I’m about to do something this week I said I’d never do…this Sunday, in my home church (First United Methodist of Williamstown, WV), I’m going to preach from Revelation. It’s either the bravest thing I’ve ever done as a speaker, or the stupidest.
John’s Revelation is a daunting book for even the most seasoned theologians. Little in scripture has generated as much discussion, debate, argument, interpretive challenges and misunderstanding.
For a semi-amateur theologian and lay speaker, teaching from Revelation presents some unique challenges. One’s credibility is on the line, if for no other reason than the many and various preconceived notions people have about its meaning. I’ve seen seasoned ordained pastors totally intimidated by the task of making sense of it. Scholars with decades of study and experience disagree vehemently on many points. It’s a tough nut to crack.
Yet, at its core–whatever you believe about its intent to John’s original audience, its apocalyptic symbolism, or its prophetic nature–the Revelation is a message to the church. It’s a message about what Jesus promises that his church will be.
The opening verses of Revelation 21, where we’ll be focusing Sunday morning, present this beautiful picture of the church as the bride of Christ, perfected and presented as the new Jerusalem as Jesus re-makes the heavens and the earth (heavens being literally interpreted as “skies,” not as the dwelling place of God).
Whatever else you believe about what Revelation says, then, Jesus tells us that he envisions a magnificent future for his church. Not only does he envision it, he promises it.
And therein lies our challenge.
One of the reasons so many people in 1st Century Israel missed what Jesus was doing was that, although they were expecting a Messiah, their expectation was always pointed to the future. It was something that was going to happen, but not in their lifetimes. After all, it hadn’t happened in the lifetimes of their parents, their grand parents, their great-grandparents, their great-great-grandparents…you get the point. It was a promise for the future, not the present.
And so it is with us today. We know the prophecies, we know the promises, but that’s for the next generation, or the one after that, or the one after that. We live with this sort of nebulous understanding that the second coming could happen at any time, but we don’t really expect it to happen to us.
The result of all of this is that we forget that while we are centered in the present, with no real knowledge of what is to come and when it will come, we are still actively building the future…whether that future is tomorrow or next month or 2,000 years from now. We who have accepted Jesus’ kingdom invitation, and the church we are all part of, betrothed to an eternal unity with Christ, should be about the business of participating in creating the future that Jesus has already envisioned and promised.
And so, if we believe what we say we believe, if we trust that God’s promises are true, the life of the church should be actively leaning into the promise of perfection John imagines in Revelation 21.
Imagine for a minute the implications of that…of living as if God’s promises are already being fulfilled, because we are actively creating the future he has promised.