Summary: If we know how the story ends, and who is in charge of it, we can feel secure even through turbulent times.
I’ve heard it said that the world can be divided into two kinds of people: the ones who read the end of the book first, and the ones who don’t. Which one are you? I’[ve always thought I was the second kind - the one who never read the ending first - until I stopped to think about it and realized that my favorite kind of fiction, at least, are either historical fiction or murder mysteries. And in both I always know how it’s going to end, because I know just enough history to know that - for instance - the North won the Civil War and the English beat Napoleon. And with murder mysteries you always know that the good guys are going to win. So if the
author decides to be avant garde and break the mold, so to speak, having the wrong guys win or killing off the narrator, I feel cheated and won’t read the guy’s next book. Life is uncertain enough, in my opinion, not to go looking for more suspense in my lighter moments.
And so I’m very grateful that even though life is uncertain on a day-to- day basis, we really do know how it’s all going to end. We know that some day we can get off the roller coaster and go home.
Now, I don’t know how you feel about roller-coasters, but I don’t like them. I like to keep my feet on the ground. But sometimes you find yourself exactly where you didn't want to be. We’ve been wandering innocently around the fair, eating hot dogs and cotton candy and enjoying the sights and sounds, and all of a sudden without quite knowing how we got here, the gate has shut and the car is moving and all of a sudden we’re 50 feet off the ground and accelerating.
You may remember the old Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”. Well, we’re in for an interesting time, over the next few months - maybe even years. Maybe even as interesting as the end of the first century, when John received his vision. The Roman empire looked strong; the emperor Domitian had a firm grip on the reins of power, but it had been purchased at considerable cost. Whatever remnants had been left of old Rome’s republican ideals were gone by the time Domitian left office. Power bounced back and forth between the Senate and the military, and every disaffected group from Persia to Spain, from Africa to Germany, took advantage of the shifting currents of power. The still young Christian church was an obvious target for scape-goating, and their only hope for survival was - well, hope. Not wishful thinking on the order of , “Maybe the next emperor - or governor - or mayor - will leave us alone.” No, Biblical hope is based on certainty. Biblical hope acts as a permanent north by which one’s compass can be reliably set. Biblical hope is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [He 11:1] But of course it’s easier to hang on to if you have seen something, a sneak preview, so to speak, that gives you a reason to hang in there. And that is why John begins the section following the diagnostic letters to the seven churches with a spectacular, breathtaking, mind-boggling vision of God.
Each of those seven letters, remember, was tailored to the individual characteristics and circumstances of that church, telling them what they needed to know and do in order to be prepared for what was to come. But this vision is for everyone. No matter what your circumstances, no matter what your strengths, or weaknesses, or job description, this clear vision of God is what we all must hang on to if we are to keep our balance when the rising G-forces fog our vision and the turbulence threatens to tip us off the rails.
“After this” - that is, after the letters were written down and dispatched to the churches - John “looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which [he] had heard speaking ... like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." Well, we know what’s coming. The end of the world, right? The “Day of the :Lord” with all the scary things the prophets have been warning about since Isaiah: earthquakes and war and floods
and famine and pestilence and maybe even being hit by an asteroid.
But no. Instead, we’re attending a celestial worship service in God’s own throne room, filled with awesome, amazing sights and sounds. There is lightning and thunder and rumblings in the distance. There is a dizzying array of beautiful, shimmering colors. There are dazzling creatures, both human and inhuman. There is unearthly, glorious music coming from every direction, soaring up and down the scale. There is ceaseless activity, flying, flinging, standing, kneeling and praising - and you have to wonder, "What is going on here?”