The Revelation to John is a beautiful gift from Christ to his church. Life for a believer brings great joy and also much peril, and in our troubles it helps to hear that someone knows, and cares; it helps even more if that someone is the God of all the universe, and most of all if we hear that we will come safely through the turmoil of life. Every day brings times of feeling naked and alone, and in a world of “steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm,” we yearn for someone to say, “Come in, I’ll give you shelter from the storm” (Bob Dylan).
And this is the message of our reading today, shelter from the storm. Not in theological explanations to satisfy our minds, but rather in vivid images and stories that speak directly to our hearts.
We are shown two witnesses, who stand for the faithful followers of Jesus. These witnesses are given power and authority, which we see today in preachers and writers, as well as fellow pilgrims, whose testimony to the Gospel opens our hearts to Christ’s healing love. But these witnesses are killed by the beast. We know how it feels to be rejected while trying to proclaim the Gospel to friends and relations. It is awful to try to share the wonderful, life changing news only to be ridiculed or patronized. And it is agonizing to hear of the persecution of Christians in hostile, unforgiving cultures all over the world.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Fall of the Rebel Angels, c.1562
We do not need explanations here; we need to know that the world will not extinguish the Word. We rejoice to hear Christ tell how the witnesses will be given new life by the breath of God, and will be taken to heaven just in time for the last trumpet to sound, bringing the return of Christ to judge the world.
Next, we are shown the devil in the form of a dragon. This horrible dragon is active day and night to separate us from the Lord; he works through accusation and deceit, hence his name Satan, the accuser. He lurks in our angry thoughts; he turns up in our midnight fears; he strives to undermine our faith. He tried to lure Jesus away from his mission of redemption. Here we are given to see how God snatched the child away from the dragon, and hid the woman in the wilderness. We can identify with the woman, for she is “the community of the people of God.”*
Throughout the Bible we are shown how God protects his people in the wilderness: providing manna and water to the children of Israel, sending angels to care for Elijah. Even Hagar, the mother of Ishmael who was sent away by Sarah, is found and cared for in the wilderness by God—as are the people of God: “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days,” which is to say, the time being, while we await the return of Christ.
Throughout the book of Revelation the immense, infinite power of God is portrayed in earthquakes, lightning, mysterious sounds, peals of thunder, fire, hail—words to make us quail, and fall to our faces. What has this power that moves the universe to do with us? Christ, the lamb who was slain, is showing us one more time that we are his and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This book is a gift of love from the throne of heaven to our anxious souls.
*Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, edited by John Stott.