Monday, November 16, 2009

Look: He is coming Revelations 1:4-8

Look: He is coming...

Our reading, from Revelations (in Greek Ἀποκάλυψις meaning the uncovering) this week inspires us to look and see the Glory of God.

Many believe that these words were written by John the apostle. Others, including Luther insist that even the author of this remains shrouded in mystery. What we know plainly is that these words were meant first for the early church and that they give us great encouragement to look and see God at work. The book of Ἀποκάλυψις uncovering begins with words of grace and blessing. These initial words sound very similar to Paul's grace-filled greetings in his letters to the early church. But from this point on we are reading something very different than Paul ever wrote.

There's great mystery to who wrote these words ans why they were written. I imagine them being written by John the Apostle as an old man or by another elderly man who was close to Jesus' first followers. John was a trusted elder in the early church. If he wrote of surprising and awesome visions of God's glory he would be taken seriously. He wrote of being transported in his visions to see great mysteries revealed people who knew him would have still listened. John, according to many authorities, was imprisoned . In our day we might be tempted to brush John aside as a crackpot who saw things that weren't real. But to the early church John was a trusted elder. When he spoke people took him seriously. If he wrote of a vision that testimony would probably be treated with the same respect that John himself was treated.

In Revelation 1:7-8 John invited his readers to open their imaginations and share the vision he had been blessed experience.

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;

every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him;

and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So it is to be. Amen.

8 I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The glory of the Lord shines through in this celebrated snippet of John's Revelation. John envisioned Jesus King of all Kings coming in the clouds. John called to his readers ἰδου look. We don't know of anybody else around John who'd seen these visions but he urged his readers look.

John says this is the risen Jesus who will be seen by all the world. Every eye will see, even those who ἐξεκέντησαν pierced him with nails and swords will see him. God's glory is awesome, frightening, and often shrouded in mystery. And today we are invited to look and see it.

So who wrote Revelations A̓ποκάλυψις

I can't tell if this debate is all that important and I won't mention it in my sermon; but I wanted to put out some interesting perspective from Luther about the book of Revelation and its source to get people thinking.

As a young man Luther struggled to make heads or tails of Revelation and he wrote in a 1522 Preface to the New Testament.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1[:8], “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.1

Later in life Luther found Revelation to be unique in it's propehetic place in Scripture. Luther found this to be unlike many of the other prophetic Words in scripture,

...without either words or interpretations, exclusively with images and figures, like this book of Revelation and like the dreams, visions, and images that many holy people have had from the Holy Spirit—as Peter in Acts 2[:17] preaches from Joel [2:28], “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” So long as this kind of prophecy remains without explanation and gets no sure interpretation, it is a concealed and mute prophecy and has not yet come to the profit and fruit which it is to give to Christendom.

This is the way it has been with this book heretofore. Many have tried their hands at it, but until this very day they have attained no certainty. Some have even brewed it into many stupid things out of their own heads. Because its interpretation is uncertain and its meaning hidden, we have also let it alone until now, especially because some of the ancient fathers held that it was not the work of St. John, the Apostle—as is stated in The Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 25. For our part, we still share this doubt. By that, however, no one should be prevented from regarding this as the work of St. John the Apostle, or of whomever else he chooses. 2

Luther grew to find great hope in Revelation because of its promise of Christ's presence in all things and in all times, even the worst of times.

In a word, our holiness is in heaven, where Christ is; and not in the world, before men’s eyes, like goods in the market place. Therefore let there be offenses, divisions, heresies, and faults; let them do what they can! If only the word of the gospel remains pure among us, and we love and cherish it, we shall not doubt that Christ is with us, even when things are at their worst.3

Revelation is not the unique property of one part of the church. It is a treasure steeped in mystery that reveals God's great glory to all of us. The challenge for the church today is to read it boldly and without fear.

1Martin Luther, “Prefaces to the New Testament” Luther's Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 35, Page 399.

2Martin Luther, vol. 35, Luther's Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 35, Page 400.

3Martin Luther, vol. 35, Luther's Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1960), Vol. 35, Page 411.

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