“ And when I saw him, I collapsed to his feet like I was dead. And he placed his right hand upon me, saying: “Do not be afraid: I am the first and the last…”
When I was growing up, Christian media was at an all-time frenzy concerning the Y2K movement. I recall going with my dad to fill up massive containers of water and going with my mother to stock up the cupboards with lots of canned goods. While my parents were not doomsday preppers, there was an undeniable angst in the air, especially around the church we attended. In going through a rather intense week (preaching two sermons on some difficult texts of Scripture) here at First Baptist Redlands, I suppose I’ve been struck by the general unease at play in our culture. This is not to be reduced merely to our political atmosphere—although there is an undeniable element of that—but rather that our culture is rife with anticipation and anxiety and angst about what will happen next.
In essence, we are uneasy because we are hearing rumors of war, and more rumors about the rumors.
So, one can imagine when a kid in that environment (and I know I am not the only one at this church!) coming to the Book of Revelation and finding nothing but terror and frightfulness within its pages. John the Seer, with his searing imagery and hyperbolic language, is a writer who excites and confounds the imagination of us all. This was a point of discussion in our first Bible study meeting on Thursday night on July 5, where many people described their experiences in reading the Book of Revelation.
Hence, the atmosphere was and is rife with the language of “tribulation” and “apocalypse,” and we are all waiting and staring at our screens, wishing for just some relief from our anxious hearts.
Which is where our text comes in today. In the previous verses (v.15-16), John the Seer has described Jesus in gaudy images: “ his eyes were like a raging fire,” “his voice was like a multitude of raging seas,” and “he had in his right hand seven stars, and from his mouth preceded a long double-edged sword, and his mouth was like the sun radiating by its power.”
The power of this language is simply petrifying, especially for those who are steeped in an apocalyptic background where the end of the universe is imminent. We imagine a violent and cruel God, seeking our blood to satiate his wrath and vengeance: while the imagery in Revelation is complex, this verse ought to be a helpful lens for us all as we travel through our lives together.
The opening phrase is “Do not be afraid: I am the first and the last.” Do not be afraid. In a time of exile, anguish, and violence, Jesus’ first spoken words in this visionary apocalypse are “do not be afraid.” Despite the sights and signs, Jesus’ appearance is meant to evoke awe, not terror. In the Son, fear is removed from our lives and replaced with a holy awe at the sight of a holy God. This God and this God alone possesses the “keys of Death and Hades.” And this living God is in the business of casting fear away from our lives so that we might be freed to serve and love without respite or terror. Together, as the body of Christ, we are in the business of exhibiting God’s love for all people. Let us do so with vigor and holy love, emboldened by the eternal presence of the Holy Spirit.
And my parents still use the water they saved from the Y2K scare, so I guess there is a point to being cautious!
Printed in the August 2018 Tapestry.