“Looking ahead 2,000 years,
the extended forecast calls for a 100% chance
of hail and fire mixed with blood (8.7).
“And plan your weekend accordingly,
because they’ll also be a vast locust army
coming out the abyss (9.1-11) shortly afterwards.”
“Don’t panic too much—again, this is a VERY extended forecast
that really has nothing to do with almost any of the people
who ever hear it.”
Based on the way some people talk, a lot of times it sounds like
that’s what the book is primarily about: the future.
There’s a series of novels called Left Behind
that uses Revelation in this way—as a super-extended forecast.
Those books—which you can find in the Christian fiction section—
focus on the sudden vanishing of all Christians from the planet,
a seven-year tribulation full of terrifying catastrophes like one of those disaster movies,
the rise of the Antichrist as the head of something like the United Nations,
and eventually the return of Jesus who blows people up with his voice.
And most of where they get all of this grand fiction—
the books are found in the fiction section—
is from the book of Revelation.
There are incredibly popular voices who say
that Revelation primarily wants us to see the future—this future.
On a side note, this “Left Behind” interpretation
is part of a tradition called Dispensationalism
developed by a guy named John Darby in the mid-19th century
and popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible in the early 20th century.
If you’ve never heard of any of those names or terms before,
don’t worry… you’re in good company.
throughout church history
haven’t either heard of them either.
The future that many Americans
think Revelation is painting for us
hasn’t been around that long.
The Declaration of Independence is older than this way of understanding Revelation.
The Liberty Bell is older than this way of understanding Revelation.
The White House is older than this way of understanding Revelation.
Most Christians across the world
and throughout church history
haven’t understood Revelation this way.
I’m not try to pick on this way of understanding Revelation—
I grew up reading and understanding Revelation this way.
But—in a world where the Left Behind series has sold 65 million copies—
we need to acknowledge that lots of us already have ideas
about what Revelation wants us to see.
That Revelation wants us to see the future—
a strange and scary future that is all right there
if I will just crack the code.
And so I grew up thinking that
the strangeness—the weirdness—
of the book is something to overcome.
That the strangeness of Revelation
is what stops me from seeing.
“Because the future is just waiting
beneath the surface of all this strangeness
and If I could just crack the code then I could finally see.
“If we could just decode all of the weirdness,
if we could just un-strange all of this strangeness,
THEN we could finally see.”
This sort of Left-Behind-decode-the-future understanding
is definitely not the only way that the Church has understood Revelation
throughout the centuries.
And—personally—I don’t think it’s the best way.
Don’t misunderstand, I do think that Revelation
has important things to say
about the future.
But I think Revelation—at its most basic level—is interested
in us seeing something much more important
than the future.
And I think
the book’s strangeness
is actually part of us learning to see.
What if the strangeness of Revelation isn’t a problem?
What if it’s not something we need
to decode or un-strange?
I don’t think God gave us a strange book to hide things or to confuse us
or to give the world a two thousand year-old unbeatable crossword puzzle.
What if the strangeness of Revelation is actually to help us?
Revelation makes everything in the world sound strange—
and I think that’s part of its genius.
That’s how it helps us see.
Revelation helps us see by being strange.
The strangeness of Revelation helps us see.
We all have moments where we see something afresh—we see it new.
Maybe it’s a loved one,
maybe it’s a scenic view,
maybe it’s christmas lights in a few months,
maybe it’s a place you’ve been a hundred times.
Things that we see all the time
and we start to take for granted.
Other people might stop and stare at that view—
children might smile and laugh in delight at the Christmas lights—
but we just yawn.
Because we become blind in a way.
Blind to life.
Blind to beauty.
Blind to the mystery of God.
Blind to everything.
But we’ve all experienced moments where we suddenly see
that place, those lights, that view, that loved one
with new eyes.
The familiar becomes strange for a moment
and we can suddenly see what we’ve become blind to.
The mountains here in Denver are a great example.
We see them all the time,
and we can become blind to them.
But there are moments when
the sun paints the back range with light
or snow falls in a peculiar way or low clouds hide some of the peaks,
and suddenly the mountains are mysterious again.
We can really see them again.
That’s something Revelation does really well.
Revelation makes everything strange again
so that we can see again.
We haven’t gotten to horns and dragons
and prostitutes riding monsters yet
but even today John made things a little strange.
John uses new language to make God—
to make Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
He could have just said “grace and peace from God”
or “grace and peace from Father, Spirit, and Son”
He knows that most of us
would sleep through that.
He knows that most of us
have become blind to almost everything.
John wants us to wake us up.
John wants us to see.
In verse 4-5 he announces grace and peace
from “him who is and who was and who is to come,”
and “from the seven spirits who are before his throne,”
and “from Jesus Christ.”
That’s a strange way of describing God.
Especially the seven spirits part.
We’ll see in the coming weeks
that Revelation loves using numbers
not to count but to classify.
So with seven spirits—and even seven churches (v4)—
seven was a number of fullness and completeness and totality.
John isn’t saying, “one spirit, two spirits, three spirits…”
No, by seven he’s saying
the full and complete spirit of God
who is everywhere, always, animating everything.
And this is getting us to a better answer
about what Revelation wants us to see.
Because I would say that above everything else,
Revelation wants us to see the God revealed in Jesus.
That’s what verse 1 says.
This is the revelation (v1)—
the revealing, the apocalypse, the peekaboo—
of Jesus the Christ.
Jesus the Messiah.
Jesus the King.
A message ABOUT Jesus
and a message FROM Jesus himself
through an angel to a guy named John
who gives it (v2) to us.
The popular American way of interpreting often makes it sound like
the future is the primary thing—the main thing, the real thing—
and Jesus is somewhere to be found in that future.
But that’s almost completely backwards.
This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
And the future is somewhere to be found in him.
That crucified first-century rabbi raised from the dead,
he’s the primary thing—the main thing, the real thing.
He’s the faithful witness (v5) or martyr
(it’s the same word in Greek).
He’s the center of history—
birthed back from the dead (v5),
and who king over the kings of the earth.
Revelation wants us to see this man
who has shed his own blood (v5)
to somehow set us free from our darkness
and to (v6) include us in something big and beautiful and forever.
To make us a kingdom.
To make us priests.
That’s the language used.
Revelation is frequently trying to talk about things
we may have heard a thousand times in a strange new way
so that our blind eyes might actually see it.
Revelation makes everything strange again
in the hopes that we will see Jesus—the faithful witness—
and know that he shows us most faithfully what God is like.
As the Peekaboo of Jesus Christ begins,
Jesus gets included in the definition of God himself (v4-6).
What is God like?
What is the Great Mystery behind the universe like?
God is like Jesus.
God is always like Jesus.
What does God do?
What is God up to?
Well, God is always doing the kinds of things that Jesus does.
Before that strange description of God in verse 4,
we find out what God is doing—even here in Revelation:
God is always speaking grace and peace.
That’s what Revelation is ultimately about—
about God bringing grace and peace
to our broken world and to our broken lives.
verse 4 announces grace and peace,
but verse 7 echoes a couple of Old Testament passages
and says that “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.”
Did you notice that?
I think that’s because
grace and peace are often painful.
We often think of grace and peace
as these wimpy, spineless sorts of things,
but they hurt.
Most of us have areas or relationships or patterns or situations—
parts of our lives—where we would love to see God’s healing take place.
But most of us
with no wailing.
But Revelation reminds us
that it doesn’t work that way
When Love-in-the-flesh arrives,
Grace causes groaning.
Pain comes before peace.
And the sicker we are,
the more the healing hurts.
Kinda like chemo therapy.
The visions of Revelation
almost look like chemo therapy—
chemo therapy for all creation.
When someone is undergoing chemo therapy,
it looks horrible.
They’re throwing up all the time,
their hair starts falling like stars from the sky,
blood and hail and fire rain down in their lives.
But the point of the chemo therapy
is not to kill someone.
The point of chemo therapy is healing.
The point is grace and peace.
So too with the judgments of God.
So too with The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
If healing for the world required that God himself be pierced,
then healing for our lives is probably going to involve some pain.
What if we stopped avoiding pain of grace—the pain of healing—
and invited God’s healing judgment into our lives?
God does judge,
but his judgments are always aimed
at destroying everything that destroys life (cf. 11.18).
Revelation is less a mystery that we can crack
and more a mystery that can crack us.
It’s meant to break us open
and pour new life into us.
Revelation is less like
an extended forecast of the future
(even though it does have things to say about the future)
and more like an anthem of allegiance to Jesus.
When we start to see the anthem—
when our lives start singing this song—
of course we’re going to see the future differently.
But we’ll also see the present and the past
and our suffering and our relationships and our whole lives
May the Alpha and the Omega
open our eyes to his grace and peace.
May we be humbled by Scripture that makes everything strange
and cracked open by the mysterious love that confronts us,
may we see again—may we see Jesus as the faithful witness—
that the One who is pierced by the cross is God himself,
may we continually invite the God who bleeds for us
to destroy everything in our lives that destroys life.