The beginning of a new year is a good opportunity to think not only about beginnings, but endings as well. A path is trodden more wisely when we already have an idea of where the path is leading us. As we take our first steps into 2023, let us look to where our story finds its ultimate destination, something which the book of Revelation is more than happy to show us.
Another word for Revelation is apocalypse. We need not be frightened by this word. It has a lot less to do with the end of the world than we typically assume. Revelation is simply our English word for the Greek word apocalypse. Apocalypse means something is being revealed, the curtain is being pulled back and we’re seeing for the first time what was behind it all along.
However, apocalypse is also a genre of storytelling, one familiar and treasured among the ancient Israelite consciousness (Ezekiel and Daniel are good examples in the Old Testament). This kind of story always depicts a large-scale, even cosmic battle between God and the forces of darkness, all of which amounts to a simple yet eternally profound proclamation: God is on the throne. God reigns and nothing will or can change that. In order to tell this kind of story and make this proclamation, apocalypse employs the use of symbols and images that range from strange to alarmingly strange (How strange? In Revelation 4 there is an ox with six wings and covered with eyeballs, for a start…). No need to be put off by such imagery. It all adds up to: God is on the throne. The book of Revelation is a lot less like a series of facts and more like a sermon proclaiming that no matter how dark and chaotic things in this world appear to be, God is not in trouble and neither are we.
As the book of Revelation draws to a close, we see where it’s all headed, the ending to end all endings. In Revelation 21, John (the one tasked with writing down these transcendent visions) sees the renewal of all things. Heaven and earth are remade. The “new Jerusalem” descends to join heaven and earth together like a husband and wife (Jerusalem had always been for Israel the place where God’s presence was most richly realized, so what better image to convey the new marriage of heaven and earth?). Then, from God’s throne comes a song. “Behold, God’s home is among humans. He will dwell with them… He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death and mourning will be no more, for the first things have passed away… I am making all things new! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
“End” here comes from the Greek word telos. Telos doesn’t mean that an active thing stopped being active. Telos means goal, culmination. It means all the threads of a story have been perfectly tied together in the most satisfyingly climactic way possible. For God to be the beginning and the end means he is both the origin and destination of all things. Our life, everything about us – it originates in God and finds its ultimate destination in God. The complete renewal of all things is the beginning and end of God’s story (and therefore our story).
God is on the throne. All things are being made new. Nothing can change that. So here’s a challenge for the new year. Take everything that happens to you (every day, every conversation, every task, every victory or defeat) and place it within this story, the story whose telos is Revelation 21. It is our story whether we realize it or not. What might life look like if we attempt to live in this story and no other story?