A Colorful Gospel

A Colorful Gospel

When we encounter everything that is colorful and bizarre in the book of Revelation (which would more appropriately be called a letter), it is the approach of some to “decode” its strange symbols, maybe even decode and interpret them as current or near future events we might see in the news. But when we read Revelation 1 and meet a Jesus whose eyes are on fire, whose feet are metal, whose voice roars like crashing waves, from whose mouth protrudes a double-edged sword, and whose face shines as brightly as the sun, it would be a better idea to not grab our pencil and sketchpad and attempt to graphically articulate every detail of this image, but instead let the magnificent and overpowering imagery wash over us. This is the point of apocalyptic storytelling (apocalypse being an alternative and identical word for revelation), to preach the gospel using colorful, bizarre, larger than life imagery. And when we peel back the layers of everything that is colorful and bizarre in the book of Revelation, what we find is a familiar gospel proclamation, same as we hear throughout the whole New Testament.

What is this gospel? The author’s (John’s) description of Jesus begins by sighting him in the midst of seven golden lamps, which imaginatively represent the seven churches receiving John’s letter, and by extension, God’s Church everywhere. John’s gospel proclamation begins with Jesus being present with his people. He’s not absent or far away. He’s close. And he’s wearing a robe and golden sash, the garment of a king. The king of the world is near us and is in our corner. His eyes are on fire because he sees everything that darkness tries to hide. His feet are metal because he will not be moved by any other force. He holds a sword in his mouth because his faithful, truthful words will pierce those whose falsehood do the most harm. His face shines like the sun because he himself is our very source of light and direction. When John encounters this Jesus, he falls down thinking he’s dead. But Jesus places a hand on him and says, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead, and look – I am alive forever and ever! I hold the keys to Death and Hades.”

Revelation is a letter for struggling, persecuted Christians living in a world saturated with chaos and destruction. That’s how apocalyptic literature works in general (Daniel is the Bible’s other great example of apocalyptic literature). We in 2023 are not the first people in human history to look around at how broken our world is and feel scared, maybe even on the edge of hopeless. And in such a world as ours, who do you want to hear say, “Do not be afraid”?

To the Church living in a world saturated with chaos and destruction, Jesus Christ the living one who was dead but is now alive forever and ever says, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who brought you into existence and who gets the final word in your life and in this world. I am the ruler of the kings of the earth. I have loved you and freed you from your sins by my blood. I have made you a kingdom of priests through which the whole world will rediscover its connection to its creator.” (Rev 1:5-6)

This is the one we belong to, the one who has final say in our lives and in this world. May his voice in our lives be as undeniable as the roar of crashing waves.

What a colorful gospel.


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