Monday, October 23, 2006

Revelation 7:1-8

As commentators note, when John received this revelation from Jesus, probably in the mid 90s A.D., the Roman empire had begun to enforce emperor worship. In contrast, Christian faith and worship centered on Jesus as lord, not Caesar. Squalls of persecution swept against the churches. The pressures and sufferings forced questions and decisions on them. Should Christians abandon faith and worship in Jesus to save their standing, even their lives, in the communities where they lived? Should they refuse emperor worship no matter the cost? Should they seek a compromise and give in a little to accommodate the empire and emperor worship? We must not underestimate the challenges, fears, and temptations besetting those early Christians. Who among us would not experience similar turmoil in the face of threats, afflictions, and martyrdoms because of our faith?

In that context, Jesus came to John, exiled for his faith, to strengthen and encourage him to remain steadfast. John in turn wrote down the revelation to comfort and bolster churches and individual believers in their faith and worship. They needed such a word because of the empire’s claim to their allegiance and worship and the threats against them should they refuse the claim.

Yet Revelation is, perhaps especially to us today, a strange book. It reads like a “wild and crazy” adventure through fantastical regions of strange creatures, angelic beings, violent conflict, sublime worship, and a glorious new world – with a slain and resurrected Lamb at the center of it all! Nonetheless, the basic and central message is plain and simple. The crucified but now risen Jesus is savior of all and lord of history. Jesus gathers people from around the world into a community of true love and worship. However dire and desperate things seem, Jesus seals and marks them as his own for ever (see the baptismal rite in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 308.) Through suffering and sorrow, he will bring history to splendid fulfillment in a new heaven and earth.

In our context, Revelation continues to encourage and strengthen us. Suffering and sorrow still beset the world. Moreover, if we faithfully follow Jesus, we may face ridicule, derision, and even persecution and death. Yet nothing can overcome and separate us from Jesus’ love and care. From birth through death to life again, he loves us and will bear us to glory. He has sealed us and marked us as his own for ever. To him we can fully give our true love and worship.

Gregory Strong

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