Few books in the Bible have created more controversy than the Book of Revelation. Though this great book closes the canon of the Holy Scriptures, many Christians have struggled to see Revelation as a part of their Bible. The great Martin Luther believed the book to contain less than adequate theology. John Calvin wrote expositions on all New Testament books except Revelation. The Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli refused to develop any Christian teachings on this book and said of it to be “no biblical book.”  And yet, today, it would be impossible to imagine the language and life of the church without this piece of our Sacred Scriptures.
This misunderstood and often misinterpreted book of the Bible was written as a pastoral letter to seven congregations in Asia Minor. These congregations found themselves in a season of crisis due to Roman persecution and general civic instability—wars were happening throughout the Roman empire, famine in many places, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the challenges of holding on to one’s faith in the midst of socio-economic discrimination and political harassment. So John offers a vision of hope to these congregations, encouraging them to remain faithful despite the challenges seen all around them. John becomes a witness for “the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:7b, CEB).
When we strip away the challenges in interpretation, we find in the book of Revelation a beautiful vision of a reality that is yet to come. An invitation to see our true home as much more than a physical location—but the reality of God’s presence with us. The book calls us to dream and imagine a world where peace, joy, and beauty are the default and all people will live in harmony with one another. We are called to imagine and hope for a time when all things will be made new, when creation will be restore and humanity will know no more mourning, crying, or pain. A time when we will live in joyful obedience with our creator. John is telling the people, “hold on! I know things are hard right now, but there is a time when things will look different. A time will come when these challenges we experience in the here and now will cease to exist. So, hold on and remember that the way you live your life now matters!”
How can we live our lives in ways that bear witness to the hope of our eternal home?
The way we live our lives matters. And it’s important that we do it in ways that help others find connection and purpose in the here and now. Throughout our scriptures, we see a God who journeys with and cares for all that which was created and called “good.” In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, we hear Jesus speak about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In that, we are reminded of God’s care for them and for all. The image presented in these scriptures may sound foreign to us, but this is a reality that is very present in our lives when we pause long enough to pay attention to the world around us. This reality of peace, joy, and beauty is one that I believe many of us have experienced when we gathered with others in holy moments—moments when time seems to stand still and the concerns of the world fade away. Moments that remind us that life is truly beautiful and our concerns are temporary.
There is a beautiful story, that the great Howard Thurman once told in a sermon about a couple of leaves that found themselves hanging on to a branch of a great oak at a meadow's edge. These leaves clung to the very tip of the branch and one said to the other, “It isn't the way it used to be.” “No,” the other leaf answered, “so many of us have fallen off tonight, we are almost the only ones left on our branch.” The first leaf said, “You never know who's going to go next.” These two leaves continued their conversation, wondering about the reality of life, the mystery of death, and the days that had long passed when the tree was filled with green leaves. They wondered with each other about what happens when they fall off the branch, for their knowledge was limited. Though they sat at the very top of the tree, they did not know or understand that after the difficulties of winter came the beauty of Spring when new life emerged from this tree that now looked sad and bare. Thurman, with this story, reminds us that “death is a common part of the experience of all living things.”  He argues that death is not something that happens to life but happens in life for all who live. Therefore our living matters.
John of Patmos understood this truth, and having witnessed a reality beyond the limitations of human comprehension, he encouraged the people to hold on for soon, the One who created the universe would make all things new. God would soon and once again dwell among humankind, and life would be well. John is offering a vision of hope to a people whose life experience was one of challenge and hopelessness. John’s witness calls the people to see that which was beyond the horizon. And beloved, that too is our task: to offer evidence with our words and our living to the reality of hope that have found in Jesus Christ. John offered hope to people living through real challenges. Though the language and imagery of Revelation may seem foreign to us, for those churches living in the midst of despair, these same words offered a vision of hope. Our world needs to hear once again the promise that there is hope beyond our fears, healing beyond our tears, and love for all who open themselves to the grace of the One who offers abundant life.
What visions of hope does our living witness to? Can the world see something different in our lives?
It is my prayer that each of us will grow in our commitment to witness the great love of God we find in Jesus Christ.