NOW AND THEN – A Healthy Approach to Revelation

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come. (Rev 1:4)

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8)

Wouldn’t it have been more logical to have said, “who was, and who is, and who is to come.”? Past, present, future. By putting “who is” at the front of the list God is placing the emphasis on the present. The God of history is the God of our today. The God of hope (future) is the God of our present. God is always now. He even introduced himself to his people as “I am”. He is literally the ever present one.

The book of Revelation is jam packed with references from the ancient stories and prophecies of scripture. Theologians say there are more than 200 Old Testament references (some say more than 500 ) in just over 400 verses. But this is no trip down Memory Lane longing for the good old days.

However, for many people Revelation is only read as a book about the future. The future is certainly to be found in its pages, albeit in the form of metaphor. But the primary purpose of the book is not one of future predicting any more than it is a history book because it contains so much from the Old Testament.

Revelation was a letter written for churches caught up in a very real, very demanding now, and the God who is still speaks through it into the reality of our today.

Whether you like it or not the person you are today has been shaped by your past: your successes and your failures, your experiences and the words you’ve heard along the way have all contributed to the way you see yourself and the world around you today. This is true no matter how much you say, “It’s all in the past.” Most of us also make decisions today based on our imagined future: studying towards a career, saving up for a house or holiday. In the same way both the past and the future we come across in Revelation is there to help us live as the ‘kingdom of priests’ (Rev 1:6 & 5:10) who serve God right here, right now, today.

It may help to look at another passage of scripture to see how this works. Hebrews 11 opens by talking about faith being ‘confidence in what we hope for’, that’s future talk right? Then the whole of the rest of the chapter is spent in the past, the stories of God’s people. Chapter 12:1 brings these past faith heroes into our present as a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to encourage us to run our race now. It then says (v2) we should fix our eyes on Jesus, the ‘pioneer’ (past) and ‘perfecter’ (future) of faith, who ‘for the joy set before him (future) endured the shame’ of his present. We look back at his example of endurance (v3) so that we will not grow weary and lose heart today. Both the stories from the past, and the hoped for joy before us are there to help us live a life of faith right now. It is the same with Revelation.

Our God cares about our today. He will remind us of his faithfulness shown to his people over thousands of years. He will use stories of his people’s successes and failures as lessons and warnings for us today. He also has a great future hope for us. This hope (along with some warnings) helps us endure hardships like those faced by the church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11), to stay true under pressure to compromise like the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13). Revelation will hopefully wake us up like the church in Sardis (Rev 3:1-6), and stir us to love Jesus and others afresh like the church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7), to make whatever changes are necessary to make today to become the bride who has ‘made herself ready’ (Rev 19:7) to reign for ever with Jesus.