What gives you hope, nourishes your soul and gives your spiritual strength? When we face difficult times we can use up our reservoir of hope. When hope leaks from our lives how do we get a top up? If you were in a persecuted church and under pressure to compromise your faith, what would help renew your spiritual strength?
Beginning next week we are looking at how these churches measure up to what Jesus desires from them. Today, and in recent weeks, we have been looking at their context and what Jesus has provided to help them measure up under difficult circumstances. Their task is not easy, and they will have no way to measure up without the hope Jesus gives to strengthen them.
People naturally try to understand what is meant by soon and seek to put together a timetable from Revelation to describe the end times. Throughout history certain world events, various high-profile leaders and significant dates have been identified as signs that the end times are upon us. But these timetables constantly need updating as events and leaders fade into the past. These predictions … have been reapplied as newspaper headlines have changed, so that modern prophecy teaching is rarely relevant for more than a decade (Craig S Keener).
One flaw in this approach is that people fail to ground the teaching of Revelation in the soil of the first century early Christians to whom it was originally written. For these early Christians soon was unfolding immediately as they faced persecution from the Roman Empire, were aware of distant wars and catastrophic events like the fall of the temple in Jerusalem (70AD) and the eruption of Mt Vesuvius covering whole cities in ash (79AD).
We recognise that soon from God’s perspective is not the same as soon from our perspective. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8–10) If soon had meant close proximity in time to the writing of the book of Revelation, we would not have been born or existed to know God or perceive a problem with the word soon.
Closely linked with the promise of soon in verse 3 is the instruction in verse 7 to look: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” (Revelation 1:7) Because these events are happening soon, we are instructed to look with anticipation and expectancy to see Jesus return. Being asked to look raises questions. Where are you looking? Where are you focusing your attention? Are you looking at your present circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by events or are you looking to the clouds, straining your eyes, holding vigil for the first glimpse of his return? If it is happening soon, are you ready, are you prepared for what is about to happen?
The combination of soon and look raises hope. The return of Christ is a promise on which to feed the soul (William Barclay). While the word hope is not used in Revelation, it is a constant theme throughout the book. Despite the difficulties to come, the book ends with hope, a vision of the new heaven and the new earth, with God coming to dwell with his people and the promise “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
The King reigns. Justice prevails. Death is defeated. This is the good news that provides hope for the soul and strength for the spirit so we can persevere through difficult times.
What drains hope from you?
How do you replenish hope in your life?
Rev John Malcolm