Read: Revelation 1:4-8
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev. 1:8, NRSV).
I once heard theologian, Richard Mouw, make a shocking confession. He admitted that he often seeks relief from stress by burying himself in the pages of a murder mystery. While there is nothing so shocking in this, to hear him tell the next part, one would think he’d committed the murder himself. After making sure there are no witnesses, he peeks at the last page. He doesn’t need any more stress in his life, he explains guiltily. So he looks ahead just long enough to make sure that everything turns out all right. Once he’s sure that his favorite characters survive, he returns to watch the plot unfold, content to wonder how—and not whether—things turn out well.
In a very real sense, the book of Revelation functions the same way for believers. In the midst of injustice and pain and loss, we read Revelation and are reassured that God’s justice will triumph in the end. Everything will turn out all right.
Wait a minute, you may say. What is reassuring about a book so full of fire and brimstone? To hear the media prophets tell it, most of us are headed for hell, and Revelation is the road map.
Unfortunately, mainline Christian churches have largely relinquished the book of Revelation to preachers who fundamentally misunderstand the book (pun intentended). If we in the mainline had the courage to reclaim John’s ancient vision of Christ’s return, we might discover both comfort and courage for these uncertain times.
The first clue to unraveling this mystery is to stand where John stood when God first granted him this revelation. Exiled to the isle of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9), John feels the pain of the persecuted Church with peculiar clarity. From where he stands, hell is already here. The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Yet, we do not sense despair in what he writes. Far from it. God has given him a peek at the last page, and he writes that vision down to give us all the same reassuring glimpse.
John begins his letter with grace and peace—a tough order under the circumstances (1:4). Yet, he grounds his confidence in Jesus Christ, the “faithful witness.” The Greek word for “witness” is martus, already well on its way to our word “martyr.” John is reminding Christians tempted to renounce their faith that Jesus was the martyr who was faithful to the bitter end. For people under so much pressure to save their skin at the expense of their soul, this reminder must have been both reassuring and challenging.
John also calls Jesus Christ “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (v. 5). This assessment also would have packed a rhetorical punch as a reminder that, all appearances to the contrary, Caesar would someday have to account for his actions to the King of Kings.
But the real reassurance comes in verse 7. “Look!” John shouts, pointing toward the heavens. “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” This vision is of the triumph of God’s justice, a justice so clear that even the eyes of the executioners will see it. Power will change hands. As the prophet Amos puts it, “Justice [will] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Echoes of this expectation appear throughout Scripture. Isaiah 40:5 anticipates it with the words, “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” Psalm 75:2 hints, “At the set time that I appoint, I will judge with equity.” And Psalm 96 celebrates the moment when God will “judge with equity”:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice.
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD; for his is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.
Everything about Christ’s return urges reassurance rather than dread for the believer. While many of us may not feel the threat of persecution in the same way the early did, we still feel the stress of living in a world where justice is mocked and there is often no reward for doing the right thing. “How long?” we still ask with the psalmist. “How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Ps. 13:2).
Not long now, the book of Revelation reassures us. Christ is coming. Christ is coming soon (Rev. 22:20).
Having had our peek at the last page, we can sigh and say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Ponder: Are you looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ? Why or why not?
Pray: Come, Almighty, to deliver…enter every trembling heart. (From the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley).
This reflection is a lightly edited version of a devotional originally published in Life after Grace: Daily Reflections on the Bible © 2003 Carol M. Bechtel. All rights reserved.
“Practicing the Faith” Series
This series explores some of the things that Christians can expect once the first blush of belief has worn off. Contrary to the mistaken assumption that once we are “saved” we can sit back and relax, these reflections explore the hard work that awaits the believer on the other side of baptism. However, characters from Genesis to Revelation illustrate that practicing the faith is not just a responsibility but also a reward.
All of these reflections are “encore” performances from a book I wrote early in my career: Life after Grace: Daily Reflections on the Bible © 2003 Carol M. Bechtel. All rights reserved. I have edited them lightly, and chosen them with the current context in mind. I hope they have stood the test of time.