5th Sunday of Easter
If there’s ever a book of the scriptures that people want explained, which is it? The Book of Revelation. It’s singular, not Revelations plural, but one Revelation, as the book opens by saying: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.
We tend to forget that this revelation is of and about our Lord, and instead focus on the things taking place. Revelation is often studied and scoured, not so much to learn about Jesus, but more so to gain future knowledge. When will the end be? What’s the mark and number of the beast about? Can we match the prophecies in it with what’s in the news today? It’s sensational, it’s intriguing, but so often misses the point.
Rarely do Christians look to Revelation as a great source of Gospel comfort. But if it’s a Revelation about Jesus and what is to come, we better believe that there is good news contained in this book.
Our Epistle reading is a great example, from Revelation chapter 21. The vision revealed a glimpse, not just into heaven, but into eternal life. It says the old heaven and earth have passed away, and that there will be a new heaven and earth. They are united in this new holy city of Jerusalem, descending from heaven, which is described to be prepared like a bride adorned for her groom and wedding. It’s in this new Holy City of God’s people that it says God will come to dwell, not locked away in the Holy of Holies in the temple, but truly living with them, being Immanuel, God with us. In this city, there will be no more pain or tears or death.
It’s beautiful imagery, very much built off the Isaiah prophecy describing God’s Holy Mountain, where his people will eat at a grand wedding feast, and Isaiah too mentioned tears being wiped away and death being defeated.
But rarely do you hear about these prophecies of good news. More often we’re interested in prophecies of what are still to come in this life. We’re more interested in trying to decipher what it says about the end times, what tribulations are still to come. These desires are driven by two sinful emotions we all can relate to.
The first is arrogance, the desire for knowledge above what others have. As if I just study a book like Revelation enough, I’ll discover hidden knowledge to hold above the rest of you, I’ll be the next great teacher everyone should listen to. (I promise I’m not trying to do this as your pastor).
The other sinful emotion is fear. Not just any fear, there is a healthy type of fear, especially a reverent fear towards God, knowing how capable he is and how incapable we are. But there is a a fear that does not trust God, that is so worried about what comes after death, that does not trust God’s simple promises, but out of fear wants to know for itself. So you have Christians who have tried to map out every prophecy, who unnecessarily frighten people, even faithful Christians, about what is still coming. They do this in a way that does not lead us to rest in the Gospel, but that urges us to be warned and prepared and trust in ourselves to do so.
For this reason, it is not uncommon for pastors or churches to avoid Revelation. I may be a bit guilty of that. It’s easier to avoid all the bagge of misinterpretation you hear about this book, and focus more on the clear words of Jesus in the Gospels, or of the apostle’s in their epistles. There is a certain wisdom in this: we teach our little one to know simple and clear basics about their faith. They don’t need to fully understand prophecies and visions to have saving faith.
But there is a time to grow, and as challenging as Revelation may be, similar to OT prophets like Daniel or Isaiah, there is good reward for faithful and humble reading of them. Again, our reading from Revelation 21 is a perfect example. It’s a clear picture of eternal life, with words and descriptions a child can understand. Eternal Life is not just our souls going up to heaven as we often think. But on the last day, God will make a new creation, a new physical heaven and earth, where we dwell with resurrected bodies with our God.
Compare how wonderfully clear this image is to how vague Jesus can be in our Gospel Lessons. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t know how to teach clearly, but he’s waiting for the right time to bestow his Spirit and Wisdom on his apostles. We heard earlier from John 16, Jesus telling them that he must go away soon to the Father, but that after a little while, they will see him again. The apostles were utterly flustered by this. Jesus didn’t try to explain it fully, but gave them this simple explanation and promise.
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
That image of a mother and child is a simple explanation of everything in Revelation. There will be trial and tribulation in this world, but when the time comes, all sorrow will be forgotten and we will only have joy. In a sense, that’s all we need to know. Quit worrying about what eternal life is exactly like, we’ll find out and enjoy it when we get there! But, if you do want to know more, the Book of Revelation does share more for us.
To sum it all up, in all things as Christians, we ought to not to operate with either arrogance or fear as our motivator. This is true in our reading of books like Revelation, or just in living our everyday lies. Christ Crucified for our sins should be at the center of our lives, accompanied with the knowledge of his resurrection. With that in mind, we can read a book like Revelation, struggle through some of the challenging visions and descriptions of tribulation, but more importantly enjoy its beautiful Gospel images because we know that Our Redeemer lives.
Really, that’s a metaphor for living life. We don’t need to read Revelation to encounter tribulations. It’s in your lives now, or at the very least on the screens you’re watching. You have no lack of excuses in life to get you bent out of shape. Gas prices, Ukraine, the shooting in Buffalo yesterday, baby formula shortages, your check engine light flipped on again, ….did I mention everything? Fill in the blank for your own life, Whatever it is that makes you anxious, fearful, or irritable.
Some things are more trivial than others, some of them aren’t trivial at all! There’s nothing trivial about another shooting, there’s nothing trivial about Ukraine, there’s nothing trivial about baby formula shortage. But whatever is weighing on your minds, dear Christians, ask yourself this: Why are they robbing you of your Easter Joy?
Our Lord’s death and resurrection are not just to help us get past the easy things in life, those tribulations you could endure on your own anyway. Our Lord’s passion is precisely for those things which you simply cannot bear, whatever they may be, eventually death. Who knows, that’s probably what the price of gas will be tomorrow.
As Christians, whether we’re reading the scriptures, or simply just trying to live life, let us not have fear rule ;our hearts, nor arrogance that we have things figured out. Remember the hopeful joy we all have in Christ, enduring like a mother endures, knowing that that the time of joy will come. A joy that Revelation described for us, dwelling with our God, in a place with no more tribulation, pain, tears, or death. As you suffer the birth pains of this life, hold on dearly to this hope:
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed alleluia!