Welcome to Week 7 of our devotional series on those common Christian beliefs that have been overlooked or misunderstood. This Sunday, we’re starting a new sermon series on the Book of Revelation, otherwise known as…THE APOCALYPSE! Apocalypse is a fun word. It makes me think of the future and how and where and when it’s all going to end, usually in this big, flaming ball of fire. But, what if the Book of Revelation, with all its wild imagery about horses and dragons and beasts, was never meant to be read as a tale of the end times, at least not as we’ve imagined it? What if “The Apocalypse” is more a story about who God is than what will be?
God Who Is and Who Was and Who Is to Come — guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will we might truly discover peace. Amen.
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” — Words by Marcus Aurelius Prudentius; arr. Chad Fothergill; performed by The Gustavus Symphony Orchestra (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore.
Oh, that birth forever blessed,
when the virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race,
and the babe, the world’s redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore.
This is he whom seers in old time
chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long-expected;
let creation praise its Lord
evermore and evermore.
Let the heights of heav’n adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing;
pow’rs, dominions, bow before him
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
ev’ry voice in concert ring
evermore and evermore.
With so many shoot ‘em up, bang ‘em up movies out there like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Marvel’s X-Men: Apocalypse, it might come as a shock to hear that the word “apocalypse” has nothing to do with cosmic destruction or the end of all things. It simply means “the revelation” — as in, “Honey, I had an apocalypse this morning! My poor taste buds revealed the milk to be spoiled.” While an apocalypse of spoiled milk might lead to drama at my house, there’s nothing in the word itself to suggest it should.
So, why do we assume “apocalypses” refer to the complete and utter destruction of the world? It’s because we assume the Bible’s Book of Revelation has to do with the complete and utter destruction of the world. (In the book’s original Greek, the title is Apokalypsis — or “Revelation.”) There are good reasons for this. Revelation 1 begins by saying it’s going to tell us “what will soon take place,” and then only a few verses later we hear what that soon-to-take-place thing is: God himself is going to storm down and “all the tribes of the earth will wail.”
I don’t know about you, but when I wail, that means something’s gone bad. Well, such a worrisome beginning only gets worse and more graphic as the story moves on — to the point that, at the end of the book, a final battle ensues when Satan in all his terrible fury is loosed from hell, only to be finally defeated by God as he rains down fire from heaven. If that’s not “apocalyptic,” I don’t know what is.
But, if we assume that what the Book of Revelation wants us to learn from all this is a detailed timeline of the future, we’d be mistaken. Like the rest of the Bible, Revelation is first and foremost about God, with its main purpose being to tell us who God is and who we are in light of that fact. No wonder, then, the book’s prologue (1:1-8) ends with not one, not two, but three famous names for God: “The Alpha and the Omega,” “the Lord God Almighty,” and “the One who is and who was and who is to come.” All three point to what’s obvious throughout the book as a whole: God — and only God — is the creator of all things and the sovereign ruler of all history, not least each and every one of us.
This news would have brought much hope to those who first heard it, but it would also have brought much challenge. During the early years of the Church, Christians were a fledgling movement surrounded by people and politics who didn’t always like or understand them. Some, like the church leader Ignatius of Antioch, were even shipped off to Rome to serve as entertainment in its famous Coliseum, and everyone, no matter who you were, struggled to navigate the sticky business of being both citizens of an empire which worshipped its own leaders and citizens of heaven who worshipped God alone. That’s a task with which we all still struggle, and John writes Revelation to challenge and encourage his friends back then as well as us today. “Yes, God is God, and Yes, God will win — even though things may be rough right now. So, have faith, have hope, and don’t give in. And, if you already have…QUIT IT!”
This is a message we can all use at different times and in different ways, but it’s a message we often miss when our focus is squarely on a timeline for the future. Like Jesus once told his disciples, it isn’t for us to know the day or time when God will return (Acts 1:7). The end of all things isn’t our business. What is our business is God’s revelation — his apocalypse, if you will — that God is God and we are not.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Lion and the Lamb all at once, our vindication from evil and our salvation from sin. Be the Holy One among us, transforming us daily into your likeness. Amen.
– Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New York, NY: Cambridge, 1993).