In our Bible reading (Rev 21 :1-7), a prophet who lived in violent times dreamt of peace, for the Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy. It may come across as violent, but that’s because it comes from a turbulent time.
When it was written, Christians were a tiny minority in the Roman Empire and Rome had unleashed extreme violence on them. The writer fears that there is more to come. So in writing of dragons, plagues, wars, horse riders going into battle he was reflecting violent times.
The purpose of this book was not to frighten Christians but to reassure them. For in these visions, there is one thing which is always true – the enemies of Christ never win, for we read Christ will be victorious – for Jesus Christ is Lord!
So the book of Revelation is an extraordinary, imaginative portrayal of the spiritual realities underlying our world. At its heart is the understanding that the world is a spiritual battleground, in which the forces of evil far too often seem victorious. Nevertheless, Revelation 21 gives us a vision of hope. As we reflect on the end of World War One, here’s what I believe these verses say to us today.
FIRSTLY the world cannot save itself. World War One was the first in which killing took place on an industrial scale. The poet Wilfred Owen spoke of those ‘who die as cattle’.
No doubt many feel conflicted about the war today and so hesitant about just celebrating it as a victory. One reason for this is that we are painfully aware of its cost. Another is that we know it was not, as HG Wells said, “the war to end war.” As Christians, war is not the answer, because it never achieves a good end by itself.
SECONDLY we are promised a better future. One of the great gifts that God gives us is hope. We want to look for something better, beyond the trials of this life. Striving for this looks different in peacetime, and in some ways it’s harder – people are more selfish and it’s easy to lose sight of the goal. So in peacetime our enemies include poverty, selfishness, greed, ignorance and injustice. However, what Jesus calls us to do is to believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
So hope is the divine gift of discontent with how the world is, and… the desire to change it.
THRIDLY in the end, all our hope is in God! The Bible is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and Revelation 21 is about the end.
The story begins in a garden in which God walked with Adam and Eve, and ends with a city in which He walks with a multitude of His people. This city is perfect, because it comes down ‘out of heaven’. God comes to us to dwell with us forever, and every tear will be wiped away, and everything will be made new.
When the Great War ended in 1918, many people hoped the world would be a better place. But Revelation tells us that we cannot build a perfect world without God. The proverb says that ‘God writes straight with crooked lines’ – In other words He brings good out of our mistakes and failures. But without God, all we’re left with are our failures!
We don’t know how or when God will bring His new creation to completion, but when we are with God, with our sins forgiven and our future secure, we will be like Christ! We will truly be made perfect in Him.
This is because the Trinity will finish off the work of salvation which God started when He created everything in the first instance, which Jesus continued with His redemptive work on the cross and which will be completed when the redeemed are invited into God’s new creation.
May we be willing to catch this vision of God’s future. If we do this we will begin to see the world change, for this vision is an assurance that things will not go on for ever, that the suffering of today will finally give way to the hope of heaven, where God will dwell with us.
I believe that God wants us to know that nothing can take that away from us, for God will be faithful and deliever us from all evil. Then there “will be no more death or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21.4 NIV).
Our future joy and life lie with the risen Christ!
Remembrance Sunday 11/11/18. Based on Revelation 21: 1-7, and on notes by Mark Woods.