A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Part 1
I would imagine that everyone has had the experience of suddenly realizing they might be wrong about something important.
In November, I was in New Jersey getting ready to catch a flight out of LaGuardia. It was 9am and I was having a leisurely breakfast in my hotel because I knew it was an hour drive to the airport and I didn’t need to be there until 11am, thinking my flight left somewhere around 12:30pm. …Until an alarm went off in my head and made me think, “Wait… Do I need to be at the airport at 11am, or does my flight leave at 11am?! Bleepity bleep! I think it might leave at 11….” My stomach sunk, my heart rate tripled, and suddenly my breakfast wasn’t as leisurely.
We’ve all experienced something like that, right?
Many of the earliest Christians in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) had an experience like this with regard to the single most important thing in their lives. They had made up their minds that a poor carpenter named Jesus, who they had never seen, never met, and had only heard about from a man named Paul (or some other traveling evangelist), was actually the God who spoke the universe into being. He had been executed by the Romans, but they believed that he had risen from the dead and was now the ruler of all the kings of the earth, reigning over the world.
But even as they looked up and worshiped their king, they looked around and things seemed very… off. Things didn’t look how they expected them to look if Jesus really was ruling the world.
Rome and the Caesars were still dominant on the political landscape. Their communities and churches were being denigrated, persecuted and executed by mocking opponents. They were having to meet in secrecy and were under constant pressure to give up on their ridiculous beliefs about Jesus and give in to the Roman demand that they worship Caesar alone as their king.
In short: They wanted to believe that Jesus was truly the sovereign king he claimed to be. That he was really in charge. That he was governing the world in love and justice. But everything around them urged them to doubt that he was. They had become fearful that they had been wrong about Jesus, and as a result many of them were throwing in the towel on their faith, or compromising and mixing their faith with Roman Caesar-worship in order to escape trouble.
Revelation is written for a single purpose: To say to those believers, and to every believer who has looked around at the world and wondered if they were wrong to believe that Jesus is really risen and reigning over the world: “Breathe deep. You weren’t wrong.”
John begins his address with one of the strongest affirmations of the presence and power of God in the entire Bible:
“Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
Think about what an encouragement just those two verses would have been to weary and worried Christians. What did he just say to them? He said: God IS. He was. And he will come. He is bringing much-needed grace and peace to you through his powerful and perfect Holy Spirit (more on the “seven spirits” thing below). Jesus Christ is faithful. He will not let you down. He has risen from the dead. You weren’t dreaming. And he is the ruler of all the kings of the earth. Caesar, your persecutor, who appears to be sovereign over you is not. Breathe deep. You weren’t wrong. Jesus is who he said he is.
And not only does John remind them who God is, he reminds them who they are as followers of Christ: They have been freed from the power of their sinful ways by the sacrifice of Jesus himself (v. 5). They are sons and daughters of the King, and they represent the King on earth as his kingdom (v. 6). And they are called to be priests of God, bringing the message of God to a world desperately in need of it (v. 6). Their lives are not meaningless. They are not throwaways. In fact, because they have been adopted by the King, their lives could not possibly be more significant.
And even if they doubt those things, God assures them that they will soon be certain. He is coming. And everyone who opposed him will mourn and weep because they will realize against whom they have rebelled. How does God know? Because, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty'” (v. 8).
So, what’s the message for us in this passage? First of all, is John even speaking to us—Christians living in the 21st century? On the one hand, John clearly addresses his letter to the seven churches in Asia. So maybe all of this was just meant for them and it really has nothing to do with us. On the other hand, numbers are always significant in the Book of Revelation, and they are almost always symbolic. The number seven was known throughout the Old Testament as the number of “perfection” or “completeness,” and as will become even more clear later in the book, it continues to fill that function in Revelation. In verse 4, for example, it could be that the “seven spirits” before the throne refers to the seven angels of the churches that we’re about to hear about. But since the address is from God, his son Jesus, and the “seven spirits,” it seems even more likely that the seven spirits actually refer to the one, perfect and complete Holy Spirit of God. John has been in communion with the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and is now extending grace and peace to the churches on behalf of the Trinity.
Which means that while John’s specific audience is the seven churches of Asia, the number seven is no coincidence. He means to address the complete people of God; The church worldwide—you, me, and every believer who has and ever will live.
So what does God, through John, intend to say to us? His message is this: Christian, do you doubt? Do you hurt? Do you ever worry that you have believed a fairy tale, and that now you’re just “making believe”? Do you look around at this world with all of its shootings and war and societal ills and poverty and abuse—or even just look at your own life with its challenges, worries, stresses and disappointments—and say, “How could God possibly be in charge? How could God possibly be ruling over this? Will he ever come? Will all of this ever be made right?”
And God’s unequivocal answer to you—and to every worried, doubting believer who has asked any or all of these very good questions—is, “I AM. I was. I always have been. And I always will be. I will come. Every eye will see me. Suffering will be destroyed. Death will be undone. Hurts will be made right. Abuse, pain and deformity will be rolled back. Evil will be eradicated. This world and all of its brokenness will be enveloped in perfect peace, justice, love and beauty.
I am the Alpha and the Omega. You weren’t wrong. Breathe deep. Look to the sky. I am coming.