(This is Day 21 in our 30-day series about Revelation, what it means and doesn’t mean.)
In spite of its seemingly bizarre and incomprehensible contents, Revelation continues to have a huge impact on Western culture.
Dr. Jan Love–Dean and Professor of Christianity and World Politicsat the United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology–offered 2 reasons why Revelation’s influence has always been so powerfully pervasive in a 2001 sermon.
You can read the transcript of the sermon–or listen to it–by going here.
If not, here’s a version of her sermon, titled “The Grace of the City of God,” slightly condensed:
If this book is so misunderstood, why is its influence so pervasive? Why has it fired the imagination of writers, artists, and more ordinary folks like us for centuries and popular culture today? The answer, I believe, has two parts.
The first is that the world can be a really scary place–not always, but enough of the time to fuel plenty of anxiety and apocalyptic imagination. Revelation is written in the late first century, a scary time for Christians. It’s in the form of a letter from John, a Christian in exile on the island of Patmos, to Christians in seven churches in the country we now know as Turkey. It was then still part of the Roman Empire. Many Romans saw Christians as disloyal or unpatriotic because some refused to worship the emperor. Some were imprisoned, tortured, or even executed. Many Christians, however, succumbed to the temptation simply to accommodate themselves to the prevailing religious and cultural rituals in order to avoid social ostracism and economic deprivation.
In the midst of such problems, the letter of Revelation was sent not to foretell the end of time but to unveil the truth about the challenges the churches faced and about God’s presence with them. John wanted to give Christians hope, help them endure, and encourage them to resist complacency and accommodation with the religion and social practices of the empire around them.
We, too, live in a scary time. In the last year and a half, we have lived through the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. … Our nation is at war in a number of places, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan. …
We live in a scary time. You know all these problems. I could list more, but I don’t need to recite them. You are already well acquainted with them.
The worst part, however, is that much of this death-dealing destruction is done in the name of religion. Those who blow themselves up on airplanes or in markets, busy streets, or mosques have a religious vision, as do those who seek vengeance and retribution for such attacks. Those who preach a gospel of prosperity and blame the jobless and the poor for their plight have a religious vision, as do those who would deny food and healthcare to children.
We who call ourselves conscientious Christians also have a religious vision. Has your religion ever gotten in the way of you offering love and grace to a wounded world? If you are like me, I bet it has. One of the problems with deeply religious people like us is that we are sometimes so clear in our convictions that we try to mow down anyone who gets in the way of our carrying them out.
We live in a scary world. No wonder people are drawn to apocalyptic visions! No wonder folks speculate about the world coming to an end. One of my favorite bumper stickers, those occasional theological sound bites that we read in traffic says, “God is coming and she is mad!”
God have every reason to be mad! We’re making a colossal mess of things here! We choose to glorify in all the wrong stuff: war; humiliating our adversaries; shaming the immigrant; ignoring or neglecting our children and families; consuming goods that possess us rather than us possessing them; going through the motions of our religion rather than cultivating spiritual disciplines that help us listen carefully and prayerfully to God; and so much more. These are all choices we actively make, but we don’t have to choose these things–a lesson also found in Revelation.
The second reason that the book of Revelation remains a profoundly powerful text despite being so bizarre is that it acknowledges the hardship and suffering of daily existence while it also invokes the deepest longings of the human heart for life in all its fullness, healed and whole.
In the passage from John 14, Jesus tells the disciples that he will not always be with them. He is speaking to them about their fears, anxieties, and despair. He offers them a choice. He says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
Eugene Petersen renders this last part of the passage more colloquially, stating that if we keep God’s word, God will “move right into the neighborhood!” God shares the neighborhood with us, but only if we choose to live there! We choose to live there by embodying God’s love for the world. …
The passage from Revelation 21 and 22 offers a similar choice. Throughout the book, Babylon serves as the primary symbol for the Roman Empire complete with its injustice, violence and oppression. Candler scholar of New Testament, Gail O’Day, says, “…the goal of Revelation is to invite the churches to move out of Babylon and into the grace of the city of God.”
And what a city it is, this new Jerusalem! The city comes “down out of heaven from God” (21:10). There’s no need for a temple because God’s presence permeates everything. The gates are always open and the gifts of creation are abundantly available to all–all the nations and rulers of the earth. …
Kindness, justice, truth, grace, love and righteousness on earth! What a vision. We speak of it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Those of us who know the saving grace of Jesus Christ need desperately to live out our belief that God intends to reclaim, restore and redeem the life of all creation to its divine intention. If ever there was a time when the world needs the healing, saving grace of Jesus Christ, it is now.
Revelation is powerful precisely because, in the midst of our anxiety, fear, and hopelessness, our dreams for a future life with God break into the present. Revelation assures us that good overcomes evil, love overcomes hate, hope overcomes despair, and life overcomes death–all here and now, as well as in eternity.
Is there any tangible and plain proof that God has moved into your life? Does God’s glory–the weighty, powerful, radiant presence of love, grace, healing and wholeness–shine out from your house and your church? Does your faith light up your neighborhood?
We must choose every day to demonstrate concretely and visibly our love for Christ, for each other and for the well-being of our communities. When we do, we actively choose to live in the grace of the city of God, the place that embodies the fullness of God’s hope for the world and for lives grounded in love.
Will you pray with me?
God, help us move out of the city of Babylon with all of its temptations and its destructive influence in our lives and that of others. Help us move into the city of grace where we embody your love and hope and healing for ourselves and for the whole world. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
The takeaway from Revelation today is:
21. “Revelation is powerful precisely because, in the midst of our anxiety, fear, and hopelessness, our dreams for a future life with God break into the present. Revelation assures us that good overcomes evil, love overcomes hate, hope overcomes despair, and life overcomes death–all here and now, as well as in eternity.”