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Ice cream and ketchup

There’s nothing novel concerning a book about hope. Neither is there anything (too unusual) about a book on Revelation. However, a book on Revelation that is called The Thrill of Hope—well, the merging of the two sounds a bit strange, kind of like ice cream and ketchup. After all, Revelation is a book of gloom and doom—right? It’s loaded with all of these images that are straight out of someone’s nightmare:

  • a beast with ten horns and seven heads,
  • another beast with two horns like a lamb but the voice of a dragon,
  • locusts that inflict scorpion-like stings that torment,
  • horses with plagues coming out of their mouths,
  • a lake of fire.

While these things might get people into a movie theater, they are not the kinds of things that fill our minds and hearts with hope.

Or are they?

If you’ve ever had your eyes examined for corrective lenses, you know the pleasure that comes when the optometrist clicks the right lenses into place and what was blurry and obscured comes into focus. I think that’s the way it is with the book of Revelation. Our view of the book often gets obscured by the fear mongering presentations of television evangelists and the Left Behind industry. Perception becomes reality. I’m convinced there’s much more in the book that God wants us to see.

As with any other part of the biblical witness, the key to Revelation is setting it in its proper context. The gloom and doom (apocalyptic) images of the book relate to a couple of things. Some of the pictures are of what the wicked (i.e., Rome and the emperor Domitian), are bringing upon the followers of Jesus, while other images convey the judgment coming upon them due to their mistreatment of God’s people. Let’s deal with this last one first.

While God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23), He is very much concerned about calling the unrighteous to repentance and setting things right. The judgment Revelation is concerned with has to do with righting the wrongs that an impenitent Rome and Domitian are bringing against Jesus’ disciples in Asia (1:4). Who can’t get excited about that? Jeremiah 9:24 reminds us how God delights in justice and righteousness. Revelation provided tremendous hope to our first century family and gives us with assurance today that no one “gets away” with anything—all wrongs will be righted by our Father! In a world that is twisted and distorted we can hang in there because we know a day of justice is on the horizon.

In the same way, as we come across images that speak of the extreme suffering the church in Asia is going to experience, we must not isolate it from its context of hope. Depending on your translation, all seven on the congregations are challenged to “overcome,” “conquer,” or be “victorious” (see chapters 2 & 3). They can do this because they belong to the One who has overcome. He was dead and is alive forever and He holds the keys to death and Hades (1:18).  And they did this! We read in 12:11:

They triumphed over him
 by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
     they did not love their lives so much
     as to shrink from death.

They stood tall under Domitian’s brutality as other Christians would later do under other emperors, and as other disciples are doing today in different parts of the world where they are suffering oppression and persecution. Today Rome is a city in Italy and the kingdom of Jesus is all over the world!

Revelation looks right in the face of the world’s (and Satan’s) brutality and says, “You do whatever you’re going to do because it didn’t stop our Lord and it’s not going to stop us.” The One who is on the throne is making everything new (21:5).

Now that’s hope!

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