It’s time for preachers to preach from the back of the Book. By that, I mean it’s time for preachers to dig into the imaginative mysteries and profound truths of Revelation. Most preachers I know hold Revelation at arm’s length and refer to it sparingly. We tend to reach for it when we conduct funerals, quoting the comforting words of chapter 21. Other than that we let the book go unexplored.
The reasons for this neglect are legion: it’s too violent, its sequence of visions is too confusing, and its symbols are too hard to sort out. Because Revelation appeals to the imagination more than the intellect, we often find it harder to connect its message with daily life. Add to the above the fact that a lot of self-proclaimed experts have sensationalized the book by turning it into a roadmap of the future. They have dumbed down the book with charts and diagrams that show exactly where we are on the divine timeline of history. Sadly, such presentations divorce the book from its context and turn it into an instrument of fear rather than a proclamation of the good news. Nevertheless, such approaches tend to be wildly popular and make it difficult for the average preacher to offer an alternative view. So, I get it. I know why preachers are reluctant to preach from Revelation.
Still, I think the time is ripe for us to get back to the back of the Book and dust off Revelation and incorporate it into our preaching. Here’s why:
It’s time because Revelation assures us that God intends to put this world right. Revelation shouts with full-throated conviction that God is at work in human history. We have ample reason these days not to believe that. We frequently shake our heads in despair after hearing the day’s news. On countless fronts the world seems to be spinning out of control and bent on self-destruction. We wonder at times, as the poet put it, if “the center will hold.” In the face of the world’s chaotic brokenness Revelation confidently asserts that the real, live events of the here-and-now are the materials God is using to fulfill his purpose. Revelation insists that the Cross is not just about human forgiveness; it is also a declaration of God’s intent to set aright the injustice that plagues human life. In John’s telling, God has not abandoned this world, not at all! Just as the first book of the Bible, Genesis, recounts the story of creation, so the last book of the Bible, Revelation, recounts the story of God’s re-creation of the world. Here’s the good news: God is making all things new!
It’s time to preach Revelation because it’s time for the church “to stand up and stand out.” This message certainly comes to the fore in the seven letters to the seven churches, but it’s also part and parcel of the entire book. John does not yield on one essential imperative: the Church cannot accommodate to the powers that be and still claim Christ as Lord. It’s an all or nothing proposition. As I see it, instead of standing up and standing out, the Church in North America tends to sit down and blend in. We have diluted our witness because too many times we have stood for the status quo instead of justice. We can’t make a case for the gospel because we’ve bought into the mythology of success at the expense of spiritual vitality. We are losing credibility because we have confused allegiance to political causes with allegiance to Jesus Christ. John’s letters to the churches not only diagnose the problem, they also offer the remedy: it’s time to repent and start listening to the Spirit. Revelation is timely because we as the Church must reclaim our true identity. We are meant to be followers of Jesus, first, last, and always.
Finally, it’s time to to the back of the Book because Revelation is ultimately a book of hope! In chapters 4-5, John bears witness to the fact that the throne of heaven is not empty. Elsewhere he carefully balances visions of judgment with images of hope and encouragement. That’s his way of reminding his readers and us that God stands with us in the midst of trial and tribulation and can be counted on to see us all the way through. The centerpiece of Revelation’s good news is the declaration that God will indeed bring forth a new heaven and a new earth. As one writer put it, Christ is coming, not just to the human heart, but also to the world. Thus, what looks like the end of all things is actually a new beginning.
So, go ahead and accept the challenge. Open up the last book of the Bible. Live in its pages. Wrestle with it. Let its vivid pictures fire your imagination and let its truths capture your soul. Then, preach it! Preach it with all your might!
After all, it’s time!
Some recommended resources:
- Brian K. Blount, Revelation
- Bruce M. Metzger, Breaking the Code
- Eugene H. Peterson, Reversed Thunder
- Mitchell Reddish, Revelation