Sunday, December 13, 2009

Will Jesus Come Again? Making sense of Revelation

Will Jesus come again?

What is the purpose of him coming again?

What will happen when he does?

Do you really think this will happen

? on earth

? in heaven

How do you make sense of Revelation?

A timely set of questions for the third Sunday in Advent, that season in the year when we look to the coming of Jesus Christ.

Let me share my response to those questions …

I want to say a resounding yes

Jesus will come

  1. to my heart, If we have never met with this Jesus, he will come to our hearts as we invite him … O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee! The purpose of his coming is to give us life in all its fullness – the wonder of God’s love so transforming us as to fill us with God’s glory, his peace, his wholeness – and that is salvation! And it happens here and now – on earth for each one of us.

  1. to meet my deepest need, Whatever the problem we face, Jesus will come into our lives in order to be with us in facing that problem. He comes with a healing touch, he comes to give peace, he comes to meet our deepest needs. The purpose is that Jesus wants to be with us – carrying our burdens with us, walking through life with all its troubles with us. He comes here and now – into our world to make a difference to us. At this table we hear time and again those words of Jesus Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest … he comes to each one of us at the point of our deepest need. The purpose of his coming to us is to meet the needs we have – to be with us, to watch over us, to give us peace. And this is real, here and now.

  1. In the guise of a stranger At another level he comes to us in the guise of the stranger who is in need. Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats – Lord, when was ti that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink>? And when wsa it that we sa you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing. And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The purpose of this coming is so that we may share God’s love in Jesus with all – and be constantly alert to show our love for Jesus in loving all around us.

  1. to take me home One reality we all share is that we will die … I love the analogy the NT uses of falling asleep and then in a twinkling of an eye we are raised – and at that point Jesus comes in all his glory, and he comes for us – he comes for each one of us. The purpose of this coming is to bring us into the glory of God’s presence – and this is where earth touches heaven. But we don’t know how or when that will happen – so we must always be alert. My grandfather’s advice to my father when he first went into the pulpit was to preach each sermon as if it were his last. That’s not bad counsel – to live each day as if it were our last. Don’t leave unfinished business with God. God wants to set things right with us – let him!

  1. to bring all things into God’s glory The world of God’s creation has a beginning and that beginning is in God – and it has an end – and that too is in God. In the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God – and at the end – the creation will not fall into destruction – it will be taken up into God’s glory – and into the glory of Christ – and that too the NT thinks of as the coming of Christ in all his glory. What that will be like we don’t know the details, we definitely do not know the time. But we know the reality. The purpose is to give us that strength of faith that can live in the turbulent world of trouble sure in the conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Book of Revelation helps me make sense of it all But some of the greatest Christian thinkers, John Calvin and Martin Luther among them have not found it a helpful book and so if that’s how you feel about it you are in good company!

Let me explain what I mean.

The Book of Revelation starts and finishes with Jesus Christ. For me Jesus Christ is the start and finish of the Christian faith. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. I always want to come back to Jesus Christ, who he is, what he stands for, the difference he makes in my life, in my family in the world at large.

The Book of Revelation is written by someone who is a devout follower of Jesus but finds himself living in a world where so much has gone wrong and so much is going wrong and so much is going to carry on going wrong that he finds faith massively difficult.

It is the world of Roman domination, the world of the Kings, King Herod and the slaughter of the innocents. The world of Roman persecution of the young Christian movement.

Facing the sheer awfulness of the might of Rome at its very worst, in exile on the island of Patmos, John the Divine has a vision … and the vision he has is of the horrors of the world at their most unimaginable, and yet at the same time he has a vision of the glories of God at their most mysterious. It is as if a door into heaven opens for a moment and he sees the glory of God.

It is not (and this is where I would part company) that the vision gave him a detailed time line and blow by blow advance knowledge of what would happen at the end of the world. Instead it is the kind of vision that gives him the strength to draw on the glory of God for the living of his life in the middle of the awfulness of the world around him.

Everyone who is aware of the horrors of the world around us in every generation can see something of their own world in the visions of John the Divine in the Book of Revelation. That’s because the glory of God and his victory over all evil is timeless. And we always live on the threshold of God’s glory … but so often we are surrounded by the horror of the world.

1) In the beginning, Christ

Revelation begins with Jesus in all his glory, the Jesus who invites us to follow him. The Jesus who then expects us his followers to follow in his way and to be his body on earth.

2-3) Letters to all Churches – live out your faith! Chapters 2 and 3 contain 7 letters to a cross-section of representative churches spelling out what it takes to be part of the body of Christ in church.

4-8) Glimpse God’s glory – the purpose of life! Then the door to heaven opens … and John catches a glimpse of God in his glory. It’s a wonderful celebration of the King of Kings on the throne of heaven in chapter 4 with all of heaven at worship.

Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God almighty

Who was and is and is to come.

And God has in his hand the scroll that contains the secret to life, the purpose of life and what this world is all about. But no one can open the seals!!

It was fascinating as our Alpha course came to an end to hear the range of questions people were asking when we were thinking of the church. Why is the church up against it? Why 2000 years on is there so much still wrong in the world? Why? Why? Why?

In every generation the questions remain. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is the purpose of it all?

John looks and then he sees that there is one – is it King, or is it Lamb? It is Jesus. And he is worthy to take the scroll and open the seals. For Jesus is the one whose teaching on love opens up a way for us to follow in a cruel world; Jesus is the One whose death and his resurrection show us that there is something more, that death is not the end beyond which there is nothing. Jesus is the one who shows us who we are – we are the children of God. He shows us what we should do – love God and love all, and he shows us what it’s for: so that we might have life in all its fullness, the fullness of life that is not bounded by death, but is to eternity.

One by one as the seals are open we are confronted with the brutal reality of a world of trouble, a world of violence, a world of woe. Jesus does not enable us to escape from it. But he is with us through the awfulness of all that happens.

At the opening of the seventh seal in chapter 8 there is silence in heaven.

A remarkable, wonderful stillness in the midst of the storm.

Peace! Be still!

Take heart! It is I! Do not be afraid!

9-20) The Storm

And then chapters 9 through to 20 the storm is unleashed in all manner of ways. The visions as they tumble over each other with wars and destruction and pain and suffering are almost unalleviated. To me it is telling that every generation from the very first has seen the signs of the times in their generation. This is the nature of the world we live in- this is its horror.

But, time and again, John the divine comes back to the King who is the Lamb of God, to Jesus Christ – who draws people out of the tribulation , a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and languages and they are standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white and they are saying …

Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!

That’s the thing to hold on to in the midst of all the calamities of the world. To that we can join with all heaven’s hosts and say,

Amen! Blessing and Glory and Wisdom

And thanksgiving and honour and power and might,

Be to our God forever and ever.

Who will have the last word? It is God who has the last word. It is Christ who has the last word.

Through it all … there is a vision to hold on to.

21) Beyond the Storm the ultimate peace

Revelation 21:1-7

Then I 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.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,

coming down out of heaven from God,

prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And 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;
he 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.’

And 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.’

Then 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.

Those who conquer will inherit these things,

and I will be their God and they will be my children.

This is the vision to hold on to.

A vision that is filled out in all its glory.

And then it comes back to this Jesus – and all he is and all he ever will be.

Faced with the destructive forces of the world around us – hold on to this greater vision of God’s glory.

What’s the purpose of all that?

God forbid that we should ever think that because these horrors are to happen we can be involved in them and even hasten the time of God’s glory. Absolutely not!

The purpose of holding on to this vision is so that we can live in the present under the rule of God following the way of Jesus.

Remember he is the one with the secret to life. We must reject all the nastinesses of the world around us and we must live as those who are part of the Glory – we look continually to Jesus.

We live our lives in the way Jesus has mapped out.

22 At the end, Christ

No matter what the world stands for and what others do – we stand with Jesus and for Jesus and he stands with us and for us and in us too. We hear him as he says

I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star,

The Spirt and the bride say,


And let everyone who hears say,


Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

We need to keep to the words of Christ in this book. What is written in the book of the Law, all of its words. What do you read there? Love God, love your neighbour. Pray the prayer of Jesus – Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Live out the way Jesus would have us follow.

And his testimony is this:

Surely I am coming soon.

And I certainly am drawn to say,

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come, Lord Jesus!

into my heart

to meet my deepest need

in the guise of the stranger

to take me home in the fullness of your time

to bring all things to fulfilment in God’s glory

And the last word of all is simply this. The grace of the Lord Jesus –

forget everything else, that’s what it boils down to. The free, forgiving, merciful love of God made real in Christ Jesus,

the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all of us. Amen.

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