If you’re not careful, you’ll miss it.
If you start looking too quickly for ways to relate the apocalyptic images of plagues and monsters and angels to modern events, if you decide what you really want to discover is how the end times will come about, if you rush too quickly to connect the closing chapters of the book to the modern return of the state of Israel to the middle east, you’ll miss it for sure.
You’ll skip right over the five words that tell you everything you need to know about what follows.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” John writes in verse 1 of chapter 1 of the last book in scripture.
Don’t dismiss those words as introductory fluff, necessary only to provide John’s final epistle with a semi-arbitrary title that roughly fits some of the events that follow, because those words hold the key to everything that happens in the next twenty-two chapters.
And don’t call it the “Revelation of John,” either. John wouldn’t like that on bit, because, in the end, its not his book.
First and foremost, the final book of the bible is a book in which Jesus reveals himself to us in the most glorious form that he is found in scripture. He is the prophet that speaks the word of God. He is the priest that walks among his churches. He is the conquering king that enters victoriously on a white steed. He is a seemingly slain lamb that now lives forever and ever. He is the only One worthy of seizing the reigns of history as God moves to renew all of creation.
Miss that point, and you’ve missed the entire book, as far as John is concerned.
I know that a lot of folks these days take great interest in what the final book of scripture has to say about the end times. Such fascination is understandable: who doesn’t want to see, in ways that are as tangible as possible, how God is moving to fulfill his promises in scripture?
But, the more I read this book, the more I am convinced that it invites us (as it has all Christians throughout history) to experience it in much the same way that John did. This book isn’t a carefully crafted riddle that – if it is rigidly parsed with sufficient care – will reveal the secrets of the last days of our world. It is a mystery. And a mystery should be experienced mystically: with wonder and awe.
Try this sometime: open your bible to Revelation and just read it. Don’t ask questions about what the seven eyes on the beast signify or about whether God has already unleashed any of the seven plagues on the earth.
Just let yourself be lost in the wonder of it all. Horrid monsters: dragons and hybrid beasts, a blood-drunken prostitute (the KJV, which uses the “w” word, comes much closer to conveying an accurate connotation for that term) run rampant through the earth. Hail and fire rain from heaven. A sea of glass before an eternal throne. Praises and inscence rising up before heaven, the prayers of the saints. Ghosts of slain disciples wail from beneath the altar.
But in the end, all evil is destroyed in spectacular, decisive fashion. Blood flows, but peace finally reigns. All of creation is new.
Be satisfied just to know that somehow, even now, this same story is unfolding on the earth. Don’t worry so much about HOW. Just trust that it IS, perhaps in more ways than one. It is a story of kings and kingdoms, past and future, to be sure, but perhaps it is also a story that is unfolding in your own heart even as you read it.
And at the center of it all: Jesus – the passover lamb, the triumphant invader, the eternal light of the new creation, the husband who longs for the same Church that even today suffers in his name.
When you’re finally finished, don’t start searching the headlines in your favoirte news source for clues. Don’t hunt in vain for signs that it is all coming about on some grand, geopolitical scale.
For the most part, Revelation doesn’t invite us to search the earth for signs. It invites us to watch the skies with anticipation, to long for the day when He returns in all of His glory. It pleads with us to hold on through temptations to compromise with culture and to yield to persecution. It demands that we wholly reject complacency – even when we are comfortable.
In Revelation, Christ is revealed. And when Christ is revealed in all of his glory, only one response is appropriate or even possible. It is the response that is repeated several times in the closing chapters, and that comes just before the doxology at the close of the book.
Three words, this time.
“Come, Lord Jesus.”