Darkness, fear, and muffled cries. Reflections of our secret worry haunt the shadows beyond our door. The unknown. The known. The regrets. The future pain. Death mocks us: he laughs at our masks, our safeguards, and our calls to action.
There is much to fear in our day and age. So we think it is a safe and comforting thing to turn to the Bible in this time of anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty. Until that is, we get to the end of the book. The Revelation of Jesus Christ stands at the last with images of dragons and horsemen and angels and death. With terrible riders bursting forth to conquer, subdue, and enslave. How can we find comfort here?
“Behold there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and generals and rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Rev 6:12-13, 15-17)
This commonly misunderstood book of the Bible is terrifying if read in the wrong context. Outside of being apocalyptic literature, full of images written in a cyclical anti-linear way, it speaks of a scientifically unverifiable wisdom about life and death, the end of God’s creation, and the dawning of a new one. In our modern exposure to literature, we default to reading this as a storybook, trying to find characters that relate to us personally and impart knowledge that will affect our lives. It is natural for us to internalize the struggle in Revelation as our own struggle between good and evil, life and death, sin and righteousness. We place ourselves at the center of the letter, planning our escape from the wrath and condemnation that frightens us, and at the same time striving to achieve our place on the throne dressed in white and in victory, rewarded for a job well done.
Jesus has conquered; he who has an ear let him hear. There is nothing to run from, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to fear because the Lamb of God has done it all.
The regrets. The future pain. Reading this letter dredges up terror in the hearts and minds of those who reflect on their circumstance before an almighty and holy God. No one is worthy. Not even one. Power and honor and knowledge and pride are stripped bare. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess. How can one possibly be saved from these tortuous final days, the revealed judgment of the Lord?
Perfectly in the center of the panic, Revelation speaks of comfort that can only be received by those who are theologians formed by the cross of Jesus Christ. One who is distraught that he cannot advance himself to righteousness, but rather knows all of his works are evil. One who fears that not only his bad deeds are evil, but even the good he offers is tainted and soaked with wickedness. One who reads Revelation and confesses that he cannot still the impending judgment, that he cannot pay the due penance, and that he cannot satisfy the anger of the Lord in any way. Instead, this theologian can look only to the salvation and hope accomplished by Christ. Jesus has conquered; he who has an ear let him hear. There is nothing to run from, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to fear because the Lamb of God has done it all. This is the one who sees Revelation for what it actually is: the good work of God.
Flowing water, radiant light, fresh leaves sprouting. A bursting tree of life overflowing with the sweetness of eternity. The unknown. The known. The regrets. The future pain. These have long since been buried in a forgotten tomb and crushed by its vigorous roots. The Lamb is the only one who calmed the wrath of God that we fear in these last days. The Savior is the only one who can say “just believe this,” and it is already done. Jesus Christ is the center of Revelation. Our unearned merit by his suffering and death on the cross for us, this is our joyful refrain of comfort revealed.
“And 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 from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” (Rev 21:6-7).