When you think of the Book of Revelation, all kinds of fantastical images and sounds spring to mind: creatures with "six wings. . . and full of eyes all around and within," thunder, lightening, torches, thrones, a "pale rider named Death," a moon like blood, stars falling to earth, earthquakes, a sea that becomes bood, locusts that "were like horses prepared for battle," and even a dragon. And that's just for starters. Unfortunately, I can never read these chapters without seeing it through the lens of Hal Lindsey's 1970 book, The Late Great Planet Earth, a book that as a teenager frightened me into taking seriously the claims of the Gospel but the theology of which I now reject. As one reviewer said: "A generation later, many of its former supporters now see in its pages a complete misreading of Holy Scripture, sensationalistic attempts to correspond Biblical prophecies to current events, and an unhealthy enthusiasm for seeing the world obliterated." And yet many have bought into and may forever see Revelation in light of the same dispensationalism which reverberates throughout the Left Behind series.
I'm thankful that Lindsey's book led me to the Gospel. And I do not fault his intention to awake a sleeping church to the times. And yet Chapters 4-20 of Revelation are still largely a mystery to me, biblical and even evangelical scholars holding widely varying views of their meaning. But that's OK. I do not have to understand it all. I can leave it open.
But in looking at the Book this week, two verses became meaningful, even compassionate, as I considered their import. The first is in the context of a reference to the "seven golden lampstands," symbolic for the churches, where John says he saw "in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man," (Rev. 1:13). What a comfort: Christ is among his people, in the midst of the church, whatever it is going through. He is present. It connotes an intimacy, a desire to be among us, with us, alongside us. He says elsewhere "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matt. 18:20). Do you, like me, forget that He is really present? Not only is He present, as a friend might be present, but unlike friends most of the time, He actually has all the power to do something for me or us or in our midst. To appropriate this, sometimes I imagine His hand on my shoulder, lightly, as a friend might offer reassurance.
But there's more. Later, to him who perseveres in faith, He promises "to. . . give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17b). Matthew Henry points out that the white stone alludes to the ancient practice of giving a white stone to someone acquitted of guilt; the new name, that of our adoption. We are declared innocent. We are welcomed into the family. We are given a new name shared only between us and Jesus. This reminded me of how our Ugandan friends will sometimes give each other "pet names," significant and sometimes known only to the giver and the one receiving it. All this speaks of a high degree of intimacy between Jesus and us. This too, I forget, treating Jesus at times like a kind but absent friend.
I suspect there is more of this in Revelation, but I'm resting in Chapter Two right now. Yet reading ahead, I can see that for all its bluster, for all its gloom and doom, one could even find this a tender Revelation, a dark cloak of words threaded with a white string of grace, its message: Be ready. I will come. Take heart. I am with you to the end.
I could stop here and be content.