28 December 2014 – 3 January 2015.
Revelation 20 (Click to read).
For those of you following the church’s Bible reading plan, this month we read through the difficult and controversial Book of Revelation: the last book of the Bible for the end of the calendar year.
As we come to the end of the year, we also come to the end of our reading of the Bible, and the end of John’s story in Revelation. Here at the end, John brings us back to our great hope in the true lordship of Jesus Christ. The false gods, the beast (i.e. the Roman Empire and its rulers) have been defeated together with those false prophets (i.e. the obedient kings of Judea) and their armies. At the end, God defeats this evil and displays his real power as the true God over this world’s political false gods.
The hope John shows us in this chapter is admittedly a violent one. But we can understand that Christians who suffered and watched their own family members die under the rule of Rome and its Israelite supporters would have this wish to see those evil “beasts” absolutely destroyed. They want to see God’s power finally coming into the world, setting everything right, bringing an end to suffering and oppression. How many times have we wished the same thing when we have looked at the world around us? How often have we looked at all the politicians who cheat and oppress and kill, and have waited for God’s power to step in? How often have we watched modern day empires kill the innocent, using their weapons to slaughter children, day after day without even caring? This drives us to despair. When will God’s judgement finally come? When will God’s reign and kingdom finally arrive and put an end to all this injustice and violence?
Here John brings us back to our Christian hope. We don’t know when that day is coming, but we do know that in the end God’s power will come and overthrow this world’s evil rulers, it will destroy their armies, and it will hold them to account for all the evil things they have done. In the end, evil will not win!
When we look at the world around us, sometimes we lose hope. We don’t know how it could be possible for evil to lose. Evil seems so powerful. But even though it seems hopeless, John encourages us to hold on: God’s power for goodness will win, it will finally overthrow all evil. And this isn’t just a hope for those people left alive on that final day; it is not just a hope for one lucky future generation. It is a hope for all people, and it especially includes those who died for their faith.
Teachers in the church have often described the resurrection as God laughing at death and evil. Evil wants to be taken seriously, evil wants to make us afraid, it wants us to fear its power to destroy us. But in the resurrection, God destroys evil’s power. Death thinks it can win, but God laughs at its power and brings back to life all those who were persecuted, all those who died at the hands of evil powers.
As for those who sided with evil, John brings us the image of God’s divine judgement. The dragon, the Roman Empire, falsely claimed the titles of God; the emperors falsely claimed to be gods on earth, and then did everything possible to murder and destroy those Christians who opposed them. But here in this moment of judgement, the false gods are destroyed and the witnesses to Christ’s true lordship are resurrected to new life.
The book of Revelation started with the claim of the absolute divinity and lordship of Jesus Christ, our true God. And here John returns to this theme with a message of hope: don’t be afraid, hold onto faith, and keep your witness to Jesus Christ, to the Lamb, to our God. Things may seem dark, but in the end, God will triumph over everything.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis