Tonight, October 17th, I was sitting in the Cabaret Lounge of the Azamara Journey cruise ship listening to the White’s Chapel UMC Choir (supplemented by a scattering of other choir members from across the Central Texas Conference) singing “Soon and Very Soon We are Going to See the King.” Christians offered Christ as the real King in the face of Rome’s Imperial persecution. Earlier in the day we had visited the cave on the Island of Patmos where John had received the divine revelation of the King’s (Christ – the Lord Jesus’s) triumph in the book of Revelation. As I listened, I found myself deeply drawn to this incredible vision of Christ’s liberating victory.
The juxtaposition between visiting the cave where John wrote down the vision of triumph and the nightly news received via TV on returning to the ship is staggering. Listening to the news in our cabin while we got ready for dinner and the choir concert, we heard of the terrible ongoing conflict in Syria. Tension between Turkey and Russia over the shooting down of a drone clutched at our hearts (especially given the potential involvement of elements of the U. S. Airforce). ISIS terror and the continual mind-numbing Arab-Israel conflict clutched at consciousness with our attention made much more immediate by our physical closeness to the center of fight. The bad news did not limit itself to the middle-east. It wound around the globe to include virtually all nations and ended with pictures of mud-slides in California.
The news we received was not far from the reality John wrote about in Revelation. It was into a world of deep conflict that John shared his all-consuming vision of Christ as Lord and Savior. During the reign of a power of a mad Roman ruler named Domitian who believed he was a god, John offered a dramatically different competing vision of reality. He offered Christ.
Cruelty shaped the society within which John lived. Death was a common occurrence. Violence was an everyday reality. The barbarism of the arena where Christians and others were routinely put to death for entertainment competed with a society morally corrupt at its core for attention. While near the top of the hated list, Christians were far from the only ones who felt Domitian’s oppression.
In times like those in which John lived, in times like ours (!), despair is a rational, even sensible response. It is not, however, the godly response called for by followers of Christ. Ours is a different witness. At the concert as I listened, Bruce sang Chris Rice’s moving witness entitled simply “Untitled Hymn.”
“Weak and wounded sinner, lost and left to die;
O raise your head, ‘cause love is passing by.
Come to Jesus, Come to Jesus. Come to Jesus and live.”
Such is the witness of John in Revelation. Exiled and left in a cave to die on a desolate rocky outcropping of an island, John writes for us just as in did for those in the age of Domitian’s terror.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ Then the one seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I’m making all things new.’ He also said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 20:1-5, CEB).
“The one who bears witness to these things says, ‘Yes, I’m coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Revelation 22:20-21, CEB).