Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Revelation of the Resurrected Jesus: The End of Life as We Know It

Revelation 1:1-20 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near. 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. 9 I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." 12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

04/11/2010 Bethany, 2nd Sunday of Easter
Revelation 1 (message)
Psalm 150 (call to worship)
John 20:19-29, epistemology of faith (children)

Over the past month I’ve been preparing for this Sunday and this series of messages from the Revelation, with a focus on understanding the Revelation as the Revelation of the Resurrected Jesus – the End of Life as We Know It. I’ve read through the book of Revelation, taking notes. I’ve read theology and commentary. I’ve gone back to look at a number of the Greek expressions. The more I study, the more I get into this portion of Holy Scripture, the more I am blown away – but I don’t even know what hit me.

I am amazed by the little linguistic details, so easy to overlook, that John uses to allude to an entire section of the Old Testament so that we are reading Ezekiel or Zechariah or Exodus all over again through the lens of the Revelation vision.

I am moved by the grace of God. I expected to be assaulted by visions of destruction – the four horseman of the apocalypse, the battle of Armageddon, the dragon and the beasts, and (my personal favorite) the torture scorpions. They’re all in there, right where they were the last time I read the book, but it is grace that is capturing me.

I am awed by God’s saving power. John uses metaphor and poetry the way a musician uses a theme – with variation after variation so that you hear one echo after another. And, his variations are tied to the theme of salvation in history – Israel delivered from slavery in Egypt, Israel delivered from captivity in Babylon, the entire human race offered deliverance in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the coming climax of our salvation – and not only our salvation but the salvation of the entire cosmos. Variations on a theme: By Eugene Peterson’s count, in the 404 verses of the Revelation there are 518 references to earlier Scripture, without making a single direct quote (Peterson, 23).

What kind of book is the Revelation? How are we to read it?
Too often, it is read as an almanac of the end, a guide to interpret current events. Too often, it is read as a crossword puzzle (Peterson, 18) with clues, a problem to solve. But, if you look at an almanac, if you look at a crossword, they look nothing like the Revelation. It’s a shame when we read it that way.

So, what is it?
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.

1. "The Revelation" – Greek apokalupsis "uncovering". "Uncovering" a soup pot on the stove (use soup pot as visual), there’s black beans and bacon and ... "What’s that smell? Can I taste it? Is there cumin in that?" It is not a puzzle to solve but a mystery uncovered in which we immerse ourselves, all our senses. (See Eugene Peterson, 1988, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 19.)
Or, we could imagine a work of art unveiled by the artist at an exhibition. The cloth is pulled away and – we don’t know what we are looking at. The colors are so unexpected, the brush strokes so different, the proportions not quite right. Maybe it’s not "my thing", but my imagination is stirred, I want to look deeper into the painting – as if depth exists in a two-dimensional object – I begin to imagine. That’s apokalupsis.

2. This is a revelation "of Jesus Christ", both in the sense of being from Jesus, what he gives to John the Seer, and in the sense of being about Jesus. The book is not about the end of history, it is about the End of History – the one toward whom all of history bends and finds its fulfillment. The book is not about the final judgment, it is about the Final Judgment – executed, quite literally, upon Jesus Christ at the cross. Yes, it includes a lot of "eschatology", that is, stuff about the "end" breaking into our space and time. But it is, first of all, about Jesus, it is "testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ."

3. This is "made known" by Jesus. The Greek root for "made known" here in the first verse of Revelation 1 is shmai,nw, "signify" "sign". A better English translation is "signified" (Christopher C. Rowland, New Interpreter’s Bible, vol xii, Revelation, p 560). An eight-sided street sign with a red field signifies "stop". That same red color in a signal light signifies stop. That same red color in a light on the back of the car in front of you signifies stop. Signs, even signs as straightforward as traffic signs and signals, come in many forms. John deals with signs that are more layered, usually with layers of meaning from the Old Testament now re-purposed for the churches under his care.

4. This is to be "read aloud". Reading aloud is a great first step to opening our imaginations. We had a wedding here yesterday. At the rehearsal, we read the vows aloud. I don’t want any surprises on the wedding day. Even though the couples have already read them in advance, there is something different about reading them aloud. It’s no longer "for better, for worse" but "for BETTER, for WORSE" and we engage our imagination, thinking about what that could indeed look like. John has something for every one our senses (see Peterson, chapter 2) – taste, touch, smell, and especially sight and sound. In fact, in this first chapter, in a wonderful mix of sense and metaphor, the literal expression is "I turned to see the voice" (1:12).

5. This revelation is received by John in the context of worship: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day" (1:10). Worship is the great context for revelation, for hearing God speak. Worship is communion with heaven. In our Holy Communion liturgy, we declare, "With your people on earth and the whole company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymn ..."
John’s opening includes the common "Grace and Peace" line, but this time with a Trinitarian blessing. First, the "Father", the "one who is and who was and who is to come". It is a reference to Moses at the burning bush, learning God’s name as "I AM", a Hebrew phrase that could just as easily be translated "I WAS" and "I WILL BE" (see Rowland). But the amazing thing for me is the order in which the tenses are listed. I would list it, "the one who was and who is and who is to come" but John lists in first place "the one who is". In God, past and future are folded into the present moment. The eternal perspective is always present tense. This way of naming God gives us some insight into the Revelation, and into that discipline of theology known as "eschatology". It is not about stretching out time and sequencing events. It is, rather, about God’s past saving work and God’s future promised salvation invading, occupying, taking hold in our present.

The Trinitarian blessing continues, contrary to the typical order, with the Spirit: "the seven spirits who are before his throne". It’s a peculiar connection, through Revelation 5:6, to a vision of Zechariah that also included lamps and a lampstand.

The blessing concludes with Jesus Christ, "faithful witness, firstborn of the dead [a reference to resurrection], and ruler of the kings of the earth".

In the second half of the chapter, when John turns to see the voice, he has a vision of Jesus himself, in glory. First the context, then the clothing, then the seven-fold nesting description (use measuring cups as visual).
Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, pp 38-39 and entire chapter 3.

Context: Lampstands – Jesus is revealed among the churches
mission (to reveal Jesus) – to be lampstands (not lights), (Oecumenius, 2005, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, nt xii, p 11)
reconciliation – do not abandon the church

Clothing – that of the high priest – intercede for us before God and for God before us – a mediator

7-fold nesting description
GRACE: White head and hair, forgiveness
"white as snow", a prophetic expression for forgiveness
RELATIONSHIP: Eyes flaming, penetrating/purifying
as "flaming coal", Isaiah 6, purification
KINGDOM: Feet of bronze, firm and lasting kingdom
contrast with Daniel 2, kingdoms of the world with feet of clay/iron mix
The CENTER: Voice, many waters
the phrase, when used metaphorically in the Bible, refers to multitude, especially of the nations, a Pentecost of many voices in many languages declaring the glory of God
KINGDOM: Right hand, rules the cosmos
the "seven stars" as the 7 known planets (called "wandering stars"), understood astrologically to influence and rule history and life ... but Jesus rules the stars, the planets are in his "right hand", where you put a tool
RELATIONSHIP: Mouth with two-edged sword, penetrating/conquering
GRACE: Face shining like the sun, blessing
Priestly blessing: The LORD bless and keep you, make his face shine upon you ... God beaming upon us with love

John falls on his face as though dead – overwhelmed in worship

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