I’ll admit that the book of Revelation has not traditionally been my favorite in the Bible. Many people are intrigued by the apocalyptic literature and the potential for speculation and conjecture regarding what will happen “in the end.” And while I have no real problem with those who are interested in these things I do find that, in some cases, there is a tendency to get wrapped up in an endless treasure hunt while the present riches of a present relationship with the present Jesus ironically gets shifted to the periphery. However, with that being said, there is a wealth of beauty, glory, and worship to be found in Revelation if you can accept that you may not be able to completely understand everything contained within its pages.
Though it may sound like a negative start I find the Bible as a whole, including Revelation, to be interesting. Sometimes I am compelled by small phrases, supporting characters, or nuggets that come from studying the original language. But other times I find that zooming out and looking at large portions from a 30,000 foot view is also insightful. As I’ve been reading through Revelation again this last week I found myself asking the question (that I’m sure I’ve asked before), “why does everything move so slowly?” There are seven messages, seven trumpets, seven bowls, ten heads, twelve crowns, and so on and so forth. There is a conspicuous dedication by God to do things in a step-by-step process. And yesterday as I was thinking about this it began to make sense in the broader arc of the Christian message.
God values process. That is a Biblical reality that is seen in both the natural, created order as well as in the way that God actively chooses to deal with people in the Scriptures. Very rarely do we see something just “poof” and happen. Even in the stories that seem that way, further investigation and scrutiny almost always show that there were things going on below the radar that led up to and precipitated the “poof” in question.
God doesn’t seem to believe in short roads; like Bill Cosby once said about his father, “he shoots for distance.” God’s plan for my life and your life and anyone else who will enter into the story of redemption with Him is a long-term, bumpy, winding road with many off ramps and potential excursions. I would encourage you to read Bunyon’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” and see if Christian’s pathway doesn’t look a lot like ours: more of a developing thing than a determined thing – though admittedly the goal, the Celestial City, never changes. There are unexpected challenges and blind corners and, oddly enough, many times when it seems that we are going in the wrong direction (and sometimes we may be!). But there is nothing in the Bible that would indicate that God is displeased with this kind of journey. In fact, He seems to fully endorse it.
Friends, what I want to present to you this morning is a hope that may seem oddly placed. Our winding paths can be frustrating and confusing, namely because we are looking to arrive somewhere. But God’s perspective, I suggest, is different. When we are redeemed, when our lives begin in relationship with Him (we refer to this as salvation, though the term sounds far too final for my taste), we find that instead of having arrived somewhere we are actually just beginning to move toward something. The process has not ended when we come to meet Jesus, it has started. And God is very comfortable with the messy, clumsy, and often counter-intuitive nature of that journey…He would seem to have it no other way.
To me the book of Revelation looks like a long, drawn out process that frequently doesn’t make much sense. And in this way it is remarkably similar to life. But that does not mean that Revelation isn’t going somewhere beautiful. And in this way as well it is remarkably similar to life. Let us not fret and grow cold when the process becomes arduous and the end seems farther away than it did in the beginning. For the issue is not the end of the road as much as the company we are travelling with. If we are walking with Jesus then we will find that when we do reach our ultimate goal the only thing that will really matter has been the One who was with us the entire time. In fact, in a beautiful irony, we will find in the end that the One we began with is the end Himself, and He was there all along.
Though it is lengthy, this quote by CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity, adds a valuable depth to what I’ve written:
That is why we must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along – illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation – he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days, but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him in situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.