by Rev. John H. Farmer
The Book of Revelation: Instruction to a people in persecution
Purposed to the back of Holy Script by Martin Luther, it is not the Book of Revelations. Luther (1483 -1546) “was a German professor of theology, a composer, a Catholic monk, priest, and a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation” to whom we owe our present chronology of New Testament letters. The Book of Revelation is a single, continuous revelation by Jesus to the Apostle John, not a series of revelations. It is of more importance since it is delivered from John as he received it, cascading at once from heaven.
Often one throws up a shield of “I don’t understand that Book…” OK, go back to John’s first book (Gospel of John) and relish his teachings about love.
Let me add another voice to the fray about the book of Revelation (with no “s”). One needs to remember that while it was a revelation to the apostle John, during his imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos, it survived in a circulating collection of letters which eventually became the end of our New Testament, with an admonishment that one ought not tamper with its ending… Revelation, or the whole Bible?
One of our most important daily chores is to visit the mailbox. Some set their daily clocks by the event—what time is all the mail sorted? What’s in the daily post anyway? Love letters? Bills (yuk)? Good news? Bad news? Might we find a love letter? Too much junk. Might we finally get that check from whom-so-ever promised: “You’re the winner!”?
You see, the book of Revelation is a collection of seven letters. The message, interpreted through the Apostle John, is from Jesus to the folks in Asia. Each part is a specific message to a particular church. They were written years and years ago; yet retain a freshness. If that is, we press beyond the sophomoric statements of misunderstanding. So what if don’t understand all the images at first? Our life circumstances have conditioned us to instant this and that. The Book of Revelation must be filtered through our lives and allowed to settle upon us. Received, distilled and applied is the way I most think about how the Book relates to me.
Though written to identified congregations, the seven letters speak directly to our deepest needs, fears, and hopes. At the end of each letter there is a plea for the receiver to hear the words of God; heed the words of God. We are asked to take the words of truth to heart. By doing so we appropriate the wishes of God, through Christ, as our personal life-changing experiences. Which letter is to me? Which letter is to the church I attend?
So, reach into the mailbox and pull out a letter. At some level in our lives it will apply directly to us. The letter is from God’s only son. He speaks in powerful, colorful, visual images, to get us to understand how important is the letter. All seven are from the Risen Lord.
The first is to the church in Ephesus. It is a message for the distracted.
Next follows a letter to the church in Smyrna. It is for those who are suffering.
Third follows a letter to the church at Pergamum. There are words to those who compromise.
Fourth we read a letter to the church in Thyatira. There is advice for those who are corrupt.
Fifth we read a letter to the church in Sardis. It contains words of advice and warning to us when we are lifeless.
Next to the last comes a letter to the church in Philadelphia. They are guilty of being faithful. Wow, are we so inclined?
The seventh letter is for the church in Laodicea. They are suffering from a malignant case of lukewarmness. The red-hot passion of Christ’s searing death upon a cross has cooled to barely tepid.
As we dash about our daily letter opening we will most often rush to the end of the letter if it fails to have a noticeable letterhead. Who is it from, we ask? Once we have established the author we are free to mount the words. God sent us the Book of Revelation, he is its author.
According to our government some 509 million pieces of mail are handled daily, of which only 206 million are first class. Billions of pieces of so-called junk mail support the budget of our postal service. You know, there is a lot of junk lying around in our hearts and minds as well. Maybe its time to clean out the box?
Tucked into the corner of the first chapter (Revelation 1:17-19) Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever! I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” John did just that. The rest is left to us.
Each letter was for all of us; those of us who are so labeled in each letter. These are letters about faith, personality, and lifestyle. They are for our instruction, rebuke, encouragement, and hope. Read them for their content; do not be confused by their images. They are holy. We ought be. Read on. Ask God to interpret.