The Revelation to St. John is a message from Jesus Christ to all believers, from the earliest Christian congregations to the ones who will be on earth when Christ returns. The Revelation is a wild ride of a book, describing things that we yearn to know but are yet beyond our power to imagine. It is a message of ultimate hope, a glimpse of the end of time and the reign of Christ to sustain us as we await his return.
Jesus appears to John in full glory: the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). John tries to convey the brilliance and power he beholds in the Son of Man: gold, snow, fire, bronze, the roar of many waters, the sun shining in full strength. This moment is indeed the kingdom of God breaking in, and John “[falls] at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).
Then John feels the Lord’s hand and hears the Lord say the words he always said: “Fear not.” Christ has come to give John, and all of us, the final grounding for those words, not by doctrine or treatise, but as Jesus always gave: with his touch and his stories, spoken with his perfect understanding of his people.
John is told to get ready to write out the vision that is about to commence, and to send it to seven particular churches; and so the book begins with a personal message to each church. Just as Christ appears to John in both majesty and intimacy, so now he speaks to the churches in the same way. His messages to the churches remind us that he is all powerful, all seeing, for each one starts off with the words “I know”: To Ephesus, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance”; to Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty”; to Pergamum, “ I know where you dwell”; to Thyatira, “I know your works, your love and faith…”
Whatever we are going through, Jesus knows! How often do we feel stuck, weary, and travailing, or feel that nothing is going right and the world is trying to rub out our faith? The world does not know our tribulation and couldn’t care less. Friends and family care, but few understand to the depths. But Jesus knows; he sees and cares, and stays with us, just as he promised.
Christ also sees our failings. Most of the churches are faltering in some way, and the word to each is “repent.” Jesus is not looking for excuses; clearly he knows our excuses better than we do. Jesus is calling us to repent—to give up on ourselves and trust him completely.
The failings named for each church stem from our constant quest for power, shown by the way we keep going after false prophets and idols. The call to repent is a call to tell the truth about ourselves, to give Christ our whole hearts, and to trust in his goodness and mercy—that is, to remember that we belong to him and that all his promises are true.
And so, having appeared in his fullest majesty and kindest intimacy, Christ proceeds to give us the gift that humans long for, a picture of how it will all turn out. He, who died and is alive forevermore, who has “the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18), has come to give us this word!
He does not need to do this, for his life, death, and resurrection, and the prophets before him, all confirm his ultimate return and reign; but in his mercy he does give us this vision, for our very own! He is telling us to get close to him and look, and we will be shown how all will be made new and right.
Now let us draw near, and hear what the Spirit says to the church!