To cite a now ancient cliche, we are living in interesting times. So "interesting" are these times that a percipient NZ political commentator, Chris Trotter thinks we are re-living the Protestant Reformation. (He doesn't call our times "interesting," appropriately he calls them "strange and disturbing.")
So strange and disturbing are these times that Antonio Garcia Martinez has written an essay "The Christ with A Thousand Faces", exploring "How trad Christians and woke progressives are unknowing co-religionists, and how the leading moral battles of our age really come down to casting." OK, I hadn't seen that trad Christians and woke progressives are co-religionists, but he has a point!
Then our friend and colleague in following Christ, Pope Francis is working on some radical reforms to the church's power structures. It all seems very Anglican! (Perhaps we are both re-living and reversing the Protestant Reformation :).
However, something very strange and disturbing, very seriously, is that we live in a time of misinformation, sometimes coming from the mouths of Christians, and with potentially very bad consequences. Naturally I am speaking about those Christians who link receiving a Covid vaccine with the Mark of the Beast. This has come up recently in our local Christchurch Press in an article entitled, "Covid-19: Mark of the beast or manna from heaven? Christianity's vaccine issue". (I have a small walk on part in the article.)
That's gotten me thinking a bit about Revelation, its message and its relevance for our times. Just may be there is more than one post in this ... Bear with!
First things first. A helpful way to think about Revelation and its mysteries is to think of it as three literary genres wrapped into one document.
1. It's a letter.
2. It's a prophecy.
3. It's an apocalypse.
Revelation as a letter to seven churches in Asia Minor
Sure, you have to wait, er, three verses, but in Revelation 1:4 you could be reading one of Paul's letters, except its by John:
"John to the seven church that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him ..."
And, sure, there is a lot of stuff after that which is very unlike Paul or Peter or James or that other John when they write a letter, but there are seven individual letters in chapters 2 and 3, and then, consider the ending in Revelation 22:20-21:
"The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."
Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen."
We've head that before, haven't we?
1 Corinthians ends with these words in 16:21-24:
"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord.
Our Lord, come!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
My Love be with all of you in Christ Jesus."
OK, so a letter, so what?
What do churches need from some authority writing to them? Answer: encouragement and perhaps a tune up. A pastoral need, in other words, met by a pastoral letter.
The churches in Asia Minor get this in spades. Things are building against them, times are tough, the power of Rome is so threatening you can feel the edge of the sword in your Laodicean mind and flinch Pergamumly at the crack of the torturing whip you're imagining with a cold sweat in the middle of the night. John writes to encourage them - to put some courage in them and he does this by acknowledging the depth of the danger they are in, by probing the true (and, frankly, disturbing) nature of the evil rising against them, while also and always presenting the love and power of God - the love which will see them safely into God's eternal presence is the same love which led to the Lamb being slain for them, and the power which will eventually triumph over all evil and depravity of political and economic power.
They also get a tune up! In most (but not all) of the seven letters, no matter how well a church is doing, Jesus has something they need to do something about. No slacking, no slouching, no sucking up to false teachers and their immoral leaning, and no swaying half way between being hot/cold for God.
And that's what the churches of the world today need too! We're feeling vulnerable, threatened and worried about where change and Covid are taking us. And, to be frank, there's a lot of false teaching - misinformation out there, by which I mean "in there, in the church." We're vulnerable and we have improvements to work on.
Score 10 marks for the relevance of Revelation for the church today!
Next week, a few words about Revelation as prophecy for today. Don't worry, we'll get to the mark of the beast before Christmas :).