It is stunning how often the prophet John uses some form of the word “come” [for those into Greek, the term is erchomai]. At some later occasion under the GRANT post we will explore John’s view of time in comparison to some of the religious and philosophical views of antiquity. Like all true biblical prophets, John was not a deist, but believed that the Lord was a “God who comes,” who interacts with both the larger world and with his elect, the church.
It is not unusual for believers to associate God’s coming with his final judgment in Christ, i.e., “He is coming with the clouds” (Rev. 1:7). It is just as natural for John to express the conviction that Christ will come in history to Christian congregations, either to punish them (Ephesus, Rev. 2:16) or to grant blessings (Laodicea, Rev. 3:20). It would be interesting to know whether most contemporary believers in North America embrace the idea of divine interaction when they view their congregation’s life and history. Whether looking upon the enormous success of certain congregations or the flotsam and jetsam of declining congregations it has been far to easy to look only at the issues and facts that can be evaluated by sociologists and demographist. My concern is one of balance, not the dismal of social concerns. John might just think we have surrendered the primacy of the “God who comes” to the tinkering of those trained in the social sciences.
|Albrecht Dürer, Woodcut “Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse,” 1497-98.
Whether it is John’s depiction of the coming of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (Rev. 6:1-8) or the coming of the various “Woes” (Rev. 8:13; 9:12; 11:14), it is likewise evident that John believes in God’s coming into the world and into its history and events. The “Four Horsemen,” for example, receive their commission from the living creatures who worship at the throne of God. They are not sent out by Satan. It is a complete misreading of Revelation to imagine that God holds his involvement in history and culture in abeyance until the End or a few years before the End. John believes that God is moving history toward it consummation, one step at a time.
In the case of the decadent whore, Rome, (Rev. 17) God’s use of this beast also mentioned in Revelation 17 is very striking. Through the cooperation of other nations God decides “to make the whore desolate and naked, and eat her flesh and burn her up with fire.” John succinctly summarizes the divine perspective in these words, “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled” (Rev. 17:17). That is, God intervenes in and works through pagan kingdoms to carry out his will in the world and in its history, even if it is “bad news” for one’s own country. In this regard John understood Isa. 40:15 in a way that many believers who lived after the Roman Emperor Constantine never will understand it, “Why, the nations are but a drop in a bucket, a mere smudge on a window. Watch him sweep up the islands like so much dust off the floor!” (Isa. 40:15, The Message). Some in John’s audience were probably shocked to learn that the national aspirations and foreign policies of a believer’s own nation may be far removed from those of God.
Imagine the exhilaration of viewing history and culture through the prism of the “God who comes” and “until the words of God will be fulfilled” rather than the recurring cynical experience of nationalism and cultural self interest. With so much (mis)association of the book of Revelation with the End, it is time to recapture John’s vision that God also comes into the life and destinies of congregations and nations.