I was looking for hope and a promise in an unexpected place – the book of Revelation.
To counteract the sense of doom people have regarding the state of the world, I turned to the book at the end of the Bible that people like to read like a horoscope to diagnose the who, what, why, when, and how the end of the world will come.
But I’m not looking for that. I’m looking for hope. I’m looking for a promise. I’m looking for what God had to say to people under severe duress..
What the First-Century World Was Like
The book of Revelation, written by John as an exile on the island of Patmos, is addressed to seven church communities in Asia Minor, or modern Turkey. All of these churches lived in the Roman Empire, and individuals living under Roman rule were expected to worship the Roman emperor as a god. That didn’t really fly with the followers of the Way, who believed there was only One True God, the Son of which had died on a Roman cross and rose again.
Because of their unwillingness to compromise their beliefs, a few of the churches were facing persecution, imprisonment, and even death. That’s a frightening place to be. It might even make you think twice about following Christ as Lord.
Several other early Christian communities faced the temptation to assimilate with the surrounding culture, while other readers of John’s letter were resting comfortably in their wealth and prosperity, seemingly complacent about their faith and commitment to the Way of Jesus.
John didn’t mince words. He didn’t downplay the terror of their situation. But he also didn’t invite them to stay in a state of despair.
First-century Christians were not immune to climate doom… political climate doom, that is. The political climate in Rome after the resurrection of Jesus and before the end of the first century was not particularly friendly to Christians. Emperor Nero arrested and tortured Christians in Rome before crucifying them, feeding them to wild animals, or burning them alive. Domitian followed him as emperor (after killing his brother Titus) and continued his rampage against the early communities of believers.
Domitian was likely the emperor in charge when John wrote his letter.
The early Christians probably thought their world as they knew it was coming to an end. Maybe even the world itself.
How Revelation Speaks to Christians in the 21st Century
Over half of young people today can relate to that same sense of doom experienced by the early church. What unites them isn’t religious persecution, or political unrest, or wars or rumors of wars.
It’s a deteriorating climate.
In a recent study, 45% of 16 to 25 year olds claim that climate-related anxiety and distress affects their daily lives and ability to function normally. Fifty-six percent said they agreed with the statement that “humanity is doomed,” and 75% said they believed the future was frightening. The study surveyed 10,000 young people across 10 countries.
This is a generation in need of hope and a promise. John has these words for a frightened generation:
Remember Christ’s Lordship
Don’t fear: I am First, I am Last, I’m Alive. I died, but I came to life, and my life is now forever. See these keys in my hand? They open and lock Death’s doors, they open and lock Hell’s gates.Revelation 2:17 MSG
Above all else, Christ is Lord. He is the One who was and is and is to come. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not even a climate crisis.
God Sees Our Fear and Calls Us to Persevere
In the face of potential persecution and death, God urges his early church to keep going. Fear nothing. Keep believing. Don’t quit.
The good work that God has given us to take care of our one common home is also hard work. We don’t know what the fruit of our labor is going to be, but here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because God called us to do the work.
If you’re one of the folks in the trenches of climate warfare, trying to persuade policymakers and neighbors that the world is worth caring for, don’t grow weary.
Fear nothing in the things you’re about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won’t last forever. Don’t quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you.Revelation 2:10 MSG
Don’t Grow Complacent
It’s easy to succumb to watching the constant reels of bad news, doom scrolling your way through the day. That despair numbs our senses and deflates our sense of efficacy in the world.
What does it matter, if the world is so ruined, what do I do with my time?
God has harsh words for those who have fallen asleep to other people’s pain and suffering.
I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you’re dead, stone-dead. Up on your feet! Take a deep breath! Maybe there’s life in you yet. But I wouldn’t know it by looking at your busywork; nothing of God’s work has been completed. Your condition is desperate. Think of the gift you once had in your hands, the Message you heard with your ears—grasp it again and turn back to God. If you pull the covers back over your head and sleep on, oblivious to God, I’ll return when you least expect it, break into your life like a thief in the night.Revelation 3:1-3 MSG
Stop Self-Soothing with Your Own Comfort
This is one of my daily sins.
It’s easy, here in the Midwest, away from most extreme weather conditions, away from rising oceans and wildfires and droughts, to rejoice in a milder winter and warmer summer days, willfully blind to the pain and suffering of my global neighbors.
God seems to dislike this sleepy Christian the most.
I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit. You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless… The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!Revelations 3:14-19 MSG
Hard Things Are on the Horizon, but God Is Restoring Creation… and We Get to Participate
Revelation continues on a wild and fantastic ride through the apocalyptic language of war and destruction. It pulls back the veil of complacency, exhaustion, and fear to reveal the Maker of the Universe, steady with his everlasting grace and extravagant love for his Creation and its creatures.
The story of the gospels and the story of the entire Bible is a story of hope and restoration. He is the Amen, the Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, and he declares that the ultimate completion of his creation is a new heaven and a new earth, where God lives and abides with his people. He is making everything new.
And we get to be a part of it.
First-century Christians couldn’t have foreseen the next 20 centuries of strife. They thought the world was going to end tomorrow. But God’s message to them was don’t grow weary. Don’t give up. Ours is a life of love, of faith, of peace, of hope. And love triumphs.
Do we believe God’s promise, that he is making all things new? Can we learn from the early church and live out the gospel of grace and peace modeled by Jesus, the Son of God, who is the beginning and end, who gives water to the thirsty, who feeds the hungry, who seeks the lost sheep, who watches over the sparrows and lilies alike?
I believe we can. I certainly hope so.