Imagine …

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

You are in a huge media room. The walls are lined with numerous screens receiving live video feeds from multiple cameras filming an event so massive that no single camera could capture all the actions that are occurring simultaneously.

To look at only one screen is to miss most of what is going on, and also to misinterpret what you are seeing. No one screen tells the whole story. But each screen provides answers to questions provoked by other screens. Some cameras zero in on specific detail or specific characters. Others give broader focus. Some are distance shots. Others are close-ups. Zooming in, zooming out. Looking down. Looking up. And each of them is, from its own particular perspective, recording the event from its beginning to its end.

Such is the book of Revelation … read on, learn and rejoice in the unfolding drama of Christ and his Church.


REVELATION 1:9 – 3:22

JESUS CHRIST IN THE MIDST OF HIS CHURCH

OVERVIEW

These chapters of Revelation contain the first of seven parallel accounts. This account is grounded in Jesus’ saving death [1:18] and looks forward beyond the judgment day to the final perfect blessedness of the church [2:7,11,17,27,28; 3:5,12,21]. The main focus is on Christ and his church on earth during the interim period between his incarnation, death and resurrection and his return in power and glory on the last day.

 

IMAGINE …

The image streaming onto the first large screen in the media room is a picture of the glorified Jesus, who was dead but is now alive, and is walking in the midst of his church on earth from the time of his death and resurrection until the time of his return.

Across the bottom of this first large screen is a row of seven sub-screens. You can zoom in on any of these at any time. Each displays footage that shows Jesus addressing one of his churches. It is a specific church, but it is also any church at any time that needs to hear this message – it could be your church. He knows its situation, he knows its struggles, he knows its integrity or lack of it. He is exhorting and encouraging his church to persevere in faith, in the truth and in obedience. He is also rebuking and warning where the church has in one way or another succumbed to pressure of various kinds. What he says to each church is what the Spirit says to every church.

This footage continues to stream in with these eight live feeds even when we turn our attention to any of the other screens in the media room. This is the reality of the on-going presence of Jesus Christ in his worldwide church until he comes. This is the reality that exists alongside of the other realities. This is the first and foundational truth that Jesus wants his church on earth to know: I, the glorious and powerful figure you see in Revelation 1:9-20, am there with you as you strive to remain faithful. I have not left you alone. I will make sure that you who believe in me receive, at the end, the salvation I purchased for you by my death.

 

REVELATION 4 - 7

JESUS CHRIST – THE FOCUS OF UNIVERSAL PRAISE

OVERVIEW

These chapters of Revelation contain the second of seven parallel accounts. This account takes us away from earth and into the very presence of God. Its focus is on the glory of God and of Jesus, the Lamb. It assumes the reality of his death, gives an overview of what is going on on the earth between his death and his return, and ends with the perfection of the eternal state.

 

IMAGINE …
You suddenly become aware that a second huge screen is alive with footage coming in from a different camera. Reluctantly you take your eyes off the first screen, but you are quickly riveted to this second screen. The footage is glorious. And it is completely overwhelming. You don’t know whether to bow in silent awe or to shout aloud in joy and praise or to cry your eyes out. Your heart is caught in this intense struggle between joy and sorrow. Your joy dominates, but it is coloured with a deep and heart-wrenching gratitude. You realize that you are here caught up in something far, far bigger than you could have ever dreamed.

You are looking at God in all his glory.
You are looking at the Lamb, with the marks of slaughter upon him.
You are looking at a glorious company of heavenly and earthly beings united in praise and worship of God and of the Lamb.

And while this is running, again there are multiple sub-screens on which you can zoom in on several aspects of the time from Christ’s incarnation to his return:

There is the victory of Christ, past and present.
There is the persecution of the saints.
There is the physical hardship suffered by the saints.
There is the on-going suffering of the whole world, saved and unsaved.
There is the martyrdom of the saints.
There is the great day of wrath.
There are all the redeemed in their eternal glory.

You begin to realize that what you are seeing here from the perspective of God’s throne is what you saw on the first screen from the perspective of earth: That the glorious Christ who walks in the midst of his church on earth is also at the same time the bloodied Lamb who is in the centre of the throne of God in glory. That the Christ for whose name the church on earth is maligned, persecuted and killed, is the Lamb whose name multitudes of creatures from heaven and earth are even now praising and exalting. That the struggles and suffering inflicted on the church by the hatred of men and of Satan are at the same time the instruments by which their loving God refines and purifies his church. That what Christ promised to those who conquer is here in the seventh sub-screen enjoyed beyond the judgment by all who are clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

 

REVELATION 8 - 11

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST IN THE WORLD

OVERVIEW

Revelation 8 to 11 is the third parallel section of Revelation. It presents yet another perspective on the age between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. While the second section focused dominantly on what is going on in ‘heaven’ and only minimally on ‘earth’, this section focuses largely on what is going on on the earth for the entire duration of the ‘church age’. It is not a comfortable section. By its visions it portrays the realities of the lives of both the godless and the redeemed far too accurately for comfort. But even so, it begins with the power of the prayers of God’s people and ends with the eternal Kingdom of God and of his Christ.

 

IMAGINE ...

You have been engrossed by the footage streaming onto the second huge screen and its multiple subscreens. Your heart is filled with joy and glory and praise. You feel as if you are already ‘in heaven’. You feel as though all is right … all that is evil has been removed. God and the Lamb are receiving the honour that is their due. And you see yourself there in that countless multitude, with your robe washed white in the blood of the Lamb, and the palm branch of joy in your hand. And you are listening to the elder describing your eternal blessedness. There had seemed to be nothing at all happening on the adjacent screen, at least there was no sound, just a solemn silence. But suddenly a terrible commotion has begun to distract you, and from the third huge screen bright flashes are penetrating your vision. It seems, indeed, that this screen is vibrating with the intensity and clamour of its images and those on its sub-screens. You are disturbed, annoyed. You do not want to be diverted from the second screen. You do not want to look at this third chaotic, cacophonous screen that is demanding your attention. Actually, you are afraid to look.

But you cannot not look.

And when you look, although much of what you see is difficult to cope with, there is, through it all, something of a grand assurance, something of a relief. Quite unexpected. Indeed, quite surprising.

 

REVELATION 12 - 14

THE ENEMIES OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH

OVERVIEW

Revelation 12 to 14 is the fourth of the seven parallel sections covering the period of human time between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. The first three sections of Revelation focused primarily on the struggle of the Church on earth. The last four sections, while still detailing the experience of the Church, give us insight into the cosmic battle that wages between Christ and his enemies. This fourth section gives us more detail about the identity of these enemies.

 

IMAGINE ...

Again, you think you have seen it all. The reign of Christ has begun. The enemies and all that is evil have been disposed of. You can literally feel the vibrations of tumultuous praise shaking the earth, reverberating from the surround sound system. You are about to join in the celebration and add your own small but joyful ‘Hallelujah!’ to the voices of the angels, and the praise of the elders, and the deep, rumbling joy of the liberated universe.

But again there is something intruding, and you are not quite sure where it is coming from. Finally you realize that there is a fourth huge screen, not beside the other three, but above you, on the ceiling. And you find yourself wondering if someone has invented ‘surround vision’, you feel like you are in an Imax theatre, or that you have put on 3D glasses. So real, so threatening, so enveloping, are the images. You are overwhelmed, you are horrified, as you watch in the silence and creatures more terrifying than anything you have ever seen or imagined move across the screen. You wish that you could turn if off, but there is no remote. You wish that you could close your eyes, but you dare not.

And then you are glad that you didn’t. For again the huge screen is accompanied by multiple sub-screens, and there you hear a loud voice announcing the triumph of God, and there you hear the overwhelmingly powerful but beautiful song of the redeemed, and there again you see the day of God’s wrath.

 

REVELATION 15 - 18

THE WRATH OF GOD AND OF THE LAMB

OVERVIEW

We now move to the fifth parallel section of Revelation. Chapter 15 begins with a vision of the redeemed who are, like those in 14:1-5, singing in the presence of God. Secondary to this vision of the redeemed are the descriptions of the seven angels with seven bowls, which are the bowls of God’s wrath and are poured out over the whole world. They constitute the final outpouring of God’s wrath.

 

IMAGINE …

As you gaze at the fourth screen and its sub-screens you realize that out of all the competing sounds from those sub-screens one is beginning to dominate, to become so over-powering that it distracts you from all of the others. Then you recognize that this dominant audio is not coming from that sub-screen at all but from another huge screen. Like the fourth screen this fifth screen is above you, surrounding you, enveloping you. You feel that you are actually there, part of this countless multitude that is singing the same unbelievably powerful and beautiful song as those on that earlier sub-screen. You are there with them in the presence of God with God-given joy in your heart. You are singing the song of Moses and you are singing the song of the Lamb. You are praising God, and you are praising him for your deliverance, your salvation, not only from sin and judgment but also from the pressures and persuasions of the dragon and the beasts. But more than this, you are also praising God for his justice. Again there are sub-screens, seven of them each displaying live feeds of a major global disaster. Although you are aware they are there, you don’t really look at them for you are totally engaged in the song of the Lamb.

 

REVELATION 17 - 19

JESUS CHRIST – KING OF KINGS, LORD OF LORDS

OVERVIEW

In the sixth parallel section, Chapters 17 – 19, Jesus Christ is revealed to us as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This sovereign power and authority is demonstrated in his effortless victories over the ‘great harlot – Babylon’ [who is more fully described here than anywhere else] and over the ‘beast’ and the ‘false prophet’. We also see again the praise of heaven and joy of the redeemed, who are here referred to as the ‘bride’ of the Lamb.

 

IMAGINE …
Gazing at the fifth screen, caught up in the crescendo of praise, you had not thought that there could be anything more overwhelming. But you were wrong! A sixth screen begins to dominate the whole room, and its sound pulses through your body. It so occupies your mind that you can think of nothing else, you feel that nothing else exists, just you and the sound, and even you yourself seem to be part of the sound, so overpowering, so intense and passionate is this sound of the whole universe lifting their voices in praise of the Lord God Almighty. You recall that you once listened to Handel’s ‘Messiah’, and felt the great and awesome power of it, but that was nothing compared to the reality in which you are now involved. By now you know that there are multiple sub-screens accompanying this main screen, but you have no interest in them. So powerful is this main screen that anything else, in comparison, is less than nothing. The main screen says it all: The battle is over. God has brought justice to the universe. Evil has ended. The bride is ready for the Lamb, clothed with his gift of perfect righteousness. Hallelujah!

And your heart is almost bursting with joy and gladness.

 

REVELATION 20 - 22:6

JESUS CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE

OVERVIEW
The seventh parallel section of Revelation gives a summary overview of human history from the first coming of Christ to the second, and brings everything to its appointed conclusion and consummation. Here Genesis 3 is reversed: the devil is disposed of; death is disposed of. Tears, pain, sorrow are no more. Perfection is restored to the universe, including the perfect relationship between God and man which was always his purpose for us.

 

IMAGINE …

Suddenly all the screens go black and the sound seems to have been turned off. But you realize that this dark and silent void is only so by way of contrast. Certainly there are no secondary screens now, only the seven large screens that surround you. On the seventh screen there is a faint, almost indiscernible, pin point of light, and as your eyes become accustomed to the dimness you see that it is positioned on a huge map of the world spread across the seven screens. This one dim point of light is shining in Jerusalem. The rest of the world is in darkness. As you gaze at that small lone light, for one exceedingly brief moment it disappears altogether and there is total darkness. But then it flashes with a brilliance that almost blinds you, and at that same moment you hear again those loud ‘Hallelujahs’. The pinpoint of light is now quite intense, and you see it spreading dot by dot, gradually, gradually, across the whole world … Judea, Samaria, Syria, Ethiopia, Galatia, Macedonia, Italy … on and on these intense pin-points of light are spreading over that huge map. The darkness cannot stand before the Light, and as it spreads the Hallelujahs become louder and louder, building up and up until all the nations, all the tribes, all the peoples of the earth, all the language groups hidden away in the ghettoes of the mega cities and in the dark unknown valleys of the tropical jungles are reached by the light, and their voices join in the praise of God and of the Lamb. And then it is complete: the Light has reached the ends of the earth. There is no people group that has not heard the Gospel. The Light, the true Light, has come to them. The glory of God in Christ has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth. His praise is resounding in every language.

The praise continues unabated, but you are appalled by what you now see: quickly, oh so quickly, a murky darkness reclaims the earth trying to put out the light, but before you have time to think about this horrible thing, there is a terrifying and blinding cosmic flash, and there is a deafening roar, a Lion’s roar of intense ferocity. For a moment you cannot see anything at all. You cannot hear anything at all. Your senses have all been numbed. When your senses recover the screens surrounding you reveal a totally new reality: everything is changed, everything is new. There is no darkness left anywhere – it has ceased to exist. There are no enemies left – God’s final judgment is past. There is no pain. There is no suffering. There is no separation. The hand of God is reaching out to you and you now hear his voice saying ‘Come! All is ready! Enter into the joy of your Lord!’ For a moment you are afraid, you know that although you have believed in the Lamb, you are a sinner, unworthy, disqualified from such an invitation, from such joy. But then you realize that not only the whole universe but you yourself have been instantly transformed, instantly renewed, instantly perfected, as perfect and as pure as the Lamb. Nothing at all remains of your sin. And a smile that will never leave you brightens your face. Together with the uncountable multitude of the redeemed you step into life, life with God and the Lamb, forever.

*

As you leave the media room, you hear the words of Christ calling out, assuring you ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ After all you have seen and heard, after all you have learned from this book of Revelation, what can you say but ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.’ And a deep sigh of joy-filled longing arises from the depth of your being, and the peace of God encompasses you. And you go back into your place in the ‘thousand years’, back into the suffering, the kingdom and the patient endurance that are yours because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.