A discussion aimed at Christians of my own generation (Part I)
What does the Gospel tell us?
What does the first coming of Jesus Christ signify?
And in giving us a vision of the second coming of Israel’s Messiah, of Our Lord and Saviour, what does this culminating book of the New Testament tell us about Christ’s initial coming? As we work our way through this concluding and final book of the Bible’s library, we encounter John’s Apocalyptic visions which may give us some answers to these questions. This book – otherwise known as “Revelation” – makes its contribution to the published word of God by tying the whole lot together, by presenting us with a vision – actually it is a series of visions – that helps us to see ourselves as part of the story – from Alpha to Omega – and so, we look forward with eager expectation to the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom. We read the story with these visions of the culminating acts still to be played out. We chart a course midstream.
So what is this book “tying together”? What is it giving us in literary form? My own attempt to provide a coherent reading of John’s Apocalypse “Henceforth” (124pp.) can be found here.
The other books of the Bible have their own contributions to make. The gospels and Acts are part of an historical record, written from various perspectives, of what Jesus taught and what He continued to do. The other writings are letters – collections of correspondence from Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude as well as from the author of the “Letter to the Hebrews”. So do not these writings tell us what happened and how to look back and consider the momentous events recorded about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? Do they not pass on advice as to how we should live as God’s servants today? By contrast, “John’s Apocalypse” tells us “what is soon to come upon us.” It is the book of hope, the book of looking forward, a Divinely commissioned human book that in its graphic way helps us to dream in faith as we seek to live directed by Jesus,
… who is the living One, the Person who has suffered death and who now discloses Himself to us as the One who lives for ever more.
This is a book. It is to be read by us who are creatures called into being on the sixth day of creation as God’s special image-bearers, who are now to look forward to the seventh day of God’s rest – the day the Lord God has specially set aside for the fulfilment in what He has made. This is a Lord’s Day book (1:10), helping to shape our expectations; it has been specially commissioned from the Same One who calls us to live now as members of His royal entourage, elected to enter that seventh day, the day of fulfillment, complete with Priestly responsibilities.
But as much as it commissions those who believe to engage in story-telling so that a next generation can take up their lives as the Lord God’s Kings and Priests, it also gives guidelines for how the story is to unfold. Story telling is part of the life of God’s Kingdom!
So what does the Gospel teach? It not only teaches us to “look forward”, to “lift up (our) heads”, to a life of “steadfast hope” in service to the God of all encouragement and hope, to “earnestly strive”, to “seek first God’s kingdom”. It lifts up our heads, encourages us to boldly live out of our faith while it is still “today”, and announces God’s Kingdom coming right here in our midst. John is instructed to
… write down what you have seen, what is the current state of affairs and what will be coming along in due course (1:19).
Why is it written down? The answer is a simple one. It is written down so that the story can be told. In response to Joel’s prophecy, enunciated by Peter on that Pentecost day when a new era began, this book teaches those living in that era, us, how to dream, how to imagine, how to tell the story in obedience to the Gospel; how we are to dream as “a company of kings” (1:6). But it is no mere fantasy as if we are engaged in story telling in order to distract ourselves from a reality we cannot bear. The purpose of being in this world is not simply that we can leave it behind by finding a way to get out of it and go on to whatever comes next. Those who believe the Gospel are invited to read John’s Apocalypse in order to confirm who they are now as they make their way in this world, this world that God loved so much that He gave His one and only Son. This is not a matter of story-telling and story-reading in order to distract ourselves. The blessing is given to those who read this book aloud and those who hear and treasure what it says (1:3). It is a record for its time (1:4).
Serving Jesus Christ was never meant to be a matter of obsessively holding onto a myth by which we create the meaning of our otherwise meaningless lives. To think this is to hold on so tight to our story-telling that to pause and take a breath is to risk losing our place and plunging ourselves into despair. It also means to lose track of why story-telling was given to us as an important part of our regular, normal, day-to-day activities.
This is the first of a series of eight posts.