WAITING FOR CHANGE
It’s not the first time I’ve waded into the waters of trying to explain the book of Revelation to others, but it’s definitely been one of the most challenging. For the past several weeks I have been leading an eager group of 40 or so folks from the church where I serve through this amazing visionary work. I’ve seen their eyes widen as we’ve explored together the mystery behind John’s writing, looking for nuggets of truth that can help us all understand God’s ultimate plan for mankind.
Like so many of my counterparts, in the past I’ve been so focused on trying to interpret the many symbolic references in John’s letter that I feel I have often missed perhaps one of his main messages. While it is true that this letter is “apocalyptic” in nature, meaning it does refer to end times, it was actually written by a real person to real people facing a real situation in their real world.
The Book of Revelation is addressed to first century Christians from the seven churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). These believers were just 60 years or so removed from the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. At this time the Roman Emperor Domitian was doing his best to exterminate Christianity from the Empire. Christians were being brutally persecuted and martyred for their faith. False teachers were suggesting comprises with the pagan religions of the day in an attempt to gain Rome’s tolerance. It was not an easy time to stay the course and hold on to the faith that these early Christians had been taught by John and the other Apostles.
While I’m not going to use this blog to give you my own interpretation of the symbolic elements that dominate John’s writing, these is one message that has become abundantly clear this time as I’ve worked through this book with my students. Over and over again John reminds his readers that things would change. In this ultimate battle between “good and evil”, God had guaranteed the results. It was certainly not always going to be easy, but change would come. He writes to encourage these early believers not to give up hope in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances.
As I sit in a local coffee shop writing these thoughts it’s another one of those blustery days here in the Northwest. The temperature is hovering around 40 degrees, the skies are gray, and it’s been raining incessantly for the last 24 hours. There’s nothing really unusual in that for this time of year in Oregon. But if you’ve lived in the Northwest for any amount of time you know this dreariness will not last forever. Within the next few weeks the season will change, the flowers will bloom, blue sky will reappear and the beauty of God’s creation will be able to be enjoyed in bright sunshine. Even now signs of those coming changes are beginning to appear with the first sprouts of the daffodils, the early signs of trees budding, and the inevitable moss growing in our yards and on our sidewalks. We just have to wait for that change of season.
Just like those early Christians, sometimes I think I need to be reminded that seasons will change. I have certainly never gone through anything like the persecution imposed by the Roman Empire, but I’ve had my moments….and I’m assuming so have you. But
I’ve been told that there have been more Christians martyred for their faith in the last 150 years than in all of human history……..just not in my part of the world. In some parts of the world reading the book of Revelation seems like reading the morning paper. It’s all far too real and a part of their everyday experience.
My point isn’t to compare “bad days” with anyone else, but rather to grasp the underlying concept John constantly returned to in his letter….SEASONS CHANGE. As bad as things are now, there are better things coming. In the end God will certainly defeat Satan and his minions. The difficulties we face now will seem like a blip on the screen compared to the surpassing glory of being in heaven. John never tried to minimize the angst of the persecution the churches were facing. He never discounted the pain they had to endure, the sorrow of seeing loved ones and friends martyred for their faith, or the calamities that were to come. But if you read his letter closely you can’t help but see this message of hope, even in the midst of such horrendous circumstances.
I think there’s a lesson in this book that I’ve often overlooked. It’s a message of joy in the midst of sorrow and the benefit of waiting on God, looking forward to the change of seasons. Just as the weather changes here in the Northwest, and wherever you may live, so life tends to come at you in cycles. Some of those times are unpleasant and hard to bear; others are filled with joy and happiness. The secret is to learn to look through the hardships with a heart of faith, knowing that there’s a better day coming.
In most situations in my life I’m a pretty good “waiter”. I can be patient waiting for my food to come in the restaurant, or sitting in the “waiting” room of my doctor’s office. I can stand in line in the grocery checkout without getting too frustrated, and even deal with those annoying kids in a movie theater or on an airplane. I’m not so sure I’m nearly as patient stuck in traffic on a freeway…..but that’s a whole other story. But I’m trying to be a good “waiter” as I trust God to open and close doors in my personal ministry, in my relationships with my family, and in my struggle to find the right financial solutions for the future. Let me be honest…..it’s not easy!
Like you I tend to get frustrated when things don’t go the way I thought I laid them out for God. I imagine those first century Christians had a few thoughts along those lines too. Yet John’s message to them over and over was to “hang on – it may get worse before it gets better, BUT IT WILL GET BETTER”. That’s a lesson I need to learn more and more.
What are you waiting for? Like the weather outside my window right now, the prospects for the future may look pretty dreary. You may not know how to move forward, what decisions to make, who to trust and how to invest your time and energy. You may find yourselves feeling trapped and alone in the middle of a mess. There may not be Romans waiting outside your door, but the sense of desperation sets in more often than you like to admit. If that’s you, perhaps this word of encouragement, often overlooked in the revelation John shared with these early believers, is what you need to hear. The season will change! God is still on the throne and He is working things out for your best if you will just wait!!
I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: SEASONS ALWAYS CHANGE! Though I may be the one teaching this class on Revelation, I think I may also be the one who is learning the most this time around!! J