November 20, 2011

Monday after the Sunday next before Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 124, 128, Joel 1:13, 2 Peter 1:1-11
Evening - Ps. 131, 132, 134, Rev.1:1-8

Commentary
Revelation 1:1-8

Our commentary turns to the book of Revelation, where we will remain until the evening of December 23rd. This is a most fortunate time to look at Revelation, due to the wide spread interest in the book caused by predictions about the "rapture." Most current views are based on the interpretation devised in the British Isles in the early 1800s known as Dispensationalism. According to this view, the New Testament Church was inaugurated by God as a stop gap measure made necessary because the Jews rejected the Messiah. The Church is an interruption of God's plan for Israel, and will be removed in the "rapture." The rapture will be followed by seven years of tribulation, during which Israel will return to God. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return and rule in Jerusalem for a thousand years, after which He will take all of His people to Heaven. This view leads people to make predictions about the time of the "rapture," and to see in current events "signs" that it is near. Rather than making more predictions, allow me to suggest another, and much older view of the book of Revelation.

It is important to understand that the Dispensational view is a new view. Historically, the promises of God in the Old Testament have been understood as being fulfilled in the Church. The Church is the New Israel and the Kingdom of God on earth. It is not an interruption of God's plan for Israel; it is the fulfillment of God's plan for Israel.

Rather than giving a map of events separated by millennia from those to whom the book was first written, the book of Revelation was first of all a message to first century Christians enduring deadly persecution by the Roman Empire. The message refers to the coming fall of Jerusalem and Rome, and encourages Christians to remain faithful even unto death. Their persecutors will fall, but God's Church will remain, and those who suffer and die in the persecution can look forward to a home in Heaven, with all the blessings of the Heavenly realm.

In this respect, Revelation is similar to Romans and First Timothy, each of which is written to a specific congregation or person with a message for them. In the message for them we find a message for all Christians of all time. So, when the Apostle Paul charges Timothy to preach the word, we understand that the same charge applies to all ministers and all churches. Like wise, when John tells the people of Asia Minor that the smoke of the torment of those who worship the beast which persecuted the Church in the first century will ascend up forever (Rev. 14:11) we can rest assured that those who worship whatever beasts arise in our own time will also perish with the unbelievers. The message here is not given to amuse us with guessing games about the identity of the Anti-Christ, but to teach us that the price of deserting Christ is the fires of hell.

Tonight's reading shows that the book of Revelation is a revelation/message from Jesus Christ regarding "things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1). It is written to the "seven churches which are in Asia" (1:4). These are actual churches with real people, not symbols of the ages of the church. The revelation comes through John the Apostle, who is imprisoned on Patmos. He has held Apostolic oversight of the churches of the area for many years, and he writes to prepare the Christians for the persecution that has begun and will increase in scope and ferocity in the near future. Thus he calls Christ the faithful witness. The Greek word used here is the word from which we get our English word, "martyr." It is used intentionally to show that Christ gave up His life for the people in these churches. He counted them more valuable to Him than His glory in Heaven and His life on earth. So, if they are called upon to choose between Him and their own lives, they must choose Him as He chose them.