The Revelation is the last book in the New Testament. The New Testament describes the life of Jesus, followed by the story of the early days of the church, and then contains letters and documents written by leaders in the early church, giving advice on matters of faith and Christian conduct. Finally, there is the Revelation, which provides a vision of the future. Chapter 22, the final chapter, contains an invitation and a challenge:
“I am coming quickly. I will be bringing my reward with me, to repay everyone for what they have done… I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”Anyone who hears should say, “Come!”Anyone who is thirsty should come. Anyone who wants can take the water of life freely.
God has spoken, the Bible is finished, and the reader must now decide whether to accept the invitation and drink from the river of the water of life, or to reject the invitation and to follow some other path in life. Other paths can include good bits and fulfilling bits, but, if you accept what the New Testament says, they do not lead to the holy city and the water of life.
The second world war began after one country assembled an army stronger than those of the surrounding countries, with more men and better equipment, and then asserted its dominance over its neighbours. There is always a chance that history could repeat itself and some rogue nation could assemble sufficient power to subjugate the rest of the world. But ultimately the greatest military power in the world cannot stand before God, as the 20th chapter of the Revelation reminds us:
And after the thousand years, Satan will be released from his prison, and will go to the four corners of the earth to deceive the nations, Gog and Magog, to assemble them for war. They have as many soldiers as there are grains of sand by the sea. They marched across the earth, and surrounded the camp of the believers, and the beloved city. Fire came from heaven and destroyed them. The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were.
Individuals have the power to cause harm by their aggression; countries and nations have the power to cause far greater harm. The more fervid the cause motivating the aggression, the more significant the impact of the aggression may turn out to be. Ultimately, however, the military might of all the armies of all the world counts as nothing before God, who in the space of six words can destroy them all.
Plenty of people have written books contesting the historicity of the New Testament and arguing that Jesus was married and had children. Most scholars believe that such arguments are fanciful and based on speculation rather than evidence, as the available evidence indicates that Jesus remained single. On the other hand, the Revelation does describe a marriage ceremony in which Jesus is the bridegroom. Chapter 19 of the Revelation says:
I heard a sound like the roar of a huge crowd, and like the noise of a large waterfall, and like the sound of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! The Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns! We will celebrate and be overjoyed, and give glory to him. The wedding day of the Lamb has arrived, and his bride has made herself ready.” She was given fine, bright, clean linen to wear, because fine linen represents the righteous actions of the believers.
The “Lamb” is Jesus, given that name because he was killed as an innocent sacrifice to pay the penalty for the sins of others. The bride of the Lamb is the church, the worldwide body of those who put their faith in Jesus. The bride is describes as being dressed in fine, bright, clean linen, which represents the good deeds done by followers of Jesus. So in the end Jesus does get married after all.
There are plenty of things that money can buy. It can buy possessions and comforts. It can buy conveniences and pleasures. It can even buy fame, power and friends, at least to an extent. It can buy the finest medical care in the world, and the best drugs to ease the pain, but it cannot eliminate pain itself, or suffering and death, which comes to everyone. This is what the city of Babylon gets to experience in chapter 18 of the Revelation:
Give her the same amount of torment and grief as she gave herself splendour and luxury. She tells herself, ‘I am a queen, not a widow, and will never experience grief.’ So all her troubles will come in one day: death, grief, and famine. She will be burned with fire, because the Lord God who judges her is powerful. The kings of the earth, who slept with her and shared her luxury, will weep and wail over her, when they see the smoke of her burning.
As technology develops, we have the ability to cocoon ourselves more and more in a virtual reality, a world of our own making, in which we think only pleasant thoughts, engage in entertaining activities, and shut out the world or harsh reality. However, for each of us the clock is ticking. Our lives are running out, and death will one day come. Either we confront the reality and deal with it, or it sneaks up on us to interrupt our foolish self-deceptions as a horrible surprise.
It is a mistake to think of the Christian life as a comfortable, easy one. True followers of Jesus are those who are prepared to risk their reputation and resources to defend the poor, widows, orphans and the oppressed. The keenest disciples of Jesus as described in the New Testament were not those who ended up leading a wealthy pampered existence, but those who were prepared to risk their lives and everything they owned. Revelation chapter 17 describes what has happened and will happen to many witnesses of Jesus:
He carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet-colored animal with seven heads and ten horns, covered with words that were insulting to God. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and decorated with gold and precious stones and pearls. In her hand was a golden cup full of depravity and the impurities of her immorality. On her forehead was written, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the depravities of the Earth.” I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the believers, and the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. I was astonished when I saw her.
Most Christians are not required to shed their blood, to give up their lives, for their faith – but some are – and all Christians are called to stand up as witnesses against the forces of evil. The forces of evil are personified in chapter 17 of the Revelation as the woman Babylon the Great, and she is covered in words that are insulting to God, holding a cup full of depravity, and being drunk on the blood of the believers.
Anger is an emotion that never feels quite right. Everyone experiences anger, but we usually try to suppress it because it usually stems from selfishness, jealousy or some other self-serving and sinful motive. Expressing anger is embarrassing because it reveals to others that we lack self-discipline and control over our emotions. So it seems strange to hear about God getting angry, as exemplified in chapter 15 of the Revelation:
I saw another significant and amazing omen in heaven: seven angels with the seven plagues. These are the final plagues, because after them God’s wrath is finished… One of the four living animals gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the anger of God, who lives forevermore. The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power. No one was able to enter the temple, until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
So where does God’s anger or “wrath” come from, and is this the same God who loved the world so much that he sent his only son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life? If you love someone deeply, you will inevitably feel anger towards anything that harms the object of your love. So yes, God loves us, but he is angry towards the sin that harms us.
From a purely human perspective, death does not seem to have much going for it. It breaks into our relationships and permanently deprives us of the company of our friends. It is often accompanied by pain and suffering. But it is an experience which happens to everybody, and God allows it to happen, so it must in some way be part of God’s plan. Something of God’s plan is revealed in chapter 14 of the Revelation:
A third angel followed them, shouting, “People who worship the beast and its idol, and receive a mark on their forehead, or on their hand, will also drink the wine of God’s anger, which has been poured undiluted into the cup of his fury… The believers who obey the commandments of God, and are faithful to Jesus, must endure patiently.” I heard the voice from heaven saying, “Write, ‘People who die in the Lord from now on are blessed…’”
What to us appears bad may ultimately be simply a phase we pass through before reaching a far more desirable existence. Some people believe that death is the end, life is all there is, and we are nothing more than the physical bodies in which we are contained. But that is not what followers of Jesus believe. For Christians, life on earth is about living our part in God’s plan until we can be with him forever.
Humans seem to have an endless capacity for self-deception. They will happily follow an evil leader to their destruction while ignoring a good leader. During the second world war, millions of people in Europe willingly followed Hitler on his campaign of conquest, in the full knowledge that his schemes and designs were deceptive and evil. In the 13th chapter of the Revelation, people show a similar inclination to follow the beast:
Everyone living on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the beginning of creation in the book of life of the Lamb who has been killed. Whoever has an ear, should hear. Anyone destined to go into captivity will go into captivity. Anyone destined to be killed with the sword must be killed. The believers must endure and be faithful.
Sometimes following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing seems like an addiction. We know that the path we are pursuing will in the end lead to death, but we somehow lack the willpower, courage, strength of convictions, or motivation to overcome inertia and head off in a different direction towards what is good. We fail to listen to God’s voice, and so we willingly march off into captivity and to be killed by the sword.
Social networking tools might provide helpful ways for people to keep in touch, but they also provide ways for people to complain and criticise unfairly. There is nothing new about being the victim of unfair criticism, but sometimes it feels as if the Internet is making people harsher and ruder in their accusations. So it comes as no surprise that Satan is the ultimate accuser, and he gets his comeuppance in chapter 12 of the Revelation:
The accuser of our people, who accused them before our God day and night, has been thrown down. They have defeated him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the message of their testimony. They did not cling to life, even when they faced death. So celebrate, heavens, and everyone living in them. Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has gone down to you, very angry because he knows that he has little time left.
God does not promise an easy life to those who follow Jesus. The apostles and early believers were subjected to fierce opposition, persecuted, and dragged before courts, being accused of all sorts of offences. Christians today , no matter how kind or gracious their conduct, can also be subjected to torrents of abuse and accusation; but they can take comfort in the fact that the accuser has already been defeated.
In the absence of an external standard, public morality is subject to mood swings. The same crowd that hails someone as a hero on one day might lynch the same person as a villain on another day, without any change occurring in the person’s views or message. Something which on one day is hailed as good might on another day be despised as bad. Chapter 11 of the Revelation tells of the fate of two witnesses:
“I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands, standing before the Lord of the earth… The beast will come up out of the abyss and will attack and overpower and kill them… People living on the earth will celebrate over them, and they will give each other gifts, because these two prophets had annoyed people living on the earth.
Being right does not necessarily bring anyone a reward. Sometimes those who are right are popular, but often those who are right get persecuted. People who stay popular are those who are fluid in their convictions, matching their behaviour and message to the current mood of the crowds, but in doing so they sacrifice integrity for the sake of retaining personal power.