Formations 10.30.2016: Start Again

Revelation 1:9-20

Apocalypse, Russian icon

Apocalypse, Russian icon

Harvey Thomas Young, a musician from Austin, Texas, wrote a song called “Start Again.” First a poem written on the back of a postcard to his brother in jail, his manager saw it and requested he set the poem to music. So Young now sings, “From deep dark wells comes pure, clean water. And the ice will melt as the day gets hotter. And the night grows old as the sun climbs into the sky.” Three lines in and Young’s set me right down to see what John saw.

Exiled on the island of Patmos, John heard a voice: “It said, ‘write down on a scroll whatever you see, and send it to the seven churches’” (v. 11). So he did (chs. 2–3), but before writing out the seven notes to encourage the seven churches to stay strong in the face of persecution, John tells what he else he experienced.

After hearing that voice, he turned around to see Christ in the middle of seven gold lampstands. He wore a white floor-length robe and a gold sash. His hair was white, his eyes burned, his voice boiled, his feet were brass, and a sword came from his mouth. John fell down dead, then Christ out his right hand on John (vv. 13-17).

Christ says, “I’m the first and the last….I was dead, but look! Now I’m alive forever and always” (vv. 17-18). And as odd as John’s vision is, Christ’s words don’t make much more sense to me. I’ve never seen resurrection proclaimed with so much force. More often, instead of a voice like rushing water, resurrection sounds like the hiss from a kettle’s spout.

In the chorus to “Start Again,” Harvey Young repeats one line, singing to his brother and us that “as long as you’re not finished, you can start all over again.” Jesus tells John that the first and last things are all wrapped up together and that life comes again, “forever and always” (v. 18).

Christ doesn’t just remind the exile that it’s not over, he invites John to start again, to proclaim the same message to persecuted churches. This starting again could look like starting new. Maybe too, Christ tells John—and John tells us—to keep on keeping on.

Discussion

• What are the ways that Jesus proclaimed resurrection both before and after his death?
• Where do you need to experience resurrection? What would this resurrection be like?
• Where do you see suffering in the world around you? How can Christ’s message of life speak to this suffering?
• How have you seen, heard, and felt resurrection as an already present reality in your life and the lives of those around you? Where do you hope it will come more powerfully?
• How can you proclaim this message of resurrection, both in your own life and to the surrounding world?
• What do you hear Christ saying to you? Does Christ encourage you to keep on walking the path you’ve already started? Does Christ encourage you to take another way that brings more life to the world? Does Christ say both?

Reference Shelf

Powerful Over Evil

As his work makes clear, John expected the destruction of Rome to be one of the components of the final events of history. The Roman emperors, with their claims to divine status, were a part of the forces of evil that would soon be defeated. These and other events that “must soon take place” comprised the end of the world, the end of this age. Like other apocalyptic writers, John viewed history in two phases, this age and the age to come. God would bring this age, or this world, seemingly dominated by the power of evil, to a cataclysmic end. Following its dissolution, the old age would be superseded by a new age, a new world.

Ultimately Rome did fall (although not in the manner in which John stated), and its downfall was not one of the final events of history. What do we say, then, about John’s belief that “the time is near”? Obviously the world did not come to an end. John, like other apocalyptic thinkers, was wrong in tying the events of his day so closely to the end of the world. His mistaken expectation of the imminent end of the world does not invalidate his message for the church, however. The importance of John’s message lies not in chronology, but in theology. The enduring message of Revelation is John’s confident assurance that God is ultimately in control of the universe. In the end God will reign triumphant over the forces of evil.

Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 32-33.

Mystery and Revelation

Jesus calls the stars and the lampstands a “mystery” (1:20). The concept of “mystery,” drawn from Daniel (2:18, 19, 27-30, 47, 47), is that of something God alone knows but that he might choose to make known to people (see further on 10:7). That Jesus explains this mystery to John encourages the reader to believe this book that calls itself a “revelation” will indeed “reveal” divine truths.

John has set the stage for the rest of his book. He has recounted the circumstances surrounding his commission to write to the seven churches of Asia. He has presented a powerful (and distinctive) portrait of the One who commissioned him: Jesus. While details of the portrait conjure up certain Old Testament associations (e.g, the priesthood), a fuller appreciation for them will come only as John continues to unfold the revelation. In addition, John has once again called attention to Jesus’ death and applied to Jesus language traditionally associated with God. The reader is assured that Jesus stands amid the churches, with their “angels” in his powerful hand.

Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 30–31.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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