Yesterday at Pangea Communities we began the LONG journey preaching through the book of Revelation. I spend some time in this first talk wrestling with apocalyptic fanaticism in my own tradition of Anabaptism. In the 1530’s a group of so-called Anabaptists in Münster decided that the New Jerusalem would be located there. So, by all means possible (even taking up arms!) they sought control of the city as they invited devotees to citizenship. Of course, they failed… and the end of the world never comes… and they are executed.
What this demonstrates, amongst other things, is that even in the so called “peace” tradition of the church, apocalyptic fever can take over and snuff out kingdom values. We easily can be deceived into doing things that are not a “revelation” of Jesus Christ, but rather reveal the worst of human evil.
Those of us who follow Jesus all long for an authentic revelation of Christ. We want to experience him as he is. This is the sort of experience John had. He saw the cosmic curtain pulled back just enough to see the authentic Jesus. A Jesus who was the same Christ revealed in the Gospels, Acts, Paul, Peter, and the rest of the New Testament. What John saw, although cryptic at times, was completely the same Jesus who commanded his followers to “love their enemies.” Any time that we believe God is revealing to us someone other than Jesus we see throughout the rest of the New Testament, we are probably hearing from God wrong–especially if we are reading Revelation!
Rather, in Revelation we have an account of one faithful disciple’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus. In Exile, the space was created for him to experience God, perhaps in a way that wouldn’t have happened in the normality of life.N.T. Wright says:
“Exile has given him time to pray, to reflect, and now to receive the most explosive vision of God’s power and love.” (N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 10)
We all need that sort of exile. Maybe not the exile of persecution–but exile nonetheless. We need to pull away from normality to experience the God of Jesus who loves us. Just as Jesus took an intentional step away into the hills to pray, we need spaces of quiet to hear a fresh word from God. Revelation is John experiencing exactly that–a fresh word of encouragement for himself and for the churches under his care in Asia Minor.