The driving question of the book of Revelation is: Why the delay? What purposed is served by leaving time between Jesus’s resurrection and the consummation of the kingdom of God on earth? To an oppressed church – facing what seems to be imminent persecution and martyrdom – it appears that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by a delay of the parousia (the word theologians use for Jesus’s second coming – Gk. “arrival”).
In this episode the church is – at last – given an answer. The reason for the delay is that it is by the church’s witness that the nations will be brought into the family of faith. Yet it will not be just the words alone of the church, or even the deeds of power accomplished through the Holy Spirit that will do all that must be done for the covenant with Abraham to be fulfilled. Rather, the church must carry out the full ministry of Jesus – including cross and resurrection.
Thus the suffering the church is presently facing (and will face throughout history) is not an unfortunate set of circumstances. Even less is it a sign that God has forgotten to protect his people. The witness of the church as they face the threat of martyrdom is a large part of the means by which all creation will be saved!
This is a sermon that was originally presented at Canvas (a Presbyterian church in Irvine, CA), August 24, 2014. To learn more about Canvas, click here!
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