Initial, progressive, final. Remember that: it will help you understand how Revelation can actually be a revelation of Jesus Christ in your life. Too often, we approach St. John’s Revelation as if it were St. John’s Obfuscation. I can hear it now: “The first lesson is taken from the twenty-first chapter of The Obfuscation of St. John.” And all the people said, “Huh?!”
I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it one last time: I don’t believe that John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write a book that no one could understand until the end of time. I don’t believe God would inspire such a book and then carefully place it (as He moved the Church in its process of canonization) as the punctuation mark, the crescendo and finale, of Holy Scripture, unless He intended for us to read, understand, and apply it in our lives.
Don’t get me wrong: I do believe there is a future component to St. John’s Revelation, and I definitely believe it is the most difficult book of the Bible (which is why I always recommend that Christians read it only after they have read and studied the rest of the Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets). I also believe that it was written for our edification. But if it is only meant for Christians in the future and it hasn’t applied to us yet, then I think the book may have done more bad than good. If it is only written with future Christians in mind, then the Church has not profited by it very much for 2000 years now, and it would be a very strange and even perverse thing for the Word of God to be such a tease.
But the book is a revelation of Jesus Christ. St. John’s purpose (which is really the purpose of the Holy Spirit who revealed these things to him) is to make Jesus Christ known: initially to the 7 churches of Asia Minor, progressively to the Church of all ages, and finally to the glorified Church.
In Revelation 21 St. John sees a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth have passed away. He sees the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Already, in these details, John is telling us that he is speaking about the Church. First, he calls the church the New Jerusalem, just as did the writer of Hebrews. Second, this New Jerusalem is not in heaven, as if it is something that only exists after the Final Judgment and at the end of time, but it comes down and out of heaven. This means that it must be an earthly phenomenon. The New Jerusalem is born from heaven and descends to heaven, just as Jesus Christ Himself did. Third, this New Jerusalem is revealed to be nothing other than the Bride of Jesus Christ, which we know is the Church.
I don’t know about you, but this excites me. John is not talking about things that are so remote from me that I can’t really care much about them: he is talking about Jesus Christ in my life!
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people” (verse 3). This sounds familiar. Let me see . . . tabernacle . . . God’s tabernacle will be with men . . . God will dwell with us . . . I’ve got it! “And the word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The same St. John who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write his Revelation of Jesus Christ was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write his Gospel of Jesus Christ. And yes, the Greek word in John 1:14 is “tabernacled.” Don’t you see: these things have already come upon us. Jesus Christ has already come from heaven to earth; God has already made His tabernacle with men; God is already with us (Immanuel!) And when Jesus ascended back into heaven, He sent down His Holy Spirit to be His presence in His Church. And thus, the Church, the New Jerusalem, was born. We are the heirs of a New Covenant, a New Temple, a New Sacrifice, a New Priesthood, a New Heavens, a New Earth, and a New Jerusalem. Though they are not yet here in all their fullness, they are truly here because Jesus Christ is truly here.
Let better theologians than I am dispute about the future fulfillment of John’s Revelation: I know what I know, and I know that Jesus Christ is with us, even now. I have access to the Father through the Son, right here in my little study in Hot Spring, Arkansas, right here on May 24, 2007 (when I first wrote this). I am permitted to boldly approach the Throne of Grace, the Holy of Holies, for I have a Mediator and High Priest in heaven, whose perfect sacrifice has made me acceptable to the Father. I have the Holy Spirit living inside me, and I am a part of the Body of Jesus Christ.
“It is finished!” proclaims the One who sits on the Throne (verse 6). Initially on the Cross, progressively in the lives of the saints, and finally in the life to come, “It is finished,” the work of Jesus Christ.
“I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts” (verse 6). I believe that this, too, is about me and Christians today. Now that I mention it, I am a little parched this morning. Living here in this wilderness has made me a little thirsty and weary, now that I think about it. It’s been too long since I’ve gone to the fountain of the water of life.
I used to have a little ritual on Tuesday mornings when I lived in Hot Springs. After I finish my church work in the morning up at St. Chrys, I use to go downtown to the Visitor’s Center, where there is a circle of 6 faucets that dispense 143 degree water fresh from the hot springs of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Whenever I ran out of my Hot Springs water, I would go and take my three 1-gallon jugs and fill them. It was wonderful to have the gift of free spring water whenever I want, here in Hot Springs, something some people will pay $2 a quart for (suckers!)
But I have a little confession to make about my water ritual (priests need to confess, too, sometimes). Even though St. Chrys was only 2.35 miles away, I only remembered to fill my water jugs several times. There was a period of about a year or so when I had every intention of getting my water, but I kept forgetting to take my water jugs with me to church. After a while, I simply forgot altogether. I could afford to forget because I had free (almost) water at home. But if the springs of free water were my only source and I continued to forget them, you can imagine how thirsty I’d be: dead thirsty.
And yet this is the way some of us access the living water of Jesus Christ. We remember to drink from Him only occasionally, and then we wonder why our throats are so dry and we are so weary and our lives have been turned into fruitless deserts.
Yes, I believe that John’s Revelation is even for me, here now in Tyler, Texas, before the final glory of the Lord and His Church.
Prayer: Father, I thank You for planting me back in Your Garden and by the Fountain of the Water of Life, Your Son, Jesus Christ. Make me to be like a tree of righteousness planted by the rivers of water, who brings forth his fruit in his season, whose leaf shall not wither, and who is blessed in whatever he does, through Jesus Christ, who is the Living Water. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- In what ways are you thirsty and hungry and weak today? After meditating on each of these ways, turn to Jesus Christ so that He may give You Himself as your heavenly food and drink.
- Whenever you take a drink of a liquid today, remind yourself that Jesus is Your Water of Life, your aqua vitae.
Resolution: I resolve to meditate on Jesus Christ with me and vow to come to Him more faithfully and deeply today.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson