Scripture: Revelation 1:4-20
Key verses: (17-18) “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I hold the keys of Death and of Hades.”
Reflection: Mainline Protestants often ignore the Book of Revelation. In fact, through the ages the canonicity of Revelation has been questioned by many. This is a shame, as we have yielded this rich text to other expressions of Christianity that have mutated it into a road map to the end times, making of it a Nostradamus-like predictor, assigning various contemporary figures to its ancient metaphors. Such an interpretation assumes the original letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor meant absolutely nothing to them. If it’s only about the end-times unfolding in our lifetime, then it’s apparently meant nothing to 2,000 years of Christians who have read it. Such an understanding of Revelation is deeply flawed. Revelation has much to offer Christians who find themselves living under the weight of the world’s power. Such was the case for many in the churches of Asia to whom it was originally written; though some in those churches had become a bit too comfortable with the ways of Rome’s empire. To them, the letter is a warning about ultimate authority.
Chapter 1 sets the scene. We meet John, a first century disciple who shares in the persecution of the saints, who writes from the island of Patmos. I remember a sermon by Preaching Professor, Dr. Anna Carter Florence on this passage. She said something like, “There are people who have vision in our world. We respect them. We elect them to leadership positions. We nominate them to be elders in the church. Then there are people who have visions. We medicate them. John of Patmos was a person who had visions.” Indeed, John had many visions of the world beyond this world that is the kingdom of God, and how that world is working to transform our world into a new creation. In this first chapter, he is given a vision of the Glorified Christ. The imagery to describe him is taken from Daniel and Isaiah. It is a glorious vision beyond our comprehension. In response, he falls down as though he is dead. And what are the first words of the Glorified Christ in Revelation? “Do not be afraid.” This is the number one quote of God, God’s messengers, and the Risen Christ throughout the Bible. “Do not be afraid.” Yet too often, what have we done with Revelation? Used it to scare the he$@ out of people—literally. It’s most important message, however, is: “Do not be afraid!”
Why? Spoiler alert! Because God’s going to win. Despite all evidence to the contrary in their world, or in ours for that matter, God’s going to win. Christ holds the keys to life and death, and that victory is already his. It is the destiny of creation to be transformed into the Kingdom of God that is the New Creation of Revelation 21. It is pre-destined! While battles may continue to rage, the war has been won. God’s love prevails.
So, we will not fear. No matter what.
Prayer: O Lord, as I feel the weight of the world this day, should it frighten me, or cause me to worry, or agitate me with anxiety, may I know the touch of your hand upon me, and hear your voice saying, “Do not be afraid.” Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].