Proper 29 • Revelation 1:4b–8 • November 22, 2015
By Bruce Schuchard
Recent events here in our own country and elsewhere in the world may have more than a few of the faithful reeling in horror over the seemingly evident advance in the world of every evil influence and power. The experiences of the recent past may even have some wondering if the end, if the return of Jesus and the final judgment of the living and the dead, isn’t in fact near. After all, has it ever been as troubling in the history of God’s people in this world of ours as it seems to be now? Isn’t it actually supposed to be just as bad as it has been and continues to be before Jesus comes again to make all things right? How much worse does it need to be, or will it be, before Jesus comes again in glory?
Well, if history is any indication, if John’s letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three of the Apocalypse, are any indication, then “worse” is a significantly relative consideration. For worse depends, of course, on things like location, occasion, the recent past, and more. Worse comes and goes in a seemingly endless circuit of cycles. Not to be too dismissive––for the times are most certainly increasingly fraught with a troubling abundance of foreboding signs. But, as bad as it all may seem to us now, life was probably never more challenging for the faithful than it was for the apostle and evangelist John and his contemporaries. For they lived in the last days of the first century in the brutal cesspool of idolatry that was the experience, the empire, of Rome and its caesars.
To be sure, as the conspicuously ancient saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. In other words, this is most certainly not the first time the devil has seemed expansively, extraordinarily, globally all powerful––economically, militarily, socio-culturally, and otherwise. The behemoth, the beast, that was Rome and its emperors, ruled in John’s day and for centuries after that over everything, wielded its seemingly invincible iron hand in all things, in every aspect of life, and did not take “No, thank you” as an answer from any of its citizens, let alone its vassals. Instead, Rome had its own effective ways of bringing all things, all people, and every aspect of life, into alignment with its own way of viewing and of living in the world. No, today is certainly not the first time that the faithful have had to fear for their very lives, have in fact been made to die for their faith, have wondered where God was in the world, or if God really is an all-powerful God. This is not the first time that the faithful have cried out “How much longer must we wait for thee?” to their God. This is not the first time that the faithful have been made to see that what we really are likely in for is a very long haul, a centuries-long, millennia-long, marathon.
So how’s your endurance? Not so good? Running out of gas? Running out of hope? Hanging on for dear life in the fervent hope of an imminent Parousia? Not sure how much more you can take? What’s fundamentally necessary to the faithful in times like these are not trite answers, or flavor of the month formulas for personal success in the world, or the like. What’s fundamentally necessary is a grounded realism, a steadfast hope founded upon the substance of who Christ is and what he has done and why that matters, which then informs every person’s understanding of his or her own purpose for living in this world in the stead, in the love, of the one who was first to love.
In the last days of the first century, with Jesus gone, the Roman claim to exclusive truth, to peace and prosperity, even to all things immortal and celestial seemed incontrovertible, immovable, and invincible. There was nowhere else in the world to go, nowhere to hide, nothing for a child of God to do than to abide in faith and hope and love for all with one’s eyes on the prize, on the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting in a world where not Caesar but the ruler of the kings of the earth defines all things. Thus, John exhorts not a life of resignation to every evil influence and power, but to the life-giving love of the one who loved us first, to steadfast confidence and hope regardless of the externalities of life, for our hope is in heaven above. Our hope is in him who came, who comes, and who most certainly will come again as he has solemnly promised to make all things new.
“When I saw him,” writes the apostle, “I fell at his feet as though dead.” For that is what we––apart from him, that is––are. But in his compassion, because he desires not the death of his beloved, “he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (1:17–18). Blessed is he “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4), whose sevenfold Spirit he bestows upon a sevenfold church of his own creating, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead” (1:5), the sole, true “ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5), who “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (1:5). “He has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be the glory and the power in the age that is to come” (1:6). For “behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him,” namely, the sum total of “those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn greatly on account of him” (1:7). For by his lashes, by his wounds, suffered in our place and on our account, are we poor wretches healed. For he is “the alpha and the omega . . . the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty” (1:8). Therefore, “blessed is the one who reads aloud the words . . . and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written . . . for the time, for the end, [has been and so still] is near” (1:3).
He who testifies to these things says, “Behold, I am coming soon, the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (22:7, 12, 20, 13, 16). Even so, come Lord Jesus! “Blessed are those who wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb” (22:14). Preserve and protect your own, O Lord, till the day of your glorious returning. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘come.’ Let the one who hears say, ‘come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come” (22:17). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (22:20). The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all (22:21).
We can be a bundle of woe, or we can get back to the business, back to the mission, of the one who loved us first, focused upon him and devoted to those whom he leaves to our care.