Revelation to John: Threat and Promise in Revelation
Pastor Leta Arndt Behrens
1I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Last week you heard from Revelation 7 and now this week we are already to chapter 21! This was not so much our choosing but how the lectionary writers fill us in on what the focus of Revelation and the gospel of John mean together today. But, It does feel a bit like cheating….
Maybe skipping to this chapter is not so much cheating as it is checking in… Have you ever done that? Skipped ahead to the end of the book and read the end or watched the last show of a season just to make sure that it would be ok and then you could handle the rest of the story? I remember those Choose your own adventure books as a kid. How I would have to read all the choices and then decide based on which one brought me to the best end. It wasn’t so much choose your own adventure as choose the most comfortable outcome in order to avoid all feelings of distress, confusion, or a sense of mystery and surprise.
If the book of Revelation was a choose your own adventure, this chapter is the one that begins to bring it all together. It’s not the very end and it certainly doesn’t come all together in the most comfortable or non mysterious way, but it is coming together in a way that shows us what all the other chapters have been culminating towards and what the coming promise of an end will be.
Notice that word promise. I chose it on purpose. It is a promise, not a prediction. Thanks to the co-opting of scripture by fictional books such as left behind or groups who claim to know the end times exact timeline we have in our heads that Revelation and other prophetic writing in scripture are all about prediction. Well they are not. Prophecy and apocalyptic writing are not about predicting the future. They are about looking at the present and revealing what a trajectory might hold or an image of truth that needs to be shared. Prophecy is not about the end, it’s about the middle. It’s about what the people are living through now, the choices they have to make, the tough indictments and love they need to hear and always, always the promise that there is hope, there is mystery, there is more than we can see. Prophecy is vision, which is seeing what God is trying to show us.
John, the letter writer, the pastor like person who loved and cared for his people, his congregations, also wanted them to remember who they are and whose they are. In this letter he opens up the imagination. He tells a story in a way that can be remembered. He looks towards a future and pushes his people towards it. He does this to speak truth to power and to speak truth into their reality. The churches and people of the Revelation letters are struggling to know when Jesus will come back because they are struggling to know how to navigate their daily life. They are struggling to to deal with the political authorities that are in direct conflict with their own faith and truth. They are struggling to know what parts of their traditions of religion to hold to and what parts to let go. They are struggling with their role in their world and with how and when to use their voices. And so, as people do, they struggle and they get stuck. They are stuck in their rules. Stuck in their apathy. Stuck in keeping their heads down and their hearts guarded and their feet on solid ground. And what John knows in the depths of his soul, is that God’s vision for us, for creation, for eternity is so much more than that. It’s about more than getting through, it’s about living and in this love comes the love that is promised by God. and God can see it. God can see people living together in a diverse holy city, God can see creation and humanity in harmony, God can see tears wiped away forever and refreshing water and love that encompasses all things. A new creation that brings God to us in comfort, in peace, in grace.
That is why John writes this letter- because he wants them to take another step forward, he wants them to get up, he wants them to use their voices, he wants them to remember the promise of God that brings them mystery and hope in the first place. And I think if John was writing this letter to us as a congregation and individuals today, he would want us to hear the same things and be motivated to embrace the vision of new creation in our midst. Where are our hearts guarded and being called to open? Where are our feet frozen and being asked to move? Where are our voices silent and being asked to open loudly or more often or in a new way? In what parts of our lives do we need to remember the promise of God to be with us in the hard stuff and to bring us through to wholeness of a transformation and new creation. The new heaven and the new earth are not places that rise up from the destruction of the old, they are places that are transformed through the grace and mercy of God coming to us.
This is our chance to check in and remember that we know the end just as we know the beginning. God’s promise and vision for us is here and now. We can use our voices as a church, as a community, as individuals. To speak the truth about revelation, that it is not a story of prediction but a story of hope and remembrance. To speak the truth to power, to stand up for the marginalized, the victims, the ones in our world who should not be pushed down but lifted up to stand. We are in the middle of God’s story and the vision for God’s people is in the command that Jesus gives before he goes to the cross; to love one another. In the middle of sticky political situations to stand up for the love of one another. In the middle of family quarrels and tough decisions and life choices that take us one path or another, to love one another. Sometimes this love is cookies and casseroles and hugs and sometimes this love is knowing when to write a senator or learning more about protecting our planet or taking a chance to say no to something if it’s not right, even if it is legal and sign the petition or go to the ones who are victims of injustice and hear their story.
This kind of love will not leave us stuck in apathy or fear. This kind of love is from God and it is the promised to be in you and among you. This kind of love is God and this kind of love from the beginning, middle and end, brings us into the fullness of the vision and promise of God.