Connections 04.28.2019: Living in the Center

Revelation 1:1-8

This Sunday we’ll study the final lesson in a unit entitled “Easter at the Center.” The unit title reflects two truths, one simple and one profound.

The simple truth is that the first two lessons of the unit point toward the cross and the empty tomb and the second two look back at the cross and empty tomb.

The profound truth is that Easter lies at the center of the Christian life.

As Christians, we feel everything we feel, think everything we think, say everything we say, and do everything we do in light of the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

It is the fact that changes everything, that guides everything, and that enlivens everything. It is the fact that changes, guides, and enlivens us.

We look back to what Jesus has done in the past. He lived to bear the most faithful witness to God that has ever been born. He died and rose again to pave the way for us to come after him. He ascended to the Father’s right hand, from where he exercises ultimate authority (v. 5a).

We don’t just look back.

We also look forward to what Jesus will do in the future. “He is coming with the clouds”(v. 7a). When he comes, he will make everything as God intends it to be. He will perfectly fulfill God’s purposes for all creation.

We don’t just look back and look forward.

We also look around. When we do, we find that we’re living in the present. We live in the present as those who have experienced Jesus’ love that he finally and fully expressed (v. 5b). We also live in the present as people called to continue his ministry of reconciliation in the world (v. 6a).

We live between Jesus’ resurrection and his second coming. This Sunday is the second of the seven Sundays of Easter. The Easter season is a good time to remind ourselves that here in the time between Jesus’ resurrection and second coming, we always live in light of Easter. We always live in light of Jesus’ resurrection. We always live in light of the power of Easter.

In the meantime, as Acts 5:27-32 (the lectionary’s first reading) reminds us, we are to bear witness to the good news of the crucified and resurrected Christ. In the meantime, as John 20:19-31 (this week’s Gospel reading) reminds us, we continue Jesus’ work in the world in the authority of his call and in the strength of his presence.

One of these days he will come “with the clouds” and “every eye will see him” (v. 7a).

In these days, we who follow him are here. For now, if any eyes are going to see him, they’re going to see him in us.

Discussion

  1. The opening words in the book of Revelation are, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants…” (v. 1a). What is significant about this opening? How does it guide our reading of the book?
  2. How can we share in the blessings promised by verse 3?
  3. How does John focus our attention on God in these verses? What grounds does he give us for praising God?
  4. What does John say about Jesus in these verses? How should his words encourage us?
  5. We might read past the last line in verse 7: “So it is to be. Amen.” But we shouldn’t. How can we keep ourselves aware that Jesus is indeed coming again? What difference should our awareness make in our faith? In our actions? In our witness?

Reference Shelf

Verse 7 contains a prophetic pronouncement that combines elements from Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10. The combination of these two texts from the Hebrew Bible is likely not John’s own creation, but a part of early Christian tradition because the same combination, although in reverse order, occurs also in Matthew 24:30. The first part of the pronouncement attributes to Jesus the description from Daniel of a human-like figure (“one like a son of man”) who descends from heaven with the clouds and is given “dominion and glory and kingship” (Dan 7:14). In Daniel, this mysterious figure is likely a reference to the archangel Michael, who in one sense represents the faithful people of God. For John, as for other early Christian thinkers, Jesus is the one who will fulfill this role. John draws upon this same imagery from Daniel elsewhere in Revelation (1:13; 14:14). John envisioned this appearance of Jesus to be of such magnitude that “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.” Language such as this is not to be taken literally. This is poetic language. It is John’s way of saying that God’s rule over the world, effected through Jesus, will not be a minor, local event, but an event of universal significance.

The appearance of the once crucified Jesus affects even those responsible for his death. All people join in mourning. The text does not specify whether the people’s remorse is based on their contrition and repentance (as in the Zechariah text) or whether it is a reaction of guilt and fear. Elsewhere in Revelation, John intimates that all the world will eventually be drawn under the influence and power of the mercy of God (see 15:3-4; 21:24; 22:2). Perhaps John intended that here as well.

The theme of reversal is prominent throughout the book of Revelation. The slain Lamb is the victorious Lamb; those who have been oppressed and persecuted are vindicated; the powerful become powerless. Here, those who brought about the death of Jesus now grieve over their actions. The focus in this scene is not on the mourners, however. The central figure is the one who comes on the clouds, the triumphant Jesus. This is a scene of vindication. John reminds his readers that the drama of God’s dealing with the world did not end with the crucifixion of God’s faithful witness, for the last act is yet to be performed. When the final curtain does fall, those who have opposed God will be surprised at the ending. Even those who were responsible for the death of Jesus will lament their deed. The visions of the Apocalypse are John’s attempt to portray in symbolic language the astounding truth that all evil and injustice will ultimately bow before the indomitable power of God. The last chapter of Revelation ends with John yearning for this event to take place, crying out “Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20). John underscores the importance of this pronouncement by adding a double confirmation, “So it is to be [literally, “yes”]. Amen.”

Mitchell G. Reddish, Revelation, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 36-37.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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