Much theological debate centres on the apocalyptic and prophetic Book of Revelation but what can be drawn from it for today’s society? Rev Dr Neil Sims reflects on Revelation, its historical context and the questions it poses for us today.
This year, I have begun to lead two small groups in a study of the last book of the Bible, Revelation. I have been realising how appropriate this study is for a church in Australia under increasing challenge and threat from the surrounding society.
Not so long ago, the church here was at the centre of society with some influence, but now it is being pushed to the margins in an increasingly secular, yet multi-faith world. And we are struggling with these transitions as a Christian community.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ was written to the early church by the apostle John just before the turn of the first century—about sixty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Early Christians faced public opposition from the Jews. They witnessed to Jesus in a multi-faith context where there were many gods and many temples.
The power of the Roman Empire was strong and the Emperors began to claim divinity and demand worship. Christians took a substantial risk in publicly declaring, “Jesus is Lord,” when the society was crying out, “Caesar is Lord”.
Early Christians, reading and receiving the message of Revelation, were reminded that God had not forgotten them. The kings of this world are subject to the authority of the Lord of creation.
The book finishes with a vision of hope, the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, gifted by God.
Such a study reminds us that the political process is critiqued by the wider context of God’s being and action. When our church seems unsure of its place in the world, the gospel in Revelation is that Jesus is standing in our midst, our prayers matter to God, and God’s purposes will endure in the face of tyranny, chaos, persecution and destruction.
The book raises significant theological questions. How is the Christian faith different from other faiths and what makes it unique, if at all? How do we view nation-states in the light of the purposes of God? How do we discern the continuing work of God that sustains our faith and hope in an environment that is often evil and hostile? How are we to respond to evil powers?
Whatever our questions, Revelation strongly affirms the centrality of Christ, the Lamb of God, for the ongoing faith of the church. It concludes with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Rev Dr Neil Sims
Rev Dr Neil Sims is a retired Minister of the Word who served in congregations and Trinity Theological College, and is currently living in Dalby where his wife, Jenny, is the minister.